Monday, December 16, 2013

The Path to Publishing Success

Years ago, the only way to get your book read by anyone was to secure a deal with a traditional  New York publisher. My how things have changed!  

These days there are more than one path to take. There are traditional publishers, indie publishers, and,thanks to the electronic age, self-publishing. With one touch of a button, your book can be available for millions to download and read.

It seems the question for us writers isn't so much of 'when' or 'if' we will get published, but 'how?"

Is one path better than another? Which path should I pursue? How do I know which way to go, which path to take?

With the explosion of ebooks, anyone can publish a book, and some are very successful at it. You retain creative control and all the rights. But you also have full responsibility to edit, polish, and market your book like there's not tomorrow. With the thousands of ebooks out there, it takes a loud voice to be heard. It's easier to publish this route, but can be harder to sell a large number of books.

On the other hand, with a traditional publisher, it is really hard to get on with one. Query letters, slush piles, pitch sessions, months of waiting, rejection. It can be emotionally exhausting! But, if you do get signed on, chanced are your book will get in front of A LOT of people.  However, in most cases you give up a lot of control--they typically have the last say regrading the title, cover, final edit of your book, release date, and marketing/promotion.  But, chances are, they will get your book in front of more people than you could on your own.

Then there are indie publishers that fit happily between.

The big question is: Which path do you take?

David Farland (one of my literary heroes) wrote a wonderful article about the path to publishing success here

Author Mike Resnick told Mr. Farland: “If you look at any five successful authors, you’ll find that each of them took a different route to success.”

So how do we choose which path to follow?

Regarding electronic self publishing, Mr. Farland says: 

Some people are getting rich by self-publishing, yet when you try that, the field is glutted with books that used to get tossed from the slush pile. It’s hard for self-published authors to gain an audience, and it will grow harder.

Add in the problems with uncertainty about paper book sales in the future, and the landscape becomes hazier. Will my traditional publisher keep most of the profits from my novel for the rest of my life? Is that fair? Is the small amount of money that they pay in advance worth the trade?

Will there even be bookstores in America in ten years? My suspicion is that no, not on the scale that there are now. Do you see stores that still sell VCR’s (if you’ve been alive long enough to even know what I’m talking about)? Ten years ago, there was a DVD rental store on nearly every block, but now they are almost all gone. Why? 

Destructive technology. There was an old way of doing things, and there is a new way of doing them. My wife is home from work sick today, and she’s watching “Skyfall” on Netflix. Now, we own the DVD. She could go rummage through the basement and hunt for it. But it was easier to just turn on Netflix. Electronic delivery of movies is the wave of the future. Redbox, the last vestige of DVD rental stores, is already on its way out. Their selection is poor and getting worse.

How much more cumbersome is a book than a DVD? Lots. When I went to China to work three years ago, twenty DVDs took less space than a hardcover novel. Fortunately, I had my iPad, so I could take books.

My point is, the book industry is facing destructive technology. I doubt that in its current form, the book industry will last another twenty years.

This last year, 55% of all sales were electronic. In 18 months, every school in America should provide children with tablets to read from. When that happens, the paper book market as we know it should dry up.

When we reach the point where 80% of all book sales have gone to tablets, the box stores will all but disappear—other than the occasional “boutique” store.

So as an author I’m in a tough spot. I love good old-fashioned paper books, much in the way that I loved my VCR tapes. But I don’t think that they will be with us much longer. Electronic delivery is faster, easier, and more economical.

To this, Mr. Farland adds:

With some fields, self-publishing is the preferred way to go. If you’re writing romance or self-help books, you don’t need a publisher.

So what about traditional publishing?

But if you’re breaking in as an author today, does that mean that you should ignore traditional publishers? Not necessarily.

If you are looking to jump start your career, traditional publishers still have a lot to offer, particularly if you’re trying to break into some major markets, such as middle-grade, young adult, and the thriller market. Even as paper books dry up, it may be that publishers will take the lead in marketing new novels, so that the biggest hits are still selected by purchasing editors, manuscripts still get massaged, and professional marketers push the books.

When we stand at the fork in the road, with our beloved manuscript in hand, and we ask ourselves, which way is the right way? The answer from Mr. Farland is this:

If I have one piece of advice for you, it’s this: Don’t look for “the path” to publishing success. If you’ve ever had to negotiate through a swamp, you know that paths usually turn into muddy bogs at one point or another. Often the best way to your goal is to pick your own track the best you can—looking for one strong foothold at a time, watching out for the snakes and alligators (agents and publishers) leaping out of sinkholes when you need to, and always keeping one eye on your goal.

At first I was kinda bummed. I was looking to the writing guru (who has published more than 50 books) to answer my question, to tell me which way to go. But as I pondered his answer more, I understood more that he is right. There isn't' 'one path' to publishing success.

What works for one writer may not work for another. What works today may not work tomorrow.

There is not one path to guaranteed success.

But, there is one thing that can guarantee success. It is what my husband told me over and over again. He said, "The only way you will fail is if you stop trying."

It isn't so much that path you choose, but the decision to take step after step, and never stop.


  1. Thanks for this. Good thoughts on the industry and our place in it.

  2. I think so too!! Thanks for posting Michelle!! I needed to read this today!!