Advice for New Fiction Writers – Part 1

With the revolutionary upheaval going on in the publishing industry, it’s more confusing and terrifying than ever for an aspiring author. It’s scary enough to commit to your art and prepare it for release into the world–now we have to deal with the system breaking down too?

There’s all the noise going on about Amazon vs. Hachette. The trodden and carcass-strewn path to “success” has suddenly branched in multiple new directions. Unknown authors are making a living while bookstores go out of business.

What the hell is going on?

I’ve recently had a few aspiring writers ask my advice on how to get published, and here’s the short answer:

Do it yourself.

If you want the long answer, keep reading.

First, a bit about my experiences in publishing: I’ve been published by a very large publisher (Scholastic), an independent publisher (Medallion Press), and I have self-published ebooks and paperbacks via Amazon’s KDP, Barnes & Noble’s NookPress, Smashwords, and CreateSpace.

Writing Crime Files for Scholastic was the best overall experience when it comes to advance payments, royalties, and marketing–mostly because they have the Scholastic Book Fair, which puts the books right in the schools for purchase. This was great, because all I had to do was write the books, and it was terrible, because I thought it would always be that way. Things are much different now.

For personal satisfaction, self-publishing has been the best. The publishing industry is in huge transition right now, and things are getting worse for authors along the traditional publishing route. Traditional in this sense means you find an agent, that agent finds an editor at a publisher who likes your work, then you sign a book deal with that publisher.

Along the traditional route there are many gatekeepers. gatekeeper is a person who controls access to something. In our case, they control access to readers, and in the reader’s case, they control access to our books.

If you want to follow the traditional publishing route, you have to beat down the gates of the literary agents in order for them to look at your work. Make no mistake–most of them will only take a peek if they think they can make money by representing you. This isn’t anything personal. They need to eat too.

Once you sign with an agent, that agent will take your work to the editorial gatekeepers. Ideally, your agent knows the one editor who will fall in love with your writing (or a few who will engage in a bidding war). If an editor thinks your book has a chance to sell, she may take it to the editorial board and eventually to the publisher for approval, adding at least two more gatekeeper levels to the process.

If the editor loves the book but doesn’t think it’s ready, she’ll work with you on rewrites, revisions, tweaks, etc. Keep in mind, these changes may help the book, or they might just be what that single editor prefers. So you could end up doing a ton of work only to have the editor, board, or publisher ultimately pass on your book without paying you a dime.

This happens all the time, and happened many times to me. That’s the system.

The most frustrating part of the traditional process is all these people are standing between you and the only people who really matter: your readers.

There are people out there who will love your stories, and they will buy them from you. This is why self-publishing is overall the most rewarding process for me. I get to write what I want and publish it when I want rather than wait for the publisher’s acceptance, approval,  schedule, etc.,  and I can set the price as I see fit.

There are zero gatekeepers.

The gatekeeper is now the reader, who controls access to his/her eyeballs. The readers get to choose whether they want to read your book, rather than a bunch of agents, editors, and publishers who have to consider many factors, only one of which is how good your story is.

If you’re concerned about the stigma of “vanity publishing,” don’t be. That is a thing of the past, and it is a dirty phrase used by traditional publishing to keep you in line. If you circumvent their system, they can’t make any money off you and your work.

Here are a few more lessons I’ve learned that I hope will help you, and if you’d like more information let me know and I will expand on them:

  • No matter how you get published, marketing will be up to you. There is a ton of info out there about building a platform, a tribe, mailing lists, etc., and if you want to go that route the time to start is now.
  • Agents have to balance their relationship between you and the editors. If they have to piss someone off, it will likely be you, since they might have another author and book they want to sell to that editor/publisher.
  • If you self-publish, you can write anything you want and put it up for sale, even if it’s crap (but it’s your crap!). If you want someone else to publish you, you have to compromise on what they want. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes not.
  • Waiting for someone to pick you is no longer necessary. Pick yourself and get to work.

Read these books:

Read these blogs (at least):

That’s all for now. I hope this helps.

1 Comment

And then you said: