Is trying to get published a time waster?

Helga’s Post #101:  What do writers spend most of their time on? Writing?

You may be surprised at the answer. Marketing supposedly takes more time than the actual writing. At least this is what some studies on writers’ behavior suggest. I find that a startling statistic and I am not sure of its validity. What about writers like Ernest Hemingway? Did he spend as much time peddling his manuscripts as writing them? I doubt it. Or take Agatha Christie, the most published novelist in history. She wrote 69 novels and 19 plays and is estimated to have sold 4 billion books. If she had spent more time on marketing than writing, she would have lived to at least double her 85 years.

Nonetheless, we know that writers do spend a fair chunk of time on getting their work out into the world and trying to make money from it. More time than most of us can imagine. Take the example of Amanda Hocking, an American writer of paranormal romance young-adult fiction. (You can read about her on Paula’s blog post of Dec. 18, 2014, ‘Top 10 Gifts for Writers’). Hocking has sold over a million copies of her nine books and earned two million dollars from sales, previously unheard of for self-published authors. In early 2011, Hocking averaged 9,000 book sales each day. Has it been easy?

“The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn’t writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.”

While most of us won’t need to be quite as involved as Amanda, it begs the question: What is the most efficient way to market one’s writing? Much has been said and written on the topic. Some excellent advice, as well as a lot of rubbish that only befuddles our poor writers’ brain.

Perhaps an even more fundamental question than ‘what is the most efficient way for marketing’ is this: How does a writer decide whether his or her work is marketable in the first place? Don’t you wish someone could tell you if you’re wasting your time trying to be a writer? Or if you’re at all close to getting traditionally published—assuming that’s your goal?

That question showed up in a Writer’s Digest article of a few years ago. While traditional publishing may have become a lesser goal for many of us, the question about wasting time trying to be a writer is still valid. At the risk of stating the obvious, it might be useful to quote WD’s 5 time wasters that writers should avoid:

  1. Submitting manuscripts that aren’t your best work.
  2. Self-publishing when no one is listening.
  3. Distributing your work digitally when your audience wants print—or vice versa.
  4. Seeking New York commercial publishing deals for regional or niche work.
  5. Focusing on publishing when you should be writing.

The article goes on to ask two questions most relevant to the publication path:

  1. How much time did you put into writing? Have you put in enough time to get good at it?
  2. How much time did you spend reading quality, published work? This helps you learn how to write better AND understand where you might be on the spectrum of quality.

When is it time to change course?

  1. Honestly assess whether your work is commercially viable. Not all work is.
  2. Are you getting bitter? If you find yourself demonizing people in the publishing industry, taking rejections very personally, feeling as if you’re owed something, and/or complaining whenever you get together with other writers, it’s time to find the refresh button.

But there is hope, compliments of Jane Friedman, the WD article’s author (I prefer to call it a reality check): “If your immediate thought upon reading this blog post headline was something like: I couldn’t stop trying even if someone told me to give up, then you’re much closer to publication than someone who is easily discouraged. The battle is far more psychological than you might think.”

I am convinced most of us fall into that category. We love what we do and nobody and nothing can deter us. We know the rules of good storytelling. We know when too many rules get in the way of good writing. And we can laugh at ourselves when our stories get silly. Or when we really, really screw up. Like this:

Credit: Tom Gould

Credit: Tom Gauld

You are a writer. So be an author!

Helga’s Post #93: These words of encouragement appeared in an article titled ‘Don’t be afraid of Indie Publishing’ by Writer’s Digest online editor Brian Klems. Posted a year ago it’s a must read for writers of all genres. It’s informative and helps ease the decision all of us who have written a complete manuscript have to face: Go the traditional publishing route or go on your own.

As you can glean from the last few posts of our blog, the topic of indie publishing and self-publishing has been utmost in the 5 writers discussions. Admittedly, we are still in the writing phase, some of us at the start of our new novel, and nowhere near ready to face the publishing challenge. But we have pretty well decided to give self-publishing a try.

I admit, I have been a skeptic of indie and self-publishing until recently, and there are some issues that keep me from being a dyed-in-the-wool fan just yet. But the more I research the topic the closer I am drawn to the conclusion that this is the brave new world for writers. And it’s here to stay.

The benefits for writers seem obvious. Here is how the ‘Don’t be afraid’ article puts it:

More and more authors are finding the courage to self-publish or sign contracts with small presses dedicated to building niche markets. They’re proud of their work, and they’re making serious money selling it to readers around the world.

Speaking of money, how can we not get excited that we don’t have to give 80% to publishers? We get to keep the money our stories earn. And we keep control of our work. How cool is that?

