Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A.C. Crispin - 26 --- Writing Myths..."If I can just get it out there..."

Victoria and I were talking the other day, and decided we'd blog a bit from time to time about some myths we've noticed floating around in the world of the aspiring writer. Most of you posters are probably too sophisticated to ascribe to these, but more people read than post, so here goes:

Aspiring Writer Myth No. 1: "If I can just get it out there..."

This is the litany Vic and I have heard so many, many times from people who have signed on with vanity POD publishers, or, as these companies like to style themselves these days, "self-publishing" companies.

These writers fall into two general categories:

1. They've submitted their work to commercial publishers, or tried to get a decent literary agent with a track record of sales, and failed. Usually, the reason for their work not finding a publisher or agent representation is that the book just isn't good enough to be published, for whatever reason. Poor writing quality is the most common reason that books are rejected, but the reasons for rejection are as varied as the plots of books. Books can be, and are, rejected for all sorts of reasons unrelated to the quality of the writing.

Some of the most common reasons for rejection are:

a. first and foremost, poor quality of the writing

b. other writing problems, such as poor characterization, overdone plot, etc.

c. plot similarities with one of the publisher's/agents established writers (this happens more often than you'd think -- remember that old saw about Great Minds think alike)

d. the publisher's publication list is full/the agent's client list is full

2. The second category of writers has never submitted their work anywhere. They frequently believe it's hopeless, so they don't bother. Or they are lazy. Or they want a "shortcut" and see POD as a way to begin a career. Some think commercial publishers will steal their ideas/copyright, so they want to maintain "control" over their work. Some actually believe that people who self-publish make more money because they get a higher percentage of the book's proceeds -- a vile canard fostered by many of the vanity POD companies and author mills.

For whatever reason, these writers take their manuscripts to vanity PODs and author mills with this logic: IF I CAN JUST GET IT OUT THERE, PEOPLE WILL BE ABLE TO BUY IT, AND SINCE IT'S REALLY GOOD, THEY'LL READ IT, WORD OF MOUTH WILL SPREAD, AND IT WILL TAKE OFF AND I'LL BE SELLING LIKE HOTCAKES.

(sigh)

This logic is fallacious for a couple of reasons:

1. POD companies usually have no means to distribute the books, so they aren't really published "out there." The books don't appear on bookshelves in bookstores, where browsing readers can spot them, leaf through them, and perhaps decide to purchase. The main place a reader has to go to purchase a POD book is to the internet, and we all know that the internet follows the old 80-20 rule. (80% of everything is crap, IOW)

2. Even having a book on the shelf in bookstores (something that's beyond most POD companies and certainly beyond the capability of author mills like PublishAmerica) doesn't guarantee bestsellerdom. Even having a good book out...even a well-written, exciting tale, spun by an expert storyteller won't bring a writer automatic Stephen King-dom. Why do I know this? Well, Vic and I have both been publishing for years. Our books are regularly featured on bookstore shelves around the country. They are "out there." Yet neither of us has become a household word. (What can I say, there are some shortsighted readers out there...)

Are there exceptions?

Sure. They happen about as often as people winning the Super Mega Lotto, but they happen. Books like The Christmas Box, The Celestine Prophecy, Chicken Soup for the Soul, etc., were originally self-published and went on to sell big. You'll note that they are all non-fiction. If you can self publish your non-fiction book and demonstrate that it will sell several thousand copies rather quickly, say, within 6 to 9 months, then you may well be able to interest a commercial house.

But most POD books sell fewer than 100 copies, and most of those copies are purchased by the author, and his/her friends and family.

There have been far fewer examples of novels that have begun as self-published books and gone on to commercial fame and fortune. Eragon is the shining example. But if you look closely at that book, and its history, you'll see that Christopher Paolini was NOT publishing with a vanity POD company. He had advantages that most writers can't hope to have -- like parents who owned a small press and were experienced editors/publishers.

There are also a lot of writers who are also excellent public speakers -- teachers, trainers, experts in some field, etc., who do well with self-publishing. These folks have a built-in venue for their book sales. They give a talk, and at the end of the talk, they sell their books to the audience. They often do very well.

So...the next time you hear a writer friend saying, "If I can just get it out there..." you might want to give them the link to this blog. They need a little dose of reality. Nobody should go into self publishing or POD publishing expecting fame, fortune, and a big commercial publishing contract -- yet writers do it every day.

I suspect desperation plays a part, as Vic has noted.

-Ann C. Crispin
www.accrispin.com



10 comments:

James Goodman said...

I have actually heard the elusive stardom for an author referred to as "Hitting the literary lottery".

When I told my boss that one of my stories was accepted and would be published soon, he asked me if that was my way of turning in my two weeks notice.

Even now, I am not sure he completely believes that having something published doesn't mean that you are instantly on the road to fame and fortune.

Another great post...

Anne Merril said...

Sadly I can name a number of people who should read the post and learn from it. Well said.

Linda Adams said...

Good points. Every time I see an article on the virtues of self-publishing, it always addresses it for novel writers and uses non-fiction as examples. In one case, a woman sent her entire novel unsolicited to a published, got a rejection within two days, and gave up to go to POD after that one rejection.

Co-writer and I had 63 rejections. After we got some comments from our critique group, we realized we had some story setup problems. We had a lot of learning we still needed to do. One day I told my co-writer, "You know, if we had gone to POD after all those rejections, we wouldn't have the good book we have now." I think that's the real disservice writers do to themselves going to POD. They may have a book, with more work, that might be publishable--but never learn the skills because they went the easy route of POD.

Anonymous said...

Ann, I've got to bust you on The Celstine Prophesy. It is fiction.

Honor said...

Thank you very much for this article. Even I know of someone this applies to and they used some of the very samne rationalizations that you mention, most noteably that POD authors make more money per book.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Another great post. I guess "No guts, No glory!" applies here. And "Nothing worth having comes easy."

It's work, but for those of us that really love to write, "It's a labor of love."

Yikes! I'm beginning to sound like a Hallmark card!

Anonymous said...
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cathy said...

Thanks for the advice.

Wereviking said...

The only situation I can imagine self-publishing might be worthwhile (and the situation I find I am considering myself) is to create a proper, professionally realised product to hand over as freebies to influential hiring editors in a unique industry (comics). That said, I am also in Australia and there is a much smaller, and more immediately exhausted publishing market. Anyone who expected to self-publish as the basis for success itself though would be unfortunately deluded, as this article points out.

Zephyr -- a superhero webcomic in prose
http://wereviking.wordpress.com

Tag Goulet said...

I realize this is an old blog post, but for anyone seeing it now, please be aware that Chicken Soup for the Soul was NOT self-published. That's a publishing "urban legend" that the book's authors have stated is not true.