Three Tips for Finding the Perfect Publishing Path

Publishing can feel a little like THIS...

Publishing can feel a little like THIS…

We writers live in interesting times. The same digital tsunami that toppled Tower Records and collapsed Kodak has now consumed the world of publishing. The world we knew five years ago is gone. Traditional is reinventing, indie publishers are growing and self-publishing now can be a viable part of any author’s long-term career plan. This is one of the main reasons WANA has never taken sides and embraces publishing as a whole.

Granted, some authors may find a singular path that fits all their needs, but a majority of us will mix it up and venture on a hybrid path. Traditional houses are encouraging writers to self-publish prequels, short stories, or even stories involving supporting characters to keep the fan fires burning between books.

Indie houses are helping established authors breathe new life into backlists and new authors get a start under the care of professionals. Self-publishing is a fantastic way to begin and hone the skills required to be successful long-term (solid work ethic, business skills, social media, and thick skin). Sell enough books? Agents and editors will seek you out.

I began indie published, then switched to self-published because 1) I write about publishing so I wanted to experience the process of all paths and 2) my topic is time-sensitive 3) *hangs head* I’m a teensy tiny bit of a control freak. I LOVE being able to oversee artistic elements that, before, were out of my hands.

Yes, I wanted to be a cyborg. I have few goals in life, but being a cyborg was up there. I doubt NY would have permitted me to be a cyborg. They wouldn’t let me have a light saber either. Can we say deal-breaker?

Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, social media authors, Kristen Lamb, WANA, Rise of the Machines

HA! Mommy-Bot!

Finding the perfect fit is a process and we will outgrow some choices. But, hopefully these tips can serve as guideposts to keep you on track ;).

#1 There is NO Until Death Do Us Part

We are not married to any publishing path. We will grow, our content will evolve and we might even have to completely change direction (like me deciding to self-publish). Writing is an art, but it’s also a business. Blind loyalty is not required.

Just because we change direction doesn’t mean that is set in stone either. Certain works, personalities and even what’s going on in our personal lives can affect which publishing path is the best fit.

Life can change on a dime. So can dreams and goals. We might be rocking self-publishing and then life tosses us in a Vita-Mix and we no longer have the focus and energy to maintain doing everything. Or, maybe you’ll begin being traditionally published then discover you want to write faster than the publisher’s schedule permits.

For instance, I’ve been approached to co-author a successful thriller series (short works). But, my 100,000 word mystery-thriller? Either I will self-publish or see if an agent thinks a traditional deal is better. I already reached my goal of being a cyborg, so “lack of cover art control” is less of a deal-breaker these days. I also am (blessedly) a lot busier. Thus, a slow path that would have driven me bonkers four years ago is looking a lot more appealing.

We live in a wonderful time where the works we create can find the perfect partnership and so can we. For the first time in history, publishing can be tailored to our works, needs and lives.

The new paradigm can be frightening, but the cool news is it is far more flexible.

#2 Ignore Peer Pressure

I speak at conferences and meet all kinds of authors. Writers who’ve found a great path are often the best evangelists, but there is no One-Size-Fits-All in publishing. Our friends and colleagues can offer advice, connections and guidance, but we have to be strong enough to do what we believe is best for our careers.

It was hard for me to step away to self-publish. I had NY agent friends who assured me that I could get a NYC traditional deal and implored me to reconsider. But, I’d already spent over two years sitting on Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. I needed to move on.

Though everything in me wanted to be a Random-Penguin, I knew it wasn’t right for this book. It was terrifying stepping out alone. Others might mean well, but we have to make our own decisions because only we will face the consequences (or reap the rewards).

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

#3 Be A Realistic Dreamer

We all hear the stories of the “overnight successes,” but those are the outliers. I encourage all of you to dream. Dream BIG while you’re at it. Ignore the naysayers, because they’re mostly jealous chickens. It takes guts to do what we do. There is no magic marketing plan, no algorithmic alchemy guaranteed to catapult us to fame and fortune. This is a business. Writers (books) fill intellectual or emotional needs. 

