Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Submit. But Don’t Say “Uncle.”

There’s this one scene in The Matrix that gives me goosebumps every time. It isn’t Neo learning Kung Fu from a compact flash chip. It isn’t the woman in the red dress or the rooftop chase. It’s not even the spectacular lobby scene, which has probably killed countless home theater speaker cones. No, it’s the very short scene where Switch (the woman in white) is about to be unplugged. Once she realizes this, the surety and the finality of it, she shakes her head and mutters: “Not like this. Not like this.”

Switch

I get weepy every time I see that scene. It’s not that she’s afraid to die, it’s that she  doesn’t want it to be in some chickenshit at-a-distance manner. She wants to go out fighting. She wants to see Fate take her. She wants to be present for her death, not logged in to some lie.

But that’s not what this blog post is about. I want talk about my second-favorite scene in The Matrix (and I knew you’d want to know what my first one was, so I went ahead and answered). Again, it’s not any of the aforementioned ones; it’s the scene where Agent Smith tells Morpheus that humans are a virus, a cancer. It’s when he wipes Morpheus’s sweaty head and complains of the stench of our race. That scene makes me angry. It twists my emotions up. It’s the scene that later allows the climax of the film to satisfyingly unknot those emotions. When Smith is blown to bits by Neo at the end, I pump my fists and yell because of what Smith said to Morpheus.

^^ **Retro-Active Spoiler Alert!** ^^

Why do I bring this up? Well, I read a blog post a while back from a writer named Paul. Paul — like Agent Smith — had found himself in the company of something vile (me and others like me). He was disgusted by our stench. Paul is a writer, you see (and judging by his blog post, a rather decent one). Paul self-published, and he hates himself for it. He regrets it. So he took his book down in order to submit it to agents (he also took his blog down, which is a shame). Here’s an excerpt of that blog post:

I know how much crap is out there. There’s more crap out there in the self-pub world than there is in the bookstores (I know, having worked in one), somewhere on the order of ten thousand to one. And the gap is growing. Do you want to know what I hate most about having self-published? It’s this: I have to stand next to them. Shoulder to shoulder. And now their stink is on me.

Paul’s post got me thinking about a solution. Because, you see, there really is a problem here. There are authors out there who need validation. There are authors want to know if they have what it takes, if they are wasting their time, if they need to put more work in, and they want to hear this from professionals. These writers are willing to give up control of their work in order to have themselves measured. They are willing to limit their print book to a 3-6 month window of availability on dwindling store shelves for a thumbs up or a thumbs down. They are willing to accept 12.5% royalties instead of 70%, all for the pleasure of hearing that they are good enough.

In many ways, traditional publishing has become the new vanity press. Authors used to spend a lot of money for the ego boost of being an “author” and holding their “book.” Now they simply give up a lot of money in order to think of themselves as “real authors” who can hold their “real book.” It’s still ego and money lost. But I understand the urge. I get it. I can empathize with the need to feel good enough (even though I think we’re on the verge of indie being hip in literature the way it is in other arts).

So how can writers like Paul know if they have the right stuff? It’s a serious question. I remember when I wrote my first rough draft; I was dying to know if it was good enough to be put out there. I sent the manuscript to family and friends. I begged people to read it. I would have paid a lot of money to have some expert read it and give me their opinion. And I didn’t have a lot of money, but I remember thinking that I would gladly hand that first manuscript of mine to an agent, along with a $100 bill, and beg them to just give me their opinion.

I hear from readers all the time who are going through this. Readers just like Paul. I get drafts sent to me by aspiring writers. These writers want me to read their work, just a paragraph or a page, and let them know if they have what it takes (like I know). But I’m not a pro. I’m just a guy. But I do have a solution, a pretty ingenious one. You probably think it has to do with sending me $100 bills — and I like where your head’s at — but don’t jump ahead. First, let’s hear more from Paul, so we can really understand this writer’s needs:

Here’s the thing: I can be told I’m not doing the hard work because it’s true. Self-publishing my novel allowed me to bypass the route of my fathers. I’m ashamed for having done it. But because of my shame, the other day I started submitting my manuscript to agents. I will, as I did up till about a year ago, reap the benefits of the winnowing process that traditional publishing affords the fledgling writer. If and when my work gets rejected, I owe it to Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, and the rest of my heroes to realize that the reason why it was rejected is because it was not good enough to publish. Sure it was someone’s opinion, but it was an informed opinion. You go look at twenty thousand manuscripts and tell me you can’t tell a good one from a bad one when you’re through. I owe it to every one of my literary fathers to give the rejected piece a second look. I owe it to John W. Campbell for chrissake.

