Response to bestselling author J.A. Konrath’s foggy portrait of the “confident” writer

A Real Publisher puts you on any number of bookstore shelves once they publish you, because–since they’re apparently not doing much marketing for their authors, anymore–that is their primary power.

But getting on a shelf yourself? How can you not feel an incredible sense of accomplishment? (Is it disgusting that I took a picture of my independently released book on a bookstore shelf? Say what you will. I did it, anyway.)

That was in Nashville’s Davis-Kidd Booksellers. Since they wrote me the letter saying they wanted Homefront for their store (after I submitted it for review, that is…they made sure to read it, first, which makes their invitation that much more significant), I’d been back twice: once to look at it on the shelf, and once to do a reading.

This third visit, I just wanted Ian (my husband) to look, to see what I saw: that all of those books surrounding Homefront were distributed by major publishers, and I–sans agent (for that book), sans Real Publisher–was still able to include mine among them. (I make no comparisons here when I say I’m just a shelf away from Mark Twain! Why, it’s like walking around in his neighborhood! And, while we’re on the subject, if you’re ever in Connecticut, I highly recommend visiting the Mark Twain House.)

In March of this year, The Publetariat creator April Hamilton drew attention to a February blog post by bestselling detective/crime author J.A. Konrath, whose blog site is titled “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.” Hamilton points to this passage:

“Are you confident or delusional?

Chances are high the delusional people will believe they’re confident, since self-awareness is in short supply in the writing community.  Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Have you been published by an impartial third party? Confident writers eventually get traditionally published. Period.”

And to this:

“Would you rather be paid or be praised?

Confident writers know the best form of praise is a royalty check.”

Both of these assertions, as well as the following by Konrath, are worth responding to:

Confident writers work within the system, even though the system is flawed.
Delusional writers work outside of the system, even though they long to work within the system.

One by one, yes?

“Are you confident or delusional?

Chances are high the delusional people will believe they’re confident, since self-awareness is in short supply in the writing community.  Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Have you been published by an impartial third party? Confident writers eventually get traditionally published. Period.”

I’m always bothered by Published Authors–okay, any kind of writer–claiming to be an authority on what a “writer” is, confident or otherwise. “A real writer is [insert trait.]” “A confident writer [insert behavior].” But, that aside, while it may be true that self-awareness is lacking in the writing community as much it is in any other community, I’m having a hard time figuring out what confidence has to do with being traditionally published. Could he mean “competent” instead of “confident”? If he does, it’s probably true that competent writers eventually get traditionally published, but he should have ended with the “.” and left off the “Period,” because while he may believe…

Confident writers work within the system, even though the system is flawed.
Delusional writers work outside of the system, even though they long to work within the system.

…a number of competent (and confident!) writers aren’t working within the system, as much as they long to work within it. They aren’t traditionally published. And the assertion that those not published by a traditional publisher are neither confident nor competent writers is unfounded. A number of independently published (and later either traditionally published or critically-praised) authors are proving Konrath (and his ilk) wrong, and–as self-publishing continues to gain clout in the world of readers and reviewers–quite frequently.

Case in point: Backword Books, a collective of authors with independently released novels that are just some of many breaking through the Traditional Publishing barrier, and whose reader and critical reviews illustrate that, yes, it’s true: good books released by competent (and confident) writers aren’t necessarily discovered by Traditional Publishers. But they are discovered by the audience that matters: readers.

“Would you rather be paid or be praised?

Confident writers know the best form of praise is a royalty check.”

This one is easy, because there are many kinds of writers, and not all of them have the same goals. Some want money. Some just enjoy writing. Some are interested in the art of it. Those who do it for money will, of course, consider payment to be the best form of praise.  But those more concerned with improving a skill, using words to communicate something–a thought, an emotion, a scene, and image–in just the right way would rather know they’re doing what they set out to do. I’ve received royalty checks from Homefront sales, and the money was, of course, nothing compared to what I’d get if I were picked up by, say, Little, Brown, but no check big or small would beat this:

“I have read Homefront three times since it was released. I keep going back to this story because it makes me feel understood. And given the present state of things, it is a comfort to be understood, and to know there is an opportunity for others to understand what they may never experience.”- Beth Kernaghan, Artist and Army wife, Fort Rucker, AL

Or this:

“I cant seem to put it down… i was crying within the first 5 pages… ”

A few hours after receiving a paycheck, I forget about it. But those reactions? I’m not likely to ever forget them. I want the readers to love the writing.

Period.

Which is why I’ve started giving Homefront away for free. I used to be very anti-free because I’d put so much work into the book that I couldn’t imagine giving it away. “I earned the fourteen cents per copy I’ll make!” I insisted. If people paid for it, I was “legitimate,” I thought.

I don’t think that anymore. Sure, I need money. Yeah, I’d like to make a living writing. But more than that, I want people to READ the writing. And they are. If the data compiled on the Scribd site where Homefront can be read as a PDF is accurate, Homefront has received 570 “reads” and 69 downloads in the 19 hours since it posted.

Don’t get me wrong. I still want to be picked up by a publisher, whether for Homefront or for the next book I’m writing. I would be a horrible, bad, lying liar if I said, “No way! I don’t want my book in bookstores across the country. Yuck.” Of course I want to be in bookstores. I love bookstores. I love hold-them-in-your-hands books and I would love to know people saw Homefront (or, soon, The Year of Dan Palace) on a shelf and wanted it so much they picked it up, carried it to the register, brought it home, curled up on a couch, and opened the cover. I would love to have the clout of a publisher’s logo to make it possible to be reviewed in the New York Times. Hell, yeah.

But, in the meantime, I have the confidence (yes, J.A. Konrath, the confidence) of knowing readers and reviewers are enjoying the book I released on my own, that a bookstore didn’t need a publisher to thrust it at them but actually read it and decided they wanted it based on its own merits, and that more and  more independent authors are joining forces and creating collectives like Backword Books to bring readers and writers together in the way only Traditional Publishers used to be able to do.

About Kristen

http://kristenjtsetsi.com
This entry was posted in Kristen Tsetsi and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

52 Responses to Response to bestselling author J.A. Konrath’s foggy portrait of the “confident” writer

  1. Wonderful! says:

    Kristen,

    You are absolutely right. I, too, am not sure what confident has to to with getting a traditional publishing deal. I was confident and had not one, but two, high profile literary agents for “Without Grace.” Yet, there was no publishing deal to be had. (Long story–too long to tell here.)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing… Keep writing!

    Carol Hoenig

  2. RJ Keller says:

    Just brilliant, Kristen.
    I wish I had written this.

  3. FarAwayDeb says:

    I’m a big fan of Konrath’s books, but I definitely disagree with him on this issue. Most of his books that I’ve read have been crime/detective novels, they are definitely of one genre, although his main character is a bit different from the “norm” which gives them a bit more originality.

    Unfortunately when a book can’t be pidgeonholed into a certain genre, it can be harder to get it published into the mainstream. But some of those books are actually much better than what’s being published in the mainstream.

    I am glad that some writers have enough confidence in themselves and faith in their books to tackle the world of publishing on their own.

  4. Andrew Kent says:

    A great post. The most important point I think is from Konrath — the system is flawed. That means it can be improved. I agree entirely. Independent authors (and I mean the good independent authors at Backword Books and elsewhere) are working to improve it.

    Konrath’s points can also be rephrased along dimensions of dependence and independence:

    Independent writers know they’ll be published, if they keep at it.
    Indpendent writers work to get the words right.
    Independent writers take suggestion.
    Independent writers work even when it’s hard.
    Independent writers know this is a job.
    Independent writers know there’s a never-ending learning curve.
    Independent writers know when to move on, and learn from their failures and successes.
    Independent writers know luck plays a big part.
    Independent writers get published.
    Independent writers understand their limitations.
    Independent writers understand sacrifice.
    Independent writers believe in persistence.
    Independent writers believe they owe the world.

    Dependent writers expect to be periodically rejected.
    Dependent writers work within the system, even though the system is flawed.
    Dependent writers are, in every other way, like good independent writers.

    ‘Nuff said.

  5. Randall Radic says:

    Good post. Never give up is the mantra everyone should adopt. And how you ever got your self-published book in a traditional bookstore — that is a testimony to your persistence and confidence in yourself and your writing. Way to go!

  6. JA Konrath says:

    Hi Kristin!

    If you read my blog regularly, you know I enjoy debate, and I love it when someone disagrees with me. :)

    And there’s nothing personal here. I don’t know you, and can’t comment on the quality of your work. But I do have a lot of experience in writing and publishing, and I politely disagree with your rebuttal. So this isn’t a comment on you, or your work. It’s a comment on the things you’ve said above.

    One of the first lines of my blog entry sums up my intent:

    All writers need to be confident. We must believe our work is worthy, that our efforts aren’t in vain.

    But what are the differences between confidence, and its ugly step-sister, delusion?

    This particular blog entry is about the expectations writers have. We all ask ourselves, “Are we good enough to make it?” And we all obviously think we are, because we all keep writing.

    The “proof” of being “good enough” is a professional attitude coupled with the results that attitude brings.

    I define “writer” as “one who writes.” I define “professional writer” as “one who gets paid to write.”

    If you don’t get paid, you’re still a writer. But you’re not a pro.

    When I write a book or story, I’m confident it will sell. I’m confident of this because I’ve spent 18 years learning the craft, understanding the industry, making mistakes and figuring things out. I haven’t written anything in many years that I haven’t been able to sell.

    That’s confidence.

    Delusion is writing and believing you’ll be able to succeed without having paid your dues or learning the industry. Delusional writers take short cuts, like self-publishing, yet persist in believing their work is indeed good enough for worldwide acclaim and big money even though industry professionals (editors, agents, publishers) haven’t agreed.

    And the assertion that those not published by a traditional publisher are neither confident nor competent writers is unfounded.

    Actually, it is founded by the publishing industry, which is set up to profit off of books. Industry professionals are the gatekeepers who decide what is good enough. Thinking you can succeed while sidestepping them is delusional.

    Is it confident to rush into a combat zone and think you’ll single-handedly win the battle without the army behind you? No, that’s delusion.

    self-publishing continues to gain clout in the world of readers and reviewers–quite frequently.

    Actually, it doesn’t. That’s a delusional thing to say. How many self-pubbed authors can you name who make a living as writers? How many self-pubbed authors have been reviewed by all the major periodicals? How many self-pubbed authors appear on the shelves of EVERY Borders and Barnes & Noble, or get their books into Wal-Mart?

    If you self-pub and believe you will actually have the same clout, peer respect, distribution, and paycheck as a traditionally published author, you are delusional.

    I’ve never heard of Backwards Books. Have they cracked the NYT Bestseller list? Can you buy them in airports? What do they pay and what sort of distribution system do they have?

    I’m not knocking them, or their authors. But what makes them different than my Grandma slapping together some old poems, printing them at Kinko’s, selling them to her friends and garnering a lot of praise?

    there are many kinds of writers, and not all of them have the same goals. Some want money. Some just enjoy writing. Some are interested in the art of it. Those who do it for money will, of course, consider payment to be the best form of praise.

