Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware® is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

November 19, 2010


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

A selection of articles and news items that caught my eye this week.

It's not about the tweeting.

Years ago, when I first broke in to publishing, self-promotion by authors was not only optional, it was considered rather tacky. Fewer books were being published back then, and there was less competition for reader eyeballs. Plus, the merger mania that has transformed the face of publishing hadn't yet begun; there were no big corporate owners to demand corporate-style profits from a traditionally low-profit business.

All that has changed, of course. Self-promotion can still be tacky, but it's no longer optional (although no publisher should ever contractually enforce it; if you see self-promo requirements in a contract, it's a signal that the publisher is trying to shift a big part of its job onto you). As a result, it seems that everywhere you turn you find discussions of self-promotion, tips for self-promotion, and articles on successful self-promoters. Many of these are of dubious usefulness (press releases, for instance, are a completely ineffective way to sell books), or present the same old suggestions (yes, we know we have to adopt social media), or assume that one promotional size fits all (when in fact, as for publishers, what sells one book won't necessarily sell another).

So I rarely recommend self-promo articles. This one's an exception, though: "Should I Tweet?" by literary agent Betsy Lerner. She makes the point that it's not so much about what kind of promo you should do, but about cultivating the mindset you need to market yourself.
Whether you should tweet is a little beside the point. The task at hand is to decipher what is most powerful in your work and connect it to every person, institution or media outlet who will listen. It’s not the form, it’s the content. What do you have? Why does it matter?

The down side of small press.

Canada's prestigious Giller prize is known to spur book sales, which has resulted in an unexpected snag for this year's winner: her tiny publisher isn't able to keep up with consumer demand.

One reason for the problem is the publisher's unusually high production standards. But this story points up an issue that can potentially handicap any small press author: small publishers often have very limited production and distribution capacity, and may not be able to meet strong demand. If you're thinking of signing a small press contract, and especially if you have ambitious promotion plans, this is something you should consider.

A digital underclass?

In all the prognostication about the digital revolution, there are a couple of issues I wish the pundits would pay more attention to. The first is the threat of obsolescence. Technology and software progress incredibly swiftly; will the ebooks of today be readable in ten years? What does that portend for the long-term survival of written work? The second is the assumption that seems to be implicit in so much discussion of electronic media--that everyone is on an equal digital footing. In fact, this isn't so. Will that change, or will the world's rush to digital create a digital underclass?

From ZDNet, here are interesting posts on both sides of this question. One writer fears that the shift to digital will eventually kill the public library, and as a result "the 'Have Nots' of society may find themselves denied access to an entire range of content they enjoyed previously with the printed book, newspaper or magazine." A second writer is more optimistic. Libraries will survive, and together with "the Internet, copyright holders, and public institutions can...bridge the digital divide and prevent the disparities."

What do you think?

Find where your passion meets the market.

Should you write to the market? Or should you write what you want, market trends be damned? Agent Rachelle Gardner argues that it's not about choosing one or the other, but about finding a balance.

The real reason publishing is in trouble.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that things aren't good in publishing these days. Corporate conglomeration, economic meltdown, reader apathy, the digital revolution--all are drastically changing a venerable industry.

But that's not the worst of it. Oh, no, my friends. The real culprit behind the troubles in publishing is...Writer Beware. At least, according to an anonymous (hi, Michele!) comment left on one of my older posts (scroll down to the bottom).
You have destroyed an otherwise thriving industry since you started your witch hunts. Wake up people, in 2006 when the Worst LIsts were published there was an average of 200 books being published by each publishing department in NY. Each year the list of books published went down, and this year, most publishing departments, if they haven't yet closed their doors, are doing 0 to 10 books per year. Down from 200 to 0 to 10! Writer Beware is the biggest trash maker in publishing history. Lost a job in publishing? Blame it on Writer beware. They are destroying traditional publishing because they secretly work for Pay to Publish companies.
GAAAAH! We are exposed! How will we work our evil now?


Anonymous said...

That's some comment at the end of this post.

At least it shows two things:

1. You're on the right track doing what you're doing.

2. You can't please everybody.



Harold Underdown said...

What's funny about that piece of hate mail is not that the opinion expressed is wrong-headed, but that the writer doesn't even get the facts right! Or cares about getting them right. What legit. publisher with a list of 200 books/season has shrunk that much? What legit. publisher has ever been "exposed" by Writer Beware?

Very odd.

Anonymous said...

Vic, as always, your posts are wonderful and informative. One thing I'd like to clarify is the bit about small publishing. Often, we small fries get a bad wrap - and not undeservedly so - and get lumped in with the bad eggs.

We work achingly hard for our reputations; we have first rate distribution, can handle very large print runs, and promote the heck out of our books, so it singes the soul to be looked at with suspicion.

My heart goes out to Ms. Skibsrud, and I don't blame her for being upset. She should be. But please don't brand all us wee ones with the same iron. In this case, the publisher is a flaming idiot to upset the distribution line for a great-selling book. OTOH, was Ms. Skibsrud aware of her publisher's peculiar printing issues?

As with everything publisher, authors need to be aware of the industry because, hey, Dorchester looked mighty fine, and look what happened to them.

