Myths about Publishing

So I saw today that Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds asked his horde of minions about their experiences with the publishing industry, and whether the half-truths we hear about that (alleged) nest of vipers are even half-true. The conversation was kick-started by another conversation, overheard at the Crossroads Writers’ Conference:

Michael Woods @mrmikemyself

Just sat in on a local writers group. Good grief, the fabricated truths these people tell themselves about trad publishing are astounding.
9:41 PM – 02 Mar 13
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Michael Woods @mrmikemyself

“They just want to steal your ideas.” “You may not know this but they always ask you for money upfront.” Wait, what? Their opinions on trad.
10:38 PM – 02 Mar 13
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Michael Woods @mrmikemyself

“Unless you live in NY, Boston, or LA you’ll never get a publisher to buy your manuscript.” “You have to know somebody to sell your work.”
10:41 PM – 02 Mar 13
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Now I’ve got a few things to say about the whole self published (vanity presses, e-books, etc) versus traditionally published (dead trees and e-books), but Chuck did ask us to not venture there. The only thing I’m going to say (oh, defiant me!) is that I’m not a huge fan of self-publishing. There. I said it. For me the traditional publishing industry (picture fat cats, top hats and monocles, chuckling to one another about any author fucked over) does both readers and writers a huge favour. They are the gatekeepers – hopefully (but not always) ensuring that only the best writing can make it to market (which is why I’m always so incredibly vexed when I encounter spelling/grammatical errors in published novels – how many people okayed that novel before I got to read it? And no-one noticed!) And unfortunately that keeps me away from most self-published books. How am I to know that you’ve spent hours, days, weeks, months re-reading, re-writing and editing (editing, always editing?) I’m always worried that although I may turn up a little, unheard-of diamond I’ll probably have to wade through mountains of shit to get at it.

Well. Got that off my chest, then.

Anyway, about my experiences with publishing. I’ve had eight or so stories published now, all but one (Trust, which appeared in Trash Wolves, a friend of mine’s magazine) published through the traditional method —> WRITE, EDIT, REWRITE, SUBMIT, ACCEPTANCE/REJECTION. Rinse and repeat until desired result is achieved. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had very few rejections (three?) and that I’m always writing, rewriting, and editing, so there’s always more fiction needing to be submitted or edited (once again.) Only once have I gotten a “form” rejection, and the other two have been quite clear about why my story wasn’t accepted.

Just remember, Kafka kept a pile of rejection letters his entire life, and wanted the manuscripts for The Castle, Metamorphosis and The Trial burnt at his death as they were never accepted. Not that I’m comparing myself to Franz Kafka. Just saying that sometimes the industry gets it wrong – but if Kafka had self-published on Amazon would he have found success? Maybe, but my money is on no. Buried beneath the slush pile.

Now, I’m in the middle of some major restructuring of a short story I hope to submit to a traditional publisher (Jaffa Books is looking for fairy tales for an anthology, have you got anything they might enjoy?) in the next week or two, and I’ve another (minimum) 1500 word story to write (about potatoes, for Fringeworks) in the next three days, and a 100 word drabble to rewrite for the National Flash Fiction Day contest (in two days) and I’ve got no Internet at home or at work, so I’ve had to venture out to the library to post this and the flash I wrote this morning.

EDIT: Just had my short story Give me Liberty or Give me Death accepted for publication, so now I’m waiting to rewrite that bad boy too, as soon as I get the publisher’s notes. And no, it’s not about American independence, nor is it about any of the founding fathers.

What are you experiences with the business side of publishing? Anyone self-published successfully? Because for all of my posturing I’m thinking about self-publishing a couple of short story collections this year (Mice – a collection of normal (not SciFi) short stories and His Illiterate Etchings – a Science Fiction collection.)

Let me know in the comments gang!