    You’re 100% correct. But if you simply enjoy writing, or think praise is the best form of payment, or are simply enjoying improving your skills, you are not a professional. You are a hobbyist. There is nothing at all wrong with being a hobbyist. In fact, I paint in my spare time. I love it.

    But I’m not delusional and believe I will someday have my own art show. I’m not confident that I have what it takes to some day make a living at it. I know my limitations, and adjust my expectations accordingly. And I do not equate selling a few paintings with my work hanging in the Art Institute. They are not the same thing.

    BTW- Praise from strangers is really heady the first few thousand times. But the shine wears off. I still enjoy getting fanmail, but it all begins to blend together, and becomes very low on the priority list after you’ve been doing this for a while.

    The rephrase: I love my fans. I work hard to give them books they enjoy, and I’m truly happy when they enjoy them. But I don’t define my success by the praise of strangers. It’s not healthy.

    But, in the meantime, I have the confidence (yes, J.A. Konrath, the confidence) of knowing readers and reviewers are enjoying the book I released on my own

    In the preceding paragraph, you mentioned you’d love for a big house to pick your book up. If you were truly confident about the book, why didn’t you keep submitting to find a big house to do that, rather than pub it yourself? Didn’t you consider there might be a reason it wasn’t picked up?

    I was rejected over 500 times before finding an agent and getting a book deal. I wrote 9 unpublished novels. I struggled for 12 years without making a dime. That’s over 1 million words written, none of which were published.

    That wasn’t delusion on my part. It was confidence that I’d eventually become good enough for the traditional publishing world to notice. And I did, and it did.

    Had I published my first rejected novel on my own and believed NY Traditional Publishing was crazy, and considered myself a success because I sold a few copies and a few people said nice things about it, I’d file that as delusional.

    Of course, Traditional Publishing IS crazy. But, as I stated, they’re the only game in town if you want to be a pro.

    I’m not knocking self-pubbing, either. I’ve blogged about it extensively, and am currently doing it myself on Kindle and making a nice chunk of change with it.

    But you don’t truly KNOW you’re good enough as a writer until you’re able to reach a whole lot of people, and the only way to do that, at this point, is with a traditional publisher.

    My blog post was a rally for people to keep at it while learning all they need to learn about craft and the publishing business. It wasn’t meant to be a litany against self-publishing.

    But if you do self-publish, there’s usually delusion there. Just like believing your summer softball team can beat the Yankees.

    If your expectations are low, limited to enjoyment and praise, how can you truly feel your book is good enough for a big house to pay you $100,000 for it?

    This is how I ended my blog entry:

    It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.

    You must believe in yourself.

    But first you have to prove yourself worthy of that belief.

    ———————–

    That said, I wish my much success, and hope you succeed in reaching your goals. There isn’t any “us vs. them” in publishing. It all comes down to hard work and luck. I trust you’ll continue to work hard until you reach your goals, and refuse to settle for less, and never delude yourself that less is more. That, in essence, is what my blog is about.

  7. Henry Baum says:

    JA, you lost me when saying that writers need to spend time “learning the industry.” As long as we’re throwing around the word “delusional,” I think it’s delusional to think writing for the industry is a good thing.

    You have to understand, you’re a thriller writer. This is a much different process – both writing and getting published – than non-commercial fiction. Many, many highly talented literary writers don’t get paid, or paid very little. You’re a little too obsessed with how money changing hands is the dividing line between a writer being a pro or not. I’ve gotten paid by traditional presses. I’ve also self-published. Am I a pro?

    You say, “How can you truly feel your book is good enough for a big house to pay you $100,000 for it?” Earlier you say: “I don’t define my success by the praise of strangers. It’s not healthy.” Instead, you define success by how much money you’ve made. Who’s unhealthy?

    Frankly, you think exactly like the traditional publishing industry. Money=success. No one’s arguing that self-publishing is ideal – we all want better distribution than self-publishing offers. But the vetting system in traditional publishing is all about how much something will sell. The fact that you’ve had success does not prove publishing works, it only proves that you know how to write for the market – which is something a great many writers don’t want to do because it’s a kind of censorship.

  8. Andrew Kent says:

    JA Konrath, I’m puzzled at your attitude. From what I can tell, you’ve been a professional writer (aka, being paid to write) for 5-6 years. Before that, you had 500+ rejections for 9 unpublished novels, if Wikipedia is to believed. Three are still unpublished so you’ve made them available as free downloads. Bottom line, for 12 years, you were neither published nor professional. Were you delusional for 12 years?

    I also found this interesting from your Wikipedia entry: “Konrath believes that writers must play a large part in marketing their own books. . . . In 2006, Konrath mailed out close to 7000 letters to libraries across the United States with fellow mystery author Julia Spencer-Fleming, touting their books to librarians. Later that year, Konrath signed books in 612 bookstores across 28 states.”

    So, let’s see, you’re arguing with us for doing precisely the kind of thing you and Julia did? Joining together for more impact? Working angles for exposure? Seems disingenuous to me.

    I also find it irritating that you’re on your high horse about being a big-time published author when, frankly, I’d never heard of you before, never seen one of your books on a bookstore shelf, etc.? Seems like you still have familiar marketing challenges. Yet you’re lecturing us about knowing an industry that obviously puzzled you for 2/3 of your career? Don’t let your success, or those tiresome few thousand compliments, go to your head.

    Admit it, luck and hard work are the twin powers in traditional publishing. I’m happy for you that you had some luck to go along with your hard work. I’m sure you wish us luck, too.

    Distribution/marketing is a challenge for every author, you included. I’d think that someone with your story would be more sympathetic and less arrogant toward authors in a position you’ve shared to a large extent.

  9. Eddie Wright says:

    Since when is being delusional a bad thing?

    I think the very act of sitting down to write is delusional. Creating something from nothing and assuming anyone, anywhere will read it and respond to it, is delusional. If writers weren’t delusional, nothing would ever get written. We’d all sit around all day working mindless bullshit jobs, coming home, eating dinner and watching reality TV while being perfectly practical and realistic and never finding that inspiration and perseverance and CONFIDENCE to sit down and just fucking do it.

    But we’re not practical, we’re not realistic, we’re not traditional…we’re all a bunch of weirdo, delusional freaks who thought someone would actually WANT to read our highly personal, sometimes traumatizing, sometimes bizarre, sometimes ridiculous, nonsense. You bet your ass I’m delusional. I’m delusional as shit and I’m proud of it. The moment I get realistic, the moment I get logical, the moment I get rational is the moment I’m checking out.

    Lobotomize me if you have to but I will not give up my delusions.

  10. MCM says:

    @JA Konrath: The thing that I find perplexing (working as I do in both the professional world and the self-pub world) is this conflict in your own response:

    > I love my fans. I work hard to give them books they enjoy, and I’m truly happy when they enjoy them. But I don’t define my success by the praise of strangers. It’s not healthy.

    and:

    > … persist in believing their work is indeed good enough for worldwide acclaim and big money even though industry professionals (editors, agents, publishers) haven’t agreed.

    Now I may just have a jaded view of professionals, but to me, in many cases, their opinions hold just as much water as the average commenter on my blog. I’ve seen great projects killed because of petty office politics, and bad ideas elevated to an international stage because the proposal used clever alliteration. It’s not to say that all professionals are unworthy of respect, but to say that getting an agent’s thumbs-up is worth more than a few hundred enthusiastic emails is, in my view, delusional.

    I put great stock in my fanbase, because that’s ultimately who I write for. With a big publisher, you have a bit of a buffer, where you still might land another deal if your audience finds you’re coasting. For me, I have to exceed expectations with every move, earn respect and build my base step by step. A $100,000 advance would be great, but it wouldn’t mean half as much as knowing I’d earned that sum through hard work and excellence. Put another way: “pro” publishers aren’t better at the game, they just used the cheat codes to get ahead. It’s nothing shameful, but neither is doing it yourself.

    Confident is knowing you can achieve something great if you work at it. Delusional is thinking you’ve earned the right to perpetual greatness. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out, or have published a dozen books through a major publisher: you have to earn the right to your audience, and work to keep them.

  11. MCM says:

    After that little tirade, I have a question. Probably obvious, but I ask anyway:

    > I define “writer” as “one who writes.” I define “professional writer” as “one who gets paid to write.”

    How do you define “gets paid to write”? I earn a decent amount of money from my books (in sales), but I don’t get “paid” by a single entity to do it ahead of time. I assume you mean to say “one who earns money writing,” which I could agree with. Until, say, your fifth sale, you’re an enthusiastic pro-am. But anyone that can convince a stranger to buy their book is surely a professional, even if they can’t live off the proceeds. From that point on, it’s all just degrees of financial success.

    Someone told me recently that in screenwriting, you say a professional is someone that earns a living through their writing, but in books, it’s “someone who is paid to write”, because most novelists don’t actually earn that much. If they went with the generally-accepted definition of professional, they’d be excluding most of their membership. Who would work through years of rejection for THAT? :)

  12. Frank Daniels says:

    Word to the wise: anybody making these grand, sweeping comments about what or who is or isnt a writer is to be taken with a grain of salt. Look at those who have gone before and self-published to later find astronomical success (and IMHO Konrath’s entire argument is suspect if only because the word “success” is so subjective in the first place).

    Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
    John Grisham, A Time to Kill
    L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics
    Irma Rombauer, The Joy of Cooking
    Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
    Richard Paul Evans, The Christmas Box
    Jack Canfield and Mark Hensen, Chicken Soup for the Soul
    James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy
    Beatrix Potter, creator of the Peter Rabbit Classic Series.

    Thomas Paine – Edgar Allan Poe – T.S. Elliot – Carl Sandberg – Gertrude Stein – Deepak Chopra – Upton Sinclair – D.H. Lawrence – George Bernard Shaw – e.e. cummings – Henry David Thoreau – Virginia Woolf – Margaret Atwood – Tom Clancy – Stephen Crane

    Guy is talking out of his ass. I’d say Eddie Wright’s comment above should be printed out and tacked to the wall in front of every aspiring writer’s desk, because it is (or was) the truth for all of us. Seems that a little “success” tends to blank that out of the memories of some of us….

  13. I will admit to a bit of a soft spot for JA Konrath, because I once won one of his short story contests (the prize was supposed to be a character named after me in “Dirty Martini”, but I’m four-fifths of the way through that book and have yet to encounter my namesake character — I’m hoping it will turn out to be the Big Bad, but suspect that it might in fact not be there, for which I will blame the legal department). Given that, one would expect that JAK doesn’t consider me a hack, although I suppose he might consider me a one-hit wonder.

