Today, I want to play Peeping Tom to the Publishing world.
I’m a writer. I’m involved in lots of discussions, blogs, chats, you name it, regarding publishing. I’ve read the articles, the posts, the books.
But I’m not published. Bear that in mind.
My experience lies solely in writing, submitting, being rejected (all the time, like most other writers), an editorial internship with the amazing Danielle Poiesz, a number of WIPs, finished manuscripts, and a writing group of published authors, with whose journeys I have shared and manuscripts I have critted. (Deep breath because that was a realllllly long sentence.)
Oh, and endless stalking of official members of the industry, of course (again, like most other writers).
I’m here, today, to tell you what secrets I’ve found from enemy territory, we’ll call it. Listen closely, my friends, because…
The Industry is not out to get us.
No, not at all. It certainly does seem that way at times, however. The majority of hostility between authors and…well…everybody else in the industry, stems mostly from the agony of subjectivity. From the writer, the publisher, and the reader.
From the writer’s perspective, they have a brilliant piece of work upon which they have bestowed small parts of their heart, a little blood, maybe some sweat, and probably a whole lot of tears.
There is the simple “My manuscript is perfect, how dare ye change my vision?” egotism that, at times- many, as shown by agents on Twitter-, rears its ugly head.
…That really isn’t what upsets most writers. Some, I’m sure, but not most. Really, we feel lied to.
We’re told to write for originality, to really wow our readers with creativity. Only to be immediately told our work is not “commercially viable” and all those months’ of work is rejected.
Writing industry professionals? Don’t be surprised when we stop trusting you because of this.
Writers? They don’t intend to lie to us. And, really, despite appearances, no one actually lied.
Let me explain.
In the end, this entire industry is just that: an industry. One that requires monetary recompense for work accomplished. Consider your own purchasing habits:
How often would you buy your child’s carseat from a little-known manufacturer with no reviews, no proof of safety, and no track record in accidents? Even if it seems to look like what you want? You probably wouldn’t? So isn’t it equally sensible that someone would purchase a book that contains something that is known to sell, considering they’re likely staking at least a notable portion of their whole family’s income on that choice?
They want originality, within the bounds they can assure will sell. Furthermore, that out-of-this-world totally off-the-wall or totally unique book you sold to a publishing house? Thank one of the big names in writing for that ability. Big hitters like Stephen King, Stephenie Meyers, and even E.L. James allow for publishers/editors to have some freedom to buy those books that have nothing to assure the publisher of a positive sales record.
Perhaps the hardest part about all of this is that-from what I’ve found-a great sales record is really based on the following:
- Commercially viable and apt content
- Content that hits where the audience wants it
- Content that relays a message the audience wants to hear.
- A good cover
- Reputable sources publicly liking the book
That’s right, I said it: LUCK. With that being case, realize that luck is a hard thing to make a judgment off of. So there need to be some sort of parameters for people to go by. Gut instinct is half, and a tried-and-true-methodology is generally the other.
In addition, let’s consider the many articles on self-publishing. The single biggest topic discussed is how much money an author puts into it. Why is this such a big surprise? Don’t you realize that traditional Houses are investing the exact same amount of money? And this is before they have sold your book to the masses. They have as much interest in your book selling as you do because they have already given work to it; time they could have spent with their kids, or doing another job, entirely, that assured them they’d have a paycheck. So don’t they have as much right to comment on changes? It really is partly their book, too. In the same way that a company would be, if you gave thousands of dollars to help in start-up. They’ve invested in your book; they get a say, and they want as high a chance of salability as possible.
The Industry really wants to sell all books, but there has to be something present that they can invest with a sense of safety.
Writing a salable book does not mean writing to the market
It does. And it doesn’t. Here’s the thing: your target audience isn’t going to want the exact same story, over and over. Since no one can predict exactly what readers will want, there is a great deal of chance in publishing books. In that regard, while it’s important to consider your audience when writing a book; the market should not dictate the story, itself.
How many people expected BDSM (in the form of 50 Shades of Gray) would take the publishing world by storm?
With the sudden onset of the book, BDSM stories got a massive burst in the industry, and many good stories that writers had considered dead-in-the-water ages ago were now pushed to the forefront of the tidal wave. However, the tactic of writing a BDSM book while the genre’s hot, simply to get published isn’t always going to work and-worse-it tends to lead to a book that will hurt-rather than help- your author brand. By the time you finish writing a good book (this is, of course, excepting short stories, etc.), most times, the tidal wave will have already passed.
Best to write the book you love and bring it alive, then send it off into the world when the world is ready for it.
This advice applies to all forms of publication, by the way. Oftentimes, a book that received many rejections, will suddenly become a bestseller because it was marketed at just the right time for the audience.
In the traditional publishing world: all too often, the majority of the slush pile is the same story, over and over and over, because folks are trying to ride that same tidal wave. This means a lot of competition for your book to stand up against. In fact, this gives your manuscript less of a chance of being picked up by the limited amount of editors out there.
This is, perhaps, far less applicable to the self-publishing world, however. The advice remains the same, but it’s easier to market a niche book, when you are the only one invested in it. Remember, you’ll still have difficulty until the market swings the way your book is directed, but you have the capability of just continuing to market it; taking it down; changing its location as you please; modifying it bit by bit to fit where you want it. There’s a lot more malleability in self-publishing, so the advice for those in that arena: If you want your book to sell, modify it in key ways to target the mainstream audience, and continue to do so as the winds change.
Write the book in your heart and be ready to wait. Writing requires a near-infinite quantity of patience. Better to send your little literary baby off into the world when its ready, than to shove it out onto the street before it can stand on its own. Or, put yourself in a position where you can be there to help your book stand up to the world.
