Who Pays Whom, Part II


We seem to be doing a lot of part ones and part twos around here right now, but hey, I’m running with it.

Last week I talked about editors, agents and editorial services. This week I’m going to talk about the evil side of vanity publishing (next week I’ll talk about its positive side, and Print On Demand). And I’m going to steal commenter Chris Branch’s comment from last week as a springboard. Chris wrote:

Regarding paying to publish your own book, I guess it’s clear that no writer wants to do this, but maybe the thinking goes like this (DISCLAIMER: I know this is wrong – or at least idealistic – I’m just justifying for argument’s sake why it might be easy to think this way):

As a writer, I have a product to sell, and I have to sell it in order for the money to “flow toward the author”. So, who is my customer? The tendency is to say (correctly I think): the reader. But wait, all I have is a manuscript and a handful of rejection letters. I can’t sell that to the reader; what I need is a book. The responsibility for turning my manuscript into a book lies with the publisher. If they would just do their part, then the money could start flowing. This might lead me to conclude: turning my manuscript into a book is not so hard – I can do that step myself and cut out the middleman. Sure, I might have to pay for it, but hey, sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money. Okay, the self-published book might not sell as many copies as a traditionally published one, but it can’t be worse than the zero copies that are being sold as long as all I have is a manuscript.

I suspect Chris has hit the nail on the head with this thought process. Now I’m going to explain why it’s wrong. 🙂

The very most basic wrongness about this belief is the idea that ultimately your books are going to end up somewhere that people will be able to buy them.

They won’t.

Occasionally a local bookstore can be harrangued into carrying a copy or two of your vanity press book, but mostly they simply won’t touch them. They will not be available on Amazon (although you could set yourself up as a seller, I suppose). The only people who will buy them are your family, except your family largely expects you to /give/ them the book anyway. You could go the door-to-door route, but really, that’s not what you’re imagining, is it? When you say, “My book has been published!”, you want people to be able to go to the bookstore and buy it, not for you to be hoofing it around the neighborhood trying to sell them like they’re vacuum cleaners.

What this means, in essence, is that you have spent a thousand, or five thousand, or ten thousand dollars on books which are now filling up your garage, and which will almost certainly never go anywhere beyond the garage. I suspect most people can see the flaw in this plan right away. And I’m sorry, but that’s the reality of vanity press publishing.

To make matters worse, vanity books tend to be extremely expensive. Well, hey, you’ve shelled out $18 for production per book, the publisher adds another $10 on top of that so they make money, that means to break even your book has to cost $28, and the idea here is to *make* money, so maybe you better charge $40 for your novel.

When was the last time you a hardback book that didn’t have a discount on it already, be it through store promotion, your bookstore preferred reader card, or a discount table? And those are books by popular, well-known authors. You may find one or two suckers with more money than sense and a whole lot of entitlement guilt who’re willing to pay forty bucks for your vanity press book, but realistically, no. It’s not going to happen.

Worst of all, if you go to the trouble to get a table at a local convention or conference and spend the whole weekend hard-selling your vanity press book in an attempt to drum up some sales, what you will end up with at the end of the weekend is a conference full of people who are trying very, very hard not to meet your eye, and who will go away from the con wincing and muttering, “Did you get stuck talking to that guy? I’m sorry. I couldn’t get away from him myself.”

This is not really the image you want to leave behind. Overall, I cannot emphasize enough what a bad idea vanity press is. I truly do believe that if you write a good book, you will in time find a traditional publisher for it. The vicious truth is that if you *can’t* find a publisher, there are one of two things working against you. The first of the two things is actually positive:

1. You’ve written something that’s genuinely too hard to categorize and publishers just don’t know what to do with it. If this is the case, chances are very good you’ll be getting rejection letters that say, “This is actually quite good and we can’t figure out how to sell it.” Having an agent will go a long way toward helping to alleviate this particular difficulty. So will writing another book and trying to sell it instead. If you’re getting rejections that say “sorry, we don’t know what to do with it”, you have talent and will sell. Just try something else.

The second of the two things is somewhat less positive:

2. You’ve written something unpublishable. Not because it’s genre-defying, but because it’s bad.

The vast majority of vanity publishing pieces fall into the second category.

Now, there *are* times and places for vanity press publishing. The collected family recipes, for example, so everybody can have a copy, is a pretty good reason to do vanity press or print on demand (which I’ll get more into next week). Generally people aren’t under the impression that the whole world would like to buy a copy of the family recipes, so yeah, that’s a good use of the system. But if you’re trying to create and sell the great American novel, and want to become rich and famous, or at least moderately well known and perhaps get paid, you don’t want to go the vanity route.

