Writing

Authors Behaving Badly?

So, informal poll time — is this a spoof/satire, or a legitimate author blog?

http://rejectionqueen.blogspot.com/

She mentions having a novel coming out, but I can’t find any info on it, which suggests spoof to me.  I’m not sure, though. Most authors are fairly reasonable about rejections, but Rejection Queen wouldn’t be the first to flip out and shoot her career in the foot.  With a bazooka. Just see this post from agent Colleen Lindsay:

http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2010/04/what-not-to-do-when-you-get-rejection.html

That second one is an interesting case, as the idiocy comes from someone who has actually published with major houses.  But if you look at his published work, you notice that each book was with a different publisher.  Makes you wonder … did he storm off, or did the publisher exercise their “No a**hole” clause on subsequent books?

While some authors whine and moan, others actually do the work without expecting things to be handed to them on a golden platter.  See Rae Carson and Jenn Reese, both of whom recently landed awesome book deals.  Huge congratulations to them both!

But you know what?  Ask anyone who has accomplished what Rae and Jenn have, and they’ll probably tell you they got rejected plenty of times before reaching that point.  It’s normal.  Get over it.

You know what most successful authors don’t do?

This.

Negative Reviews = Great News!

The fundraiser for rape crisis centers has raised more than $1000 as of 9:30 this morning.  Y’all are wonderful!!!  To celebrate, I’m adding an autographed copy of Heroes in Training [Mysterious Galaxy | B&N | Amazon] to the prize giveaway.  Thank you all!

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Over the past few weeks, Google Alerts brought word of a number of new reviews of my books.  At least half were wonderfully positive (thank you!), but some of them were … less flattering.

This is a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong — I’d much rather see more reviews describing the books as the best books ever.  I’d be lying if I said the negative reviews didn’t sting.  However, there’s no such thing as a book that appeals to everyone.  If you expect absolutely everyone to love your writing, you’re gonna be mighty disappointed.

“Wait a minute,” you protest.  “That’s probably true, but just because you know it’s pretty much inevitable that someone’s going to trash your book doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.”

Excellent point, imaginary reader.  Let me explain where I’m coming from by describing a random author who recently spammed a discussion group I was reading.  He was advertising his book, and included the line “Only 5-star reviews on Amazon!” as a selling point.

I had a pretty good idea what to expect, but I clicked over to the book’s listing anyway.  Call it morbid curiosity.  His claim was absolutely correct.  He had a handful of 5-star reviews, all praising this book to the Heavens.

The thing is, almost any book is going to get a few good reviews.  At the very first signing for my very first book, my friends and family were there to support me.  They bought copies, and some of them (not all, sadly) even read the book.  Those that hated it, well, I’m someone they know — they’re unlikely to trash me online.  Meaning the only reviews from that group are probably going to be positive.

Call them first circle readers.  It’s great to get those positive reviews, but I don’t give them much weight.

These days, I also have what I’ll call second circle readers — people who’ve read my stuff and are loyal to me as an author.  They already know they like my style, and are therefore fairly likely to enjoy my new books and post positive reviews.

Then there’s the outer circle.  Readers who don’t know my fiction.  Sadly, this is the biggest circle for most of us.  Here’s where things get risky.  Some of them will love it, and some won’t.  Statistically speaking, this is where most of the negative reviews are usually going to come from.

The fact that more reviews are cropping up for my books, and that these reviews are a mix of both positive and negative, suggests to me that I’m reaching that outer circle.  New readers are picking up my stuff and giving it a try, and that is a very good thing.

(That said, if those of you who like my books want to run out and post 5-star reviews all over the web, I certainly won’t object!)

Writing the Other

Last weekend, I moderated a panel on “Writing the Other,” whether that Other meant someone of another race, another gender, another sexual orientation, or another species entirely.  The panel description asked “Can a man write from a woman’s viewpoint?  A woman from a man’s? Should they try?”

The consensus among panelists and audience was that these were very silly questions, and we weren’t going to waste time on them.  Given the size and general wackiness of the Internet, I suspect that someone out there is probably trying to say that white writers shouldn’t be allowed to write nonwhite characters, that straight writers shouldn’t try to write LGBT characters, and so on.

