Writing Excuses 6.4: Microcasting

Microcasting! It’s our high-speed Q&A! Here are the Q’s, listen to the ‘cast for the A’s.

  • Is it still safe to go the commercial publishing route?
  • How do you find the balance when writing serious stories with silliness in them?
  • What are the alternatives to three-act structure?
  • Do you ever lose your drive, and what re-inspires you when you do?
  • How does your writing life affect your non-writing life?
  • What was the defining moment in your life where you decided to become a writer?
  • How effective are book trailers?

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: 1421: The Year China Discovered America, by Gavin Menzies, narrated by Simon Vance

Writing Prompt: Give us a story in which writers are using actual fantastic creatures in the process of writing fantasy — ink from unicorn horns, elf-skin parchment, etc.

Promised Liner Note Links: Dan’s 7-point Story Structure,

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59 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 6.4: Microcasting”

  1. I completely agree on what you’ve said about book trailers. You’d never get the feeling of a book by its book trailer. An excerpt is much more effective and cheaper.

  2. I would like to hear all the podcaster’s answers to the “How does your writing life affect your non-writing life?” and “What was the defining moment in your life where you decided to become a writer?” The only person I can remember answering the latter in previous ‘casts is Brandon.

  3. I just read a blog post a couple of days ago where the blogger talked about book trailers. I said that I tend to look for books from authors that I like, or suggestions from other people.

    Book trailers may get someone who doesn’t read books very often to look into a book, but for the main audience for books, people who read all the time, we have other ways of hearing about books that we would want to read.

  4. Regarding epublishing, it’s not nearly as difficult as you make it out to be. The learning curve is a little steep, but once you get over it, it doesn’t take more than an hour or two to convert a manuscript into a professional quality ebook and put it up for sale. Just this weekend, I put up two of my short stories on Smashwords and it didn’t take me more than two hours. Cover art is a little trickier, but that’s something you can (and probably should) hire out.

    As far as indie published writers jumping to sign with traditional publishers, that’s not necessarily the case either. Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler aside, what I’m seeing is indie writers who take a traditional deal with some of their works and continue to self publish other stuff completely on their own. Yes, Amanda Hocking signed with St Martin’s for one of her series, but she kept her other work off the table in the hopes that the trade published stuff would grow her audience for her other work. In other words, indie writers aren’t going with the trade publishers because the deal is better; they’re taking a loss on their traditionally published work in order to grow their indie published stuff.

    And frankly, with the way things are shaking out and all the mistakes I see the bigger publishing houses making, I’ve decided to wait New York out a couple of years and focus exclusively on self publishing. Laying aside the rapidly worsening contract terms (which is a very serious issue in and of itself), some of these guys are bound to go under in a huge way, and I don’t want my work to be tied up in bankruptcy hearings when they do.

  5. Joe, Regarding epublishing, it IS that difficult for most people I’ve talked to. You do others a disservice by suggesting it takes an hour or two to turn a manuscript into a professional-quality eBook. Those might be YOUR results, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for everybody.

    Also, your “in other words” conclusion is completely unsupported. Do you have those numbers? I’ve seen numbers from people who have done this and they were most certainly NOT taking a loss. They were making more money and reaching a wider audience and (the important bit) diversifying their revenue stream.

    Be careful how you draw conclusions from the anecdotal, extremely-short-baseline data sets you’ve got. Your last paragraph is pure FUD — Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt — and exactly ZERO data.

    I also take issue with the way you casually brush aside cover art as being “a little trickier.” Hiring it out is good advice, yes, but how many writers have it in them to be art directors? Even hiring it out is something that requires lots of skill.

    I’m not trying to scare people away from self-publishing, but it is absolutely NOT for the faint of heart. It is HUGELY DIFFICULT to get right. If you’ve got a good support network you can flatten the learning curve and not make the stupid n00b mistakes, but most folks face a big list of unknown-unknowns. They don’t know that there are critical things they don’t know. And my concern is that you are writing from the standpoint of unknown-knowns. You don’t know just how much you had to know in order to do what’s coming easy for you. That translates into the assumption that there are no unknown-unknowns for new writers — it’s all just known-unknowns, which puts it into a simple learning curve rather than the scatterplot I’ve observed it to be.

