So. I had what all writers actually covet, if they don’t know it until they actually have it and agree with it. I had an edited manuscript. One where I agreed with every edit, and felt strongly the work was what I wanted to put forth for people to read. I can’t stress enough what a rarity this thing is to have before you actually seek a publisher. In the traditional publishing model, you submit your heart and soul and have someone tell you it’s great then they submit it to their own editor who then proceeds like a woodchipper to shred words and ideas into the grist mill for commerce.
I know this, because I went down that road a ways, and was fortunate enough to BACK AWAY at high speed before it became too late.
After obtaining all the legal approval at work…well, I should briefly explain that. You see, in fairness to Microsoft, I am a Microsoft employee, beholden to my employee agreement. Which essentially means that anything I write about the company as an employee is, in fairness, the property of the company. I’ve gotten a lot of shocked reactions at that, as if it’s unholy or something. It makes perfect sense. Microsoft has a vested interest in me, and I have a vested interest in Microsoft. It only makes sense that anything I seek to further my own vested interest in me (that also involved Microsoft) get their review and ok. Once that was achieved, it just fell down to the last, most difficult part: finding a publisher.
Luckily, through a connection at work I secured a well known publisher pretty quickly. And thus began my long dark journey into realizing why publishing your first work in traditional media is probably dead. I have no interest in embarrassing the publisher involved, suffice to say they were a well established voice in the geek/tech world and leave it at that. I submitted my edited manuscript and they were extremely interested, I think mainly because it was edited already and there was little work on their part to focus towards publishing. And so my manuscript was slotted into the hell I like to call, the “Editorial Calendar”
Every week for 12 weeks it was a different story. “Oh we’re in the middle of an event, we’re meeting on your manuscript next week. Don’t worry, everyone loves it!” “Oh we just had a changeover of new incoming books. We’re meeting on your book next week.” “Oh, It got a good reception at the initial meeting, we’re now moving it to the next level.” “Oh, the next level had to delay the meeting due to vacations.”
Every email started with “Oh,”. Every conversation was couched in just how much they liked the manuscript and really thought it catered to the geek culture. I began to despair around May when I was performing at W00tstock in Seattle and Portland, a big deal to me because I was giving up chances to market the book because I was in a holding pattern with the publisher. I asked Wil his advice. Without hesitation he said to drop everything and self publish. And yet the cachet of being published by a well known name really appealed to me so I waited even more.
Finally we got to the point of discussing royalties. I forewent an advance which allowed me to push for the maximum amount of royalties: Somewhere between 9 and 12%. On price points of 15.99 softback. Plus they owned a lot of rights relating to e-books and audio books. My jaw dropped. Not only was I being offered a pittance for the work, and sacrificing a lot of rights, but they also wanted to chain me to a promotion tour attending all their events and doing custom speeches and readings. This soured me deeply. By self publishing I could garner north of 20% royalties and would retain full rights for everything. I expressed to them the disparity and questioned why I would continue the conversation. I was assured they were just a week away from the final meetings and agreements. They wanted to make my manuscript a primary feature of their line up for the fall.
Four weeks went by. When I finally investigated I discovered my rep who had been the advocate for my manuscript had up and left the company with no notice. And now they wanted to start the process all over to evaluate my work against their other offers as if I had just submitted it.
This is where I seriously began to realize the last gasp of old media was essentially to tie someone up under the imprimatur of being published by a big name while never really intending to take the effort seriously. For more than four months I had played the old media publishing game, trading paltry royalties for a badge of being “really” published. I spent a long night after that email with a bottle of scotch re-reading my manuscript.
It was a good book. I knew that. It wasn’t going to win awards, and at the end of the day if I earned enough to pay for the editing and publishing, I would be happy. These were good stories. Stories that I had now performed live and that audiences liked.
Mutually, the publisher and I kicked each other to the curb. After that I logged into Lulu.com and began the journey to self publishing.