I realize that the debate between traditional publishing and self-publishing can be a bit divisive. I honestly don’t know what to think myself, as I’ve just started to look into the major differences. Self-publishing looks like a lot of work, but the bottom line might be worth it if the author has any business sense. But that’s the key, right? Most authors think agents will do all the work, and that’s probably not entirely true. What I do know is that traditional publishing has a dark side. Creators are cogs in the wheel, often cut out of royalties.
Kris Rusch, former editor of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and author of several short works and novels, has a great post about contracts and what to watch for:
These discount clauses—which the authors have freely signed—are the way that publishers are increasing their bottom lines. This is also why so many #1 New York Times bestselling authors are seeing their royalty rates decline. It’s not because the books sell fewer copies (although that’s happening as well); it’s because the authors are being paid less per copy sold—significantly less… If you insist on selling your book to a traditional publisher, especially one of the Big Whatevers, then accept that you will lose that book for the term of the copyright, and you will not get rich off that book’s sales even if the book is a bestseller.
So what’s a writer to do? If someone as established as Kris Rusch is blowing the whistle, then I think the answer is to go hybrid if you want to make a living at all:
If your goal is to be validated while you work another job, then go ahead, sign contracts with big traditional publishers. If your goal is to be a professional writer with a long-term career as a writer and no other job, you have to stay away from contracts and clauses like these.