    (Aside: Not familiar with known-known, known-unknown, unknown-unknown, and unknown-known? Neither was I until a year ago. It’s probably one of the most important things I’ve learned in that time.)

  6. I agree that self-publishing isn’t easy to get right, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. However, I doubt it’s any more difficult than going the traditional path, and the potential returns do seem to be much greater, especially in today’s publishing climate.

    The point about authors “taking a loss” by going with a traditional publisher has been covered pretty extensively at places like Write2Publish, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, and Kristine Katherine Rusch’s blog. This argument was the main reason why Barry Eisler turned down a high six figure advance to self-publish back in March. Yes, he later signed with the new Amazon imprint–but he signed with them because the contract was radically different from anything the Big Six were offering.

    As for the FUD part, I wouldn’t say that I’m frightened; just cautious. If traditional publishing were still the only way to break in, I’d still go that route…but why should I feel constrained to follow that path when so many other options are now viable? The old model involves taking a financial loss on most books (the number I’ve heard from KKR is that even a low mid-list title costs a publisher upward of $250k) and hoping that the bestsellers make enough to cover the difference. How is that model still viable when a) the bestsellers like J.K. Rowling and Barry Eisler are jumping ship and publishing their work independently, b) the major publishing houses no longer have a monopoly on the distribution and retail channels that they used in the past to groom new best-sellers, and c) independently published new writers are vastly undercutting trade book prices, with global distribution through Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, etc?

    It’s the 90s all over again, except with ebooks instead of MP3s. I just don’t understand how the old business model is still viable, and with other paths now available (paths where I don’t have to earn back $250k with my first book in order to keep my career from imploding on the launch pad), I think the better choice for me is to take a calculated risk with indie publishing and forego traditional publishing until a new, more sustainable model shakes out.

    I’ll agree that indie publishing isn’t for everyone. It takes a different set of skills and inclinations than many writers have. Personally, I find it invigorating. Yes, some people might struggle to turn out a professional quality ebook, but I figured out how without sacrificing my firstborn son and I don’t think I’m an anomaly. Yes, there are unknown unknowns, but part of the excitement is learning how to turn them into known unknowns so that you can solve them. So yeah, it’s not for everyone–but for those who have the right temperament, who see themselves as freelancers and entrepreneurs, I think it is the right choice, and trying to dissuade us with advice like “it’s too hard,” or “I’d rather spend my time writing” isn’t all that helpful.

  7. And as for the original question, is traditional publishing still safe? From my limited experience it seems that no path in publishing is “safe”; so the question in my mind is which paths are still viable. And frankly, I’m not convinced that big six trade publishing is still viable, especially for the genres (science fiction / space opera) in which I write.

  8. I find it interesting Dan gave his 7 point as an answer for alternative structure to the three act format. I saw it as just taking the milestones that are important to the three act format and listing them instead. In fact I’ve used your ordering of doing the points(weaving back and forth from front to back) in plotting the points of said structure.

    On the epublishing front, I think it depends on how you feel about the agent/editor process of getting picked, or if you believe readers + amazon’s algorithms can allow the cream to rise to the top, as well as if you want to serve niches too small for the larger publishers to care about due to their overhead.

  9. Joe,

    You’ve certainly been researching the topic, but you’re lack of experience is making it hard to swallow some of the things you are saying. Yes, you’ve thrown some writing up against the epublishing wall, but I don’t think you’ve had enough time to see what sticks.

    Mary’s entire point in the podcast was that being successful in self-publishing IS much more difficult because you not only need a brilliant, well written product, but you have to have stellar technical and marketing skills as well AND you have to spend time doing those things vs. turning out more writing.

    Joe, you have a head on your shoulders, and the kind of intrepid nature that will no doubt make you successful in a changing market. I only worry that you seem to be rejecting one way of publishing as a “one size fits all” for another “one size fits all” approach.

  10. Also, it needs to be said that I am an absolute sucker for trailers.

    Not that I see everything that I see a trailer for, I actually like trailers as a medium in and of themselves. I’ll watch trailers to movies that I have no intention of watching. I’ll re-watch trailers that I think are exciting and well done.

