Writing Excuses 4.20: Strategies for Getting Published

Your hosts here at Writing Excuses have tried to answer the “how to get published” question before. We’re going to try again.

In this episode we begin with a discussion of New Media. Welcome to the Age of the Internet, everybody! The Web is now “old media.” When we say “New Media” we’re talking about social media — Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, user-generated content, and countless blogging tools.  After a brief warning about embracing the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent, Brandon, Dan, and Howard provide some examples for how these tools can help you.

We talk a bit about some submission practices that you should not practice, most of which Stacy Whitman covered with us back in episodes 12 and 13 of  Season 1. Then we throw you some off-the-wall suggestions that might get you published. Some of these cost real money, and none of them come with guarantees that they’ll work. We restate our firm belief that the best strategies for getting published hinge upon writing excellently and networking with people who write.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. Howard owes him a plug after last month’s epic faux-pas at Penguicon. After bringing it up in this context, Howard probably owes him ANOTHER one.

Writing Prompt: For some reason, 1000 years in the future the most cost-effective publishing involves writing on human skin…

Blame for That Horrible Mental Picture of Howard Dressed as an Elf Sans Pants: Brandon Sanderson owns that blame, down to the last mote of scowling-with-eyes-averted disapproval.

Why Mayan Calendars Predict The End of The World in 2012: seventeen minutes in…

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.

Visit http://AudiblePodcast.com/excuse for a free trial membership*.

*Note: From the Audible website, here are the terms of the free membership. Read the fine print, please!

Audible® Free Trial Details
Get your first 14 days of the AudibleListener® Gold membership plan free, which includes one audiobook credit. After your 14 day trial, your membership will renew each month for just $14.95 per month so you can continue to receive one audiobook credit per month plus members-only discounts on all audio purchases. A very small number of titles are more than one credit. Cancel your membership before your free trial period is up and you will not be charged. Thereafter, cancel anytime, effective the next billing cycle. Any unused audiobook credits will be lost at cancellation.


34 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 4.20: Strategies for Getting Published”

  1. Just as an FYI, I’m pretty sure you are abusing the term New Media here. Twitter and FB I’ve never heard considered new media before this podcast, just social media.

    NW is more meant to be used in reference to blogs, podcasts, ebooks, and certain forms of iPhone/Android apps that are a way of distributing content.

  2. On another note: the whole ereader thing and 2012.

    I hate projections like this, especially ones several years out, because they tend to require a certain amount of assumptions about growth rates not changing and the like, which seems crazy to do over such a long time span.

    Of course, the flip side to that is more and more companies are getting on the ebook/ereader bandwagon. There’s already the Kindle, the Nook, Sony’s EReader, now the iPad (though you can’t assume everyone with an iPad is going to use it for any serious amount of reading), and I’m probably forgetting some.

    Coming soon you have Borders reader (which is the cheapest eink reader to date), more tablets based on Android, plus HP releasing one based on webOS since they bought Palm. These things are all going to likely increase the number of people buying ebooks to some degree or other, which change the numbers. There’s also the Adam by… I can’t think of who, which is based on Pixel Qi, for all intents and purposes colored eink with a few other tech advancements, and who knows what I’ve missed.

    All of that, in aggregate, is a lot of ways for people to read books in non-paper form, and across all of them probably hits the sweet spot for enough people to risk crossing that 20-25% threshold that will throw the paper market into a tale spin.

    While not as bullish as say Stackepole is, I expect within the next 5 years for paper books to become a bit of a luxury item to show off on your bookcase, because of the convenience of being able to carry a few thousand books in a small device.

    One thing I wouldn’t be surprised to see publishers start doing to slow this down is to include an option where you get a download code with the paper copy either at no extra cost or for only a buck or two more to try and avoid the market crashing for a few more years.

  3. Thanks for mentioning that Twitter history thing, Dan; that sounds fascinating.

    One other thought about doing stuff like that–if you’re going to do a Twitter novel or whatever it is you want to do, you probably don’t want to do it just as a marketing gimmick. Do it because you’re interested in the form. Gimmicks tend to be, well, kinda transparent.