Image with Twig the Fairy

Image with Twig the Fairy

There is no rhyme or reason to what sells or what might become popular because we live in an ever-shifting world filled with people who have free-will. We never know what genre/story will speak to an audience, which is why we should simply write what we are called to write. There are a lot of components we simply cannot control.

If society is in great political upheaval, the last thing they might want to read is a dystopian. But? Things settle down and it might be the next big thing. Demand is often influenced by societal factors, the economy, current events, or even flukes. This is why it’s critical to ignore all that noise and focus on the areas we can control: platform, craft, publishing, etc. Focus on the business of our business and keep writing.

I’m not particularly worried about competition. Books are not so cost-prohibitive readers can’t buy more than one. Yet, aside from this, most people will give up. Long-term success as a writer (or anything) is a formula:

Self-Discipline + Teachability + Tenacity + Talent= Success

Talent alone is useless without the other components. I’ve met many talented writers who will never succeed because they don’t finish anything. I’ve met tenacious authors who work their fingers to the bone, but aren’t teachable. They believe more advertising will increase sales, when the tough truth is they need to focus on craft. Or, perhaps the first book is fantastic, but many writers stop there and spend every bit of energy on marketing ONE book.

This new paradigm will weed out those who are writing for the wrong reasons. Whenever we decide to become writers, we need to inspect our motives. Are we writing because we LOVE to write? Would we still do it if we never made money? Do we have something to prove?

Agendas will affect the dream.

We are entrepreneurs. I’ve met small business owners who went bankrupt because they went into business so they could work when they wanted to. Problem was, they never worked. We need to always review why we are here, why we have THIS dream, and make sure it’s driven by motives that can withstand heat, pressure and time. Can we maintain discipline and enthusiasm during The Lean Years?

I want all of you to live the dream and love your work. We have to spend most of our lives working anyway, so why shouldn’t it be fun? Something we are passionate about? This is why we need to make certain we are educated enough to make sound career decisions. Few things can make us more miserable than being trapped on the wrong path (been there). This is why I am offering  new class Many Roads to Rome—Which Publishing Path is Best? January 25th (which is a Saturday). Use WANA15 for 15% off.

What are your thoughts? Have you been confused about all the options? Tempted by peer pressure? Have you found a wonderful fit? Why does it suit you? Have you had to change your path/plans? Why? What drove your decision?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!


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  1. “Self-Discipline + Teachability + Tenacity + Talent= Success”
    This is the formula that’s allowing me to graduate from virtual school, which is comparable to writing (except its not so fun). However, its definitely teaching me to remain vigilante and open to other options. Thanks for writing this!

  2. Haha. Perfectly evaluated. I agree with control freak point. The moment they mentioned that the editor will have the final say, my antenna twitched in recoil.
    Anyway, we are lucky to be born in an era of multiple choices in the publishing forest.

  3. I self-published my teacher resources but then found an indie press that will re-publish them in paperback this time with better interior design and artwork.

    For my fictional stuff, however, it’s probably best that I avoid self-publishing. I need someone else to look at the work and find the malfunctions that need fixing. Otherwise, if I try to edit my own stuff, the errors need to hold up neon signs and dance before I’ll find them.

    1. You can hire editors. It’s what I do.

      1. I’d have to find one who’d work on a Trade-ya basis. 😉

        1. Not so far fetched, CKoepp.
          I’d volunteer–I’m trying to get my feet wet in the editing scene and gain some references–but I’m already doing a manuscript swap with someone else at the end of the month.
          If this sounds good to you, try to find a fellow writer to swap with who’s good at catching flaws, or check out my blog and hang on until I’m not so busy.

  4. Thanks! I needed that. I almost fell off my unicorn today, too.

  5. I’ve been trad and small press published. I put off self publishing because of the time issue, but finally realized I could no longer afford not to know how to do this myself. I started the learning process and just in time. Last summer one of my publishers passed away and her business partner closed the company. Thankfully I was ready to take control of my IP and move forward.

    So I’d add, pick your perfect path, dream big and have alternate plans if things don’t work out.

