I went into BEA this week hoping to find a way to sell foreign rights. The first day was rough. The second made me realize I’d been asking the wrong question. Sometimes, when you don’t get your question answered, it’s the universe’s way of telling you that you’re asking the wrong question. So I talked to a couple fellow writers and realized what question I should’ve been asking.
What I thought I wanted to know: how to sell my foreign rights to reach new markets.
What I really needed to know: the road map for someone like me to take my writing and business to the next level.
What I learned: there is no map. The publishing industry is in complete turmoil to the point that almost all the people I spoke to this week agree that no one knows what’s going to happen next. Booksellers, authors and agents are unhappy with big publishers. Big publishers are going broke and trying hard to adapt to a new business model, one that sees them straining the relationship with well, booksellers, authors and agents. In the meantime, I already outsell probably 95% of traditionally published and indie authors, making me an anomaly in both worlds.
Indies still have a stigma in the publishing industry, but we’ve also been accepted (albeit grudgingly) as here to stay and influencing the marketplace. The people I spoke to almost all also said that whatever I’m doing, I’m on the right path.
It’s a rather interesting take, I think, because one of the things I struggle with as an indie author is trying to cut a path through a jungle without a compass. Am I going the right way? What IS the right way? How do I get there, once I know? And how can I do things better?
One literary agent gave me some wonderful advice. He said I’m better off on my own right now, because there’s nothing a publisher can do for me that I can’t do for myself. At least, until I make it big. Publishers are requiring that authors give up more and more rights while cutting back on promotion. Promotion = money, and publishers don’t have it. This agent’s advice was to continue writing, building a following and getting my name out there. I can get myself to the next level, but a publisher can’t. Rather, a publisher won’t.
A publisher won’t help me sell foreign (or other) rights, because they insist on taking the rights but won’t sell them unless I make it huge. They won’t even market me, unless I’m on the NYT bestsellers list. In fact, he told me to sell until I’m so huge, they’re beating down my door. Then and only then is it worthwhile for someone like me to go to a publisher, because that’s the only time they’ll actually put their expansive resources behind me and help me grow what I’ve already started.
Deep thoughts, eh?
I don’t necessary want a publisher; I wanted a mentor. If that mentor took on the shape of a publisher, so be it. Could the magical world of traditional publishers do something for me that I cannot? Do they hold the map that’ll lead me out of the jungle?
After my three days at BEA, the answer is a resounding NO. In the words of the majority of the people I spoke to, I’m better off on my own. There are no mentors or paths for people like me, because there have never really been people like me prior to the rapid and unforgiving publishing evolution.
That said, I’m starting to form new ideas of where I want to go next in this jungle. I had an Indian publisher drop by twice to talk to me. I might give them a try and see if they’ll pick up – and promote – the War of Gods series in the Near East. I’m going to research Chinese publishers, the American Booksellers Association, make certain all my books are in the industry catalogue used by libraries and indie book stores, devise more targeted marketing plans and focus on a crazy new project I’ve been mulling over for a few weeks, one that helps indies like me.
Finally, I’m going to keep writing and promoting with a peaceful mind that now knows I’m not only on the right track, I’m creating the right track. Weary yet thoughtful, I found Nirvana this week, not at BEA, but within myself. Apparently, I had the answers all along.
Now, about my world domination scheme …