The Publishing Lottery and Other Insults
Dear Anonymous Commenter,
Thank you for taking the time to comment on my post about Self-Publishing Myths. While the poor grammar and spelling were annoying, (something you might want to work on as you self-publish that second book), I was struck by this part of your comment:
“Lets be realistic- how many people get published through traditional publishers? When people used to ask me if i was published i would ask them if they had won american idol.
Its not about talent, its about pitching, luck, who you know and the stars aligned!”
I spent way too much time thinking about your words, trying to find a response that would capture the true depth of my feelings. I came up with the following:
To elaborate, you wander over to the blog of an author who’s published five books with a commercial publisher and proceed to explain that talent and skill and work have nothing to do with it; I just got lucky and knew the right people. Because the right people will happily risk their careers to publish their friends’ books, even if those books suck. Is that the line of pseudologic you’re following here?
From what I’ve seen, this sort of nonsense usually comes from one of two scenarios:
- You drank the Kool-Aid from one of the scammier vanity presses and bought into their crap about “traditional publishers” being run by evil overlords who live only to crush the souls from peppy young writers like yourself.
- You submitted a few times, got rejected, and decided to take your toys and go home.
You go on to say, “My books are good, as im sure a million unpublished books out there are.” Right. Much like everyone who tries out for American Idol is sure their singing is good, and that they deserve a major record deal.
Because it’s so easy. Because anyone can sit down and crank out a great story. Heck, my cat hocked his breakfast onto the keyboard last week and produced a dandy little flash piece about zombie squids. Everyone’s wonderful and brilliant, and it’s just a lottery as the Publishing Gods roll their d1,000,000 to see which of those worthy candidates shall be chosen.
Most of the people who get rejected from American Idol are sent home because they suck. The ones who make it to those final rounds are the ones who’ve worked their asses off to learn how to sing. Writing is the same way. It takes time and a lot of work. No magic fairy is going to blow sparkly story dust up your butt and transform you into the next J. K. Rowling.
I understand if you’re frustrated. I know it can be discouraging trying to break in as a writer. I’ve been there, and so has every other commercial author you so casually dismiss as “lucky.”
You chose to go the self-publishing route. Maybe because your unique creative vision was too special for the New York publishers. Maybe you really are as good as you think you are, and the entire publishing industry was just too blind to see it. Maybe not. I don’t know, and I don’t particularly care. I wish you all the best, and I hope you’re happy with your choice. But if not–if you’re going the passive-aggressive “publishing is mean and out to get me” route to console yourself–could you please at least keep it to the privacy of your own blog?
December 23, 2009 @ 10:07 am
I completely agree with your logic about your American Idol example to explian the deal about being a writer. In fact, that example pretty much explians a lot of things. Like being an artist. There could be 100 people in one art show and only 5 of those people are really being noticed. It takes a while to be or get what you want. Like a dog wants a treat so he sits and the dog next to him jumps on the person. The dog that sat is most likely to get the treat unles the guy is scared that the other dog might jump on him again. But, that was a bad example. Anyways I agree with everything you said.
December 23, 2009 @ 10:24 am
It takes talent, hard work, and lots of persistence to land a book deal. That and a thick hide to suffer the rejections you will get…
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 10:25 am
From everything I’ve seen, persistence is at the top of the list. Talent is nice, skill and practice is better, but the one thing all of these “successful” writers seem to have in common is mule-headed stubbornness 🙂
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 10:27 am
Thanks, Rachael. I think it’s like anything else. It takes time and practice to learn how to do something well.
December 23, 2009 @ 10:32 am
To what address may I send this big box of “Right on! You said it! Attaboy!”? Your post on self-publishing is so singularly awesome, I feel compelled to purchase a holiday gift.
Perhaps I’ll go buy one of your books instead. Yes. Good idea.
Thanks for the post. Keep on truckin’.
December 23, 2009 @ 10:38 am
That’s exactly what I think. I know it takes time to learn and practice sommeting before you get it right. But, if there was some way I could magically get a homework assignment right before redoing a bunch of times for like an hour or drawing a perfect circle just to draw one that would be nice. 🙂
December 23, 2009 @ 10:43 am
LOL, super-well said!
December 23, 2009 @ 10:49 am
As much as I hate to admit it, you’re right.
I hate to admit it because that would be easy, and wouldn’t require me to improve my own writing. At that point, I could simply say that it was bad luck and not my responsibility.
