I recently sent off my novel “Beneath the Sky” to be copy-edited. A friend of a friend recommended a friend as a copy-editor, which means, I suppose, that my novel is halfway to Kevin Bacon. But that aside, I’m paying to get have it copy-edited in a professional manner because I want to put this thing out there in a professional fashion, but with that act, I run smack into that old publishing stand-by, Yog’s Law.
Yog’s Law states an old truism of traditional publishing:
Money flows towards the writer.
For years (decades?), I’ve heard writers and publishers quote this law. The backstory is here, where apparently James McDonald boiled down all the anti-scammer wisdom he could into one simple phrase. In that, he did a fabulous job. It’s clear, to the point, and memorable. Golly, it’s almost as if he knows a thing or two about writing, eh?
In traditional publishing, this little gem has saved a lot of aspiring writers from becoming aspiring victims. Don’t pay an agent to read your book. Don’t pay your so-called publisher for copy-edits or cover design. And for the love of God, don’t pay your publisher for the actual printing! Money flows towards the writer.
But in self-publishing (or “indie” publishing as the cool kids say) this is getting blurred. I’m a writer up to the point where I think the book is ready to go, but then I’m the publisher when I put it through copy-edits, cover design, print setup costs, etc. These are legitimate tasks that a publisher performs when publishing someone else’s book, and publishing companies hire people (i.e. PAY someone) to do those tasks. Then when it’s all done and out the door, I suppose I’m somewhere in between, money flowing back to me the writer while also setting some aside as the publisher to cover costs for the next book.
John Hartness opined on this last year, and James MacDonald (YOG himself!) stopped by to comment on it. He pointed out that his law is still valid as long as you keep track of which hat you’re wearing, i.e. writer vs. publisher, and that ultimately the publisher’s money is still flowing towards the author. “That it’s only moving from one pocket to another in the same pair of pants is immaterial.”
I get that, and be assured that I’m being pretty tight with any cash outlays towards this self-publishing venture, but I could have been less so. I ran into one company, 52 Novels, that does a lot of the publishing work for you. For a fee, they handle e-book formatting and for a little extra will even do print-book layout. They can farm out cover design, and if you ask nicely, I think they’ll even hook you up with a copy-editor or other literary services. By all accounts, they are quite ethical and have a reputation for doing high quality work for a reasonable price.
But I’ve heard of others that are maybe not so ethical, yet they look quite similar. Perhaps the crucial difference is that after you pay these less-ethical cousins for their services, they do you the added “favor” of publishing the book for you to various e-book outlets and POD fulfillment channels, only keeping a mere 20-50% of the perpetual royalties in exchange for this bonus service. With that one little detail, I’ve suddenly gone from paying a professional to do the job right to paying someone to rip me off. At least, that’s what it looks like to me. (To be clear, 52 Novels is a pay-for-service company, NOT a publisher or scammer.)
The key difference seems to be that when I pay my friend-thrice-removed to copy-edit my book or hire an artist to paint my cover, I am retaining all control as the publisher of my book. But that’s not boiled down into such a nifty little gem as Yog’s Law.
I suppose what we need is Yog’s Corallary, something like: But if you do pay for necessary services, be sure you keep control.
Yeah, not quite so clean and pithy. Yog, where are you when we need you?
Note: an extra bit of googling found a professional response to this question of Yog’s Law in the self-publishing era, including some good logic and a big-ass flow chart, so check out The Write Agenda. It’s very informative and promises an impending white paper on the subject. But still, nothing quite so clean and pithy as the original.