Woo. Year end stuff. Yup.
Gah, I don’t know what to say. Things are pretty quiet so far. I got a story officially published this year, “Null (Void)”, by Nightlight Podcast. It is in dramatic audio form so that means sound effects and suches. That was an experience and a half.
Did PitMad and DivPit, hated both experiences. All this did was cement my dislike for pitch contests, particularly social media ones. And one of my pitches was jacked by a no-name company that really needed to learn how to read before hijacking. Really disliked that.
Besides that, not much has changed. I am not so sure about going traditional anymore because reasons I have already written about at length. That and a lot of the contracts I have seen so far, as well as the antics, strongly remind me of the music industry – where I have a good bulk of experience in. Especially enough that if someone told me they want to sign to a major*, I would have told them they have lost their minds and maybe they should just get a Soundcloud and CD Baby account instead. That way, they keep their royalties, keep their rights and it won’t be a War Of The Gods to get their masters and licenses back. My source: Literally everyone I know in the music industry that has ever made music.
I will always remark again and again that though I am not new to writing by a long shot, I am new to the publishing industry. Especially in its modern form. If it were the music industry, I already know how to navigate it and I already know what to do, who to talk to and whose stuff I should threaten to break if contractual conversations and obligations gets murky over the mathematics. Picked up all these fun facts over the years of reading contracts to pass the time back when I worked at the Library of Congress, listening to vent stories from roadies and musicians alike, and overhearing thunderous arguments while trying to figure out the maze that is backstage (some venues are designed by the very same people who put together the stairs at Hogwarts). On top of that, I watched biopics and documentaries. Oh, and literally watched friends of mine go through these troubles firsthand.
So when it comes to music and business, I think I know, at minimum, a tick more than the average person with a Spotify or Pandora account.
But, I didn’t want to bring that “I know everything” ego into publishing because I wanted to learn how the publishing business worked. There is already the stark difference that writing is a solitary act, music isn’t. Then you have the act of getting stories out there vs getting music out there. Someone puts out an EP? Great, you might give it a curious listen. Someone puts out a short story? It might be passed up because of the bs lofty idea of “reading is for the intellectual – I just want to have fun”. Heck, I still have to pull teeth with my music friends to listen to “Null(Void)” because of that very notion. And I have sat through (and bought) albums where I have gone, “Man, I am super glad we are friends – because hearing my cat screech for water in the sixth hour is better than what I’m listening to.” Even when I bring that up, they go, “But … like, I might not get it.” As if I am writing with the ink of Alexander Dumas’ soul or something. They like the idea of kill fees**, though. A million times better than getting shelved for the rest of eternity or chained to an options contract with an indecisive record company.
Music is depicted as inherently enjoyable. Reading is not.
Music is depicted as inherently cool. Reading is not.
So, yes, there are stark differences between music and publishing. I have one friend who is in publishing, I ask them lots. I try to read lots. Some of it still eludes me but the more and more I look at – particularly, the contracts – the more and more some parts are very similar to the record industry. Especially the parts that make it so the work makes the most money possible while the author is paid the least money possible. Just like in music. That’s a problem. I don’t like that.
With what I have encountered, this does concern me. I don’t want to be roped into some literary publishing version of a 360 deal***. I want to be able to own my works, my intellectual property and have, at minimum, some kind of say in the productions of my works. I have seen these contracts go so royally wrong a metric ton more than I have ever seen a cordial relationship between artist and company. If I see the same in publishing, I have zero reason to believe that it’s going to be magically better simply because there are books and not rockstars involved. One of my goals is to not be curled up on the floor of a tour bus squeaking about miserably with my crumpled, marked up contract in hand over how screwed over I got, despite my best efforts and my best research.
And speaking of rockstars. I have heard writers describe themselves as “rockstar authors”. I have never heard rockstars call themselves “successful authors” or some similar phrase. This means I learned quickly that I probably am not going to fit in with other writers because the statement baffled me. I have been around Head from Korn. He has written a book. This is an appropriate definition of “rockstar author”. If someone is not this intersection, they are just a regular, probably-a-hermit-with-a-pen author. It does not help that I work in libraries so I hear this more times than one ever should. Heck, it’s cool to have visited Whiskey A Go Go and The Viper Room or Madison Square Garden, not the Library of Congress (and reminder, I previously worked at the Library of Congress).
Back to trad pub and its concerns.
So things are in limbo. I like the idea of the validation you get from getting picked up by traditional publishing buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut then there’s literally everything else that is wrong with the picture. You feel validation when you’re picked up by a record company, too. Then you’re sitting on your second album and your sixth grammy, wondering how the heck you’re going to eat that month because you have barely seen a dime. And your alternative option is pretty much nothing at all/start over again because you somehow got sussed out of owning the music you made.
*Major record company (Atlantic, Warner Brothers, Columbia, etc)
** Kill Fee – A fee paid to the author if the work picked for publication is not published for whatever reason. The author can then shop their rejected work elsewhere
*** 360 degree deals are music contracts that own and picks money from literally every little thing you do. Make music? Company gets a cut. Go on tour? Company gets a cut. Star in a movie? Company gets a cut. Slap your face on the side of a cereal box? Company gets a cut. No matter what, the company gets a cut. Doesn’t matter if it didn’t involve them or even your music career, the company gets a cut. Want out? Get cut, death by a thousand lawyers.