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Writer Beware: The pitfalls of publishing

It is often said that everyone has a book in them. That’s certainly true given the number of times readers and fans approach authors at booksignings and confess their family’s history and/or antics would make the perfect book. But writing involves more than sitting down and crafting the perfect story. Writing is a business: the publishing business. And that means budding authors must do due diligence and learn about their industry and who the players are if they want to avoid the hucksters and cons that plague the all too eager to be published neophytes.

All too soon, the realities of publishing make themselves known. Yes, it’s hard to get your manuscript before an editor. No, they don’t want to see your entire book. Yes, you must write a query letter. No, they won’t accept your manuscripts without an agent representing you. These barriers that seem to come out of nowhere can quickly crush a budding author, and way too often these babes-in-the-woods writers turn too quickly to the promises whispered by companies that offer to produce their books for a slight fee or for the promise of the author purchasing a certain number of books–which happens to equate to the cost of publishing the said volume. Let me tell you right now: self-publishing is NOT for the faint-hearted. Even writers steeped in the ways and mores of the industry often fall short of their dreams when they turn to self-publishing.

While there are those stellar exceptions that seem to prove the cautionary tales wrong, you should understand that most writers who self-publish fail to execute the most necessary component in their publishing plan: distribution. I can’t tell you how important it is for any writer to take a deep breath, calm down, and really examine the industry you’re about to enter. Study the market, learn the players, and develop at least a rudimentary understanding of the various paths to publishing. In this day and age when the Internet is so accessible, information abounds but it must be digested slowly. Don’t accept the first load of pie-in-the-sky promises that burst upon the screen. For a thoughtful look at one part of the industry and a publisher that lures many first-time authors, take a look at the recent article in The Washington Post by Paula Span: Making Books.

(Note: You may need to register (free) with the Washington Post to read the January 23 article.)


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  • Ken

    Why should writers concern themselves with distribution? Once they do, why would they ever need an honest publisher? In other words, by learning everything they can about the publishing buisness, if they learn it well, why should they then give a cut to any publisher?
    Conversely, if they want a publisher, why should they concern themselves with learning how to distribute the books?
    This reminds me of a medical situation. You’re doubled over in pain, so you go to doctor: they tell you you need your appendix removed. Now, before you have your appendix removed, you should go to medical school, or the medical library for a few years, to learn how to remove them yourself?

  • Ken

    Why should writers concern themselves with distribution? Once they do, why would they ever need an honest publisher? In other words, by learning everything they can about the publishing buisness, if they learn it well, why should they then give a cut to any publisher?
    Conversely, if they want a publisher, why should they concern themselves with learning how to distribute the books?
    This reminds me of a medical situation. You’re doubled over in pain, so you go to doctor: they tell you you need your appendix removed. Now, before you have your appendix removed, you should go to medical school, or the medical library for a few years, to learn how to remove them yourself?

  • http://clear-lake-reflections.com mark

    You make it sound hard. Surely talent overrides the bureacracy?
    It’s not like there is any competition out there.

  • http://clear-lake-reflections.com mark

    You make it sound hard. Surely talent overrides the bureacracy?
    It’s not like there is any competition out there.

  • http://www.writers-edge.info geo

    Amen, sister! (Say, are you my sister? My last name used to be ‘Simmons’.)
    I so cringe when I ask book newbies if they have agents, and they flippantly remark, “Oh, I’m going to self-publish.” They usually mean subsidy-publish and have no idea what they are getting into. Most recently it was an 80-year-old who had broken a contract with a major publisher because of an editor’s “attitude” to go the DIY route. Eeeeeee! (runs screaming from the room)

  • http://www.writers-edge.info geo

    Amen, sister! (Say, are you my sister? My last name used to be ‘Simmons’.)
    I so cringe when I ask book newbies if they have agents, and they flippantly remark, “Oh, I’m going to self-publish.” They usually mean subsidy-publish and have no idea what they are getting into. Most recently it was an 80-year-old who had broken a contract with a major publisher because of an editor’s “attitude” to go the DIY route. Eeeeeee! (runs screaming from the room)

  • http://www.blogbusinessworld.blogspot.com Wayne Hurlbert

    Vikk, you definitely provide some words of wisdom for aspiring authors. I always think that once a person has a book published, they are in the sales, marketing, promotions, and public relations businesses. As you say, they are in the publishing business.
    A writer has to realize that when the book is written and published, another career in selling the book begins. The book won’t sell itself, despite what many people want to believe.
    The idea that that marketing the book is beneath an author must be dispelled as well. I believe marketing the book to be an honourable profession. In fact, it’s a mission to get the book read by as many people as possible; especially if it’s a life changing book.
    From author to marketer is an essential transition.

  • http://www.blogbusinessworld.blogspot.com Wayne Hurlbert

    Vikk, you definitely provide some words of wisdom for aspiring authors. I always think that once a person has a book published, they are in the sales, marketing, promotions, and public relations businesses. As you say, they are in the publishing business.
    A writer has to realize that when the book is written and published, another career in selling the book begins. The book won’t sell itself, despite what many people want to believe.
    The idea that that marketing the book is beneath an author must be dispelled as well. I believe marketing the book to be an honourable profession. In fact, it’s a mission to get the book read by as many people as possible; especially if it’s a life changing book.
    From author to marketer is an essential transition.

  • http://gayguy.blogs.com/ Alex

    Like writing the novel isn’t hard enough. Sigh.

  • http://gayguy.blogs.com/ Alex

    Like writing the novel isn’t hard enough. Sigh.