Of course, I can’t say that. I just completely rewrote a little flash bit that’s been rejected a ton of times – because when I stopped to re-read it, I saw how much better I’ve gotten in just a year and a half.
Mind you, knowing people doesn’t hurt once you have the good story… but you have to have the story first.
December 23, 2009 @ 10:51 am
I agree with everything you said! With that in mind, I do think luck plays a small element in how successful you may be as a writer once published. I’ll use an extreme example, ‘Oprah’s Book Club’. Now while its not ALL luck to get on that list, it plays a part. Someone has to see your published work, get it to Oprah, she has to choose it out of the probably hundreds presented, etc… And getting on that list can mean the difference between a respectable sales run and ‘holy crap I can afford to buy Rhode Island’.
I don’t think luck applies too much to getting into the business, but I can see where it can affect a career once there (which is true of almost any career, mind you, but in the public facing entertainment ones – TV, movies, books I think its a slightly larger factor)
December 23, 2009 @ 11:00 am
Very well said, Jim. Vanity press is for losers.
However, it does take more, much more, than producing quality work in order to publish novels via commercial publishers. The hard work you mention includes more than producing a good story well told, a clean ms, and a professional presentation.
Luck does enter into it, too. Finding an editor, agent, or publisher who responds well to your work is not a given.
Bottom line is, publishing is not writing. They are different things. One can be good at one and not the other. Once your ms. is validated by professional writers, editors, and so on, only half the work is done. A writer must then do all manner of other things in order to get the work seen, assessed, and accepted. Finding the right house or agent is one big hurdle. Being able to stand up to the rewrites is another.
As Vonnegut once said, talent is common as dirt. What’s rare is determination.
Enjoy the holidays.
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 11:12 am
Buying my books is in no way required, but is always appreciated 🙂 Thank you!
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 11:14 am
And it’s possible to have a good story and still get rejected. There are no guarantees, which is both scary and frustrating. I’d even admit that sometimes luck and knowing people can be a factor.
But they’re small factors compared to the butt-in-chair, do-the-work piece.
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 11:16 am
Yep, luck can be a factor. I’d suggest that a lot of the time, people either make their own luck or at least work to create opportunities for that luck. But yes, there are elements of chance that are completely out of our control. (In my case, a bizarre tabloid article about Stepsister Scheme probably boosted sales and publicity for that book nicely, but it’s something I had zero control over, and was just weird.)
All that said, I’d say luck is much less important than the butt-in-chair, do-the-work factor.
December 23, 2009 @ 11:17 am
I’m sure it was luck when the ninth book I completed (all of them over 120,000 words) procured me an agent, and then a publisher, and ultimately was published in 6 different countries in four different languages. What else could possibly be involved?
December 23, 2009 @ 11:18 am
I would *love* to read the flash piece on zombie squids! 😛
I haven’t even gotten to the stage of queries yet but I can see vanity publishing as the easy way out. I think the only way I’d go that route is if I had a work that just wouldn’t sell and I wanted a copy in paperback form strictly for myself. Nothing worthwhile in life is easy right? Why should getting a book published be any different?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!
December 23, 2009 @ 11:19 am
Amen, luck’s always an aspect, but nothing happens without the work being done right, and that is the main part a writer has control over.
December 23, 2009 @ 11:21 am
To refute the false notion that success is just luck, I would refer the anonymous commentator to Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book “Outliers.” He outlines the 10,000-hour rule, in which a person must do something for 10,000 hours before he rises to the top of his field. Seemingly overnight successes like the Beatles and Bill Gates actually worked more tirelessly than the rest of us put together to get where they got. Luck was involved in getting them the practice time they needed to excel, and in getting certain opportunities that got them noticed, but it was their own determination–the strength of their will–that made them successful.
I am in wholehearted agreement of your response. Well said!
December 23, 2009 @ 11:24 am
In trying to find a response that would capture the true depth of my feelings, I came up with the following:
(Not to mention, freakin’ awesome.)
I’ll be posting a link to this truly splendid post on my blog within the hour.
Merry Christmas, hon!
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 11:27 am
Thanks, Lisa 🙂
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 11:29 am
Thank you! My own research has been far from scientific, but most of the authors I’ve talked to who have broken in seem to spend around ten years working to get to that point, improving their writing and learning the business.
“Overnight successes” rarely are 🙂
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 11:30 am
It wasn’t necessarily luck. You might have just known the right people. I know I never would have sold my book if I hadn’t been sleeping with various folks in New York…
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 11:33 am
You’re very welcome. I’m glad this one has received such a positive response!
