Why Are We Stepping On Each Other's Toes?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Lately I've noticed a lot of toe-stepping going on around the internet. And at the same time writer's are speaking their minds, many are quick to take offense to something written on Twitter or in a blog post, especially when it comes to self-publishing versus traditional publication.

Obviously, those who are happy with traditional publication, are quick to defend their position. And those who are self-publishing are also quick to promote the positives of their choice.

My agent recently wrote a post: Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too? I understood completely where her post was coming from, because I have contracts with non-compete clauses and it's not as simple as telling your publisher to take it out or take a hike

Even though ideally, I'd like to remove the non-compete, I have a great relationship with my publisher, love my editors, and have had a very positive traditional publication experience. I have no desire to burn bridges with anyone in the industry. But I'm also hopeful for changes and compromises that can help benefit everyone involved.

Unfortunately, Rachelle got a lot of criticism for her post, mainly from self-published authors. In reading the comments, I could see that some writers had no idea of the reality and complexity of the traditional publication situation (particularly in regard to non-compete clauses) mostly because they haven't been in the situation where they have one that they're struggling to negotiate. They were making blanket statements about issues they didn't fully understand.

But I'm guilty as charged. I've made statements about self-publishing when I have no idea about the reality and the complexity of the self-publishing situation. My comments come out of a collection of thoughts and presuppositions based on what I've read, instead of personal experience.

Until we've walked a mile in the shoes of someone else, we really have no business passing judgment, do we? There are times when I think it would be very helpful for me to self-publish something just so that I can understand where others are coming from. Then I could better empathize, be less judgmental, and be more knowledgeable when I make comments.

Shouldn't we all be striving to understand one another instead of coming across as critical, condescending, or demeaning?

The truth is, all of us writers whether we go the traditional route, self-publish, or both are in this business together. We can cheer each other on, no matter what route we take. Self-published authors don't have to scoff at traditionally published for settling for less money or control. And traditionally don't have to put down self-published books as subpar.

Obviously there are subpar books in both categories, just as there are poorly paid authors in both categories. Neither, in and of themselves, are the panacea for success.

Success knows no boundaries to a particular kind of publication. No matter the route we take, success comes to those who persevere in writing one good book after another, time after time, year after year.

I'll end my rant for today with a plea: Can we please stop stepping on each others' toes and just enjoy being friends? And if for some reason, our toes do get stepped on occasionally, perhaps we have to resolve not to take it so personally.

Have you noticed toe-stepping with the whole self-publishing versus traditional publishing debate? How have you handled it?


  1. Amen, Jody!

    I was pretty sure when I read Rachelle's post that there 1) was going to be a lot of misunderstanding in the comments and 2) the post didn't read the way Rachelle intended. But I am fortunate enough to have followed Rachelle long enough to know she encourages her clients in all walks of publishing.

    As far as stepping on toes... On one hand, it's a shame when people accuse others of making bad decisions just because it wasn't the decision they would have made. It does seem judgmental.

    On the other hand, it's nice to see that there are people out there who are so completely passionate about their publishing decisions that they are willing to stand strong on their path.

    I'm one of the big believers that ALL authors who are in the business for the long-term will eventually be hybrid authors. It doesn't matter if they got their start on the traditional side or paved their own path by building a readership in self-publishing first, the long-termers, the ones who study the craft and put their all into publishing and attracting readers, will all meet somewhere in the middle eventually - the cornucopia of publishing.

    1. Hi Heather!

      Love hearing your thoughts since you're in the trenches right now! If I self publish, you know I'll be asking you a zillion questions! ;-)

      Interesting to hear you say that you think all writers will end up hybrid if they persevere. It will certainly be interesting to see what the future brings!

  2. I think some of the "toe-stepping" comes more from perception and differing communication styles than it does from actual intention. People have different goals and priorities. So some of the toe-stepping happens or is perceived to happen when a person speaks out of their own preferences.

    For example, I think nobody should sign a non-compete clause, but that's because I believe the publisher is overstepping when it demands one. I see a demand for a non-compete clause as a red flag that the publisher might try to micromanage an author's career—which isn't its business. It's comparable to your tea supplier deciding to make demands about how much coffee you buy and when you buy it. (I drink both beverages.)

    I'm not anti-publisher. I have a novelette coming out soon from a small press, in fact.

    That said, I do realize that a non-compete clause isn't a deal-breaker for everyone, but when I'm speaking of my opinion of that particular situation, I'm not necessarily going to specify that because I'm speaking of my opinion.

    Your opinion might differ from mine. I kind of figure that's assumed. ^_^

    1. To clarify: A blanket non-compete is what bothers me most. Limited ones, I can see the arguments, though I don't buy them.

    2. Hi Carradee,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the issue. I'm happy to have a compromised situation for my non-compete clause. I'm sure there will be many more issues in the days and months to come that publishers and authors will have to continue to negotiate. Times are changing, and publishers and authors alike have to be willing to adjust!

  3. To Rachelle's great credit, she admitted she had "messed up royally" with the wording in her post. It unleashed a firestorm to be sure and one had to look within the flames to find the real substance on both sides.

