A very serious blog post on traditional publishing

Kristine Kathryn Rusch - traditional publishing - self publishing

Kristine Kathryn Rusch argues knowledgeably and convincingly that authors should self-publish. I still don’t plan to. Here’s why.

I promised you a very serious blog post, and here it is.

I’m a long-time fan of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s (though for some reason I can never remember her name).

She’s a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, but I admit I’ve never tried her fiction.

I’m a fan of her blog.

She writes about the publishing industry, but not regurgitated primers on how to get published or the latest gossip. She writes well-researched, detailed posts about the nitty gritty things you need to know if you want to make a living as a writer, such as licensing rights, contract clauses, and why you should avoid agents and traditional publishers like the coronavirus.

Her advice about traditional publishing comes down to this: publishers and agents are not your friends.

They’re not there to further your interests, they’re there to further their own. At times your interests might coincide with theirs, but when they don’t agents and publishers will protect themselves.

If you walk in with your eyes closed you will get had. If you walk in with your eyes open you will probably still get had, but you will see it coming.

Agents are not lawyers, and they are not qualified to advise you on book contracts. Anything an agent can do for you, you can do better for yourself, with a few hours paid to an intellectual property lawyer.

Many agents, including those at highly reputable agencies, embezzle from their authors, and if this happens to you you will probably never know because they won’t provide you with the information you need to catch them.

No one can advance your career and maximise your earnings from writing the way you can for yourself. Learn business and self-publish.

If you disagree with any of these points, I’m not here to argue. I’m merely explaining my understanding of what Kristine says. Go to her site, read her blog, argue with her.

Good luck. She’s an incredibly knowledgeable, articulate woman.

I mentioned I’m a fan of her blog, and for the most part I believe what she says when she explains the problematic aspects of the publishing industry.

To clarify, I don’t think agents are bad people. Most of them are there because they love books and want to nurture the careers of authors, and they genuinely do the best job they can.

It’s just that they’re trying to make a living, and they’re doing so within a broken industry.

The information Kristine provides is enough to make an author run screaming and hide under the nearest mossy boulder. Certainly to abandon all plans of agents and traditional publishing contracts.

Yet I still plan to pursue traditional publication.

I consider myself a moderately intelligent and rational individual, so this seemingly illogical decision has bugged me for a while.

Recently I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy of one of Kristine’s books, Closing the Deal on Your Terms: Agents, Contracts and Other Considerations.

I read it from start to finish in a day. Like everything else by Kristine I’ve read, it was well researched, well argued, and very scary.

It explains with real examples a number of horrifying clauses that publishers include in publishing contracts as a matter of course and that agents advise their clients to accept.

I couldn’t do the book justice if I tried to explain, but I highly recommend you read it, especially if you plan to pursue traditional publication. It may well change your mind.

However, hidden somewhere in the middle of the book–in a place I’ll never find if I search for it to quote it–is a sentence that explains why I might believe what Kristine says, but can’t follow her advice.

It’s a little thing.

But it matters.

Essentially, she said, if you want to make a living from your writing and not have to hold down another job to pay your bills, you should follow my advice. (“And if you don’t follow my advice then you’re an idiot” was implied.)


The fact is, while I might daydream at times about throwing in my day job and living off writing income, mostly I love my other job.

I trained a long time to learn how to do it well, it’s intellectually satisfying, rewarding, flexible, and it pays remarkably well for New Zealand. It gets me out of the house and facilitates fascinating conversations with smart people who share my interests.

Some days I even think what I do there makes the world a better place.

I don’t want to write instead of doing my day job. I want to write as well as doing my day job.

I’m not writing and attempting to publish to make money–I have a way to make money that I can work as much as I like at, and at a higher hourly rate than I could ever hope to earn writing.

I’m writing and attempting to publish because I love writing and I want other people to read my writing and love it too.

Yes, I could learn how to self-publish, manage all the various rights to my work as Kristine advises, and milk every last cent from my writing. But I would have to do many things I hate, like learn to do formatting and talk incessantly to people on the phone.

I’m not going to.

Instead I’m going to do the parts of writing that I love and the parts that are unavoidable, and earn my money elsewhere.

If that means I earn $100 from my writing instead of $100,000, I’ll still be ahead.

Does that make me an idiot?

Judgmental Cat thinks so.

Is Judgmental Cat right? Do you follow Kristine’s blog? Is she right? Would you sign a publishing contract you didn’t fully understand?

Subscribe to my blog to hear more from me (but not too much). Most of it isn’t nearly this serious.

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

17 thoughts on “A very serious blog post on traditional publishing”

  1. I agree with you. Not everyone goes into publishing with the same goals, and I’ve seen plenty of traditionally-published authors who’ve said they went that way to preserve their day job, and they aren’t interested in the micromanaging, relentlessly career-building approach that self publishing demands.

    1. I think that’s the real point. We’re all in different situations with different goals, and one solution won’t be right for everyone.

  2. Have you ever noticed that the people who are screaming the loudest about self-publishing being THE answer are the ones who made a killing at self-publishing **after** their traditional publishing career? (The woman has a Star Wars book for Fu-rank’s sake!) And… have you ever noticed that Amazon sends out emails/notifications/also-reads that inform you an author you read has published another book? I don’t see a whole lot of “self-publishing gurus” who started self-publishing from a stone cold stop. I’m always worried when someone tells me to do something that they haven’t done, themselves.

    1. Agreed. A certain person whose name rhymes with Con-wrath springs to mind; this person got a huge leg up from trade publishers (with significant advances, good editors, and promotion) and now spends all his time discouraging writers from getting the same advantages he did. The cynic in me wonders if it’s an active ploy to reduce the competition.

