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Aug 162012
 
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by Jim Sellers

I think it is safe to assume that all authors want to be published. The part of our brains that encourages us to hit SEND on something we’ve written and decided to share with someone – anyone – is the same part that contains the endorphins that will scream “YES, I WANT TO BE PUBLISHED AND RESPECTED AS AN AUTHOR”.

Whether we want to achieve the level of an Erik Larson or Danielle Steel is well beyond our control, but anyone who writes has a fundamental need to have others read and enjoy their work. To counter this tendency, there is an entire industry established to corral those ambitions and shoot them down before any of them get too big and ambitious. It’s called the Publishing Industry, and they have thankfully saved us from millions of works by thousands of authors around the world who have been deemed unworthy.

To be fair to publishers, they do pick up new authors now and then and publish their books. Because of this, writers around the world continue to submit their work for consideration and, inevitably have their hopes dashed on the floor, only to sit at the computer and try again. Like lottery tickets – you probably won’t win, but that doesn’t stop millions from shelling out cash every week to try anyway. This is really what the unpublished author is doing.published book

Of course, publishers have to make a buck to survive, and today a buck means millions of bucks. The books they print have to sell millions of copies to make millions of bucks. As a result, we have shelves full of books on celebrities, including the likes of Sarah Palin and Justin Bieber, and established writers like Anne Rice or John Grisham in all kinds of stores and websites being bought by millions of people. This is reality; these books make big money so that publishers can continue publishing and can afford to shop around for new authors. At the same time, the market changes constantly. People prefer e-books and audio books over printed books today – but for how long?

Publishers used to control the market and the market used to have clear lines of delineation for ages, genres, buying seasons. For years, the YA market was dominated by stories about girls in romantic situations and adventure stories for boys. I grew up on a steady diet of Henry Gregor Felsen tales about hot rods and guys my age driving fast cars. When Harry Potter hit the market, all the rules changed, primarily because these books appealed to both kids and adults and the traditional verboten subject of murderous evil was breached. Suddenly “tweener” books are a thing and worthy authors such as Katherine Paterson and Gary Paulsen are back in vogue along with endless species of undead and alternative life forms.

So what can a publisher do? Most of the time they watch other trends like politics and celebrities, they follow Twitter and read blogs to see what people like. Hence, we have Julie and Julia, Shit My Dad Says and countless others. Every time a new trend hits, a mass of new writers run to that format.

This begs the question to the unpublished author; do you think you could sell a few million books? Is that even what you want from writing? Do you want to live in the lap of luxury and tour the world greeting hordes of frantic fans? Or, do you just want to have people read your stories?

I know a few published authors who have solid collections of work and who maintain full-time day jobs because the publishing doesn’t pay them enough to live on. There book publishingare countless stories of people who struggle to get a publishing deal but, in the end, they don’t sell enough books to cover their advance.

So again, what do you really want? If the answer is B – share my stories with people, and not A – I want to be J. K. Rowling, then please, please, please stop submitting books to agents and publishers. Don’t self-publish and beg stores to carry them. Stop wasting money on printing and self-stamped, addressed envelopes, and just start a website. Just a blog, nothing too difficult. There are so many hosting sites to choose from: Word Press, Blogger, Tumbler are some examples and they are free, easy to set up, and full of features.

Then make a commitment to yourself. Repeat after me, “I will write and publish a new story /chapter /poem /opinion piece /essay /whatever each week/month/etc….”  Next, look for places to share your writing, like Web Fiction Guide or LinkedIn. Use Twitter and Facebook to tell people about your stories and – this is important – use tags to attract search engines to your page.

If you can have thousands of people read your story, with or without publishing, isn’t that success? Why do we think that our writing, no matter how wonderful, imaginative and original it is, will be a ticket to the comfortable life of a novelist? This is not a lottery and odds do not increase if we continue to submit manuscripts repeatedly. The story will sell if it can be sold. The reason why we hear of writers being discovered in odd places is that it’s true. Come up with something different and be honest. If the writing is good, the publishers will find you. Until then, be happy that people are reading your work, that’s what you wanted anyway.

 

About the Writer

By day, Jim is a mild-mannered academic writer and project manager in a Canadian university. By night, he writes fiction, short stories and records his own songs. His professional writing career began in the 1990’s with the acceptance of his first screenplay by a broadcaster. Since then he has worked on television series and documentaries, written for magazines and websites, and managed communications for several non-profit organizations.

His current project is a series of short stories, which will be published later in 2012, and he is completing work on two novels. You can read examples of Jim’s writing on his website: jimzshortstories.

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  24 Responses to “Win the Lottery or Get Published? Hmmm…”

  1.  

    Hi,
    Very well said. As a writer, who has just broken into the world of authoring by having my first short story published by a publisher, it took me some years to decide what I really wanted to do with my writing. It was only after I finally found my own voice in writing that I really realized I had something to say and my style of writing, which I consider unique is developing through the voice in me I have discovered.
    Thus I can say without a shadow of doubt, I want to be published and be read. It is not enough just to have a few readers.
    Thanks for the article, Jim. It made me think about my own goals and what I want to achieve.
    Ciao,
    Patricia

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      Hey Pat, Congrats again on being published! Where is your short story published and what is it about?

