Monday, July 16, 2018

Rules for Writers: Be Committed

I feel like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. My remote and deserted island is the belief that the machinations which brought forth the sudden rise of the independent self-publisher will collapse like the housing market because it cannot support its own weight. Yet, I am surrounded by an ocean of self-publishing hype and hysteria where waves of mediocre authorial success—marked by an ability to quit one’s day job (for now)—and the snake oil salesmen that are “gurus” and “industry insiders” touting the next get-published-quick scheme pound me into a pus of submission where I almost believe there is no other way to publish.

This blog (your blog) is my Wilson, offering me a tenuous tether to the kernel of hope that the reality I hold dear—that those publishing professionals who have lived and breathed the industry for decades actually know what they’re doing and will be around long after the collapse of Everything from A to Z’s publishing platform—isn’t just a dream.

Still, I am desperately trying to build the raft that will carry me to home, to the professional community dedicated to spreading as much fervor and zealotry in the world of the traditionally published author as I see in the self-publishing world.

Other than the obvious: write the best book you can, query wide, publicize the hell out of your book once you are published, rinse, repeat … can you (or the Reiders) offer any direction to the community I’m seeking? (You know, those who have also not given up on the world of traditional publishing, those who understand the patience and dedication required to commit to a craft and business such as ours.)

Thanks again for everything you do.

That community is right here.

And it's at author events in bookstores.

And book cons with authors, cons like Bouchercon, Malice Domestic and book festivals where readers meet writers.

Your people are the authors in the trade publishing trenches. They are suffering like you are; hearing the siren call of all the self-publishing authors who think their way is the One True Way.

Go to those places, and support the authors there. You build community by participating.
Talk about and review books by authors like you.
Offer them the support you will need later.

I remember when Amazon reduced the barrier to publishing by providing a marketplace for almost any kind of book, and people gleefully told me it was The End of Publishing As We Know It.

Well, it wasn't.

Any more than the arrival of mass markets assured the death of hardcovers.
Any more than ebooks signaled the death of print.

Publishing is a VERY old industry and it moves glacially. That's not a selling point these days, but it means that it's weathered more than a few storms and most likely will weather this one.

To give yourself some perspective on the passage of time, read the wonderful book An Infinity of Little Hours by Nancy Klein Maguire about the Carthusian monks at Parkminster (in England). The Carthusian order was established in 1084, and has changed little in the intervening thousand years. Carthusians make the pace of publishing look like a jackrabbit.

To fend off despair: Be the voice you need to hear. You'll be surprised how many people believe as you do. Commit yourself to being part of the community you need.

And a new Rule for Writers: Be committed.


Timothy Lowe said...

I think we should all be committed.

(Sorry, Janet - couldn't resist)

AJ Blythe said...

I've said it before, but I'll say it again, now, because it's on point. I have stuck to my computer two sayings:
Never give up! Never surrender!
The most painful thing to experience is not defeat but regret.

For me and my career I want an agent and a traditional publisher. I fon't want to regret not giving it my everything. Since 2011 I have had a business plan for my writing which I update every year. If I treat it like a job than others will start to treat my writing as my job. One day it will be a paid job.

As Judy Delton said In the end, the difference between a published writer and an unpublished one comes down to one thing: The unpublished writer gave up and the published writer didn't

Kathleen Marple Kalb said...

Thank you, OP, for asking the question, and thank you, Janet, for the answer. After a very rough year with family and writing, I'd been asking myself a lot of the same questions, and the encouragement is much needed. For you, OP, I share the big rule at my house, which is sadly not on a sampler because I can't embroider: WE DON'T GIVE UP IN THIS FAMILY.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

So, my daughter is visiting from New York. Last night, we went to see her dear friends, Carly and Brian, who have recently moved in together into a wonderful city loft which resides inside what was once a porcelain factory. I love repurposed buildings.
In their loft, they had turned all these beams running along the exposed brick walls into book shelves with such a wonderful array of titles. It was funny, I recognized so many of the authors, and I knew who their agents were from my own growing knowledge of the industry. I also recommended our own Sam Hawke's new book, City of Lies to them. It fit with lots of the titles I saw on their shelves. It was ordered immediately from their phones.
Brian and Carly are young people (Carly is my daughter’s age, mid-twenties, and Brian in his early thirties), both artists (Brian a musician, Carly a graphic artist), with limited budgets, and they still buy and read books.
OP, self-publishing works for a few and determined authors, but it takes the big machine of traditional publishing 99,999 out of 100,000 times to get the existence of that book out into the world where Brian and Carly live so that they hear about the book and then buy their own copies.
My daughter, Brian, and Carly all took great joy in introducing me to VR (so amazing), very on the cutting edge of everything. The world is so different than when I was their age. There is only once constant in nature and that is change.
Yes, the world will keep changing. Literature will continue to reflect those changes. While publishing will evolve at its glacial pace, like a repurposed building, it will endure, retaining the best bits of tradition while embracing the best of the new. OP, stick with it. It may take a long while. You may have to write another book (or two), but your best shot at that pie in the sky outcome, truly lies with the traditional publishing industry. It has the resources to navigate the crazy, changing tides of the world far better than you would on your own. And all these self-publishing schemes leave you there on your own.