There are also people on the Internet saying they’re actually Na’vi (from Avatar), or that the world ended a while back and our ghosts just haven’t noticed yet, or that Publish America is a really good publisher.  As it turns out, saying something doesn’t make it true.

Most of the time though, when I hear “We’re not allowed to write _____ characters,” it’s an author talking.  Upon investigation, it usually turns out that nobody told our author friend that he or she wasn’t allowed to write these characters; instead, someone criticized him for doing it badly.

Well … yeah.  If you write flat, unrealistic, or just plain bad characters, you’re going to get called on that.  If all your women exist only to swoon and get naked for your hero (*cough* Heinlein *cough*), then people might complain.  They’re not saying you aren’t allowed to write women characters.  They’re saying please stop sucking at it.

The panel mainly focused on how to do that.  Things like making your characters well-rounded human beings instead of “The Black Character” and “The Gay Character” and “The Christian Character” and so on.  Like learning to listen.  Like going beyond a single token “other”.

As an author, I do believe I need to be careful about issues of cultural appropriation.  Nisi Shawl has written about this far better than I could, and I recommend reading her piece.  But I think there’s a huge difference between “Authors should be aware of cultural appropriation issues” and “Authors aren’t allowed to write characters from other cultures.”

Discussion welcome, as always.

First Novel Survey Results

In February of 2010, I began collecting information from professionally published novelists.  My goal was to learn how writers broke in and made that first big novel deal, and to use actual data to confirm or bust some of the myths about making it as a novelist.

My thanks to everyone who participated, as well as the folks at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Book View Cafe, SFWA, SF Novelists, Absolute Write, and everyone else who helped to spread the word.

The survey closed on March 15, 2010 with 247 responses. For those interested in the raw info, I’ve posted an Excel spreadsheet of the data with all identifying information removed.  You can download that spreadsheet here.

I’ve broken my write-up into nine parts:

  1. The Data
  2. Short Story Path to Publication
  3. Self-Publishing Your Breakout Novel
  4. The Overnight Success
  5. You Have to Know Somebody
  6. Can You Boost Your Odds?
  7. Survey Flaws
  8. Other Resources
  9. Final Thoughts

The Data

For this study, I was looking for authors who had published at least one professional novel, where “professional” was defined as earning an advance of $2000 or more.  This is an arbitrary amount based on SFWA’s criteria for professional publishers.  No judgment is implied toward authors who self-publish or work with smaller presses, but for this study, I wanted data on breaking in with the larger publishers.

247 authors from a range of genres responded.  One was eliminated because the book didn’t fit the criteria (it was a nonfiction title).  A random audit found no other problems.  The results were heavily weighted toward SF/F, which is no surprise, given that it was a fantasy author doing the study.  But I think this is a respectable range:

The year in which authors made their first sale covered more than 30 years, from 1974 to 2010.  The data is heavily weighted toward the past decade.

There’s the background information in a nutshell.  With that out of the way, let’s get to the first myth.

The Short Story Path to Publication

Back when I was a struggling young author in the late 90s, I received a great deal of contradictory advice about how to break in.  Many writers told me I had to sell short stories first to hone my craft and build a reputation so agents and editors would pay attention to me.  Others said this was outdated, and these days I could skip short fiction if I wanted and just jump straight into novel writing.

So do you really have to sell short fiction first?  I asked how many short stories people sold, if any, before making that first professional novel sale.  Answers ranged from 0 to 400 short fiction sales.  On average, authors sold 7.7 short stories before selling the novel.

Next I looked at the median, the midway point in the sample.  The median number of short fiction sales was 1, meaning half of the authors sold more than this many, and half sold fewer.

But let’s make this even simpler.  Of 246 authors, 116 sold their first novel with zero short fiction sales.

Possible Data Quality Issue: The question was “How many short fiction sales, if any, did you have before making your first professional novel sale?”  Several authors noted that they only included “professional” short fiction sales, which might reduce the numbers.  But even so, the idea that you must do short fiction first appears busted.  Not only that, but looking at a scatterplot of the number of short fiction sales and the year of the first novel sale, this appears to be busted going back at least 30 years.