I open the floor for questions and comments. 🙂


40 comments to Who Pays Whom, Part II

  • Catie, on the whole I agree with you. I know several people who went the vanity pub rout and went broke doing it. One guy even spent his son’s college fund (nearly $40,000) and eneded up selling less than a hundred books. On the other hand, there are the *very* few success stories like:

    1. The young kid Christopher Paolini, who wrote Eargon. The story goes that his parents quit their jobs and hand sold his books at faires and conventions and sold 100,000 copies over several years, enough to be picked up by a major pub house.

    2 Kathy Wall, who self published her first mystery novel, lives in a toursty small town spot that is featured in her novels, is so well liked that all the businesses in the town recommend her books, busted her butt for 3 years proving that she could sell, and got picked up by St. Martins. She is still with them, still busting her butt, still selling books.

    Will many other people make money doing this? Do other writers have parents who will dedicate their entire lives to selling their books? Do they have money to push their books and a venue that will carry them? Probably not.

    Avoid the vanity press idea. Even POD vanity press is not worth it. Bookstores hate them.

  • I feel that I need to add here for those looking at Faith’s comment and Catie’s post that in essence the two of them are saying the same thing, even if they appear to disagree. Catie is absolutely right: vanity press is a bad way to go. It’ almost impossible to make money, and rightly or wrongly, most professionals, including not only writers but also agents and editors, will look at your self-published book and assume it wasn’t good enough to be published any other way. The fact that Faith can point to a few exceptions (and yes, there are others) only serves to reinforce the point. The stories of people actually breaking through via vanity publishing are so rare that they have become the stuff of legend. Thinking that your self-pubbed book will make you the next Christopher Paolini is just as realistic as thinking that the book you’re trying to publish traditionally will make you the next J.K. Rowling. Could it happen? Yeah, sure. But basing a career plan on that hope is a little like basing your household budget on that Lotto ticket you just bought.

  • Heh. I’d rather not be the next Christopher Paolini, just better. 😉 (I’ll save that for my own blog sometime.)

    In truth, I’d rather not be called the next anybody. I’d rather be myself, no matter what name they make me take on. 😉

    Buut, I’m sure they’ll compare me to someone.

  • Paolini’s folks, as I recall, were actually in or had ties to publishing in some fashion. I am curious though what you think about taking it the ebook route. There are an ever-growing array of options to get you book out in paperless form: kindle, scribd, feedbooks, creatspace, to name a few. Not that this is any easier from a ‘work’ standpoint. It still requires the ability, knowhow, and where-with-all to publicize and market online. This is obviously a huge time factor which takes away from what one should/could be doing, which is writing the next novel. I personally think there is a lot of possibilies here, and they are growing as tech continues to develop in this area. While the odds are still on the side of obscurity and little to no sales, I think this is still a potentially viable avenue if one goes at it not so much to make money, but to work on recognition and readership. Really though, if one is considering this option, it requires investment in time and effort not when the book is done but well in advance. Building connections and presence online is a necessity to make this useful and is not a quick process. It can take months of active work. Again, one can’t go at this with profit in mind. It is more with the thought of building career. If traditional pubs don’t want your first work, and you strongly believe you have a well-crafted, interesting story, I think it can be used to your advantage if you have the time and energy to invest in it. You might get noticed, you probably won’t, but it can be a way to start building an audience. In the meantime, if a writing career is your goal, and not just selling that single book, sit down and write the next book and make it better than the one before.

  • Catie said, Occasionally a local bookstore can be harrangued into carrying a copy or two of your vanity press book, but mostly they simply won’t touch them.

    Exactly. When my book came out, I called the local Barnes & Noble to arrange a book signing. The promo manager was polite and friendly on the phone, but I could tell he was hesitant about something. At last he asked for the ISBN of my book, and when I gave that to him, he said he’d be in touch soon to arrange a signing. Ten minutes after I hung up, he was calling back. He’d had so many vanity-press writers begging for signings at his store, it had become necessary to check out the books before agreeing to host anything.

  • I believe Paolini’s parents had a small press of their own. Whether it was set up to publish their son’s book, I don’t know.

    I’ll be happy to go on a rampawrite a pleasant discussion blog about ebooks over the next few weeks, too, if you like, Jim. 🙂

  • I put together a collection of poetry that I self-pubbed, primarily as a gift for friends and family. Why? 1st, there’s next to no money in poetry, 2nd, the only poets who get their books picked up by publishers are the few luminaries like our past and current poet laureates, and 3rd, the only other way to get a chapbook or longer collection of poetry published is to pay to enter (questionable) chapbook contests.

    For the cost of entering a few of those contests, I was able to have a small collection printed to give as gifts to a ‘captive’ audience. 🙂 I even sold a few copies to other poets. (Whoo hoo!)

    As far as my fiction, I wouldn’t go the self-publishing route for all the reasons already mentioned.

