Independence Day for Writers

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Tomorrow we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America— the day in 1776 that we adopted the Declaration of Independence.

Many in our writing community have been declaring a similar independence recently. I’ve jokingly called them the Occupy Publishing movement. They’ve seen the publishing industry as a tyranny of sorts and, with the advent of ebooks and DIY publishing, many have declared independence.

I still favor the traditional publishing model for a number of reasons. I talk about some of those here. But I have to celebrate the exciting new options brought about by these changes. No longer is there only one way to be published.

Aside: My good buddy, James Scott Bell has just published the book on self-publishing: Self Publishing Attack! The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for Creating Steady Income Publishing Your Own Books. Check it out on his website.

So today, in honor of America’s Independence Day, let’s talk about our new independence and what it means for you. It may be something as simple as the path to an agent and a traditional publishing contract is much less crowded. Or it may be that you’ve become a multi-millionaire since self-publishing your ebooks. It might mean you are testing the waters and doing much of your experimentation in self-publishing before settling on a genre for a traditional career.

So let’s hear it. Are you celebrating publishing independence? How?

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40 Comments

  • Intriguing post, Wendy.

    “…the path to an agent or a traditional publishing contract is much less crowded.” I hadn’t considered that. What a wonderful insight. You made my day. Thank you! :)

    When I was in elementary school, I came home and shared with my parents all that I had learned that day about the Revolutionary War. In truth, my family had had no part in it. My ancestors had all been in Ireland until about fifty years before I was born. Even so, I totally owned the American Revolution. I was so excited about what WE had done, how brilliant we were in our sneaky tactics against the British and how gosh darn stupid those Red Coats were (PLEASE NOTE: this was my childish view helped along by the way the story was told to me; I hold a different point of view now. I now understand how disciplined and honorable the British army was). After spilling out all of my enthusiastic story to my parents, I was stunned and scandalized when my father said, “You know, if I had been around then, I would have been a Tory.” WHAT! My dad would have been a traitor? Now, some forty years later, I not only understand that point of view, I realize, knowing myself, that I probably would have been a Tory too. Not because I’m afraid to fight or to stand up for my rights, but because I don’t believe in throwing the baby out with the bath water. I’m glad that there are options for writers now and that self-publishing has become a respectable way to go (no longer “vanity” publishing). My way of celebrating my independence as a writer, however, is to feel free to pursue the traditional model. As a first time novelist, I want the guidance of a team of writing industry professionals. I’m thankful that the traditional path still exists and I hope that the modern publishing rebels manage to follow more of a Canadian model (a late Happy Independence Day!) than the American model. Does that make me unpatriotic? I don’t think so. I just think the Canadians chose the better path: they managed to gain independence while still honoring the mother country and the monarchy. Traditional publishing doesn’t have to have absolute power. It also doesn’t have to be destroyed in order for self-publishing to live free.

    Happy Fourth of July!

    • Amanda Dykes says:

      I’ve heard it said that self-publishing is essentially signing up to become a business. It’s not just the writing and publishing you’re undertaking, but the marketing and business side of things as well. Having run my own small photography side-business for four the past four years, I know about myself that I do not thrive on or relish the business side of things. I do it, so that the creative side of things (which I adore!) can be a possibility, but I don’t relish it.

      I know that traditional publishing asks for a high level of marketing involvement from authors as well, mostly (from what I observe) in the form of connecting with readers on social media and blogs. I find that prospect much less daunting than taking on the entire weight of the product management.

      I know there are those who do it and do it well, and for them it is a savvy path in many ways. For me, though, traditional would be a dream come true.

      • Chrisitne Dorman says:

        Amanda,

        You’ve hit on some of the exact reasons I don’t want to self-publish. I can deal with self-promotion both online and in person, but I’d rather leave the business side of publishing to those who are good at it and thrive on it.

    • Amanda Dykes says:

      Oops- Christine– sorry my post got filed as a reply to yours; my mistake! Didn’t mean to post a lengthy “response” to yours without truly responding at all.

