Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 21: Pitfalls of Self Publishing with Larry Correia

Larry Correia is either the guy who did everything wrong and then broke into publishing anyway, or he’s the exception who proves the rule. He self-published Monster Hunter International, and then got picked up by Baen Books.

If you’re considering self-publishing, this is the podcast for you.

This week’s episode of Writing Excuses is brought to you by Scenting the Dark by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Writing Prompt: A self-published book becomes a threat that will end the world…


32 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 21: Pitfalls of Self Publishing with Larry Correia”

  1. At first, I thought being a writer meant sitting on a beach with your laptop, drinking lemonade with a little umbrella in it, sending your book to the publisher and then raking in the $$$$$$. Even though my publisher is doing a lot to help, a lot still depends on me. Not only am I the author, but I have to be the salesman willing to go out and sell it. I’m thinking of my book right now as an investment that I need to put a lot of time into. Hopefully, it will pay off down the road. I now know that writing is a lot of work, but it’s worth it. My main key to success: do something everyday to get you closer to your goal.

  2. I was discussing this with some friends the other day and we concluded that to do well at it, then you need to be as good as marketing and selling as you are at the writing. If you’re not, then you’re better off devoting your time and energy to the writing and submitting to people who already know all about the marketing!

  3. One thing that could change part of the equation here (namely the cost/copy) if the Kindle or some other ebook reader really takes off and gets serious market penetration, self publishing onto those formats could make it cheaper, though if that happens you might consider redirecting some of the money towards getting a freelance editor or the like to give a read over or two of the book.

    Interesting tidbit I heard on Dragonpage (don’t remember the source they cited) was that some survey indicated that as many as 1 in 5 of the people asked either were planning on buying themselves an ebook reader or at least seriously asking for one as a holiday gift. So by middle of next year all of that could actually shift, but hard to know now, and it’s always a bad idea to make a business plan on maybe…

  4. Patrick: It’s probably really important to know just who was being surveyed and how. If the figure is as high as 1 in 5, it may well be a survey that captured the portion of readers who would be most enthusiastic about portable ebook reading. That figure just looks way too high to be representing the general market accurately, although it does suggest that at the very least ebooks will have their niche. There’s also the fact that books selling for portable devices don’t seem to be a huge haven for self-published books yet, so there’s still gatekeepers, just different ones.

    (On a tangent, I wonder if, when some of the issues with ebooks are more accurately addressed, they might turn into a haven for very long-form fiction such as the fantasy or SF epic where it can be difficult to work out a satisfying book split)

    Good to hear from a successful self-published author about what it means to be self-published and how you measure success, and what you might need to do to switch up to traditional publishing. :)

  5. Just a quick word to Jordan: “The expression that proves the rule.” the word “proves” is used in the older sense, which means to test, as in the term “proving grounds.”

    I was surprised when I read this just last week in Bill Bryson’s book The Mother Tongue. (Pretty good book, by the way)

    Keep up the great content!

  6. Don’t worry, Brandon: I have no intention of self-publishing. I do wish, though, that it was easier to get published the old fashioned way.

    Also, since we’re on the topic of scam literary agents, I have read a lot on the subject, and most people agree on three points:

    1. If the agent asks for money upfront, it’s probably a scam (most agents get paid by collecting a fraction of your book revenues after the book is published).

    2. If the agent insists that you pay his own private editor or “book doctor” before the agent will represent you, it’s probably a scam.

    3. Make sure to research books that the agent has represented in the past. If the agent has not represented any books you’ve ever heard of or any books that you can find in a bookstore, it’s probably a scam. Usually, you want to find an agent who has represented books that you’ve read and loved or who has represented books that are like yours in some way.

  7. “exception the proves the rule”: This is a corruption of ‘exception that *proofs* the rule.’ The word proof as used in this way is a little archaic. Think alcohol. 100 proof alcohol is 50% by volume and will burn, if reluctantly. To proof something is to show how much quality it has. Thus, exceptions to rules, if they are few and easily explainable show that the rule is high quality, while numerous common exceptions like the ones for “‘i’ before ‘e’ except ….” show it to be a very poor rule. If on the other hand you know of no exceptions to a rule then either it is infallible, or more likely not well tested.

