Thursday, September 8, 2011

The *Other* Writing World

I just came across an article that everyone who is considering self-publishing their work should read: Cory Doctorow: Why Should Anyone Care? 

As you can probably tell from the title of the article, Doctorow wants us to understand that if you are a self-published author, your main job (once the book is in its final form) is to convince potential readers and sellers that they should *care* about your book -- care enough to buy it, to stock it, to tell others about it.

Granted, authors published by traditional, mainstream publishers also carry some of the responsibility for *convincing people to care.* 
One Wolf Howls Book Launch

My two children's picture books -- One Wolf Howls and Big Cat, Little Kitty -- are not self-published. They are published by Sylvan Dell, a small, relatively young publishing house. When you sign with a small publishing house you quickly discover that you need to assume as much of the salesman's role as you possibly can. Small publishers do not have the staff to run about proclaiming the wonders of your book, pushing it at book sellers across the country (world), and splashing it across the pages of major magazines and newspapers. 

If you are published by a major publishing house, you have more people working on your book's behalf. However, unless your book is *high on their list* you're still not going to be able to spend your days sitting quietly at your desk creating your next masterpiece. You're going to be *out there* convincing people to care.

Unfortunately, as Doctorow points out in his article, not many writers are extroverted social butterflies who love nothing better than to schmooze and meet and greet and sell sell sell. 
Big Cat, Little Kitty Book Launch

After doing several signings at bookstores I realized that unless you are already famous, you can't sit at your table and expect people to come up to you. You can post large signs about who you are and what you're doing there, but they will walk right by you. They might smile or nod, but very few will actually come over and talk to you. No, you have to get up and approach people, book in hand, and convince them to care.

I was on my high school debate team, I acted in high school and college theater productions, and I have performed music before an audience on many occasions. I don't shrink from public contact. But the thought of trying to convince someone to buy what I'm selling quite frankly leaves me cold. I don't like it when people try to sell me things. It follows that I would not want to be the person doing the selling. However. . .

My thinking right now is this: If you love to write, then please write. Write, revise, learn, and immerse yourself in the writing world. Share your work with friends and other writers. Get all those great ideas on paper. I have lived in that particular *writing world* most of my life. But if you hope to share your work with large numbers of people and make money at it, you're going to have to enter a different writing world: a world ruled by personality, promotion, and pizzazz. 

I suppose it's possible that you could be *discovered* while sitting quietly at your desk, and rise to great fame without effort. You could also win the lottery. The odds are about the same.

Now, let me tell you which of my books would be perfect for you...


  1. I think the difficulty of self-publishing is that you will spend 50% of your time promoting and only 50% of your time writing. Now if you are a new writer, you really need to be spending time writing and not promoting. It's a difficult situation especially now that it is even harder to get an established publisher to even look at one's work, or even find an agent.

    Publishing is all about making money, and they need to know that the author they invest in will do that for them, so what chance does a new writer stand? A lot less than a few years ago I think.

  2. I tend to agree with you, Helen. It is harder for writers to get agents or publishers these days. It seems that very few are willing to take a chance on a new author. Even if one editor at a publishing house is favorable toward a manuscript, it usually has to pass muster with at least two other editors before it will be accepted. It can be quite difficult to convince three or more people that your work will sell like hotcakes.


So, what do you say?