      So here’s my real response to your post: it was an apt comparison, especially your concluding points- thanks for sharing! :)

      • Chrisitne Dorman says:

        Thanks, Amanada. As you see, though, I felt that your comment was an apropos response as my feelings about self-publishing resonate with yours.

        Happy 4th!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      What an interesting way to look at it, Christine.

  • I’m not sure about celebrating, but I’m certainly encouraged by the new routes open to authors on the publishing journey. On the flip side, with so many possible directions – it’s easier than ever to get lost. I suppose we each need to listen to our internal writing GPS, but I find myself “recalculating” a bit too much lately. :-)

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      The nice thing about “recalculating” is that it can take you some interesting new routes you’d never find on your own.

  • Lori says:

    I agree with Kathryn about being not sure. Yes I’m glad there are new routes to publishing but then again the buying public ends up with too many books that are poor in quality and that will then put people off of buying self-publish books. It seems that everyone now feels that they can be a “professional” writer.

    • Chrisitne Dorman says:

      Lori,

      Your point about poor quality self-published books is true. While there are many authors who go to great pains (and expense) to produce a professional, polished product, there are numerous others who don’t. I was looking through some book teasers on the Barnes and Noble website the other day and came across a series of books whose “back covers” were riddled with grammatical errors. I said to myself, “If the author wrote this, I certain don’t want to read her book!” Because anyone can not only publish, but mass market a book (especially e-books)today, there are many books that are not of professional quality. This casts a shadow on self-published books despite the fact that there are many of excellent quality.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Lori, you’ve hit on one of my biggest concerns– quality. If too many regrettable books come in a row will the reader will give up on reading?

  • Having been on both sides of the publishing coin — both traditional/royalty published and self/indie-published — I see benefits to both options. Especially for a Christian author with a fire in the belly, no one need stop you.

    In my humble opinion, the missing ingredients for waaaay too many self publishers boil down to: a) quality control; and b) delusions of grandeur. So…

    a. Unless you have a Simon Cowell in your life ready to say your writing is the equivalent of a stuck pig’s squealing, you shouldn’t self publish.

    b. Unless you have a realistic understanding that only your mom and her pals (or whatever platform you may have built) are excited about your work , you shouldn’t self publish. And no, you’re not going to get rich. Better to invest your $$$ in lottery tickets. Or Solyndra stock.

    For me, writing is a mission and a joy. I will do it whether I get rich or not, because it’s part of what I’m called to do. The fire in my belly is to communicate the matchless grace and abiding truth of God by every avenue opened to me.

    My job is faith.
    God’s job is outcomes.

  • David Todd says:

    I began self-publishing January 2011 by publishing a short story. I added a non-fiction book in May 2011, another short story in January 2012, and a novel in March 2012. I have three other things almost ready to go, hopefully two this month because they are time sensitive.

    Last month my novel was free for five days, and was downloaded over 5,000 times. After that I sold 63 copies for a little over $200 in royalties. This month is starting out a little slower, but not bad. If I could get that much per book per month, I’d be quite happy.

    Tomorrow I’ll celebrate my independence as a writer by re-reading my almost published non-fiction book one last time before publishing, and maybe find time to work on the next short story.

    • Chrisitne Dorman says:

      Congratulations, David! I’m glad that your expereince has been so positive.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Nice, David. If readers like your writing however, your income won’t remain static. Word of mouth is by nature exponential. And the more books you have, the better it could be.

      The key always comes down to writing the best book ever.

  • Mary Curry says:

    Interesting post today, Wendy.

    I was reading a post on Seekerville this morning about a similar topic and what struck me then is the same as what strikes me reading your post.

    What the epub revolution means is more power for authors and I see that as a good thing. The Seekerville post is by an author who had a mystery series and the publisher decided not to finish it. The authors got together and self-published so their fans could get the rest of the books. I like that they had the ability/power to do that.

    The lifelong book lover in me is still seeking a traditional pub route. As much as I love the convenience (and instant gratification) of my nook and iPad, I still love the adrenalin rush I get every time I enter a bookstore. I want to see my books on those shelves.

