1. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    Electronic self-publishing harming chances of being taken on by a 'real' publisher?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Noya Desherbanté, Nov 9, 2010.

    "Managing my Expectations", thread below, has started me off wondering. This is now a constantly changing marketplace, electronic formats are swamping everything, even though printed books are still bestsellers - would it harm your chances with a traditional publishing house if you self-published and marketed another of your works online? How are publishing houses' relationships/viewpoints on electronic publishing?

    Personally, I write precisely because I want to express an idea. I'm so intent on being published only because I want to reach as wide a readership as possible - I want a reward, but this could be in reader comments or pennies, I wouldn't care. It's all a point-scoring game to me (don't ever challenge me to Tetris...).

    I know everything is possible, but I would love to hear a good ol' debate, pros and cons. I'd love to e-publish my own book (Kindle, etc), mainly because I could control everything, and I would enjoy the marketing side.

    Would I not be considered a 'serious' writer? I can see that phrase being a whole debate in itself... I'm forming a gorgeous plan in my head right now, but really want some more opinions.

    (Apologies - this post is probably rambling and incoherent. I'm in college, and my lecturer doesn't understand this is important...) :rolleyes:
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it could...

    some of the biggies are actually offering that now... others probably still view writers who take that route as not good enough to bother with, but the more houses that go down that path, the more acceptable it will probably become...

    most likely, by many agents/traditional publishers...
     
  3. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I figure that the market will have matured and there will be many serious and prestigious writers/publishing houses publishing electronically before I'm done churning out books.
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think the format (eBook over paper book) is so much in question here, but instead the idea of self publishing over traditional publishing.

    I am a huge eBook fan (recently converted. Can I get an alleluia?!) but I have to admit that I pay no attention to self published books up for offer.

    If I don't see a TOR, Random House, or DEL REY or other actual publishing house on the eBook, it gets a pass from me.
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    If you would enjoy the publishing and marketing process and you're not relying on sales for survival (which I guess you're not?), then there's no reason not to try the self-publishing route. I mean, you've heard (and will continue to hear) that it may be expensive, that the book may not sell well, that you won't be respected by publishers, whatever. But that is just one model of success in the writing world, and according to your aims as you outlined them above, it isn't one that is necessarily compatible with what you want to achieve.

    We're moving into a period where production, rather than consumption, is set to become the norm, and the big publishing houses are slower to respond to this than new writers. Over the next few years/decades, more and more great writers will be forced to turn to independent publishers and self-publishing as big publishers are met with more and more aspiring writers and fewer and fewer people willing to purchase books (especially as the market moves more to electronic media, and piracy inevitably begins to affect profit). As such, attitudes towards self-publishing will change; this is not a question of if, but when. If you go this direction now, you may well be part of the movement that affects this change, and while it may cost you the respect of (doomed) publishers in the short term, that may not be the case in the long term.
     
  6. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    Really interesting, thanks arron! :) Definitely something to think about... what about writing under a pen name for self-publishing, and submitting MS's to publishers under your real name? Would they ever have to know/would they find out? Would an agent prefer to know? Thanks for replies, this really interests me haha! :p
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...have to know?... not really, unless your contract with them specifies that you have to disclose any previously published material... but that's not very likely, imo...

    ...find out?... they could, i suppose... such things usually don't stay secret forever...

    ...don't see why... you'd have to ask each one...
     
  8. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Pros of self-publishing a work (or works) through e-formats:

    1. You get a larger percentage of the sale price. A $6.99 book at a walk-in store might get you 15% as your share of the price, and while $1.05 is nothing to sneeze at, it's also true that the same book as an e-book priced at $3.99 might get you 40%, or $1.60, instead. (Or more; this varies from seller to seller, and Amazon for example has nice rates for e-works priced at $2.99 or more.)

    2. You don't need to worry about the first three months. In traditional publishing, books are judged by how many copies they sell right away, since any copies in a walk-in store are taking up space that could be used for another author's book. If you're a new author who isn't getting much hype, this can really suck; you can have a release in November, and hardly be able to find any of your books on the shelf next June, because the stores thought it was more profitable to rip the pages out of your books, return the covers, get their refund from the publishers (I wish I were kidding, that's the actual process for returning unsold books to the publishing companies) and put Twilight on the shelf instead.

