Things I wish I’d said about publishing

(Cross-posted on Google+)

Things I wish I’d said on the State of Publishing panel at Writing the Rockies in Gunnison this weekend, which addressed budding writers:

It can be overwhelming when you are confronted with all the publishing possibilities, whether or not to get an agent and try for New York publishing, whether to pursue smaller presses, or the ever-alluring self-publishing route (which is NOT to be confused with ebooks; ebook publishing is a format, not a methodology, any more than POD or offset is a methodology.) 

1. Is your book commercial? Does it “read” like other books on the market? If so, you can try the agent/big house route and see where it takes you first. If you meet resistance and rejection and you eventually have had enough, you can start over again with a new method. In this period of flux, there are no permanent records. You can reinvent your participation in the business of writing at any time. There’s no harm in trying.

2. Are there small presses you admire? Do you even pay attention to who is publishing the stuff you like? If not, it’s time to open your eyes and learn about the market. You don’t need to read a hundred blogs every day, but it would help you to find out what’s happening in the industry you say you want to be a part of. If you don’t have time for this part of the research, then you are going to encounter a lot of stumbling blocks. Knowledge is power.

3. If you’re thinking of self-publishing, what do you envision as the outcome? Do you think you’ll sell a million ebooks? You might want to lower your expectations to a level more reasonable. For every one Amanda Hocking, there are a million more who don’t sell many or any copies of their work. If you want to SP because you have written something you want to share, i.e., you want to be part of a bigger literary tradition and step up your participation in a community of writers, this path to a book (print or e or both) might be satisfying to you. Perhaps “modest” success is the watchword.

Some Ethical Considerations

1. Many poets and fiction writers try to get their work published in literary journals. If you do that, or wish it, are you also willing to support those venues financially, either by donation or by purchase? Publications have staffs and costs, even if they’re not-for-profit. The Karma of publication asks you to examine your support, so if you can afford it, it’s your responsibility. 

2. If you do sign the rights to publish your work to a publishing company, don’t begrudge them their need to make money from your work. You are entering into a partnership, and while of course you should understand what promises are being made on either side when you sign, you are admitting that the organization has a lot at stake in representing your work in its catalog. You sign the agreement because you want your book on its web site, you ostensibly admire its stated mission and want your work displayed side by side with the press’s other authors. If there are complaints, you lodge them respectfully, remembering that these are real people who are working with you. There are no perfect circumstances, and understanding that ANY form of publication is a gamble will keep everyone’s expectations reasonable. As a tangent, don’t begrudge bookstores their cut, either. 

3. Blanket condemnations of social media if you have never tried to participate show ignorance. Not every personality has the magnetism to become an internet standout. But a show of genuine interest in other people as you promote your own writing has the potential to build a readership. Do not run around saying you don’t “get” twitter unless you’ve spent some time there following other people you wish to model. You don’t even have to say much, if anything, in the beginning. But DO spend time reading and thinking. Do learn how to follow individual conversations. Do investigate facebook pages of writers you like. See what they’re doing. Be as observant in this endeavor as you are when you’re gathering faces and conversations and descriptions for your own writing.

31 July 2011 ·

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Enthusiastic reader, writer, editor. Let's enhance our literary community wherever it resides

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