Unfortunately, my cat isn’t so good about backing up her data, and I’m afraid the story has been lost.
There are times when self-publishing makes sense, and is a good choice. But it can also be a shortcut to being able to say “Look, I’m a published author.” And if that’s all you’re worried about, then go for it. But don’t bash the rest of us who choose a different path.
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 11:35 am
True. Writing the story is step one. The agent/editor hunt, learning to craft a query letter, and all the rest of the business stuff is a whole other process. (Definitely not my favorite part of the business.)
Vonnegut has much wisdom 🙂
December 23, 2009 @ 11:49 am
Well said, Jim!
Do cast-offs from the early rounds of American Idol, or other would-be singers, pay to produce their own records and try to sell them? Imagine how expensive that would be, with studio time, musicians, etc. Self-publishing, while expensive, is likely cheap in comparison — and probably more people have stories they want to tell than have songs they want to sing for an audience.
Keep up the great work,
December 23, 2009 @ 11:58 am
YES! Thank you! I’m not published (yet) and that comment offended me! All the work I’ve been putting in to crafting, editing, revising the story itself… then the work on putting together queries, synopses, partial submission material, agent research and dealing with rejections? Yeah, that’s all cake. Anyone can do that. *rolls eyes*
You want to break into publishing? Expect a rough road and keep on going.
Merry Christmas, all! 🙂
December 23, 2009 @ 12:00 pm
I self-published out of ignorance, fear, and poverty. Ignorance of the publishing industry, fear of not being “good enough”, and not being able to afford classes in writing. I have always been careful to identify myself as self-published because it IS not the same as “being published”. Self-publishing gave me two things… an education and confidence in my writing. I gained confidence by selling my book beyond family and friends. My initial research into trying to get my book published led me to believe that self-publishing was the “new and improved” way to get published. The people I’ve met, and the things that I’ve learned since then continue to convince me that it was a mistake. I am now on the search for a literary agent with the handicap of having self-published. I only wish I could have seen this blog at the start of my quest, rather than after self-publishing.
Hopefully, Jim, your words will reach others before they follow my path.
December 23, 2009 @ 12:18 pm
“Its not about talent, its about pitching, luck, who you know and the stars aligned”: Yeh, this is the standard view of anyone who has been unable to attract the interest of an editor or agent. It’s bollocks, but it makes people feel better about the rejection, which is always a rough experience. So it’s an understandable, if dunderheaded perception. Really, it’s just a cri de coeur.
I was for many years an acquiring editor at a major (nonfiction) press. I can testify that editors and agents read the submissions we receive and spend many hours reviewing them, as well as discussing them in (usually weekly) editorial board meetings. In a time when each book acquisition has a great burden to succeed, and time to develop a manuscript with a talented but inexperienced author is limited, each decision is weighed very carefully.
Every once in a great while a work of talent and skill does get rejected because either a) it was very poorly presented by a novice, so that its quality was deeply masked by its flaws; or b) because the editor(s) or agent(s) who happened to receive it had tastes unsympathetic to it.
But these are rare instances. If a manuscript cannot attract the interest and enthusiasm of a reader (i.e., an editor) who is trained to look past its rawness, then that’s a pretty good indication that it won’t appeal to other readers either.
Ah, the slush pile. Once the absolute junk is weeded out (the illiterate stuff, the obvious ripoffs, the porn, the mary-sue fantasies, the my-summer-vacation and my-pet-dog and my-discovery-of-God tripe), that leaves a big pile of mss. that may be decent, but will mostly turn out to be generic, not terribly distinctive or individual, competent slogs. Those get read, or at least skimmed.
The hard reality is that one grows very skilled at identifying mediocrity quickly. If the first chapter or two are flabby, chances are slim that chapter 13 will suddenly turn the book around. That said, I have many many times identified a ms. that I knew my press would not find appropriate to its list, and have sent it on to editors at other presses–sometimes with a strong letter of enthusiasm. I have seen some of those books published–occasionally to acclaim. It is always gratifying.
But here’s the main point: “Knowing someone” *might* get your ms. in the door a little more easily than if it came over the transom, but it won’t get it any farther than that. If a friend asks me to read a ms., I might look at it on my own time. But I will judge it in exactly the same way I would if it arrived on my desk in an envelope from a stranger. Agents are the same. When they employ readers, the readers are trained and skilled–and that includes the young editorial assistants who do the first culling.
