All righty, so last time in Real Writers Don’t Self-Publish we talked about a lot of myths that surround publishing in general and I promised to delve deeper into this subject. I hope, at the very least, y’all walked away with one core understanding about traditional publishing.
Traditional publishing measures one thing and one thing only…commercial viability.
Granted, this often means the author is professional and the writing is outstanding…but that’s isn’t always the case. Some works are published for the sole reason that they will sell a certain amount of copies (refer to Snookie’s memoir). Additionally some of the greatest works of our time are not coming to market (initially) through legacy presses (refer to The Martian).
But here’s the deal. While we certainly don’t have to be leggy-pressed to be “real” writers, self-publishing is no panacea.
The hard truth is there is a lot of junk being published. There are too many people who are so in love with the idea of calling themselves “published authors” that they take shortcuts, and I feel this is likely what irritates many professionals (especially since what this group lacks in skill and talent they tend to more than make up for in mass marketing).
But, the dangerous idea comes when we cut off our nose to spite our face.
We are SO scared that we are going to get lumped in with the folks who, frankly, should just increase processing speed by deleting Word off their hard drives, that we sit around believing we aren’t any good unless the Legacy Gods reach down from
Olympus New York and give us their blessing.
NY is not going to give you (or me) a writing career. We have to hustle. Self-publishing actually has a lot of benefits not only for writers, but for traditional publishers as well.
Really, I Mean It
In my post The Ugly Truth About Publishing I explained how the consignment model worked and how mega-stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble obliterated the bookstore landscape. We discussed the terrible consequences writers have endured because of these companies’ greed.
Borders is now a memory and, trust me, Barnes and Noble isn’t far behind. They’re succumbing to the effects of their own avarice. Having a megastore on every corner was a sound business model…until everyone began shopping on-line.
If Barnes & Noble survives (which I highly doubt because, to date, they have not listened to my advice to SAVE them 😛 ) they aren’t going to offer writers all that much of an advantage. These days, their stores are few and far between meaning there are fewer point-of-sales locations than ever.
The remaining stores resemble a department store more than a bookstore. They look like a Starbucks, a Hallmark, a Radio Shack, a Tower records, a Blockbuster and a Toys-R-Us had a baby…oh and there are some books, too.
It’s almost an ironic homage to all stores/industries first plundered by the megastore.
You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.
Btw, that was WAY cooler before Amazon started doing it to them. Anyway…
This transition has a huge impact on all authors because bookstores no longer are the best place for discoverability. Gone are the days where most readers found what they wanted to read by browsing a bookstore. Amazon has done a stellar job of spoiling us and training us to rely on algorithms to help us choose.
People who bought this, also bought THIS.
This means the remaining points of distribution—Walmart, Costco, Sam’s, airport bookstores, drug stores and grocery stores—are the only common points of sale and they only carry a scarce fraction of available titles (and those are almost always established brands guaranteed to sell—you know, “real” writers 😛 ).
The biggest advantage legacy press had was distribution, and in a world not yet shopping on-line? That used to be a big deal. Now?
For the first-time novelist or the novelist who’s yet to be a big brand? Not the big deal it used to be simply because shelf space is finite (and only for a short time) and brick-and-mortar stores are going under and the new brick-and-mortars are owned by
The Borg Amazon.
The remaining stores (the few indie bookstores that survived) are generally very small, which means limited inventory. By the time we subtract the classics which will always be a staple and the mega-authors who are guaranteed to sell? *cough Stephen King*
We don’t have a lot of space left for anyone else.
What Does This Mean?
In my opinion, the author career path is evolving. Traditional’s ability to distribute is still a pretty big deal, but due to market changes, NY can now be far smarter/surgical about how they choose. They need to be picky, especially now when shelf space is more limited than ever.
In the old days, a publisher took on a huge risk hoping a work would resonate with audiences and sell.
Now? They really don’t need to. They can simply look to what is doing well in the indie world then come in and help develop that work/author on the next level.
Try to go through an airport without seeing The Martian on a newsstand.
I feel this new trend also allows us to gain a greater diversity of works. Before we could get realtime feedback what audiences were loving, legacy presses were forced into a lot of guess work. They would spot a trend (Twilight) and then ride that trend until the sparkly vampire was beaten to death. Now? They can capitalize on what I am calling The Dark Horse Effect.
What is The Dark Horse Effect?
The dark horse is the outlier no one saw coming. It’s the candidate or competitor about whom little is known but unexpectedly wins. Instead of NY trying to create lighting in a bottle, now they just have to catch it.