    I think JAK’s original post and his response to your response significantly underplay the role of luck and timing in the publishing game. I have stacks of letters saying how much the editor/agent/publisher liked my submission and lamenting that he or she doesn’t know how to market it or doesn’t think it will sell. After 12 years toiling in the moribund field of horror after it collapsed in the early 1990s, I switched to fantasy just as it became dominated by YA phenomena such as Harry Potter and Twilight (which as far as I can tell is not horror, despite involving nasty things with pointy teeth). Now horror is back, but mostly in the form of torture porn, which I want nothing to do with. I suppose I could write YA fantasy or “Hostel”-style sadism, but I don’t want to.

    Throughout the years I’ve managed to get paid fairly consistently for writing, but it’s been nowhere near enough to support my family in the manner to which we have become accustomed. (That’s what IT and software engineering has done.) I had a couple of books put out by different small, independent publishing houses, but they folded one by one. At some point, realizing the limitation of my ambitions (i.e., being unwilling to risk living under a bridge while making a push to be a full-time writer), I began testing the self-publishing waters through Booksurge (blech) and Lulu (pretty good), and eventually redirected my energy toward making my books available through Lulu (not to mention veering off in a completely different direction with the “Dennis’s Diary of Destruction” blog) rather than trying to get yet another agent or yet another contract. I don’t have the personality type (or the drive, I guess) to cold-call bookstores, libraries, etc., trying to get them to carry my books, so I just list them on my blogs and if people want to buy them, they can. Meanwhile I think I’ve entertained more readers with Dennis’s adventures than I ever did with my books and stories. I don’t believe this makes me delusional, but it may make me what JA Konrath would have become if he had gotten tired of the grind after 15 years and given up on traditional publishing.

    Anyway, I guess that, in JAK’s worldview, I am just a hobbyist. But at this point, I’m a pretty satisfied hobbyist. :-)

  14. RJ Keller says:

    “Praise from strangers is really heady the first few thousand times. But the shine wears off. I still enjoy getting fanmail, but it all begins to blend together, and becomes very low on the priority list after you’ve been doing this for a while.”

    I’m sure that would tickle your readers to no end.

  15. Shannon says:

    Doods. Jakonrath is rite. Im a reeder. Not a riter. Dood I by the books. And aint that whut its abowt? The doods at the company deside whut I reed and everbody makes $$. He dont need me to tell em hes good.

    Thumbs up to your readers, Mr. Konrath.

  16. JA Konrath says:

    Lots to reply to here.

    than non-commercial fiction.

    I’ve never heard the term “non-commercial fiction.” But if your goal is to be non-commercial, you should find success very easily. :)

    Instead, you define success by how much money you’ve made. Who’s unhealthy?

    What constitutes a successful movie? A successful business? A successful restaurant? A successful store?

    A successful writer makes their living at writing, and that comes down to money. It’s not crass. It’s capitalism.

    it only proves that you know how to write for the market – which is something a great many writers don’t want to do because it’s a kind of censorship.

    Writing for the market is a lot harder than writing whatever the heck you feel like writing and hoping the world embraces your unique vision. And you’d have to name at least a few “great many writers” who think the market censors them.

    Bottom line, for 12 years, you were neither published nor professional. Were you delusional for 12 years?

    No. I was confident I could become good enough to succeed, without shortcuts like self-pubbing.

    So, let’s see, you’re arguing with us for doing precisely the kind of thing you and Julia did?

    No. Read my rebuttle again. I’m arguing about the differences between confidence and delusion. Marketing and self-promotion are something all writers need to do. But marketing and self-promo without a large distribution network is a waste of time and money.

    I also find it irritating that you’re on your high horse

    Get over it. Life is too short to be irritated by people with opposing views. And I’d suggest reading a few more of my blog entries before you say I’m on a high horse.

    I’d think that someone with your story would be more sympathetic and less arrogant toward authors in a position you’ve shared to a large extent.

    I’m neither arrogant nor sympathetic. Neither helps with a writing career. If you want to find a lot of readers and make some money, write a book that 10,000 strangers will pay $25 for. If you’re confident you’ve written such a book, traditional publishing is the way to reach those people and make some money. I’ve never seen any other way work.

    I’m delusional as shit and I’m proud of it.

    Writing involves craft, which can be learned. The publishing industry is a business, which can be learned. Delusion isn’t helpful in learning craft or understanding the industry.

    Put another way: “pro” publishers aren’t better at the game, they just used the cheat codes to get ahead.

    If you think there is some magic power behind the success of Random House then you are mistaken. There’s no magic. There’s only supply and demand, and business savvy.

    Confident is knowing you can achieve something great if you work at it. Delusional is thinking you’ve earned the right to perpetual greatness.

    You’d have to define what “great” is before I agree or disagree.

    I earn a decent amount of money from my books (in sales), but I don’t get “paid” by a single entity to do it ahead of time.

    Congrats. That’s not an easy thing to do. Assuming you’re self-published, you’re ahead of the game. But surely you can look at your self-pubbed peers and know that. Surely you can note the majority are not making decent money.

    FWIW-A confident writer doesn’t care if someone labels them as delusional.

    Look at those who have gone before and self-published to later find astronomical success

    There are 40,000 novels published per year. How many of those self-pubbed become astronomical successes? You named two dozen writers. I can name twenty thousand writers who are astronomically successful who didn’t self pub. Just check the NYT bestseller list over the past few decades.

    There are always exceptions. Don’t base your career on an exception.

    I’m sure that would tickle your readers to no end.

    I don’t sugarcoat the truth. Fanmail is nice. Long signing lines are nice. But when you have an inbox full of 500 emails you need to reply to, all saying they love you, or you’re at a distributor signing 3500 books, it becomes work like any other work.

    Do I still get excited when I have a long signing line? Sure. Do I still love hearing from people who read my books? Absolutely. But it’s still work. It just happens to be work that I love.

    I don’t believe this makes me delusional, but it may make me what JA Konrath would have become if he had gotten tired of the grind after 15 years and given up on traditional publishing.

    I dunno. I think I would have toughed it out. But that’s me, and we all have our own paths to follow.

    Again, let me reiterate: my post isn’t about traditional publishing vs. self publishing. Here’s one of my quotes:

    Have you been published by an impartial third party?

    Unless a professional company wants to risk money on you because they believe they can make money from you, how can you truly believe you’re writing at a professional level?

    We all struggle with doubt over our abilities. A professional contract, and the subsequent paycheck, is validation. Praise from a few strangers is not.

    And Dennis, what’s your last name? It’s been a long time, but I’ll check to see if you’re in one of my books somewhere…

  17. MCM says:

    @JA Konrath: Thanks for the replies! My replies to your replies below:

    > If you think there is some magic power behind the success of Random House then you are mistaken. There’s no magic. There’s only supply and demand, and business savvy.

    After reading my line, I realize I actually meant to say “pro authors”. It applies to publishers too, but in a somewhat different way.

    All the same, there’s certainly no magic involved in the process, but you need to consider: if Random House can, with significantly less effort, get 10,000 books in book shops around the country, a Random House author has a much better chance of selling 10,000 books. Self-pubbed authors need to work hard for that number. A cheat code is is not as negative thing as it sounds… but to say “I am a better author because I sold 10,000 copies” when you’ve got that advantage is a bit misleading (not that I’m saying YOU do, but I’ve heard it quite a lot from other authors). In my mind, a self-pubber selling 500 copies is a much bigger deal than a pro author selling thousands. It suggests their writing has merit, as opposed to an established business advantage.

    > You’d have to define what “great” is before I agree or disagree.

    I’ll define greatness as respect, money, and audience. Not necessarily “best writer in history” respect, but the kind where people nod appreciatively when they know who you are and what you do.

    > But surely you can look at your self-pubbed peers and know that. Surely you can note the majority are not making decent money.

    Definitely not, and I totally agree that there’s a giant ton of bad writing out there (both pro and self pubbed). The thing is, when I try and get my books into physical bookshops, or reviewed by major publications, I’m always turned down, simply because of my publishing methods. That mindset is what relegates self-publishing to the sidelines, even if there’s amazing content to be seen.

    I fully appreciate that the logistics of reviewing and processing every book written is impractical for book shops and reviewers, so please don’t think I’m suggesting the system can be fixed easily… but as it stands, I believe you see fewer success stories from self publishing because the amazing books will never gain traction. That’s an issue that needs to be addressed, because it’s leaving amazing art on the sidelines for absurd reasons.

    > FWIW-A confident writer doesn’t care if someone labels them as delusional.

    I don’t mind being called delusional at all. It’s almost a compliment for me ;) But what bothers me is the idea that some authors with the Next Great Novel might be frightened into hiding when they’re arbitrarily rejected by a major publisher, and read that self publishing is an activity for the mentally unstable. It may be statistically improbable, but it’s POSSIBLE, and we should be encouraging great art from every possible quarter.

    That’s my concern. These labels thrown about are quite probably damaging our culture. It may have been acceptable when publishing was too expensive for the masses, but these days, there’s really no excuse. Art should sink or swim on its merits, regardless of whether an agent or editor has signed off on it.

  18. Kristen says:

    I guess what I don’t understand is why publishing independently should be viewed any differently from releasing CDs under indie labels, making indie movies, or displaying your art in the town center – all of which are considered perfectly respectable.

    Not all of the indie work is good (just like not all of the Big Name work is good), but if audiences like it, they like it. If they don’t, they don’t. But method of release for non-writing art forms doesn’t seem to be a factor in determining what’s good and what isn’t, or in how to appropriately label the “artists” (as film-makers, musicians, sculptors, etc.). You don’t hear, “You’re not a real film maker until you make a movie with WB or Paramount.” “You’re not actually an actor if you don’t have an agent.” “You’re not a real painter until your work is displayed in a NYC gallery.”

    So why this distinction when it comes to writers? It’s very curious.

  19. Henry Baum says:

    So if you get paid a living wage for your books you’re a professional writer, but if you don’t get a paid a lot, you’re not. So all the very successful drivel that gets published by celebrities and other writers is legitimate and everyone publishing on a small press on down are amateurs.

    Small presses are lucky to sell 5000 copies of a book. The writers will probably have a very limited advance and the publisher will hopefully make back printing costs. In short, it’s not money you can live on – you’re going to need a second job. Most writers work in some other profession as well. It’s a lucky few who are self-sustaining. You just can’t make money the line which determines professional vs. amateur because it is very difficult to make a living writing fiction.

    No one will make the argument that self-publishing is an ideal way to publish and distribute. It’s not. At least not yet. The argument is that the criteria for publishers has become so stupidly narrow because they’re all looking at the bottom line like you. Personally, I think my writing is very strong. I know it is and people have told me so, including “professionals.” I even think it has the potential to be commercial, but NY publishing is too timid to take a chance. I say NY because I’ve been published by very reputable presses in France and the U.K., as well as high-profile small presses in the U.S.

    But agents and editors have also said, “It’s too hard to market in this climate.” I am not going to change my writing according to what they deem appropriate. That’s the case with all of us at Backword – we’re strong writers cast aside by an industry that is only driven by profit. Even industry insiders admit how stupid the industry has become – and you’re celebrating a system that boxes out a growing list of talented writers.