    But if you have an e-book (or e-story or e-novella) online, you can let readers find you over time, slowly swelling your readership. It's okay for three people to buy the book the first month, ten the second, twenty-nine the third, sixty the fourth . . . or even for you to get a constant trickle of sales. Some authors e-publish and find that people online are buying their books at a rate of a few dozen a week, without much rise or fall, but that's not bad -- it means you have an additional couple hundred bucks a month, giving you a little more encouragement to keep writing.

    3. E-works allow you to sell stories that are too long or short for regular publishers' tastes. In particular, stories between 10,000 and 50,000 words are really hard to sell, and short novels (unless they're romance or young adult) are only slightly easier. But it turns out that novellas are a pretty good length for an e-reader, since they have more characterization and twistier plots than most short fiction, without the eyestrain of a novel.

    4. E-publishing allows you to sell previously sold short fiction more easily. Once you've published a short story somewhere, it's hard to re-sell for much of a profit. (Some places give you five or ten bucks per story for a re-print, which won't help those of us who want to write as a full-time job.) Electronic publishing, however, allows you to group a few of your short stories into a single package and sell them as an anthology for a couple bucks. Again, you won't make much money off a single sale, but you'll get your name out there and the money that trickles in can add up to quite a bit after a few years.

    5. E-publishing might prevent amateurish first works from hurting your career. When you sell a book for the first time, it might be good -- or it might be a flawed work with a story that is merely good enough. If it doesn't sell many copies, those numbers can be recorded, making bookstores less likely to sell your next book. You can see how this spiral can make things a lot harder later.

    But if your book is e-published, the numbers aren't recorded for bookstores to see and judge you. If your writing is still bad, then no one will buy your work -- okay, lesson learned, keep writing and try again. If your writing is good, however, it gets your name out there.

    The really nice thing about this is that people don't usually remember the names of the authors they've ignored, overlooked, or were "meh" about. They do remember the authors whose stories they liked.

    Cons of self-publishing a work (or works) through e-formats:

    1. There's no "gatekeeper," so you might publish dreck and not know it. Editors serve an important function -- they tell bad writers "Sorry, but keep trying." And it can be an emotional hurdle to post a beloved short story or novel on Amazon or elsewhere and then get a ton of bad reviews and few sales.

    This is somewhat mitigated by Pro #5, but it still exists. On the other hand, I guess it could have the good effect of making newbie writers develop a thick skin, which is useful if you're trying to make a career of this.

    2. Many people won't think of you as a "real" writer. When you self-publish, people will often assume that you only did so because "real" publisher's wouldn't take the story. Sometimes it's true, sometimes not. This is an emotional thing, really, because your readers won't give a tinker's damn whether you're published in New York as long as the stories are good.

    3. E-publishing requires work. You may want to make a thumbnail "cover" for your e-book, to make it catch the eye of whoever's browsing, or even a full cover that looks good on a Nook or Kindle. At minimum, though, you'll want to re-read your stories and novels to ensure the spelling is correct, the grammar works, and any huge plotholes are resolved. Remember, you don't have a professional editor to help you and to catch your mistakes -- and as the book Explorer X-Alpha taught me, homophone errors will jerk your readers right out of the story. ("Say another word, and I'll kick your but!" No, dear character, I am not impressed.)

    Also, you'll have to make sure the story is formatted properly. Some e-books look really weird on e-readers if the publisher didn't check to make sure the paragraphing and so on was done correctly.

    Other Important Things to Know

    New York publishers don't care about e-published works. If you send a good, saleable manuscript to Tor or Pyr or Random House, the editor won't care about your articles on gardening or your e-novellas. They will judge your manuscript as-is, and make an offer (or send it back) based solely on how well you tell that story.

    In other words, I really don't see self-publishing via e-readers as something that will make your career harder. Seriously, is an editor going to gasp in horror when she finds out you weren't always an amazing writer? I don't think so. Even the current best-sellers -- Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Stephanie Meyers, Dean Koontz, Ken Follett -- have had their ups and downs. No publisher in their right mind is going to turn away from a good book just because its author dabbles in e-publishing from time to time.

    E-publishing is still growing. Even if you aren't interested in e-pub now, you might change your mind in ten years if e-books become closer to a third of the market. Why not learn this stuff now, and get ahead of the game?