It is impossible for NY to capitalize on the dark horse author without self-publishing. Why? Because by definition a dark horse is no one anyone expects to win, and last I checked? NY wasn’t into that.
Self-published/indie authors have much more freedom to experiment with writing that would have been patently rejected ten years ago. I know I keep mentioning The Martian but it is a stellar example because it breaks all the rules.
Too Much Science
First of all, I’ve read the book and it is very science heavy. I could see an agent going cross-eyed and telling Weir to cut all the talk about chemistry, that audiences would be bored. Why? Because usually that is great advice.
But had Weir (in a parallel universe) sought after approval from the Legacy Gods, they very likely would have given advice that wrecked the exact reason this book is so awesome.
Content Published on a Blog is No Good for Publication
For years (and even today) we will hear agents say that any fiction we publish on our blog is no good and not worthy of publication. The Martian, however, shows this is not always the case.
Weir was originally a programmer who left AOL and decided to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a writer…but failed. He couldn’t get an agent, let alone a publisher. So he then left writing and returned to programming, but then decided he would still write his story and offer it on his personal blog where anyone could read it for free.
Initially, his story flopped, but he kept at it fine-tuning and doing more research while honing his writing skills.
It paid off. BIG.
Eventually, word of the story spread and readers started requesting an e-version (the PDF was too hard to download) so Weir uploaded it into Kindle and sold it for .99. Within a few months The Martian rocketed to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list and an agent contacted him.
Soon, Random House called and wanted to make it into a hardcover. Within days, Hollywood called and asked for movie rights. Weir scored a book deal and a movie deal in the same week.
Crowd-Sourcing is Bad
I would imagine that many within Legacy Land would have broken out in hives at the thought of a book being written using crowd-sourcing. But that is precisely why The Martian ended up being so successful.
According to Business Insider:
“Chemists actually pointed out some problems in early drafts,” Weir said. He was able to go back and correct some of the chemistry that’s crucial for Watney’s survival.
Fans of the work were eager to be part of the collaborative process, even if it simply meant helping out with the facts. The writer of that Guardian article blasting self-publishing was adamant that “real” writers possess the decency to make mistakes in private.
But Weir wasn’t afraid to get it wrong in public…and it paid off BIG TIME.
Not everyone has the rhino skin to be corrected publicly, but if we do? We grow up way faster.
Breaking Making the Rules
What all this means is that a work that breaks all the “rules” for what NY might have been looking for in a query letter goes out the window the second they are able to see what readers really want…in sales figures.
NY didn’t have to guess that a science-heavy-crowd-sourced-geek-fest previously offered for free “might” be a winner. They could see it for themselves.
I’m also happy Weir didn’t care about being a “real” writer.
As much as self-publishing gets flack, it’s allowing legacy publishers to reap high profits in a world where that’s harder and harder to do. It’s removing much of the guess work out of what readers like and want which helps NY’s bottom line.
It’s also freeing up writers to do what we do best…get creative. We can experiment. Try new things. Adjust, adapt, grow and mature instead of slaving away on one draft for a decade hoping someone in NY will notice.
Additionally, successes like Weir’s prove that a writer can create a platform of hardcore fans before the work is ever published. The single greatest reason authors fail to ever make a living is they can’t escape the gravitational pull of The Black Hole of Obscurity. Now? We can.
The Martian wasn’t released into a vacuum (*bada bump snare*), rather Weir created a core group of die hard fans using…his blog. There was no high-priced marketing campaign or promotion (which doesn’t work as well as writers believe). Rather, it began as a small grassroots fandom that grew roots and
No ads, no algorithmic alchemy, no giveaways, no contests, no relentless blog tours, no slaving away on social media instead of writing. Hmmm. Wonder if he read my book Rise of the Machines? 😛 #heywhynot
Suffice all this to say that this notion that we are only a “real” writer if we publish a certain way is ridiculous. But, we find what fits for us and our work. We try things, we get creative and who knows?
We might just be the next dark horse 😉 .
Are you ready for a perfect storm?
What are your thoughts? Personally, I love this new renaissance and it always thrills me to see how creative you guys can be. I’m also a helpless pawn on Amazon—the crack-meth-heroin dealer of books. I am now listening to three audiobooks, reading one novel and another novella on my Kindle. Yes, I am ADD but I do finish 😛 #donotjudgeme
I am also completely spoiled that when I find an author I love? I can buy that writer’s entire backlist…probably far too easily.
I LOVE hearing from you guys!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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 novel.
March’s WINNER: DK WALKER! Please send your 5000 word WORD document (New Times Roman and one-inch margins double-spaced) to kristen at wana intl dot com and CONGRATULATIONS!