  4. I for one will never give up real books that I can hold in my hands. I love the feel and even the smell of paper and ink too much to ever give them up. Also real books do not need batteries and can not vanish into nothingness as electric data can. The most impressive piece of furnisher in my little apartment is my book shelf, nearly full of books. Even if e-book readers and all the books in the world were free in the e-book format I would still buy the real books, so please don’t stop cutting down trees anytime soon.

    As for getting published; which is what this podcast was about, I have to say that I do not have any interest in it. I write for the simple joy of it. I already have a job that pays the bills that I hate. If I were to get paid to write and have to deal with deadlines and all the crap that goes with it, well that would kill the joy for me and my writing would become a job that I would most likely grow to hate.

  5. @Brenna – I agree. I write for the pure joy of it. Yet, I find that I would like others to read my work and enjoy it, so some form of publishing is probably in my future, even if it doesn’t make me any real money.

    Hey Brandon, Dan, and Howard – what do you guys think of the podiobook approach to getting a book out? Some of those have done pretty well and were even picked up by publishers. Of course, some of them are *cough* not worth the bits and bandwidth they take *cough*.

  6. Another author who published his book online and subsequently got it published is John Wong, whose book John Dies at the End is sitting on my credenza at home waiting its place in my reading queue. I bought it after reading several chapters online, then hearing he’d been picked up by a publisher, and I stopped reading it online because I’d rather hold the book in my hands when I read.

    I’m also surprised, given that this is a podcast, that you left out mentioning Scott Sigler, Matthew Wayne Selznick, Mur Lafferty, P. G. Holyfield, J. C. Hutchins, Tee Morris, Philippa Ballantine, and probably quite a few others I’m simply forgetting whose books first appeared as serial podcasts or podiobooks and then subsequently got picked up by publishers.

  7. I admire people like Brenna who can write for the sheer joy of it. Me, I want people all over the world to read what I’m writing. That, and I would also like to be able to write as much as I want, whenever I want–which in my case is all the time. And the easiest way to accomplish that is to get published regularly. But mostly, it’s because I am craving that first day when I walk into any random bookstore and see my name sitting on the shelves. Maybe I’m just famethirsty, but I can’t help but feel that this is a thing I would like to experience.

    My two cents on the ebook debate: I’m with Brandon. I don’t think it will ever happen. Granted, the iPad is selling well, but a lot of the other eReaders haven’t. And personally, I hate, hate, HATE reading things off of a screen, and all of the “book people” I know agree. I read one chapter of Warbreaker off Brandon’s website and then when I learned that it was going to be reincarnated in tome form, I said, “Thank goodness I don’t have to read this book this way,” and I waited until it came out.

    Besides, books don’t require batteries. An eReader is like a chain that ties you to a power outlet, unless you’re such a speedy reader that you can finish a 1000 page novel before the juice runs out.

  8. @AlanHorne FYI eink and Pixel Qi readers (everything out there except iPad and the like) have power useage based on page turns, not time on (if you turn off the wifi when not downloading stuff anyway). For example Sony’s eReader is claimed to be 6000 page turns per charge, which is 6+ books unless you’re reading Erikson ;).

    Plus eink isn’t shining light on you the way a computer monitor is, from that perspective it’s VERY similar to the experience of reading a book, including needing an exterior light source to read. Which is why even if I get some form of tablet I also intend to get an eink reader at some point.

  9. Larry Correia actually wrote a book serially with another guy and posted chapters each day on a site. That was the first novel. He was active in some big sites. Lots of folks knew Larry. He had a platform. Then he wrote Monster Hunter. Sold a bunch self-published, and then an indie bookseller (Uncle Hugo’s) pitched that self-published book to Toni at Baen (who had already rejected the book).

    Goes to show that (1) you need a platform and (2) you’ve got to have a great book.

  10. John,

    So MHI wasn’t published serially, but fans of his serial helped drive sales for it?