      1. I don’t think it necessarily has to be *intentional*. But failure to understand the variables in your own success can make it very difficult to help others replicate that success. A huge de-facto mailing list is a benefit that I don’t have, but I can certainly believe that Mr. Conrad Wrath might not *know* that it’s there, since he didn’t **personally** spend time gathering email addresses and sending out notifications.

    2. To be fair, people who have personal experience of both trad pub and self-publishing are probably in the best position to compare the pros and cons of each, but you’re entirely right – coming to self-publishing as a debut author is not exactly the same as coming to it with a history of traditionally published books.

  3. Wow, a Like button. I like that. Thank you!

    I used to be traditionally published, and overall the publisher was honest and cooperative, but after six books, I cancelled all my contracts and self-published. Here’s the thing… not only did my sales and margins go up, my covers improved, I didn’t have to pull teeth to promote, and it was much LESS work. Yes, less. A lot less. This is just my experience, but if you want to work and write, I recommend self-publishing.

    The main reason is that you’ll be responsible for marketing either way. Marketing is easier if you have control over pricing, which allows you to discount and promote. Traditional publishers control pricing, and in my experience, they don’t like low prices and are resistant to discounted prices. Therefore promotional opportunities are limited and a lot of work. Low prices, discounts, and promotions is a great way to get readers if that’s your goal. You’ll have a much larger distribution, and though your prices are lower, you’re not sharing the profits… which means you have more revenue for more promotion and more readers and more profits. Thus the cycle continues. Not to mention that running a promotion only requires about 10 minutes of your time.

    I’ve never regretted the switch to self-publishing. The good thing is that you can switch from one to the other in both directions. Good luck!

    1. Haha. Sorry the like button took me so long. It broke at one point, and it took me forever to figure out that it was Cloudflare update that had broken it.

      It’s fascinating to hear you find self-publishing less work. I guess I’ll have to try both and compare. 🙂 It is great that the doors aren’t closed in either direction. I’ve always told myself that if I’m not happy with how my trad pub attempt goes I can always move to self-publishing, but for me one reason to start with trad is to make sure I’m not leaping to publish before my writing is up to some minimal professional level.

      1. I learned a ton from traditional publishing, and I don’t regret starting that way, but it wasn’t the right fit at all. And, yes, you can switch directions or do both.

  4. Some agents are lawyers. I haven’t seen a ton of them but I have seen them. I tend to be wary of people who speak like her and say they have all the answers. Self-publishing isn’t better. It’s different. People who are great on the business end tend to over-exaggerate how great self-publishing is. But I agree that publishing is a business. Agents and publishers don’t make money unless their authors do. And yes royalties are higher on the self-publishing end, but you also sell less books. Maybe it’s worth it. Maybe it isn’t. Everyone’s experience is different. And I know a lot of self-published writers who have agents, usually to handle international rights or the audiobook side, but some use the trade route for print and keep the ebook rights for themselves. There are a ton of options out there. Obviously my opinion isn’t worth a lot. I found self-publishing to be too far outside of what I can manage on my own, and I’ve queried nine books and gotten nowhere. But I know she isn’t 100% right because no one has all the answers and everyone brings different skills and wants to the table. I will say that I would probably choose self-publishing again over working with a very small publisher though. Sometimes small publishers are great, but sometimes the author is doing everything but paying the upfront costs. But sometimes that’s worth a lot, too. Obviously you should do what you want. It’s always worth a try. 🙂

    1. I should take that as a mantra: no one is 100% right. 🙂 There are absolutely a lot of different options, and who knows what a lot of the publishing industry and self-publishing options will look like when the dust from the pandemic settles. Like you, I don’t want to devote all my time to running a business, though it may be that that’s where I end up. Still, I plan to enjoy the journey. 🙂 (Nine novels! I’m very impressed.)

  5. I’m not familiar with Ms. Rusch’s work, but on the strength of your recommendation I will check out her blog and perhaps her book. However, I agree with other commenters here that I am highly wary of anyone who claims to have THE right way to approach anything as subjective, complex, and ever-changing as the publishing world. I am about to relaunch into the query process to ( all my stars and garters willing) see if I can find an agent, because I know that my strengths and lifestyle probably don’t jive with what’s required of a successful self-published author. But that decision could change if I don’t find a match with an agent within a reasonable time. I know my book has a readership out there, so whether it’s through trad publishing, or small-press, or hybrid, or solo, it will reach the world (or a corner of it, anyway) somehow. More importantly, KUDOS to you for having a job that you find rewarding in so many aspects! I get hives when I bump into opinions that a writer, or any artist, should be single-mindedly devoted to their art (and wear hair shirts and live on rainwater and spiderwebs to prove it).

    1. Exciting! All the best in your search for a perfect agent match. I do highly recommend you check out Kristine’s blog and book, at least to go into process as well informed/armed as possible. It sounds like you’re in a great situation knowing you already have a readership.

      And thank you. I know I’m very fortunate to be where I am job-wise, I just need to keep reminding myself there’s nothing holy about being a starving artist. 🙂

  6. Well, you know my thoughts on the trad publishing industry, 🙂 and although KKR writes in a genre that doesn’t turn my crank a lot of the time, I do love reading her blog … but here’s a few things I’ve realised about what she says … she’s not a fan of traditional publishing, (possibly an understatement! 🙂 ) … for her and Dean, writing is a business, and seeing it that way isn’t for everyone … but, my biggest takeaway, is that she advocates for EVERY writer to educate herself to the fullest about whatever path she wants to take to being published … which is exactly what you’ve done. Bravo! 😀

Comments are closed.