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        Hi Rita,
        Thank you for inquiring. My short story was published by Romantic Shorts, at the moment, they published online, but future planning may be to go into some kind of printing, when it comes to an Anthology.
        The story’s title is On A Rainy Day and I classify it as a inspirational, multicultural, romantic suspense. It is colored through out with a humour and the characters, especially the female characters are strong and independent. I think my story would surprise you. For my first one, I find it to be very good. Here is the direct link to it and I would love it if you left a comment of what you think. http://romanticshorts.com/2012/07/on-a-rainy-day/
        I forgot to say, since these are lunchbreak stories, the publisher has limited her authors to six thousand words.
        Ciao,
        Patricai

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          Hi Pat, thank you for letting me know about what was involved with publishing your work and where I can read your short story. I would love to read it and will most definitely leave a comment for you. Going there now….

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        Pat, just read your story: On a Rainy Day, and enjoyed it. Just shared it on Twitter too. A lot has to happen in a short story in a short amount of time, and you did that very well, moving the story along from beginning to end. Thank you for sharing it! Good job!

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          Good morning Rita,
          I have just looked at the site this morning, because I wanted to read Betsy’s comments on Jim’s article and saw your message to me. Thank you. It was a very pleasant surprise and has made my day.
          Happy Labor Day.
          Ciao,
          Patricia

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  2.  

    You seem to have set up a dichotomy between wanting to be JK Rowling and just wanting to be read, therefore, if the latter, give your stories away for free.

    I don’t want to be (or maybe it’s that I don’t feel the need to be) rich and famous. I just want to be read. But I do believe that my work has value. So I self-publish.

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  3.  

    I agree with many things that you wrote about. I find it more important that people read my story. But I will honestly admit to see my book up on a store’s shelf or online is quite thrilling. I don’t expect to make millions nor would I want to. Having that much money scares me and only causes problems. Honestly I would love to have a decent sale of my book but if that doesn’t happen that is ok. Like I said just seeing my book out there able to reach potential readers is enough for me.

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  4.  

    Great blog and its content is very well said. Too many people think that just because they hit the publish button on Amazon they’re going to automatically sell thousands of books. But it just doesn’t work like that in many cases and people can be disappointed very easily.

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      You are right on Laura, it’s not quite that easy. Much marketing/promotion needs to be done to get the word out about the writing. I call that the “business end of writing”. The hard work is not over when you hit the publish button…it many respects, it has just begun. Not everyone is equipped for or comfortable doing what it takes to get the word out about their book. After all, we writers work alone, perhaps even like the solitary aspect of writing, and then to have to put ourselves out for the world to see and try to get our work noticed…well it can be a terrifiying ordeal for some. That’s the beauty of forums like this and Linkedin where there are people to help. Thanks for your comments Laura, they are always insightful!

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  5.  

    Over the years I published a number of short stories in different magazines. I presume someone read them beside the editors that accepted them. Rrecently, I decided to self-publish them with some unpublished ones in a book (yeah I know, noone buys those books), but I thought my family would be less likely to throw out a book than a collection of magazines or tearsheets. I’ve sold a few – but am happy to “hold it in my hand”. And to have real readers (some friends gave them as gifts) who, I’m told, loved the stories. I did enter the book in the Writer’s Digest contest for self-published books and while I didn’t win, the person who wrote me (I guess someone has to) raved and said I should win, and had tears in her eyes over some of the stories That was nice. I’m going to also self-publish a collection of my published & non pub. essays and poetry, probably with Create Space (less expensive) for pretty much the same reasons. I teach writing and a few of my students have also self-published. The one who did a collection of essays did the best, the novelists less so. I do think non-fiction does better in self-publishing. I like the idea of someone else reviewing the book but when asked to write a description of 22 short stories I’m – without words. The title is good, I think: To Tell the Truith…and Other Fictions.

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      Hi Enid, thank you for your comments and giving us some insight to your publishing background. I found it very interesting that your short stories were published in magazines, they must be quite good! Did you find the process of submitting them to a magazine challenging? Which magazines did you find easiest to work with? Sorry for all the questions! Just curious, and I thought our Writania readers would be too. Perhaps you could share one of the stories with us here (provide a link). The title is good, love it!

      You brought up an interesting point of discussion – you mentioned that you thought nonfiction did better than fiction in self-publishing, but I’m wondering if it is not so much the nonfiction, but the essay (being a shorter read) and short story that readers are drawn to these days. I’m hearing that there is a new thrust interest in the short story because people seem to have shorter attention spans and less time for reading these days. Any thoughts on that?

      Regarding, the description for the short stories, do you have individual descriptions for each one? We’ve not really advertised it yet because we are just setting our Writania services up, but this might be something we can help you with if you’re interested – just let me know. Sounds like you might need an elevator pitch. Would love to work on it!

      Thanks again for your comments, Enid!

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  6.  

