The Fallacy of Yog’s Law in the Self-Publishing World

This post, by John Hartness, originally appeared on his site on 8/18/11 and is reprinted here in its entirety with his permission.

Blame Kris Rusch and her excellent blog for this post. Kris writes one of the best business of writing blogs out there, and if you desire a career in this business and aren’t reading her stuff, you’re probably missing opportunities. But anyway, that’s irrelevant here, except that she mentioned Yog’s Law in a recent post, and it inspired this rant. So…sorry about that


Yog’s Law, simply put, states that “money flows to the writer.” Traditional publishing companies and writers use this anthem to decry shady business practices by vanity presses and unethical agents, and in those cases it is very valid. If an agent charges a “reading fee” to look at your manuscript, they’re not a real agent, they’re a scam artist getting paid to read books. Agents get paid to sell books. When you make money, your agent makes money. Same as a sports agent or an actor’s agent. None of these people get a thin dime if their client isn’t working. That’s one reason agents have more than one client — so they don’t starve!

And the statement used to be just as valid in the publishing world. Unscrupulous vanity presses trying to pass themselves off as legitimate publishers would come up with fees for all sorts of things that publishers typically do for their authors for free, like editing, layout, formatting, cover art, etc. These are red flags when dealing with a publisher – if they want you to pay for these things, and you’re an author, then you’re not dealing with a publisher, you’re dealing with a crook.

But the world is different now. I say that a lot, because we’re living in the flippin’ future, people! Seriously, my cell phone has more computing power than the machines that put men on the moon! So the world is different, and the usual laws don’t always apply in the same ways.

Or do they?

Does Yog’s Law still apply just as firmly as it used to?

Yes. But in the case of a self-published author it’s important to understand that sometimes the PUBLISHER has to spend money so that the WRITER can make money.

And those people often inhabit the same body. That’s where the wicket gets all sticky. As a self-published author, or even someone just reading about and paying attention to self-publishing, you need to understand that there are times when you wear the writer hat, and times when you wear the publisher hat. When I’m ripping apart Return to Eden: Genesis next month, I’ll be wearing my writer hat. When I just paid a guy to redo all the covers for my Black Knight Chronicles books, I was wearing my publisher hat.

Yes, money should flow towards the writer. But sometimes the publisher has to pay for things. And those two roles may be fulfilled by the same person. So whenever you hear someone toss around “money flows towards the writer” just understand that they haven’t thought through the fact that sometimes you’re the writer, collecting the coins, and sometimes you’re the publisher, spending them.