    I watched the trailer to Inception at least nine times before watching the movie, AND I’ve seen it since.

    With book trailers, I don’t know how effective they are, but I certainly appreciate Mary’s approach for Shades of Milk and Honey. I think capturing the feel and flavor of a book is far more important that trying to show scenes. The scene in a visual medium vs the actual scene in the book would be a totally different experience.

  11. In my own defense, when I tweeted my question to Brandon (silliness/seriousness) there WERE only three podcasters. But I hope I speak for the rest of us to say we are very glad to have Mary on board now. She has always brought a perspective to the podcast that is quite different, and it’s pretty entertaining when she stumps the three men.

  12. @Michael — I’ll be the first to admit my own inexperience. But indie publishing is such a new thing, I don’t think anyone really knows what’s going to stick. The important thing, to me at least, is that it seems to be a lot more viable than the older paths for someone with the right temperament. And let’s be honest–in today’s publishing industry, every writer has to know how to market themselves, including traditionally published writers.

    I’m not above considering other publishing models, provided that they work. I think Ridan is doing some interesting things, and I’m very curious to see what Amazon’s new sf imprint is all about. But I’m very skeptical about the older models working well enough for me to make a living by following them.

  13. Interesting choice for the book of the week… It reminds me of another theory of an early trip to the Americas that predates 1421 by over two thousand years.
    Check out Where Troy Once Stood (Iman Wilkens), which argues that the Trojan War was fought in England, and the Odyssey took place in the Atlantic Ocean rather than the Mediterranean, including stops in the Americas.

  14. @Joe: FUD doesn’t mean I think YOU are afraid. It describes what you are spreading.

    The fact of the matter is that most novels written fail to pay for the time and other investments that went into them. This is just as true for self-published works as for commercially published works. The difference is that with commercial publication you have an agent, an editor, and a publisher who are investing in YOU, not just your book.

    Yes, your first commercially published title will probably not make money for the publisher. But you, the author, WILL be paid. That’s the investment. They hope you’ll write another book. A better one. And they’ll help you sell it to a wider audience.

    Your agent is invaluable here. Your agent is the one making sure that the editor and publisher are actually committed to this investment in your career as an author, and a good agent is also helping you to step up your game and encourage that investment.

    You cite two high-profile examples of A-list authors jumping ship. That’s still just anecdotal evidence, and when you present it you do so as if to say ALL the A-listers are leaving, that this is somehow a trend that is going to cause publishers to cave.

    That’s not how it works. Publishers are not stupid. If they lose authors in whom they’ve invested, they invest in new authors. They have the infrastructure in place to raise up replacements for any author they lose, and they have no shortage of talented, hungry writers vying for those positions.

    Your inexperience in the business world is leading you to draw incorrect conclusions from incomplete information. TOR had one of it’s most profitable years EVER in 2010. How does that data point sit with the picture you painted? Do you have the financials for Baen, Orbit, or Pyr? What about parent, non-genre houses like MacMillan or Random House?

    You’re cherry-picking the data to support the story you like (and it’s a popular, populist story!): The rise of the common man, who succeeds independently of the big, stodgy corporations.

    The trend that I see one that has been repeated for decades in the record industry: the swift appearance of dozens (hundreds!) of indie labels (self-publishers), followed by a consolidation under larger labels, with some of the larger labels losing prominence during the shuffle. The technological disruption is less significant than you make it out to be, because big publishers are actually better positioned to exploit the new technology than the little guy is.

    We may yet see the “death” of printed matter outside of limited-run collectibles, but we’re not going to see the death of commercial publishers. They’ll change and adapt and streamline because ultimately they’re driven by profitability, and they’re very, very good at finding it.

  15. NOTE: I’m sorry if my tone is coming across angry. I might be a wee bit frustrated, because I see similar misinformation parroted all over the place, and I kind of wish we’d had Mary and John Scalzi on to talk about these things for the whole 15 minutes.

    The core question: Is it safe to go the commercial publishing route?

