Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Does the Furry Fandom Still Need Publishers? (A Proposal)

On Thursday, Goal Publications announced that they’re probably shutting down. You can read their announcement here: https://goalpublications.com/update-and-our-future/

This is, of course, very sad and a huge blow to our little community. It leaves us with lots of questions, such as, “What will happen to the books they did publish? Will they vanish? Will another publisher pick them up or will they become self-published titles?”

But if they do close their doors, then maybe we should be asking ourselves a different question: Does the furry fandom even need publishers anymore?

For now, major publishing houses still have a viable business model and can use the power of large print runs to trim costs and generate profits. Plus, by acting as gatekeepers and only publishing the best manuscripts submitted to them, consumers can have confidence that “If it comes from XYZ, then I’m probably going to enjoy it!”

But can we say the same for the fandom’s publishers? These publishing houses are doing runs measured in scores of books, not thousands, not millions. They’re not getting similar economies of scale that the big publishers do, so there’s less room for them to make a profit. Furthermore—get ready to throw things at me for daring to say it out loud—they’re not doing such a hot job of gatekeeping.

Those are fighting words, I realize, but over the past decade, we’ve seen furry publishers go one of two ways: either they become too accepting and publish poor quality books along with the good, or they become walled gardens where they continue to accept manuscripts from authors they’ve published in the past without allowing any other authors in, regardless of how good their books might be.

So, if Goal does fail, I think I’d like to propose that the guild form a publishing co-op—in essence, a non-profit furry publisher. Please note that I’ve only been mulling this idea for a few hours, and so it’s probably going to be easy to poke holes in my initial suggestion, but if you give my idea a chance, I think we might be able to iterate on it until it does become viable.

The proposal:

The co-op would leverage free, open source tools such as wikis and task tracking software to democratize the publishing process and help authors self-publish and sell their work. Just like a traditional publisher, authors would be able to submit a cover letter and synopsis into a slush pile. Members who enjoy reading story ideas could read through the submissions and add their ratings and notes onto the submissions.

These ratings and notes would help members find the stories that they’d like to help through the next stage of the process, getting a full draft and adding ratings and notes.

Again, these new ratings and notes would help members find the stories they’d like to help through the next stage, getting the draft to a developmental editor. Obviously, the author would need to foot the editor’s bill, but the co-op would be a place to gather resources and help the author make informed decisions on who is good and how much they charge.

Once edited, the co-op could be the same sort of resource for the next stage, line editing.

And then layout.

And then cover illustration.

And then cover layout.

At the end of the process, the co-op could provide to the author “Here are the files you will upload and what you should put into these fields to get your proof copy.”

Once the book was finally published, the co-op could continue to be a resource—for marketing and through an online catalogue of furry books. Since the catalog wouldn’t be selling the books, it would provide links of all the places where readers could buy the books—each with an estimated percent of what the authors keep from each sale, so that readers could make informed choices that would best help authors out financially.

There would be no reason to limit the catalogue to co-op assisted titles, so we could list books that were already published or published elsewhere and collect links so readers could find those books.

The co-op could even facilitate sales relationships. For example, I have a shop where I sell my books. If there was a book that I loved and wanted to add to my store, the co-op could help me establish that relationship, agree on fair royalties, codify how we could terminate the relationship if we wanted to, etc.

If we could ever find someone who wanted to do furry book marketing, the co-op could be a resource to connect authors with them.

Well, that’s all I’ve got at this point. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

I think many of us would still need to have someplace to host ebooks and print paper copies. We can’t exactly rely on Amazon and not all of us have the technical know-how to set up our own servers and websites.

I say we CAN rely on Amazon, but we would just rather have websites that handle it so we get more money per sale. Of course, if you’re using a publisher, they’re going to keep that extra money and you’re going to end up with what Amazon would have given you in the first place.

What are your reasons against skipping Amazon?

I think it’s fair to say that this will not happen at any point with the guild in an official capacity under my leadership. I used to run a publisher that sadly went the way that Goal might go, so I am in the perfect position to say that the guild is in no way equipped to handle the difficulties and the resources required to run a publishing company.

Your proposal also flirts dangerously close to the business method of a Vanity Publisher.

I’m not sure I fully understand this proposal. A Wiki is not the same thing as a co-op. A co-op would mean more that the people employed by it (the authors, editors, artists, and advertisers, I guess?) share in the generated profits and have a democratic means of making company decisions (things like how revenue is ultimately distributed, for example). What you’re proposing sounds more like taking all of the things the Guild is currently trying to do–showing fledgling authors how to get started, plus some promotion once they do–and putting it all in a single navigable website. Which the Guild kind of already does, with its own website. So I don’t understand how what you’re proposing is substantially different from what the Guild is already doing.

As for publishers themselves, as I understand it they’re in a bit of a Catch-22 situation. No, many of them don’t gatekeep, and in so doing they serve as a means for under-represented authors to get their work out there. Big-name publishers don’t do that because work by under-represented authors (and material, e.g. furry writing) practically by definition doesn’t sell. But in not gatekeeping and in catering to niche audiences, furry publishers will make less profit and be more prone to collapse. So the issue seems to be not with the publishers, but with the material. Furry writing won’t be profitable until it becomes mainstream, but if it becomes mainstream there will no longer be a need for furry publishers to help promote it, but if there are no furry publishers to help promote it it has a lower chance of becoming mainstream.