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6 thoughts on “Myths about Publishing

  1. Lex says:

    Self-publishing(e-books) is the way to go, the future; land a hit there and the traditionals will come breaking down your door. Your archive should be big enough for a collection; nothing to lose.

    • That’s what I figured – I’ve got a whole heap of stories and as you said, nothing at all to lose!

      And you’re right, those people who do shine through will be overrun with offers. I think I can handle that.

  2. I share your mild antipathy to self-pub…in part b/c I carry with me, perhaps, that old-fashioned notion that I’m not a real writer unless I get published by the trad publishers. “We don’t have to write for The Man to be writers,” I tried telling my writer friend Kathy. “But I *want* to write for The Man,” she lamented. My good friend’s father wrote a book and as sweet as he is, and as smart and successful of a PR exec he was, the book was exactly the sort of thing trad publishing should protect the buying public from – it lacked the entire trifecta of good fiction: a good story, a story that is worth telling, a story that is well told. On the other hand I went to a writer’s conference featuring a young writer who had great success self-publishing, with revenue exceeding $1 million in something like 2 years. She had a niche – she wrote erotica for African American women, and she was really successful at getting radio stations and magazines that targeted the African American audience to interview her. She was a very enterprising young lady – she gave her presentation in these awesome tight red jeans and a yellow top that showed her belly button. She had 4 inch heels on and started her talk with the line “I knew I didn’t want to hear what traditional publishers have to say about my writing. I knew there was a market for it, and they weren’t part of it.”

    Nicely written, congrats on getting your short published, I’ll look forward to reading more from you.

  3. projectmomentarily says:

    As uncomfortable as part of you may be with the entire self-publishing thing, I’m not sure it’s that’s helpful to be totally for or against it. Clearly some writers have found success this way that they simply wouldn’t have found otherwise, but it is also not as easy as it appears to really succeed at it.

    I also think there’s a huge difference between the self-publishing of years ago where a writer had to pay for their book to be printed to creating a short story or novel for something like Amazon’s Kindle audience.

    It really depends on what you want to get out of publishing it this way. In my case, I am slowly releasing the chapters of my novel as Kindle Singles. These Kindle Singles along with my blog give readers a chance to interact with me as I write. Those who take the time to post comments rarely hold back and it’s an eye-opening experience. There is hard slog to be had in listening to that kind of feedback and learning from it without giving your creation over to others.

    • I’m not totally against self-publishing (I mentioned I’m thinking about self-publishing a couple of collections) it’s more the fact that traditional publishing should offer some kind of anti-crap filter. Now, I don’t mean that they won’t publish crap books, as there are plenty of books out there that I wouldn’t enjoy reading – but that’s about taste, not necessarily quality. I don’t have a lot of cash, so even a 99 cent purchase is going to be an outIay that I wouldn’t want to waste, especially as I can walk into my second hand bookstore and buy the collected works of Chekhov for an extra dollar. The number of people who’s blogs I’ve been to that are spruiking their e-book is pretty high, and most of their posts are full of grammatical errors . And they delete any criticisms you might leave behind. I’m done with that, and at least with a trad publisher you should be able to expect those sort of errors to be fixed up.

      I’m sure there’s a lot of good work out there, but finding it can’t be easy…

  4. I enjoy seeing my poems published, but it’s always in magazine or e-zine form. I’ve also been featured in a few blog-based anthologies, including one (Prompted) that was for charity, and I loved the purpose of that book.

    I did a verrrrry amateurish chapbook, a fledgling attempt, and I marketed it myself. Sold, you know, 200 copies and charged very little. I am weighing whether to self-publish a much more comprehensive chap (nice cover, bound, etc) or to submit, but unfortunately for poets, there are usually submission charges and they run it like a contest. That way, the submission fees of those not chosen cover the “prize” money.

    Fortunately, I don’t do poetry hoping to “go pro.” I’ll probably self-publish again, simply because I am a control freak, ha ha ha. Well, it’s not really a joke, but you get the idea. (wink) Amy

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