    There is a line between strong disagreement, validly stated, and demeaning and derogatory verbiage. Every blogger and commenter needs to keep an eye on that line.

    As far as non-competes go, the issue for many self-pub and hybrid writers is the blanket clause. If one goes with a traditional publisher, one owes that publisher a partnership that includes not putting out a truly competing product, or messing up a release schedule. That's common business sense and courtesy.

    OTOH, a traditionally-pubbed author these days should be able to supplement his income with complementary works, e.g., short form. This is platform building and should be embraced by the whole enterprise. It's when this latter point is summarily denied or dismissed that self-publishing writers find their knickers in a definite twist.

    So bring on robust debate, but keep it civil. Good reminder, Jody.

    1. Yeah, I don't know that I agree that Rachelle messed up "royally." That seems a bit extreme! LOL :-)

      Anyway, I knew where she was coming from, because at that point she was in the middle of negotiating a non-compete clause for me. Over the past weeks, she got everything squared away. And she did an awesome job of wording the non-compete that would give me some freedom to publish/self-publish works that won't compete with what I'm publishing with Bethany House.
      I feel it was a win-win all around.

      My publisher took a chance on me, a debut no-name, and helped me become successful. They've treated me with the utmost of respect and kindness. They've worked hard, edited well, promoted me to the best of their ability. So you're right, I want to return the courtesy and maintain that partnership.

      But I'm looking forward to the opportunity to publish other things and am exited for the freedom to do that now. Hopefully the additional publications will be a win-win for everyone too.

  4. I can't recall any critical remarks on one side of the how-to-publish fence or the other. I believe each writer should do what is best for them, period. I also believe that the best of both worlds is the hybrid status, doing both. I also know that as an author who has been dropped by both of my previous publishers, I had best be content with indie publishing (which is fine with me). I don't sweat it. I *never* sweated it. I didn't spend years trying to chase down another publishing contract; I went into indie publishing while I was still under contract to one of my former publishers and quickly became established in that realm, and subsequently never missed a beat or had a long absence between releases.

    Now I find myself curious about what this person said in their blog and am going to check it out!

    1. Hi Bettye,

      So glad to hear that you quickly became established in the self-publishing realm. I realize how volatile the industry is, particularly traditional publication, and even if I'm happily published today, that might change tomorrow! Nothing is ever certain. I guess that's why we really have to love writing to stick with it! :-)

  5. That was a very good post of Rachelle's. Just with an unfortunate title. Certainly spirited and lively debate is very possible, I agree, and we don't have to step on each others' toes to have it. I do think that we can disagree without judging.

    1. Thanks, for your thoughts, Dina! Yes, it's all too easy to get into the mud-slinging these days! I suppose when you've had a bad experience with a certain form of publishing, that might play into it as well. Here's to hoping we can move forward without hurt and hate! :-)

  6. As a self-published author, I have unfollowed authors, agents, and publishers on Twitter who make blanket statements about the quality of self-published books. I try not to engage, because I know I'm not likely to change their opinions. I try not to pass judgement on traditionally published authors, because I know there are still lots of good reasons to go that route. Self-publishing was the right answer for me, but that doesn't make it right for everyone.

    As an addendum: Traditional authors who welcome and accept self-published authors become my favorite people. Post a tweet that demonstrates an understanding of how complex self-publishing is, and I'm likely to become an evangelist of your books.

    1. Hi Nancy,

      Thanks for your balanced approach. I think more and more today, self-publishing is becoming a viable option for all authors, even those who are traditionally published, perhaps a mix of both. And as I said, the more writers who dip their toes in the new waters, the more understanding we'll have. Hopefully! :-)

  7. Preach it, sister! That's all I'm saying :)

    1. Haha! Thanks Sarah! :-) Hope things are going well for you these days!

  8. I'm a fairly new member to ACFW, and I was surprised at the back-and-forth about publishing. It made me a little sad.
    I just signed my first contract with a small publisher, but I'm keeping an open mind about self-publishing one day.

  9. Great post. I'm tweeting this.

  10. It's such a complex issue! I read Rachelle's post, and found it really interesting. I hadn't stopped to consider the concerns of the publisher, and it did make sense. Of course, being a self publisher, I can see the other side too.

    I've been fairly lucky I think, in that I have a mix of friends who are self-published and traditionally published, and I haven't seen anyone putting anyone else down. I know it does happen though! I think both are really valid options, and I'm looking forward to seeing more hybrid options emerging.

  11. I saw this last week but didn't have time to comment (so sorry). In short, this is an issue I generally avoid because it does indeed seem as though you're sure to step on someone else's toes and get yelled at, and I rather don't enjoy getting yelled at.

    However, I will say that I'd refuse to sign a contract with a non-compete clause that would prevent me from writing something I really wanted to write. I have a non-compete in my current contract and had no trouble agreeing to it because it didn't really limit me. Yes, it understandably protects the publisher's interests, but I don't mind giving up certain things because I'm not intending to do them anyway.

    Does that make sense to anyone out there? In this day and age, I think writers need to keep as many possibilities open as possible. So far, I haven't been asked to sign anything that would close doors I wouldn't already close myself. ;-)


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