    I’ll end with your words because they need to be repeated:

    What constitutes a successful movie? A successful business? A successful restaurant? A successful store?

    A successful writer makes their living at writing, and that comes down to money. It’s not crass. It’s capitalism.

    Writing isn’t a widget, it’s not just merchandise. If you don’t think there’s success in self-expression and craft then I’m not really interested in reading anything you’ve written.

  20. I’ll only make one quick point because everything else seems to have been said already. To claim that self-publishing is not gaining clout because it’s not as big as traditional publishing is logically fallacious. It’s like saying that a sapling isn’t growing because it’s not as big as it will be. Don’t compare self-publishing today with traditional publishing today – compare it to self-publishing twenty years ago.

  21. JA Konrath says:

    but to say “I am a better author because I sold 10,000 copies” when you’ve got that advantage is a bit misleading

    “Better” is a term I don’t agree with. After a certain minimum standard is achieved in narrative structure, “good” becomes subjective opinion.

    But I’ll contend that the minimum standard is consistently met by traditional publishing, because there is a vetting process, there are standards, and the gatekeepers are professionals who understand how fiction works.

    In my mind, a self-pubber selling 500 copies is a much bigger deal than a pro author selling thousands. It suggests their writing has merit, as opposed to an established business advantage.

    In my mind, being able to attain the established business advantage a traditional publishing contract offers automatically establishes merit.

    The thing is, when I try and get my books into physical bookshops, or reviewed by major publications, I’m always turned down, simply because of my publishing methods. That mindset is what relegates self-publishing to the sidelines, even if there’s amazing content to be seen.

    I agree it isn’t fair. But who said it has to be fair? Is anything fair?

    If you want to get reviewed, or get into bookstores, there is a route to take. It’s a difficult route, involving hard work and luck. I’ve always supported sticking with that route, no matter how flawed the industry is. At this time, making a living as a self-published author is practically impossible. If your goal is to write for a living, don’t delude yourself by thinking you’ll be able to do it via self-pubbing.

    I believe you see fewer success stories from self publishing because the amazing books will never gain traction.

    That’s not just the case with self-pubbed. That’s all books. Only 1 out of 5 traditionally published novels makes a profit, and a 50% sell-through is considered normal. It’s a broken industry. But it is still the only game in town.

    But what bothers me is the idea that some authors with the Next Great Novel might be frightened into hiding when they’re arbitrarily rejected by a major publisher, and read that self publishing is an activity for the mentally unstable.

    Self-publishing may indeed be the future. But as it now stands, self-pubbers fight an uphill battle. I contend a confident writer will continue to improve their craft, learn to understand the market, and work to become part of it.

    Everyone who writes is a writer. Everyone who is able to finish a novel is a novelist. But the terms “published” and “printed” are not the same thing.

    If you’re confident in your work, I suggest holding out to be published, rather than printing it yourself. Others are free to disagree. But their argument is weak. Anyone can print. Not anyone can publish. If your work is good enough, you’ll eventually be published. Printing is a shortcut.

    Is self-pubbing bad? Hell no. I’m doing it myself, on Kindle, and doing pretty well. But I don’t consider those books published, and I only have confidence they are any good because they were vetted by my agent and fellow professional authors.

    Art should sink or swim on its merits, regardless of whether an agent or editor has signed off on it.

    It would be cool if it worked that way. But there’s nothing inherent in a book that makes it great, or successful. The public decides. And the only way the public will find your book is through marketing and distribution.

    So why this distinction when it comes to writers? It’s very curious.

    If you paint a picture of an apple, and it looks like an apple, the majority of people who see it will admit you can paint.

    But everyone can write, just like everyone can speak. There is a blurry line between what writing works, and what doesn’t. It’s largely subjective.

    Ive found the best way to judge it is if someone who earns their living in publishing (agents and editors) decide to work with a writer. These are people who have learned what works and what doesn’t, in order to make money. So these are the people who can best determine talent.

    If you’re confident in your writing, you know you’ll eventually attract the attention of these gatekeepers.

    Writing isn’t a widget, it’s not just merchandise.

    Writing is a commodity, like beer, or cars. If you don’t believe it is, why try to sell it? Why not give it away? If self-expression is all you want to do, why have goals of being commercial?

    We all want to be read. If you’re truly confident your work is worthy of being read, you should learn to work within the system to make sure it reaches the widest possible audience.

    If you release it yourself, it’s an uphill battle, and chances are you may always have that nagging doubt of “If I’m good why won’t the majors publishers give me a contract?”

    Look, it’s easy to come up with reasons why NY won’t publish you. I know this. I’ve had 9 novels rejected. I know how hard it is. And I know NY is often wrong. And I know the industry sucks.

    But, in my experience, 99% of self-pubbed writers think they’re better than they actually are, which is the real reason NY doesn’t want them.

    If you truly want to know your book is good, land a reputable lit agent.

    If you truly want to reach a lot of readers, sign with a major house.

    Set your goals and act accordingly. As a friend of mine said, the happy ending to every self-pub story is “and then a major publisher bought the rights.” If that’s the case, why not hold out for that publisher in the first place?

  22. JA Konrath says:

    Thanks for encouraging discussion, Kristen. Because you focused on a few lines of my blog post, I feel like the topic has become about self-publishing, rather than confidence. Perhaps my comments are better taken within context. Here’s the original entry:

    All writers need to be confident. We must believe our work is worthy, that our efforts aren’t in vain.

    But what are the differences between confidence, and its ugly step-sister, delusion?

    Confident writers know they’ll be published, if they keep at it.
    Delusion writers think they’ll be rich and famous.

    Confident writers work to get the words right.
    Delusional writers think they got the words right the first time.

    Confident writers expect to be periodically rejected.
    Delusional writers are shocked every time someone fails to recognize their brilliance.

    Confident writers take suggestion.
    Delusional writers believe their words are written in stone.

    Confident writers work even when it’s hard.
    Delusional writers believe they need to be inspired first.

    Confident writers know this is a job.
    Delusional writers think this is a vacation.

    Confident writers know there’s a never-ending learning curve.
    Delusional writers believe they’ve learned all they need to know.

    Confident writers know when to move on, and learn from their failures and successes.
    Delusional writers keep doing the same things, over and over, hoping for different outcomes.

    Confident writers know luck plays a big part.
    Delusional writers think there’s a conspiracy against them.

    Confident writers get published.
    Delusion writers don’t get published very often, and if they do it’s not for very long.

    Confident writers work within the system, even though the system is flawed.
    Delusional writers work outside of the system, even though they long to work within the system.

    Confident writers understand their limitations.
    Delusional writers don’t believe in limitations.

    Confident writers understand sacrifice.
    Delusional writers demand everything on their terms.

    Confident writers believe in persistence.
    Delusional writers believe in talent.

    Confident writers believe they owe the world.
    Delusional writers believe the world owes them.

    Are you confident or delusional?

    Chances are high the delusional people will believe they’re confident, since self-awareness is in short supply in the writing community.

    Here are some questions to ask yourself.

    Have you been published by an impartial third party?

    Confident writers eventually get traditionally published. Period.

    Do you seek out and apply editing advice?

    Confident writers know their words can always be made stronger.

    At what point do you abandon a project and begin a new one?

    Confident writers move on, but first they try to figure out what didn’t work, and why.

    Would you rather be paid or be praised?

    Confident writers know the best form of praise is a royalty check.

    Do you help other writers?

    Confident writers know it’s about what you put in, not what you get out.

    Do you understand your failures?

    Confident writers don’t have failures. They have learning experiences that make them stronger.

    Will you be successful?

    Confident writers know success is beyond their control. But they keep writing anyway, and will continue to even if success never happens.

    It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.

    You must believe in yourself.

    But first you have to prove yourself worthy of that belief.

  23. I’ve been told by writers for most of the six years I’ve been publishing that the growing self-publishing and on-demand-using publishing industries will never be considered professional. And when all the dust is cleared, their reason for this statement is always some form of “I submitted manuscripts for X hundred years before I made it. I paid my dues, and that’s the only way to become a pro.”

    Honestly, it’s like Grandpa talking about having to walk miles in blizzards to get to school. The problem, it seems, isn’t that those who choose non-traditional paths are any less talented or skilled but simply that they didn’t have to sacrifice years of their lives to achieve the goal.

    I appreciate that some writers had to work their butts off for that elusive NY contract. I do. But since when does that somehow make those who didn’t less professional? Since when do all capable editors reside solely within the NY city limits. That’s not just narrow-minded, it’s rude and insulting.

    I regret that those who achieved their goal like Mr. Konrath by banging their heads against the NY bastions feel so threatened by those who didn’t, because after hearing this nonsense over and over that’s the only interpretation I can put on it. To issue a blanket condemnation without regard for either the talent and craft of the writer or the quality of the finished product is offensive.

  24. Owen says:

    One of the things not mentioned here at all is that we are talking about book publishing. That may seem obvious but it isn’t. I am pretty sure I have made more money than JA Konrath as a writer (since that is a measure he is valuing here). I work in the highest paid area of trade writing and have done for almost 30 years. It is my job and I am very good at it. And some of that writing has ended up in books, but that wasn’t its intent.

    This started out as magazine publishing and is now essentially online publishing. The reason this is important in this book publishing discussion is that I have had a pretty good window into the book publishing industry throughout the years and at every single stage I can categorically state that ON AVERAGE trade magazine (and now high-end online trade) publishing is better edited, better handled and more professional than the ‘professional’ book publishing industry.

    Add in the slow and steady decline in success and standards in book publishing (yes – decline in standards – more and more books are published every year and more and more of them are garbage). The takeaway is that book publishing has lost its way – completely.

    Let’s look at the whole process. Writer writes book – sends to agents and/or publishers. Endless cycle of rejection etc. But eventually let us assume the book ends up in a position where it is evaluated by an editor at a NY house. That editor is a twenty-something college graduate who is already bitter and cynical and who has not been taught to put themselves in the place of the audience for whichever niche they cover. They’ve been TOLD to think that way but nobody has really shown them. (Note – this is NOT the editor’s fault – it is a group failure). As a result they tend to follow fads and trends rather than look at true underlying value.

    They also have not really been taught the business of what they do – only that failure to sell will reflect badly on them. So fear of failure is a primary motivator – so risk taking is at a minimum. So anything truly new gets rejected.

    Next the book (if it has passed these two successive 99% failure-rate screenings) is edited – again by someone who is looking to damp down the risk-taking and creativity and eventually produced. Since it is a first time author who isn’t personally connected to executives at the publishing house, no marketing of any kind is planned.

    Bottom line – a great big FAIL across the board for everyone involved.

    Contrast with trade publishing. Every editor comes up through the business as a writer. Every editor is intimately connected to the success and failure of the business because it is small enough that you hear about everything. But more importantly, you get to go through the assign/write – edit – produce – publish – feedback cycle every month, or even every week or even every day. So you learn a lot very quickly and you can take risks because they don’t have as big an impact and so you can learn really quickly. I never understood why book publishers didn’t go out and hire three year magazine publishing ‘veterans’. Of course book publishing doesn’t pay as well so that’s part of it.