  • That’s a pretty sensible use of vanity publishing, I think. But you did it primarily *as* a gift, rather than a major money-making venture, which seems to be what many people think they’re getting when they go the self-pub route.

  • >>But basing a career plan on that hope is a little like basing your household budget on that Lotto ticket you just bought.

    But David…It’s the powerball!
    Really tho — Yes David has it right. I wasn’t saying go the self pub route. With very few exceptions it is the road to disaster and traditinoal houses will overlook you for taking it. There are miracles. hey, I know of two!!! But so many more go broke and get nowhere.

  • CJ

    We all know you’re right – in THEORY at least. The trouble comes with the reality. Yes, agents are likely to be very helpful, but they’re at least as hard to find (good ones) as publishers – perhaps harder. They generally receive even more “offers” than publishers and they can afford to be picky. Sure, if you’re the next Charles Dickens, you might have a shot at it, but when you compare your own perhaps modest effort with some of the successfully published drivel that is written (supposedly) by more or less famous (or infamous) celebrities with little or nothing to say, you might be forgiven for wondering why agents are not falling over themselves to sell your work. Often, of course, the answer is simply economics – the celebrity book will sell just because of the name attached to it regardless of the content.

    You are of course also obviously right about vanity publishing and anyone who thinks that gives them a reasonable shot at the market is probably kidding themselves (print on demand is a bit different as I’m sure you’ll come to next time). However, what SO MANY authors (some of them quite good) lack is the thick skinned approach. I’m not being rude about present company because you all have my admiration, but the fact is that, if you don’t have ego; if you don’t have as much front as Woolmart (as us Brits might say); if you’re not naturally a salesman and a networker; if you’re merely a writer, then frankly it hardly matters how good you might be at it, because you’re never going to be prepared to be “pushy” enough to get anyone to notice you.

    THAT’S why people seek out vanity publishing – desperation when there is no one who will take the time to even explain, yes this is good, or no that is bad. Rarely do they even mention that they are unable to categorise a book – mostly (as far as I’m aware) the better and therefore busier agents don’t even read stuff from unknowns unless they’re really stuck for something to sell.

    Published authors repeatedly tell us they had 20, 30, 40, 50 or even more rejections before they got their first book accepted. Most unknowns give up WAY before that because they’re floundering around in the mire without any real idea whether their approach to the agent or publisher is good bad or indifferent, let alone if what they have written even “has promise” and is worth persevering with. Self belief is not something that automatically oozes naturally from many would be authors, but that doesn’t make them bad writers.

  • There are a few reasons I’ve decided to “self-publish” in the “pay if you want” vein.

    I think getting picked up by an agent/publisher is more of a luck than talent. There are some published authors who do just as good a job as I can, without an editor. Making me believe that what is good writing is subjective. I don’t have the energy, time, desire to submit my writing to hundreds of agents, get rejected most of the time and hope that someone picks me up. Theeeen, if they do I have to mold my book into what someone else wants. What they think can sell. For what I write, romance, there isn’t much money in it these days. I’m not likely to make much money even with a publisher, ala Harelquin etc. Most of it the publisher is getting anyway, I might as well keep my works my own and hope that I can make a tiny bit of money somewhere along the way.

    I write because I love to write. The same way hobbiests spend their weekends playing a sport they aren’t that good at, or the guys who have a garage band who only play on weekends- because they love those things. It’s relaxing, it’s fun and it feeds the soul. It’s the reward for a hard day at work and at home.

    I am lucky in that I love my day job. So that’s why I’ve chosen not to try to make money from writing. Maybe I will someday anyway. If not, well, I’ll still write because I love it. That’s the important part for me. If you are in it for the money, then that’s probably the wrong reason. If you need to make money as a writer, then you better look elsewhere too.

  • CJ, You are in pain, and I care about that. When I started out I wanted to be a published writer more than anything in the world. More than *anything*.

    It took more than 15 years. 15 long, failing, learning, painful, angry years. And it wasn’t my first book that made it. There was nothing easy about getting published. So I understand your agony. I lived it.

    We’ve all been there in one way or another. That is *exactly* why we started this blog. To help the wannabe writers out there who have no one to tell them how to navigate the dicey waters of the industry. With that in mind, please consider the following:

    1. You are not talking about ego. Every writer has ego. *You have ego.* YOU DO. You have to have ego to put words to paper and expect people to read them. What many of us don’t have is balls. I had no balls when I started out. But balls can be learned. You can learn how to present and project the image you desire. I did. I created a persona that was so far different from the person I was that I didn’t recognize myself. And I did it with words, the way I use words, the way I punctuate words. You see, balls is words. You are a writer. Stop thinking of yourself as having no clue and no power and nothing but pain. You have words. They have power.