    Happy Independence Day. The 4th is one of my favorite holidays. Time to break out my copy of 1776.

    • Mary,

      The example that you give about the authors wanting to finish the mystery series is an excellent example of the positive side of self-publishing. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Good example, Mary. I’m with you, however. I like a whole entourage of professionals working on my team. There’s too much I do solo already. I wouldn’t want to add publishing to that list.

  • What an interesting take. As for “the path to an agent or a traditional publishing contract is much less crowded,” are you finding you’re receiving less queries than before this big boom of self- and e-publishing?

    Like Christine and Amanda share above, having the option to even write and pursue traditional publishing is a welcomed freedom. I’ve read many well-done e-books, and I know that works for so many people. I know I have so much room to grow, and I’d like the expertise of an editorial agent and business team.

    I like this post from Jody Hedlund on ideas for traditional authors to incorporate e-publishing to meet their readers’ wants: http://jodyhedlund.blogspot.com/2012/06/can-writers-earn-living-writing-just.html

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Caroline, I think we are seeing a drop in queries. Not significantly but I am seeing a significant drop in crazy queries– the publish-this-or-aliens-will-take-over-the-earth-type queries.

      Hmmm. Does that mean there will be a proliferation of self-pubbed read-this-or-aliens-will-take-over-the-earth books?

  • Sarah Thomas says:

    Oh dear. Does this make me a loyalist for preferring to pursue traditional publishing? No tea in the harbour for me–at least not yet.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I don’t think so. Don’t forget, Ben Franklin was one of the first publishers in this fledgling country. the flames of our revolution were fanned by “traditional” publishing. :-)

  • Well, sure, I’m celebrating. And yet, both paths are difficult. I’d rather have a publisher pay me an advance so I can sit and write, but I’m leaning toward self-publishing, now. Self-publishing is so much work if you want to do it well, though. It’s not a quick fix unless you’re just throwing junk out there.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Hear, hear, Sally. I love that you are seeing the reality of starting this new business. It bodes well for you.

  • I want to thank Wendy for the nice word about my book. One thing I would say to those who worry about the “business” aspect is that it is not a complicated business, not at all. The same energy you’ve had to invest in learning about social media is about what you’ll spend learning a few fundamentals for e-book publishing. I wrote the book to be simple, concise and a constant reference, so there wouldn’t be all that much “worry” about it.

    The nice thing is, as Law #2 holds, it’s still mostly about the book itself. That’s good news for writers who love to write.

  • I finished Jim Bell’s book last week and it DID give me a sense of freedom! He’s also made me feel more ready to venture into the self-publishing realm. Before everyone gets too excited ;), let me clarify. What Jim highlights in his personal success is the ability to write under different brands, be more productive, AND continue working with traditional publishing where it suits both parties the best to do so.

    I have some projects that aren’t a great fit for traditional publishers, but would grow an audience who would enjoy what I’m still writing for and submitting to traditional places.

    I LOVE the idea that a writer can do both traditional and epub–that self-publishing does not have to be a rebel move, but something that can be tactically used to make happier writers and more focused, successful publishers.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      And, of course, Christina, you would never fail to talk to your esteemed agent about this, right?

      Teasing aside, it is an exciting new option. Balanced well, it can enhance your career.

      • I once had a counselor tell me I was a non-conformist, which made me gasp because I am a GREAT rule follower. :) (He meant I will do what I think is right no matter what everyone else is doing–that I’m not afraid to stand alone or do the opposite of those around me.)

        BUT I will be talking with my wonderful agent every step of the way, of course, as God brought her to me and her wisdom is valued highly!

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    It is an exciting time to be a writer. There are so many options and avenues to pursue.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I think that’s the best part. Options and avenues. It’s a whole lot better than closed doors and dead ends.

  • Wendy,

    This is one of those posts to which I’m responding very carefully being active on both sides of this coin myself.