    I will now try to tie this all together – once again using money. Trade magazine publishers can make a great deal of money – even now. They are typically highly professional, fast-moving organizations that adapt quickly. Book publishers are in trouble. They are either not making money or are headed that way fast. They have not adapted and changed to the market. And they are losing the one big advantage they have – a captive distribution system.

    So, why would we think that we should listen to this industry in decline? Is their dogma embedded in success? No, it isn’t. But before we all rush off declaring that self-publishing is the new idol, we should also remember that self-publishing is not exactly a settled field. There has been much change and more is coming. So while I would suggest that much of what JA Konrath is saying is wrong, that doesn’t mean that what everyone else thinks is right.

    There are some clear underlying business principles that will eventually come into play no matter what. One is quality. Quality is a management mantra for a reason – it works. So Konrath is absolutely right on that score – it’s just that I don’t think rejection by a NY editor is necessarily a good measure of quality. Another principle is business discipline.

  25. JA Konrath says:

    The problem, it seems, isn’t that those who choose non-traditional paths are any less talented or skilled but simply that they didn’t have to sacrifice years of their lives to achieve the goal.

    Again, everyone can print their work. Not everyone can publish.

    To issue a blanket condemnation without regard for either the talent and craft of the writer or the quality of the finished product is offensive.

    Is that what I did? Condemn writers? Gee. I thought I was talking about confidence and delusion, and giving those on their journey a pep talk. But I suppose we see what we want to see.

    BTW-I’ve judged several POD novel contests, for a magazine. I’ve endured reading far more self-pubbed novels than anyone I know.

    There’s a reason they were self-pubbed. If you don’t believe me, visit iUniverse.com and buy a hundred books and see how many you can get through.

    I’ve read many traditionally published novels that I didn’t enjoy, but they met the minimum level of professionalism and understood basic narrative conflict. That’s why they were published. There’s a learning curve. Disregard at your peril.

    I regret that those who achieved their goal like Mr. Konrath by banging their heads against the NY bastions feel so threatened by those who didn’t

    Threatened? No. In fact, of the thousands of writers I’ve met, taught, and know, I can only name a handful that willingly chose self-pubbing, as opposed to reverting to it after being rejected by the major agents and houses. And I greatly admire that handful, but they work a lot harder for one sale than I do for a hundred, and I work pretty hard. I certainly don’t feel threatened in the least.

    it’s just that I don’t think rejection by a NY editor is necessarily a good measure of quality.

    I don’t disagree with anything in your recent post, Owen. But your last point brings up a topic for discussion.

    If you’re good at football, the way to make a living at it is to play in the NFL. Whether the NFL is good or bad, whether scouts are good or bad, or whether coaches and teams are good or bad–none of that matters. The NFL is the only game in town.

    Publishing is flawed. Editors are flawed. But they’re still the only game in town. And they still do more reading–with an eye toward sales–than anyone else.

    Sure, they’re wrong sometimes. But I’d bet they know more about structure than your local writers group, and they probably can offer a better critique of your manuscript than your wife and brother. Because it’s their job to acquire books. If they screw up, they don’t last. Ditto agents.

    I’ve met and talked with a good many working book agents, and editors. I’m basing my opinion on experience, not theory or guesswork.

    The fact that no one wants to face is that there is usually a reason books are rejected by agents and editors. Any pro–whether they be agent or editor or published writer–can quickly determine what works and what doesn’t. The vetting process is about learning craft, paying dues, and understanding how writing works on a practical level. And it’s the only way I know–other than getting some published writers to crit your manuscript–that will show you if you’re really good enough.

    I’ve read several hundred newbie books, both unpubbed and self-pubbed. I’ve only read two where I was sure the writer would wind up selling it to a big house, and I was right on both counts. The rest weren’t good enough.

    The knee-jerk reaction to rejection shouldn’t be self-pubbing. It should be writing more and working harder on craft.

    Yes, the industry is flawed. But if you had to read a lot of self-pubbed books–or worse, actually read the slush pile–my guess is you’d agree with me.

    It surprises me how many people self-publish without reading many self-published books. And if they do read them, the think for some reason their book is of higher quality.

    If we agree that it’s very hard to be objective when it comes to your own writing, then who can decide if our writing is indeed worthy of publication? I say, those who get paid to decide. That’s why they get paid.

    Yes, it’s flawed. But it’s still pretty accurate.

    I just judged another big magazine contest–my fifth or sixth. I contend that if you gave me a hundred manuscripts, half of which were self pubbed, and half of which were traditionally pubbed, I could tell the difference 99% of the time just by reading the first two pages, even if they were all unformatted .doc files. There’s that wide of a gap between them, most of the time.

    Yes, there are exceptions. And no, self-publishing isn’t evil. It’s not even the main point of the blog entry.

  26. Kristen says:

    J.A. – I don’t think anyone is disagreeing with you when you say there are many bad self-published books. As easy as it is to self-publish, of course there will be more bad than good.

    Anyone can buy paint and use it to make lines on a canvas–doesn’t mean they should expect people to buy their work.

    But I also don’t think you’re addressing the fact that

    1. There are many bad, unoriginal, formulaic, etc., traditionally published books, as well. That they’re published doesn’t mean they’re actually any good, and it doesn’t make their writers good writers. It makes their writers good at writing to a market. There’s a difference.

    2. Not being accepted by a publisher doesn’t automatically mean the work is substandard. See number 3.

    3. There is a commercial, “this will sell fast,” money-making industry that isn’t looking for unique work, even if it’s good–because, as has been mentioned, it’s not as easy to sell (compare literary fiction to romance or thriller…you say you’re unfamiliar with the word “non-commercial,” so I’ll use “literary” instead).

    I don’t know that football is a good analogy to use for writing. Football is a sport, not an art. You might instead use film making or painting. A lot of indie movies are made as indie movies because they’re too outside-of-the-box to be huge hits…unlike your standard and uncreative romantic comedy or beerfest or teenage-guy-getting-laid movie, which will sell millions.

    I think many would argue the independently released “Little Miss Sunshine” is a better movie–creatively, intellectually, and artistically–than is “American Pie.” But which made more money? And does the fact that the indie film produced the script make the script writer a delusional sort who didn’t take the proper channels–wasting years hoping a commercial, blockbuster-making mega-company like Warner Brothers–would think it “good enough” (for their purpose)to take it, rather than going another direction and seeing it produced elsewhere?

    Is not the final test, after all of this, the reaction from the audience and critics?

  27. Henry Baum says:

    You’re getting moderately more reasonable. Moderately. You say:

    it’s their job to acquire books. If they screw up, they don’t last.

    The way editors screw up is if they acquire books that don’t sell. So they’re looking over their shoulders and acquiring books based on sheer marketability. That’s not a good thing. I’ll fully admit that it’s the market that’s awful as well. Stupid, horrible books sell well, so the book buyers are as much at fault for this system. But editors are trained to find books that will sell in the short term without nurturing writers for the long term – which is not a sustainable way of running a business.

    There’s no doubt that a great many self-published books are bad. That doesn’t matter. A growing number of self-published books are good. That they’re in the minority also doesn’t matter. The fact is it’s increasingly necessary to self-publish because more and more good writers are getting turned away. This is happening. Good books – not the crap you’ve had to read for whatever contest. I run the Self-Publishing Review. I read nothing but self-published books. I understand what’s out there.

    I’m also one of those writers who dropped out of the system because it’s too frustrating to waste my time being rejected for the most stupid of reasons. Or getting a rejection that says, “You’re a great writer, but…” I also think the implications of self-publishing are very profound. If we could find a workable solution where strong writers can put out their own books and get distribution, this would be great. Working on that is more interesting to me than a slavish devotion to the current publishing system. If I get picked up because of Backword or something else, then great – I’d like the better distribution – but I’m going to take the initiative and put out my own work rather than wait for other people to decide my future.

    Like many traditionally published writers you’re intent on believing the method of production is a stamp of approval. As if – automatically – you’re good because an editor likes you. It has nothing to do with the quality of the work. Read this post: http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/2009/05/09/what-is-literary-value/

    In it I mention how On the Road didn’t find a publisher for 5 years. Was it better in 1957 when it was published than when it was written? No. Publication is a distribution system, not a guarantee of quality.

    The reason that people use the word “threatened” is because it really seems to be the case that traditionally-published writers hold a little too closely to the validation of being published. And if self-publishers are able to gain traction in the world of publishing, it limits that validation. Not saying that’s the case with you, but it’s out there. The people who matter most are the writer and the readers – not an editor who’s guided by money to make decisions about quality.

  28. JA Konrath says:

    1. There are many bad, unoriginal, formulaic, etc., traditionally published books, as well.

    That’s based on opinion. I can make a good case that the majority of unpublished books I’ve read make some very obvious mistakes that the traditionally pubbed books don’t make. Hooks, conflict, rising action, resolution, dynamic characters, pov, tense, telling not showing, etc. Storytelling is craft. To get past the gatekeepers, you need to know your craft. To self publish you need a credit card.

    2. Not being accepted by a publisher doesn’t automatically mean the work is substandard.

    I agree. But the majority of it is. The majority of traditionally published books are not. Again, don’t base your career on exceptions, and don’t equate printing with publishing.

    Stupid, horrible books sell well, so the book buyers are as much at fault for this system.

    So you’re writing for people who don’t buy books? :)

    The reason that people use the word “threatened” is because it really seems to be the case that traditionally-published writers hold a little too closely to the validation of being published. And if self-publishers are able to gain traction in the world of publishing, it limits that validation.

    Not at all. This isn’t “us vs. them.” We’re all in the same boat.

    But if you truly want to be confident in your writing, I’ve said (again and again) that validation from the traditional publishing gatekeepers is a good indicator that your writing meets a certain minimum standard.

    Traditional publishing, with all of its flaws, does a decent job separating the wheat from the chaff. They aren’t perfect. Some mediocre stuff gets through. Some great stuff gets overlooked.

    But if we agree that most self-pubbed stuff isn’t up to standard, how do we draw the line the separates good from bad when every self-pubbed author automatically believes they’re good?

    90% of people believe they are above-average drivers. Don’t you see the delusion there?

    If you want to prove you’re an above average driver, you take a driving test. You let your record speak for you. If you really want to prove it, you become a racer.

    And if you want to prove you’re a good writer, you get someone to invest their money in your talent. Investing your own money proves nothing.

    But if you don’t feel the need to prove anything to yourself, you should be confident enough to not care if something thinks you’re delusional.

    I think we’re moving toward a day when publishers won’t exist. I think ebooks are the future, and publishers won’t be necessary to thrive in that future.

    It will be interesting to see what happens. I have no doubt some undiscovered writers will become successes. But I also worry there will be some much crap out there, and it won’t be as easy to distinguish it, that the whole industry could suffer.