  11. Help!

    So, I finely sent a manuscript into a publisher and won’t know the outcome for a few more months. Even if I don’t get a contract, (It’s my first try which feels rewarding in and of itself) I still plan to publish sometime in the near future. I have never blogged, never been on Facebook, and spend most of my time writing stories for kids. What would be the best way to get a following? I really don’t have anything exciting to blog about, that’s why I’m writing fiction. Plus, I’m just barely out of high school. So what could I possibly say to adults that would get them interested enough to buy my book for their kids? At the same time, It would be really nice to have some sort of following to boost sells when I eventually publish, even if it’s years away.

  12. I straddle the fence on the e-book vs paper controversy. I love to own the hard copies of lots of books – especially my favorites (of course). Still, it is nice to have the electronic versions of some books. In many cases I’d like to own both formats.

    For my political blog I have to do research. Digital copies of books can often be searched using the computer’s brain, instead of mine. This is very handy. On the other hand there is little use for that with pleasure (fiction) reading. Reading on a computer is not all that desirable but I have borrowed a Sony Reader and found it very easy on the eyes. And the ability to carry many books in such a compact format is also great.

    Meanwhile, back at the podcast: As for actually getting published, does anyone have any experience with LuLu – self publishers?

  13. I would like to share my writing with the world someday when I feel that my writing is worthy of sharing. When that time comes I might do narrate and record it myself and make website and where I can do a chapter a week in a Podiobook format. I might also think about self publishing with someone like Lulu.com. If anyone has any experience with these or an opinion on it I would love to get some feed back. Thanks.

  14. As far as LuLu goes, plenty of web comics seem to use them and I cant remember any horror stories.
    I still wouldn’t recommend it though:
    They charge 4.50 per paperback for binding plus per page cost, hardback is 13.00. Which means even if you sold at the minimum LuLu allowed (so no money for you at all) you’d still be looking at like a 9-10 dollar paperback. If you don’t already have an audience chomping at the bit to buy your work, a 12 dollar paper back probably isn’t going to get you one. On the other hand if you have an audience, do a round of pre orders and see if you can get together enough for an actual batch from a small printing house, then you can charge sane prices.
    That said if you can’t get enough pre orders to pay for a small batch you’re almost certainly doing it out of pure vanity, in which case 12 bucks is hardly an extravagant indulgence to see your baby in pulp and ink.

  15. Katya,

    Here’s how it went down.

    1) Larry wrote MHI. Spent a year getting rejected by everyone. Boo-hoo, so sad for big Larry. :(

    2) Decided to self-publish MHI.

    3) Figured he could convince people he knew how to write by doing a serial novel online. Just a lark.

    4) Wrote that serial, called Dead Six, a chapter per day with a guy named Mike Kupari. One day Correia would write a chapter. Next day Kupari would write the next. Next day Larry would write the next. 2 points of view working against each other. The site he posted this to was a site he was a moderator for and was the second biggest gun site on the internet at the time. Got LOTS of hits. He used the serial to push the POD version of MHI.

    5) One of the guys on this site liked the serial novel. In Larry’s words, “He asked if he could see an early copy of MHI. He showed it to Don Blyly at Uncle Hugos, who ended up printing the whole thing and taking it home and reading it overnight. He bought a bunch of POD copies and really pushed it. ”

    6) Blyly introduced Larry to Toni at Baen. The rest is history.

    So, again, this all revolved around the fact that Larry wrote something people loved. That was the first thing. AND he was able to get it into the right hands. Had enough coverage for something to pop.

  16. Oh, one other thing. Uncle Hugos was the indy store picked to be on one of Entertainment Weekly’s bestseller list. Nice bit of timing because it put MHI on Entertainment Weekly’s best-seller list!!

    But again, started with a great novel.

  17. @CM: Don’t wait for validation from the publisher. Start writing something else immediately. And don’t worry about blogging, or any of that other stuff. Not yet. If you don’t think you have anything to say, by all means don’t try to say stuff just to be saying stuff.

    Just out of high-school? That’s fine. Finish your education, and don’t study writing. Study something interesting, and rest assured that within a couple of years you’ll have plenty of interesting things to say.