I believe short fiction sales can help an author.  One author noted that they were contacted directly by an editor who had read the author’s short fiction and wanted to know if the author had a novel.  Personally, I found that short fiction helped me a lot with certain aspects of the craft.  And of course, a lot of us just enjoy writing short stories.  But it’s not a requirement to selling a novel.

Self-Publishing Your Breakout Novel

For as long as I’ve been writing, some authors have been announcing the death of traditional publishing.  Especially with the growth of print-on-demand and electronic publishing, I hear that self-publishing is the way to go.  The idea is that if you self-publish successfully, you’ll attract the notice of the big publishers and end up with a major contract, like Christopher Paolini did with Eragon.

One of the survey questions asked how authors sold their first novel to a professional publisher.  The options were:

  • Self-published, then sold the book to a professional publisher
  • Published with a small press, then sold the book to a professional publisher
  • Submitted directly to a professional publisher, who bought it
  • Submitted to an agent, who sold the book to a professional publisher
  • Other

To those proclaiming queries and the slush pile are for suckers, and self-publishing is the way to land a major novel deal, I have bad news: only 1 author out of 246 self-published their book and went on to sell that book to a professional publisher.  There was also 1 “Other” response where the author published the book on his web site and received an offer from a professional publisher.  (It should be noted that this author already had a very popular web site, which contributed to the book being noticed and picked up.)

Just to be safe, I ran a second analysis, restricting the results to only those books that sold within the past five years.  PoD is a relatively new technology, so it’s possible the trends have changed.  But the results are pretty much identical.

This does not mean self-publishing can never succeed, or is never a viable option.  (I.e., please don’t use this as an excuse for a “Jim hates self-publishing” rant.)  However, for those hoping to leverage self-published book sales into a commercially published breakout book (a la Eragon), the numbers just aren’t in your favor.  For the moment at least, the traditional pathways — submitting to an agent, submitting directly to the publisher — still appear to be the way to go.

Also, please see below for Steven Saus’ graph showing the trend away from submitting directly to the publisher and more toward querying agents in recent years.

The Overnight Success Story

When I started writing, I figured it was easy.  I thought anyone could do it.  Having zipped off my first story, I assumed fame and fortune would soon be mine.  And why not?  How often do we see the movies where someone sits down at the computer, and after a quick writing montage, voila! They’re a published author.  (Generally this seems to mean big book tours, winning awards, hanging with Oprah, and living the good life.)

So how long does it take to sell that book?  Of our 246 authors, the average age at the time they sold their first professional novel was 36.2 years old.  The median was also 36, and the mode was 37.  Basically, the mid-to-late 30’s is a good age to sell a book.

But that doesn’t tell us how long these authors were working at their craft.  So the very next question in the survey asked, “How many years had you been writing before you made your first professional novel sale?”

The responses ranged from a single respondent who said 0 years, all the way to 41 years, with an average of 11.6 years.  Both the median and the mode came in at an even ten years.

You could argue that the single response from someone who had been writing for 0 years proves that overnight success can happen, and you’re right.  It can happen.  So can getting struck by lightning.

Here’s the breakdown in nice, graphical form:

I also asked how many books people had written before they sold one to a major publisher.  The average was between three and four.  Median was two.  I was surprised, however, to see that the mode was zero.  58 authors sold the first novel they wrote.  Still a minority, but a larger minority than I expected.

I’m still going to call this one busted.  Not as thoroughly busted as I would have guessed, but the bottom line is that it takes time and practice to master any skill, including writing.

You Have to Know Somebody

This one goes back to the idea that it’s nigh impossible to break in as an unknown writer.  You have to have an in.  Without those connections, editors and agents will never pay you the slightest bit of attention.

This was a little trickier to test.  I asked two questions:

1. What connections did you have, if any, that helped you find your publisher?

  • Met editor in person at a convention or other business-related event
  • Knew them personally (not business-related)
  • Introduced/referred by a mutual friend
  • Other

2. What connections did you have, if any, that helped you find your agent?

  • Met editor in person at a convention or other business-related event
  • Knew them personally (not business-related)
  • Introduced/referred by a mutual friend
  • I sold my book without an agent
  • Other

The most popular response in the “Other” category was “None” or “No connection at all.”  Ignoring the “Other” category for the moment, all other responses were selected a grand total of 162 times.  More importantly, 185 authors listed no connections whatsoever to their publisher before selling their books.  115 listed no connections at all to any agents, either.  (62 others added that they did not use an agent to sell their first book.)