Before we go, I want to give you a heads up especially if you are thinking on attending a conference.
I’m holding my ever-popular Your Story in a Sentence class. Can you tell what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t? There might be a huge plot problem. This also helps if you are ever going to query or pitch an agent. The first ten signups get their log-line shredded by MOI for FREE.
Also speaking of FREE, I’d like to mention again the new class I am offering!
Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.
Kristen, there seem to be almost as many ways to promote a book as there are bad books! We are all observing, testing, trying to break through to a readership that is attuned to the genres we write in. It isn’t easy. Re your comments on being a real writer.
Nobody says an artist isn’t a real painter when her works aren’t in the National Gallery. Painters, like so many writers are often not appreciated until after they are dead!. Cold comfort, I know, but writers will write anyway. Best to write and keep learning about the promotion and marketing as we go.
Kristen, I just published your piece with a comment on my blog.
This made me so happy! I just got back my rights to my first novel after the publishing house tried to ruin it with their ‘advice’. I was totally bummed when the book deal fell through, even though it was a mutual decision, because I thought I wasn’t a real live author without a book deal. How foolish was that thinking? Self publishing is going to be a new path for me but I don’t think it will be as frustrating as the traditional route I was on earlier. Thank you for reinforcing my desire to ‘come out of the closet’ and just get my shit out there! The world is changing, thank god!
I do love your blog, it is always very helpful and insightful. I just wanted to pop by and say that – whilst I am clearly no JK Rowling or Stephen King – I started with a blog, then self-published and now have just landed a three book deal with a traditional publisher. So it can be done, if that’s the route one wishes to take. It is too early on for me to say which way to ‘published’ I think is best, I think that really depends on the individual. But take heart, people – your little blog really could lead you anywhere! 🙂
Congratulations! I have published traditional and self, but haven’t yet legacy published. Would be cool to be a Random Penguin. Can’t lie about that. But really One Size DOES NOT Fit All and it’s super cool that we have more than one road to Rome.
Isn’t it just? I certainly would not rule out self publishing again, especially once I have more experience of the industry. It’s just great that all writers can have a fair crack of the whip.
Who doesn’t want to be a Random Penguin?? Oh – you mean the publisher. *cough* Of course… that’s definitely what leapt straight to my mind.
This is a great post, and I love your BN snark. So true! Going back to read Part 1.
Awesome blog…so much fact and honesty!
I loved what you said about making mistakes publically. I had a short story in a self-published anthology with my writer’s group. (We picked a theme and wrote a short story or poem.) We did two and I didn’t like the short story I did for the second one. It seemed too rushed and still too rough, but I needed to make a deadline. I berated myself over it until I saw that and thought ‘alright, what can we take away from it?’
I started with declining the third anthology and taking time with my writing. If someone said, “That short story was bad.” I would reply “Yes, and here’s what I learned.” I loved The Martian as both a book and a movie. Knowing the story behind it made me respect it even more.
Thanks again for reading my comment and for your blog.
This is a great debate and opens up all kinds of questions about freedom and responsibility when it comes to the impact that technology has had on self-expression. Thanks for posting.
Reblogged this on The BiaLog and commented:
Awesome read and followup.
As always, you are so insightful and uplifting. Loved this. Amazeballs.
I appreciate your point of view — especially as a new writer who just discovered the wealth of self-published books. I was blown away when I discovered The Martian’s beginnings. In my heart of hearts, I hope my first novel will be published in the traditional manner. But what I really want is that somehow, somewhere I’ll find a way to get my story into the hands of readers who fall in love with “Maureen” as I have. Thanks for your great post.
Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.
It was so great to read that Andy Weir had made mistakes. (I’m sorry Andy, I definitely mean no disrespect.) But I think a lot of beginning authors get overwhelmed with the thought of posting a consistent and high content blog. There’s a lot of pressure there and sometimes the pressure can keep you from even trying. I never knew that he got input from industry experts and that makes me love his story even more!
Hi Kristen. Your blog is one of the first I discovered when I began my self-publishing journey. Thanks for the many belly-laughs as well as the sound advice. Although I write for children, it is interesting to see how some of the dynamics and stigmas, in the adult realm, play out in the kidlit world.
I sel-published a literary historic fiction novel set in 1950s and 60s. It did okay, just okay for an unknown who didn’t have a clue about publishing or marketing at the time. Three years later, I have another ms in a commercial genre. After much success at Sleuthfest in March gaining requests for one full and three partials, I got psyched up that I could, perhaps, traditionally publish. I don’t even know why. I feel as if I have become traitor to my comrades in arms. I’m sinking the hype I had already built for the release by putting it off. I have purchased a cover I may never use. I’m grueling and tooling through massive agent directories with personalized query letters while anxiously awaiting to hear back from three of four of those original ms requesters at Sleuthfest while chucking more queries into cyberspace in hopes I might get an agent that might be able to sell the book. I’m already feeling spent.