    I self-published a wonderful book – a collection of fictionalized stories about women from the Bible, but not for money. It was a Bible Study that I wrote and at the end of the course, I put the collection together primarily for the women in the group and their friends and family. I didn’t do it for the experience, either, but that’s what I got out of it. Trial and error (lots of both) and it still took me a year and half to get the finished product out BECAUSE I WANTED TO DO IT RIGHT. I think one of the issues I’ve stumbled across the most in self-pub is what Bill Giovannetti called ‘delusions of grandeur’ – it’s everywhere and I didn’t want to get “lumped in” so I made every effort to put out a quality book. It has now become a platform tool for me and one I can be proud of offering as incentive for different things.

    I am now actively pursuing traditional representation with my other MSS though – if I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that I’m not quite cut out to run a marketing business – I’d much rather have someone else tell me what I need to do and then I’ll happily go out and do it! I’m spending more time writing and building my network – and that works well for me.

    Thanks for the post, Wendy. Good one.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Becky, It sounds like you have investigated and experimented carefully. We all benefit from your experience. Thanks for sharing.

  • Judy Gann says:

    I’m a bit late to this conversation. Busy working to meet my agent’s deadline. :-)

    Casting a word of caution on your Independence Day celebration. Due to budget tightening it’s increasingly difficult for self-published authors to get their books on the shelves of public libraries outside their own area.

    A few days ago our library system’s fiction selector and I discussed self-published books. He said:

    “The problem [with self-published books]mostly rests with poor editing, to the point of incoherence. It’s [our selection policy] also a way of letting people who self-published know what the world of publishing is going to expect and just paying someone to publish your book doesn’t make you a proven author. It lets them know what kind of work they have to do next.”

    He also stressed the importance of reviews in journals such as Library Journal, Booklist, and PW. We don’t consider paid reviews or reviews on Amazon.

    BTW, none of the above applies to traditionally published authors (like James Bell) who venture into self-publishing.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Excellent reminder, Judy. The library market is bigger than ever. In tough times people use the libraries with increasing frequency. Right, Judy?

      I used to cringe when I heard about the growth of library usage. After all one book gets passed around and the author oily makes money on the one sale. Then Judy set me straight. Libraries rebut books all the time. They only allow a certain number of check-outs per book and then they replace. Plus library patrons are notorious book enthusiasts– they talk about favorite books and people go out and buy them.

      For those who don’t know Judy, she is our resident library guru– specialist on Library Insider. https://libraryinsider.com/ Check it out if you want to know more about libraries and how you can successfully market to them.

  • Lisa Crayton says:

    Wendy,

    I saw a notice for your blog post on an AFCW loop, and I’m glad I did. Now, I’m running to share it, and information about Jim’s new book with others. (I’ll surf to get my copy soon.)

    Interestingly, this topic came up at a recent lunch I had with a writing student who has successfully published personal experience pieces with anthologies like Chicken Soup, but is considering self-pubbing her nonfiction book. I gave her the pros and cons often shared, and encouraged her to seek the Lord as to which way to go.

    Before I shared those pros and cons, I mentioned to her (as we’ve discussed before) that self-publishing has often been looked upon differently in the African-American church community as church leaders often resorted to going the self-pubbed route because many did not know how to pursue traditional publishing, or felt doors were closed to them and/or had doors closed to them. Thus, I’ve always maintained that self-publishing could be a viable route if done well. And, I’ve seen it done well. Even so, in the past when I’ve shared this view at conferences and with Christian publishing reps, I often found resistance.

    For these and other reasons, your post is encouraging – to say the least. Thanks for bravely sharing this post and for encouraging dialogue on the topic. Hope to see you at a conference soon.

    Lisa Crayton, MFA

  • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

    Valuable insight, Lisa. I’ve observed the same thing. The African-American community is a voracious book consuming community that traditional publishing doesn’t seem to have a handle on. In many cases, the black church does a better job of serving this book reading demographic than bookstores.

    There are a few notable exceptions among traditional publishers but by-and-large publishers do not have solid channels into this demographic.

    I’d love to see someone drill down on the self-publishing tradition in the African-American church. I’m guessing it is a very viable route, akin to the homeschool market– hard for an outsider to get a bead on but vigorous and innovative.

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