• Kamy Wicoff
  • Thanks but No Thanks, Big Five. I'd Rather Be At SWP.
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Thanks but No Thanks, Big Five. I'd Rather Be At SWP.
Written by
Kamy Wicoff
October 2013
Written by
Kamy Wicoff
October 2013

As any of you who have read my recent blog posts know, I finished my first novel a few months ago, and, a few weeks ago, my agent submitted it to a fairly heady list of some of the biggest editors in the business.  And guess what? I got a deal! A good deal, from one of the Big Five (which until recently was the Big Six, until Penguin and RandomHouse merged to form an entity that comprises a whopping 25% of the book market) within weeks of submitting the manuscript. 

But I’m not taking it.

Why not?  The short answer is, the deal wasn't good enough.  My agent (and I) had hoped I would get an offer I couldn't refuse -- the kind of offer that lets you know a publisher is going to put your book at the top of its list and put the considerable weight of its infrastructure, budget and expertise behind you.  But those offers are extremely rare, and, unsurprisingly, I didn’t get one like that. I got one a lot like the offer I got on my first book, which I accepted gratefully nearly ten years ago: from a major house, with a good advance and a well-respected editor attached.  But then, as now, the message was not, “We will do anything to have this book!” It was more like, “We like this enough to publish it and see what happens. (And you'd better have a good platform.)” 

It was the kind of deal I'd told myself I wouldn't accept, and yet...I still considered taking it.  Even as the founder of an independent press, with an attractive publishing option of my own, it was enormously hard to shake the conventional wisdom that says it is always better to publish your book with a Big Five publisher, no matter what the advance is, or whether you think they will make your book a priority, than it is to publish with an indie, or (quelle horreur), to invest in publishing it yourself. First try to get a traditional book deal, the thinking goes, and if you can't, then move on to explore other options. 

In the end, I was able to think clearly, and arrive at the right decision for me. For many writers, going with the deal I was offered would absolutely be the right decision. There are many factors to consider, perhaps most importantly whether you can afford to wait on book sales and forgo an advance. It isn't a simple matter of super-big-deal or CreateSpace-here-I-come. (That would be really silly.) I am here to argue, however, that it is high time to break free of viewing the traditional book deal with a big publishing house as the primary goal, neglecting to consider other publishing options until that avenue has been exhausted. These options should instead be considered side-by-side. Because in light of the opportunities new technologies present, unexamined acceptance of the average midlist book deal is shortsighted at best. At worst, it can be damaging to an author's career.

I'm currently at work on a piece explaining why I am one hundred percent convinced this is true. At the heart of it lies the critical question authors should ask of any book deal: what am I getting in exchange for what I'm giving up? Please stay tuned! And in the meantime, a big shout out to my fellow authors at SWP. I am so proud and excited to be officially joining your ranks. (My novel will pub in fall of 2014.)  We are on the cutting edge together, and, despite my recent detour--or perhaps even more enthusiastically because of it--there is nowhere I'd rather be.

(Any questions about whether SWP is on the cutting edge might be answered here: check out this press release about our recent distribution deal with Ingram Publisher Services!)

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  • S.C. Rhyne

    This was one of the first posts I saw, and why I joined SheWrites.com. First off, it is an honor to offered a contract by a traditional publisher, especially from one of the big 6 houses. But, what many authors need to know is that those contract details aren't always in your best interest. I recently met another young writer, who was offered a contract by....a big 6 house, and they would publish his book and anything else he wrote for 5 years afterwards. They didn't do any promotion for his book, and I don't think he had a lot of support, so he decided to publish on his own. Unless you're a top performing writer (top 10% like Nicholas Sparks, Tom Clancy, JK Rowling...) the pub houses don't spend a lot of time/energy/resources marketing you. But some people may argue that having the name behind your book carries weight. I don't think that's true, because unless I'm doing citation/bibliography I rarely look for who published it.

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    Oh thanks Maureen, I will check that out!  And thanks for all the other good wishes!

  • Maureen E. Doallas

    There is a new magazine, Scratch, that is exploring issues in the publishing industry. Your topic about going or not going with a Big 5 publisher might be a good fit for the magazine. (It is making its inaugural edition openly accessible but is intending to be a subscription-based online mag.)

  • Anjuelle Floyd

     Congrats on making the right decision concerning your book and saying, "Thanks, but no thanks to one of the big 5."  I really liked your post.

  • Laura Nicole Diamond

    Kamy, thanks for your response. It is really helpful. When I decided to submit to SWP, I will feel better knowing that the standards are as high as those in traditional publishing. In fact, it never occurred to me before that SWP may be judging the quality of writing even more than the traditional houses may be, because of the business model.

  • Jane Galer

    Congratulations, Kamy! I completely support and agree with your decision. You join the ranks of Jane Austin and Virginia Woolf...there is no better way to break the strangle hold of the Big Five than to take the step you have taken. Welcome to the new world of publishing!

  • Jessica Vealitzek

    Thanks for addressing that, Kamy. I was worried, too, and still find myself feeling a little defensive at times. And it's hard to explain it to people or to change an assumption without sounding defensive. You put it very well.