    2. My first book has never been published. I was a talented writer. But I didn’t know the markets. I didn’t know how to write what would sell. And that is the key to *EVER* being published. Becuase if you want to be a commercially published writer, you have to write what will sell. Not your baby. Not the great American novel. Not the thing that will bring your soul to intense joy. But *WHAT WILL SELL*. You have to write that. And only that. In the way that is marketable.

    3. You have to present it to the right people in the right way. That means a business plan. Not self publishing, not vanity press. A plan. With that plan will come skills you will need to learn to carry it out.
    a.) How to blurb a book.
    b.) How shake hands.
    c.) How to speak that blurb without throwing up. With a smile.
    d.) How to write a decent query letter / proposal letter
    e.) How to weed out the bad agents from the potential good ones.
    f.) You have to study the market in book stores, online, everywhere. This will tell you what you are writing, what genre nitch, sub genre, whatever.
    g.) Join the professional organizations for the genre of your choice. Most of them have a newbee, or a wannabee, or a guppie arm of the organization that will help you in the waters.
    h.) There are plenty of small presses springing up in the wake of the contraction of the larger presses. These professional orgs (see g) often have a list of acceptable (royalty paying) presses.
    i.) There are good small cons everywhere. Some of them have agents who show up on the staff. Start searching online to find them. How many can you afford to attend? Which agents do you want to present to?

    I am sure there are many more. Jump in here any time, you guys.

    So, what is your plan? Spell it out to yourself. On paper. It’s not a plan if it’s all mushy in your head. Use your words — your power. They are your gift. Make them work for you. You can do it. And you can write to me offline. I’ll read your blurb (only your blurb) and critique it. I bet you can take it from there.

    I am appearing at RomanceDivas.com the month of July and you just gave me my topic.
    How to get your foot in the door.

  • Gwendolyn Borgen

    Thank you everyone for all the advice. And I for one am very appreciative that you guys take the time to help others break into the field.

    Finding an agent is definitly a step I am not looking forward to.

  • CJ wrote: THAT’S why people seek out vanity publishing – desperation when there is no one who will take the time to even explain, yes this is good, or no that is bad. Rarely do they even mention that they are unable to categorise a book

    The reason I used the “unable to categorize” example, actually, was because I had that experience myself, repeatedly, with a book that my writing partner and I wrote. And the reason I /know/ it was uncategorizeable was because we have about fifteen rejection letters saying, “Man, this is really good and we have no idea what to do with it, sorry, we have to pass.” If you’ve written something good (and I mean ‘you’ as a generic term here, not picking on you, CJ!), somebody will take the trouble to tell you.

    mostly (as far as I’m aware) the better and therefore busier agents don’t even read stuff from unknowns unless they’re really stuck for something to sell.

    My agent, who I think is quite splendid (and so do other people!), does, in fact, read material from unknowns, to the tune of hundreds of queries a week. Most agents are constantly on the prowl for the next new hot thing. They’re just as happy as we are to sign somebody talented.

    Published authors repeatedly tell us they had 20, 30, 40, 50 or even more rejections before they got their first book accepted. Most unknowns give up WAY before that

    Aaah. Okay. Again, I want to be very clear I’m not directing this at CJ, but as a general statement:

    If you give up before you get your first book accepted, you don’t have the stuff to be a published writer…and that’s okay.

    This is, as we’ve said dozens of times, not an easy business. It’s a fairly terrible way to make a living–nerve wracking, uncertain, frequently desperation-filled. If the repeated rejections take you out of the game, then you’re probably not suited for this job. There is *nothing wrong with that*. It’s like not being suited to be a surgeon or a golf pro or a concert pianist. Not everybody is cut out for it. Not everybody wants to go to fifteen years of medical school or practice their swing shot every day or spend hours a week playing scales.

    The difference is that we’re all taught the physical act of writing in school, and we’re not all taught to hit a birdie or play piano. There appears to be a connection in our society between the physical ability to write and the ability to tell a story, but they’re not any more the same than being able to swing a stick means you’re able to hit a home run four out of five throws. There’s also the fact that humans use stories to relate to one another, so we all tend to believe we can tell a story. Being able to relate, to great laughter, the tale of Great Aunt Maude’s trials with the water company, is not actually the same ability as sitting down to write an entertaining four hundred page novel. We correlate these things, but we often do so falsely.

    It’s true that there are books out there on the shelves which I can find no reasonable explanation for their publication. In fact, it was one of those books that made me say, “God, I can do better than /this/,” and write my first book at age 19 (no, I won’t tell you what the book was, but only because I can’t remember). It’s true there are books out there which appear to have never been seen by an editor, much less improved upon by revisions. It’s true that we *all* think, at one point or another, “God, I can do better than that!” And I really truly can, at least on some level, understand the impulse to say, “Okay, if nobody in New York will buy my book, I can self-publish it and at least it’ll be out there, and it’s better than this crap! Surely people will see that!”

