Dean Wesley Smith is on a kick, writing a series of blog posts that he calls “I Feel Bad for New Writers.” The gist of it is that he’s come back from watching twelve new writers at this year’s Writers of the Future session as they try to deal with career advice—and that the bulk of that advice is geared toward funneling writers to traditional publishing houses. In other words, to be Dependently Published writers rather than Independently Published writers.
That’s another blog post I need to get to, I suppose. There’s only so much time, though.
I touched on it a bit in my last podcast. Maybe that will do for now.
His posts are good. You should read them.
I disagree with him—something I did in person over dinner a week or three back. As one who came through the ranks in the Old Days, I Feel Great for New Writers.
I understand everything Dean’s saying, of course. And everything he’s saying is true enough as it stands. It’s a hard, long hauI trying to separate the wheat from the chaff right now. But, as I told him, I would much prefer to come up in today’s world than the one I came up in. Here is my reasoning.
|· There was only one system. You became a Dependently Published writer (through major houses or small presses), or you did not become a writer. The end.
· So a new writer’s task was to learn the system, then play the system, hoping the system would take them in.
· Realize this all adds up to mean that the new writer’s contact point was with the system itself—not with the readers. New writers had to play the tournament game merely to obtain a chance at accessing the reader pool.
· This means the Dependently Published writer’s chief skill (beyond actually writing) was/is networking. Side note: most writers are notorious for their love of schmoozing, right? Okay. Maybe not.
· Once in the system, the new Dependently Published writer would hope against hope that they would find a readership. If the house pushed more cash into their marketing, they stood a better chance.
· But, mostly, writers either bounced off the system (never got into it to begin with), or got spun out of the system when sales didn’t meet expectation.
· When that happened, there was nowhere for the writer to go. You were done. At least under that name.
|· New writers have multiple paths. They can try the slog to become Dependently Published or they can go at it on their own and become Independently Published. Going Independent opens an array of tools they can then use.
· If they go the Old Way and pursue the path of being Dependently Published, they now have a place to go when they are (somewhat inevitably) discarded.
· Once in the mindset of the Independently Published writer, either by choice or not, these new writers can work toward a career path that suits their life style. KU, which I personally dislike, might be great for a new writer with no real time. Wide is better (in my mind), but a new writer can work their way to whatever works for them.
· Similarly, they can focus on mastering slices of the pie. EBooks only at first, maybe. Then Paperback. Then Hardcover. Then Audio. Or whatever. Sell direct only. Focus on one platform. It doesn’t matter. When you have limited time, you can focus on limited sectors and still be successful.
· The chief development skill of an Independently Published writer, then, is listening. By that, I mean, taking in the thousand streams of information that seem to flow over them, and sifting out the wheat from the chaff.
· A major component of this is listening to successful people with intent to parse out what parts of what they say are true (actual maxims), which parts are simply true for that writer (it worked for them, but might not work for me), and (to be blunt) which parts are just outright lies.
A relevant word about my background. My path here included bouncing off traditional publishing. Thank goodness. Three of my books made rounds and received much attention from three different agents and/or editors, but after considerable mishing and mashing and lots of extra work on my part, they all passed me by. That cycle played a large part in the multiple-year gap in my publication history and, if Independent Publishing had not come along, may well have resulted in a death knell for my “career.”
I should note that those three books that bounced off houses that acquire Dependently Published writers are doing just fine now out in the open where readers can get to them directly.
So, What is “True?”
The last bullet in my “New Day” path for Independently Published writers is “A major component of this is listening to successful people with intent to parse out what parts of what they say are true (actual maxims), and which parts are simply true for that writer (it worked for them, but might not work for me).”
I think this is the root of Dean’s blog series.
Emotionally, it’s hard to decide what’s true for yourself. This is partially because a lot of the time we don’t know who we are. Other times social dynamics come to bear, and who we are conflicts with who we want to be (or how we want to be seen through the eyes of others).
Far easier for there to be One True Way. If that’s the game, failure is not really my fault, per se.