  18. Regarding the eBook prediction: While I don’t think we’ll see the collapse of the publishing industry in 2012, I do believe that the mechanism described — a “tipping point” beyond which paper becomes unprofitable to sustain itself — is exactly how it will happen when and if it does.

    I love paper. I make a living selling paper. But a hundred years ago people loved horses. Horse lovers now pay a HUGE premium in order to have access to horses. If I can make a living selling paper to those who will pay the premium then I will. But I’m also prepared to reformat my work for the eBook revolution.

    In short, I love paying the bills more than I love paper.

  19. Thanks, John! I remember hearing Larry talk about writing the serial in a previous podcast, but I didn’t have the details straight.

  20. Anyone read “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell? He talks about several examples where there is a tipping point that causes the overall change in things (in the book I think he refers to a community where a minority race started moving in, and at around 20% for the minority race the majority race began to move out). Although I think it will go that way for books in general, I think it will be a sad day when I actually have to go and buy an eReader of some sort or other. I much prefer having an actual book in my hands, I get sick of staring at a computer screen way too fast to want to read a book on one.

  21. I’m probably one of the people who value my bookshelf so that it reflects a part of me – not just in structure, but the many books that it holds being among my favorites. So I would never say take away the joy of printed material. I don’t think the printed industry will fold as long as people love reading paperback and hardback books – and too many do, even those who are tech savvy. Sure, I can work with my computer and don’t mind reading/writing on it a lot (when I’m writing my stories, that’s basically what I find myself doing a lot), but ultimately I do want to be able to come away from an electronic device of any sort and just curl up under the covers with a good book in my hands.

    I write primarily for the joy, and I wouldn’t mind being published at some point in my life and I want to test the waters to see where and how far I can go, though I’ll admit I still have a lot to learn about the industry – these podcasts help in many, many ways, so thank you for them, even if no one blueprint works for everyone. :) That’s actually a good rule of thumb for anything you do.

    I’m not ashamed to say I write my own stories and I’d love the opportunity to share them and find new ways of sharing them with people. I could work with deadlines and the craziness, because in the end, I’d love the work and I wouldn’t mind living on a partial paycheck with it (my primary career technically falls under medical/allied health depending on whom you ask, but I’m exploring my options).

  22. I really like paper–the idea of signing people’s hard copies that they bought in a bookstore is appealing to me. Not only is it good for the old ego, but I kind of like the mystery of the book when it’s in front of you and the smell of the ink (OK, maybe I’m getting high off of the binder glue), and I love old bookstores as well. There is also an appeal of knowing you are halfway by glancing at the binding and being able to flip ahead in the book, the thought of the people that put it together and packaged it, the people at the bookstore promoting your book because they also read it/met you and love it that much–most of all being in a bookstore doing promoting and learning to be humble by having to point out the bathroom. (Terry Brooks mentioned this). Something about that really makes me happy (Maybe the warmth of knowing the people involved?), versus having to go to a convention which you have to pay for, etc.

    I’ll love paper as an artist and a writer. The smells, the feel and just the experience. I’ll be sad to see real books go to the wayside ’cause my dream was really to have a Sci-fi/Fantasy book published and hold book signings in a bookstore… (I have a few in mind) (That and have a book cover by Michael Whelan, but he quit doing covers. *cries in corner.* I became a fantasy and Scienc Fiction fan partially due to his covers. ^^;) If the publishing industry via hard copy is to die, please let it die after I get one book published the good old traditional method. (I’m almost there… last edits are coming in at the beginning of June where I will send my manuscript to get rejected.)

    I’ll also open for e-books after that dream is complete as long as there are good ways to promote it in person as well as through bytes and also a good filtering system still in place. I still like the face-to-face connection.

  23. Howard Tayler forgot my name…


    Great podcast, and great advice. Like they said, I was an oddity. But regardless of whatever else you can take away from how I did it, I think having an internet personality and communicating with your fans (through blogging, or however you choose to do it) is key. I’m super opinionated on mine and post up all sorts of bizzarre little fiction items (currently writing The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent). For me, a big part of my success has been communicating directly with fans and being approachable. Plus, if you’re getting 2,000 consistent hits a day, you know those are people that will buy anything you write from then on.

