More than a few self-published authors, of course, have found serious success through various channels over the years—selling a vast amount of books on their own, for instance, or having their previously self-published book picked up by a big publishing concern.

And yet, contrary to popular belief, not every self-published author actually wants to be picked up by a mainstream publishing house. Some are more than happy working independently, and pocketing as much money from their DIY publishing project as possible. This topic was brought up last Sunday, March 10, during the Self-Publishing in the Age of E panel at the SXSW in Austin, Texas.

The panel consisted of author Hugh Howey (Wool Omnibus), Kirby Kim from the William Morris Endeavor, Rachel Deahl of Publishers Weekly, and Erin Brown of Erin Edits.

An interesting question popped up during the audience session that focused on the Big Six publishing houses. According to William Hertling—who took impeccable notes that you can read here—the question was, “As a big six publisher, what can we do, within reason, to recruit new authors and keep them happy?”

First, the question itself is interesting. The way it was worded made it seem as though it was from a member of the industry. “What can we do… ”

And furthermore, is it a given that authors are, in fact, unhappy with the big publishing houses? If so, why?

Hugh Howey

Howey, whose self-publishing success story has lately become very well-known within both publishing and literary circles, briefly touched on an answer. And considering his deal with Simon & Schuster, he probably was the best person to respond: Howey famously signed over only the print rights to his book with S&S, and managed to keep the digital rights all for himself.

Howey’s response? Publishers need to start sending out royalty checks monthly—not quarterly or biannually, as the case may be. He also suggested that publishers need to start showing authors their real-time data—the better to see the effects of a particular book’s marketing campaign, for instance.

Howey has talked about this before. In a recent radio interview, he mentioned that in his role as a self-published e-book author, he’s able to see those numbers as often as he wants, simply by hitting the F5 key on his computer’s keyboard.

That’s a service he just can’t get from a traditional publisher. It’s a process that can tell him exactly how well, or how poorly, a certain title is doing. It can tell him how changes in pricing are effecting his sales. Obviously, a book’s publisher is interested in similar data—they’ve invested money in the process, after all. But in the end, who is going to want to see a book succeed more than its own author?


  1. The major thing publishers need to do is start treating writers as partners, not as particularly dumb sheep.

    As anyone who reads pro writer blogs like Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “The Business Rusch” knows, publishers treat writers like disposable diapers, using them then tossing them away for a new one. Authors advances are being cut while publisher profits rise, royalties are being cut, contract terms have become so harsh that authors are signing away their futures, and sales are being under-reported.

    Why do authors allow this? Stockholm Syndrome, a belief that big publishing is the only game in town, fear of change, and a stupid kind of pride about not knowing anything about business are just a few.

    Authors like Stephen King can force better terms, but a vast majority can’t so they must accept the situation, quit pro-writing, or take the perilous road that is self-publishing.

    If publishers don’t start treating writers better, they’ll end up with a few high-end authors who don’t want to self-publish, a bunch of newbies who want the cache of big publishing before moving into self-publishing, and a bunch of out-of-touch sheep. That’s not a bright future for them, either.

    “The Business Rusch:”

  2. My partner and I published a book with a major publisher and the results were very disappointing. No marketing, no editing, no review copies sent out: we could have got almost the same level of ‘service’ from a POD vanity press. It was extraordinarily hard to see what it was that we were supposed to be paying for.

  3. My experience with three different publishers is that for people in the communications industry they have real trouble with communicating with authors. A little bit of contact would make a lot of difference.

    RE statements & royalties: Two publishers provide timely bi-annual statements & royalty payments, but for one publisher it takes 5 or 6 months after the close date before I get a statement & payment (perhaps in part because i deal with that publisher via an agent). On one occasion I had to complain when the delay had exceeded 6 months!

  4. I think publishers need to make writers feel more comfortable about being able to get in touch with them. Most professional writers are actually very conservative about contacting publishers because they don’t want to be viewed as high maintenance. We all need some feedback regarding sales, but we also understand that careers are for the long haul. We don’t want to feel coddled, but we also don’t want to feel abandoned. A happy middle ground is healthy for both the publisher and author.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail