Monday Blitherings: Is Being Published No Longer a Sign of Success?

8DDo you know how easy it is to become a published author nowadays?

If you already have an Amazon account, you can upload a Word Document without hassle, and publish an e-book onto Kindle. I’ve been fiddling around with the process to publish a book for the company I’m working for, and if you’re ready for it, the whole process takes less time than cooking an instant meal.

Does anyone else think that’s insane?

I can finally publish my Brian May (as a meteor) x Kieran Burling crossover fiction. Yes I know the x means romance.

I can finally publish my Brian May (as a meteor) x Kieran Burling crossover fiction. Yes I know the x means romance. Sweet, sweet romance.

Just so this is clear, I’ll give you the comparison. Publishing the traditional way is a bit of a nightmare if you are not some kind of time-bending superwizard or already a published author (or both). If you don’t have an agent, you have to find one of the few publishers left that accept unsolicited manuscripts, and those are getting smaller day-by-day.

Then you have to write a fancy synopsis, a cover letter gushing about how awesome your very existence is and why you are a total superwizard, and send it off with your hopes and dreams. It will then fly through the window of the publishers and settle atop hundreds, if not thousands of others. I doubt there is any time at all to read all of these properly, so it comes down to a mixture of hard work to present your piece as favourably and eye-catchingly as possible, and of course, it comes down to dumb luck.

The classic story of how much of a struggle traditional publishing is comes from the case of one J. K. Rowling, who you might have heard of. The Harry Potter creator was rejected multiple times because her book was deemed far too long and complicated for children.

They had no idea just how small that first book really was until these skull-bludgeoning tomes arrived

What did it? When interviewed in the Independent, the head of Bloomsbury explained that he handed the manuscript off to his 8 year old to read, who said it was crazy-cool and nagged him to make more.

On second thoughts, that’s probably the best way to find a successful children’s book, ever.

My niece's tastes might be a bit hard for publishers to swallow

My niece’s tastes might be a bit hard for publishers to swallow

It is an achievement well worth the struggle to head for traditional published work, but it would be silly to deny that there aren’t some archaic and annoying blockades to vault on the way that would even irritate the people who work in Health and Safety.

So surely it’s a miracle to be able to power through all of those obstacles in one quick clickfest? Ah, but I’m afraid I’m pulling so much wool over your eyes that you’re seeing sheep butts. Y’see, thanks to the internet, the publishing floodgates are open.

With the internet has come the great ability to share your creative spark with the world and every day someone is making it easier for you to do so. But with that comes a whole tidal wave of seething, writhing, steamy garbage and cat pictures. Take YouTube for example, which has made huge celebrities out of a few genuinely talented individuals and provided day-jobs for a lot of musicians and filmmakers… but probably made most people famous through memes, brain-achingly dumb stunts and, yes, cats.

80 million views and an Oscar for best sound editing

It’s actually just as hard to be successful through self-publishing. The only difference is where the challenge is.

Instead it becomes all about marketing. Yes, your book is finished and printed or Kindle-ised and you can flick through the pages and eee look at your name on the front omg u guuuuuuys n_____n but if you actually want your book to sell, you’re going to have to do the legwork yourself. No pre-arranged book signings. No deals with big-brand book shops. No publisher getting your book out there. It’s just you and the vast world of social media. Success only comes after the achingly slow process of making friends and spreading the word, just like with regular old self-publishing before Kindle.

What does this come down to then? At the end of the day, Rowling got an agent because he read the book and loved it. The 8 year old kid loved it. After trying hard enough, she found the right people and more importantly, the book was damn good. After trying hard enough and being good enough, she got to the top.

And you know what? That is 100% still true, even with this mass self-publishing wave. Because a lot of that wave is going to be just bad, like, fanfiction.net bad or YouTube comments bad. And yes, writing a diamond should be hard enough (I don’t consider anything I’ve written yet to be of a standard that could get such attention, and I’ve had 13 years practise) but then it’s about not giving up on shoving that diamond into as many faces as possible, until someone goes ‘hot damn, that’s a diamond! And it’s shiny and will sell! I was too busy worrying if the sparkle was going to blind a child and was going to reject it out of hand and blow raspberries at your dreams‘.

Work hard, polish the diamond, and don’t stop shopping it around. Yes it takes some luck to find the ‘right person’, but it takes more endurance and skill, even if you can be published overnight.

Next Time, on this Blog…

this is not how u red book

I’ll just wrap this up by talking about one of the most fascinating success stories of this self-publishing style which belongs to Machine of Death, the brilliant anthology I wrote a submission for a couple of years ago.

The three blokes who put their weight behind the book all already had a dedicated support base through webcomics, or writing, or just very good socialising with other creative types. Not to mention that the book had generated a lot of interest because it was asking for open submissions, so people were talking about it. Plus it just had a really kick-ass idea that people love to talk about.

But the real success came with the clever way they used these things. Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo and David Malki all hit on a genius idea: they posted their book on Amazon on October 20th, 2010, and then sat on it. They insisted to all their fans that they should wait for 6 days.

Then, on that day, they launched the book officially and everyone bought it all at once. And Amazon flipped out. Because of the way Amazon’s Top Books section works, it rocketed to the #1 spot. And suddenly all of these people browsing Amazon who had never read about the book, never submitted a story for it, and never even heard of Dinosaur Comics saw this book at #1 with a kick-ass idea and they bought it too.

It even beat out Keith Richards’ biography, which was released on the same day. Take that, Keith Richards!

I don’t think he even knows

So why am I telling you this? Because it’s a great build-up to something I’m going to talk about in a later blog, which is the power of Personality on the internet, and yes, that’s with a capital P. That P should be towering above this whole blog. I shall just have a P site.

