Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Writers And The Hurdles of Publishing

Writing and publishing in the modern, digital world is changing and changing very quickly. off–the-cuff response may be well, duh!

But here’s the thing, duh or not, all that changing is offering a whole lot more opportunities and choices but also some conundrums the writer hasn’t faced before

There’s the traditional method which is still a strong one, but it also still has the amazing hurdles the writer must negotiate before publication.  Sadly the chances of running the marathon and getting all the way from query letter to holding that book in your hand is truly scary.  Writers submit every day to agents and statistically about 95% of those manuscripts never get represented. Furthermore the odds don’t improve much even if you do get representation since less than half that get represented actually get a book deal.


I’m not finished. Even with that failure rate, it potentially gets worse. Advances are pathetic and not dependable. Most books published don’t do very well (despite the hoo-haw you hear about ‘best-sellers’), get returned after a very short window of exposure on a bookstore shelf and cost the author even more as advances must be ‘earned out’ before more income can be seen from a book and returns come back against that balance. 

On top of all that, when a book is accepted for publication it can easily take up to two years (or even more) for that book to become a real,  hold-in-the-hand object. Still, for many, it’s the way to go. Book prep and design, cover design, editing, all that’s taken care of for you. It is a big plus

So how goes the alternative, the shiny and new self-publishing? There are some rumblings that the ‘gold-rush’ is past, that self-publishing has hit the ceiling and is now on the decline.

Um, don’t think so myself. I think it’s just changing, hitting its stride, becoming the evolving and maturing alternative to traditional publishing.

In a number of ways self-publishing can be better and in some ways worse. It’s much better in that the whole process is shortened and in the hands of the writer. This is good if the writer makes sure the editing is professional and the formatting perfect before publishing in digital or Print On Demand or Audio books or all three. It means more work and learning for that writer, but it also means ultimately more time to write that next book since it eliminates lots of time spent writing query letters, contacting agents, possibly dealing with a bad agent and doing constant rewrites at the request of a seemingly interested agent who doesn't come through, and pitching new works.

But it can be a lot worse if that writer gets the book looking great, professional and polished and then it doesn’t sell. Why not? Despite writing and rewriting blurbs, doing another edit, playing with the cover and price point and creating promotions, very little happens. Since it all falls on the writer it can be a very heavy burden. Frustrating and demoralizing. For the writer who expects to earn a living that way it’s very difficult.

But again, realize making it as a writer is damn hard and it doesn’t matter which way you choose to approach it. Many writers, whether following the traditional or self-publishing route get discouraged and quit. Not surprising and not a bad thing really. If it’s not for you, you shouldn’t be doing it.

Because through it all we have to remember that careers in entertainment, any career there, probably won’t be steady. Screenwriters come and go. Novelists have their day, then fade from the scene. You’re part of the public, think about what authors you’ve read in the past but no longer read, what movie stars you loved, but now no longer care about, what producer got you to his every movie, what TV show you wouldn’t miss but now don’t bother with. That’s the way we are.

So back to publication.  Quite simply it provides better chances but that doesn’t give any guarantee. In my experience self-publishing is less frustrating than dealing with crazy agents, delays in publication, very small advances and long dry periods. However, I’m not married to it and think a writer keeping his or her options open is definitely the way to go.

Look, self-publishing started from scratch a very short time ago. It has changed and will continue to change. And traditional publishing will also be forced to change.

So keep your options open and keep your excitement up for whatever way you choose to pursue your writing career.  Do your homework, make informed decisions and keep writing.

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