A successful author needs a loyal readership
Everyone wants to write a great book, and many have. The key to making a living as a writer, however, is to write a lot of books that people continue to want to read. You don’t even have to write a lot of great books. Simply a lot of readable books. If you pop out a great one, the better for us all!
There are a number of really great books that have sold well, whose authors we completely don’t remember. Or we read the rest of their books and they totally fell flat. This is bad, because we’ve lost the trust of our readership.
Trust really is the key, here.
When a reader picks up a book, they trust the author to take them on a satisfactory journey. When a book is great, the author becomes part of the reader’s Inner Circle. When a book is good, the author becomes part of the reader’s Outer Circle But Still Cool Enough to Sit With Us At Lunch. When a book is bad, the author gets booted off the lunch table and forced to sit in a stall in the bathroom, eating overly clumpy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
This trust is what makes a reader loyal. Loyalty is the key to a writing career instead of a hobby. Loyalty is the reward for keeping the reader’s trust intact.
So, first, let’s discuss what makes a reader trust an author.
It isn’t swag.
It isn’t contests.
It isn’t free reads.
It isn’t the-very-best-guest-post-ever-zomg-please-comment-on-my-bloghop.
It’s writing a good book that takes the reader on the journey they wanted. Until you’ve done that, you have nothing to really offer and will not establish a relationship with your reader.
Remember, you’re asking people to take valuable time out of their lives for you. This is time they could be spending with their kids; earning money; making memories; teaching Little Johnny to tie his shoes; keeping Little Susie from beaning the next-door-neighbor’s kid with her knife-like Barbie. You’re honestly asking quite a bit of every single person you market your book to.
So why should they bother? That’s the key. “This, dear readers, is why you should bother.” And, for the record, “because it’s totally badass awesome” isn’t going to cut it. Why should they trust that you’ll give them what you promised?
That’s the mountain every author faces, no matter how they are published. Getting there really involves the only known successful marketing tool in the writing industry: Word Of Mouth. Unfortunately, WOM is hard to get, especially from reliable (and finite) sources. But that’s what you have to do.
Swag, free-reads, etc., are useful tools once you have gained the trust of some people whom the readers trust, already. You need to get vetted by a trusted source, otherwise, all that effort means nothing. This, my darlings, is what we are looking for when we choose traditional- over self-publishing. Well, that and ease of everything, of course. Simply being published by a reputable House, readers are told “Hey, if you trusted this author, you should trust this one, too.” Self-published authors? That’s where you lose out. That’s where you seriously benefit from Knowing The Right People.
You’ve gotten some trust established with reputable sources; The Dear Author blog, maybe a great publishing House.
What’s next? How do you turn that trust into loyalty?
Easy. Keep that reader’s trust. Pure and simple. This is where a lot of self-published authors fall short. And, really, why self-publishing gets such a bad rap.
Remember, we’re not writing because of our love of stories. We’re writing publishable work so that other people will love stories. Never forget that. Writing because you love to write is great and beautiful. But if that’s all, then just write them down and publish them on your website. If you want to make money, then remember, you’re telling others the story. Not yourself. When I’m writing a story, I already have someone in mind to whom I’m telling it.
Self-published authors aren’t the “dregs of the writing world”, by any means. There are brilliant authors who self-publish. The inherent relation between self-publishing and poor content comes from the too-often broken trust of the readership. And, I hate to break it to everyone, but not all of the reasons are manageable. Here are some of the reasons:
- Poor editing. This ruins the trust between you and the readership by disrupting the journey. Or making it intelligible. I’ve seen it both ways. Generally, they go hand-in-hand.
- Bad covers, etc. The unfortunately almost overwhelming amount of bad covers are an instant trust-breaker for most readers. This also hurts a lot of small publishing houses.
- Poor understanding of your readership’s enjoyment. This means writing a great book, and then writing the second book but it falls flat because you had a vision that was completely different from your readers.
- Overmarketing a bad book. This is a personal pet-peeve of mine because it really short-shrifts a reader’s trust in buying a book. This is when a book has massive sales because the publicist (and often author) is amazing and catches everyone’s eye and it gets sold tons and tons. Then the readership reads the book and realizes that the content is uglier than a baboon’s butt. This means that sales records lose their validity. It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve seen it happen before. Great, swift use of the many and varied marketing paths, now discredited because the book didn’t uphold expectation.
The self-publishing world also has the problem of not having a solid rock behind it. Readers want to see some sort of evidence before they buy a book. So if they’ve read bad self-published books, that bad taste in their mouth generally flavors all if not most of their future purchasing choices for self-publishing.
The writing world is Six Degrees of Stephen King. Make sure you’ve found your link in the chain. And once you have it, remember you’re upholding a standard for everyone around you. Don’t break your readers’ hearts. Or ours.
Everything in the industry is always the same as it ever was: fluctuating
Major changes are happening with mergers, and posts about agents going out of style, and Barnes & Noble crashing down. As expected, this is the total flip around of what the industry world was screaming years ago. And, from what I’ve read, it will come whipping back around to the other end of the spectrum, again.
Everything always changes. That’s why you need to be honest to yourself and your story: it’s really the only solid thing you can hold on to. Tastes will change, methods will evolve; but, in the end, it will always be about your book and the readership.
So, there you are. Topics I see bandied about daily between or by authors/writers/whatever-you-want-to-call-yourself.
The real key is: Know your options, know the market, and know where you want to be. With those pieces of information, you’ll find the path that works best for you and your work.
What options have ya’ll used and why do you think it worked?