And nobody will laugh at P sounding like pee, nobody.

Until next time, toodle-pip!

2 thoughts on “Monday Blitherings: Is Being Published No Longer a Sign of Success?

  1. Luke says:

    Long rambly comment time… and obviously I’m coming at this from a certain perspective.

    Firstly congratulations on having your head screwed on! You’re stance on publishing seems very considered, realistic and rational. After some of the people I’ve come across doing what I do, that’s quite a massive step.

    Mainstream publishing is something I’ve come to find out about from others in the know, both un- and successful people… My general feeling is beware the romanticised image of it. Some lovely statistics out there to really encourage people – along the lines of 90% of authors make below the minimum wage from their books, 75% have other jobs; even JKR only makes around 5% of her income from selling books.

    There doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between your middle of the range mainstream-published and self-published authors once the book is actually published. For both types of author, it’s definitely all about the marketing… Publishers tend to throw lots of marketing money at the big names (and why wouldn’t they – the big names make the big money), but it leaves authors lower down the scale with very little support from publishers. But books need to be sold if the publisher is going to want to keep publishing the author. So the author has to go out there, form the networks, create the online presence, sit in the bookshops etc. in the hope that it will all be worth it.

    As to whether a diamond is going to sell big, well… Sometimes (very rarely) it will do so on its own merit; usually if it sells big it’s because of massive publisher marketing. More often than not, diamonds get lost amongst all the normal boring rock. And it works the other way too – what many people consider to be utter crap (often with a celebrity name slapped on the front) will sell big, when it’s actually more of a turd with sparkles than a diamond.

    Ultimately, I suppose it depends of what your aims are for your book.

    Onto self publishing. My answer to the question in this blog title is ‘NO’. There are 3 types of self published authors out there:

    1) Those who do it so they can feel pride in their story, and so their friends and family can have copies of their book. This is fine.
    2) Those who have found a way of creating books to a (hopefully) professional level, and then have a strong business model allowing them to successfully market the books. This is fine.
    3) Those who see self publishing as a short cut to success and don’t really understand the commitment that is required to write a book to a professional standard. With worryingly frequency, this type of self published author is disillusioned into thinking that if they self published, their book will soon be in every book shop, in 3 for 2s etc. They simply don’t understand the process.

    Unfortunately there are a lot of very bad, very rushed books out there churned out by self published authors who fit into category 3, and this is giving self publishing a bad name. Usually, I don’t blame the authors for this – they just don’t understand the process of getting a book ready for publication… the difference between being an ‘amateur’ and being ‘professional’. (Although sometimes it’s hard not to blame (see http://www.er-reilly.co.uk/ER-Reilly-Books.htm))

    When I started out, I was somewhere between self published person 2 and 3. I never intended to publish conventionally, because for me it wasn’t about ‘getting my story out there’. I had a clear marketing strategy and saw a way that I could use books to allow me to have a career performing in schools, inspiring children to be creative. But I didn’t know what it took to produce a book to a professional standard (I also had a publishing company who didn’t help at all in this respect… but that’s a whole other topic). I think you can track my development through the 4 books I’ve released, and see how I’ve learnt over a 5 year process what it means to produce a professional book. I now have a fantastic illustrator, I use the leading book printers in the UK and have editors who usually work with the big name publishers. Whether the books are any good is, of course, not for me to say. What’s important to me is that I treat the books professionally.

    So where does this leave me once the book is published? Well, I am quite a different entity, standing apart from most of the book world. Reading that last sentence again makes it sound like I’m so far up my own arse, but I don’t mean it like that – simply, I have found a way of making this book thing work for me that is very different to the traditional model. And for me, my complete creative process is honestly a combination of writing the books and doing the school visits – it’s all a single product, and I wouldn’t want to do one without the other…

    Yes, plenty of children read my books having not seen my school visit, and they love them, and that’s fine. But I think it’s the process of me going into children’s schools, bringing the books to life and making children desperate to read them, followed by the children reading the books, which makes the books so special for many children, inspiring them to read and write and be creative more. And THAT, I now realise, is why I published my books!

    Gosh, that was a ramble and a half. Never really written any of that down before. Feels good to have done it. Thanks for giving me the chance… and congrats again on a very thought provoking blog.

    • Haha, Luke you saved me a lot of hassle on writing on your unique perspective when it comes to publishing, and thank you for the huge comment! That’s why I have such respect for the way you do things though, you’ve literally carved out your own niche and made it work for you in a way I’d not heard of before. It’s brilliant. And it works! It’s all very organic and smooth which is why it makes my head rattle that I don’t hear of that kind of thing more. Which is true for nearly all the best ideas, they fill a hole you never knew was there.

      Yeah I sort of over-played the strength of having a publisher on your side when it comes down to marketing. I know that you’re more likely to get a deal for multiple books because the first few are not expected to earn profit and by the time your audience has grown the later books will pay off for the first. I didn’t realise publishers have a tendency to let the newer authors drop though, seems like a priority of instant money from well-selling authors over future-money from new ones. Which is entirely fair if you’re trying to keep your company afloat. I’m sure there are smaller publishers that make a big deal out of supporting new talent though.

      I totally agree with you on your 3 types of self-publishing. I think in particular eBooks will have a tendency to lean away from 1 and towards 2/3 for a few reasons. You won’t get a hard copy of your book for the pride, and a lot of these online celebrities with support bases from around the world will take to them well like the Machine of Death lot because of the ease for international audiences. Not to mention that I can imagine people wanting to jump on the new platform while it still feels new.

      Anyway, thank you for that ramble! You should post something like that on your own blog! It’s fascinating reading how you do what you do 😉 Kind regards!

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