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    Laura, I am SO glad you asked that -- to tell you the truth, some part of me felt the same way, and I think that it was that in addition to wanting to see what another deal might like look like, I wanted to know if it was "good enough." What I learned was that the judgments being made about my book had almost nothing to do with how good it was, and almost everything to do with internal concerns at the houses, marketing, and things like "category," "brand" and "what's 'in'" right now. It was a big lesson for me in learning to trust myself and my judgment about my work -- and also Brooke's.  Brooke is actually a really tough editor, and made my book 100% better than it was before. SWP standard's are up to the industry with one wonderful difference -- because our business model relies on author's payment for editorial and production, we can judge manuscripts PURELY on how good they are, not on whether we think they will sell.

  • Jean P. Moore

    Congratulations, Kamy, on your offer and on your decision to refuse it! I am certain, like you, that you and Brooke have created an innovative new model for publishing that will become THE new model others will try to emulate. I couldn't be happier about my decision to join your ranks! 

  • Laura Nicole Diamond

    I'm very happy for you, both for the publisher's offer and for your clarity of purpose to go with SWP. Mazel tov!

    I wonder if you might address a concern I have as a first time novelist -- is my book good enough? Fiction is outside of my comfort zone, so I have been working on the premise that getting a traditional publisher to say "Yes" to my novel would bless and confirm that it is indeed good enough. I know SWP does some level of vetting, but I intuit that the publisher's standards would have to be higher, because they are taking a bigger risk. What do you think? Thanks so much for your words of wisdom on this. (And your decision to go with SWP does say a whole lot!)

  • Loraine Despres

    Congratulations. Very brave. Let us know how it works out. I know you will.

  • Jessica Keener

    Congratulations, Kamy! I love how you wrestled this out and followed your heart. 

  • Julie Luek

    Congratulations, first, on getting a book deal-- no matter who with. That's no small accomplishment! I'll be excited to hear your reasons and learn from you as you make this decision. I hope it soars!

  • Tony Williams

    Try here https://twitter.com/KristineRusch You can also contact her via her website.

  • Lynne Morgan Spreen

    You are my hero, Kamy! It's hard to recognize that The Dream has become an illusion at this point.

    I published my midlife fiction novel without spending any time at all trying to find a trad publisher. I did flirt with an indie, but figured I could do it myself. And I have. Sure, I grieve that the old days are history; that "The Phone Call" will never come. But publishing has changed, and I've tried to see it as a plus. Now I'm my own boss. My novel is doing well, and I have built enough of a platform to have reached #3 on the Amazon free list when I gave it away (to 26,000+ friends) recently. Yes, I dreamed for decades of the call from my agent that would free me for the rest of my life to be The Author, adored at book signings, dropping in on my New York people. But when my MS was ready, the world had changed. I changed with it. I'm an Author, making my own decisions, sharing what I've learned. Life goes on, and I am happy. I wish you the very best.

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    Oh thank you Tony, what a great piece! Is she on Twitter? I want to connect with her...

  • Tony Williams

    Okay Kamy, understood. Kristine Kathryn Rusch would give you a huge pat on the back! Her article, ‘Writers Will Work for Cheap’ is well worth reading. http://kriswrites.com/2012/01/04/the-business-rusch-writers-will-work-for-cheap/

  • Donna Kaulkin

    Right on, Kamy. And happy publishing from a self-published (by choice) author who has no regrets.

  • Gabriella West

    Congrats, Kamy. You get the best of both worlds this way, I think!

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    @Tony I'm working on the piece that will get into the details now -- in short the advance was good (five figures), the house was major, and the editor was smart. But when I did the math and thought about what I would give up by selling to this publisher against what I'd get by taking the risk to do it with SWP, it didn't add up -- SWP was, and is, the better bet for me. I'm lucky, by the way, that I wasn't in need of the advance right away.  For some authors that simply isn't something they can turn down, and that makes perfect sense. But you will be surprised by the numbers--what those advances come out to when you calculate the 15% to your agent, and the drastically reduced royalties on the back end...

  • Lisa Thomson

    Your decision is setting an excellent example for all of us.  You're making us think twice about the traditional ideas of publishing.  Your choice is solid and speaks highly of SWP!

  • GillianAlex

    Congratulations and Good for you!! This is  an awesome story. Just awesome..

  • Tony Williams

    Go for it Kamy, once you’re convinced it works for you. Just one thing, though; you made it clear what it was about the deal you didn’t like but what exactly about it did you like, that made you characterize it as a  ‘good deal'?

  • Julia Fierro

    Congrats, Kamy! I can't wait to read your novel. 

  • Doreen Pendgracs

    I can really relate to your situation, Kamy. I've just self-published my first book. It's my 4th book, but the first time I've taken the lead and become the publisher! What a journey it has been. but I definitely feel it was the right decision for the time. That's not to say I wouldn't take a publishing contract for the next volume of chocolatour, but as you say ... it would have to be a deal I absolutely could not refuse! Cheers to having choices.