Conversely, even if your ms. arrives over the transom on an agent’s desk, it will get looked at.
So the best advice I always give to new authors is to prepare their packet well: to write a good, concise cover letter; to provide a clear, effective précis of the book and a simple but elegantly worded set of chapter summaries; and to ensure that the whole packet is clean, free of typos, and easy to read. These documents, well-crafted, will encourage the first person who gets the package to believe that the ms. itself may also be well-crafted. It can’t hurt. I suppose that could be described as “pitching” in the Hollywood sense. But I think that demeans its purpose and usefulness.
Every author of talent I’ve worked with has put in untold hours developing skills, developing ideas, and then putting them together. In recent years, that’s happened more and more on blogs, where an author can find a sympathetic audience and get some good feedback in a low-risk environment. Agents pay attention to blogs, these days.
The one thing that doesn’t come into the mix is luck. Luck is for lazy people and amateurs.
December 23, 2009 @ 12:29 pm
Well, now I’m going around to the other side a bit, after that screed. Anyone want to discuss all the absolute dreck that’s published every year, or the number of absolutely wonderful books that, once published, drag with them years and dozens of rejections? Hm?
Didn’t think so.
Once you’re writing to a publishable level and submitting professional packages, it is a crap shoot whether your ms. will encounter an eye that sees it favorably.
Self-righteous, smug, dismissive arrogance about no luck being involved is exactly the problem.
December 23, 2009 @ 12:34 pm
Wow! First off, thanks for my first big smile of the day. Second, on behalf of all of us budding novelists who are about to embark on the submission trail, THANK YOU for telling it like it is! As for those commenters whose “books are good” yet can’t manage a blog comment without six typos, bad grammar and several instances of “their” when one truly meant “there,” those truths are self-evident.
Looking forward to growing a rejection pile of my very own…
December 23, 2009 @ 12:55 pm
Somedays I’m depressed about the odds stacked against becoming a published writer with the massive amount of other wanna-be’s out there. Then I see comments like that one and realize that at least a large swath of my “competitors” are people like that. People who are sure they’re writing is wonderful, just idiot editors can’t recognize that.
And I’m at least a little bit happier.
The way I’ve seen it explained and has felt right to me is that you start off thinking your writing is great because you have all of these great ideas that you are sure no one else has had. Then in the second stage your internal critic improves enough that you recognize your writing as bad (and not just “I’m my own worst critic” but actually objective-fact-bad). That then pushes you into the third stage where you hone your craft further that you stop writing crap and actually produce decent work. Of course then you spend the rest of your life nitpicking and tweaking and experimenting, but at least you are producing good work.
I’m pretty solidly in that second stage, and man does it suck. Sometimes I miss that carefree time of naively thinking my writing was spectacular. Ah those bygone days of delusion when I didn’t see the meandering subplots, weak characterizations, muddied themes, emotionless dialog, and my personal favorite the wonderful-scene-that-has-no-purpose-in-the-story. Just gotta remind myself, it’s a natural stage on the road to mastering a craft.
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 12:56 pm
I’m not sure which screed you’re referring to, and debated whether to bother responding to this, but might I direct you to http://barbarienne.livejournal.com/304435.html regarding all of those stupid publishers producing their “absolute dreck.”
December 23, 2009 @ 1:00 pm
You’re mostly right, Jim, but you’re leaving out the critical importance of market. Publishing houses are not eleemosynary institutions. A marketable book, competently written, will trump unmarketable and sublime every time.
There was a story this week in the NYT about artist Carmen Herrera, who has finally hit the big time at age 94. Her paintings didn’t suck 40 years ago; there was just no market for them. So yes, there are some writers today who are top-notch, but won’t get published in the current market climate.
To slam publishers for being focused on sales is ridiculous. I challenge Anonymous Commenter to open a business of his or her own, and see how long the doors stay open without caring about what buyers want. Ars Gratia Artis is wonderful, but it doesn’t pay the bills.
If someone is querying widely, following agents’ instructions, and writing good query letters, without getting any offers, then the book isn’t good enough or it’s not marketable enough. Maybe both. Go write another book.
There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing, if the main thing wrong with your book is that it only suits a small, offbeat market. I do it, myself. But save the potential market winners for querying. I do that, too, and have a novel coming out with a small (not vanity) press in 2010.