  8. “The exception that proves the rule”.

    “Prove” there means “test”. In other germanic languages it still means “taste”, among other things. The modern common use of “prove = confirm” is one of those times when a word’s meaning has inverted, like “having a temper”.

  9. Pesky moderation making me look like I was repeating what Platypus said! His comment was stuck in the queue so not visible at the time of my post.

  10. The examples given here for the meaning of “the exception proves the rule” are very common, sound good, and are how the term is actually used a lot in modern English.

    However, the original meaning is different, and actually makes sense in English. It is a shortened form of “The [fact that there is an] exception proves the rule [exists]”, and it comes from a latin quotation (Cicero I think).

    Eg – if there is a sign that says “no right turn” at some intersections, then you can infer that there must be a rule that usually allows right turns at intersections, without ever seeing a sign that states this.

    It is pretty much a lost cause trying to get this original meaning back into general use, I suspect.

  11. Since it is very important for self-published authors to know how to market and since traditional publishers like writers capable of marketing their own work, would it be possible to do a podcast on the various marketing techniques that are most effective all around.

    I’m not sure if you have already created a podcast about this topic, but if not it is one I would enjoy listening to.

  12. @Stephen

    However, the original meaning is different, and actually makes sense in English. It is a shortened form of “The [fact that there is an] exception proves the rule [exists]“, and it comes from a latin quotation (Cicero I think).

    [citation needed]

  13. …and then I decided to Google it up myself. Here is a “straight dope” article, which at the end gives the context that Cicero referred to; my summary of Cicero’s argument is that “the exception proves THE GENERALITY of the rule”, where rule means legal rule. As used in the common modern usage, “rule” means “deduced (quasi-scientific) principle”, where exceptions of course falsify the rule. As Cecil says at the end of his piece:

    This is not far removed from “the exception tests the rule.” Under the somewhat embarrassing circumstances, that’s about the best I can expect.

  14. I guess this is a warning to all to chose your words very carefully, lest the Grammar Nazis rain down on you.

    I for one truly appreciate the content of this podcast, as the idea of self publishing had appealed to me, having seen the success Howard has had. However, I do not do web comics, or have a captive audience on a forum who are totally enthralled by my prose. So I will bide my time, polish my craft, collect my requisite body weight equivalent of rejection letters and ten years from now I can be possibly at least as famous as Dan.

    Or I can screw up at my day job, blowing a whole in the middle of Utah and become infamous in a matter of nanoseconds.
    But alas, then I would not be able to bask in the glow of adoring fans or have them buy me bacon.
    I would however get to bask in that glow as bright and hot as the surface of the sun, as well as smelling of crispy bacon, for a nanosecond or two…

    Yep, much as I love the smell of bacon in the morning, I’m gonna have to go the traditional publishing route. So be on the look out for me in a decade or so.

  15. Yes, but I’m sure it would hurt more than trying to get published. The worst I would have to look forward to there is possible paper cuts and the crushed self esteem.

  16. I’m daunted, really, to the point where I all 8 years of my writing has been halted dead after listening to this podcast. I feel as though it’s wasted effort. How can an author not hold on so tightly to their own work? How can they be at all content? I realized all of this long before I listened, but for some reason, it sent me right into a funk.

    The primary reason I wish to self-publish is that I can avoid the publishing house’s content editor and art direction. I’ve based a LOT of what I write on characters I have created through artistic means, and it would be horrifying–downright appalling like the death of a family member–to have a weird, malformed, misidentified character on the cover that does not AT ALL represent the one the story was based off of. This would crash the vision I had for this project, and would be the death of me (figure of speech).

    Writing should not be limited to “writing.” Art should not be limited to “art.” Why can’t an artist create a whole vision that is acceptable to a publishing house? Why can’t they honor the two as a whole unit from one person?