Yet another post that awakens in me the hope that, somewhere, my fans exist and we simply haven’t found each other yet. The comparison to the dark horse resonates with me in a way most metaphors about unusual routes to success have not. Bottom line, thank you. It’s people like you that keep me going.
Reblogged this on Jo-Ann Carson and commented:
Kirsten Lamb talks about the success of The Martian. Another thought provoking post.
Means there is till hope for good and clean westerns. As Solomon in the Bible says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” There are just different ways to tell the same story and hopefully my way is the best to some people!
“that we sit around believing we aren’t any good unless the Legacy Gods reach down from Olympus New York and give us their blessing.”
Reblogged this on Grotesque and commented:
An excellent article with actual insight into the changing publishing industry; instead of The Guardian’s short-sighted snobbery.
The biggest eye-opener abut trad publishing for me was a BBC TV programme recently about a guy who was trad published ten years ago but had poor sales despite a relatively huge advance. He comes from a family with strong connections in publishing and the publisher and agent obviously expected to cash in on the surname. The writer now admits (or did in the programme) the book was immature junk and did not deserve even the poor sales it achieved although it did deserve the trashing it got from mainstream media critics.
Reblogged this on Jens Thoughts and commented:
Part 2 of an excellent self-publishing article and how we can be successful!
Great post! Reblogged on Jen’s Thoughts www.https://jenowenby.wordpress.com/
Reblogged this on howmyspiritsings and commented:
Another awesome blog post by Kristen Lamb. I am a real writer and I DO self publish!
Interesting and provocative. I believe 99.5% of writers still dream of reaching the pinnacle of the writing mountain with a traditional contract/published book. It would be interesting to see how many would trade mid-list success with a self-published book versus minor success via traditional means. Self-publishing is an amazing opportunity for many. But just because someone builds a sand castle doesn’t mean we all should build one. Only those sand castles built above the high tide have any chance of surviving, but we tend to build where the sand is wet and the work is easy. And then the dream is washed away.
Reblogged this on Dean K Miller and commented:
Interesting thoughts here by Kristen Lamb. What makes it real? What makes it successful? A look at selfies vs. traditionals.
If I learned anything over the past five years (which was spent fine-tuning, revising, and overhauling my trilogy), it’s that I realized one of the reasons I DIDN’T like my previous versions was that I was attempting to conform my writing to those Legacy Rules you talk about. I was trying to fit the square peg of my writing in to the Manhattan-shaped hole, and failing miserably. Taking the self-pub route doesn’t give me the sales, but it sure as hell gave me a lot more freedom.
On a side note, I did like hearing that Weir was totally open to making changes to the ms, even after it was already out there. My first review was actually less than stellar due to the fact that they’d found numerous typos and weak spots that I’d missed (granted, they’re an old academic friend of mine, so she’s trained to see them right away!). Instead of accepting this as failure, I realized I could just as easily go in and fix the issues and resubmit the items as a ‘second edition’ and start again with pulling in newer readers.
Andy also got the science right 🙂 (with a little help from his friends here and there) He believed in what he was doing … which in my book puts him right up there with JK Rowling. 😀
Great article. It gives me hope
I think we’re going to see this more and more: publishers following the best seller lists and contacting authors directly about deals.
Frankly it makes a heck of a lot more business sense than trying to guess what the next big deal will be. I see nothing wrong with it. It’s savvy business.
Love your take on the Martian and how Weir’s success was not overnight. That he built a platform first. You make self-publishing more and more convincing with every word. I have a lot of research to go through. The problem with me is that this first novel has got me so attached that I only wanted to give it to a literary agent. I’m faced with all the doubts of taking a risk as well as what seems like an impossibly daunting task: building a platform. I have been on Facebook for so long and it’s not like I have followers there. A big friends list doesn’t count if most of them aren’t following what you post. I’ve recently full on adopted twitter and while I love it, followers is slow process. I enjoy tweeting and retweeting but it doesn’t seem like I have the right method down. So hopefully reading more of your blog will help. Unfortunately as much as I respect and honor your work, I’m from south Africa so the exchange rate is a bitch for me to buy your book/s. I would love to, if this blog is any indication, reading your book might really help me understand building a platform more naturally. Hopefully in the future that will be a possibility but for now I am loving your blog so thank you ever so much for all the time you take to give us this information.