Combining the agent and publisher questions, a total of 140 — more than half — made that first professional novel sale with no connections to either the publisher or the agent.

Here’s the percentage breakdown:

Met editor at a convention: 17%
Knew editor personally: 3%
Referred to editor: 11%
Met agent at a convention: 11%
Knew agent personally: 4%
Referred to agent: 21%
Did not use an agent: 25%

The “Other” categories also included a small number of authors who reported winning contests, short story sales that attracted interest, industry connections, and in one case, SFWA membership.

My conclusion is that connections can certainly help.  Agent referrals in particular — it’s always nice to check with other authors to see who represents them, and if you can get a referral, so much the better.  But the idea that you have to have a connection?  Or even that most authors knew someone before they broke in?  Busted.

Can You Boost Your Odds?

As has been pointed out (by my own agent, among others), while connections aren’t required, they can be helpful. I wanted to know what other steps authors took to try to improve their chances, and asked whether participants had done any of the following:

  • Attended conventions
  • Attended one or more writers groups
  • Earned an undergrad degree in English/Writing
  • Earned a graduate degree in English/Writing
  • Attended a weekend writing workshop
  • Attended a week-long writing workshop
  • Attended a longer writing workshop
  • None of the above

By far, the two most popular choices were conventions and writers groups, both of which were reported by more than half of our novelists.  The least popular choice?  The graduate degree in English/Writing.  (As someone who holds an MA in English, I’m trying not to be depressed about that one.)

The full breakdown looks like so:

Remember, this is correlative data, not causative.  However, I decided to take a look at a few more correlations, taking the writers from each of these categories and examining how many years it took to make that first pro novel sale.  I bolded the highs and lows.

Full Group: Average 11.6 years, median 10, mode 10
Conventions: Average 10.5 years, median and mode unchanged
Writers Groups: Average 10.5 years, and median drops to 9.5
Undergrad Degree: Average 9.8 years, median 6.5, mode 3.5
Graduate Degree: Average 11.8 years, median 10, mode 6
Weekend Workshop: Average 10.7, median 8.5, mode 3
Week-long Workshop: Average 10.7, median 8.5, mode 6
Longer Workshop: Average 11.6, median 10, mode 6
None: Average 15.7 years, median 15, mode 9

I’m reluctant to draw too many conclusions from this, or to say that any one category will definitely help you break in.  But looking at the “None” category, I think it’s safe to say that writers who are more actively trying to get out and build their careers — in any one of a number of ways — tend to break in faster than those who aren’t.

Survey Flaws

This was not a perfect study.  It wasn’t meant to be.  I wanted a large enough sample to start to see some trends, but I’m not qualified to run a full-scale, controlled study.  Nor do I have the time.  In the interest of full disclosure, here are the flaws I’m aware of.

1. Sample bias.  I’m a fantasy author.  When I announced the survey and asked for authors to participate, I knew the results would be heavily skewed toward SF/F writers in my network.  I did some outreach to spread the word to other writing groups and blogs, but the results are still weighted toward SF/F and may not apply as strongly to other genres.

2. Question imprecision. Several questions were imprecisely worded.  For example, one question asked “How many times, if any, was your novel rejected before it sold to a professional publisher?”  I received enough comments and questions about this, asking whether I meant publisher rejections, agent rejections, or both, that I did not include the final data in my write-up.  I’m also unhappy with one of the networking questions which asked if you were introduced/referred to your agent or editor.  “Referral” is fairly broad, and could mean everything from a personal letter of recommendation to an author saying “Oh yes, Bob’s my agent and I think he’s open to queries right now.”

3. Can’t prove cause/effect. This is a weakness of correlative data.  I think the data worked well for busting certain myths, but if I catch anyone saying things like “Jim Hines proved that if you get an undergrad degree in English, you’ll sell a novel faster,” then I will personally boot you in the head.  See here for a good example of correlation =/= causation re: pirates and global warming.

