This week I’m going to be on a panel called “How to Get Published” on which I am the representative for traditional publishing – as opposed to self-publishing.
Sometimes I’m not so sure I should be doing panels like this until I get another year or two’s worth of experience under my belt – I am still so new to publishing in general and a little terrified of saying the wrong thing. We are, after all, talking about people’s dreams.
On the other hand, as a lot of you know, I have been OUT there on the circuit a lot this year, and arguably have crammed much more than a year’s worth of experience and observation into that year.
But in this case I thought I’d try soliciting as much information from you all on this subject as I can coax out of you so I can go into this panel at least a little more informed than I am. Maybe we can all learn something.
In my experience and observation, the steps to publication, likewise the steps to a script sale, are really pretty simple.
!. Write a great book (script).
2. Get a great agent.
3. Agent sells book to great publisher (studio/prodco).
4. Repeat, hopefully minus step two, since you’ve already got that covered.
Now, of course, none of that is simple at all. (It’s like Steve Martin’s advice on how to become a millionaire: “First you get a million dollars.”)
But those really are the steps, and they make utter sense. First you have to write something good enough to publish. You have to get an agent because so many people write so much that is NOT good, and agents are one of the key filters for all that bad stuff that’s out there that we really don’t ever want published. On one very important level, agents are quality control.
A good agent also serves the very important purpose (among many others I won’t be going into today) of matching material to publishers. Your book has a much better chance of success if it’s placed with a house that is enthusiastic about it and is capable of putting it out to its specific market.
Now, I went the above very traditional route to sell my first script (and each subsequent script) and I went that very traditional route to sell my first two books, and it really never would have occurred to me to go any other way because I always figured those established routes were there for a reason. Self-publishing perplexes me, because it seems a much, much, MUCH harder way to go, with about a million times more chance of failing utterly in what you’re trying to do.
That was my unschooled feeling about self-publishing even before I started getting out there on the convention circuit and hearing the vitriol directed at self-published authors from professional authors’ organizations and traditionally published authors and booksellers, many of whom will not deal with self-published books at all (“That’s not self-publishing, that’s self-PRINTING.”) That’s already a huge reason not to self-publish.
My own impression is that some people self-publish because
1) They don’t know enough about the publishing business and don’t understand the logic and benefits of following the traditional routes to publication
2) They’re too impatient or too afraid to follow the traditional routes
3) They actually have a vision that might be a little ahead of its time and instead of taking no for an answer they take on the vast task of publishing and marketing themselves.
I don’t have any statistics to give you but the anecdotal evidence points to the first two reasons are responsible for MOST of the self-publishing. And I can’t see anyone who self-publishes for one of those two reasons ever having an actual career as an author. I understand that there’s an instant gratification about self-publishing, a feeling of self-determination about it – to barrel through and get your manuscript into a book form, choose your own cover, be able to hold it in your hands.
But then what?
Then you have to market the book, and there is no way that most individuals have the same capacity, resources, experience or savvy to market the way a publisher can. Self-publishing seems like a short cut but in reality, much more often it’s a dead end.
Still, there are situations which absolutely call for self-publishing. Family histories, local histories, community cookbooks – these are valuable records and resources for limited but avid audiences which a traditional publisher would probably never touch, but which should absolutely be collected and printed, and which might enjoy quite a lot of local success.
And there are those breakout exceptions, like THE CELESTINE PROPHECY, which really was a landmark New Age book that traditional publishers didn’t “get” at the time the author, James Redfield, shopped it. But he had a vision, and the requisite passion to market it himself. He self-published, got the book into New Age bookstores himself, and the book became an international phenomenon and cottage industry (over 20 million copies sold worldwide, translated into 34 languages, independent film adaptation, workshops, classes, lectures….)
And bestselling fantasy author Sherrilyn Kenyon started in e publishing with a series that was ahead of the paranormal curve – and got picked up by St. Martin’s after she clearly demonstrated that there was a huge audience for what she was doing.
And I can imagine that if marketing is a forte of yours, you could self-publish a specialty book (on, for example, ordinary household spells and love charms) that you could market online to a target audience and make a bundle. If you’re willing to work it.
I believe success in writing has a great deal to do with being very specific about what you want and about what you yourself are willing and capable of doing to get it.
I don’t think I have the skill set to succeed as a self-published author, but I’m quite sure there are some people who do.
Now I’m interested in hearing other perspectives on self-publishing, pro and con. Scourge of the industry or viable option? Any other examples of great – or moderate – successes, or great failures?