10.15.2005

Philosophy at Ten Paces!


Here is something to think about: Vanity presses and unskilled writers aside, there is a new "philosophy," if you will, rising up out of the dust of the old publishing regime. Namely, rather than viewing getting published as some sort of honor/privilege/reward for those who actually "break in" to the scene via a good agent and an editor who decides he likes the story, the "new breed" of author views publishing a book as developing a product -- a product he has worked hard on and perfected; a product he believes in.

He then uses whatever means he chooses to get the book into print, and markets the book like any other artisan markets his wares -- charcoal portrait-scribblers on the boardwalk; angora sweater-knitters on ebay; gourmet chocolatiers on the streets of Paris. It boils down to viewing a book as "the culmination of having been accepted by the publishing establishment and having therefore been officially 'published;'" or, viewing a book as "the culmination of having worked hard to produce a good product (re: book) that will ultimately be devoured or rejected by the reading public.

"Nobody who knits angora sweaters or makes divine chocolates (shipping worldwide, of course) has to be stamped with the same kind of approval that writers do (songwriters as well as authors) -- they work hard at their craft and then they sell it. They don't have to wait for somebody to tell them, "OK, your product is good enough now. We'll put it on the shelves for you." They put their product on the shelves themselves. And the savvy marketers and dedicated salespeople are very successful at selling their labor of love. That, I believe, is the basic difference in philosophy between the established publishing system and the "new breed" of writers who want to view their work -- and publish their work -- differently.



I have to disagree with your basic premise. Books are not products. Books are not sweaters or chocolates. They are not created with patterns or by following a recipe. I don't mean this literally either. I understand your point and I'm saying books are not fungible. One book is not another, whereas one Hershey kiss is another.

Books are not products. They are art. Even Bridges of Madison County. A person cannot reproduce that book (even if they wanted to), like they can a chocolate or a sweater. One sweater or another will keep you warm, and one chocolate or another will woo your true love, but one thriller is not the same as another.

I've never met a writer yet who's first choice for distribution was selling it on street corners or in the subway. They do that cause they didn't know how to get their book in front of the right person to work with them. I admire those folks actually, but they're there because they don't know what else to do, not because they know what to do and chose that.

You don't always need an agent or an editor to get your book published. There are scads of small and medium size publishers who produce all sorts of wild ass things. The hard part is finding them if you don't know where they are.

We've talked about how many query letters to send before you retire a project. I said 100. Think of this: there are more than five thousand publishers in the United States who publish more than 165,000 titles. If you query 100 of the five thousand, you've only asked 2% of them.

It's not that hard to get published if you've written something compelling. Agents and editors are not gatekeepers who admit only the handsome, strong, true and brave. The publishing arena is open to anyone who has a good book and is willing to work hard to find a publisher.

If you start adding conditions like up front money and a pr department at your beck and call, you reduce the number of available outlets ... but if you want to be published it's not that hard.

I've said this before and it's worth repeating: the process for how books get published works just fine. It's the distribution and sales model that needs fixing.

17 comments:

Fish Monkey said...

"Namely, rather than viewing getting published as some sort of honor/privilege/reward for those who actually "break in" to the scene via a good agent and an editor who decides he likes the story, the "new breed" of author views publishing a book as developing a product -- a product he has worked hard on and perfected; a product he believes in."

I think it's rather than viewing getting published as the result of having written a good book, vanity authors view publication as their right. It seems to me that there's an incredible degree of entitlement there -- how dare they tell me my book doesn't deserve to be published! I'll show them! Too many people believe in themselves without a good reason.

kmfrontain said...

How very odd to make it seem that self-published authors have this syndrome called "entitlement". What an interesting way to put down someone who's gone out and done what he or she pleased despite objectionable persons who insist there must be only one way to get published, and who also insist that someone other than the author must approve the author's work before the publishing steps must proceed. The only true approval comes from when a reader enjoys the author's work and consents to buy more of it. There is no other valid marker for the appreciation of written art. And if that artist has found the mental chocolate that appeals to a large number of people, then good. Doesn't matter how the artist was first published. He has marketable chocolate.

Fish Monkey should look in the mirror. I don't see how anyone can be irritated by someone that self-published unless his own sense of entitlement has been offended.

Fish Monkey said...

I was talking about vanity publishing, not self-publishing, which can be a perfectly valid choice.

And I'm not irritated by people who choose the vanity route; rather, I feel that they fail in getting their book in front of their potential readers, and that defeats the purpose. Thus, the label vanity -- which I did not invent, BTW. They publish for their gratification, not the readers'.

Devoted Snarkling said...