    If you’re like asrai up above, and are a hobbiest, or are a poet like LJ, then yeah, that’s a perfectly reasonable way to go. You’re getting what you expect out of the deal. If, though, you want to do this for a living, professionally, day in and day out, and you quit before you get that acceptance letter…then you don’t want it enough, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

    I have probably related here before the story of meeting Anne McCaffrey, one of science fiction’s grande dames, who asked if I was a writer, and upon being told I was, said, “If you can do anything else, do it.”

    I was just barely twenty years old, and I had no idea what she meant, not really, because, well, of COURSE I could do other things. I could–and did–work as an archivist, a web designer, a Pokemon salesman, and a ton of other things. It wasn’t until I was holding URBAN SHAMAN, my first published novel, in my hands, that I really understood what she’d been saying.

    She’d been telling me that if I could be content, even happy, doing something that didn’t pile up the rejection letters, that didn’t require spending years of my life at a keyboard when I could be doing something else, if I could get ten or twenty or thirty rejection letters and say, “No, this isn’t worth it,” then it wasn’t worth it. I would be happier doing something else. If I could walk away from writing, I should, because it would make for an easier and more comfortable life.

    Some people can walk away. Some people get that thirty-second rejection letter and say, “No, screw it,” and put it all away. I don’t envy them, because I love my life and my job, but if they can do that, I think Anne was right: they’ll be happier.

    If they can’t, then I will forever stand the line and say do not go the vanity press route. If you want it this badly, keep going until it’s real.

  • FF

    You make some good points.

    For what it’s worth, just one comment for Faith from a non-writer who reads lots of writer blogs. You said: “Becuase if you want to be a commercially published writer, you have to write what will sell. Not your baby. Not the great American novel. Not the thing that will bring your soul to intense joy. But *WHAT WILL SELL*. You have to write that. And only that. In the way that is marketable.”

    Erica Orloff disagrees with this point of view on her blog. She says you have to know the market, but if you decide to write about vampires just because the current rage is vampires, the rage will have become something new before you finish the book. She says you have to be true to yourself as well as knowing the market.

  • Well said, Catie! I am constantly amazed at the people who think it is going to be easy to be a writer. Like a (fictinonal) kid who graduates high school and buys a scalpel and walks into a hospital and says, “I’m ready to be a brain surgeon. Who’s first?” Success at commercial writing is usually the result of a lot of rejection (which correlates to med school in my admittedly bad analogy).

  • FF — true. But knowing the market is part of knowing when it is about to become saturated, and getting a handle on the cresting wave. After all these years, I am still learning that. My point was directed to noncommercial writing that has no place (nitch, slots, lists) in the marketplace. If you want to write that stuff, great. Do it. But it likely won’t be published. If you want to be published, you have to find a nitch that is growing, then find your heart’s desire (or close to it) in that nitch and write for it. That is what a commercial writer does. We use language to tell stories in specific ways and for specific formats and we ride a cresting wave, hoping for a big break. Sometimes we make it. Sometimes we fall flat.

  • A violinist doesn’t pick up an instrument, learn their first piece, and think they’re ready for Carnegie Hall. Further to that, if they’re not ready to play in the orchestra, they don’t start their own.

    Why do writers then believe that if they finish a novel, it should be published, and if nobody wants it, they’ll print their own. I can think of very few industries where if you’re not good enough, you can go out and do it anyways.

    People just need to learn when to say when. Hopefully, don’t have to learn that painful lesson just yet. 🙂

  • But what if the books you want to write don’t for the hell of it fit any of the niches? You can either write books you don’t really want to write, and not only will that show, but be a chore as well. In that case, making your living as a secretary will pay better. 😉

    I suppose most professional writers are lucky to like and write something that may sell (besides the books they would like to write but won’t sell), or they would not be professional writers in the first place, and they can only pray the market won’t move totally away from what they want to write.

    But I don’t think I will ever make a living off my writing, nor do I plan to. Maybe my books will sell – I’m sure I can learn to come up with the quality neccesary for it – but if they’ll prove to be too exotic (too many of the ‘like it but could not find a home for it’-rejections), I may go the self publishing (NOT vanity publishing) route. Because I’d be happier that way, instead of trying to fit vampires, HEA romance, kickass females in an urban setting and Tudor era woman POVs into my books. 🙂 I sometimes read those, but I don’t want to write them.

    Who knows, in a few years Romans may be the new vampires. 😀

  • Btw, I’ve been absent for the last weeks because I traveled around in Scotland, collecting plotbunnies. 😀

  • Ooh, I hope you had fun collecting plotbunnies!