December 23, 2009 @ 1:10 pm
I’d like to respond to the part where anon says “you have to know someone.” After running my review blog for almost three years, I know people. It hasn’t helped. Authors are kind and encouraging, but for the most part, the’re struggling to stay published, and don’t have the clout to help someone like me get published. A few have even read my stuff and offered encouragement, or given their blessing in my using their names in my queries. Sometimes, Big Name Editors send me review copies, but I have been reluctant to test that relationship by sending them my unsolicited query.
In the end, I had to conclude that Book 1 was unpublishable, Book 2 needed work, Book 3 comes across as (embarrassingly) a Mary Sue, and Book 4 is still in-process. In the meantime, I’ve finished a major rewrite of Book 2 that I have high hopes for. When I do start querying it again in a few weeks, I’ll be sending it across agent desks, just like everyone else does.
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 1:23 pm
It’s been interesting to see the effects of print-on-demand technology. I’m not that familiar with the music industry, but watching the proliferation of self-publishing, vanity presses, and outright scams over the past ten years has been eye-opening indeed.
I think what’s often missing when new writers look into self-publishing is an awareness of just how much work “publishing” actually entails, and the fact that if you’re doing it all on your own, then writing the book is just the beginning…
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 1:26 pm
It’s messy. We talk about how new writers should do the research, but sometimes there’s almost too much information out there. For every author warning people against vanity presses, you’ve got another proclaiming that they’re the wave of the future. Often you discover those “wave of the future” messages were started by the vanity presses themselves, but it can be hard to sort it all out.
For what it’s worth, I know of nobody, myself included, who didn’t stumble along the way. Without knowing the details of your situation, I’d say that while self-publishing doesn’t often help you get published commercially, most places won’t hold it against you, either.
Wishing you all the best with your writing! (I was going to say best of luck, but that seemed wrong for this post.)
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 1:27 pm
Thanks, Mikki – very glad this was helpful.
Rejections suck, but I eventually started to view them as a point of pride. I still get a kick out of visiting a classroom and hauling out the pile of 500+ rejections to show the kids 🙂
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 1:29 pm
“Sometimes I miss that carefree time of naively thinking my writing was spectacular.”
You and me both 🙂 I’m currently midway through the first draft of my next book, and it’s a total mess. I’ve learned enough to trust that I’ll get it into shape eventually, but right now it’s painful.
If you can recognize the flaws in your own writing, then you’re definitely growing as a writer. It’s not fun, but it’s a good sign of progress.
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 1:31 pm
I think knowing people can be more helpful in getting an understanding of how the business works. It won’t get you published, but it can help you dodge some of the missteps along the way. It can also be helpful to get feedback from someone with more skill or experience. But getting you a contract? Not so much, like you said.
Wishing you all the best on the current book. FWIW, Goblin Quest (my first big published book) was my 4th novel. Here’s hoping 2010 is the year you get the agent-love 🙂
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 1:34 pm
No argument here. There are instances where a wonderful book still can’t find a home, for marketing reasons or whatever. It does happen, and it’s frustrating as heck. But for every hundred people proclaiming “My book is wonderful and those blind New York editors just can’t see it,” I’d guess maybe a handful at most actually fall into that category.
One thing I’ve seen from time to time is that when people do follow your “write another book” advice, they often end up not only selling a later book, but then once they’ve built a name they’re able to also sell that earlier book. Something that isn’t marketable by a new writer might be much more successful when the author has built up a name.
And congratulations on your book! What’s the title?
December 23, 2009 @ 1:35 pm
He’d do well to take some advice from a young Louis L’Amour: “After many rejections I sat down on the porch one night and decided that all the editors who rejected my work could not be mistaken. Something was basically wrong with what I was doing.”
December 23, 2009 @ 1:37 pm
I think your anonymous poster should read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Yes it is about being in the right place at the right time, but equally important is having practiced your craft quite a bit, to the tune of roughly 10,000 hours worth of work. Perhaps he should get back to the keyboard and work on his spelling for a few of those.
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 1:38 pm
One of these days, I need to volunteer to do some slush reading. It sounds like such an educational experience.
I’ve heard complaints about editors and agents rejecting a book based on only the first few pages instead of reading the whole thing. Even in my own limited experience running writing workshops, I was amazed to discover how well you could judge a story by those first few pages or paragraphs. I imagine someone going through hundreds of submissions every month gets even better at making those calls. 100% perfectly? Maybe not, but I’d bet at least the high nineties…
And from everyone I’ve talked to, editors and agents and slush readers WANT to find good books. It’s one of the reasons they do what they do.
December 23, 2009 @ 2:54 pm
Hi Jim 🙂
Wow there are a lot of comments here! What a great post you wrote.