It seems Paul and I share some of the same heroes. I like Paul’s gumption. He goes on to say:

Listen. There’s nothing that scares me more than the notion that someday I may realize that I indeed don’t have what it takes to be a real writer. It’s a fear that all but the most self-deluded of us have. But the damage is surely done when we shut ourselves off and look away from the gauge. Then there’s no hope at all.

I nearly wept when I read this. I feel this every morning when I wake up. I feel it every night as I lay in bed and worry that I can’t do this, that I’m no good at it. These doubts consume me. What does Paul suggest?

But let’s just imagine for a moment that there is such a thing as a test one can take to assess actual writing talent, and I take that test, and my results reveal that I don’t have what it takes. Would you want my work out there knowing I failed such a test? Be honest.

God, yes, Paul, tell me more. Where do I take this test?

Well there is such a test. Unfortunately it’s not something one can take in one afternoon. It’s the traditional publishing route.

Hmm. Go on…

Because what it all comes down to is this, that when it comes to aesthetics, whose opinion shall I trust? Some anonymous reviewer on Amazon? When I need the right gauge do I look to hurlygurl544, or the agent that took on Dan Simmons or Neil Gaiman as a client? Which one do you think, based on probability alone and nothing else, has a better idea of what good writing is?

Uh, the reader! Right? I mean, the editor is just guessing about what the reader will like. They don’t know. If they did, they would’ve been snapping up BDSM fan fiction years ago. They would’ve been clamoring for teen vampire novels before the ink was dry on Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire. Sasquatch sex! Agents know these things, is that what you’re saying? What readers want? Better than the readers themselves? Then why do agents and publishers get it wrong more often than they get it right? Why do a handful of blockbusters pay for all the other books that fail (with none of us able to predict which will be which)? And why is practically every great book rejected a dozen times before it’s eventually accepted somewhere (if indeed ever)? How did a Pulitzer Prize winner fail to get published in dozens of attempts? If the test works, why did John Kennedy Toole and many others like him fail?

When I submit to a publisher/agent/editor, I am in league with Simmons and Gaiman and every one of my heroes. They all went through it.

Oh. I understand. I feel this same compulsion, believe me. As much as I want readers to love my works, I also feel this urge to prove myself, to be recognized by the arbiters of taste. I admit it. But choosing a path isn’t going to affect your work (I’ve blogged about this before). Submitting a manuscript doesn’t put you in league with Simmons and Gaiman (If only it were that simple!). And self-publishing doesn’t rub the stench of my shitty writing onto you. Your work is great or not-great no matter what you do with it.

But I have good news. Your blog post has pointed me toward a solution. An ingenious solution. You want to know if your work is good enough, right? You want that feedback from agents, editors, and publishers rather than readers? Here’s the good news for you and every other aspiring writer reading this: That feedback is free. It doesn’t require sending me $100 bills at all (dammit).

Submit your manuscript to the traditional engine, Paul. Learn from those rejection letters. Hone your craft and edit your work until it shines. And when it finally passes muster, when agents begin clamoring for it, take a deep breath. You’ve done it. You’ve won the adulation from those heroes that you’ve craved these many years. Pop the champagne. And now take that book and self-publish the motherfucker.

If the accepting agent will come along, bring them with you. Ask them to shop it overseas, which is difficult to do on your own. Ask them to take it to Hollywood, which is a dark forest best not penetrated without a guide. Ask them to get a deal that retains your rights—a contract that treats you like a human being. If they balk, walk away. You got what you came for. Or go find another agent who shares your vision. But whatever you do, Paul, don’t sign a contract that will take your work from you indefinitely, one that gives your book a mere 3-6 month window spine-out on a bookstore shelf, one that pays you one fifth of what you can make on your own for each sale, one that doesn’t allow you to discount your works or give them away for free.

Submit. Win that acceptance you crave. And then self-publish. You got what you came for. The arbiter of good taste and high art told you it was good enough. Publish your work and include in the product description a copy of their golden ticket: their email accepting you into their hallowed halls. Just don’t get all giddy and sign the oppressive boilerplate that your heroes never had the courage nor power nor technology to stand up to and change. Instead, help make that change a reality.