4. Limited scope. I restricted this survey to authors who had published at least one novel with a professional ($2000 or higher advance) publisher. Not everyone shares the goal of publishing professionally.  For those who prefer the small press, non-fiction, script writing, short fiction, or other forms of writing, the path to breaking in might be very different.

I’m sure there are other flaws.  However, it was my goal and my hope that even with these problems, the data I gathered would be useful in talking about how writers break in, and would be much better than the anecdotal “evidence” usually cited in such conversations.

Other Resources

Steven Saus’ Analysis of my Survey Data: Steven ran my numbers through some heavy-duty statistical software and came up with all sorts of info, including this graph showing the apparent trend in how submissions have moved from direct-to-publisher more toward querying agents over the past few decades.  For those who like to geek out on numbers and statistics, I recommend checking it out.

Tobias Buckell’s Author Advance Survey: Data from 108 authors about novel advances, showing trends over time and over the course of authors’ careers.

Megan Crewe’s Publishing Connections Survey: Data from 270 authors on whether you need connections to break in.  Her results tend to match my own on this one.

SFWA’s Online Information Center: Includes essays, resources, and advice for new writers from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.  (Thanks to Charlie Stross for the link.)

Final Thoughts

My thanks once again to everyone who participated in the study, who spread the links to other writers, and for all of the support and encouragement.  I’m quite pleased with the way this turned out, and I hope it’s helpful to others.

In conclusion (and in true Mythbusters style) I present you with this artistic rendering of my editor when she learns how much time I’ve spent on this survey instead of working on my next book:

Novel Survey Results, Part III

Update: The full survey results and the raw data are now posted at http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/survey-results/

Last month I collected information from 246 professionally published novelists on how they made their first pro novel sale.  This was rough, Mythbusters-style science.  It’s not a perfectly controlled study, but it provided much more data than I usually see when we talk about these things.

I’m wrapping up my results, and will be working on compiling everything into a single essay, to be posted on my web site along with the raw (anonymized) data.  Today I’ll also be examining the weaknesses of my survey, as well as other data sources for those looking to learn more.

Can You Boost Your Odds?
Survey Flaws
Other Resources
Final Thoughts

More

Novel Survey Results, Part II

Update: The full survey results and the raw data are now posted at http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/survey-results/

For those of you just tuning in, last month I collected information from 246 professionally published novelists on how they made that first pro novel sale.  This is rough, Mythbusters-style science.  It’s not a perfectly controlled study, but it provides a lot more data than I usually see when we talk about these things.

Today I’m looking at two more myths about the writing process:

The Overnight Success
You Have to Know Somebody

More

Novel Survey Results, Part I

Update: The full survey results and the raw data are now posted at http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/survey-results/

Last month, I began collecting information from professionally published novelists.  The goal of the survey was to learn how writers broke in, and to use actual data to confirm or bust some of the myths about making it as a novelist.

My thanks to everyone who participated, as well as the folks at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Book View Cafe, SFWA, SF Novelists, Absolute Write, and everyone else who helped to spread the word.

The survey closed on March 15, 2010 with 247 responses.  There’s a great deal of information here, so I’ll be breaking the results into several blog posts.  At the end, I’ll combine everything into one big write-up and post it on the web site for future reference.

So let’s bust some writing myths.  Today I’ll be looking at:

The Raw Data
Short Story Path to Publication
Self-Publishing Your Breakout Novel

The Raw Data:

For this study, I was looking for authors who had published at least one professional novel, where “professional” was defined as earning an advance of $2000 or more.  This is an arbitrary amount based on SFWA’s criteria for professional publishers.  No judgment is implied toward authors who self-publish or work with smaller presses, but for this study, I wanted data on breaking in with the larger publishers.

247 authors from a range of genres responded.  One was eliminated because the book didn’t fit the criteria (it was for a nonfiction title).  A random audit found no other problems.  The results were heavily weighted toward SF/F, which is no surprise, given that it was a fantasy author doing the study.  But I think we’ve got a respectable range here:

The year in which authors made their first sale covered a range of more than 30 years, with the earliest being 1974.  The data is heavily weighted toward the past decade.