    • Laurie A Will on January 15, 2014 at 11:52 am
    • Reply

    Hi Kristin,

    It does seem like it’s becoming more complicated all the time. I have long had my heart set on a traditional publisher and as I close in the final revision of my novel that still seems like the best choice for me even though it seems like everyone else and their brother are promoting self-publishing. But at the same time with all the changes that have been happening in the publishing world, I won’t think twice about trying self-publishing or an Indie house if I think it will work better for me. Maybe that is one of the greatest gifts that have come out of all of the changes in publishing is that, as you said in your post, we don’t have to stay married to any route. We can switch at anytime.

  6. Hi Kristen,

    This was the most helpful blog to me right now. I appreciate your feedback on publishing because you focus on all aspects of publishing and all the routes. I’m about ready to make that jump and have been struggling to decide whether or not I want to pursue traditional publishing as an option. I like how you don’t push one over the other; you just talk about the market as it is. Your blogs definitely put things into perspective. Thank you.

    I do have one question: If you do succeed at securing an agent and a publisher, are you able to self-publish on your own afterward or during a contract? And does it help or hurt you to self-publish first? I used to hear self publishing hurt you, but I don’t see how.

    1. You need to make sure your contract allows you to do other things. An agent or publishing attorney can help with that. No, self-publishing doesn’t hurt. That’s a myth. There are plenty of self-published authors who were later offered fat traditional deals. E.L. James, Amanda Hocking, John Grisham, John Locke, Hugh Howey, etc. etc.

      1. Thank you for clarifying. There are so many myths and misunderstandings out there, it’s hard to sort them al out.

  7. Self publishing has always seemed a little scary to me. My main hesitation was simply wanting validation from a big publisher that I/my work was good enough. If no agents or editors wanted my work, I took that to mean I needed to change what I was doing to make my writing more marketable, more interesting, better.

    I’ve been writing seriously for about 6 years. I can see how someone who has been working longer than I have might get fed up with the gatekeepers in big publishing not giving them a shot. I was fortunate to find a publisher who loved my writing within two years of beginning to look, but not everyone is so lucky.

    And finding a publisher doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll stay with them long-term or that everything you write will be up their alley (or that they’ll be the best fit for everything you write).

    Your post today is particularly pertinent to me since I’m RIGHT NOW in the process of self-publishing a book that did well with my publisher. My publisher sold to a larger house, invalidating all the previous contracts. Unfortunately, the contracts offered by the big house weren’t as author-friendly as the small house’s contracts. Since I didn’t feel comfortable negotiating them on my own, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to self-publish my previous works rather than sign contracts I’m nervous about.

    Mostly, I just want to know what it’s like to self-publish. I want to experience all sides of publishing so I can make wise decisions to grow my career.

    Self-publishing is a big step, but not as intimidating as I feared. I’m actually really enjoying it. I’m a little nervous about the marketing. Will I be able to promote my book as well as the small publishing house I was with? Will my sales numbers be as good as they were for my publisher? Who knows. If not, then I’ve learned something, haven’t I?

    Thanks for the post, Kristen! I love that you put the onus of the decision-making on the author. No one else can make this decision for you, but I will say, it sure does help if you have friends supporting you along the way:-)

  8. I don’t like the peer pressure (everyone is my writing group is self-pub) and is pushing me to self pub, which I am going to do with my ghost story collection, but I still feel I haven’t given the novel enough query time and I have learned SO much from the query process. Thank you for helping me to stand up for MY goals and ideas of publishing. It’s so hard when it seems EVERY blogger is telling you to self-pub. Thanks again, Kristen!

  9. Hold on while I rein in my unicorn! Now, thanks for an awesome post on publishing. Not quite there yet but I pondered the options and since I have friends who are closer than I to publishing, I’m reblogging.

  10. Reblogged this on Sherrey Meyer, Writer and commented:
    Excellent post from Kristen Lamb on the various routes to publishing and how to sort them out.

    • Shelby on January 15, 2014 at 1:13 pm
    • Reply

    Great post, something I need, especially your formula. I am one of the writers that doesn’t finish much and I am learning how to just to stick with it.