    I think some folks are missing the point. I know Jim and I don’t think he’s proposing a dichotomy–I think he’s pointing out alternatives. Recently we had a local published author come speak at our critique group. She had gotten her first novel published, but had decided to stop writing for publication. Her genre novel was written for her own enjoyment and she was thrilled when it got selected for publication. Then the editors asked her for a second book and she was delighted–until they rejected her first idea, and her second, and her third. They said they liked her writing, but to be marketable they wanted her to slant her writing in a particular way. As she put it, “it took all the fun out of it for me.” She was a stay-at-home mom, and didn’t need the extra income, and trying to write to formula stole her joy at writing. There is another writer I’ve met who has never let ANYONE read her writing. She says she just enjoys writing, and hearing about writing, but has no interest in (or fears) being critiqued. Different people have different goals for their writing. I applaud Jim for pointing out there is more than one choice if you just want readers.

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      Hey Betsy, thank you for commenting. You’ve certainly shown us how different writers can be! Thank you for sharing the stories of two writers, each who appear to know what is important to them regarding their writing. Publishing houses are in it for the money, they are businesses afterall, but I can see where it would take the fun out of writing a story if you are told to write to a certain formula. Just writing to genre can be limiting for a writer, and there are those of us who prefer to write mainstream fiction – novels that don’t fit a particular genre. Genre sells easier, but many of us want to enjoy the writing rather than fit it into the mold. Publishing houses want writers to write what will sell best.

      Regarding the writer who won’t let anyone read her work, it is not the norm, and I can only relate to this on the level of journaling. Some people want to leave their journal writing for their children and grandchildren to read. Not me; I want them thrown out! I don’t journal much, but if there’s anything sitting around when I go, I don’t want it read. Maybe I should put this in my will!

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  7.  

    I look upon writing a novel and getting published by a traditional publisher as a challenge more than anything. Sure, I’d like to write the next bestseller-turned-into-a-movie, but doubt that will happen. So, I’ll settle for jumping through the hoops and getting past the gatekeepers in traditional publishing to see if I can get to the “inside.”

    I’ll do it mostly for the satisfaction of writing well enough to impress at least one “expert.” But as I coincidentally commented upon in a recent blog post of mine, so much depends on who the judges are in any type of subjective competition. Being a former “wine professional,” I came to understand that there is no accounting for taste, and it’s very hard to please the right person at the right time with the perfect wine (book)–meaning one that they will eagerly drink (buy).

    I don’t have a great need for people to read what I write. I’d be pleased if many people chose to and enjoyed my work. If they don’t … meh. I want to write stories that are entertaining, but I also don’t want to turn writing into an 80-hour per week career either. I’m not a good salesman and wouldn’t be a great promoter of my books, but I won’t go the vanity press route in a vain attempt to gain approval from anonymous sources.

    If I get some sort of strong consensus that my writing is better than good, I may consider self-publishing in the future if I don’t get published traditionally. But I’ll worry about that after the second, third and fourth novels are written … along with a few short stories and essays along the way, perhaps. :-)

    Good luck to all,whatever you decide your writing career needs to be.

    Chris

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  8.  

    Writing well enough to impress an “expert?”

    Have you read some of the stuff they’re publishing?

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      LOL. I did put the word expert inside quotes, Dianna. Your point is taken. Good evidence of that questionable choices when publishing is the “Fifty Shades of Gray” phenomenon, from what I hear. MY wife read the first book and said it reads like one really long, bad Penthouse magazine letter.

      But I also acknowledge that the traditional publishers make the rules, have the power, and can choose winners and losers at will. I choose to play their game reluctantly, but willingly until something better comes along.

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  9.  

    This article has triggered a lot of interesting conversation, both here and on other sites. For the record, I’m with Chris. I am hoping at some point in my life to actually publish a book the old, school-of-hard-knocks method just so I can say I’ve been there and done that.
    I can also relate this to television production. My TV script was purchased, edited and produced. When it came out the other end it resembled my script – only just.
    Chris, I think No Accounting for Taste is a great title.

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  10.  

    Traditional publishers don’t make the rules anymore, and fifty shades is an example. That book started out as self-published fan fiction. You know there’s something happening when traditional publishers are looking for self-published big sellers to latch onto and get their percentage.

    You give up so much when you give control of your book to someone else. Maybe it’s worth it (the more I learn the less I think so) and maybe it’s not. It’s certainly a personal choice.

    I highly recommend Dean Wesley Smith’s blog/book on “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing.” Dean has published at least a hundred tltles traditionally.

    You can find it here: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=860

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  11.  

    And there is that in-between route that still validates your writing skills–publishing short stories in periodicals and anthologies. I’ve had some success breaking into that market. So when someone scoffs at my self-published volumes, I can point to the stack of books and magazines published by other entitites that contain my stories and poems.
    Even if you just write novels, isn’t there some chapter or incident within that could stand on its own as a short story?
    Try submitting it somewhere.

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  12.  

    Leaving a comment in the hope that I win the free eBook cover design. Thanks for the opportunity :-)

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  13.  

    I feel that I would want to be published, but more so read, because that is where your followers come from and especially if the book is any kind of a good read or a message that helps young children or adults.

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