DeadlyAccurate said...

They are destroying traditional publishing because they secretly work for Pay to Publish companies.

You'd think the guys who pay you would be upset you keep telling people it's a bad idea to do business with them.

Since you're solely to blame for the publishing industry's slide, can we also blame you for the rest of the recession, my cats fighting, and traffic jams?

Jenny said...

What is it about publishing that attracts so many crazies?

That said, I have to put in a good word for the press release. They're extremely helpful for selling nonfiction but only if a person knows how to write a press release that will turn into an article published in a venue that is read by the target readership. I've sold a lot of nonfiction using press releases to get my book written about.

For fiction, however, no.

Anne R. Allen said...

Isn't it marvelous to have so much power you can bring down an entire industry?

"Reasoning" like this would be comical if it weren't so dangerous. It's like saying that back when women wore girdles there was no terrorism, so women who don't wear girdles are terrorists.

Liz said...

Thank you for sharing that comment at the end of your post. That laugh so made my morning.

Ereaders are annoying. With no consistent format, unlike "real" books, you really cannot read them everywhere, if the format of the one you purchased does not match your - is it a hardware or software problem? One of my LiveJournal friends is researching the market to buy an ereader for her parents, and she's looking for an idiot-proof one for them, as they are not tech-savvy.

Christine Tripp said...

WOW, I always had a lot of respect for Writers Beware but had no real idea of the POWER you had over a whole multi billion dollar industry world wide!!!!!!
Now that you have destroyed "traditional" publishing, does that mean there is an open market for "commercial" publishing.... If so, thanks so much :)

Jeff Pearce said...


Great posts as always, but as a Canadian, I can't resist commenting on your tidbit about the Giller Prize. What those outside Canada may not realize is that the "consumer demand" for this book has been artificially created. The merits of the book and the publisher notwithstanding, it's only flourished because up here, we're in a heavily subsidized publishing environment with a clique that prefers to annoint the obscure and ignore what is written for entertainment.

One of our leading crime writers explains it much better:

Keep in mind that in Canada, a laughable 5,000 copies is considered bestseller (the print run alone for one of my erotica novels was 35,000 in the U.S.). The bottom line is that no one ever heard of this book before the Giller, and those who wanted to impress their friends ran out to get it because it had won the "prestigious" prize. Ironically, while our mainstream publishers continue to take money from the government without having to be really competitive, the most successful publisher in the world is also in Canada: Harlequin Enterprises. Oh, but serious "literary" readers and writers look down on them. Is it any wonder then that our great Canadian SF writers, our mystery writers and romance writers ignore both small and large pubs here and look to the U.S.? We'll take the cash over the "prestige" any day.

Warren Caterson said...


You know, I always had a gut feeling that you were secretly working for pay-to-publish companies. This quote confirms my suspicions. But as one aspiring to be a traditional publisher, I'm not worried because I have my tinfoil hat and secret decoder ring close by at all times. Neither you, or the Illuminati, or that little green man who lives in the front right hubcap of my car can distract me from my publishing dreams and eventual world domination. Bwwahahahah!

Yours (with tongue firmly planted in cheek),


PS. Keep up the good work!

Carolyn Rosewood said...

You're secretly working for pay-to-publish companies??? Right ... makes a lot of sense since those are the scams you expose. "Anonymous" needs to put down the crack pipe before he/she posts.

Carolyn said...

As usual I loved this article and found it very informative and helpful. I thought that it was both funny and sad that the person who thinks Writer Beware is destroying the industry actually believed what they were saying.
I hope they come back to read the comments-these comments are great and so funny!
I just wanted to add something about the E-books. I have my books both in print and in E-book format. I have met people who just love the E-book format so I decided to take my print books and give another option. I think it is great to have the option but I would be wary about just having my books as E-books because of all the reasons stated in this article. Thank you for the heads up!

Tim A Martin said...

I've seen "Writer Beware" as a watchdog for authors. I always check in every day or two to see the latest to watch out for. Thanks, you have great content!

S.M. Carrière said...

Ah hah hah hah hah! Bless!

Oh that quote was priceless! What power you must have, to so affect the publishing industry! And your reverse psychology regarding vanity presses is the master shot.

Thanks again for both your diligence and today's first laugh!

error7zero said...

Can you also "fix" television?
And the movies?

J. Nelson Leith said...

I want to give you a gigantic hug (but I guess a gigantic Thanks will do) for the following two lines:

"Self-promotion by authors was not only optional, it was considered rather tacky."

"If you see self-promo requirements in a contract, it's a signal that the publisher is trying to shift a big part of its job onto you."

A surprising number of people (even industry pros) seem gleefully ignorant of the fact that the self-marketing expectation is a recent trend and that -- whatever the short-term efficiencies and margin bumps it might bring to individual publishers -- its long-term effect on the health of the industry as a whole has not yet been properly analyzed.

Thank you for bringing a little honest perspective to the hordes of "just the way it is" shoulder shruggers.

Jenna said...

Lost a job in publishing? Blame Writer Beware.

Got a fat ass? That's probably Writer Beware's fault, too.

Know what else they caused? Bird flu.

Damn you, Writer Beware!

Design by The Blog Decorator