When I do the final write-up, I’ll also include a spreadsheet of the raw data (with all identifying information stripped out).

So there’s the background information in a nutshell.  With that out of the way, let’s get to the first myth…

More

Strong Women Characters

A number of people have linked to the article Why Strong Female Characters are Bad for Women.  I’ve read it several times, and while I agree with a lot of what’s said, that title makes me cranky.

Strong female characters are not bad for women (or for men). Stereotypical, cardboard, badly done female characters, on the other hand? Not a good thing. Writers and filmmakers who have no clue how to create a strong female character? Also a bad thing.

A strong female character has to be a character.  Characters are (usually) people.  They have strengths and flaws both.  They have their own goals — which don’t all revolve around a guy — as well as their own fears. They love and hate and yearn and regret.

I’ve found that as soon as the writer tries to define a particular type of character — “This shall be the black character” or “This will be the smart character” or “This will be the strong female character,” then it fails.  The character becomes one-dimensional, defined by that label and a (usually) shallow and stereotypical understanding of how to portray it.

What about strength?  Strong does not mean invulnerable.  Strong does not mean perfect.  Strong does not necessarily mean physical strength.

Strength is my daughter holding back tears after her little brother accidentally hurts her, because she knows if she cries it will upset him.  Strength is my mother calmly shoving chocolate into my dad’s mouth when his blood sugar drops too low.  Strength is Susan Boyle getting up on stage, ignoring the derision of the audience, and singing the crap out of her song.

Sure, strength can also be Uma Thurman kicking ass in Kill Bill — but that’s just one of many kinds of strength.  When that’s the only kind of strength we see, it betrays a serious lack of creativity on the part of the writers. (And Thurman’s character is far from invulnerable.  As the article notes, she is strong, but also flawed and human.)

Lastly, a strong female character has to be female.  This is a “Duh” moment, but I think there are a lot of writers who have a hard time creating realistic female characters. Sometimes women seem to exist only as sexual fantasy objects. Other times people complain the female characters are just “men with boobs.”

Dangerous territory here. I’m not about to try to lecture everyone on what is and isn’t female. Nor am I going to claim I always get it right. What I do know is that sex and gender can affect our experiences and our identity, but they don’t define who we are, and there’s tremendous variety out there.

We’re not getting enough variety in books and TV and movies.  Often we get a few narrow character types and ignore 99% of the female population. And hey, here’s a hint: if you have only a single (strong, of course) female character in your ensemble, it’s extremely difficult to show variety.

So no, I don’t believe strong female characters are bad for women. I do believe that, as a whole, we’re doing a lousy job of writing them.

Discussion and disagreement are welcome, as always.

Why Advances Matter

With 11 days to go, the First (Pro) Novel Survey is up to more than 200 responses, which is wonderful!  But it’s also generated some interesting feedback in comments and e-mails.  Some people are upset that small press, self-published, and e-book authors can’t participate.  Others say advances are part of a dying publishing model.  There’s been worry that advances can actually harm an author who doesn’t earn out.  To top things off, I’m told I’m completely out of touch with the current state of publishing.

Let’s start with the basics.  An advance is an advance against your royalties.  When I sold Goblin Quest to DAW, they paid me $4000, half on signing and half on publication.  (Slightly lower than the average, because Goblin Quest was a reprint of a small press title.)  For the sake of easy math, let’s say I got 50 cents in royalties for every copy that sold.  So for the first 8000 books, I got nothing — I had already received that money up front.  But once we sold book 8001, I officially earned out the advance and began receiving royalties.

Even if I never sold those 8000 copies, I keep the advance. Nor would I be blacklisted for failing to earn out.  A lot of books never earn out their advance.  Understand that the publisher doesn’t necessarily lose money on those books.  The math is a little messy, but publishers can and do still make a profit on books that don’t earn out.

Will publishers get a little cranky if they pay you a six-figure advance and you only sell 10,000 books?  Well, sure.  It might mean smaller advances in the future.  You might need to adopt a pseudonym (as many others have done), or change to a different publisher.  But it doesn’t mean the end of your career.