On the surface, it sounds fantastic. But how many indie authors are really making serious money? As you can guess, the picture is rather murky. Stating the obvious, some authors, whether self-published and/or traditionally published, are making $15,000 a month and more, and some are making $200. And some have yet to make any money at all. Not every self-published author will collect.

But not all of us are writing to make money, American author Hugh C. Howey reminds us. Some writers will do it if it costs them money. Among the self-published are those who published a memoir to share with a few family members. Or a young student who participated in a youth NaNoWriMo program and just wanted to see their work for sale on Amazon. These are valid reasons to publish. We can’t lump everyone together in the “wanna be rich and famous” category.

So where’s the rub?

Self-publishing is big business, but there’s more to putting out a book than just printing it. When you’re working alone, without a literary agent or traditional publisher, you must be vigilant about scams. Just google ‘self-publishing scams’ and you will find 742,000 results. Horror stories abound. Writers paying 10K to get their manuscript ‘published’ without a single copy sold. Like in any other business, it’s ‘buyer beware’. Writers who are in a hurry to get their book published seem to be the most vulnerable, willing to pay top dollars for inadequate services. They may get lured by unscrupulous publishers with promises of grandeur, only to find out they were paying for ineffective marketing or excessive fees for an ISBN.

But once you take the time to dig deeper, the picture actually gets brighter. My research revealed countless success stories where writers did very well and made money without paying to get their book out. There is absolutely no need to front any costs if you are willing to spend time to educate yourself. You can format your book and you can even market it yourself. There are many resources available on how to do it.

You just have to look.

For me personally, the two most important issues are this: First, writers should get paid for their stories, rather than paying for them (therefore: no vanity presses, no ‘pay to publish’). Secondly, writers should keep control of their work in their own hands.

On balance, even with pitfalls (which we can avoid if we are vigilant), the benefits lead to the self-publishing camp. That’s the route I am willing to take together with my 5 writers group. It doesn’t mean we’ll shut the door forever on traditional publishing. According to a recent survey, about 10% of self-published authors transitioned from indie publishing into traditional publishing. Conversely, among writers who traditionally published their first book, more than a third (36%) have now also self-published.

The bottom line? The decision is entirely up to each and every writer. You want to be an author? Now you can.Publish-259x300

The age of the hybrid

hybrid

Silk’s Post #91 — Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “hybrid”?

Cars that run on gas and electric power? You’re probably ecologically-minded.

More productive strains of corn and tomatoes? You’re probably a farmer or a gardener.

Alien lifeforms arising from cosmic cross-breeding? You’re probably a sci-fi fan.

Your next book? Wait a minute. What do hybrids have to do with books and authors?

Possibly everything.

As part of my preparation for our next crazy 5writers challenge (launching September 5, 2014 … watch for it!), I’ve been doing yet more research on the publishing industry. This may seem redundant, since the five of us – as wannabe-published authors – have tried to  proactively inform ourselves about what it takes to get in print. Many books, many articles, many blogs, many discussions with published authors, many scans of online writers’ groups, many workshops, and many writers’ conferences later, we thought we were on top of it.

Think again.

What my latest web scan revealed is that publishing opportunities yesterday are already very different from publishing opportunities today, and I mean that literally, not figuratively. Whatever received wisdom you believed about publishing, say, six months ago, it’s probably wrong now.

Because we’ve now entered a new age: the age of the hybrid author.

Here’s how Chuck Wendig, in his February 2014 Writer’s Digest Magazine article “Case Study: Becoming a Hybrid Author”, describes this new creature we are all probably going to morph into:

“A hybrid author is one who refuses to accept that there exists One True Way up the Publishing Mountain and who embraces all the methods available. The hybrid author prefers a diverse approach to getting her work out there, which means utilizing both the traditional system of publishing and also acting as an author-publisher in order to retain control and self-publish her own work.”

This may not sound new to you. Self-publishing has been going on forever. But here’s what’s different in the new hybrid world:

#1 – There ain’t no taint to self-publishing

The headwinds buffeting the traditional book publishing industry are blowing away some old musty ideas. Historically, self-published authors who resorted to “vanity presses” to see their own words in print were presumed to be – forgive the expression – permanent rejects. Tainted. Writers whose work was never going to be good enough to get out of the slush pile. Budding authors were warned that self-publishing was the kiss of death with agents and “real” publishers.

