The Whys and Wherefores

May 15, 2012 | Opinions

“Why did you decide to start this kind of business?”

You know, I spent a long time debating whether there was even a place for the business model I had in mind. It seems bizarre on its face. I’m not a publisher or an agent, though I sometimes use the same systems that they do. I’m not a self-publishing outfit selling packages, though authors can buy my skills as and if they need them. I’m not like Publish America or iUniverse, and I have nothing for either of them bar the deepest kind of contempt.

I think it all started once I read the Writer Beware blog, and when I encountered first-hand the consequences of aspiring writers being ripped off.

Hi, my name is Claire.

Initially, I always thought I’d publish traditionally. I am a teller of stories, following the old Irish tradition of the seanchaí; the stories they told shaped the culture of ancient Ireland, and nothing has changed between then and now. The stories we tell, in book and film and song, let the world know what it is and what it should be. I can’t imagine a greater calling, and I can’t imagine what else I would want to do with my life.

Oh, I still had to be practical, of course. Everyone said you couldn’t make a living as a writer, so you should study something that will get you a solid career. I got a degree in Geology out of that particular piece of advice, and, although it gave me a deep appreciation for science, I should have chosen something else. I fell into computers and design largely by accident after that.

So, in the year 2010, I’d finally reached a point where I thought my work is good enough to be published. I began to look at my options, and I didn’t like what I saw.

The Assumption

I followed a lot of agents and publishers, and I learned as much as I could about the industry. The more I read, though, the more flaws I found. There was a trade-off, always, between what was given to a publisher versus what the author could expect to get back – and what appeared to be a good deal simply wasn’t worth it just to gain access to a shrinking physical book market. I live and breathe on the Internet, and even then, I could see that ebooks were the future profit-makers.

Even publishers who acted in good faith and treated their authors well couldn’t give better terms than just self-publishing and building an audience slowly. There was no advance on earth, save one in the millions, that could justify giving up control of a manuscript. The royalties lost once ebooks became the norm far outweighed the advance a first-time author could expect. I was finally convinced once I heard that Barry Eisler turned down $500,000 in favor of self-publishing.

Of all the agents and publishers I followed, 90% assumed the same thing – that most authors still aimed for traditional publication. Having learned as much as I thought I could from them, I unsubscribed from their blogs, and started reading about the indie publishing scene.

The Plan

I decided to go it alone. I kept hearing stories about authors being taken for a ride, and I thought there had to be a better way. There had to be something between doing it all yourself and trying for a major contract, something that didn’t involve outfits like Publish America. Why did an author have to give up their rights? Why couldn’t there be a system that let them access the services they needed to produce a good book, after the writing was done?

It couldn’t be something like an agent. Agents sold books to traditional publishers, and their business model was already being disrupted by the Internet. But the basic idea of a publisher seemed solid, if it could just be tweaked a little with some of the concepts behind an agent. So I came up with the idea of an agency that:

  • would know the industry of self-publishing
  • would train an author in the skills they needed to sell a book
  • would handle production like a traditional publisher
  • would be an advocate and guide for authors.

I didn’t name it Raynfall until much later, when I settled on the essence of the business model. It seemed so simple to me.

The author and the agency agree on a cost for a book, which includes production, the creation of a website, the training in how to market and sell, and any other services the author needs. The agency gets the cost from the profits, once the book is published. The author can stay with the agency, and get technical support and marketing advice and whatnot, or they can leave and go it alone. No rights required, no cash up front. The agency has to pick good books that it thinks will find an audience, but it’s got all the time in the world to make back what it spent, and that cost is a lot lower than a traditional publisher if it’s sticking to ebooks.

I could do this. I had all the skills. I’m a graphic designer and web designer by trade, I was a marketing manager, I’d done copywriting and copyediting. I’d done proofreading, in-depth editing and critiques. Somehow I’d managed to accumulate the right kind of knowledge, especially when it came to the Internet.

And then I moved to Canada.

Things moved on between then and now. Ebooks have taken off, the majors are coming around (slowly), and it seemed that there was still a strong place for an agency like what I’d imagined. I talked to authors I met in Vancouver, and Perry Wilson offered to be my first guinea pig for the a la carte services.

So here I am, attempting to rewrite the rules of publishing. I’ve been in business a month, and it already feels like a long, crazy ride. I have my own books to write as well as working on other authors’ stuff, and The Author’s Marketing Handbook is top of my list. I’m living in interesting times, in a city I never thought I’d ever see, running an agency that I only ever dreamed about. I’ve always believed that there must be a better way, and now I get to make it happen myself.

Fair and equitable publishing, for every author.