For better or worse, writing and publishing are not what they were even a decade ago. It’s a world full of dynamic changes and littered with frauds, scams and idiots. I’ve had ample opportunity to watch the world of writing change and I’d like to share what I’ve observed and learned. There is a lot of misinformation out there but I can tell you from lessons learned what I know about this Brave New World.
- Alarmist Rumors:
This is a huge thing happening to writers, the constant alarm bells of Henny Penny’s saying the sky is falling. In writing I’ve seen this manifested is several ways. The most common one is to say that people simply aren’t reading as much. This is sort of true. There are more distractions and less time to devote to reading with busy lifestyles detracting from our time lost between the pages of other worlds. This is true, but not to the degree that some people would have you believe. Not everyone has fried their brain on television. There are a lot of people (like me) who have television shows that they watch and then… I’m done. TV has a finite draw for people, especially people of high intellect. These are the same sorts of people who have always been readers and they will always be readers. The other rumor: E-books will take over from paperbacks and profits will plunge. It’s just not true. People tend to buy e-books at a bargain for books that they aren’t sure of and if they like it they buy the hard copy. There are numerous studies to show that the tactile sensations of holding a book in our hands and turning pages with our fingers (not swiping, actually turning the page) has a different effect on our brain than reading something on an electronic device. Combined with the fact that no amount of ‘glare free’ technology is ever going to make looking a continuously glowing screen as easy on our eyes as a paper book. They were a bit of a fad: convenient, easy, cheap… and to nearly every reader out there just not as good. Paper book sales are on the rise. The third alarmist rumor: The Economy is Bad. True enough in many locations. Another truth is that even during The Great Depression the one thing that went up in sales was entertainment. People want to get lost in other worlds and stories when things are hard here. Books are one of the things that fulfill that need for diversion. Books aren’t dead, not by a long shot.
Be optimistic and know your reasons for writing! Every day is a new journey in the adventure of writing and alarmists are justifying for a lot.
- The Big Publishers are the way to go? and/or You Need an Agent.
Hmmmm, this is an interesting statement. There is a lot of contention about this point. Some of the things that people don’t realize is that big publishing houses just aren’t what they used to be. They have a massive distribution network, swish ad campaigns, big contracts… they’ve got a lotof things. Here is what you might not know: big publishing houses rarely if ever give big bucks before you prove your salt. It used to be that if you signed on with a publishing house you would get a big advance, tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is extremely rare now. I would venture to say unheard of, at least for authors just entering the stage. Build up a name for yourself and maybe this will change but realize that as a newby, especially if you don’t have a resume publishing elsewhere, there is going to be a lot of pressure on you to make sales. You will be the publisher’s lowest priority and if you don’t get out there, do book signings, do interviews, be super charming then you probably won’t get any more exposure than you would at a small publishing house. In fact, you may get even less. It gets worse. Your first contract is likely based solely off of loyalties or a small advance that is subtracted from your royalties. You are being tested by your publisher, if you don’t prove that you are a charming go-getter as well as a good author and your book doesn’t sell then you WILL be dropped. There won’t be a second book, not from that publisher and not from any other major publisher. Do you know why? All the publishers WILL check your records out. They WILL call your previous publisher and ask why they didn’t sign you on for a second book or to renew your contract. In short, publisher do talk to each other and they do blackball people. Boom. You just blew your shot. One more thing about big publishers that you can’t forget: If you don’t sign their contract their way they won’t be likely to compromise with you. This is bad because publishing houses want to make money and they want to own you just in case someone else finds a way to make money off of you that they didn’t think of. They will own the rights to your story. In many cases you may even lose the rights to your character and your world. Think very, very carefully before you break out the champagne if you are offered a ‘big’ contract’.
This includes the idea of agents. Remember any time you sign on with an agent they get a cut of what could be a very meager pie. Remember again: this person is supposed to be selling your product, are you certain that they can be at least as passionate about your book as you are? For every place that only accepts agent queries there are ten that prefer no agent. Remember: This is a Brave New World and things aren’t what they once were.
Sometimes it’s best to be your own advocate. Maybe you travel best on your own or at least with the reigns of your work in your own hands. When you hire an agent or go with a large press you lose all your independence and your right to be an advocate for yourself in many cases. Some cats hunt better alone.
- All small presses are not created equal.
There are a lot of ways that a small press can scam you as well. The cardinal rule is that if a press asks you for money to pay for artwork, layout, editing, ANYTHING they are likely a scam. It’s a presses job to figure out all of those things, that’s what they are there for, that and to distribute work. A good small press campaigns for their writers and celebrates every success that writers who work with them achieve. Your press shouldn’t expect you to write exclusively for them and you should expect to promote any press you work with. You are in a partnership when you get involved with a small press. A good small press works hard for their authors. I know this because my husband runs one.
The general rule is that a press spends at least half of their time promoting their product and you should be helping out with that. I will tell you that a good small press watches you. They judge you on a smaller scale as to how a large press judges you: are you enthusiastic? Do you promote the press? Do you share posts? Do you give interviews and when you do, do you mention the press or presses that you have work published with? Do you have an author page? A Facebook Page? Have you done anything to get a following on your own (big presses look at this too, by the way). If you undermine the press you’ve signed on for or if you don’t get involved I can guarantee that there are other authors who will. Quietly, the press will stop offering to involve you in new projects and word will get around about you. Small presses don’t make a lot of money for the most part. They SHOULD get more sales than an independent published writer but don’t expect to get rich off their sales.
