Friday, May 6, 2011

Never Tell Me The Odds

I posted today about Encouraging Young Writers, and tried to justify encouraging young people to write when it seems like publishing is so hard. (Answer: they are two different things.) But fellow Cove Pirate Rebecca has challenged me to defend the statement in my newsletter that There's never been a better time to be a writer.

Game on!

(Rebecca was really very nice about it.)

As Rebecca put it, these are the best of times and worst of times, and like the famous quote, it depends on your perspective on events.

If you want to be a NYTimes Bestselling Author ...

...and you're not published yet? Probably the worst of times. The route through traditional publishing is looking more and more like a pipeline so constricted that it's cutting off the flow of many, many authors seeking publication. Yes, wonderful authors are still making it through the gauntlet - I couldn't be happier for them, and support the ones I love like crazy (especially if I know them). Yet many wonderful authors are not making it through. I've heard many How-I-Left-My-Agent stories lately, and they're often due to inability to sell (wonderful) stories. This isn't the agents fault - if anyone's caught in the squeeze, it has to be them, with their livelihood depending on betting on the one horse that will win this year.

If you want to write a novel ...

...and you've never written fiction before? Absolutely the best of times! There are so many online resources and so much writerly support. In terms of learning the craft, getting feedback on writing, having abundant people that want to help and support you...writing in 2011 rocks over any time in recorded history. My brother endeavored to be a novelist 20 years and ended up putting it aside out of frustration with the publishing process (it was hard, even then!). But he follows my writing adventures with admiration and a little jealousy, because he can't believe how much support and resources I have access to. I keep trying to tempt him back into the waters, but so far no luck.

If you want to make a living at being a novelist...

...and you've only got one or two novels under your belt? Probably the worst of times. Don't quit the day job, because the days of fat advances (if they ever existed) are no more. Getting a publisher to take a chance on you and grow you as an author? That doesn't seem to happen much anymore either (except with small publishers). As an author, you need to manage your own career (or possibly get an agent to help, although agents caught in the squeeze may not be able to do that either).

If you want to make a living at being a novelist...

...and you're willing to be innovative and entrepreneurial? So the best of times! With e-books raging across the publishing landscape and self-publishing gaining more respect every day (I recently ran across an old posting about self-publishing that likened it to career suicide. This was before Amanda Hocking), for the author that's willing to wade in and take risks, there's lots of rewards possible. Note I said possible, not probable, but a door that used to be locked tight is now cracking open. When even traditionally published authors are turning to e-publishing...because it makes them more money... you know something fundamental is shifting. I see authors putting their backlists on e-books once the rights revert to them, and they start making money (sometimes serious money) from something the traditional publishing world deemed unworthy of print. I see friends whose books have garnered agents, but failed to get book deals, self-publishing and finding their audiences in innovative ways. I see the ground shifting, and it's moving in a direction that directly connects writers and readers. Not everyone thinks this is good, but I think it's inevitable, so getting on board the train before it leaves the station is a better strategy than trying to plug the pike with your pinkie.

There's so much NEW going on in publishing, I can't capture it all in one post. In spite of the odds, I'm still pursuing traditional publication. And I'm also exploring ways to capitalize on the wave the roiling under our writerly feet.

And I truly believe there's never been a better time to be a writer. :)


  1. Unfortunately I agree w/you on much of this. I say unfortunately because I'm about to lose my day job and would love to give full time writing a try. Yet, I know how slim the prospects of it being successful are. BUT, it is still possible if not probable, so I'm taking a deep breath and diving in. Throw me the ring from your book cover if it looks like I'm drowing.

  2. @Kai Oh no! I'm so sorry about your day job! *tosses symbolic life ring* You've already got a book out, so I don't need to tell you how tough it is. I think you're brave and awesome for diving in. And I'm crossing everything I have to send luck your way!!

  3. Quite a few of my friends are jumping aboard the indie publishing movement. Definitely opportunities there, but if you don't have an agent, at least talk to a lawyer. I say this as a lawyer (inactive in the bar, so no I can't make money from this advice.) I've seen some awful publishing deals and horrific contracts. There are always a few who make it through self publishing, but the issue isn't necessarily that self publishing is a bad business model, but that anybody can do it, so people who used to only have access to crayons and shopping bags to produce fiction can now jump on in. Make sure to stand out from them :-)

  4. Great post, Susan! It IS an interesting time to be a writer, that's for sure. The suspence as the market shifts is wicked! But I love what you put up front - with Han Solo and never telling the odds. Someone always beats them, and that includes DOING something - as in writing and submitting. It's a good reminder to continue honing our writing skills. You never know when they'll pay off.

  5. @Emily Very good advice on contracts! And standing out in self-publishing will take what it always takes to succeed - something worth selling.

    @Jonene Han is one of my favorite characters of all time. For so many reasons. And I don't think the honing of skills ever stops - or at least it shouldn't.

  6. Awesome post! I agree! Tho it seems almost impossible to nab an agent, there are some very enticing alternatives for those who don't mind working hard. I love how you laid it all out (tried to tweet but your button is broken.) And love the Solo quote!!

  7. @PK I need to get a tweet button over here at the Cove! Thanks for the nudge. :)

  8. Thanks, Sue! This post was all I dreamed it could be and more. I feel like the whole world changed last year while I was holed up in my cave trying to write The Awesomest Middle Grade Fantasy Novel Ever. The sun was shining when I crawled in, but I climbed out into an ashy, post-apocalyptic wasteland. How could I have given birth to a story in a publishing world like this?

    Know what I like about the post-apocalyptic genre? It's all about SURVIVING ANYWAY! HA!

  9. @Rebecca I know you (and your characters!) have what it takes to survive the ash cloud! :)


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