Self-publishing is an alternative, sure, but I for one don’t have the time or the money to go that route. I have an all-consuming day-job: I barely have enough time to write, let alone hunt for editors, negotiate with cover artists, typeset the work, convert it to e-book formats (plus subsequent debugging), and sell and market the thing. If self-publishing, even with the help of some kind of Wiki, was the only option (because ain’t no big publishing house going to TOUCH my weirdo writing), I simply wouldn’t publish anything. I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way, and I don’t even write the nichest of the niche (that being things like fetish material).

I suspect this isn’t a problem that’s unique to the furry fandom.

As far as I know no furry publisher is doing “runs” at all, technically. They’re using print-on-demand services like LightningSource, which means the per-unit cost isn’t substantially affected by the print run.

While I believe both early FurPlanet and Rabbit Valley printed some work in more of a “vanity press” style, stuff published by Rabbit Valley – e.g., under their name – and anything published by FurPlanet in the last ten or fifteen years certainly went through an editorial selection process, and Sofawolf and Goal have always been selective. You may not think everything they publish is worthy, but that’s a different (and more subjective) argument.

“Gatekeeping” is a term that’s been given some pretty specific valence by self-publishing advocates railing against the perceived tyranny of traditional publishing. You don’t seem to be intending it to be pejorative here, so I would suggest perhaps finding an alternative.

I’m trying to find a gentle way to put this, but you’re implicitly taking shots at other authors in the FWG, and given that there are basically just two publishers that this complaint routinely comes up about you’re not even being particularly circumspect.

This is an awful lot of work, and while I know the reaction to that might be “but that’s why it would be spread out among lots of people,” that is a super difficult thing to sustain in any meaningful way. I have experience in trying to run a volunteer organization – you’re soaking in it – and the number of people who will really commit to sticking with it will be low. Really. Really. Low. Just being a “how-to” resource would be easier, but then you would run into the issues that Frank LeRenard pointed out, to wit: what you’re describing is not a “co-op,” it’s a web site. I think it’d be great for the FWG to have those how-to resources available, mind you.

We’ve always had a fundamental muddle at our core in terms of our relationships to the publishers. We’re explicitly modeled after the SFWA – a writers’ union founded to advocate for the interest of writers as set against publishers – yet we tend to be protective of our publishers, because they are tiny and fragile, frequently just one or two people we would like to stay friends with.

Turning into a publisher ourselves, even with this “co-op” model, seems to me as if it’s likely to move us in the wrong direction. If the FWG makes existing furry publishers mad, I would rather it be because we’re calling them out when they’re not good with contracts or royalty statements or anthology pay rates – not because we’re going into competition with them. There is no other writers’ union I’m aware of that does such a thing beyond sanctioned reprint anthologies. (Personally, I think it was a bad idea for us to have produced original anthologies.)

I’m aware that this seems like I’m throwing a lot of cold water on the idea, but let me at least offer a fluffy towel at the end: I don’t think the idea of a furry publishing co-op is intrinsically a bad idea. It’s intriguing! If you can find a way to fix the problem with sustaining member interest, it might even be workable! But I don’t think it’s something for the FWG to do.

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I agree that a true co-op isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but I don’t think the FWG should be involved in it.

One other aspect that I haven’t seen mentioned, and one of the reasons I personally prefer publishing my work with furry publishers if at all possible, is that furry readers buy most of their books at cons (I mean, not right now, obviously, but normally). Furry publishers can generally attend several conventions a year in various areas of the country, whereas even in the best of years financially I could get to one local one, maybe at most a second one if it’s within reasonable driving distance, and hand-selling books is frankly not one of my strengths.

Any co-op that would be successful in furry spaces would, I think, have to allow for selling physical books at cons. For me, that’s the biggest thing I can’t easily get from self-publishing.

But then again, maybe this is out of date and most furry readers are buying books digitally now and physical books aren’t as big of a thing? I admit I’m not really in the best position to know, so hopefully others who sell both online and at cons can chime in.

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But then again, maybe this is out of date and most furry readers are buying books digitally now and physical books aren’t as big of a thing? I admit I’m not really in the best position to know, so hopefully others who sell both online and at cons can chime in.

For FurPlanet, sales are roughly 50/50 maybe 55/45 in favor of convention sales. So yes, they do make up a significant chunk of sales normally.

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This is also my position. While my chances of pursuing publication through a publisher are extremely low, the financial barrier involved with self-publishing means that my chances of pursuing self-publishing are considerably lower if not outright nil.

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Yeah, the upfront costs of self-publishing, and the barrier they create for writers without a lot of disposable income, aren’t talked about enough, IMO.

That’s where an actual co-op could help, because if it operates on a sweat equity model with every author-member contributing their skills, the one who are good at things like file formatting and proofreading would be helping out with those, and the ones with social media skills handling that aspect of things, and so on, so each author isn’t having to pay for those services. (At least that’s how I understand it to work, since the only co-op I’m at all familiar with is Book View Café, and mostly from reading this article. Maybe other co-ops operate on different models; I haven’t done extensive research.)

Then, of course, we’re back to a problem of finding enough furry writers with the appropriate experience and skills, who also reliably have the time to contribute long-term, and who can work reasonably well with each other – but if you could get over that hurdle with the right people, maybe it could work.

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All we need is a lot of talented people with no egos who agree to work for free indefinitely!

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