    I’ll read the link then reply…

  29. JA Konrath says:

    This idea that editorial acceptance means that a book is more worthwhile just needs to go away. Books have worth regardless of an editor’s stamp of approval – even the number of readers. That’s just an example of how much money has changed hands. To claim that is proof of a book’s worth is a seriously corrupt model of how art should be valued.

    If you say that, you have to come up with some criteria to determine worth. Sales are objective. Being published by a big house is objective–you either are or you aren’t.

    Saying certain books are “good” is subjective, and that statement needs more than opinion to be defended.

    For the record, it’s a good essay, and I agree with most of it. But I haven’t been able to find a better indicator of worth than sales. That’s unfortunate, but there isn’t any other sort of “book standard” that can accurately judge a novel’s worth. There is, however, a barebones set of criteria that all traditionally published books seem to meet. Far fewer self-pubbed books meet this standard.

    The system is flawed. But for the most part, it works.

  30. MCM says:

    JA, you take a great deal of punishment willingly. If I’m ever in your neck of the woods, I will buy you an exotic-named cocktail as thanks.

    My final thought on this subject: What worries me is that the “big publishing” ecosystem seems unreasonably hostile towards self-publishers. It goes beyond “I’ve seen a lot of self-published work, and it’s all crap”, right into “self published people are delusional, no matter how successful.” That’s what irks me. I don’t hate Big Pub authors, or resent their success. So why do they seem to hate me?

    Put it this way: I had a talk with a bookshop owner recently, and they made it clear that I was not fit to be stocked in their store due to my “amateur appreciation of plot and pacing”. When they found out I had created and written an internationally-distributed cartoon series, however, poof! It was as if I was talking to a whole new person! They even went so far as to praise the same plot and pacing they’d disparaged before.

    Now I don’t blame them for that. It’s a case of having a track record they can rely on. But what’s worrisome is that their appreciation of quality changed based on functionally irrelevant data: either my book was good, or it wasn’t. They took the time to read something, but developed a negative opinion because of its method of publication, not the words on the page.

    Confidence means nothing in the face of that kind of delusion. That mindset needs to change.

  31. JA Konrath says:

    That mindset needs to change.

    It never will. What amazes me is that the very thing my generation was taught growing up–that each opinion matters because each of us is important–has become a sense of entitlement, unfounded knee-jerk opinions, and a casual dismissal of art without understanding it.

    We make snap judgments about whether we like something or not, without any evidence to back up those judgments, and then would rather defend them to the death instead of question them. It’s sad, and scary.

    In a way, it makes life easier. Once we’re able to catagorize things, we can spend less time having to choose and experience things, which is safe. Instead of widening our views, we narrow them and then spend time justifying them.

    But often there still is a very real quality difference that goes beyond simple opinion that leads to self-pub’s negative image.

    Not liking something doesn’t mean it is crap. I don’t like classical music, but I appreciate and admire those who play well. Yet anyone who has ever had to endure a grammar school orchestra can tell the difference between hitting the notes and not hitting the notes. It isn’t taste; it’s actual talent.

    If you spend a lot of time reading, writing, listening to critiques, editing, and rewriting, you begin to pick up on what works and what doesn’t. But the ultimate proof that you’re able to execute what you’ve learned is being able to sell it to someone who wants to publish it.

    Can you write something terrific without industry gatekeepers deeming it so? Sure. And every once and a while, there’s a 4th Grade virtuoso violinist. But the majority of 4th graders aren’t virtuosos, so the majority of 4th grade music is sub-par.

    It’s incredibly hard to succeed as a novelist. There are more players in the NFL than there are fulltime fiction writers. But everyone doesn’t think they can get into the NFL, yet everyone seems to think they can write a book. And when Big NY Publishing rejects them, they really feel it is some flaw with the system, rather than a flaw with the writing.

    Sorry. The odds are against you being that exception.

    All writers tend to cringe at things they wrote a decade ago. This is common; we tend to improve, and we see mistakes we hadn’t been able to see previously.

    Do you really want to publish something filled with mistakes? Something that isn’t indicative of your best?

    Ultimately, we all have to define what it is we want from writing. The only goals we set should be ones within our power to achieve. “I’ll get published by a big house” is a bad goal. “I’ll finish my rewrite by September 1 and have six agents picked out to send it to” is an achievable goal.

    If your dream is to see your book on a shelf and sell a few hundred copies, and you aren’t looking for anything more, go ahead and self-publish. If your dream is to reach a lot of people and make big money, your goals should be learning about the industry, honing your craft, writing regularly, and submitting to agents. It’s a harder dream to attain, and the goals take more time and effort.

    JA, you take a great deal of punishment willingly.

    You can’t take anything personally in this biz. Everyone has an opinion, and all opinions are valid. Some opinions are just more informed than others.

  32. JA Konrath says:

    @ Kristen – I read the first few pages of Homefront, and the writing is very good. I’m now curious why it isn’t agented, and what the editors who saw it said in their rejections.

    Also, next time you’re in Davis-Kidd, see if they have any signed copies of my books left. :)

  33. Henry Baum says:

    Some things:

    Being published by a big house is objective–you either are or you aren’t.

    Being published by a “big house” shouldn’t be the dividing line. What about small presses? I heard recently that McSweeney’s hopes to sell 1000-5000 copies of a novel. McSweeney’s. You don’t get better brand recognition than that – they put out beautiful books, reviewed all over the place. But because it’s a small press with a limited advance and fewer book sales it’s not as legitimate as a Random House. This doesn’t make sense.

    To this you’ll say, Well at least McSweeney’s is ponying up money to print the book. To that I reply, the editor is just offering an opinion, a leap of faith. I just don’t think editors should have that much power, given that opinions are so arbitrary, and even change with the times – such as editors accepting books that fit current trends. As you said, “good” is subjective. That goes for the opinions of editors as well.

    But if you truly want to be confident in your writing, I’ve said (again and again) that validation from the traditional publishing gatekeepers is a good indicator that your writing meets a certain minimum standard.

    What about reviews from reputable sources? Reviews from mainstream media, i.e. reviewers who are getting paid for it – if a paycheck is what separates a professional writer from an amateur. Or even reader reviews – which do count for something. I don’t know why an editor is the sole arbiter of quality. There are plenty of other sources to prove a writer’s mettle.

    But if we agree that most self-pubbed stuff isn’t up to standard, how do we draw the line the separates good from bad when every self-pubbed author automatically believes they’re good?

    That’s what Backword is trying to do. If niche communities like this can help readers find quality books to read, that’s a good development.

    Traditional publishing, with all of its flaws, does a decent job separating the wheat from the chaff. They aren’t perfect. Some mediocre stuff gets through. Some great stuff gets overlooked.

    The point is that more great stuff is getting overlooked. An example of how the system doesn’t work today is Saul Bellow – his early novels, The Victim and Dangling Man are not his strongest work. In this climate he may have never been given the resources to write his better novels. I just think you’re being a little myopic – because the system worked for you, it obviously works.

    A more pop culture example is “Seinfeld.” The first episodes of that show were terrible. Today, it would have gotten cancelled after two episodes. The publishing industry runs by the same principle. You can say, well that means that they’re only publishing books after a writer has honed his or her craft, but the institutional support of a publisher is helpful to even reach that level – i.e. Seinfeld needed the money to put on a sitcom, Saul Bellow needed the support to write Humboldt’s Gift. Early work may not be as strong, but it’s still interesting if the writer has talent. Given that I know my writing’s strong already, I’d rather not wait around for traditional publishing to get its act together, especially given the system is getting worse, not improving.

  34. I haven’t seen Kristen’s rejections and am not answering for her, but I would be astonished if her rejection letters don’t say something to the effect of “great writing, but no one wants to buy a book about a woman who stays home while her boyfriend is fighting in Iraq”. (Having read the whole thing, I can assert that the writing stays quite good throughout.)

    BTW, I never answered your question earlier. My real name is James Viscosi and the story was “Cold Turkey”.

  35. Kristen says:

    Agent reactions:

    One rejection: “This is a great book. You should be proud of it. But, it’s hard too to sell literary fiction by an unknown.”

    Another: “It’s tough to get fiction sold unless it fits into categories such as thriller, mystery, chick lit, historical etc.”

    Another: [this isn't a quote, but here's the gist] We’ll consider it if you change it from what it is to make it more commercial and easy to categorize on a shelf.

    Another: “I loved the writing – absolutely my kind of thing. But I thought I’d struggle to sell here. It’s so horribly tough in the UK at the moment and you’ll undoubtedly have an easier time kicking things off in the US.”

  36. RJ Keller says:

    “We’ll consider it if you change it from what it is to make it more commercial and easy to categorize on a shelf.”

    Ack! Those ones are the worst.

  37. JA Konrath says:

    the editor is just offering an opinion, a leap of faith.

    It’s more than a leap of faith. It’s putting your money where your mouth is, gambling on a book based on professional industry knowledge and intuition.

    What about reviews from reputable sources?

    I’ve found, in my experience, that reviews and awards are worthless in judging the merits of a book, and I say this having had some terrific reviews and having won several awards.

    A reviewer is a writer with an opinion. The pros are paid for their opinions because they entertain and inform. But it still comes down to subjective taste.

    Editors also have subjective taste, but their agendas are pure: making money from the writing. Critics have many agendas, all of them self-serving, none of them accountable.

    If niche communities like this can help readers find quality books to read, that’s a good development.

    I agree. But you’re still going to be lumped in with the IUniverse folks, and I don’t see a way to separate yourself from them.

    But perhaps you don’t have to. Perhaps you can find readers and sell books and take pride in what you’re doing, confident you’re doing it right. If so, there’s no need to argue with me, or the world, or bemoan how things are unfair, or get annoyed by the lack of respect you get by the industry and your peers. If you’re happy doing what you’re doing, no one else’s opinion should matter. That’s confidence.

    The point is that more great stuff is getting overlooked.

    That’s where you lose the argument.

    Your writing might indeed be good, and in might get overlooked. But EVERY self-pubbed author is going to feel the same way. And obviously, 99.9% of them are wrong.

    To say “more” great stuff is being overlooked infers you’re privy to a trend, and able to read the majority of what NY is rejection, and have read a great deal of self-pubbed work.

    I’d posit that no more, or less, great writing is being overlooked by NY than any other time in history.

    I’d also posit that self-pubbing, which now releases more titles per year than mainstream publishing, is a quick and easy alternative, one that requires no minimum quality standards, and the majority of self-pubbers are largely deserving of the criticism leveled at them.

    But, seriously, why do you feel the need to justify your efforts to me or anyone else? If you want validation, publish traditionally, as difficult and biased as it is.

    Given that I know my writing’s strong already, I’d rather not wait around for traditional publishing to get its act together, especially given the system is getting worse, not improving.

    But how can you truly know your writing is strong when no one has ever gambled on it?

    For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to assume you’re a good writer. I already assume Kristen is, having read a bit of Homefront.