Join the Bella Andres and Liliana Harts and JA Konraths and Barry Eislers and Brenna Aubreys. Join the Terry Goodkinds, the Lawrence Blocks, the Jim Carreys, the Macklemore and Ryans, the Louis C.K.s, and the Brandon Saundersons. Join the many who are staying indie despite lucrative offers. Or at least, if you do go upwind where our stench is weakest, pay attention to the changes that are coming. When you see contracts that begin to pay a decent royalty, when you see non-complete clauses go away, when you see indefinite terms become defined ones, at least have the dignity to thank us.

Because we are just as scared as any other writer that our work isn’t good enough. I promise you that. But we do know our art deserves better than what they’re offering. And that’s what self-publishing is all about. It’s not going it alone because we’ve been turned back at any gates. It’s about banding together and laying siege to an old order that needs to update their crumbling castles. We’ve been so busy trying to cross their moats that we’ve failed to realize how much better it is out here on the rolling hills and under the open skies where all the readers are. If you truly need an invite before you feel comfortable setting up your own stall, by all means, seek it out! Their input is free. The rejections are free. Their acceptance won’t cost you a thing.

Unless you take them up on it, of course.

108 replies to “Submit. But Don’t Say “Uncle.””

Great post, Hugh. I thought this was an impressive look at the self-published author psyche written only as someone with experience like you can. I think self-published independent authors are like a lot of other entrepreneurs out there, wondering if their business idea is worth pursuing, or if their dream job is “worth it”, even if it is working for themselves.

On a side note (inspired by your What do Self-Published Authors Need?) post, I’ve been working to put a service together where authors can come and get the feedback they need to improve their writing, improve their stories, and stand out from the “crap out there in the self-pub world” – our goal is to give writers the best chance to get the input and advice they need from beta readers to improve their stories. Anyone interested can check out: http://www.getbetareaders.com.

Again, great post. Thanks!

Jeff-
Thanks for posting the link. You mentioned this a while ago in a comment and I’ve been wondering about it.

“Sasquatch sex!” “..self-publish the motherfucker.”

Thanks Hugh, it’s cold in CNY. I needed Canadian whiskey up my nose..

LMFAO-you rock (:)

Seems to me that Paul thinks editors pick books because they’re good, not because of potential sales.

I can’t even imagine craving this level of validation. If my readers like me, then to hell with the rest.

I was going to say something very similar. Paul seems to forget that publishers aren’t looking for the best books…. they are looking for what they think can make the most money.

Sometimes they coincide, other times not.

“I mean, the editor is just guessing about what the reader will like.”

Well, the editor is just guessing what the salesperson for the distribution company is guessing that the booksellers will guess that the readers will like.

Honestly, running into strangers who know me from my books is many times a greater validation than the approval of publishing industry professionals. The other day I met someone who recognized me from a panel I did. How cool is that?

Really damn cool. And I totally agree with you. Just offering a suggestion for those writers who say they could never self-publish without an expert’s opinion.

Get that opinion. Then self-publish anyway. The opinion is free. Only costs you a few months or a few years of your time.

I should point out here that I also support authors self-publishing without asking anyone’s opinion. I’m not for gatekeepers, and I’m not calling for them here. If the work is awful, it’ll sink into oblivion. If it’s great, maybe it’ll catch enough eyeballs and do well. It’s the freedom of choice.

Gotta say, Hugh, your enthusiasm for “reader as gatekeeper” is very appreciated. Imagine. We can trust readers to figure out what it is they like without it being spoon fed to them. Treat your fans like they’re capable adults and they’ll reward you!

Funny thing is, readers have always BEEN the gatekeepers, when you think about it. It’s just, with traditional publishing, someone ELSE is making a hell of a lot of money on your book before that reader passes judgement.

And sorry, I start hearing some ‘guy’ talking about Campbell and all the greats from another era and I wanna slap this guy and say, ‘hey, different time; different world.’ I even sense Campbell’s world is gone for good. Trad publishing is about the money not developing the next Stephen King. (God, even Stephen KING has or had a thing about not being ‘good’ enough because he wasn’t a part of the literary fiction universe. Where did he learn that?)

Why do boys keep acting like it’s still here? Oh, yes, I know, he’s a boy; he has boy heros, from another era, from another marketplace, from another medium, in the case of Neil Gaiman, originally.

Focus on the now. Stop making excuses for why you can’t just publish your work, let someone PAY you for it and you write another book.