    If you care more about being thought of as a "real" writer than about reaching readers, I don't understand you. A writer writes; if you need me to stick a label on your shirt that says "Genuine Writer" in order to feel good about yourself, fine, but I don't feel the same way at all.

    If you won't go with e-pub because you need to be published in New York to be a "real writer," you're missing out on the people who want e-books for traveling, and e-short-stories for commuting on the subway, and a whole slew of young people who grew up with technology and are perfectly fine with getting an e-copy of something if it costs less than a paperback.

    As for me, I plan to put "Picture In Sand" and some other short stories up for e-sale as soon as the rights come back to me. (It'll be about a year; I'm okay with that.) Magazines don't usually re-print flash fiction, but commuters apparently like flash fiction collections just fine, as long as the stories are good and the price is low. Which suits me just fine.
     
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  9. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    HeinleinFan!! You have just voiced everything that was in my head, hoovered up the doubts and inspired me no end! Oh I am grinning!! :D

    Yum. Never bad, and I am happy with recieving a trickle a month as opposed to a fat cheque at the end of a year. Small, steady sales I think would be my goal...

    Also great. My WiP feels as if it's going to be a novella, and I've always loved playing with lengths and conventions...

    This is mainly what I was worrying about. Terribly doom-laden, I know, and I should have every faith in my work to be able to push it to the publishers, but I am a terrible judge of what's a real weakness and what I'm being picky about.

    My major worry. But I do think this assumption will change as technology/tastes progress, and e-publishing becomes more the norm...

    Literally cannot wait!! Marketing, blogs, PR, all that sort of thing is like relaxing with a cup of tea for others. Being a Media student in my spare time... haha... I'm fascinated by SELLING... and also I'm a pernickety editor. A potent mix... :)

    Fantastic. But I'd be sending it off to British publishers, and I have a feeling they're much more stuck in their ways. But I do generally think this is the way forwards... that's what I hope, anyway!

    Now, this is where you've got me wrong. I want my ideas out there, I want a little name for myself - if there's money in it, fine, but I believe I'm a writer not because I construct enormous complex plots, but because I update a blog and write letters to my friends, and consciously choose the words to go in them and am pleased when something 'flows' well. That said, surely everyone is a writer, and in some ways, they are. But I just want to tell stories. Cue emotional piano. :rolleyes:

    Best of luck with that!!! And thank you so much for your invaluable help. I feel so much better! :D
     
  10. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    *huge grin*

    Glad to have been a help. I was speaking in the general "you," not aimed at the original poster specifically.

    There are apparently a lot of people who don't feel like they're a "real writer" until they've got Tor or Roc or Wiley-Blackwell to publish their book. Even if they've got 20,000 people a year reading their books and stories, even if they're regularly selling e-versions of their work online, they just don't feel like a "real writer."

    And I don't really understand this, because as long as people are enjoying my stories and I'm getting a bit of money to support my writing habits, I think I'm doing just fine. In other words, I agree with Noya D; if people are reading my stories, I'm doing my job and having fun. It doesn't matter to me whether the stories they read are on a computer screen, on an e-reader, or on a printed page.
     
  11. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks for the list, Heinleinfan. Very insightful.
     
  12. cmcpress
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    cmcpress Senior Member

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    I had a meeting with a marketing agency last night, if i remember i'll try and post a link to a website by a guy who has e-published and is managing to make £500 a month from e-book sales - simply because he's mastered the art of internet marketing. He talks you through the creation process and it's supposed to be very enlightening indeed.
     
  13. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    Exactly my philosophy. :) That's very refreshing to read, I'm sure loads of people here think the same way but it's great to know someone just wants their stories out there and if a few pennies come our way, then great!

    cmcpress, I would love that link :)

    P.S. - Heinleinfan - "I agree with Noya D." sounds like it should be on a t-shirt!! Perhaps I'll get some mocked up for advertising my new e-book (when I finish it)...? ;)
     
  14. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    It just makes me think of "I agree with Nick", which then makes me want to cry...
     
  15. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    You can self-publish fiction novels, but it doesn't work out. A writer just can't sell their own novels. It looks cheesy and desperate. Non-fiction is different, it has an inherent value that can be sold on its own merits, but fiction gets its value when someone else says it's worth reading. The author simply can't be trusted--of course they're going to say it's good!