    The answer: It is as safe as it ever was, and the rise of social networks and their prevalence among authors helps ensure that it’s SAFER — you’re better able to see what a good contract looks like, you’re more likely to connect with a good agent, and you’ve got dozens of author friends out there willing to help you make the right decisions.

    The UNASKED question, and the one Joe keeps coming back to: Is it better to go with a commercial publisher or to self-publish?

    The answer depends on dozens of factors, most of which are author- and book-specific. Sometimes commercial routes are far superior. Sometimes self-publishing routes are better. But there’s no hard-and-fast rule right now.

  16. I agree with Howard. When you bring it back to the main point of what the podcast was talking about Self-publishing requires you to do most if not all the marketing and DISTRIBUTION on your own, whereas in commercial publishing you work really hard to make a lot of friends to help you and your work be DISTRIBUTED so you can get back to writing (which is presumably what you want to spend your time doing).

  17. Somewhat off topic (and yet on topic at the same time), I find today’s writing prompt to be extremely interesting, since the evolving plot for my next NaNo venture runs along the same lines. Not exactly the same, but very very close. This makes me happy. If I’m thinking along the same lines as all of you fine (published) folks, even though I’m no where near ready to be published myself, that can only be a good thing.

  18. In my defense, there isn’t a whole lot of data out there yet. According to many of the experience professionals at the forefront of this shift (KKR, Robin Sullivan, etc), indie publishing had only been viable since October/November of last year.

    However, I’m not convinced that I’m “parroting” misinformation. The people I’m following are the people with careers like the one I want to build: long-term professional writers who have been in the business for decades. An astounding number of them are abandoning the large publishers for non-traditional models. Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Katherine Rusch, and Michael A. Stackpole are probably the most prominent, but Joe Haldeman just recently signed with Ridan, and Dave Wolverton recently launched his own small press. Also, at CONduit this year, Tracy Hickman publicly stated: “I am doing my best to leave traditional publishing behind.”

    So no, I’m not just blithely accepting everything I hear about indie publishing without considering the source. I disagree with Konrath on a number of points and find his openly combative tone to be counterproductive. But the people with long-term careers like the one I hope to build are increasingly becoming advocates for self publishing, and are warning newer writers against blindly following the older models.

    As for Tor, I’m glad to hear they had a successful year in 2010. I sincerely hope they stay in business; they’ve produced some of my favorite books, including many of Brandon’s and Dan’s novels. They’re also one of the first (and one of the only) major publishers to build a genre-focused online community for their readers.

    And then again, maybe one of the reasons they’re succeeding is because of increasingly austere contract terms. A few months ago, agent Kristine Nelson blogged about MacMillan’s (Tor’s parent company) boilerplate contract for new writers, which included a clause granting them broad rights to create “derivative works” in the writer’s fictional universe. Call me inexperienced, but that doesn’t seem like a very “safe” contract.

    It would be nice to have agents, editors, and other professionals advocating for me, but at what price? I want to make a living at this business, and I don’t see how I can do that with increasingly austere contract terms, on a median advance of $10k paid out over the course of three to five years, where (according to KKR) the book has about six months to earn back ~$250k, or my career is in the toilet. If that’s considered “safe,” when so many longtime veterans of the field are abandoning that model and actively advocating new writers to do so as well, you’ve left me scratching my head.

  19. @Tyler — I don’t think distribution is the problem. Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and the other online vendors can make your work available around the world at the click of a button. The problem is promotion, which is a lot of work but probably isn’t that much less of a problem than you’d have if you sign with a traditional publisher. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but most publishing houses these days expect you to put in a lot of self-promotion; you can’t just rely on them to do it all anymore.

  20. Brandon –

    Your comment about “goal based” writing in the ‘cast reminded me a lot of a previous one about wanting a scene with a girl wielding an enormous sword flying over a battlefield to land and strike at a monster with said sword.

    Considering that Mistborn was created as the setup for that one scene, you must indeed invent the universe whenever you want to make an apple pie from scratch.

  21. Joe:

    I believe that you are currently drawing conclusions that suffer from all three of the following biases.