    I’m afraid you’ll hate my answer for But what if the books you want to write don’t for the hell of it fit any of the niches? because it sounds pat. Really, in that situation, if you want to sell books, you have to do one of two things:

    You either have to write something so *phenomenally* good that the publishers say, “Ok, we will risk this even if it’s not easy to define because it’s incredibly, incredibly good,”…or you write something commercial that will sell and build your name recognition until you’re popular enough to define your own rules.

    I think Erica Orloff is correct in saying you can’t write to the market, because the market changes so fast. At the same time, I think it’s possible to invest yourself in commercial ideas and want to write those as much as anything else you could write. Perhaps that’s easier if your end goal is to make a living as a writer. Since that’s mine, I’m pretty damned invested in anything that’ll help me do that. I put myself into it whole hog, whether it’s something I expected or planned to find myself writing or not.

  • Lol, looks like I’ll better try for option 1. 🙂

    I have played with the idea of an Urban Fantasy set in ancient Rome, a setting that would add just that little twist publishers are looking for, but it never fell into place. Same with a selkie paranormal in a historical setting – that one would have required a major romance plot that also didn’t fall into place, not to mention the graphic sex I don’t write (not because of old fashioned morals, but because graphic sex turns me off, not on, and I skip it as reader).

  • CJ

    I agree with so much of the comment. However, there are a couple of things that I think I should clear up:

    Firstly, I’m not particularly “in pain” as Faith put it (at least I’m not aware of it). I do sometimes get a bit angry about what I occasionally see as something of an “old boys network” and I DO have experience of that in another walk of life. This was not directed at me because I was an “insider” but there were undoubtedly many who had a desire to “keep others in the dark” unless they were prepared to go through the same boringly slow learning route that many of my colleagues had done (and, as it happens, I was one of the top four people in the UK at what I did at the time and NOT formally trained, but I was good enough to be able to rise above all that).

    Secondly, C E Murphy’s “If you give up before you get your first book accepted, you don’t have the stuff to be a published writer…and that’s okay.” Makes a good point – I would like to find a good agent and yes I do have some ego, obviously, but that’s not why I write – I do it because I just LOVE to do so. That is though part of my point – it’s often more about “having the stuff to be published” rather than how god or bad you are as a writer. Also, opportunity in the UK is, I think, a good deal more restricted than in the US – and I’ve NEVER been a good “networker”.

    As I think I said in my previous comment, being a good salesman, networker, whatever you want to call it is apparently vital to being published (though not to writing) and I find that rather upsetting, for younger wannabees, if not for me.

    However, as one gets older one realises that the money would also be nice and it would enable me to do what I’d dearly like to do – nothing BUT write. Nevertheless, as I have aged, I have also realised that, although I might be used to working “bloody” hard (and I most certainly have and often still do), facing up to such an uphill struggle as this is (to me) often such a fobidding side of what I love to do that I sometimes find it almost soul destroying and maybe I’m just to flaming old to face such a challenge.

    That said – tomorrow’s another day and I might feel differently 🙂

  • Some disclaimers: I’m not a Romance novelist, but…well, I don’t play one on TV either, but I’m jumping into it with both feet up to my neck and learning a lot on the subject as I go.

    Also, I’m studiously trying to ignore this topic as I’m busily burning through writing, as well as working on cleaning for a party and can’t devote the time necessary to form a coherent and intelligent comment.

    However, had to mention:

    QUOTE: not to mention the graphic sex

    A Romance doesn’t have to have graphic sex. There are actually varying levels of heat/sensuousness in Romance. Perhaps the most popular is the higher heat levels, I don’t know, but there’s even Christian Romance out there. There are certain tropes in Romance that make it a Romance and graphic sex isn’t always a part of that. Go with the level you’re comfortable with and hit the ground running.

    I’ve recently been looking at the Romance novel definitions and some books on writing it and finding that it’s not necessarily all steamy sex laden.

    And you’d likely skip the parts in the one I’m working on now. But it’s got some awesome Space Opera Sci-Fi that’ll make the Romance portion worth sitting through. 😉

  • Daniel, the paranormals I’ve read (not too many, I admit) all had a level way above what I feel comfortable with. I read them for the plots and the worldbuilding, not the romance and the sex. 😉

    The second problem with (sub)genres that have a strong element of Romance is that I don’t ‘get’ the tropes that make a Romance work for readers of those (sub)genres. It seldom works for me; I usually either despise the hero for being so stupid to fall in love with the heroine or the other way round, and I can’t stand alpha males. That said, I don’t mind it when it is part of a novel that has a lot of other things going on as well, and Space Opera sounds fun.

    But I still can’t consciously plan and write Romance – that doesn’t mean that not some of my characters fall in love, but it usually doesn’t end happily. My characters can be glad if they survive in the first place. 😉

  • Actually, you’re both right: romance doesn’t have to have lots of sex, and paranormals *frequently* do have lots of sex.

