Thursday, April 15, 2010

Exceptions, Rules, Et Cetera

Happy Tax Day, mes auteurs! I hope you've settled your debt with (or gotten your refund from) Uncle Sam by now, but if not... well, if not, what are you doing here? You should probably be filing your taxes or something.

Now, regardless of whether I'm talking about self-publishing, the chasing of trends, or the industry in general, there are always going to be exceptions to the "rules" I discuss. (I do my very best to distinguish between "rules" set by industry convention and "rules" I suggest to try to help you out.) Yes, there are self-publishing success stories like Oscar Wilde and William Young (the dude who wrote The Shack). Yes, there are people who write runaway bestsellers by trend-chasing or writing silly mash-ups or publishing a bunch of pictures of cats in stupid outfits. These things, regrettably or not, do happen.

However, they are the (often exceedingly rare) exception(s) that prove the rule(s).

There's an interesting phenomenon I learned about many a year ago while working in a psychology lab at Ye Olde College, and that's confirmation bias. In keeping with psychology/psychiatry's practice of giving fancy names to things everyone already knows, confirmation bias simply refers to the (often unconscious) act of selecting information that confirms theories you already hold. If you are writing a teen vampire romance and believe that it is ultra awesome, you will probably gather information to support that theory, even if the preponderance of data indicates otherwise; this applies to everything from ideas about self-publishing to political and religious beliefs. I'm just as guilty of it as anyone else.

The number of successful authors is, relative to the general population (or even the population of living writers), vanishingly small. The number of successful self-published authors, regardless of how august or prosperous those authors are, is far, far smaller. Just because William Young or Christopher Paolini went on to great success (via traditional methods, by the way) after self-publishing only proves that it is possible, not that it is likely (in the same sense that a lottery ticket earns you the possibility of winning, not the likelihood). This applies to anything in your life that you want to do but for which the shots are long: publish a bestselling teen vampire romance, win a gold medal in the summer Olympics, become CEO of a major company. The odds are longer for some of these than others, and certainly factors beyond luck are involved, but you have to understand that just because someone tremendously talented, hardworking, and/or lucky managed to do it does not mean there is even a decent chance you can do it, too. It just means there's a chance.

Now, I don't mean to discourage you. And to be straight with you, the odds are long in this business whether you write about vampires or alcoholic fathers, whether you self-publish or embrace the traditional agent-querying model. All I can do is try to give you a feel for how those odds change depending on the choices you make, and to encourage you to write the best book you possibly can. You may have to write more than one novel before you're published. You may have to write more than twenty. Whatever you do, stay committed. It's a long road to publication, and there are no shortcuts. There are some paths that are less thorny, though, and with any luck, I'll be at least of some help to you in finding them.


  1. How about tax extensions as an exception? (Only problem, you have to pay your tax bill by the 15th in full. You can delay getting your refund.)

    As for self-publishing, I wonder if those who think self-publishing is the answer realize they have to market their work by themselves if they want to sell their book.

  2. Is it possible that not every author expects or even wants to become the next JK Rowling? Perhaps some authors simply want to write, want to control their own works and destiny and perhaps even relish the thought of doing their own marketing, even though they are fully aware of the odds? Maybe some of them have no interest in the opinions of agents or editors that they don't know or have any control over. There seems to be a pervasive culture of derision towards self-publishing. Yes, most self-published work is dross; yes, a lot - probably even most - self-publishing authors are misguided/vain/deceiving themselves. But I think there are exceptions to those rules as well?

    I think it's great that people have the choice, misguided they may be and while I think it's also great that people in the industry help them examine the realities they will face, I'd also love to see people who choose that route with eyes wide open get some encouragement sometimes.

    (PS, I am not a writer!)

  3. Two things, 1) Don't get caught with a 'Joint Venture' set up.

    I was new to the dream of making a career out of writing. Not new to writing, mind you, been writing everything from poems to fables to novels since I was a kid.

    I didn't know what a query was. Had a vague notion that I wanted an Agent (I was a realtor, and I knew that having an agent would help with the business end of things) so I started doing research and sending out requests.

    Despite my obviously beginner, unprofessional queries, I got back nice replies from Book Ends, LLC (the very same one you have hear as recommended reads :) saying very nicely and politely that my query letter sucked. Most ignored me, probably thought I wasn't serious.

    Then, I found an agent, who led me to a publisher who did Joint Venture. Sounded great. 650 (it's like 850+ now) and they'd do cover art, put it for sale to the mass market etc. I figured 650 was good deal for cover art alone and went with it.