    And another thing the guys nail here, carry that strategy past the 1st book. You get the first one published, you need to work it like crazy to build the fan base, or otherwise you’ll just be that dude who got one book published because of the internet, and then taper off into obscurity. I’ve got four more sold now, but only because I flogged the heck out of that dead horse. :)

  24. Actually, guys, that’s not quite right.

    What I said was that I wouldn’t have won the Campbell were it not for the internet.

    Now I will say that my blog, specifically, got me on the ballot. Before being nominated, I posted on my blog that I’d like to be nominated and seventeen people actually did that. Believe it or not, that’s all it takes to get on the Campbell ballot.

    BUT I had published 15 short stories and been on the Nebula long list before I was nominated for the Campbell. The problem is that as a short story writer no one would have been able to find my fiction if it weren’t for the internet. Short fiction tends to have a limited shelf life, as soon as the magazine is off the newsrack, it is as if that story doesn’t exist.

    Knowing this, I leveraged my online presence and put together a free sampler of my fiction, specifically to make myself a viable nominee.

    See, I believed that Scott Lynch would win and so wanted to take advantage of being a nominee. I sent the link to my fiction sampler to a whole bunch of people. Two of which happen to be Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi. They both blogged about it and THAT is why I say that I wouldn’t have won without the internet. My blog? It’s nice and all, but it ain’t BoingBoing.

    I hope that helps clarify stuff. The internet levels the playing field for short story writers.

  25. Tangentially related to this, has anyone else been watching the word come out about Neal Stephenson’s new web project the Mongoliad? Him, Bear, and others, though apparantly there will be interactive elements… I’m extremely curious to see how it plays out, and if he creates something that might be repeatable by others as a form of building a community and fan base.




    Looks to be heavily based on interaction via smartphones, Kindles, and the iPad.

  26. Much as I would love an iPad (and I *would* love an iPad), there’s some ethical considerations to keep in mind when thinking about Brandon’s off-the-wall suggestion. An iPad costs anywhere from $500 on up, and the I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine idea that many writers might get from that (after all, if they send chocolate they think we should publish them, how much more will they expect from an iPad??)… well, it makes me nervous, in the “I might have a stalker” sort of way.

    But it did make me laugh like a loon on the subway listening to it this morning.

  27. When I started out, I drank the kool-aid that says you have to sell short fiction before moving on to novels. And as much as many writers aren’t necessarily built to do short fiction, I will say that I think it’s probably worth it for brand new writers to at least read some short fiction and attempt some short pieces — for the practice, and because short fiction still has some golden opportunities, such as Writers of the Future.

    My current strategy is to continue putting out short work while also shopping novels. My goals for 2010 were to have 2 original novels on the market by year’s end, plus 12 additional original short pieces. So far, I am exactly on track to make the goals. The Writers of the Future win — and subsequent sale to Analog Science Fiction & Fact — has helped raise my profile with editors at the short markets (as well as the novel markets) such that I get a personalized response almost every time, whether they buy me or not.

    I think too often that aspirants — I was no different — want someone to show them the “shortcut” or the “end run” method to getting published nationally. Barring outliers, I am not sure there is a “quick” way to do it. And even those who discovered or took the “quick” way usually logged tons of time and personal investment developing their skill and craft, prior to becoming an established author. The reason self pub gets so much bad press — well, there are many reasons, but this is the biggest — is that almost all authors who self pub as a “shortcut” have not logged the time necessary to become pro quality at their craft, and their novels stink as a result.

    Even the e-splosion with iPad and Kindle and Nook and the rest, won’t rescue a stinky book from itself. So it’s worth the time — even though it takes longer — to do the practice. 1,000,000 words is a good rough estimate for how many words a beginner must write before he or she approaches true quality. Don’t be afraid of that number. Embrace it. Write your butts off! You’ll get there.

Comments are closed.