This is also the basis of many of the “myths” that Dean points to—which are really just mindsets more than anything these days.
Still, so much of this is baked into our language and psyches that it’s hard to settle out.
For example, one of the “myths” Dean has focused on is the idea that cost is a barrier to becoming and Independently Published writer. Simple observation is all we need to know this is not true. But under that facade lies a bigger one. Or an equally big one. The idea of professionalism, and what it means to be professional.
Let me break the situation down using a conversation between two mythical writers, one Dependently Published, the other Independently Published:
Dependently Published Writer: “It costs thousands of dollars to copy edit my book and acquire a professionally done cover. I don’t have that kind of money to publish my own work, so I need the publishing house to do it.”
Independently Published Writer: “By keeping my eye on the market, I can use various tools and stock sources to create my own covers cheaply, or trade services I’ve learned how to do (including beta reading, copy editing, cover design, book setting, etc.) with other Independently Published writers to keep my costs down as I produce my books.”
Dependently Published Writer: “But then you’re not doing professional quality!”
Independently Published Writer: “Some Independently Published writers are probably not doing professional work—especially early in their learning curves. But simply scanning the book rankings will show you many Independently Published writers have learned to do professional work on low budgets.”
Dependently Published Writer: “But a lot of those writers are spending thousands on professional copy editors and cover designers!”
Independently Published Writer: “Right. Some are. But not all. And that’s also a matter of business progression over their careers and the desire to focus their talents as they go. Independently Published writers can start on a path where their costs are controlled, then chose to shift their business plan to include contracting out work as their revenue streams support it. Most of those Independently Published writers who are contracting top-end cover designers today (for example), did not do that at the beginning of their careers. And several could still do their own covers, but they’ve found that once they build a direct audience with their readers they can make more money by hiring other people to do work they once did, and instead focus on writing more books.”
See what I mean?
So, What’s True Here?
It is true that part of the Value Package the Dependently Published writer gets from Traditional houses is that the house will handle all aspects of book design, production, and distribution. We can question what that value really is—and even if that value is negative or not when looked at as an overall whole. But for some writers, that is an actual value on the emotional side. They just don’t want to deal with it.
But when they are forced to deal with it, they will find that it is not true that it costs thousands of dollars to publish professional quality books as an Independently Published writer. I have created 30-some books as an Independently Published writer, and none of them cost me thousands of dollars to publish. Most are under $100. I have sometimes contracted out art to good, professional result, but never for “thousands of dollars” a book. When a Dependently Published writer uses that argument, they are leaning on one the “myths” that Dean is yelling about.
It’s All Okay, Though
It’s okay. Really, it is.
Over time I’ve finally come firmly to the Independent side of the fence. The data is clear in that most (as in 95%) Dependently Published writers will be spit out of the system at some point. That’s their path, though. So, good on them! Fare thee well! I hope you are one of the 5%!
Personally, given the real environment out here, I think they would all be far better off doing their own thing. Why go through the painful grind of the soul-sucking system if you don’t have to?
Either way, I would far prefer to be coming up as a writer in today’s world because, for those writers who do choose to pursue being Dependently Published and who do get chewed up in the system, there is this other—better—path that is sitting here, waiting for them.
In that way they can’t really lose in the long run.
Assuming, that is, that they don’t give up. That they’re willing to make a mindset shift, and to do the work it takes to find a true path that works for them.
I was lucky. Barely. The ability to become an Independently Published writer sprang up “late” in my development cycle, but at least early enough I could see it happening and eventually catch onto its tail. Any later, and my career might now be done. Now, however, the system is fully functional, and outside of a sliver of the world, completely without stigma. Now, Independently Published writers are out-earning Dependently Published authors. New writers today have two fully fleshed out paths they can take. My personal take is that it seems silly to pursue a traditional contract today, and I’ll advocate doing your own thing if you are able.
But, at the end of the day, I Feel Great for New Writers.
Even if they don’t see the details now, they are coming up in a world where options abound and opportunity does not rely solely on the guy behind the emerald curtain of the traditional publishing house.