Sunday, February 9, 2014

My Thoughts on Donald Maass' "New Class System" Post

So... Last night, shortly before the clock struck twelve, I've started re-evaluating. I stumbled onto this blog post by Donald Maass. It's gotten me thinking, in fact, I've been re-evaluating ever since. Sadly, re-evaluating has in fact infuriated me more, so although I tried hard not to rant, it might come across as such.

See, even though I've been somewhat set on getting an agent and trade publishing, I've been absorbing bits of info here and there.

Bits like the worrying culture that big houses don't want to pay for marketing, and then blame writers for not marketing enough to justify wide distribution, (how exactly is a writer supposed to do that, anyway?) and then, they grow unwilling to further publish mid-listers. And the fact that Agents don't want to take on projects that they deem risky.

Still... that was all hear-say to me. Until I read the truth straight from the horse's mouth. Now, I'm not going to copy/paste the whole post. I suggest you read it, to see exactly where I'm coming from, but I think you'll be able to follow my train of thought regardless.



It may be true that trade publishers are cracking the e-book market. However, given their penchant for not marketing newbies and non-bestsellers, I can't see where selling more e-books is actually benefiting the author of said books. Especially since most of the money goes to the publishers. If I get less than 25% of royalties (apparently 25% is a non-negotiable industry standard, and then I still have to pay the agent out of that), I have to sell at least four books to make the same amount as one book I self-published (assuming I do everything myself).

Also, isn't it lovely to see mid-listers be referred to as burdens? Especially since not much is being done to get them out of the mid-list? Oh no, not while it's easier (and cheaper) to blame the writer.


Firstly, I deeply resent that any person representing people who are supposed to represent authors (and oh, he does), see us as cattle to be culled and slaughtered at will. I'm sorry, but after the crap I go through just to get a book done, I think I and any other writer worth his/her salt are worth a bit more respect.

Secondly, if the current publishing approach is to go after proven successes in order to profit from a writer's own investment, it seems a bit unfair. No... scratch that. It smacks of exploitation.

Also, I read a post by another agent the other day. She answered a question about whether agents will represent books that have been self-published. Her answer: Yes, but only if they sold thousands and thousands of copies. And then, signing with a big publisher means that the author would give up a significant portion of future royalties. (Bear with me. I am getting to a point.)


If this is true, why are more and more self-published books gaining traction?

Also, is gaining a wider distribution worth tossing your book into what more likely than not will be a black-hole known as mid-list sales? Really? 


Those classes might exist, but if I worked my butt off to create a first-class product, why exactly should I sacrifice 75% of my royalties to a subset in the publishing industry who:

1) Refuse to shoulder some (or any) of the risk,
2) Don't see the work put into a project as something to be respected,
3) But rather to be exploited
4) isn't willing to negotiate on royalties to compensate for the work the writer put in just to get the story into shape for submission.

Which brings me to the point. What are we as writers paying for?

Marketing? Probably not.

Covers? Editing? Overheads? Possibly, but small publishers offer better royalties, and we pay them for these too.

So could it be that I'd be helping to pay the pub house for the authors that *gasp* called wrong when they offered representation/a publishing contract?

Or will it be that I'll be paying for the fabled distribution channels? The same ones that has people turning into nervous wrecks for fear that their first editions will mostly end up as pulp? Because there wasn't any help with marketing?

What then? Where is the service rendered to me?

I am the writer.

Without writers submitting to agents and publishers, neither would exist. That means, the writers are the clients. They deserve to either get their money's worth, or the money they deserve.

Before, this irrefutable fact could be ignored because there were few agents and publishers, and many, many authors. With no alternative way to see a book published.

But see, this changed. We don't have to go through gate-keepers and gates any more. I can go upload my book right now (although I wouldn't without editing and formatting) and see the book out there for public consumption. All by myself.

And I can do this keeping control of my rights (with or without a lawyer), royalties, and the creative direction in which I want to take the stories I write.

In economic speak: the publishing market is heading to efficiency, and buying into the old inefficient system no longer makes sense.

Plainly said: I'm done. I won't submit another query to agents until I start seeing some sort of worth-while service.

Metaphorically: I see two classes of people everywhere: sheep and wolves.

I'm a wolf. 
I don't see why I'd force myself to eat grass. 


  1. I'm trying to form my response in multiple words but I can't come up with anything better than "Whoa." I do believe the wolf has been called. Prey, watch out now.

  2. I've been published traditionally and have also indie pubbed. With my latest, I'm going the digital-only smallish publisher route. It's all good, depending on your deal. And Donald Maass isn't saying anything new. Big publishers have always been leary of the midlist authors. You DO get expanded sitribution from a "regular" publisher, but in my experience, I still had to market the heck out of my book. Because publicists are swamped with books to promote, and you only have a month at best with one. So, yes, go ahead and self-pub. Especially if you are good at online marketing, or willing to learn. Donald M's airplane hierarchy analogy is rather sneery, and not completely accurate.