    Selection bias: we hear loudly from authors switching to self-pub. Authors staying put are mostly staying quiet.

    Confirmation bias: The story of the indie vs the big publisher is one we like to hear. We will tend to favorably interpret data supporting that story, and discard data that does not.

    Reporting bias: An outgrowth of confirmation bias, we may only see reports that already suffer from confirmation bias, resulting in a further bias in the information we act upon.

    You continue to make absolute statements with regard to the dire state of commercial publishing. Please stop doing this. We understand your point of view. There are many who share it. There are also very many who do not.

    I’m happy to see viable self-publishing career paths for authors (if for no other reason than that I’m currently supping upon fruits along that path), but I cannot in good conscience allow this forum to be a platform advocating the abandonment of valid alternatives.

  22. It seems to me that a lot of the authors Joe mentions who are advocating self-publishing are ones who built their careers and their names through traditional publishing, such that when they started self-publishing they were able to take their audience with them. Plus, being traditionally published gave them a credibility that newer writers attempting to start their careers via self-publishing do not have.

    Obviously, people like Amanda Hocking demonstrate that newer writers CAN build a career directly through self-publishing, but writers like J.K. Rowling demonstrate that authors CAN become billionaires. They’re outliers. Amanda Hocking’s story will probably be LESS of an outlier as time passes, but for a newer writer, to step directly into the self-publishing world and make a living at it seems less likely than finding a publisher, unless (like Larry Correia) you already have an established audience.

    As an aspiring writer myself, my goal is mostly just to write until I have something I think people will want to read. Then by going to cons, making connections, and learning about the publishing industry, I hope to explore both avenues, and use whatever tools I can to leverage my writing into something through which I can make money. I don’t see either traditional or self publishing as being better or worse than the other, they’re just different. Smart writers will be open to both.

  23. Thanks for the feedback; you make good counter-points, and I enjoy bouncing these ideas around, even if it is enough to make one crazy. And I’d like to think I stop short of advocating the complete abandonment of traditional publishing, though it might come across as otherwise. I guess in the final analysis, all I’m saying is to follow what works, and I’m just very, very excited about the new possibilities with indie publishing.

  24. @Andrew — yes, many of the longtime professionals I hope to emulate got a leg up with traditional publishing (mainly because that was the only viable path back when they did), but there is a rapidly growing number of “midlist” indie writers–self-publishers who are not outliers like John Locke or Amanda Hocking, who are making a full time living with their ebooks:


  25. The next year or two will tell a LOT when it comes to trade/traditional/whatever you want to call it publishing. Every time I hear about something along the lines of Harlequins recent move to claim all stuff they published back in the 90s erights (even though at least one case has already upheld you can’t sell rights that don’t exist yet) and only giving 3%royalties and no additional “advance” for those works. Also the majority of advances I hear about these days that aren’t revolving around bidding wars are in the 5-10k range for brand new authors (aka what I would be if I took the merry go round of agent querying and from there selling to a publisher, big 6 or small press).

    It feels (personal opinion) like publishers are so terrified of what will happen if ebooks get too big that they are shooting themselves in the foot… then the leg… then the head. I would like to be wrong because while I intend to start out self publishing, at some point being able to get a deal with a major Fantasy publisher like Tor appeals to me so I can have stuff in B&N/etc. But when it seems like going indy then using the leverage of a sales history to get a bigger contract works well… I just don’t know.

    Perhaps self publishing will replace the slush pile. Others have mentioned it, and the more I think about it the more I suspect this will happen to a larger degree than it already is.

  26. >>Your agent is invaluable here. Your agent is the one making sure that the editor and publisher are actually committed to this investment in your career as an author, and a good agent is also helping you to step up your game and encourage that investment.<<

    Howard, what are your thoughts on what Kristine KAtheryn Rusch says about agents? (basically she says be careful trusting them)

  27. Patrick Sullivan:

    And Dan even acknowledged that the 7 point story structure leads one to end up with three acts. I think the difference is how you as a writer are thinking about the structure of your story as you build it. I’ve used Dan’s method to plot a couple of short stories, and I find that it’s easier for me to think in terms of that structure. For me, three acts just seem like too big of chunks.