Now, let’s be realistic. Is there some real sh*t out there among self-published works? Yep. Lots of it. (Of course, it’s self-evident to the discerning reader that traditional publishing is not exactly sh*t free, either). But self-publishing a book is no longer considered a literary felony, sentencing the author to automatic disqualification from working within the traditional publishing system on other projects.

Writers who evolve to this new hybrid author state may be the survivors in this new publishing environment.

#2 – In today’s marketplace, all writers need to be entrepreneurial

I don’t think I’ll stir up a lot of disagreement when I suggest that the publishing industry is undergoing massive change. I’m no economist, but it’s easy to see industry after industry becoming revolutionized in our newly networked, globalized world.

These factors have accelerated the free-market cycle, where businesses spring up, compete and grow in the lush times, then consolidate when things get leaner and meaner. The strong swallow the weak, gaining control of the marketplace (for instance, only a handful of publishing empires now control most imprints you’ve ever heard of). Ouch. There are so many reasons to worry about powerful monopolies that are bottom-line by nature, serving shareholders first, customers second, and suppliers/producers (often) last. This is especially sensitive in industries that sell creative products.

Monopolies that calcify can become vulnerable – more fragile than they seem. Enter the independent challengers: the Amazons and Apples of the world who move fast, break the rules, and build new business models (and monopolies of their own) on a large scale. But this upheaval also leaves space for many new players: the smaller-scale indies. They’re like economic phytoplankton, the profusion of life at the bottom of the food chain that keeps the whole ecosystem alive.

This pattern is already well underway in the music industry, in the movie industry, in magazines and newspapers, in radio and television. Virtually everything that has to do with news and entertainment is in flux.

The book industry is following suit. Where once there were clear rules, standards and pathways to success, now virtually anything goes. Anything that works. There will, of course, be winners and losers (and I truly mourn the decline of the comforting, beautiful, traditional bookstore). There will be good and bad outcomes. The deserving will not always be rewarded. And the roadmaps that will help authors find their way to the goal of publication and success are still being drawn.

Hybrid authors will need to become creative opportunists.

#3 – There are more reasons to self-publish than rejection

Increasingly, writers with their ears to the ground will hear strange tales of bestselling authors choosing to self-publish a project. Of new authors turning down traditional publishing contracts in favour of going the indie route. Of agents working with hybrid authors in new ways, and seeking new talent among the latest crop of successful self-published writers.

Heresy!

Where will you find these weird anomalies in the books of advice for writers on your groaning bookshelf? You probably won’t, unless the book was published very recently. You may begin to hear hints and rumours at a writers’ conference workshop. But if you look in the right places online – where trends now show up first – you’ll discover that the hybrid author is already alive and well. And comes in every shape and size.

So why would any author actually choose self-publication over the traditional route – except rejection? Isn’t traditional publishing the holy grail we’re all seeking? Here are just a few possible reasons:

Creative freedom — An established writer may want to do a project her traditional publisher is not interested in. Maybe it’s outside the writer’s usual genre, or it’s experimental, or for some other reason the publisher doesn’t think it will fit their list or profit expectations. What choice does the writer have but to follow the creative dictates of her publisher? Yep. Become her own publisher.

Money — A writer, whether previously published or not, may put on his business hat and take a close look at the numbers. Shockingly, he discovers that he can make more money – sometimes a lot more – if he self-publishes than if he signs a contract with a traditional publisher, based on realistic estimates of sales and author revenue likely to be generated by the two different routes. Careful, though. Risk-reward ratio is not an easy calculation to do, even for the experienced. Better rattle some chicken bones and throw in some eye of newt for good luck. Welcome to entrepreneurship.

Choice and control — A writer may want to keep certain publishing rights – such as e-book rights – and sell other rights to a traditional publisher. The author may have already self-published electronically, but now has an opportunity to take her book to market with an interested publisher. Or she may have been traditionally published and now wants more control of a new project and an opportunity to share more of the profits. This is where the new hybrid agent and the new hybrid author may need to have a meeting of the minds. Tricky new territory, but early pioneers could be creating the pathways and precedents for many hybrid authors to follow.

Career direction — A published mid-list writer may be dropped by his traditional publishing house, and now must either self-publish, or find another publisher (and not many traditional publishers are dying to sign up lots of new mid-list authors who have been dropped elsewhere). Of course, she could always take up another career such as brain surgery, which might be less daunting. Getting back on the horse may require becoming a hybrid author.

So that’s what I’ve learned from my research to date. I know just enough to know that I need to learn a lot more about hybrid authorship. It’s a brave new world out there.

What do you think about it? Was any of this news to you?

Does it fill you with excitement and hope … or does it seem fearfully overwhelming?

We’d love to hear your comments.