This post is part two of my story detailing just what happened when I met with a book publisher this week. Read part one here!
To recap, a publisher out of Toronto approached me at the Indie Media Fair three weeks ago and offered me a book deal. This Wednesday my dad and my sister drove with me to Toronto to meet with the publisher to sign a contract. After talking with Cordelia Strube, Cheryl Rainfield, and Maranda Elizabeth, and reading extensively about writer contracts, I sent an email the night before our meeting. I bravely asked the publisher for what I feel like my work is worth.
The publisher’s office was in what appeared to be a very rough part of Toronto. I hopped out of the car and grabbed my portfolio as my dad and sister shouted encouraging comments out the windows.
Walking into the office, it took my eyes a moment to adjust to the poor lighting. The office was essentially a warehouse with four desks in it. I looked around and saw the girl with the multicolored hair whom I’d talked to online.
“Hi, I’m Erin,” I said. I went to shake her hand and I surprised her greatly.
The publisher I’d met at the Indie Media Fair said hello from the back of the room and asked me if I wanted to see the print room. “Everyone gets really excited to see it but I don’t,” he admitted. I followed him into room that was at least ten degrees warmer than the main office as copiers the size of my first car churned out pages and pages. There was a man hard at work moving paper. He didn’t look up. I rested my hand on a vintage letter-press machine, marveling at the woodwork. When I turned around I saw that the publisher had already left the room.
I joined him and three other people at a table in the middle of the office. “Let’s see your art,” the publisher said. I opened my portfolio and handed him my file folders full of my work.
“Your friends who gave you advice on contracts know nothing about the publishing industry,” he said. “The days of pre-printing books are over. We print a few books, ship them out to local stores and radio stations and hope someone cares enough to give them a look. We would never give a new author an advance…”
This publisher continued a rant about how the only chance I had to getting my work read was by publishing through someone like him. I asked who the target audience for my book would be and he answered, “Eighteen to forty-year-olds.” I judged him to be about sixty.
“Would I be able to buy my books from you at a discount to sell to my friends and family or at my craft fair tables?” I asked.
“No!” he laughed. “If you put a published book beside these e-zines of yours people wouldn’t know what to do with it. It would never sell.”
He tossed a familiar envelope to me from across the table. “We don’t need these,” he said. Peering inside the express post cardboard, I saw the zines that I’d carefully arranged to ship to the publishers’ two weeks ago. They hadn’t even taken my zines out of the envelope.
That pretty much sealed the deal for me. Whether that publisher was a fan of zines or not, there was no way I was letting him near a book of mine if he didn’t at least pretend that he respected my previous work. After all, didn’t he find my writing through my zines in the first place?
As I sat there politely, I was thinking of all of you. Talking with you directly through my blog and through my zines feels as natural to me as breathing. I want my writing to stay accessible, not be taken from me and packaged up to selective buyers in the commercial world. Yes, one day I would love to be published by a bigger press, but until I meet a publisher who meets my standards, I’m sticking to the one I already have: ME. If that means I self-publish until the day I die, so be it.
If this publisher had said, “We’re a small press without the funds to provide an advance to first time writers, but we do a great job at printing, publicizing, and marketing our work. We will give your book the best sales effort we possibly can,” I’d have said yes in a heartbeat. A good attitude means sales. Bad attitudes, not so much. Why would I want to help someone who didn’t believe in their own business?
I thanked the publisher for his time and walked out into the rain with my portfolio under my arm. I told him I’d “think about it” but within fifteen minutes of leaving the office I knew one hundred percent what I wanted to do. I emailed him from my iPhone, thanking him for his offer while politely declining.
This publisher rubbed me the wrong way, but in the end, I am flattered that he was interested in my work. That is a real compliment. It isn’t very rewarding to me, however, compared to the connections I’ve made through selling my work myself. I talk to my readers and you talk back. I’ve met all of my closest friends through my writing. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.
I didn’t write my zines to be a book, I wrote them to be zines. If I’d intended to write a book I would’ve done a lot of things differently, and I didn’t need someone who went to school forty years ago to tell me so.
I have to assemble my work myself, book tables at craft and zine fairs, and run those tables. I have shipping costs to deal with and publicity relies on me alone. But do you know what? It’s kind of working for me. I’m making more money off my zines the way I’m doing it now than I could from working with a publisher. This publishing company was hoping to print one to three hundred copies of my book with the hopes that people would be interested. I’ve already sold 291 zines through my Etsy shop alone, not to mention countless copies sold at craft fairs.
I agree that I know little about the publishing world, but with the advance of the internet, that world is quickly changing. Just like the music industry is. Publishers that sell books to big box stores are going to go out of business unless they turn around and meet writers where they are at. They are at places where people openly share ideas instead of dreaming about one day meeting an elusive writer in the sky. The Great Oz is just a confused old man behind the curtain, grasping at straws. The new world of independent publishing is a strong force that isn’t going to be bullied away.
The result of this whole affair is a writer who values her own work enough to stand by it. Who values her readers enough to work with them directly. This writer just got a huge look into the publishing world, and now she knows how to play the game by using her own rules and listening to her readers.
Thanks, Mr. Publisher, but I’ll take it from here.