Do you know of anything that cleans sprayed Diet Coke off of monitor?
There was great advice & wisdom mixed with that wit & humor and I thank you for it.
I’m still chuckling and shaking my head.
Merry Christmas Jim!
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 4:12 pm
Thanks. I figure if something I write results in at least one ruined keyboard or monitor, then it’s been a good day 🙂
December 23, 2009 @ 4:31 pm
Thanks for your comments, Jim, and you couldn’t be more right. It takes a LOT of time and effort to sell a book to a commercial publisher, but it CAN be done. I know, because I’ve done it. I spent more than 20 years in the trenches, and wrote five or six books before I wrote one that worked. And to be honest, the first few books weren’t publishable–but they did teach me a lot about the CRAFT of writing a novel. It takes time and dedication. And I have to say the publisher I’m working with now couldn’t be more supportive and helpful. It’s been a really wonderful experience to finally get a book accepted, and to know that all the hard work I’ve put in for two decades has finally paid off. My book (called “Town in a Blueberry Jam,” by the way) will be published in Feb. 2010 by Berkeley Prime Crime, and I’m working on the second book now. IT CAN HAPPEN! To all the budding novelists out there, don’t give up. Just keep at it, and work to improve your writing. Okay, now I have to get back to writing that next book!
December 23, 2009 @ 4:58 pm
Sometimes “knowing the right people” is also the result of a lot of hard work! I’ve often said that I was extremely lucky to write my first novel with a publishing contract in hand (and maybe a little less lucky to also have a deadline…), but the truth is that happened because I had worked as a staff writer for the publisher for something like 4 years by that time… Putting in somewhere close to Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of writing time.
All of which is to say, I think you’re right: there’s no substitute for hard, butt-in-the-chair work. Well said.
December 23, 2009 @ 6:09 pm
The really interesting question that no one asked is why would a great writer who writes great books use a publisher at all? Why not publish ebooks through your website, say, if you’re John Grisham or King or Patterson? What does the publisher offer such a writer? Why does such a writer settle for even 25% cut in what he could be making (100%) if he sold his ebooks directly through his site? And why would his sales suddenly drop and why would he lose his readers if he had announced that he was going to be self-publishing?
Because it is not about merit but the PERCEPTION of merit. Read the sentence again. Once more.
A book that is officially anointed by a publisher will sell more copies than the same book self-published by the same author as ebook. That is why no one of the hugely successful writers have started to distribute ebooks through their own sites and made millions more than they are now making.
Jim C. Hines
December 23, 2009 @ 6:21 pm
“What does the publisher offer such a writer?”
Professional editing. Cover art by a professional author. Professional typesetting. Professional copyediting. Distribution.
Distribution alone is huge. My publisher is already set up with distribution channels which allow them to get tens of thousands of my books into stores.
The perception makes a difference, but there’s a lot more that the publisher brings to the table, and if you self-publish, you’re taking on all of those jobs yourself. Me, I spent years learning to be a writer. I don’t have the time or energy to learn the rest of it 🙂
December 23, 2009 @ 7:16 pm
When I went the self-publishing route, it was for a very specific book and a specific reason. I didn’t want to waste everyone’s time for something that was published by a small press but I wanted to get a bit more time out of it. And, for that, Lulu worked out perfectly in that regard. I might do a few others, but they have other circumstances that would fit.
However, I still want to be published “properly”. I once said that I just needed a chance to shine, to give more than five pages and a slush pile. But, I was given that chance and… well, I failed it. There is so much more than that, and I have so far to go. Yeah, there is a form of lottery, mainly because when an editor is going through a slush pile of 3000 manuscripts, they’ll probably gloss over a few and you’ll be dumped, but frankly, if you can get their attention in the middle of said 3000 manuscripts, you probably have a chance.
When I didn’t make it, I didn’t feel it was a pure lottery. Instead, I felt that I wasn’t good enough yet and decided to keep trying.
I think self-publishing has its place. But, I also consider it pretty much the last resort of publishing if you want to see your book at Barnes and Noble.
December 23, 2009 @ 8:38 pm
But gee golly i don’t know what i did wrong, i mean i wrote a 6 page book about a giant raccoon who saves the world from an infestation of smelly socks with wings, it is six pages long, with three pages of stick figures in the origami tree position. I mean, as we can clearly see, I got the talent.