    My post wasn’t about being a good writer. It was about being a confident writer. And a confident writer knows they’ll eventually break into the traditional publishing world. A confident writer knows that self-pubbing is a shortcut that really only appeals to a writer’s own vanity, and in fact can often hurt their career. Once you have an ISBN, numbers follow you. It’s a lot harder to sell your second book if your first book only sold 1500 copies.

    It’s normal to want to be read. That’s why we write. By all means, post your work for free. That won’t hurt you.

    But once you start charging, once you start believing your work is just as good as what NY publishes without any cred to back it up, you’re on a slippery slope that involves constantly defending your actions and trying to separate yourself from those 99.9% of self-pubbers who are awful.

    Again, I’ll assume you are the exception. That you are really good.

    I still think self-pubbing is shooting yourself in the foot, and that you’ll always have that nagging doubt if “If I’m as good as I think, why do I have to self pub?”

    Better to keep writing and keep shooting for a traditional pub deal. Your previous writing isn’t going to disappear. It will still be there when Random House calls you with an offer and asks “Do you have anything else?”

    @ Kristen – those are some very nice rejections. They validate that you’re a good writer.

    But why didn’t you listen to what the agents were saying?

    When several industry pros all tell you the same thing–this will be tough to sell because it isn’t commercial–why do you think you’ll have a better chance of selling it on your own?

    The book is good. Congrats. But how smart is it publishing something that isn’t commercial?

    I have an anecdote I tell newbies.

    Imagine you’re a keymaker. You can make any sort of key you can imagine. A key to the city. A car key. A key to a treasure chest. A house key. You can make it out of any material you desire. Gold. Silver. Plastic. Clay. Paper mache. And you can decorate it with whatever you want. You can guild it. Paint it. Etch it. Silkscreen it. The sky is the limit.

    When you’re finished, you can have a beautiful key. In fact, it may be the most amazing key every created in the history of the world.

    Now go find a lock.

    A key is useless without a lock.

    Just like a story is useless without an audience.

    I never write anything without knowing the audience who is going to buy it. Why would I?

    It’s the ultimate in hubris to think that people are going to buy whatever I feel like writing.

    Yet most writers feel this way. Most writers feel their words are so important that the world ought to line up with cash in hand.

    Wrong. People are looking for certain things when they buy books. If you want to sell books, you need to cater to their requirements.

    You need to study the lock before you make the key. Or else the key is useless.

    “Commercial” isn’t a bad word. It’s a good word. I believe the opposite of “commercial” is “self-indulgent.”

    If an agent says “I can’t sell this, it isn’t commercial” don’t you think they’re saying this for a reason? Agents know editors. They know what editors are looking for. They know what sells. They know what publishers want.

    Why not give them what they want?

    BTW-now is a good time to point out that writing is a job. All jobs involve doing things we don’t want to do.

    Integrity is wonderful. I’d rather make a living writing.

    If you were to make a bowl out of clay and glaze it red and put it in a shop, and someone were to say to you, “I love the bowl and will pay you for it, but can you paint it green and turn it into an ashtray?” your immediate reaction should be “Absolutely.”

    The same artist–you–made both the bowl and the ashtray. Nothing it lost. It’s simply business.

    Writers who believe their prose is gold, and refuse to bend to the “commercial nature” of the publishing world, are delusional.

    Study your market. Know your audience. Write what is going to sell. If you’re a good writer, you can write something terrific AND commercial.

    Just because something is publishable, doesn’t mean it will, or should, be published.

    Now, if my goal was to land a big publishing deal, and I’d had agents tell me I’m a great writer, and also tell me what they’re looking for, I’d consider that a no-brainer and write something they’re looking for.

    If my goal was to write something that meant a lot of me, something I wanted to share with a few people, then self-pubbing will satisfy that goal. Be happy with what you’ve accomplished.

    But you can’t have it both ways (the “you” is universal here, not personal.)

    You can’t criticize agents and editors for not publishing your work when you aren’t giving them what they want to publish. You can’t fully believe you’re good enough to succeed when you’re printing your own work. You can’t be satisfied with self-pubbing while also dreaming of a big NY contract.

    Which goes back to my original blog post. Would you rather be praised, or paid?

    If you want to be paid, do the job they’re asking.

    But guess what? If you do that, you’ll also get a lot more praise than you ever will self-pubbing.

  38. Henry Baum says:

    Editors also have subjective taste, but their agendas are pure: making money from the writing.

    This is an absurd sentiment. Absurd. Especially in the face of where we are right now with the economy, and the environment. Since when has profit motive ever been “pure.”

    I’ve found, in my experience, that reviews and awards are worthless in judging the merits of a book, and I say this having had some terrific reviews and having won several awards.

    You lose me again. I’ve seen this from other hardliners who I’ve argued with at Self-Publishing Review. Really? All reviews are meaningless. The consensus of good reviews from many different places doesn’t mean less to me than the opinion of an editor who might see a book as a cash cow.

    But you’re still going to be lumped in with the IUniverse folks, and I don’t see a way to separate yourself from them.

    We don’t need to separate ourselves from them. The attitudes towards self-publishing are changing a lot. People understand there are hundreds of thousands of books published through subsidy services. So saying “They’re bad” doesn’t make any more sense than saying all science fiction books are bad. Even if many self-published books are bad – which they are – it’s becoming a more-viable outlet.

    I’ve seen the negativity about self-publishing fading a lot in the last six months, even from people who used to be cynics. Your attitude is actually less commonplace – you seem to be arguing about what self-publishing was ten years ago. People were also cynical about ebooks ten years ago. Things are changing.

    But how can you truly know your writing is strong when no one has ever gambled on it?

    Perhaps I can enter the world of self-publishing with more confidence because I have been traditionally published. I’ll admit that. Being accepted by a press is awesome, I’ll never deny that. Acceptance is great. But I also know from readers, reviewers, agents (I’ve had 4), and editors rejections, which have been positive. I also know because I read a lot and it is possible for an artist to be objective about how he’s different from other artists. If not, there would be less enthusiasm to write.

    Now for the writer who hasn’t had an agent, hasn’t published traditionally before, I’ll still argue that editorial or agent acceptance isn’t the only measure of quality.

    When several industry pros all tell you the same thing–this will be tough to sell because it isn’t commercial–why do you think you’ll have a better chance of selling it on your own?

    The book is good. Congrats. But how smart is it publishing something that isn’t commercial?

    I think we can’t really debate anymore. For some reason, you think “commercial” is the only writing worth anything. A book is only good if it sells – “just because it’s publishable doesn’t mean it should be published.” This is hardline even for the hardliners. I think most people acknowledge that it’s OK to not only write for the market. That people write for very different reasons and if everyone was writing commercial fiction it would be a duller place. People write because they love writing. And they publish to see who they can reach – and it’s more and more plausible that something that gets rejected by a big house will find an audience, proving the initial rejection wrong.

    Here’s an example of the stupidest response I got from an agent – I wrote a novel about Hollywood. He told me, a book about the magazine industry just sold so that’s what editors are looking for now. You’re telling me I should have written a book about the magazine industry because in that five-minute window that was the current trend? No.

    I’m not actually an overly experimental writer – I write stuff with elements of commercial writing, with something stranger. But I’m not going to suck the strange out my writing. I’m just not. I’d much rather write something that’s more honest and unique and an expression of what I do well. Where you see value in writing something formulaic that’s easier to sell, I see value in writing something that hasn’t been done thousands of times before. Because that’s what publishers want. That’s what the movie business wants. Remakes. It sucks the creativity and ambition out of culture. It’s nothing to aspire to.

    If you want to sell books, you need to cater to their requirements.

    Another word for this is “pandering.” If you’re holding this up as a badge, you’re going to have a lot of people – successful writers included – saying WTF?

  39. Kristen says:

    @ Kristen –

    But why didn’t you listen to what the agents were saying?

    When several industry pros all tell you the same thing–this will be tough to sell because it isn’t commercial–why do you think you’ll have a better chance of selling it on your own?

    The book is good. Congrats. But how smart is it publishing something that isn’t commercial?

    I didn’t think I would have a better chance. I thought, “They don’t publish it, and no one reads it. I publish it, and someone reads it.”

    What sense would it make to spend so much time, and put so much work, into something I would just throw away because someone else wouldn’t take it and do something with it? It’s there. It’s written. I would have to be an idiot to throw away something good just because publishers don’t think they can make a lot of money from it. It’s written to be read.

  40. JA Konrath says:

    Since when has profit motive ever been “pure.”

    It’s capitalism. You sell what people want to buy. That’s a single-mindedness that is indeed pure. It is unfettered and uncompromising.

    So saying “They’re bad” doesn’t make any more sense than saying all science fiction books are bad.

    Sci-fi is a genre. Personal taste comes into play.

    With self-pub, it isn’t about personal taste. It’s about the minimum requirements a narrative has to meet. In self-pub, the majority of the time, those requirements aren’t met.

    I think most people acknowledge that it’s OK to not only write for the market.

    It’s perfectly acceptable not to write for the market. But then don’t feel rejected when the market doesn’t buy you.

    Perhaps I can enter the world of self-publishing with more confidence because I have been traditionally published.

    That’s what I’ve been saying.

    you seem to be arguing about what self-publishing was ten years ago

    Not at all. It still is mainly about distribution. The internet hasn’t replaced brick and mortar. It hasn’t even come close.

    For some reason, you think “commercial” is the only writing worth anything.

    You’ve yet to establish “worth” in a way other than monetary.

    People write because they love writing.

    I agree. And I get to do what I love for a living. Not many people can say that. I share what I know so other people can learn what I’ve learned and perhaps do the same.

    Where you see value in writing something formulaic that’s easier to sell, I see value in writing something that hasn’t been done thousands of times before.

    Narrative structure, by its very nature, is formulaic. Formulaic isn’t a bad word. It’s the essence if storytelling. The trick is to be formulaic without being boring or predictable.

    That’s what the movie business wants. Remakes. It sucks the creativity and ambition out of culture. It’s nothing to aspire to.

    Aspire to changing the system from within. Good books and good movies are still released through the system, no matter your definition of “good.”

    Another word for this is “pandering.”

    LOL. As if pandering is easy. As if you’re guaranteed to sell something by dumbing it down and aping other successes.

    Commercial fiction is harder to write than catering to your own muse, writing whatever you want to. It takes discipline.

    There isn’t any discipline needed in self-pubbing. Anyone can publish anything. And to do so without regard to who might buy it is really egotistical.

    “They don’t publish it, and no one reads it. I publish it, and someone reads it.”

    If that is your goal, you’ve reached it. Then you shouldn’t take offense at anything I’ve said, and shouldn’t have disagreed with my blog.

    I would have to be an idiot to throw away something good just because publishers don’t think they can make a lot of money from it. It’s written to be read.

    That’s the choice? Traditional publishing or the garbage bin?

    I applaud your decision to release your ebook for free. I do the same thing. My free ebooks have been downloaded well over 100,000 times.

    I would also encourage you, if you haven’t already, to check out Kindle, Smashwords, and Scribd. I have. And I’ve made some decent money.