Writing is an expensive hobby if you’re doing it right. Publishing is even more expensive. Publishers travel, they do all sorts of things. Google them. Do they come up? Google some of the authors who have their names on their website. Do the author’s names comes up? Does their connection to the press come up? How does the press talk about their authors? Do their authors have resumes? How do the authors talk about the press? Does the press have a distribution network? If you are selling a novel rather than a short story this equation becomes more important, especially if the press wants to own the rights to your story. First of all: Set limits on this. How long will the press own your novel for? What happens if they decide they want to drop you? What happens if you aren’t happy? This is generally called a ‘kill clause’ and generally it is the press that decides it doesn’t want to work with the author anymore. This can be for a range of reasons, including a lack of meeting your contractual obligations. Many contracts state you must do a certain number of things for your book and the nature of these obligations. If you sit around doing nothing they may choose to dump you and they have a right to because you agreed that you would work to promote yourself. If the press doesn’t promote you then you could have a problem as well. You might want to ask that a clause of contractual obligations of what the press will do for you is included if it isn’t already.
The most important thing about a small press is: do you like working with them? If you do, go for it. If you don’t then go somewhere else. Don’t try to enforce your will on a press, if it isn’t for you then try another one. There are a ton of small presses out there and you need to find a fit that’s right for you. I can tell you that presses look for writers that suit their personalities and the ‘feel’ of the press. That’s the beauty of the small press, there is a huge range of diversity and there’s no need to try to fit where you don’t belong or feel happy.
- Independent Publishing:
Are you charismatic? Are you outgoing? Willing to travel? Do you love to talk with people? Are you a competent and compelling public speaker? Do people respond to you in a positive way? Are you a human magnet that people want to be with? Are you good with computers? Are you good at editing? Do you have a network of other writers who can beta read and/or trade edits with you? If so, then you might want to consider going it on your own. Ideally, if you go with a press the press handles the extroverted side of things which is a good match for most writers who are introverts. I’m one of the rare and exotic extrovert writers which is part of why I handle so much of the marketing for my husband’s press. I could be independent if I wanted to be but I LOVE working with other people. I like promoting other people as well as myself and I like getting into collaborations with other people. Many writers don’t have this sort of disposition and if you are an introvert the truth is that you could use some backing. Doing readings and signings are physically a lot of work but that’s nothing compared to the mental and emotional component. You’ve got to be able to deal with rejection, questions and handle things on the fly. You have to know that half your time is going to be spent selling and the other half writing before you will have anything other than frustration and disappointment. I know a lot of big name authors who have signed on with the huge publishers and realized that they can do all their publishers do for them and a lot more on their own. They’re just waiting for their contracts to expire so they can have their story and characters back and be free. That’s something to think about. Be aware that all of this also costs money. Traveling, conventions, retreats, socializing are all time consuming and cost a lot of cash that it could take you years before you start to gather a following.
If you’re not doing it for the love of doing it, be prepared for heartbreak. Writing is one of the hardest things you’ll do and publishing is even harder so you’d better be in love or what’s the point?
- And now you wait. If you haven’t been working on your social networking, getting involved in the community and doing things for others, then now is the time to start. People will help you out but if you don’t return the favor they will notice it and you’ll get a big fat silence the next time you ask them for a favor. If you’re lucky the person will tell you that you need to repay them a favor before they do the next thing for you. If you’re smart you’ll say, ‘I’m sorry, you’re right. I was being a selfish dick, let me help you the way you helped me.’. Some people have been burned by other writers who don’t repay favors and then it’s up to you to make the first step. Go out, read their book, give them a review. Like/comment/share their posts. Like/follow/share their blogs. If they don’t do the same after a bit of time then they are selfish and are breaking the cardinal rules of being part of a creative community. Walk away or send them an email saying: Hey, why aren’t you doing for me like I’m doing for you. They could have forgotten, it could be an accident, or they could be threatened by other writers and think that if they share that there will be less for them somehow. It will take time for you to get a following and that’s assuming that what you’ve written is good. Get feedback. Talk other writers and get their feedback. Be prepared to wait and wait and wait.
- While you’re waiting ask yourself why you’re doing this? Really. Are you upset that sales aren’t better? Why? Did you think you’d write a story and make a million dollars and never have to work again? If you just want to write you’ll be ok with waiting. I love getting feedback and I love sharing it with other writers as well. Most of all, I love to write. It’s not going to go away because it is part of me and every time I look at my shelf of published works my heart soars.
Looking at this shelf makes me happy, I have more books on the way and soon I’ll need another shelf! These are the reason and they all have stories behind making the stories. Each one is at least one world and I’m in them all. These are little bits of me!
Holding my book in my hand is enough for me. The finished product of my labors. The joy and hard work that went into that glossy cover. It’s mine. If other people love it it multiplies my pleasure but knowing that I did something is what really turns me on. I started it. I finished it. I have it in my hand. Sales are a beautiful bonus. Accolades like awards and nominations are icing on the cake. Having someone say: ‘Your words spoke to me. How did you know that this was me?’ is a pleasure I can’t even express. Knowing you touched someone in their heart, in their love, their sorrow, their self doubt, the fact that they are human… that’s the ultimate product and if you’ve had someone say that to you then that should be worth more to you than all the royalty sales in the world. Do you know why? It’s because what you wrote, the worlds you created, your words have changed the world.