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Authors Need To Do Stuff

Nathan Bransford, a San Francisco agent published a long essay on his blog called: The Myth of “Just an Author”

authorsBransford offers some insight about the popularity of some famous authors of the past, like Hemingway and Melville. He then goes on to ask, “can an author today expect that they can write in, drop out and leave the publicity to the publisher?” He answers “Probably not,” then goes on to explain what some have called the author’s platform.

Yes folks, the truth today is if you want to be published by a trade publisher you most likely will need your own platform. Publishers today expect authors to do more and even most of the marketing of the books they write.

It’s ironic I suppose, or just plain tragic. Manufacturing books has actually gotten cheaper because of technology. Big trade publishers have been purchased by conglomerates that care for nothing but the bottom line. Good writing more and more goes wanting because the writers don’t have a platform and don’t have much interest in creating one. Publishers only want big names that are easy to market.

All is not lost, however. Self-publishing  is becoming more respectable every day. The internet means an author willing to market has a way to do it that won’t break the bank. It can be a long haul, but it’s possible.

Bransford is right. Authors do need to do stuff to promote their books and many are finding they can do it without a publisher. It’s worth thinkin about.

Are you writing a book? If so, will you self-publish?


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{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Carol Wilde

    Thanks Rhonda, and good luck with your projects.

  • Go to conventions in your area – the fan run ones, not the media driven ones like CreationCons. If you do it right you can network with writers, editors, and publishers to “work the system”. You don’t always need an agent.

    These conventions also have panels on things like self-promotion for writers, how to use social networking, things like that.

    Simple things — and I think this is my next article for my column on StrangeWords.net or on my own website – for marketing on the cheap…

    Get on the social networking sites and talk to people – not about your books, unless it’s LEGITIMATELY germane to the topic. You’re a person not a spammer.

    If you look there are websites where you can get deals on postcards, bookmarks, business cards for cheap – like on Vista Print. For stickers, StickerJunkie.com

    If you have a decent color laser printer, you can make your own promotional materials. Goofy stuff works for me, but I write a lot of humor.

    Stuff like that.
    .-= rhonda´s last blog ..Firefox What Did you DO???? =-.

  • Carol Wilde


    My mind is not in fact made up and your words do have influence. I spent about a year trying to work the system before I decided to set that effort aside and concentrate on finishing the entire series. My efforts were not exhaustive, I know that, but they were very frustrating. Producing something of quality isn’t enough if no one with the power to get you into the system will look at it. I have the definite impression that networking – who you know or are able to get to know – is at least as important as writing something good.

    In fact you have convinced me that it is worth making another effort to interest an agent. That effort at least is cheap.

    I would love to know more about your dirt cheap marketing methods. How can I find out more about things like that?

  • We are definitely going to have to agree to disagree on this one, Carol. You over-look some points to make others.

    What’s the point of traditional publishing? Simply – it’s respect. If you have ACE, TOR, BAEN, or any number of smaller presses on your spine that shows other professionals you took the time to learn your craft, impressed someone difficult to impress, and have something worth clawing through the broken system.

    I could reiterate a bunch of my points, but if you’ve made up your mind I’m not going to change it. Just know this – if you self-publish without trying to work the system – it’s going to be that much harder down the road.

    You won’t be invited as a guest/panelist to fan-run conventions. You might be able to buy a table in the dealer’s room. You might sell some books, but you won’t be on the panels with the other writers/editors/professionals. Why? Because most conventions won’t put writers on panels that are ONLY self-pubbed because of the reputation for bad material that comes out of self-publishing. Fair? No. Deal.

    You won’t get in the big chain stores. If you’re lucky, you might get into some local independents. Big publisher put a lot of books in stores? Yes, they do. You can’t do that on your own.

    Marketing costs a lot? Well, yeah, it does. There are things you can do to reduce that cost. I do a lot for dirt cheap or free, but you can either SHARE some of that cost with a publisher AND get a kicking cover, or you can spend it all yourself and good luck. That marketing department you may not agree with? That’s all on you now.

    To me the help and respect are worth it. The ability to meet more fans? Worth it. But that’s me. You’re not going to change my mind. I’m probably not going to change yours. Good luck.
    .-= rhonda´s last blog ..Firefox What Did you DO???? =-.