Mister Furkles said...

When something is made easier more of it will be done. Computers, word processors, and spell checkers made writing easier. Many who would not type a novel on a Royal, or use pen and ink, are writing books on their computer. Unfortunately, the arduous craft of story-telling hasn't changed. The self-publishing industry offers an outlet to those who are still uninterested in perfecting their stories.

Readers know the publishing industry filters the dreck. Libraries are a second filter. Filtering is more important that low price. Hence, self-publishing will never threaten the legitimate publishing industry.

Stothers said...

I feel you.

It feels like borderline insanity to keep doing the same thing in the hopes of a different outcome. I'm chest deep in the first draft of my third novel and I want to turn back. But I don't.

We don't.

We're in this together and even if we don't know each other, know that there are others out there like you.

You can do this.

Heather Wardell said...

I can't not comment on the concept already mentioned several times here that self-publishing is solely for those who can't be bothered to perfect their stories.

Do some people treat it that way? Of course. Are some traditionally-published books similar? (Reality-show stars and the like) Absolutely.

I've given everything I had in me to each of my nineteen self-published novels. I plot and plan and edit and revise and hire an editor too. I did the same (but not more) for my twentieth, for which I found an agent because it's a different genre and one not as easily self-published.

I have never claimed self-publishing is the only way to go and I never will. But my self-published books have reached hundreds of thousands of readers so I'm so glad I went that route and I think those readers are too.

There is definitely No One Way, but people who tar the entire self-publishing industry with the same brush are applying the same 'logic' in reverse that they're complaining about from the self-publishing side.

Janet's rule is so true. Choose your path (even if you end up changing it eventually) and be committed. No matter your choice of path, commitment is the only way to succeed in this industry.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

I'm a huge supporter of traditional publishers. And Kindle published traditional authors. And Kindle published indie authors. And indie authors in general.

Targeted FB ads for books have gotten me to buy stuff. Running into someone in an elevator at a SF/F convention has led me to attend their launch party, buy their book, and recommend it.

I read, on average, 2 books a month. 80% of my reading is full of sequels by my favorite Trad published authors, but I'm not exclusive. 90% of my kindle indie author reading has been Christmas gifts from my Brother-in-law. As I make friends with more authors of all different publishing backgrounds, that's shifting, but it's still my trend.

I think there's a place for all types of publishers and I hope that the quality stories get read.

Adele said...

True story: In London, England, one of the foremost book publishers once predicted The End of Publishing As We Know It, due to an innovation in how books were accessed by the reading public. The innovation? The circulating library. The year? 1793.

Brenda said...

And I’ve been hasty again. Heather, I mean no disparagement on self-published authors who take their craft seriously. I wish I knew how to filter for them.

As a book buyer of roughly 50 books a year I find the plethora of self-published, poorly crafted books an expensive experiment. There was a time that I could go on Amazon, filter by genre and ratings and be fairly well assured of a satisfying read.

This is no longer the case. A critical read of the first chapter helps, as does filtering out books with solid five star reviews or reviews that come in clumps, but neither practice can protect buyers from authors who divide one long book into three shorter ones, with a high price on the third book.

Avid bibliophiles (in my family at least) are only trusting their favourite book bloggers, the physical bookstores, established authors, or personal recommendations. I fear that this wariness will make marketing even more difficult for unknown authors, and may turn casual readers away entirely.

I probably have a narrow view of the market, speaking primarily as a reader. I hope that the present storm of self-published first drafts passes. I also hope that Janet is correct in saying that hard work and persistence will win out.

And there, I’ve broken my self-imposed ban on joining the debate. Again.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Timothy HA!

Brenda, I'm traditionally published. My first title has over 100 reviews and nearly all 5 star (the one 1 star was a mistake by a gentleman who said he pushed the wrong button). Don't filter me out!

OP, Echoing what Janet and others have said: It's so helpful to surround yourself with fellow writers. I love going to author events. I go broke buying copies of books written by friends - it's oddly uplifting.

On a personal level, I understand the feelings of discouragement. I fear I may have had things a little too easy with my nonfiction. The first publisher I queried offered me a contract. They wanted everything I wrote resulting in two more books. It was a terrific experience. Then I had the bright idea to try my hand at fiction. Four complete manuscripts later (all collecting dust in a cyber drawer), the wind has been completely knocked out of my sails.

I'm hoping to get revitalized soon. And then, onward!

Sam Mills said...

Some genres do better in self-pub than others. Some writing/plotting styles do better in self-pub than others. Everyone has a unique path, which may be hybrid if some of their projects appeal to a different audience than others.

