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Paths to Glory

There are a couple of different ways to “make it” as a fiction writer. Excluding Hollywood and converting an article or other non-fiction endeavor into a product of fiction, they are:

Going the traditional publishing route;


The former is a long, drawn out process that moves at a leisurely pace–well, actually it moves at a glacial pace, but I was trying to be kind. The normal sequence of events is: writer finishes product, writer rewrites product, writer spends weeks, months, or even years trying to find representation via literary agent, agent then spends weeks, months, or even years trying to find an agreeable editor at one of the publishing houses for the work, the editor reads and decides to buy, the editor then goes and makes the case for the purchase to the publisher’s marketing department, the marketeers decide they actually know how to sell the product, and checks get written.

The latter is something like this: writer finishes product, writer rewrites product, writer either edits the product him/herself or pays an editor to do it, writer secures cover art appropriate for the work, writer puts the product up on Kindle or Nook or Smashwords. (Or all three.)

Time delta: three years, give or take.

And oh yeah, if the writer goes the self-pub route with an e-book, sales begin pretty much right out of the gate. No waiting for a print run to be scheduled, no waiting for product to be shipped and stocked in stores, no dealing with those filthy remainders which will be the bane of the writer’s existence forever with the traditional publishers.

And one last important point: in the new e-pub world, the writer gets the lion’s share of the royalties, and doesn’t have to dole out 15% to his representative, or get dry-humped out of the sale of any ancillary rights. If someone wants to buy the rights of a property to turn it into a film, why does the publisher get paid too?

It seems all so simple.

But what the writer will not get by striking out on his own is the usual marketing support a traditional publisher might give. This support can run the gamut of nothing to a full court press, especially if the author is established and has a record. Of course, greater minds than mine disagree constantly about the value of this kind or marketing. James Patterson made his own book trailer for Along Came a Spider for TV because even he couldn’t get his publisher to spring for it. According to him, this trailer gave his book a big sales kick, which is great for him, though it is telling that a guy who can move that much paper had to strike out on his own.

Which leads me to believe that a lot of the time, traditional publishing is not just inept… but kind of stupid, which I guess should not surprise me anymore.

So what’s a writer to do? Well, the first thing is to forget about traditional publishing being a “safer” bet. To quote Rutger Hauer’s character Wolfgar in the film Nighthawks, “There is no security.” If one thinks that securing a traditional publishing deal is going to pave the way to Easy Street, I can only offer the following, courtesy of Dean Wesley Smith:

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: The Myth of Security, which is chock full of the usual good info. Here’s a sweet quote:

Myth: Selling to Traditional Publishing Means Safety and Security.

As a person who has been a freelance writer for over 25 years and sold my first short story in 1975, that just makes me laugh. But sadly, I believed it early on, and then came to understand that there was no other choice but the crap game I call traditional publishing if I wanted to be a full-time writer.

But safety and security in traditional publishing? Never.

Yet I discovered over and over the last few days as Barry Eisler turned down a half-million dollar deal and Amanda Hocking, a young writer, is thinking of taking a deal, that the myth of security and safety in traditional publishing is as strong as ever. And being played up big time by traditional publishers as one of their advantages over indie or small publishing.

Security in publishing is a huge myth, a very large sacred cow. Hang on, this could get bloody.

A sobering read indeed. Though after I read it, I really wanted a few dozen shots of tequila.

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