  • Carol Wilde

    Okay, I probably deserved that for getting up on my high horse and getting carried away by my frustration. I do appreciate the advice you’ve tried to give me, Rhonda and Anne. (I’ve made a note of the book title.)

    When something is broken there are three possible responses: repairing it, replacing it, or muddling along/doing without it. What’s going to happen with publishing and the electronic revolution? I don’t know. Since I hear that the publishing conglomerates make most of their money on nonfiction, though, I wonder how much influence fiction writers would ever have on fixing things from the inside.

    Moving to things I think I understand a little better, it would be a completely different problem to sell my book to readers than to sell it to agents. Fantasy readers differ from agents in a number of significant respects. First, fantasy readers generally have too little to read, not too much. Also, they are not fixated on there being a clever story concept that can be described in a neat little paragraph: They just want a good read. Length doesn’t bother them. (Longer is better if you’re having fun.) Nor are they averse to reading things by new authors, even the first book in a series by a new author. After all, if they like it, there’s a whole new vein to be mined, and if they don’t like it, they haven’t really wasted very much money.

    I’ve written a number of cover blurbs any one of which would probably hook a segment of the fantasy reader audience. I know I’ve got a “good read” because my test readers tell me so. The plot within Book I actually arcs quite well, climaxing and resolving a major incident in the main character’s life; it just leaves enough threads untied that it cries for a sequel. Agents would discover all of this if they would read the manuscript, but it might not make any difference. The agent’s job is not to sell books to readers, after all (I was wrong to suggest that), it’s to sell manuscripts to publishers. So what agents say they are looking for is probably a reflection of what publishers want.

    The last big difference between selling to an agent versus selling to the readers is that you only have to hook one agent, but you need to hook a whole lot of readers. It isn’t a problem of convincing someone that you’ve got something “good,” it’s a problem of communicating what you’ve got to a whole lot of people. That requires not salesmanship, but mass-marketing expertise – a different kind of skill. From what I can tell, what traditional big publishers do for you is put your book out on a lot of shelves where it can be seen, but I’ve read that they do little or nothing to promote the books of first-time authors and they are very quick to drop you if your book doesn’t sell a lot and pretty quickly. I would be willing to let sales build slowly as word gets out, but apparently publishers aren’t. So the first time author who gets published has to do self-promotion on a mass scale anyway to try to make sales happen fast. It’s at your own expense and it can cost thousands of dollars. I’m not saying I’d turn down an agent if one approached me, but how attractive do you think this looks, especially when you only get a tiny fraction of each sale through traditional publishers?

  • I’ve been waiting to reply to this thread until after I dealt with a major deadline. I also wanted to think about how I wanted to respond. And I hope it doesn’t sound too harsh.

    You say the system is broken — okay, so how do you fix it if you’re not inside it? Agents and Publishers are out to make money for THEM not for YOU. Authors are cars or staplers for all they’re concerned. If your book doesn’t sell, they’ll trade you in for another one. Does it suck. Yes. BUT, it’s the system we’re stuck with. Agents and Publishers DO DO stuff for the Author, but if the Author can’t sell their own books, then why should someone else do it for them?

    As for your series – you’re right. If you can’t make each part of your story somehow stand alone and apart on it’s one, you probably won’t sell it. Comic Book writers call it “A FULL UNIT OF ENTERTAINMENT” – no one wants to read a book where nothing happens, even if it’s set up to another book, and if YOU the creator can’t make the first book sound interesting and original – what is there to make someone pick it and the rest up?

    These are questions you’re going to have to answer if you self-publish, too, you know. Many times the query blurbs are what end up on the cover to entice people to read the innards. What do you have to encourage people to pick up your book — whether from you or from a book store shelf?
    .-= rhonda´s last blog ..The StrangeWords Article =-.