    Your work can be read, and enjoyed, and even earn some cash, all outside the traditional publishing system.

    But if something is truly written to be read, you must have had an audience in mind. And if agents say you won’t be able to reach this audience, perhaps they know what they’re saying.

    I know how hard it is to sell books, and I have half a million in print. I’ve visited over 1400 bookstores in 40 states. I’ve gone to over a hundred libraries, events, bookfairs, and conferences. I’ve got 9000 people on my email list, around 20,000 friends on social networks, get thousands of hits per week on my blog and website. I’ve signed thousands of books. And I’m still not a huge bestseller, even though I have great distribution and get big reviews and have the support of the NY publishing machine behind me and am one of the rare folks who makes their living writing fiction.

    I’d never consider doing this via self-pub. It’s ten times as difficult, with 1/100th of the positive results.

    Things will change, eventually. Print publishing will go the way of newspaper publishing, and self-pub ebooks will become the norm.

    But the struggle is hard enough without also struggling to get your books onto bookstore shelves, get them reviewed, market them yourself, and get them in the hands of readers.

    My advice is to use the system for as long as it exists. Because I’ve seen very few successes from outside the system.

    But then, my goal is to do what I love for a living. Your goals may be different.

  41. Henry Baum says:

    Things will change, eventually. Print publishing will go the way of newspaper publishing, and self-pub ebooks will become the norm.

    So you’re admitting that self-publishing is viable. I understand that self-publishing isn’t yet all that it can be. The “new paradigm” is an idea and until there’s an Espresso Book Machine at every bookstore, it’s still better to publish with a traditional publisher if you want widespread distribution. But I find it very satisfying to be an advocate of something with such great implications for writers – taking power out of the gatekeepers with their narrowing criteria and giving it back to the artist.

    I’m all for traditional publishing. If I could use self-publishing as a stepping stone to get a book deal, then great. But I’d rather take my writing directly to readers than wait a year or more through an often-deflating process, with rejections based on stupid reasons – and no “marketability” isn’t a good reason. Because it curbs innovation – a writer could be creating a new market, but if you only go on what sold yesterday, you don’t allow for originality.

    It’s quite possible if I just stuck to it and kept submitting to agents, something could happen. But I like self-publishing’s potential. I see it growing in interesting ways. I like innovation: both in writing and in publishing platforms.

    You’ve yet to establish “worth” in a way other than monetary.

    Yes, I have. Reader and reviewer reaction, as well as book sales – on a smaller scale. As someone said, if you’re able to break through and sell 500-1000 copies of a self-published book, this is impressive, as you’re doing it without traditional distribution. Publishers are recognizing this.

    Following your logic, that money proves a book’s worth – a writer who gets an advance of $100,000 is better than a writer who gets an advance of $10,000 because the publisher is taking a bigger gamble. I guess Sarah Palin is a super-genius because she got 7 million dollars.

    Commercial fiction is harder to write than catering to your own muse, writing whatever you want to. It takes discipline.

    You’re right. Commercial fiction is hard to write – and for some it comes very naturally. But harder than following your own muse? Please. Getting back to On the Road. Obviously an example of a writer following his own muse. Don’t tell me it’s easier to write that than writing The Da Vinci Code. A novel which I like, by the way – I’m not anti-commercial fiction. But don’t limit the amount of work it takes to write anything.

  42. JM Reep says:

    Reading this thread just makes me tired.

    My beliefs about the relationship between writing and money are about as far from Konrath’s as you can get, but I’m not going to waste my time arguing with him. There’s nothing I can say to convince him he’s wrong, just as there’s nothing he could say to me to convince me I’m wrong.

    He’s not the King of the Publishing Industry, so who cares what his opinions are? All of you who disagree with him are simply elevating his ideas and giving them added authority by making him the centerpiece of this debate. Let him have his opinions, and the rest of us will have ours. Time will tell who is right.

  43. Henry Baum says:

    JM, I get what you’re saying and people ask me a lot, Why do you bother? when I get into these types of arguments. But I see JA’s responses as kind of archetypal of what’s gone wrong in the publishing industry. It’s representative of a mindset. So I’m arguing with more than just one writer. And it’s helpful to hone the arguments in favor of self-publishing. The idea isn’t to change JA Konrath’s mind, but anyone who might be reading this.

  44. Andrew Kent says:

    I agree with JM. Konrath can go fly a kite. He’s enjoying this far too much. To claim that he doesn’t consider books he’s hawking on the Kindle to be “published” is ludicrous. He needs a dictionary.

    He apparently likes talking so much he does it out of both sides of his mouth.

    Commercial success isn’t cultural success. If you look back 100 years, a lot of commercially successful fiction is now lost in the dustbins of history. Commercial success means someone gets rich, usually a few executives and middlemen (in the paradigm Konrath defends), while an author “hones his craft” for pennies on the dollar. And that’s supposed to give an author a capitalist hard-on for traditional publishing? C’mon. I’m only six months into my little self-publishing experiment, and I’ll bet I’d still need my day job if I’d kept hammering at the traditional door. Only now, I have strong reviews and happy readers, and more fertile fields for my sequel.

    The real issue with the models is risk and who assumes it. In the traditional model, the publisher assumes it. In the independent publishing model, the author or independent assumes it.

    A sign of a changing industry is when talented, professional, confident participants near the wellspring spin-off and assume the risk themselves, preferring that to delays, whimsical subjectivity, or commercial instincts they don’t trust. It’s happened in nearly every creative field (music, art, film). Now it’s happening in writing.

    Interestingly, Konrath is a hybrid — a writer publishing traditionally while also doing self-publishing.

    The only problem is he’s a self-published author in denial.

    Like more and more authors, he’s torn.

    As some are speculating, when Stephen King or a similar high-profile author does the math and decides to cut out the middleman, the fur will truly fly.

  45. Andrew Kent says:

    Don’t think the book business is about to change? Check out this Canadian analysis, then multiply the $$ by 10x for US equivalents:

    http://www.bookindustrybailout.ca/

    Andrew

  46. Chris says:

    I came to this late, but I’m totally fascinated by this whole thread. What’s clear is that the publishing industry is in trouble and looking for a way to get strong again. Agents and publishing companies are looking for authors with a following, but how can you have a following if you’ve never been published? Self-publishing may be the new step up the ladder. Mr. Konrath cut his incisors doing what we’re doing, and I have to say, I’m learning much about publishing, even though I’d been a senior editor for eight years when I was younger.

    As you can see by my latest post earlier today, my work doesn’t fall into any easy genre. Most of us in Backword Books are in this “tween” category where publishers may like our work but are taking on so few novels, we’re not the sure thing. My own career may be building like Mr. Konrath’s in that I’m trying my hand at a more traditional mystery, inspired much by Michael Connelly and Robert Crais.

    No one has mentioned great poets here. I don’t consider the top poets hobbyists, people like Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate Kay Ryan, Maya Angelou, Rita Dove, or Mark Strand. Yet I doubt a single poet in this country makes enough money in book sales to live on. They make it in teaching and speaking. They are paid well for that.

    There are many ways to judge writing. None of us at Backword Books, which is only a few months old, are eschewing sales. No, we’re looking for ways to make independent publishing a step up the ladder. I want to have more sales. I have an agent who believes in me. I have a consortium of authors here who believe in not only me but also themselves. We’re confident we can help find new ground to becoming more widely read and better paid.

    Thanks to everyone who has joined in this discussion. I’ll be moderating a similar discussion at the next AWP Convention in Denver, April 2010, with a panel called “Publishing vs. Self Publishing.”

  47. I daresay I’ve made more money off my first (still unpublished, self or otherwise) novel than most first-time novelists–at least $5,000 in donations and pre-sales based on the available drafts of the first three books in the series, not counting additional ad revenue (I overestimated that figure elsewhere–decimal trouble, to paraphrase Daffy Duck). It’s not enough to quit a day job, if I had one, but it’s pretty respectable. I have a fan base of about 2,000 readers already, and I’m pretty sure once the first novel actually hits the bricks I’ll be doubling that.

    Two thousand people, very few of whom I actually know, think I don’t suck. That’s enough for me to keep working at this, and to hire professional editing help to get me there.

  48. I usually don’t normally post on many Blogs, yet I just has to say thank you… keep up the amazing work. Ok regrettably its time to get to school.

  49. Kayla Ramone says:

    Coming into this argument late and a little…no wait, A LOT enraged by Mr.Konrath’s commentary throughout this entire argument.

    What a “star-bellied sneech!”

    I have had some of my works “traditionally published.” All of which is short stories and poems; no novels. I have received awards for poetry and short stories since high school, and have a degree in English Writing. IMO, that’s validation enough. period.

    I don’t need some contract with random house to “validate” me. and I do not think having faith in myself makes me “delusional”. I am sure that if I can have my short works published, my longer works would have eventually gotten published too…
    I made a well-though out and well-researched choice NOT to go that route.

    So, If I have had some editor give me a nod for short stories/poems/articles and then want to self-publish when it comes to my novels… Well, that’s My choice isn’t it?

    If I can write a short story, I can write a novel.
    Just like if I can bake a cookie, then surely I can bake a cake.

    Self-publishing for me is a matter of choice, a matter of wanting total control over my project, NOT any sort of “delusion” that I am so great that anything I publish would become a best seller. Heck I don’t even care about being on the NYT best seller list.

    There are OTHER forms of validation, whether you accept that fact or not, mr. Konrath. I happen to think reviews are validation. Yes, that’s just one person’s opinion but in essence so is acceptance by a publisher. Sales figures are validation.
    It’s just the readers doing the validating rather than some agent or editor.

    You mr. Konrath came off as a condescending holier-than-thou elitist snob in EVERY SINGLE ONE of your comments.

    I think one sounds delusional if he puts himself above others and considers himself “better than thou” because he has an agent or commercially publishing contract.

    A lot of people have a lot of GOOD reasons for self-publishing. You shouldn’t judge everyone just because of it. Listen with an OPEN MIND to each individual author before passing blanket judgments over an increasingly large group.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t bad self-published books out there…there are. But there are also horrible traditionally published books too. And, I’m sure there are “delusional” people on both sides of the publishing fence.

  50. librarygirl01 says:

    If I can write a short story, I can write a novel.
    Just like if I can bake a cookie, then surely I can bake a cake.

    OMG! That’s too funny. That’s like comparing the my Mom to Betty Crocker. You might get cookies from both but they’re just not going to be the same. Anyone can write, not everyone can write a best seller.

  51. Kristen says:

    Nor should everyone want to. A lot of bestsellers aren’t really the best writing.

  52. Mister Snitch says:

    “If you read my blog regularly, you know I enjoy debate, and I love it when someone disagrees with me.”

    Actually Konrath is deeply insecure, and probably rightly so. He usually just calls people who disagree with him idiots, and encourages the sycophants on his site to join in (or risk being similarly ostracized).

    Yes, I drop in on his site now and again. I am also guilty of turning my head when I see a flaming car wreck on the highway. Same impulse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>