    And yeah, Gabriele, writing romance to genre specification is actually a real and genuine talent of its own. I admire people who can do it, ’cause I can’t. Oi.

  • CJ, my first draft said
    CJ, I can tell you’re angry…
    But frankly most anger translats to pain in some way, so I picked a less volatile word.

    As to writing what is selling, you have to write fast to crest a rising wave. Or if a slow writer, you have to write something that edges onto what is current.

    Here’s a for instance: I am intresed in Am.Im. mythology and wanted to write something that fit my current intrests. I don’t much care for vampires. So I created a character who is a Cherokee Skinwalker who, um, kills vamps for a living. I am skirting the edges of the market with a character who kills off the current market’s babies. There is a certain keen delight in that. But we each have to find our own way.

  • True, true. I don’t know if toning down the sex would make a paranormal romance harder to sell, but it’s gotta be worth a shot. Heck, I’d try pulling the old pan away encounter and keep the romance portion. Even the Dragonlance Chronicles had a growing romance between Tika and Caramon, and it wasn’t even a Romance.

    I’m actually bending the tropes a bit in the current WIP, which may make it a little harder to sell, but it’s what my wife and I like. Strong heroines and equally strong heroes that work best when they compliment each other instead of some muscle-bound alpha male and a once-strong yet vaguely insecure, but now love-struck woman falling into his arms. The both have their own issues to deal with and can help each other to do that. All coupled together with an engaging story to shake the pillars of Heaven. We want people from every side of the genre fence to say, I can’t believe it’s not butter, but I like it!

    (Yes, it’s an I can’t believe it’s not butter Fabio reference)

    I promised my wife that if I ever did write a Romance that the female lead would always be strong and able to take care of herself. 😉 Those are the female characters she likes. It’s why I told her she’d like the Rogue Mage series.

  • …but I’m getting off the original topic. *embarrassed face*

  • Daniel, the problem is not only the sex but the whole Romance thing. I could write a novel with a selkie MC but it would not be a paranormal romance, and thus fall out of the market again. Readers and publishers want romance with their shapeshifters. 😉

    No, I’ll stick to my Romans, Battles, and Barbarians, and hope that the readers of Bernard Cornwell and Simon Scarrow want more of that. Considering that Alternate Historical Fantasy Whatever monster … well, I’ll just have to see if anyone will be able to put a label onto it some day. 🙂

  • Readers: “We want something fresh, new, and different. We are tired of the old used topics.”

    Publishers/Agents: “Sorry Unpublished Author, but your book is too new and different to sell. Try writing something that is more like the current market.”

    Anyone else see the irony above?

  • QUOTE: Anyone else see the irony above?

    Always, but I try not to let it intimidate me. 😉

  • CE> That story of Anne McCaffery made me laugh. I had a strikingly similar experience in my senior year of college. I wanted to go to grad school and be an English professor. My thesis advisor, the one I was asking for letters of rec, told me that if he really liked me, he wouldn’t give me the letters. He told me I should go to law school. He told me that grad school is hard, long, can be expensive, and there is no guarantee of a job. A tenure track job like his at the college I went to was like winning the lottery. He wrote the letters. I went to grad school. Everything he said was true. Everything. I won the job lottery. A lot less than he did, as I don’t have as good a job, but it still is a tenure track job. It is just amazing how similar the two are. And now I’m writing books, listening to the same advice, racking up rejections and taking the advice of folks in the market who read drafts/query letters/synopses/etc. and respond with more than a “no thanks…” And since I’ve started going to cons, etc… my writing has gotten better and more marketable.

    And it’s all good. 🙂 I’m not going the vanity press / self publishing route, and haven’t really considered it. Of course, one small part of that is because I don’t have the money to devote to that. And I’m all for the “money (however small) flows to the writer.” And I think the thought of self publishing went out when I sold my first short story.

    Anyway, I appreciate all that you have to say here (all of you). I figure since I’ve climbed up one hill and came out okay, I’ll try this one, too. 🙂

    And, correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t most published authors at some point have to write something they don’t want to write? I mean, I hear lots of stories about people getting letters from their editors about changes they want in the book, and that’s not always what the writer wants, but s/he does it anyway.

  • Thank you guys for your candor in this debate. too often the conversation about self-publishing is so cuatiously polite that it winds up being deeply misleading. I appreciate the honesty of all sides here.


  • Catie, I find myself at odds with your assertion that if you cannot achieve traditional publication it’s either because your work is too esoteric to categorise or too bad to publish. My most recent submission, for example, yielded unsolicited praise from a number of publishers. One big name UK publishing house described it as “very well written” and “something much in vogue at the moment”, yet they declined to take it on. Why? Because I am not “a celebrity author” (their words). Which of your categories does this fall into?

    I also disagree with the assertion that self-financed publication is normally (or even often) motivated by the expectation of making money. I doubt there are many self published authors sufficiently naive to believe it’s their ticket to the gravy chain.