It must be me not knowing anyone in the biz. So Jim, I need you to walk into DAW and tell them you and i are drinking buddies and they NEED to sign me and give me a 6 figure advance…..did i say six figures, i meant seven…..
i am holding on to my four leaf clover so the luck of the irish is with me, and the stars…..well it is quite cloudy outside but if need be i can probably get a full moon…
Remember you can wrap a turd in golden tin foil and hang it on your tree and think it is pretty and shiny, but in the end it is still a turd…..
Merry Christmas to all.
December 23, 2009 @ 9:04 pm
Please look at this video dedicated to you and Jig. It would mean a lot to me if you looked at it. The end is a bit off the topic in the video but, please take 2-3 minutes of you time to check it out :). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2ha6KjuMdU
Hope you like it! 🙂
Merry Christmas! (Hanukah for me but it’s all a holiday same, for being thankful and giving presents!)
December 24, 2009 @ 9:23 am
Hey Jim, that was awesome. 🙂 I really hope this guy, or girl, for that matter, really listened; I’m not even close to finishing a manuscript yet, but even I know that being an author, heck, being a story teller, is one of the most difficult things in the world; I’ve always told people that writing is incredibly difficult, but supremely rewarding, sort of like a round of stuff-ups on the golf course before hitting that one, beautifully sweet shot. Maybe this guy/girl should respect the craft more…
December 24, 2009 @ 12:12 pm
That tinkling sound you hear isn’t the sugar plum fairies dancing, it’s the dreams that are being crushed. Shh, Jim, your disabusing people of their personal myths. Like the myth that success doesn’t take work. That all that needs to happen is to be “discovered.” And that anybody can do anything to the professional level instantly and without learning it. And you’re working against the myth making marketers who drive the hopes of young people into the ground chasing something that doesn’t work and was made up to begin with.
Back in the 30-40s the movie studios completely controlled the gossip magazines. So they could create the myths of “the little young girl from the heartland discovered by a producer as she was working as a waitress” or the “fresh young guy, corn fed on baseball and apple pie, working as a grease monkey pumping gas and discovered by a producer.” Nothing about how they worked up from community theater, took classes until they couldn’t find another one, and did bit parts whenever they could find them. Nope, from nobody to star. Instantly. Was as phony then as the stuff the American Idol people put out now (hint, the contract the contestants sign give the producers the right to create those myths). So (even though it was the British version) we don’t hear about how Sandra Boyle sang in her church choir for twenty some odd years, was fascinated by the song she sang on her debut and constantly sang it at home, and worked herself into a tizzy to make it on the show. Nope, instead she “came out of nowhere.”
Crunch, crunch, crunch. I’m going to start having to wear shoes around here.
December 24, 2009 @ 2:05 pm
I had an interesting experience along these same lines. I blogged about it here (http://www.csdaley.com/2009/09/i-always-knew-he-was-dick.html). It drives me crazy at the total misconceptions of what the writing industry is.
Jim C. Hines
December 24, 2009 @ 2:44 pm
I got the sense it was a drive-by comment, and I’m not really expecting Anonymous to come back. But whether s/he does or not, I still like that it’s generated a lot of good conversation for the rest of us.
Jim C. Hines
December 24, 2009 @ 2:45 pm
I relayed your demand for six or seven figures, but judging from their sign language, I think they’re only willing to offer one…
Jim C. Hines
December 24, 2009 @ 2:48 pm
I do think there are situations where self-publishing makes sense. I used Lulu once for a single copy of an unpublished novel that I wanted to give to my wife. It’s a great experience, and one I’d recommend — just because it forces you to start to learn what goes into typesetting, cover design, and all the rest.
From everyone I’ve talked to at bookstores, you’re absolutely right about how difficult it is to get a self-published book into the stores.
All the best with your writing!
Jim C. Hines
December 24, 2009 @ 2:49 pm
You see these? These are my special dream-stomping boots. Black leather, stainless steel stud … these boots were made for crushing, and that’s just what they’ll do.
Jim C. Hines
December 24, 2009 @ 3:09 pm
Congrats on the acceptance! February, eh? So you ought to be heading into full-fledged pre-book anxiety right about now? 🙂
I know very few people who sell the first book they write (myself included). Like you say, it takes time to learn and improve.
All the best with the books!
Jim C. Hines
December 24, 2009 @ 3:14 pm
I did get a chance to check it out today — very cool! Particularly the Smudge as lighter line 🙂 Which game is the character and footage from?
Hope you had a wonderful Hanukkah, and all the best in 2010!