Me thinks that the unfortunate person who posted this comment is a recent graduate of one of the big "Mega-book selling seminars" that are ripping off writers left and right, convincing them that books are "products" like anything else and a smart entrepeneur can suceed with the right marketing alone. You are just one teleseminar away from being the next Chicken Soup!

Books are not chocolate or cereal or any other consumer product.

You can mass produce consumer products and pay a high price to get shelf space or to get someone to buy one becaue they are "consumed" quickly and then the consumer wants another piece of chocolate or whatever, so you can justify the high cost of getting one customer because repeat customers will buy another one exactly like the first without any additional R&D-type expense.

This does not work with books. Unless, of course you are James Patterson. Oooh, sorry that was snarky!

Another Author said...

Self-publishing is a touchy subject. I never considered it, never would do it, and figured if I couldn't entice an agent (then a publisher) with my book, I'd just keep writing until I had a compelling story. I never considered small press, I never considered e-pub, or self-pub, or POD. I just kept writing, improving my craft, and querying agents. I signed with a top agent and sold to a major house. Not my first, or second, or third book . . . it took several completed manuscripts for me to "get it."

I'll admit I don't consider self-publishing as legitimate for the most part--I've seen a half dozen or so self-published books that were universally garbage and I wasn't surprised the author couldn't find anyone to publish it at their expense.

HOWEVER, I, personally, know two authors who self-published very good books and who are now both multi-published with major, royalty paying houses.

Great books will rise to the top, even if they are self-published. But these two authors I know of worked very, very hard (and they are both incredibly talented) and I'm not surprised they found a publisher.

But most of the self-pubbed stuff is crap. I'm sorry.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Forgive me, I could be mistaken, but I think you all missed the point (or maybe I did) But Miss Snark said, "The publishing arena is open to anyone who has a good book and is willing to work hard to find a publisher. I think 'good' book and 'work hard' are the operative words.

So anyone that isn't inclined to 'work hard' or keep writing until its 'good' winds up taking the easier 'pay to play' route. Period! As Miss Snark finished with, "...but if you want to be published it's not that hard."

Thanks for the encouragement, Miss Snark!

what I can come up with said...

I don’t think it’s quite that simple. I think that even the best traditional publishing house is capable of missing a few, even if they get almost everything. There’s a LOT of work out there, and not a lot of time to read it all. So there certainly could be some people who write a great book AND work hard who still fall through the cracks.

I’m not going to defend vanity presses, or any of the scams out there that prey on a writer’s desire to be published in order to take their money. However, I do have to agree with another author and say that. “Great books rise to the top.” Self-publishing, and what that means for the way that creative material gets in the hands of the people who want it, is a beautiful and wonderful thing.

Consider films, another storytelling art form. If I have a digital video camera, and a Mac with imovie, I can make a film. I don’t need millions of dollars, and I don’t need to lay myself down on a casting couch. That is a beautiful and wonderful thing. Yes, there will be more crap, but there will also be great movies that wouldn’t otherwise be made.

Same thing with books. Yes, there will be a lot of crap books published, and unfortunately, a lot of na├»ve writers taken by the scams. However, someone with a great story and great writing skills can write a book and make it available via the web. The really great stuff is going to shine, and I don’t begrudge anyone that path if that’s what they end up taking.

I believe that the traditional publishing industry exists for a reason, and it probably almost always accepts and presents the great work. I want an agent, so I have to believe it works! I’m just saying that I don’t mind if a brilliant writer decides to produce a work of art and sell it to the world on their own terms. And in fact, I’m really excited that digital technology and the web make that possible. In literature and all other art forms, I’m glad that the barrier to entry has been lowered by such a great degree. It does mean that there’s a lot more crap to wade through, but to me that’s an acceptable trade-off.

Mizrepresent said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mizrepresent said...

I agree with kmfountain, and another author. Good books rise to the top whether they are self-published or traditionally published, and yes, many traditional publishers miss some good ones, because they are too busy trying to duplicate the last big sale, or looking for somebody who writes like (sorry Miss Starks) Dan Brown, another Harry Potter, can we hear three cheers for Chic-lit. Quote, unquote from publishing houses "WE are looking for chic-lit, fantasy novels (ie...Harry Potter, Eragon) etc... So before you can even submit, your original, not Potter, not James Patter, not Chic-lit, thriller, suspense, romance, whatever...you are shot down. Sooooo, why not self-publish? There are many authors who have gone from self-publishing a good book, to now traditionally publishing that same book and two or three more. Devoted Snarkling, cute, but brown nosing doesn't work, original opinion, Please! And, Bonnie we do get what Miss Snark says, but sometimes it does one good to think outside the box!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I understand your feelings mizrepresent, but as Miss Snark said, there are five thousand royalty publishers out there to query.