    But for Brandon, finding that big goal and then unraveling the story from there may work. For Mary, MICE may be more useful because it helps her know how to approach creating the structure of the story based on each of those four elements of the quotient. And Howard, of course, needs the simplistic approach of only dealing with three things . The point is, just as with character sketches and other notes, or finding the right place to write or the right tool to write with, or assigning music themes or actors/actresses to your characters in order to better visualize them and their personality, etc., the whole point of having a method to the way you structure/outline is to get you writing the story.

    And to answer the original question: there are twists and complications of the three act structure (for example, telling the story out of order; adding narrative frames, etc.) but for the most part narrative art these days centers on set-up, rising action, climax and resolution. It’s what audiences expect.

    The most common alternative would be episodic narrative, which is a series of scenes or short stories (episodes) featuring the same characters and/or settings. This was a style that was much more common in earlier centuries. You’ll still find it in some literary fiction, but there’s very little genre fiction these days that use episodic narrative (outside of television series or comics — although even those may have some overarching story arcs that resemble three act structure) and you’re best off sticking with three act structure no matter which outlining method you use to get you there.

  28. @Howard @Joe (And everyone else who contributed) – Great discussion. Not only have I been informed, everyone was polite. You are gentlemen and scholars.

  29. @TW: In a business arrangement you need to be careful with all the trust you dole out. Word will get around about good agents and not-so-good agents, however. Do your homework, and then trust your research. Develop a personal relationship over time, and then trust your instincts.

  30. @Howard: Very well thought out responses. I’d love to hear John and Mary talk about it for the full 15 minutes long. (Maybe even 16 minutes, because I’m not in too much of a hurry).

    Also, writing prompt:

    “The End”, the Ouroboros wrote, starting his autobiography.

  31. Also, a point I just thought of: how many indie published writers are abandoning that model completely once they get a traditional deal? Before epublishing, the argument that all self-published writers grab a traditional deal at the first chance was a way of showing that self publishing isn’t viable. Nowadays, however, we’re seeing a hybrid between the two; writers who go with trade publishers on some works while continuing to self publish others. Instead of abandoning the model, successful writers are increasingly embracing them both, and not giving up the one for the other.

  32. Wow. That’s a lot to take in.

    Let’s see… first, a heartfelt ‘SQUEE’ that Mary mentioned the MICE quotient. I read Orson Scott Card’s books on writing whenever I feel myself lagging, hoping for some inspiration in terms of technique or process. I guess I just find it cool to know that someone besides me has read it.

    I do feel a little silly for all the times I’ve quoted Card and blatantly pointed out I was doing so (cuz I wasn’t sure that anyone else would know what I was referencing). *facepalm* Dan, if you saw the second email I sent way back, about the demon in I Am Not A Serial Killer… I’m sorry.

    As far as book trailers… my impression of them is usually a fair bit of descriptive text with flashes of cover art. That bugs me because it doesn’t say anything about the book itself. Rarely does the cover actually tell you anything about the book, and while it seems these days there’s more effort put into making a cover that looks like it actually has something to do with the contents, that connection isn’t obvious until you actually read it. So putting the art in the trailer doesn’t have the same impact as, say, having something explode in an action movie trailer would, but it feels like they’re trying to do the same thing.

    I actually paused the cast to go find Mary’s trailer. I agree with Howard, it’s very attractive. However, after a minute and 46 seconds, I had absolutely NO idea what I was watching. “Ok, there’s some handwriting… and she’s… is she tying knots with light? Weaving it together? Oh, there’s a guy…” I’m sorry Mary, but if I was to be honest, it seemed more like a foreign film, or an art film, than an advertisement for a book.

    I would like to finish by saying thank you for the answer to the ‘lost your drive’ and ‘defining moment’ queries. It’s really, really helpful to know that there’s a way through it, and that a sustained break from writing isn’t a cause for alarm.

    Rust, maybe, but not alarm.

    I’m calling myself rusty, not Mary…. really. Stop looking at me like that.