    Finally, I am confused by what you mean by vanity publishing. I know what I understand by the term. It’s being taken in by some money grabbing company who heap you with false praise and promises in the hope of charging you a lot of money for very little in the way of services. Your blog article seems to be tarring all self-financed publishing with the same brush.

    I intend to self publish my book. I am doing it properly, researching costs etc. so I can keep the cover price within what the market will take. I have a rudimentary publicity plan and a timetable for a publication date early next year. Am I doing this to make any money? Not on your nelly. If I cover my expenses I shall be ecstatic. So why am I doing it? Because I can afford it, it’s fun, it’s a learning experience and there is a very small chance, at the end of the process, my book may reach a handful of people who would otherwise have missed out on it.

    Pedantically, yes, it comes down to vanity. I believe in my work and I have a deep felt need to place it in front of other people. I cannot achieve commercial publication because my work is not commercial. I accept that. I know my place in this pond. Perhaps if I had a long term plan for 15 sequels, or had once been a Big Brother contestant etc. things would be different, but I don’t. I’m just some guy who writes what he wants to write and is arrogant enought to believe it’s good enough for others to want to read it.

    What I don’t accept is the “commercially-published good, author-published baaad” philosophy/prejudice that seems to pervade some quarters of the publishing community. There is a place for independently published material and in the modern internet-dominated world there are even opportunities to promote it. Commercial publishers and agents are, quite rightly, interested in their bottom line – whether they can make enough money to pay their staff and maintain their offices. That means a lot of good material is going to get rejected for purely commercial reasons and I totally reject the notion that anything that cannot achieve commercial publication is, by definition, unworthy.

  • Chris Branch

    Hey Catie, sorry I haven’t checked back in a couple of days; thanks for using my comment as a jumping off point! Of course your response is what I expected, but I’m glad to see it’s sparked lots of interesting discussion on topic and off.

    I notice, however, that the most important aspect of your response hasn’t gotten much follow-up. You said:

    The very most basic wrongness about this belief is the idea that ultimately your books are going to end up somewhere that people will be able to buy them.

    They won’t.

    And the obvious question is…?

    Why not?

    Now it comes down to the bookstores not doing their part. 😉

  • Chris Branch

    Oops, obviously I messed up the blockquote in my previous comment. Looks like I can’t fix that myself…

    Add to the blog feature wishlist: a “post preview” (if not an “edit” function).

  • I actually want to know your feelings on Ebook pubs and have been waiting for this week to hear it. I was planning on sending to an Ebook pub that brings out a print run after a certain period of time the book’s been in Ebook status. I know and understand fully that I’ll likely have to talk up my book everywhere I go if it’s an Ebook because it’s not gonna sell itself, regardless of whether they advertise them in various places. However, I’m honestly expecting to do that no matter who publishes my book as I’m not King, Koontz or one of the other big writers on the block who gets the publishing company advertising for them. If I have to I’ll even go out during the weekends, in lieu of having one of those cool cardboard cutouts of myself standing next to my books, and stand in a book store posing and giving a thumbs up while holding one of my books if that’s what it takes. 😉

  • I like to tell my story of the route to being published. I have 10 fantasy books published, 9 of them still in print, by “real” publishers in 6 different countries in four different languages (so far) and I have been shortlisted for the best fantasy novel of the year in Australia no less than four times. Sounds like a real success story, right? It is. A dream come true. But how did I get there? And how long did it take? Well, I can say this: it was no overnight success!

    I live in Malaysia. I knew no one in the industry. I never met other fantasy writers. I started in pre internet days and I knew nothing and had little way of finding out anything about how to write or how to sell a manuscript.

    I started writing novels when I was aged 10. I found an agent when I was aged 46. I was published 8 years later, aged 54. I like to think I would have done it MUCH faster had the internet been around when I was in my 20s or 30s or 40s! Writers today are SO lucky to have so much information and help, all at the press of the “send” button.

    Believe me, if you any talent, you don’t need to go the self-publishing route. You just stick at it until you get there. You aim to improve. You listen to those who read your work critically and think about what they say. You read and read and read. You work out what sells and why you like certain authors and books.

    You can’t sell your first book, even after the 10th thorough rewrite? Write another. And another. And another. I did. The first one of mine to sell was number eight. That’s right: 8. (Or was it 9? I forget now. It no longer matters.) What matters is that each time I wrote a book, I improved. I learned. And I never gave up.

    You don’t need luck, you don’t need to “know” someone, you don’t need money. You do need to love what you do. You do need persistence. (Oh boy, do you need persistence!) You need to read. A lot. You need to be prepared to accept that you have room for improvement.

    What you don’t need is a vanity publisher.

  • Glenda, you are my new *hero*.