  11. definitely need to avoid peer pressure and beat my own drum – thanks for the reminder!

  12. Great post! These types of industry posts are among my favs of yours. I do enjoy the bigger picture sort of overview of how things are shaping up for some reason..

    Random (sort of) question: Do trad publishers do deals where you get to self-publish digitally and they only get hardcopy rights? Seems like a better deal and more in line with the new hybrid thing, but I cant see why any publishers might agree to such a thing. Feels like the digital sales would give them less overhead and greater profit margins to ‘make up for’ the risk they take with hard sales but I could totally be making stuff up and overthinking lol.

    1. If I recall correctly, that’s the deal John Locke brokered. He still controls all e-books and handed paper to traditional. I’ve heard of it.

      1. Thanks for the reply! Sounds like a bit of a holy grail lol. Was just a random thought I had in my head and was reminded of again by this post.

  13. I co-published with a small press, but it has limits. I am trying to get an agent this time and seeing if that works out. At least there are options. I love your posts. I have learned so much this time around that I have more confidence now. Thanks

  14. Reblogged this on ARON JOICE.

  15. I was randomly surfing and came across this today. I feel like I won the lottery! I bought a copy of your book, too. So far, it is fantastic. It’s a win-win kind of day. Thanks!

  16. Dear Kristen, this is the most comprehensive and practical guide I have seen yet about making a publishing decision in this current publishing environment. I appreciate how you focus on author accountability from start to finish and highlight the joys of creative control. I’m sharing this all over. Thank you. It resonates with me as I am in the throes of making my own decision about which route to take as a first-time author. I love your common sense and sense of humor. Yes, we should be having fun in the process. 🙂

  17. This is why I started following you. I love writers who help other writers. This was a very helpful post. My sister is getting ready to find an agent.

    • Lisa Rose on January 15, 2014 at 2:34 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks. I like how you stressed there isn’t ONE right way–also your way may change as you travel down the path. I appreciate your realistic, yet supportive honesty.

  18. If I had followed the peer pressure of my old group, I would most likey still be querying agents at this stage, instead of being a published author. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, in fact you should never even box yourself in, in the first place.

  19. Is there a less stressful option? 🙂 I’m having the great debate with my husband right now about which path to take. I think that self-publish would be right for my first work, but just not sure.

    1. They are ALL stressful, just different ;).

  20. Reblogged this on North Country Writers' Night Out.

  21. The concept of self-publishing does not bother me — the logistics seem daunting. Signed up for your class.

    • Carina Bissett on January 15, 2014 at 8:21 pm
    • Reply

    Nicely done. Shared.

  22. Reblogged this on Daven Anderson's Blog.

  23. Hi Kristen, I think you make a wonderful cyborg, and a charming control freak. Thank you, Silent

  24. Reblogged this on Charlotte Gerber.

  25. Reblogged this on jbiggarblog.

  26. As I am a new blogger and taking the Hero to Zero training from WordPress, our assignment today is to leave comments on blogs! I found yours and had fun reading your blog and the comments as well. Now I know where to go when I start thinking about publishing….plus your offer at the end is great. I’ll now learn how to link back to your blog on my blog. Love this learning thing. Thanks Kristen!

    1. Great to meet you!

  27. Reblogged this on Together For Greatness and commented:
    As a new blogger, I am learning the ropes….and today learning how to reblog someone else’s post. Here is Kristen Lamb and she is sharing her insight and wisdom on publishing as it exists today.

  28. Excellent advice, thank you!

  29. Hi Kristen,

    Thank you for this blog post – it’s very helpful! I started looking for agents with the plan to go traditionally published a few years a go. However, I’m now seriously considering self-publishing on Kobo etc. The only thing that puts me off are my fears about marketing as a self-published individual.

    Do you have any tips or recommended resources when it comes to marketing/selling? I will likely be buying your book, but more resources never hurt!