    I don't know how rich you are. Maybe you can hire a marketing team. The only problem is what if the book is crap? How would you know? You're going to have to hire a decent editor--someone who can tell you the truth and suggest fixes. Then you're going to need someone to copyedit it. And cover art is very important when it comes to selling a book. You'll need someone who knows how to do good cover art.

    Yes, a book can be self-published, but that means you have to become a publisher, and a publisher uses professional editors, marketers, and artists--even for e-books.

    There really is no easy way around it: you have a story to tell, but it requires a team to "publish" it. What to do?

    Personally, I'm going back to short stories. I've always loved writing them anyway, and I will never make as much money as a writer as I do in my current job--even if I was moderately successful. In fact, I'm not sure there is such a thing as moderately successful anymore. You either get a hit movie, or you get nothing.

    But with short stories I can submit them to contests, I can put them in here to be reviewed, I can sell them perhaps or get them published in e-zines. They are portable and people are more willing to take a chance reading a short story than committing to reading a novel. I can put them up on my website for free along with poetry and my novel, and when people click on my link in a forum like this or in a blog comment somewhere, they will see my short stories.

    They'll also see my wife's art work, because we're going to have a dual website called the "Gordon Composition." So, people who go to look at her art may look at my short stories; people who look at my short stories will take a gander at her art.

    Win enough contests, attract enough viewers, and I figure I may be able to get a publishing deal some day. If not, I will hopefully still have readers and my stories will get told.
     
  16. SashaMerideth
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    SashaMerideth Contributing Member

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    Here we go again. It may look cheesy and desperate to you but you cannot paint everyone with such a broad brush. I see someone who is trying to make their own way, and try something new. Maybe their story is atrocious, maybe they don't know what they are doing, or maybe they have just written a good story and got fed up sitting at the bottom of a slush pile.

    A writer can just sell their own novels, and with the advancements in technology, that is becoming easier. Books and storytelling are far older than publishers, and even the printing press. Publishing as an industry is old, and entrenched. We have new media that they need to adapt to, just as the industry adapted to moveable type.

    You're not thinking new media here. You don't need a marketing team now. It helps, especially if you want to make a living. If you just want your story available, then no, you don't need a marketing team. Pay a college or university class to make you cover art, much cheaper than a full blown artist. Have your book peer-reviewed, and read by your target audience. I will agree, an editor is an absolute must, I have read too many ebooks that have not crossed an editor's desk, but they serve you, not the other way around.

    As I have said, a team is not required to publish. The first paragraph in the block above makes illogical assertions. If you publish on Kindle, Nook, etc, Amazon or B&N becomes your publisher. Your reviews and whatever effort you put in to spreading your book around becomes your marketer. Artists? They're cheap, you can find dozens of budding, angsty artists at your local college who will never make it, and will be grateful for getting their work on a cover of a no-name book. It's the hipster thing to do.

    Your second paragraph above asks a question based on false assumprions. You use the concept of need and requirement like I need makeup. Sure, I don't actually need it, I'm pretty enough without, but it makes me feel better about myself. I won't die without my makeup.

    I have derided the Long Tail before, but you are forgetting the middle range. You may not make the NYT top 100 best ebooks or whatever, but it's all in how you measure success. For me, success is finishing my story, making it the best I can, and getting it to as many people as possible. If publishers won't take it even after a cleanup, fine. I'll push it myself. Not at the expense of my real job though. For most of us, being published is a pipe dream, and will never happen. There was only one Cinderella at the ball.

    Why, oh why do you contradict yourself? Where is your editor, your marketer, your artist? If your wife is willing to do your cover art, there's that problem solved, but the rest?
     
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  17. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    That's a great idea - I know a load of college artists down the hall who might love to get their artwork out there! :) Failing that I was going to take a photograph...

    Thanks for your points, SashaMerideth, a lot of stuff to think about with Edward G's post as well, obviously everything has upsides and downsides and I guess I'll never really know until I try...

    It's just editing and writing the actual material at the moment, it's taking so long and I just want to get it out there!!
     