In my opinion (and it is MINE)writing a good book takes fortitude and preserverance. Neither is for the faint of heart.

To be SUCCESSFUL in self-publishing, it take that same stick-to-it-ness. Why not spent that effective time getting paid to publish rather than paying to publish.

I sometimes feel that people think the world is against them and give up in frustration, just wanting to see their words in print.

I have previewed MANY self-published books and without exception, they were God-aweful!

I would be interested to know from you who self-published and then went on to royalty publish the SAME book, since you say there are many, several examples would be welcomed. I only ask because I've never heard of this many self-publishing success stories.

kmfrontain said...

5000 royalty publishers out there to query, and somewhere in Miss Snark's blogs (either in a comment or in her blog, can't remember which) I read that an author should keep querying for a project until he or she hits number one hundred. And how many weeks or months is that, waiting for each response? And if the author manages to get a few nibbles, how many years is that for each inspection of the complete manuscript?

Ten years or so back, I passed first reading with Del Rey for another project other than the one I am currently on. That took a year. I waited a second year to be turned down. Two years out of my life waiting for a turn down and a nice letter saying what I was good at. Sorry, but this isn't good enough for me.

Now take a year and a month for Baen. Another near year for Tor. Hmm. How many years have I got to waste on all these companies that refuse simultaneous submissions before age or bad luck gets my situation wrapped up first?

Bull shit, I say to all of you smiling at your one hundred possible contacts. Total bull shit. The publishing field is so flooded they just can't look at you all. Even the agents are flooded with queries and even Miss Snark admitted to needing a literary punch by the second page or she feels like tossing the submission.

Agents and editors are only a few people in a few companies. And their decisions concerning the merits of a book is just opinion. The opinion of a few. A few!

If you hear any of them howling that self-published isn't as good as traditional, it's because the field is flooding out of their control. There's an entire world full of people out there that do not necessarily reflect the current tastes of editors.

Go ahead and seek your hundred contacts if you wish. Been there. Looked at the time I wasted. Said f--- it.

Diane said...

Aussie author Matthew Reilly is the best example that I can think of. He self-published 1000 copies of Contest and hand-sold it to bookstores, and was picked up by Pan McMillan when the commissioning editor saw it at the front of a book store.

Here's the link http://www.matthewreilly.com/low/author.htm

occasional_anonymous said...

And when you're choosing your doctor, do you want one who's been to med school, or one who bought his degree on the internet? Think carefully.

Get over yourselves. Self-publishing is not publishing, it's buying a pretty printed book that happens to have your writing inside. Yes, a tiny minority of of s/p books get picked up by the commercial houses. Yet PA have 1000 books they've 'published' that haven't sold a single copy. Dreams aren't cheap when they're purchased at the vanity houses.

Mizrepresent said...

Okay, for the sake of argument, here is my list of once self-published, now published by a major house:

Brandon Massey - book - Thunderland, now published by Dafina Books/Kensington (other books published "Dark Corner", "Within the Shadows".


Victoria Christopher Murray - self-published book_ "Temptation", signed with Walkworthy Press/Warner books - 4 novels since.

E Lynn Harris - (like him or not)

Michael Baisden - (like him or not)

Travis Hunter - self-published book , "The Hearts of Men", Atria, 2 more books

MJ Rose - self- published book "Lip Service", Atria, 4 more books

These of course, Bonnie is just a few i am able to name off the top of my head, there are others, many others, so it does happen, and
lately it's not exactly a needle in the haystack, but more appropiately, training ground.


btw Occasional Anon - reading a book is not liable to affect my health, unlike a doctor....duh???

Mark said...

It is indeed a needle in a haystack and those writers persevered despite self-publishing (which has several permutations that I'm tired of explaining ad nauseam)It's really a huge waste of money, and just a few years ago some of the vanity services had no fee at all. Even at that price a book published via any POD-based press with nonreturnable unstockable books is a fool's errand. The constant is this: almost none sell 500 copies. And even a 1000 copies is unlikely to attract a real publisher.

Exceptions are lotteryesque aberrations and not the rule in any way despite the vast numbers of supporters who count on them to support an invalid premise.

Mark said...

Ms. Fountain here is a case in point. 6 books in six months. That's typical POD fair. What a waste of time and effort.

rosemerry said...

In the past like medieval times so way back in the past. Artists/Writers had sponsers. The sponsers commissioned them to make or write certain works. How is that any different from getting an Agent and Publisher? It's not. Agents and Publishers are just todays sponsers for us writers and artists instead of upper nobility who has tons of personal wealth.