  3. Got to go out and check this post!

  4. This is pretty much the conclusion I came to a while back, which is why I also am (thankfully) done with querying :)

  5. I haven't tried to submit to an agent and won't. I'd rather run my business and my career. I had an agent contact me once and asked me to submit. I sent her links to my published books and said she could submit a proposal to me on what she could do for me. I'm not interested in splitting what I earn with anyone else at this point... not unless they can guarantee me a lot more money or say how they can help me grow my business and my career. It's that archaic thinking that will keep the trad publishers from pulling out of the downward spiral. And mid list authors can make a living publishing on their own... if they give up the agent and publisher. You don't even have to have a best seller... so I've learned from some friends.

  6. I think the publishing industry is going through the same sort of denial/bullishness that the music industry went through. It's not that they believe their way is best, it's just that the alternative is a lot worse for them (though better for us) so they'll fight tooth and nail to fleece as many people as they can before they finally get put out of their misery. In the end they're in it to make money and as quickly as possible. Not so much sheep vs wolves as dinosaursvs a very big asteroid.

    Moody Writing

  7. I saw that post, too, and I was kind of shocked at the attitude towards midlist authors - well, all authors, really! I do think self-publishing or small press publishing is the best choice for the author a lot of the time (certainly royalties-wise), but I'm torn on the issue because I want my children's fantasy books to find an audience and I can only really do that through the traditional path.

    Working with a small publisher has worked out well for me because it still allows for creative control, without the extra costs of self-publishing, and the royalties are much better than bigger publishers'. At this point, I'm looking for an agent to help my career, but I'm more than happy to stick with small press publishing.

  8. Wow. I'm definitely going to have to read that one. :/

  9. I see myself as I person. I don't have to chase my supper and I can learn to use a gun. Grass, ha, yeah...never gonna happen. I can see your point about the poor treatment writers get. This definitely makes me feel that I was right to self-publish the work I want to self-publish and look for agents for the work I believe is suited for trad pub in 2015. Everyone has to decide what is right for them and I wish you all the best Misha.

  10. When I do finally get to that point, I would also strongly consider self-publishing, I know that there are pros and cons with both. By the time I'm ready, instant-publishing will probably just be a click away.


  11. That's why I self-pubbed. But it does take time to market. So I'll be reorganizing my strategy a bit. The techniques for marketing seem to change day to day though. For now, I'm writing like a fool, learning how to make my own covers, and learning formatting. It's enough to make me chew my nails off.

    Hugs and chocolate!

  12. I read the blog that you linked to... and I read what you wrote... and I have NO answers. I think that you should follow the path you feel is right for you. I think the comments here are very interesting, particularly from those who have already hit this fork in the road. Whatever you decide, I am rooting for you!

  13. Sending work off to a big publisher is like trying to get a shot at the plate, and the opportunity to hit a home run. That would definitely kickstart a writing career, and offer more opportunities to the author in the future--continue with a big publisher, or negotiate for good terms with a smaller publisher, or go it alone and self-publish, and consider what would be best for each project.

    There are a number of self-publishing successes that go traditional with some of their projects, because they see it as a good business decision because, in the end, while there is artistry involved in storytelling, publishing is a business, whether you have a publisher or you do it yourself.

    The analogy with cattle didn't bother me. It was just a way to convey his message. He's going to root for and be supportive of the big five. They're the ones that provide his source of income. You get a similar type of bias or slant from those that strongly support self-publishing.

    I think each writer has to educate himself/herself as to their options, realizing in the benefits and drawbacks of every path, while keeping their short, mid, and long term goals in mind.

  14. Whether you're a computer programmer, door-2-door salesman (are there any of those anymore?), artist, actor or subtotals as: what's in it for me...with everyone you deal with. Our industry is no different than any other. Cut the best deal for yourself that you can, sell yourself the best way possible, work your butt off...and you might be successful. Oh...and everyone cherry picks.

  15. Thanks, Misha, for your informative and rallying post. What Mr Maass says is true in many ways, but his approach is elitist and insulting to many writers, both self-pubbed and published by small presses. Very disheartening to read that post - especially from a respected publishing professional. Do the Big Five really think of us as a "herd" to "cull the prize cattle from"? I'm rapidly losing my respect for them.

  16. Publishers don't want to know unless you have an agent, and agents don't want to know unless you've already made it or have a well-known name. They only take two or three new writers from the 100,000 or so scripts they receive each year - so I've been told.
    I decided not to waste my time. My books are e-books and I'm going to self-publish. The marketing will be hard work, but I imagine it would be if I had a publisher.
    All the best whatever you decide to do.

  17. Great topic, Misha. Love it when you get riled up ;) I think everyone has to decide their own path and decide what exactly it is they want. I'm still trying to decide what I want. It's never been about the money though. This doesn't mean I'm willing to give away my work for a pittance though.

  18. So many interesting points, both in the original post and your reaction. Lots of stuff to think about. The good news is that authors have more paths to choose from now!

  19. Go, Misha! Don't eat grass. I'm so thankful there are many paths to publishing, and I think that currently the small press and the indies are setting trends. I don't know if that will hold or not, and I haven't read the original article yet, but other than getting placed in a few big box stores, I'm not sure what the big presses are offering - other than maybe exposure - with a big maybe.


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