  33. @Joe – I’m a little late to the discussion, but you brought up the “fact” that J.K. Rowling is selling her ebook rights independently and used it as evidence that she’s “jumping ship.” I just wanted to point out that while she’s selling them on an independent platform, and while she does retain electronic rights, she is giving a cut of the revenue to Bloomsbury and Scholastic (although most likely on a very different scale than most authors). Arguably, the only people she’s cut out of the equation are booksellers.

    I obviously don’t know Rowling’s motives, but I’m audacious enough to assume that she’s giving her publishers a cut because she feels they’ve added value to her books. Ignoring things like cover art, marketing, distribution, etc., they edited the things. And that editing probably meant a lot more than copyediting (i.e. grammar, spelling, etc.). This is something I feel is missing from the discussion about self-publishing. You can contract out cover art, you can contract out copyediting (provided you can find the right person to take the contracts). But no one ever mentions contracting out developmental editing (story, dialogue, character arcs & consistency, etc.). Editorial letters are an expected part of the traditional publishing process, and editorial letters are hardly, if ever, about grammar and fact-checking. They’re about the book’s structure.

    Most self-publishing advocates I’ve seen either don’t address the idea of developmental editing or say that developmental editors aren’t worth their pay because authors obviously have more experience with stories and characters and such. In some cases this is true. But writing and editing are different skill sets, even though there is a ton of overlap between the two, and just because someone has specialized in one and not the other doesn’t make them incompetent when it comes to the final product: stories that reach and touch an audience.

    (Full disclosure: I grew up writing novels, but I’ve since become an editor, and that is the skill set I choose to develop, because I love helping other people tell their stories better, whether through developmental or copyediting, because so many people’s stories are significant and deserve to be shared. That’s what editors are for: helping you do what you’re already doing, only better.)

  34. @Kristy: I’ve seen discussion about developmental editing as part of the Indy process. Some do dismiss it but most of the ones I’ve seen do so either seem to have significant egos about their writing or are too broke to pay what a decent developmental editor is worth.

    That last part is a rather interesting chicken and egg, many would be authors are broke, so they hope to make money self-publishing, but they’d make more money if they spent the cash on better editing/better covers/etc. Some manage in spite of the low cost route they go, but it certainly makes things more challenging.

  35. @Patrick – I’m glad to hear that there are discussions about developmental editing out there. I’m sorry to have missed them. And you’re right, it does present an uncomfortable dilemma for an indie author. I completely understand why some indie authors choose to do without. I typically don’t agree with the choice, but as an editor, I’m hardly unbiased. ;-)

  36. That’s a good point; a lot of the services that publishers provide are important to producing a quality book. The main difference between traditional and indie publishing is who pays who. Under the old model, the publisher makes the lion’s share of the money and pays the writer as little as they can get away with (which is perfectly fine; it’s a business after all). Under the newer models, authors retain much more control, keep a much higher proportion of their earnings, and contract out for editing / formatting / cover art at rates that they feel they can pay. Instead of writers–the ones producing the actual product–competing to get picked up by publishers, the people who provide these services are now competing to get picked up by the writers independently of the corporate publishers, who have ridiculously high overhead (New York rents, etc) completely separate from anything in this value chain. J.K. Rowling isn’t dependent on her publishers to pay her–she’s paying them for the services they provide, and earning a lot more overall because of it. To me personally, that kind of model makes a lot more sense.

  37. Traditional publishing’s model does make sense in its context. As has been pointed out, many authors do not have the means to do the product development publishers do. Publishers pay the author an advance (kind of like a software developer’s fee), and they also fork out for all other costs. Because they shoulder all the risk, they also stand to gain a greater revenue return (and revenue does not exactly equal profit, because as you’ve pointed out there is significant overhead involved). It would not make sense for them to make all the monetary investment AND pay you up front if they then only received a minority of the revenue. But any publisher who asks for the author to help foot the bill would be labeled as a scam.

    Please don’t get me wrong–I’m all for giving authors their due, because without them there would be no books at all. There have been several deteriorating boilerplate contracts publicized on the internet, and they’re very much uncalled for. I don’t think complete fairness has been achieved, but I’m also being realistic about the sort of investment a publisher makes in an author and a book. I’m also acknowledging that I’ve never seen a publisher’s balance sheets.