  • Carol Wilde

    I don’t say “can’t” lightly. I’ve been told the first thing you try to sell had better be a stand-alone and warned against admitting that I have a trilogy or series until AFTER the agent has read book I and comes back with, “I hope there’s a sequel…” So I would have to write a query letter that sells Book I. Now, agents must be the most jaded readers on the planet. They’re all looking for something “unique” and special-sounding (in a paragraph or two, mind you). Of course my story is like no other, but what makes it special is how I unfold my plot in detail, the minor plot twists, and the subtlety of how I handle things – it’s not in the big picture (especially not in the first sixth of the big picture). Any kind of distillation leaves out all the good stuff and makes it sound, well, ordinary. You really have to read this one, and that the agents won’t do unless I can make it sound unique in a paragraph! Catch 22.

    It ought to be obvious to anyone that not every story can have its vital essence distilled into a page. It ought to be obvious that one can write bad query letters for good manuscripts and good query letters for bad manuscripts. The system is broken – at least as far as new aspiring writers are concerned. It’s time to invent a new system if we want there to be a new generation of authors down the road. That’s why I’m looking at self-publishing. Yes, I know I’m going to have to jump through a lot of hoops of a kind that are not at all natural for me. I just resent it like h— because that’s what agents and publishers are supposed to be for!

  • Anne

    Carol, Rhonda has a point… and you may not need to make the decision right now. Suggest you buy Peter Bowerman’s Well Fed Self Publisher – https://www.aboutfreelancewriting.com/2009/06/well-fed-self-publisher-a-review/ – sure it’s aimed at non-fiction, but a whole bunch of it will work in your genre too, plus he demystifies marketing to a large degree. None of us are sales people in the way we tend to think of sales people… and we can get buyers for our books, particularly if we drop notions about sales… feel another post coming on. 😉

  • Forgive me for chiming in, but I have questions. Carol – why can’t it be sold in a one page query? I know a lot of stories are difficult to distill, but difficult isn’t “can’t”. By pitching it as a series, the agent/publisher has an idea of longevity – depending on how long “long” is, too. And if you can’t distill it down, maybe ask someone else what THEY think the nutshell version of your opus is – and if you concur.

    There are ways around every obstacle. Get involved in your local fangroups – go to the SF/F conventions in your area – network, meet people. Try writing short fiction to submit places to get published.

    As for the marketing/promotion – writers are salesmen. Get used to it. I have a writer friend who, in most cases is painfully shy. When she had to start promoting, she did as one of her book’s characters. That let her be “someone else” doing the promoting, not her.
    .-= rhonda´s last blog ..DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME =-.

  • Carol Wilde

    I’m writing a book in the fantasy genre – actually a long trilogy or it could be a limited 6-book series. I am considering self-publishing because I have concluded my opus cannot be “sold” in a one-page query letter. It must be read to be appreciated and no agent will read it, especially since I am otherwise unpublished (except in the scientific literature). I’m very unsure, however, about avenues for self-publication. I know I will have to do some sort of promotion, too, and that frankly terrifies me. I’m a writer, not a salesman!

  • But… let me say this, on the topic as a whole – you are absolutely correct, and Nathan Bransford, that authors HAVE TO DO STUFF. I’m small press published, but even after that, I’m self-marketing.

    I call it the “MTV generation of writing” or “IDOL generation of writing”. Back in the day it was okay to be a good singer/songwriter. You could get a record deal. Now you have to sing, dance, promote products, look good on TV — you can’t just sing, you have to put on a show. It’s the same for writers. You have to put on the show.
    .-= Rhonda Eudaly´s last blog ..DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME =-.

  • My experience is genre fiction – SF/Fantasy – self-publishing has the stigma of someone who couldn’t get a “real” publisher. The long-standing idea – and still physical evidence – of self-publishing as being poor-quality and unedited is predominant. Many genre publishers and conventions won’t look at a writer – a new writer especially – if they’ve been self-published.

    The only time it seems to be okay is for reprint collections of authors who are established as “traditionally” published but not far enough up the food chain to have reprint avenues – or something so small and niche that it’ll never find a home elsewhere, but then carefully.
    .-= Rhonda Eudaly´s last blog ..DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME =-.

  • Anne

    Rhonda, why only as a last resort?

  • Yes, I’m in the process of writing a book (several in fact), and I’ll only consider self-publishing as a last resort…

    Or for a special project.
    .-= Rhonda Eudaly´s last blog ..DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME =-.

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