You give me hope, Kristen. Thank you. 🙂
Just going to tweet this out there so more ‘authors’ can get on board. Thanks Kristen.
Bravo, Kristen! Brilliant!
The biggest concern I ever had with self-publishing for myself was the notion of having to promote my book all on my own, which I have no idea how to do. Heck, I wouldn’t even be able to negotiate a proper price with a publisher. That’s always why I wanted an agent and a publisher.
But I’d hardly say that someone who doesn’t go that route isn’t a “real” writer. (My definition is along the lines of, “Did you write a thing? You’re a writer.”) I love all the points you made about the self-publishing industry, makes me slightly less afraid to consider it an alternative if, in the end, I just can’t go the traditional route.
I read you regularly, this is the best informative piece I’ve seen in a while. Well done. Less snarky fluff and more focused info is provided which makes it better for idea consumption.
I totally get that self-publishing is legit. I recently came across a “publisher” that charges every author $4,900 and says they publish just 15% to 20% of the manuscripts sunmitted. Whether many manuscripts are rejected or not, does this fit the description of a vanity publisher? I know that editing, covers and publicity can add up in indie publishing, but this package deal seems to be the definition of a vanity press. Why is the answer important? I’d love an opinion.
Reblogged this on Alicia Coleman and commented:
Part 2 of Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publshing
Reblogged at https://aliciacoleman.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/real-writers-dont-self-publish-part-2/
Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
Well worth reading this article which is part two following on from https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/real-writers-dont-self-publish/ – The publishing industry is evolving rapidly compared to many industries. It is only really 18 years since the first POD companies set up in the UK and Ireland and I was an associate with Trafford back then. It is very exciting to be part of this evolution and I cannot wait to see where we are in another 18 years. I for one have loved the ride and am very proud to have been an Indie for that length of time..
Reblogged this on Nancy Segovia and commented:
Riding the dark horse to victory
Reblogged this on The Writing Chimp.
I love your posts. Thank you..
Long time reader, rare commenter. This is exactly what I need to hear at the right time as I start a 3rd career in my life. Thanks.
Reblogged this on Jeannie Hall Suspense and commented:
How THE MARTIAN defied conventional wisdom to become the next bestseller!
I often go back-and-forth on whether to self publish or go the agent/publisher route. It’s getting increasingly difficult in Canada as the exchange rate makes it extra expensive to print-on-demand. I have more revising to do before deciding anyway, but I’m thinking of sending part of it out simply because an open submission opportunity is available.
Love your post. I am at a crossroads trying to decide whether to peruse traditional publishing versus self publishing. All of this discussion helps.
Excellent post. Spot on as usual. People who think self publising isn’t for real writers are concerned about quality, but what they aren’t seeing are the indie accreditation services that provide an equivelent stamp of approval of the kind authors get from a mainstream deal. They need to take a look at BRAG and Awesome Indies Books. There are Indie ways of sorting the excellent from the dodgy
As someone who is about to launch my first book, I find much needed encouragement from your insight. I was unaware of the story behind The Martian and it’s great to hear about such success through persistence and hard work.
Reblogged this on Presidential Souls.
Will be fascinating to see what comes of this wave of creativity. I’ve been told I’ll lose my readers when it becomes clear that my single female protagonist is NOT going to fall in love with my hunky law enforcement character. Your posts give me the courage to write the story the way it comes together, and not the way agents and publishers tell me it should come out. Thanks!
As always your posts are hilarious. I’ve been juggling back and forth what I should do, self-publish or wait. Not sure yet…kind of still in the mindset that so many self-pub titles are awful. I have read some great potential stories that needed a good solid pro editor… But there are some great success stories yes. Can I be one of them? hmm. It’s also excessive amount of work on my part, which I may not be in the right stage in life to take on at the moment.
You just gave me hope! Now, back to writing.
Great follow up post. Thanks!
There is just no longer any real debate on this matter: all things being equal (you understand that the craft of writing is rewriting and rewriting; you understand how important editing is; you understand that you must re-read your book at least fifty times etc etc etc…) there is simply no excuse not to publish independently. Never before in history have we lived in a society as interconnected as the one today. And all the social media tools are there free for you to use. It’s a win win. If the book takes off, you make money and a living; you could move on to traditional publishing if you like (lots of examples of this). If the book doesn’t take off, well…welcome to the club. The point is this: when you control your own destiny, you control your world. Work it! There is one and only one thing everyone agrees sells books: word of mouth. You’re a writer; yours is the biggest mouth of all.