    On the other hand, if the author is shouldering the risk, as in indie publishing, they deserve the return, and that makes perfect sense. It’s all in terms of who is taking which risks.

  38. “On the other hand, if the author is shouldering the risk, as in indie publishing, they deserve the return, and that makes perfect sense. It’s all in terms of who is taking which risks.”

    Exactly. And with indie publishing, the only real risk is that your book won’t sell, and you’ll be out for however much you spent on art and editing. But since you aren’t paying for print runs, shipping, or distribution, and all the best ways to promote your work (blogs, social networks, putting out new books) don’t cost anything but time and effort, you don’t have to drop a whole lot of money to do it. And even if it doesn’t sell well at first, online shelf space is unlimited, so your book has time to grow its audience by word of mouth, naturally and organically.

    For the genres I’m writing in, that seems like a much better risk than hoping my book is one of the few that sells through its advance to justify a second one. And when my books do come into their audience and give me a decent platform, that’s something I can bring to a traditional publisher to negotiate for a more favorable contract, since their risk will be considerably lower.

  39. The only argument I have against that is that epublishing, at present, will at best reach 8% of the American population, and that’s if every single person with an ereader buys your book. That said, I’m not sure 8% of the population actually buys paper books, so that might not be so bad. ;-)

  40. Yeah, except now it’s 12% of the US population that owns a dedicated ereader (not counting international), which is over 30 million people. And with apps that can turn any tablet, smartphone, or other device into an ereader, the number is actually much higher.

    I agree with Patrick: what happens in the next year is going to be very, very interesting.

  41. @Kristy: Nor should you be unbiased. Frankly, at a MINIMUM for early works developmental edits are very needed. Some authors may learn enough after a few books to need much less of such help, but likely fewer than THINK they don’t need that help anymore.

    But then once I write a book I feel is worthy of the monetary investment I plan to find an editor and pay them to help me take my book up a couple of levels so I can publish a product I’m proud of, and I’m not afraid to get help to do it, so I may be in the minority :).

    I think it is an exciting time to be a writer, or an editor and maybe even cover artist (this one I’m not as sure on since most covers afaik are contract work). For anyone that has MORE opportunities due to this shift, lets rock out and make fiction ours again, with books aimed at niches too small for major publishers to care about, and anything else that did not make sense under the old model.

  42. Joe: Important clarification. The Publisher does NOT make the lion’s share of the money. The largest single cut of the money goes to the retailer.

    This is not an important distinction to you as a self-publisher, unless you’re trying to get into retail markets. In fact, functioning as my own publisher and NOT selling much through retail allows me to keep that largest single cut for myself. When I sell books through Amazon I cut my profits by close to 75%. Granted, this is for print, and my books are EXPENSIVE print what with all the glossy color.

    But when you say things like “Under the old model, the publisher makes the lion’s share of the money and pays the writer as little as they can get away with” you’re stating something incorrect and casting aspersions. It is more accurate to say “under the commercial model the publisher grosses between 40% and 50% of the cover price of the book, depending on distribution, and is heavily incented to push author royalties as low as possible, since that cost is one of the few that is flexible. Printing costs and editorial salaries are fairly fixed. The only other large expenditure that is flexible is marketing, and yes, that means the publisher has incentive to cut back there, too.”

    See the difference? You cast the publisher as a fat cat and a bad guy, and did so with bad information. I used accurate information to explain why it works the way it does. My clarification helps self-publishers see the true profit potential that lies in marketing directly to the customer. I am making your case better than you are.

  43. @Howard: Thanks for the clarification. I don’t mean to cast commercial publishers as the “bad guys,” only to point out the inefficiencies and difficulties for new writers. What I should have said was that the writer never even sees the lion’s share of the money under the old model, which is strange considering that without them, the product wouldn’t even exist.

  44. @Joe – 12%? Huh. The last number I saw (from an article that was current sometime this week) was 8% for dedicated ereaders. They probably just surveyed different sample populations. Oh, the trouble with statistics.

    @Patrick, then please, by all means, keep me in mind when you’re looking for an editor.

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