  18. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    As I said, nothing stops you from publishing your own novel, especially today, especially since sales of hardback books are down 40% this year and e-books are up 158%. Publishing to Kindle is the way to go. I'm just not sure how you're going to entice anyone to read your book.
     
  19. SashaMerideth
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    SashaMerideth Contributing Member

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    The same way everyone else should be doing it, with hard graft, use of New Media, Facebook, Twitter, heck, putting hard copies into the local library or a "meet your local author" event at a local venue (Libraries again love that sort of thing, anything to get the punters in), would start some buzz.
     
  20. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Some good responses in this thread.

    I just wanted to add that people I know who have/had books coming out, still did a TON of marketing themselves. These days, with tighter budgets and jobs being cut in publishing houses, you don't get off the hook from doing your own leg work just by going through traditional publishing. Even the international best seller was having to pimp on Facebook and his website and participate (and even help plan a few) reading events, etc.

    I'm not sure if this will be more or less motivating to go for e-publishing, but thought I'd mention it.

    The thing that matters in the end is how good the writing is, or it's ability to sell (not always the same thing, hah).

    The reason e-publishing gets looked down on is because it's mostly populated with people that just don't write very well. If you DO write well, or do write something that has mass appeal, the traditional publishing industry won't care. In fact, they'll love that you've already proven yourself enough you're less of a risk if they want to pick you up.

    The problem is this doesn't happen often, because the fact is that people who are good enough to land a traditional publishers, usually do (eventually).

    There are examples of self-published books being picked up by publishers or that one guy who's now a best seller and he started by offering his novels for 'free' and encouraged 'donations' and stuff. Far and few between, though, and not nearly enough cases to actively suggest someone go with the self or e publish to get noticed route.

    If you just want to share your work, and don't care about accolades or publishing credits or acclaim or a career in the industry, then shrug, no reason not to e-publish. Better yet, just post it all online. :p

    I dunno, it's tricky. I've seen e-published novels sell 3 or 4 thousand copies at 99 cents each. Not a bad haul, especially because most of them were terrible writing and I have no doubt a 'real' publisher wouldn't touch the manuscripts with a 10 foot intern, much less succumb to the [seeming] hype and pick the author up (unless the authors learned to write or revise a lot better).

    It's tricky these days with so many options. There is no 'right' path, anymore. The key to it all, no matter what, imo, is still just producing either good writing or a sellable product. If you manage to do both, then you'll find success regardless of the publishing medium, eventually.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's not the self-publishing that's hard these days, but the promotion, marketing and distribution!... selling one's vanity-press printed novel [fyi, all novel's are fiction, so those in the know would never refer to a 'fiction novel'] to more than family and friends is not only extremely difficult, but very costly... so only an incredibly rare few who try it ever even break even, much less make any money at it...
     
  22. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    It's often the case that vanity press arrangements mean you trade a large sum of money for a few crates of books that take up space in your garage, to paraphrase J. Steven York. But e-publishing is a whole different ball game. For a few bucks, you get an account with Amazon or Smashwords or some other place, and you upload your stories. The biggest cost is time -- which is taken up writing brief descriptions, editing the pieces before they get put up, and figuring out how the programs work.

    As for "every author says their work is good," previews rapidly separate the wheat from the chaff. After all, poor writers show thier inability within a few sentences; the misspelled words, passive voice, and general ineptitude cannot be hid. Novels can have whole sections made available for viewing; some weeks ago The Passage, a bestselling novel, had its whole first chapter available online so anyone who was interested could take a look. Certainly the preview convinced me the book was worth reading, and judging by its sale numbers I'm not the only one.


    If it's crap, you won't make money. I fail to see how this hurts you; if nothing else, you've gotten writing experience under your belt, and you're only out twenty bucks for the Amazon account.

    There are risks in everything. The risks in this seem relatively low.

    Here I just flat-out disagree. Why the heck would I need a professional editor or marketer? My grammar is fine. When my stories go up online, I'll put a blurb for them in my bio when I submit short fiction -- a fair number of people, if they read your short story and like it, will check out other sources of your fiction if you mention them. As for art, well, stories online sell because of the writing involved. Sure, you can do thumbnail art, or you can do a cover; that's your decision. But the preview is likely to interest more potential buyers than a cover.