    Are there any traditional publishing houses that exist, that fully honor creative expression at all? That won’t chop up and hack away precious writing that ISN’T filler? I mean, are their content editors in publishing houses that actually respect the whole writing, and only edit content if it’s something vital like a glaring plot hole? Do traditional publishing houses let authors communicate with in-house art directors? How much leeway do they give to authors regarding any of this?

  17. Jessica:
    I will refer you back season one Episode 3 “Killing Your Darlings”.

    I stopped my first project for the very reasons you are talking about and have gone on to work on improving my craft because of the lessons of that podcast.
    One day I may revisit my dream project, but I have had so many other wonderful ideas since and have grown quite a bit as a writer because of learning to let go.
    The publishers try and get you to make the changes they do BECAUSE it will make your story or book better. They want to get people to read what they publish and come back for more.
    Really, is that a bad thing?
    I would also refer you to the episodes on publishing and editing.


  18. WEKM,

    Wow. THANK YOU for directing me to those, especially the bottom two links! That’s where my concern was, spot on.

    I feel SO much better about things. I’m back at full confidence again, and I’m really looking forward to traditional publishing. (It’s just that I have controversial subject matter, which is where I base most of my fears.)

    The current project I’m on is actually in its 12th phase, and it’s a totally different story than when I started on it. In that sense, it’s been a killed darling 11 times because none of the ideas were good — I thought they were good, but when I look back at them, they were ugly. I’ve hacked the living heck out of many really good scenes, too, without even looking twice at them once I realized they didn’t fit. So, I guess in essence, it could be summed up to 12 different stories. I have no ambition to change tracks; it’s only that I’ve become objective enough through all those re-writes. I’m not “attached” in the form of Mary Sue-ism or anything like that. It’s merely the controversial issues as a form of sub-plot that I’m concerned about. They’re important in effect to the main plot, and it’s a subject I really want to tackle.

    That reminds me. They should totally do a podcast on story length (word count, number of pages, etc.). That’s one I would like to hear.

  19. It’s merely the controversial issues as a form of sub-plot that I’m concerned about. They’re important in effect to the main plot, and it’s a subject I really want to tackle.

    Sounds like you shouldn’t have anything to worry about if you’ve handled your subject and your writing well, Jessica. :) If it ties in well with everything and you research it adequately to treat the subject with respect, only a fool would reject it for being controversial. :)

  20. I agree with Matthew. I mean, come on, Dan published a series of books about a sociopath who gets worse with each book . And Dexter on TV is just as bad or worse.
    There are books out there that cover any number of controversial subjects, rape, incest, murder,religion, (never not a controversy there, is there) war, politics, anything you can imagine.
    Controversy is good in a book. It helps people open their minds when it is handled right. Or confirm their hopes or fears. Either way, “Is good for you. Now eat your veggies.”

    Just don’t write one about killing the President. Not only is it in bad taste, it gets you on all sorts of lists that you REALLY don’t want to be on. ;)

  21. Just don’t write one about killing the President. Not only is it in bad taste, it gets you on all sorts of lists that you REALLY don’t want to be on. ;)

    Hey, if Stephen King can do it, you can too! ;) You just have to make sure your president is fictional and completely disastrous so that people can sympathise with the idea that terrible means are necessary to stop them. Your protagonist also usually needs to be the only one in on some sort of dire conspiracy for that sort of plot, of course. Stephen King handled it by letting his protagonist have the unexplained ability to see the future, I believe.

    In short: It’s only in bad taste if you don’t concoct a really good exception to the rules that would normally make it in bad taste.

  22. I meant writing stories about killing the actual President. Just bad taste. You can disagree with someone as much as you want but killing over politics is just silly.

    However, killing a fictional president you make up, go for it! All sorts of conflict and controversy there.
    Even Tom Clancy did it, and that President wasn’t even a horrible one that you wanted to see offed. Makes for all kinds of turmoil.
    Just remember, it really messes with the spirit and soul of a nation when their leader is killed. Be sure to incorporate that into your planning.

  23. Very interesting, thanks for sharing. I hadn’t really been considering self-publishing and this certainly adds another reason or two to why I will pursue the traditional path…when that day comes (hopefully next year).

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