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Publisher-Author Power Struggle – Part II

In Part I of  Publisher-Author Power Struggle we traveled back in literary history to a time when authors held a great deal of power over their works. We then saw how that power eroded and all but disappeared. In Part II, the discussion continues pointing out that in desperation for autonomy, many authors took what seemed to be drastic measures.

Vanity Press

In the years following WWII, we saw the rise of what was known as the vanity press. In my work teaching and coaching writers, I saw way too many beginners get sucked into this ploy. The unsuspecting were thrilled that their book had been accepted by such-and-so house. So what if they had to pay a few thousand bucks to get it into print? In their minds it was worth it.

Vanity press publishers worked like this. Unlike mainstream publishers, who offer advances to authors and then sell and promote the books, vanity presses charged a hefty fee ranging anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000. For that price the vanity press promised to first edit and then print the book. Print runs could range anywhere from a dozen to several hundred. Some of these so-called publishers also made very strong claims about promotion and distribution – which, of course, they could rarely follow up on.

Remember this was long before Google research; and long before author/writer watchdog groups. Writers who chose this course were looked upon with great disdain by the legitimate authors. Many jokes floated about regarding those poor souls who had garages full of boxes of books.

The largest, most well known of the vanity press ilk was Vantage Press. Vantage made a lot of money in their years of existence from 1949 until they were finally shut down in 2012. (Closed as a result of massive class-action suit.) One would be hard pressed to think of any company, publishing or otherwise, who had more complaints against them than Vantage Press.

Be A NovelistSome Did it the Right Way

Not every self-published author was this naïve, however. Some did it right, such as Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield – co-authors of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. The duo turned to a small press to have the first books printed, then traveled the country promoting and selling on their own. They became legends in self-publishing history and became sterling examples to other authors how to wrench back control of their own works.

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Fading Stigma

Fast forward to today. Slowly but surely the stigma of self-publishing is fading away. E-readers, formatting and cover-creating software, sites such as Amazon.com, and companies such as Lulu, Book Baby, and Create Space, have flung the doors to self-publishing wide open. Now it’s not just a few desperate beginning authors who are walking this road. We have many accounts of well-known, highly-successful authors who are deserting their legitimate publishing houses and moving over to self-publish.


Two major reasons: money and control.

The Too-Tight Shoe

It’s rather like taking off a too-tight shoe that you’ve been limping around in for days. Suddenly the shoe is pulled off and the relief and freedom is exhilarating. Any author who has been in both camps (the confines of the legitimate publishers; the freedom of self publishing) can agree with that analogy.

I too have been in that tight-shoe situation of being at the mercy of publishing houses. They take the rights, they take the control, they have the final say in every facet, and in return they give authors a pittance in the form of a tiny royalty.

Publishers Need AuthorsBe A Novelist

For too long, publishers seem to have forgotten that they are in existence solely due to the blood, sweat, and tears of the authors. They became the epitome of the tail that wagged the dog. It wasn’t natural, it made no sense, and it couldn’t last forever.

Today, publishing power has progressively reverted back to those to whom the power rightly belongs – the authors.

I, for one, am thrilled with the progression. In my humble opinion, it’s long overdue. Be A Novelist

It’s Finally Here!

Flower in the Hills is now in paperback

Books in this Collection are Clean Teen Reads

Clean Teen Reads = Parents can trust them; teens can trust them!

Be A Novelist

Norma Jean Lutz

Be A Novelist


Publisher-Author Power Struggle – Part I

The Long and Winding RoadBe A Novelist

It’s so easy to forget – or for some, they never really knew – the long and winding road authors have traveled with regard to power over their work. It’s been up then down; down then up; and many stages in between.

Starting with the Great Tradition – as F. R. (Frank) Levis referred to that era – we see a time when power to a great measure resided with authors. The literary giants of the nineteenth century enjoyed an almost immediate communication with their literate public. (Think of Jane Austen, the Bronte Sisters, George Eliot, Henry James, and so on.)

No Delay; No Pause

These authors experienced little or no “editorial guidance” (or editorial interference for that matter), no literary agents to impose a third point of view, no technical delays, no editorial committee meetings, and no pause for publicity and promotion.

During that era a new book could be on sale within six or eight weeks from the submission of the manuscript and the acceptance. This is the point at which the author’s belief and interest in the book is at her/his keenest.

Be A NovelistAuthor-Editor Honeymoon

In the early part of the twentieth century we recall the wonderful, almost-honeymoon days of close intimate friendly editor-author relationships. A great example of this would be that of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor, Maxwell Perkins. No author who ever read the letters between these two men, could help but be a wee bit jealous (or even insanely jealous) of being groomed and cared for by such an editor. Perkins’ writers had a great degree of power over their work, but were guided by this editor’s firm and stern guidance. The same was true for most all publishing houses during these years.

Competitive Challengers

The printed word met two strong competitive challengers in the first half of the twentieth century. First movies, then television, served to weaken the Be A Novelistimpact of the written page. Literacy spread, but the literate became more passive – and somewhat apathetic – as the colored images passed before their eyes.

It was as though a sort of panic set in driving authors to grow coarser. Sex and violence, in ever more explicit terms, replaced subtlety. Novice novelists pinned their faith to the fast start, the jump-cut, and the cliché dialogue which was immediately familiar to a generation accustomed to advertising jingles.

Sometimes the formula was successful; sometimes not. But regardless, the numbers of would-be authors increased, publishing costs rose, and now publisher themselves became much more difficult to please.

Diminishing Author Power

Be A NovelistAs publishers’ power grew, and the power of authors diminished, publishers found they could make certain demands. For instance, they began to require query letters rather than full manuscripts. As if that were not enough, they then prohibited multiple query letters; forcing authors to submit one query letter to one publisher at a time. (Which ultimately translated into months of wasted time.)

Let’s assume the novelist was successful and made a sale. They are made to feel at the mercy of the publishing house editors, who had the last say on most of the edits and the publishing house artists had the last say on the cover art. Add to that the fact that the book was published under the name of that particular house – and many authors had no clue even what rights (if any) they held.

Next came the media invasion. Will there be a movie offer? What about TV appearances? Could it become a book club choice? Talk shows, radio spots, Be A Novelistinterviews, reviews? The list droned on and on. The goal seemed to be to magnify and glorify the author. By now the content and merits of the book have been obscured or forgotten.

Those authors of a more reserved, quiet nature, who love sitting at home writing a book, felt as though they were drowning in a morass of the media mud pit.

In Publisher-Author Power Struggle – Part II we’ll continue our journey in this intense and emotional power struggle. Stay tuned!Be A Novelist

It’s Finally Here!

Flower in the Hills is now in paperback

Books in this Collection are Clean Teen Reads

Clean Teen Reads = Parents can trust them; teens can trust them!

Be A Novelist

Norma Jean Lutz

Be A Novelist