Remember the advance represents an investment on the part of the publisher, and I want my publisher as invested as possible in my book. There are never any guarantees, but which do you think will get more of a sales push, the book where they paid the author $5000 up front, or the one where they paid $50,000?

Finally, there’s the fact that royalties take a long time to show up.  Let’s assume your book is going to earn out, which means you’re eventually going to get the same amount of money either way.  Would you rather get that money today, or wait and get it in a year or two or more?

Writing is not a hobby to me.  It’s a career, one that helps me pay the mortgage and feed my family.  My advances mean I know I’m going to receive a certain minimum amount on each book.  I can start to plan and budget, meaning I’m better able to make a living with this.  (Now if only my publisher would offer a health plan for its authors…)

As for the frustration and anger that I’m shutting out small-press and self-published authors with this survey?  Yes.  Yes I am.  I’ve got nothing against small press and self publishing.  (Please see above, where I first sold Goblin Quest to a small press.)  But that’s not what I was interested in for this survey.  I wanted to learn more about how authors break in with bigger, advance-paying publishers.  If you have a problem with that … well, it’s your problem.  Deal with it.

Author Entitlement

Novel Survey Update: 130+ responses and counting.  My goal is to try to get at least 200.

Steven Saus pointed me toward A Softer World’s comic on fairy tale romance.  Yes!!!

Michael Cannon took the picture of me in my hat and photoshopped it into something awesome.  Yes, that is Smudge the fire-spider all blinged out on my shoulder.

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The first time I noticed the author entitlement thing in myself was with book discussion forums.  I’d come across a post asking for recommendations for good fantasy humor, or maybe someone wanted suggestions for a fun SF/F series with strong women characters.  Naturally, I’d peek to see if anyone had recommended my books.

Occasionally someone would, but usually it was the same old Pratchett and Asprin, Bujold and Bradley.  And I realized I was getting cranky about this.  Some of it seems to spring from envy.  “Why aren’t I getting the same buzz as so-and-so? They should be recommending me!  Strong female leads?  Come on!  Have you seen my covers?  I deserve to be in those lists!”

Only that’s not my call to make.  The fact that I’ve written books about goblins and kick-ass princesses doesn’t mean I get a free pass to the top of everyone’s recommended reading list.  I happen to think I’m a pretty good writer, but I don’t get to say how successful I should be.  That’s up to the readers.  (And for the record, I’m tremendously grateful for the success I’ve had — thank you!)

The sense of entitlement seems worst with some of the authors from a certain subclass of “publisher.”  Check out a few quotes from the testimonials page at Publish America.

“…people always told me it was difficult to get published. WRONG!”

“…no one,except Publish America will give the little guy, the unknown poet,the chance to get recognized.”

“…PA creates a serious threat to the publishing industry. PA helps new authors get started.”

Ignoring the idiotic assertion that commercial publishers won’t publish new writers, the underlying assumption is that we all deserve to be published.  We’re all entitled to that success.

Sorry, but no.  In kindergarten, everyone’s drawing gets hung up on the classroom wall.  But you’re a grown-up now, and writing a book doesn’t entitle you to a publishing contract.  The fact that you think it’s good doesn’t mean you’re right, nor does it mean a publisher must invest tens of thousands of dollars to get your book out there.

For those of us who do break in with a big publisher, that contract does not entitle us to NYT Bestseller status.  It doesn’t obligate the publisher to buy major in-store displays or table placement at the major chains.  Do I want those things?  Heck yes!  But am I entitled to them?  Envious as I might feel when my friends get a bigger marketing push than me, I’m the last one qualified to say what my books do or don’t deserve.

I feel it with the day job sometimes, too.  I’m a published author.  Why should I have to work a desk job?  Unfortunately, just because I want to write full time doesn’t mean I get to do it.  The world doesn’t owe me a full-time writing career, a NYT bestselling series, or a pony.

Setting goals is good.  Working toward those goals is even better.  But the moment I start griping about not getting the success I deserve, the success I’m owed, then it just starts to feel tacky and childish.

Comments, questions, and outright disagreement are all welcome, as always 🙂

Jim C. Hines