    You say some other things about being a "moderately successful writer" which I disagree with. I don't want to get too far off-topic, but I will say that there are a fair number of successful writers out there, and the only really difference between the ones who "make it" and the ones who don't is determination. DW Smith mentions on his blog that he started out with a serious handicap: poor spelling, atrocious written grammar skills, plus the usual problems with pacing and plot and characterization. Now he has more than 90 novels published under several names. He stuck it out -- kept writing, a story a week while he worked two other jobs to pay the bills -- and over time he learned the craft.

    There are hundreds of other stories that are similar. Writers who started out not knowing the basics of English grammar, or who had dyslexia, or who didn't know how paragraphing worked, or who had to write in their spare time while holding down another job to feed the kids or pay the bills. The ones who kept going, who stuck it out, did well. Not universally, but the success rate is huge if you stick it out long enough.

    There's a story about an art class that might illustrate the point more clearly. When the pottery segment of the class began, the teacher told the students that they would be graded at the end on how well they made a pot. They could make as many practice pots as they wanted, but they ultimately had to pick one pot for grading, and it would be judged on technique and the glaze patterns and whether it had cracks, among other things. Several students complained, saying that pottery was awfully tough and it might take them too long to learn the correct technique. A few other students chimed in, saying that they were very quick with their hands and could probably throw a pot correctly in a couple of tries; it wasn't fair to make them produce a bunch of practice pots when they already knew their art.

    The teacher thought about this and relented. "Fine," he said to the students, "you may choose how I will grade you. In nine weeks, when the quarter ends, you will either be judged on whether you have produced fifty pounds' worth of pottery, or on your technique. That way, if you think you are bad at art, you will at least have proof that you have practiced extensively, and will get an A for the practice you put in."

    The students quickly signed up for their preferred method. The fifty-pounders set to with a will, wanting to get as much done each week as possible. The single-pot people, knowing they didn't have to produce very much as long as they had a great pot at the end, did their work more slowly, and on some days (when they just didn't feel like working) they didn't do pottery work at all.

    At the end of the unit, the teacher brought in a scale for the first group and a grading rubric for the second. When all was said and done, nearly all of the first group got their As. Most of the second group did not.

    When a student in the second group, the teacher was unsympathetic. "We agreed to judge your pots on technique," he pointed out. "And so I have. Of all the students who spent nine weeks 'perfecting' a couple pots, none has produced a pot so fine as those produced by the students who were judged by weight."

    And he took several pots from each group of students, placed them side by side, and saw the students nod glumly. They couldn't argue that the students who were aiming for quantity, rather than quality, had nonetheless learned better technique than any of the students in the other group.

    The lesson here applies equally to writers. The ones who keep working at it tend to succeed. The ones who don't, don't. There aren't many writers who have been writing consistently for ten years or a million words who are still unpublished. And most writers who produce a publishable book each year for ten years will find themselves a following.
     
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  23. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    HeinleinFan, you've done it again... made me think, that is. :) Great story, and I've applied to my current pet dilemma (I carry at least five to keep me busy in case, God forbid, things are going smoothly!), which is perfecting my work vs. getting it out there.

    Looking at the WiP I'm editing now, I think most of the writing is good, with only little scenes and phrases here and there which make me glow with pride. But the rest of the prose is perfectly serviceable - I prune away more and more until it tells the story, nothing unecessary. Do I polish and polish until I literally think it's the very best I could ever accomplish, or get it out there, perfectly serviceable, and start building a readership?

    I guess deep down I don't want to get to middle age, look back on it and wish I could rewrite it all so much better! XD Has anyone ever heard of an author that's done that, out of interest?! 0_o

    I'm off-topic now. This forum gives me SO many ideas!! :cool:
     
  24. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    I have certainly heard bits and pieces relating to this. Apparently Stephen King, for example, mentioned in an interview that when he re-read his early work, he could tell it was his own, but the writing felt just a bit off -- as though he were recovering from a cold when he wrote it.

    DW Smith has opined that he has learned tons about writing over the years, but he still hasn't picked up revision skills. Something like 90 books of his have been published at this point, and he's been writing for a living for three decades, but he still doesn't feel confident about major revisions. Instead, he advocates a three-drafts-and-done method. First, he gets the story, the whole thing, on paper. Then, he runs spell-check and re-reads it, noting grammar errors, continuity problems, sentences or passages that need to be cut. Finally, he has a few First Readers look it over, and asks them to find whatever errors they can. Then he corrects those and sends it in -- he figures, his readers aren't buying his books because they want every paragraph to glitter like diamond dust; they want a story, and they would probably rather he spend his time getting the next story down instead of spending another three months per book hemming and hawing over whether that chase scene on page 94 goes on for a half-paragraph too long.

    A third author -- unfortunately, I don't remember which one, other than that it was a fantasy or SF author because those are the ones whose blogs I read -- said that they had so many stories to tell that there would never be enough time to get all the stories written. Because of that, the author preferred to write each project to the best of their ability at the time, but they didn't let themselves worry too much about how they might see the writing ten years later. At that point, they'd be working on another novel, with a new set of interesting characters and a whole new culture and world.
    The implication was that the author did revise until the story wasn't likely to get much better, then they sent it in. Because if you try to make the story perfect instead of as good as you can do in a reasonable amount of time, you'll never get to the stories that follow. Or you'll get to them more slowly, and when you die you'll have written maybe half of what you might have written otherwise.

    I still haven't learned this as thoroughly as I should have, and I still tend to worry over my writing like a mother hen. "Is this character realistic? Oh, God, I'm writing about a 30-something stepfather and I have no idea what it's like to be a stepfather! Maybe I'm doing it all wrong . . . " and so on.

    Unfortunately, the only solution I've found is to grit my teeth, hope that I can cast my illusions well enough for my readers to just go with the story, and keep writing. The next scene, the next problem, the next character.

    (And then I get to worry about other writing issues, like whether my black characters are being written well enough, and whether it's implausible to have the EMP affect parked cars too, and hoping that my back-of-the-envelope guesstimate regarding fuel supplies in a large city without electricity is at least within an order of magnitude. Cripes. But I'd rather have to deal with this stuff than be entirely stuck.)
     
  25. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I think the answer, as always, relies on balance. I've seen plenty of fiction writing workshops where the students are tasked with producing 'new' stories over and over, and sure, eventually some improve, but mostly they repeat similar mistakes.

    Then I've seen one workshop where the professor encourages (at times requires) a student to work on one short story for the semester, even if it was already 'finished' from a previous class. These students usually learn much more, much faster, but obviously produce less.

    In the end it requires balance. I wouldn't recommend a writer do any of the extremes we can cite. And I wouldn't recommend writers fall for the trap that they're actually accomplishing anything unless they're meeting their very clear goals. Too many writers vaguely know they want to find 'success' but haven't defined it, so just being 'published' is enough to validate their stagnancy.

    My personal belief, in an ideal situation, would be a writer learn basics primarily through reading and writing exercises, then they work on one short story for as long as it takes to get it 'done' (knowing when they learn more nuances down the road, that story will end up not 'done' at all). This boosts most writers, if they're putting in the work, to a pretty competent base. After that, then start churning short stories out as the skill-set is there to make the most of the quantity-style writing, and both quality and quantity raise, but it takes focus on quality first. Eventually the writer gets to the point they don't have to struggle with taking an idea and writing it through to a quality product, it will just be what they do. Then they have to tools to write whatever they want, only needing to learn the nuances of new genres they want to write in.

    It all depends what a writer wants, though. I know somewhat competent writers that aren't great, but don't care about being great. They're good enough to make sense to friends and family, and that's what they want and have no illusions about sales or awards. Other writers just want to see their name on a book cover, even if e-published. Others want a Pulitzer even if they only write one meaningful thing in their lifetime.

    That's one of the disconnects in teaching or discussing writers. We often forget about the actual situation of the writer. We can say self-publishing is a bad idea for us, but it may be the perfect idea for someone else. And I wouldn't say self-publishing or e-publishing hurt your chances of being taken on by a 'real' publisher--if the writing or sales are good enough eventually someone will care--but the model has to align with your goals.

    It's tricky to point to one model and declare it a success, as it may only be a success based on the pointers plans, and could be a failure based on the goals of other writers. The best things writers can do is clearly define their goals and expectations, and make a plan, based on what they want out of writing, not what anyone else says is 'proper' or the 'best' thing to do.
     

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