December 24, 2009 @ 3:18 pm
Yeah, Lulu is great for learning about typesetting and covers. I also really love doing that almost as much as writing. There is something about trying to get all the parts together to make it look good; and it isn’t something you can belt out in a matter of hours.
I’m also planning on using it for a gift for my father… if I ever finish it.
December 25, 2009 @ 6:18 pm
Hey Jim! (or Mr. Hines) 🙂
Thank you! The footage is my character in the game called Runescape. It’s a pretty fun game at that. Here’s the website link incase you want to go the site or anything.
Merry Chritmas! And I hope Santa Claus brought you the presents you wanted! 🙂
December 28, 2009 @ 4:19 pm
I think “screed” was a polite way of saying that my post was a little on the long side. 🙂
It’s pretty easy to say why lot of bad books get published (as barbarienne notes): there’s a market for certain kinds of bad book. They mostly fall into a couple of clear categories, and there’s a formula for making money from them as efficiently as possible. Publishers pay for good books that have a slim market (first novels, poetry, some kinds of serious trade nonfiction) by issuing highly commercial ones with a dependable market. And of course “absolute dreck” is in the eye of the beholder; some acquisitions editors have terrible taste but really believe in the drecky books they acquire. So while one could talk at length about the bad books, it wouldn’t be a very useful conversion.
Sometimes a good book gets spotted on its first round of submissions and signed quickly; sometimes it gets signed on its 31st submission; in neither scenario is luck involved. At the press where I worked, submissions that made it past the first cut got reviewed by at least 2 editors before rejection.
It’s true that there aren’t publishers to match every manuscript written; but then, there aren’t readers for every manuscript, either. With the self-publishing opportunities of the blogosphere, this is a far smaller obstacle than in the past. It used to be hard to get published if you were black, or wrote about Latin America, or sounded more like Faulkner than Hemingway. There are fads in reading, as in other aspects of culture. But today there is no bar to finding an audience. But if an author wants to be published by a press–with an editor, and prestige, and reviews, and royalties, then one has to meet the particular standards and tastes of that publisher. That isn’t a matter of luck either. And yes, it may mean tailoring one’s voice and vision to meet one’s readers halfway.
When a book gets rejected 32 times and goes into a drawer unpublished, we may have lost something wonderful. More often, though, we’ve lost something modestly competent and adequate.
December 28, 2009 @ 4:46 pm
You could even pick up a few bucks as a reader. Not that the fee will cover the cost of the gallons of coffee you’ll drink.
To me, the most illuminating thing about the slush pile is how much of it is patently bad by anyone’s standards.
So when a handful of submissions look even somewhat promising, you pounce on them. If authors dream of being discovered as the next Faulkner, editors dream of discovering the next Faulkner. So the conspiracy is aspirational, not adversarial: everyone hopes for a winner. I’ve more than once gone to bat for a ms. that wasn’t really all that great because I *wanted* it to be great. And I’ve many times spent time and effort working with an author on a revise-and-resubmit, hoping to get the ms. past the adequate level and to the publishable level (because the subject was great, or the idea was great), only to find that adequate was as far as that author could go.
That’s why more than one editor usually reviews a submission if it makes the second cut. After a few years, I learned that an editor can assist a ms., but cannot transform it. (Unless you’re Maxwell Perkins and your authors let you rewrite their books.)
There are two aspects of the current system that I think don’t work so well. I’ll probably get slammed for saying these things, but they are the reality of the job.
First is the rejection process. When a ms. has the kernel of a good book in it, I would like, sometimes, to write a personal note to an author, discussing the reasons why the ms. wouldn’t work for my press, and offering suggestions. I learned quickly that such letters are often more wounding than the 2-sentence boilerplate; and conversely, that they are often seen as an invitation to continue trying, which is fruitless and painful for the author and tiring and time-consuming for the editor. The 2-sentence boilerplate, however cold it may seem, is clinical and straightforward. But it’s a shame that this is so. Only if the author shows significant potential is a personal letter a good idea, and then it’s usually an invitation to revise and resubmit.
Second, editors today rarely have the time to work closely, line by line, on a ms. that has a mixture of flaws and brilliance–unless the author is an A-list known quantity. The staff cutbacks at presses have been relentless, and every editor I know is desperately overworked. So if a ms. has some great stuff in it but would need a lot of elbow grease to be publishable, it may get rejected as a pragmatic decision. Some presses these days throw books into print with very little editing–rather as they did a century ago. But that’s not a great way to publish.