    Well, I have a really awesome cover, but limited exposure, and very little help from anyone. I have one person half-way nice so I don't want to say they are all bad. However, the experience is not what it's cracked up to be.

    I have since learned about Writer's Beware, etc and I just finished a query workshop which has taught me a lot and given me at least one stellar query. I've learned a lot over the last 2 years.

    If you want to self-publish, Joint Venture IS cheaper, but ... It's not as grand as it sounds when they send you the information.

    2) Not to endorse procrastination, but if the IRS owes you money, they are willing to wait like 7 years for your return LOL

    If you owe them money, don't wait 7 minutes. MY ex-boss did and it's not pretty now!

  4. The key word in the preceding post is 'joint'. If you enter into a joint venture publishing contract it essentially gives you an ISBN, (without which your book doesn't exist), probably a single static web page with a picture of you looking bookish and the cover art along with a 'buy it now,'click option & a few credit card icons.

    If you are very lucky they will crank out a few press releases, put you in a book signing email list and perhaps try to set up a media interview or two.

    I decided that my best path to a real chance of success was to market my a** off to the locals & nearest metro market (Seattle, in my case) and hope for a spark of interest and just enough sales to demonstrate a larger audience.

    I have my own website (, my own Facebook Fan Page, a blog,(all linked from my website in case anyone is interested), my own editor (editing not included in initial contract BTW) and my own publicist. All this costs money, so the bottom line remains; how much are you willing to put on the bottom line to sell your book?

    Writing the book(s) turns out to be the easy part. Being a salesman of your own product is much tougher and not for the faint of heart.

  5. I love your clarity!
    Louise Hay is also one of those self-publishing stories and Hay House seems to be doing well. This example includes years of time and money invested, by the author, into an awe inspiring book that she took on the road and convinced readers to purchase.

    I personally have years of experience within the world of publishing. I also have years of experience starting up and running a national business, and have conducted global marketing projects. I also have a book that's ready to query. Which I will do, selectively and with professionalism in the traditional way.

    However, it is a book that may need to be self published. Do I want that? No. See above. I know what it would mean. Do I expect this single self-pubbed book will gain me fame, fortune and a successful career as an author?

    Nope, but I do believe it is a story that would benefit a lot of people in certain markets and I would do my best to make it available, and put my time and effort into making that happen, while I continue to pursue a successful career as an author/writer/commentator with many other projects.

    That's the point many who choose the self-pub route forget. A career includes many projects. If a one-hit-wonder tops the charts, it's not a career. It's a fluke.

  6. Brunonia Barry did it, too! Three successful self-pubbed authors SURELY proves the rule, doesn't it?

    Just kidding, obviously. I very much agree with the wisdom in the post. The reason we hear so often about the authors who are successful after self-publishing is because they are so rare. Mundane stories don't make the news.

    Confirmation bias is such an obvious phenomenon. Hold on, I'll be right back after I find four stories to confirm that point.

  7. I hate to be a nooge, or sound like a broken record, but what do you think of Joe Konrath's post about ebooks? He seems to have analysed them pretty thoroughly and come up with the conclusion that you can self publish ebooks and make a living even if you are an unknown. Don't get me wrong, I totally understand your point, but I do think that perhaps ebooks might sell even from an unknown self-published author if they are cheap and good. I know there's alot of un-good out there, but there's a few good too.

  8. Eric,
    Fine post... only it's predicated on one idea, which is - this is how things in publishing are TODAY! (Look further down the road, is that picture as clear)?

    Haste yee back ;-)

  9. You know, I was thinking about success, and at the end of the day, it all boils down to luck. Hard work always plays a role in success, but without luck, there's a chance that all that hard work never comes to fruition. But, then again, I can be wrong.

  10. RE Joint Venture

    I know all that. I have set up my own book signings, had my own web page, started a blog, twitter, etc. But I don't have any more money to put into it than that.

    I'm willing to do the work, but they made it sound like I'd have no more money out put (ie they were taking care of advertising, webpage, etc. turns out I do get a one spot on their author web pages, but I have to pay for everything else, including making it available on KINDLE $200 I think is the price they quoted me for that! I did it myself because I retained copyrights and printing rights, but I can't use the cover because I didn't buy those rights from them.) I just wanted other authors thinking of going that route to understand there was more than meets the eye and you need to be able to continuously fork out money, not "just pay this one time fee etc.

    I'm happy to have a book in print and get experience with book signings and get my name out there, especially locally. I just wish I'd been better informed to begin with. (BTW they still list you as POD, just like all self-pub authors and it's a stumbling block for some book store, ie Barnes & Nobles, even for local authors.)

  11. That was nice, Eric. Left me feeling "cared for."