  30. If you’re a cyborg, I’m scared to see what my OCD tendencies make me! Thanks for the blog, I may not always comment but I always read 🙂

  31. Here is the link back to my blog 🙂

  32. Do you have tips for before self publishing? Like hiring a consultant or editor to evaluate your work before you put it out? That’s what I’ve done so far but I haven’t chosen whether or not to self publish or continue agent queries. Been working on my novel (editing it included) for about 5 years

    1. Build a platform. Get good beta readers. Have a pro look at your work. I do recommend my antagonist class and First Five Pages Class. The antagonist class can help you check the structure and the higher level is a consult with me. The five pages are useful because I (like agents) can tell most of what I need from a handful of pages.

      1. Thank you Kristen! I’ll look into your classes!

  33. Reblogged this on Simpklu and commented:
    Professing to be be self-published now Ms. Lamb sheds more light on the indie scene and the entrepreneurial spirit.

  34. As someone who has a ms sitting there, waiting for me to take the next step, this post is encouraging. The fact that the publishing world is daunting but flexible reassures me. I also really like the equation that includes tenacity. That’s the variable I can use when I start looking for other things to do to avoid working on that damn query letter. Thanks!

  35. Kristen; You aptly describe the daunting prospect of publishing, but offer helpful advice and encouragement. Thank you.

    1. I try. Everything changes so quickly. We all need allies :D.

    • LadyRaconteur88 on January 16, 2014 at 9:08 pm
    • Reply

    Reblogged this on Polymnia Blues.

  36. Love the “not married to the path” part! Things are changing so quickly and we have so many opportunities now. No need to close any doors.

  37. I went to a writer’s conference and an industry evaluator said that the people with the most money and influence, the most successful writers are the ones who will try any route, the so-called hybrids. All the advice you give here is exactly what I heard there.

  38. Quite the eyeopener for me to read that we are (or NEED to be, right?) entrepreneurs. For some reason, I have never conjured up that word during any creative process I have involved myself in. I am thinking that is where I have gone wrong and probably why I didn’t ever get to visit Rome. lol. I have one novel, self-published in 08 (I think that was before it became such a permissible option, no?) and it found itself a little (okay tiny) niche and continues to trickle in quarterly checks that are just the right $ amount to jog my memory that I owe my kids some allowance. Going to stop commenting now and reread this invaluable post. Thank you – – I am a follower as of tonight and hope that I get to cross paths with you (maybe on my way to Rome?) in person, perhaps during one of the many writer’s conferences I regularly attend.

  39. Love your little anecdotes. And yet…after reading and rereading…I still don’t “see” how we ‘find’ that individual perfect path. It still appears to boil down to writing the best book we can and then making a blind leap of faith. Not terribly reassuring.

    1. Agents can help and sometimes we just need to try stuff. See what we like and what works. Wish I could be more scientific, but I am in the same boat, LOL.

      1. Terrified to try the ‘wrong thing’ and wind up ‘wasting’ a good novel.

        Definetly trying traditional first.

        1. Read my book first. You need the full truth of what you could be getting into ;). ALL paths have ads and disads.

  40. Thanks for the information. This is exactly where I am right now. The choice. I’m reading everything, to make the right one!

  41. Reblogged this on Love to Live and commented:
    Kristin Lamb is always on the mark in teaching craft. Here is her take on publishing, I have actually starting writing on and have another ms that I am in the process of editing as I learn more, Still, I am not clear on the difference between indie and self publishing. Some insight into this would be very helpful and I include you and your books on my blog as always.

  42. Thanks for sharing this Kristen. I think I found my path… I hope it will work out the way I have imagined…

  43. Hi Kristen,
    Great advice. I’m still digging out my path!

  44. I appreciate your sharing. I am still in the laborious process of research. Synopsis US does not see the light and issues today progress into a ‘Decline and Fall of the United States’ Gibbonesque ending but not before some wonderful stages. I am definitely going to do my due diligence and pro forma before trying to publish. Good to have people like oyu sharing their experiences.

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  4. […] Wednesday, we talked about all the types of publishing paths and how the new paradigm is becoming increasingly flexible and author-friendly. There is no […]

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