But as far as traditionally-focused community goes: find out of your genre has an organization and get involved! Make friends, volunteer, if a local chapter exists go meet in person. Keep your ears perked for mentorship opportunities, charity critique giveaways, whatever applies to your current step on the ladder. (And of course, keep in mind that it isn't so much a ladder as it is Chutes and Ladders. Or maybe something by Escher.)

PAH said...

Self-pubbing, to me, is analogous to YouTube. Sure, creators make decent content, but without qualified gatekeepers and very little limits on what gets uploaded... eventually it's all mostly garbage.

Trad-pubbing, to me, is analogous to TV. You might not like what it produces, but you know it will /probably/ be decent quality from talented/passionate folks. It's been around forever. It moves slow. It's what everyone aspires to become a part of (even whilst simultaneously deriding it)... And it ain't going anywhere (despite the doomsayer's croon).

Only question is... is there a company out there that will become the Netflix of publishing? Still gatekeepers to ensure quality products... but just different enough to really disrupt the market.

JEN Garrett said...

I know I've posted this link before, but whenever I feel the downward pull of rejections, I go back to a blog post I wrote that should be titled "Welcome to Rejection City" but instead has the rather boring title of "Update Day"

Steve Stubbs said...

OP: You are mistaken that self-publishing is anything new. It is a lot cheaper than it used to be and some of the old abuses have disappeared, but vanity presses are a hoary institution.

I would encourage you to write more plainly. You have something important to say here, but all the metaphors make it hard to read. That may help in the writing you try to sell as well.

Your reference to "waves of mediocre authorial success" suggests you have a strong preference for literary over commercial fiction. Commercial is completely respectable and I think it is where you will find your success.

You also seem to confuse getting published with being successful. You can get published using a vanity press, but if your royalty check and a ten dollar bill buy you a Big Mac and fries at MacDonalds, that is not success.

If you enjoy writing and get satisfaction from improving over time, it makes no sense to give up. Unless the joy fades and it is time to seek a new hobby.

Susan said...

Jumping into the fray here not in defense of self-publishing (or independent publishing as I prefer to call it) per se but to offer another perspective. While it’s true that anyone can write and upload their stories nowadays, the cream really will rise to the top as with all things, and it takes a quality, polished product no matter which path an author chooses. The reasons that an author chooses each model may also be different depending on their goals, means, etc.

For example, I was extremely sick when I indie published my first book. I had been researching the industry for years and wanted to see a dream realized. I got better, the book went on to win an award. With my second book, I knew I had an audience and it was timely, but there were no takers despite positive feedback from querying. I believed in this book so much and knew it could be something. I’ve sold hundreds of copies at conferences, book signings, and events (which seems pittance when put up against traditional publishing, but considering my circumstances, I’ve been over the moon). It received some notoriety in PW and more recently in Writers’ Digest. More importantly, I’m reaching the people I need to reach in order to help.

Success is all about perception. It’s all about what you make of it. If traditional publishing suits your goals as an author—don’t give up that journey. Never give up on your dream or what you want. But for some, independent publishing gives legitimate authors another means for satisfying their own goals and dreams. I think it’s wonderful that we have these options.

Lennon Faris said...

OP, hope you find the right crowd for your dreams. Most self-pubbers I know are really cool, and aren't condescending to people who want other things. Here is a great place to find them (as well as future traditionally-published authors!).

Lennon Faris said...

Timothy - that made me laugh!

John Davis Frain said...

Welcome to Club Commitment, OP. We greet you with open arms and no guarantees. You have more company than you ever imagined.

Find a way to enjoy the writing process.

Jen said...

Thanks for your post, OP. I loved your metaphors and can empathize with your sentiments.

Everyone defines success differently. For some it's the addition of their book inside a brick and mortar store, whereas for others it's knowing their stories are no longer lost in the ether and can make a difference in someone's life. Find your success and be persistent. Trust me when I tell you that persistence is far more powerful in this business than talent.

Konnie Enos said...

Personally, I have no desire to be self-pubbed. While I can name well known authors who have self-pubbed or at least started out that way, most of the time I can spot a book by a self-pubbed author very quickly. And it isn't the typo's that tip me off since even experienced authors can have those. It's the books full of consistently misused and or misspelled words. The ones that consistently employ cliches and tropes or use poor grammar. The ones who don't understand showing versus telling or what echo and redundancy are. Those are the ones that the traditional publishers would never look at and there are far too many of them out there. They're the reason self-pubbing has a bad name and the reason traditional pubbing won't die. As long as people keep paying for such a lack of talent and skill than there will be far more self-pubbed books than there will be any well written books actually worth your time and money.

Anonymous said...

This post, and the one before it, are almost making this author misty-eyed.

C. D. Monson said...

I'm right there with you, Opie. You are not alone.

Megan V said...

I am loving these rules QOTKU, I hope you'll keep them coming :)

Sam Hawke said...

Thank you EM Goldsmith, what a lovely thing to do! :) You are an excellent person and I hope a random adorable animal allows you to pat it to improve your day as you've improved mine.