… or, “Be careful what you wish for”
I suppose this post is mostly for writers in the early stages of their chosen career. I’ve written on this subject before, and in those posts I have made a very honest attempt to avoid sugar-coating what every budding writer will have to face in the first few years.
I don’t do this to scare away new authors – far from it. The more the merrier, in my opinion. Dashing into the fray without any forethought is a time-honored (if somewhat foolhardy) pastime of the young and optimistic among us.
But you do need to know what lies ahead of you. Writing that first (or second, or third) novel was tough enough, but how do you sell it, to whom do you sell it, and what exactly are you selling, and how much can you get for it?
What? You have no idea? Well, golly gee, Louise, why in the heck not?
Risk-taking is a very big part of getting ahead, and without risk takers the human race would never have gotten ahead of the lemurs on the evolutionary path. So go for it. Take risks. Get your manuscripts out there.
Contact literary agents, submit your writing directly to publishing houses. Pump out your press releases. Stay optimistic, even in the face of hundreds of rejection letters. Keep writing and don’t ever give up on yourself.
But don’t ever quit learning, either. Study the industry. Just make sure you study the readership, as well, since they are the ones who will buy your work. Please your readers, and don’t give much of a tinker’s damn about the literary agents or the publishing houses. They don’t buy your work, and hardly ever take the time to read and enjoy what you write. They will take your money, though. If you let them.
I wouldn’t. I’ve never paid a literary agent or a publishing house a single penny of my royalties, and never will. There was a time in the publishing industry when a writer had no choice but to submit their work – and their livelihood, and their dreams – to the whims of agents and publishers, but that day is happily done and over with, thank heaven.
You have options, and I strongly suggest that you consider them very carefully before you waste a single penny on postage or printing for your query letters and submission packages to agencies or publishing houses.
Research the industry. Join writer’s groups in your area. Join online writer’s groups and become current on industry trends. Study the trends among readers in your genre. Take responsibility for your own future as a writer. Don’t ever depend on a literary agent to take care of you – for the most part they are way too busy taking care of themselves to spend any time at all in looking out for your own best interest.
As I have mentioned before, writers are prey animals in the publishing world. Everybody wants a piece of you and what you earn.
You can’t even begin to learn to protect yourself until you understand that one single fact.
You can’t survive, much less get ahead, until you do. And yes, it is that important. You are entering into a strange (in some ways very strange) new world when you complete your first novel, and you have no idea of what lies ahead of you.
Every time you sell a copy of your novel, or history, or collected works of poetry/short stories, you are taking money from a reader who just might –might – have given me his money instead. You compete with every writer in your genre for the money in your reader’s pockets.
But here’s the really odd thing about writers. We seem to like each other. It may have something to do with the herd mentality; we know we are prey animals, so we stick together. Yes, we compete for readers, but we also protect each other from the predators as best we can.
Every time your literary agent takes his 10 % or 15% out of your royalty check before sending the balance on to you, he is taking money out of your pocket and putting it into his. Ask yourself why? What has he done for you in the last six months?
You and you alone are responsible for promoting your book (s). You and you alone have to invest your time and money in getting your work into bookstores and getting to and from book signings and promotional events. So just why are you giving so much as a single penny to an agent or a publishing house? Explain that to me again, please?
In case you haven’t noticed, I am an independent sort of guy. Nobody’s the boss of me. And while I am as easily snowed as the next guy on occasion, I will wake up sooner or later (okay, sometimes much later), and get the situation straightened out in my favor. I LIKE my independence; I like being the only one responsible for my success or my failure, and I see no reason why I should pay anyone a single dime if I don’t have to. Mostly because I know damn good and well that nobody is going to work as hard for me as I do.
I also know that the publishing industry is and has been in a downward spiral for the last fifty (or maybe it’s a hundred) years and there is no sign of it recovering any time soon. There is not a single publishing house in business today with enough cash on hand to spend a dime on promoting a new author, including a paying Publisher’s Weekly for so much as a small box ad on the back page about the first release of that author’s novel.
And no literary agent will ever spend a single penny on a publicist to arrange a television talk show or nationwide radio station tour for you. John Grisham might get that sort of treatment, but most of us are not John Grisham.
Book marketing is a very specialized segment of the marketing industry. Study it, and study the people involved very, very carefully. They, too are predators. There are some incredibly professional, honest and very hard-working individuals in the business, but you have to keep in mind that they are in business to make a living, and they make that living off of your skill as a writer.
You are on your own. It’s you against the entire publishing industry. Do your research. Do lots and lots of research. You won’t regret it.
Your comments are always very welcome.