I didn’t come into this book writing industry having ‘read all the greats’. I just read what I read–ironically, a lot of ‘male’ based thrillers because (duh) it was what was out there; but I wasn’t being sold into a ‘club’ of how I am supposed to look or sound or write, as a writer.

Why? Cos I’m a girl and it didn’t really matter to anyone to say anything.

Interesting.

Every time I see a male ascribe ‘what he NEEDS’ as validation to another male, it makes me pull my hair out.

Publishers are nothing more that money bagged investors that will bank on something, bank on YOU and your book if the season is right, or if you have the right ‘stench’ of popular success and nothing more.

They are NOT gods who can command the oceans of buyers/readers/borrowers on what to read. And because this male ‘sea’ of writing is becoming diluted with all the OTHER genres and species and mindset of writers (black, blue, gay, female, martian, space seed, whatever!) perhaps…PERHAPS….

there is a chance I don’t have to aspire to be a male to be traditionally published. *grin*

*laugh*

Heather, tired of this psychobabble, usually clothed in some male bastian of ‘remember us WHEN we ruled the world.’ Covering a subtle form of self-marketing too. Argh…

Couldn’t agree more, Hugh. As the only indie on a panel at the Long Beach Comic and Horror Con in November I pulled out the “no gatekeeper” card and cited you as the most influential voice for indie authors. There were a lot of heads nodding in the crowd. Then Christopher Rice asked the Mod to repeat the question because he got caught up in all the nodding about getting rid of the gatekeepers. Great post. You rock.

It’s such a simple idea, I wondered why I didn’t think of it sooner. Like getting all buff and groomed and asking the prom queen to go to the dance and when she says yes, you say, “Naw, now I’m ready for a hot librarian.”

Poor Paul. I genuinely feel sad for him. With each excerpt, I wanted to reach through the monitor, grab him by the shoulders, and say “the only person you need to be accepted by is you, Paul!”

The opinions of others carry exactly as much weight as you’re willing to give them.

Wonderful, simply wonderful. You came up with an excellent work-around for the problem of independents who feel they’re not equal to the traditionally published.

I suspect Paul will not take your advice and rip up a contract with a traditional publisher once he achieves it. He’ll accept the paltry advance and the hideous percentages and consider himself on Cloud Nine… For the first book, anyway. Eventually he’ll figure it out.

I absolutely love the picture you’ve painted of the castle versus the rolling hills under the open skies where all the readers are. I don’t mind visiting the castle now and then, but I live in the hills. (Huh, guess that makes me a hillbilly. Damn, I’m so funny.)
And, you, with all your fucking fabulous ideas!!!! I would tell you to slow your roll, but instead I will say to keep your foot on the accelerator.

Hugh, you are too nice. Stay that way. Not me, though. I guess I just don’t get it. And this is just my opinion, so… you know.. everyone gets their own. I don’t get this compulsion for validation from someone other than the people who worked hard for the dollars (or pounds or kopecks) they spend on what they read. I just don’t. I don’t get saying “FU” to the readers and crawling through the mire to get some twenty-something intern who was getting coffee for everyone in the office a week ago (because that’s whose really reading your art, Paul.) I’m not bashing Paul, I just don’t understand it. The Stockholm Syndrome is older than Stockholm, but this seems like bowing to the palace guard and giving the finger to the king.

Michael Bunker

Great post. I wrote a comment like Paul’s (but shorter) on a big author’s blog, and he told me much the same. The real validation will come from the readers. Everything else is a faded proxy of that.

And FWIW, Switch’s death is also my favorite scene from The Matrix. It gives me chills and then rips my heart out. It also terrifies me more than anything else, the thought that someday none of my struggles will matter. Someone else will simply pull the plug on me. Which, coming back to publishing, is one of the reasons I wanted to be in control of my career and not dependent on an agent, a publisher, or one particular distributor.

And here I thought I was the only one who had a soft spot for that scene and those lines! I think it’s all the more effective because we don’t even know Switch: she exists in the movie only so that she can die, in that scene, in that way.

This post has totally blown my mind. I have to confess, I have been a Paul type for a very long time. I really believed that the traditional route was the one with true value and merit and the thing that has changed my opinion is – no exaggeration – your book Wool. It is the first self-published book I have read (I started just a few days ago) and I have been driving my husband crazy saying things like, “No, I mean this book is SOOO good! It really is! What else have I been missing out on by turning up my nose at self-pubbed authors?” That coupled with the points you put forth here in this post (and all over your blog, really) have got my head spinning. Thank you SO much for sharing all that you have to share!

I decided to self-publish my debut novel, “The Leaving of Things,” last year. I queried editors and publishers for two years. Many requested manuscripts and agreed that the work was strong but, frankly, they had no clue how to market it or even if it was something that could sell. So, I said screw it, I’m not waiting around for some editor to come on-board and then potentially another year minimum while my book waits in line to be published. I hired an editor, my own cover designer and professional formatter, etc. I did everything I could to make sure that my book was as strong and as worthy of a reader’s attention as it could be, yet still be the book I set out to want to write.

Today, that book’s selling just fine without a publisher. The infrastructure is now so solid in indie publishing that you can make a living at it provided you can create the work. My book isn’t a blockbuster or anything, but the reviews are strong and the readers seem to be connecting. THAT IS THE GREATEST VALIDATION. Even better–a teacher in North Carolina requested 30 copies of the book as part of her 10th grade English reading list with a note telling me thank you for writing the book I did. I’m going to Skype with the classroom later this semester. That in itself was worth the decision I made.

I feel sorry for Paul and for all the traditionalists who lack the vision and courage to step into the light. And, contrary to what Paul said, I’ve found a LOT of excellent literature out there in the indie world across all genres. See, if you’re gonna hate, nothing can change your mind … until you grow up. I hope Paul grows up.

Thanks, Hugh.

Hugh, you rock. What a timely post. Right now I’m ruining manicures and messing up my writing schedule because I’m at the table with a publisher. I turned the first one down after a good lawyer read it and said…basically…you’re doing better on your own. Now, I’m back at the table and feel like I should want this because, hey, it’s that HUGE check in the block in the list of life. But the truth is that I don’t really. It takes most of my profits in exchange for expanded distro when it all boils down to it. (Well, the audio and such is nice.)

I don’t have that jolt of electricity that will make a big loud, “No” come out of my mouth again just yet, but this post has nudged me closer. Thanks!

Hugh, great post. I hope you don’t mind, but the comments below are for Paul…

Paul, I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but you are seriously deluded. “There’s more crap out there in the self-pub world… And now their stink is on me.” When it comes to indie writing, I spend 2/3rds of my time refining, editing, polishing, working with beta-readers, re-reading, re-working, correcting, double-checking – and all so the finished product is the best it can be. I read each of my works easily a dozen times so the reader can enjoy it just once. Apparently, my stink is on you. Dude, seriously… you smell bad enough on your own.

I’m 99% certain that if we summoned the ghost of Ted Sturgeon in a seance, and told him there was a young writer today who had the ability to sell his work directly to willing readers, without even getting up from the writing desk, and the only reason he chose not to was a desire to emulate Ted Sturgeon, Ted Sturgeon would call that guy a fucking idiot. And then soul-suck his life-force.

Get the “validation,” and then self-publish anyway. That’s what I did. But sort of accidentally.

Several years ago, a very, very good agent took me on as a client and had started to submit my manuscript to good editors when the kindle revolution happened. I called him and ordered him to pull the manuscript back so I could publish it myself. That was the end of my relationship with that agent, and I couldn’t be happier.

Everyone decides what success is or is not. Paul wants the vindication of the gate keepers, so be it and good for him. Who am I to say what should make him happy?

There’s all kinds of accessories to our personalities; what college we went to, the car we drive, who we married, your choice in smart phones, etc. None of these can make us happy unless we decided that’s what makes us happy.

As far as my self-publishing endeavors, if my writing can pay the bills and give me the freedom to write full time then I am a success. Am I there right now? Nope! I’ve been at this less than a month and am still learning the ropes. So I drive on with the day job and more writing until I succeed.

But, five star reviews from total strangers does make me all warm and squishy inside. Sometimes the validation from total strangers isn’t such a bad thing.

I’m about three weeks from releasing my first book. If one other person in the world reads my story and enjoys it as much as I enjoyed writing it, I will be a successful author. I don’t understand why anybody would give some random editor the power to dictate the worthiness of their work. Best of luck to Paul. I hope he finds someone who will help him feel good about himself.

Thank you for this blog post. I’m in the midst of working on the final issue of my short story series, at least I was. Rather than working, I’ve spent the entire day doubting myself. This will be the first work I’ve ever carried to completion and the idea that no one will ever see it scares the crap out of me. You were the author that inspired me to chase my dream in the first place, and it’s good to know that you have doubts about your work as well. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble getting to it tomorrow.

I want the people ‘in charge’ to love what I do.

I want men wearing ascots and drinking cocktails in Manhattan to fete me.

I want enough validation–here’s the kicker–that I can know my work is Just Fine as-is.

Self-publishing leaves so much doubt. Could it be better? Am I capable of this? Do chickens following me around the yard count as “Twitter Followers”?

I’m self-publishing my first book, but I do see the advantages of traditional publishing.

{And the answer is ‘yes.’ Chickens count.}

Beautiful post, Hugh!

I was struggling with this question recently, wondering if I was good enough or if I had any business trying to be a writer at all. Lately I’ve been exchanging critiques with other authors on scribophile.com and it has been really useful. One author said my story looked ready to publish in a literary magazine. How cool is that?

If I can get solid feedback from real readers directly, I’m not sure what difference the traditional houses would make.

I liked everything you wrote and got absolutely teary when you pointed out that getting acceptance from a traditional publisher won’t necessarily pay the bills. I know many who can brag that they’ve signed contracts from some of the big houses but they still have to keep their day jobs. Just because a book is available, doesn’t mean it’ll sell. And that pertains to both Indie and traditional authors. Sometimes I ask myself – are you having fun yet? As long as the answer is yes, then I guess I’ll write the next book and hope it’s the one to break me out.

Oh boy. Instead, putting your book out in front of all readers is not a test? The most daunting test ever?

We are witness of a (r)evolution in the publishing industry triggered by Amazon and the like. Jeff Bezos has opened the gates and the gatekeepers are looking at each other unsure of what to do.

Self-publishing has created a marvelous thing: everyone can publish a book, and establish a one-to-many direct relationship with readers who buy and enjoy the new voices.

There’s a terrible monster that haunts the publishing valleys, too: everyone can publish a book, and readers are exposed to the slush pile for the first time visible to the many.

Recently, Books-A-Million has declared that its bookstores will be equipped each with POD printers. “Every book is printed because it has been sold,” breaking the old paradigm stating that “every printed book maybe is sold.”

The advent of cheaper and cheaper flash printers, together with higher and higher print quality, makes so that printing books in advance hoping to sell them later is bound to disappear as a business model.

Books are already in online catalogues available to all bookstores. These last will have their own POD printers in the back office, and customer will access loads of online information about the authors and their listed works. A reader will be able to pay and download to a device with RFID (a short distance wi-fi service, think of bluetooth), and/or click to buy the printed edition. Get a coffee or a latte at the embedded BookStop Café and be served latte, cake, AND a freshly baked book, right on the spot.

No more distribution costs, no more returns. Every single printed book is printed because it has been bought. Bookstores will have a never ending catalogue and be able to sell any physical book.

Dinosaurs that will disappear are those publishers who still believe that their service and added value to writers is primarily to get published, and writers need to put up with everything else for that privilege. This business model is no more sustainable because the basis for it is no more. It will disappear, and those who don’t change business plans will be soon forgotten and crumble faster than IBM did when the clone PC and the primitive Windows operating system made through to the market.

I also see the end of the query process. Agents will perform like professional sport scouts. They will look proactively for writers online; after all, a promising athlete doesn’t go to every scout’s house and run 40 dashes in his front yard hoping the scout’s lurking. The athletes play their game, and the writers will write their novels. In both cases, the audience is there already, scout or not scout, agent or not agent, and for a writer that is all that counts.

“I also see the end of the query process. Agents will perform like professional sport scouts. They will look proactively for writers online; after all, a promising athlete doesn’t go to every scout’s house and run 40 dashes in his front yard hoping the scout’s lurking. The athletes play their game, and the writers will write their novels. In both cases, the audience is there already, scout or not scout, agent or not agent, and for a writer that is all that counts.”

Holy cow. What an awesome analogy and smart look into the future. It inspired me – thanks!

First thing I’ve read this morning and wow what a boost to my day! I’ve worked flat out all week to free up this day so that I can have the luxury of writing for a full day and now feel even better about the path I have taken. Only just self published, and yes I have submitted to agents as well, but I believe in my story even if they don’t and it seems the readers I have reached so far are coming down on my side in this – that’s what I wanted just one person out there, one person who doesn’t know me who doesn’t feel they have to be nice to say – I loved your book – it was great! It was the most thrilling moment, when I have spent my life doubting every little thing I do, to get that response.

Obviously I mostly still think I can’t write, that it isn’t good enough and I still doubt everything little thing that I do but now I leave the judgment up to the readers and am just trying to reach as many as I can in a world where thankfully that is now possible.

Thanks for another inspirational post Hugh (must get on now with my precious day…!)

I love this post so hard. It might be the best post for writers you’ve written. You made me snort laugh throughout and filled me with a desire to re-watch The Matrix.

I myself had an agent sign me (one of my favorite people) and had multiple editors tell me yes only to be shot down by committee. I’m self publishing that book this summer and I’m not worried about it’s quality because I had it validated multiple times and the reasons for it’s not being published have nothing to do with the book itself.

After a decade of writing query letters, that was validation hard won and I’ll always be glad I got it. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy with a sense of somewhat pointless accomplishment, like the experience of watching the final frames of Mario reunited with Princess Peach.

If and when my sales justify a reuniting of me and the editorial committees who missed their chance to take all the rights to my book, we’ll be negotiating on my terms, which is really how I’d prefer it:)

In the meantime, I’m getting validation from readers, you know, the people I’m actually writing for, and their positive emails and reviews mean so much more than the “almost made it” emails from editors. It’s also easier to write with confidence after reading a few fan letters than “Dear Author” rejections.

This is pretty much my story. Twelve or thirteen years on the query-go-round, multiple awards, two agents, a couple of almost-buys from publishers. After a point, it’s either keep beating your head against the wall or figure if I got that far, I must be doing *something* right.

And yes, those 5-star reviews from complete strangers and people asking to be notified when the sequel comes out are definitely the best validation.

Sorry I got my staank on ya Hugh. In case you were wondering, That’s bratwurst and cabbage in a curry and wine sauce. Didn’t go the I thought it would. I’ll never get this pan clean.

Hugh, 20 years ago I submitted a manuscript to several agents. Got soundly rejected, but I did get some good advice. I paid attention. Wrote, re-wrote, and re-wrote again. Asked established writers for input. Paid attention to that too. I didn’t do everything people told me to do. After all, my voice is my voice, not anyone else’s. But I did pay attention.

Now my books are online and doing very well. Why did I take the plunge? Because close friends did. Friends in my online writing group. Friends I trusted.

Now I have this whole new world of friends in indie publishing. I love it. And even though I’m 66, I want to be Hugh Howey when I grow up. (With the sardonic wit of Michael Bunker.)

Hugh, I’m planning to self-publish a novel and a novella under my own indie imprint in the next three weeks, and this morning I was experiencing serious self doubts. With the target date I set for myself less than a month away, I sometimes have a hard time finding the courage I had back in November when I started writing the novel and told my wife that I was going to self-publish something amazing.

Then I got on here to look for some inspiration, and the new post on the home page was exactly what I needed: the kick in the rear to get back into revisions.

Thanks, I really needed this today. –Scott

I love this post! I find the traditional publishing world such a puzzling and hypocritical arena. They present a face that appears to be interesting in artistic integrity and the “quality” of literature, but like all businesses the end-all-be-all is the mighty buck.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the idea of making a profit. I love money. I certainly want more of it. But what irks me is that they have programmed people to believe the only way to have a beautifully written book is to go through them–as though they are the gatekeepers to literary enlightenment. No matter what they may try to convince people, they publish books that they think will sell and quality doesn’t necessarily play into it; best sellers aren’t necessarily brilliantly written or unique.

I don’t want to paint the publishing world as a malicious or conniving villain, but I get frustrated that rather than modifying their attitudes to fit the changing world, they focus on vilifying those who are willing to roll with punches. Like it or not, the publishing world is changing and the opportunities for authors to get their work out there is expanding. So, yay for us!

I just heard an acquaintance in my city had died last November. He ran a used bookstore called “Highbrow” books and he was a poet, as well. I went looking online for him and found THIS other poet. I was intrigued by his journey to publishing. It confirmed a little about what I sense the poetry world/industry is or was about:

http://www.nzscribble.net/rrossi.html

He writes a very interesting piece of the journey HE had to take to be published. It seems to have happened at every level of writing there is. I plan to seek him out, albeit, he has, I think passed on as well.

Do it now, people, quit fiddling around.

Anna Graceman, a very young singer/songwriter has, as last I heard, written about 64 songs. I don’t sense she is listening to the ‘advice’ of a publisher. She is simply CREATING stuff she wants to create.

H

I remember feeling like this, and I know how I feel now. Getting my book published, and seeing people buy and review it, has been amazing.

I’m still worried people aren’t going to like it or my new stuff, but it feels a lot like growing up. When you’ve never had someone buy your work and read it, you’re in that panic and fear state of a teenager where everything is intimidating and alien. Then you grow up, look back, and are embarrassed that you were that concerned by such trivial things.

Wow. Sounds like Paul needs a hug. I went through a roller coaster of emotions reading this post. By the end all I could think was: just shut up and write (paul). Write because it feeds your soul. Write because it’s your passion. Write because you can.

In many ways, traditional publishing has become the new vanity press. Authors used to spend a lot of money for the ego boost of being an “author” and holding their “book.” Now they simply give up a lot of money in order to think of themselves as “real authors” who can hold their “real book.”

This. A paradign-shifting, 3-D stop motion film played in my head when I read this.

The only validation that’s worth a damn is the couple of bucks that a reader plunks down for one of my books. And the best validation comes in the form of a positive review, a comment on my website, or the occasional personal email from a fan. I live for those moments—they make the whole indie publishing process worth the effort.

I will never give a publishing house the opportunity to “rate” my work using their antiquated standards of what’s good and worthy of publication. I’ll stand on the banks sipping a cold one as the rotting corpses of the traditional publishing industry float downstream to become fish food. Slainte!

Great post! I think the reader should be the one who chooses what is “good” — not an agent or publisher. “Good” is so subjective that even if the pundits decree some work is “good” I may not enjoy reading it. Yes, there is a lot of dreck out there in self-published land, but there is also a lot of dreck on bookshelves.

A writer has to care about their work, try to always improve, get feedback and invest in themselves and their work, but if they do, they should put their best work out there and let the readers be the judge. In the new world of publishing, this is now possible and desirable. Getting an agent and a traditional book contract is no guarantee that your book will do well. As you point out, the majority of books just don’t sell and are paid for by the few blockbusters that do sell.

Self publishing is changing that. Now it is possible for a writer to earn a decent living, getting paid royalties monthly, for work that might not have made it past the slushpile and still sells moderately well because readers liked it.

However, you have to promote your work or else your readers won’t even know your book exists. Your advice on how to do that, along with others like Konrath and the writers of Write, Publish, Repeat offer approaches to publicity and promotion that worked for them. You can’t just put your book out there and let it sit or it will gather dust. It takes work to get your book in front of the right readers, well-edited, with a great cover and blurb, but once you do, they will be the judge of whether your work passes the “I want to read this” and “You should read this book I just read!” tests.

I feel so sorry for Paul. He’s taken the blue pill.

“Because what it all comes down to is this, that when it comes to aesthetics, whose opinion shall I trust? Some anonymous reviewer on Amazon? When I need the right gauge do I look to hurlygurl544, or the agent that took on Dan Simmons or Neil Gaiman as a client? Which one do you think, based on probability alone and nothing else, has a better idea of what good writing is?”

Dear Paul is making the same mistake the gatekeepers do: insisting that readers should like writing that is “good for them.” Rather than what they want to read.

This is snobbery wrapped in a faux coat of humility. He’s buying into the idea that a certain kind of story is better than others because those in authority approve of it. In fact, though, readers are the ultimate authority.

I wonder if Paul (blog now removed?) will stumble upon your post about his decision?

I went through something very similar to Paul. Ironically, it still sounds a lot like what you describe, Hugh, with the waking up full of doubt–every day–going to bed wondering when it will all go away, asking myself when will things ever get easier? Please, oh, please just get easier… or failing that, give me a sign. Anything. Tell me to quit… (Ah, there’s the truth, isn’t it?)

I was a screenwriter. Had some stuff optioned. Got to meet a handful of celebs. But it never amounted to anything. My success never allowed me to answer the question, “Oh, anything we’ve heard of?”

Nope. Because it never got beyond the words on the page. Which was beyond frustrating. I always wanted someone to tell me I was good. I still do. That’s my personality. I think I’m a constant failure. I measure myself by someone else’s stick (Ew! Imagery).

I saw others around me that had much more success, these “schmucks,” talentless hacks who were getting gigs. I often found myself bad-mouthing them (in my head, of course. Never out loud. Never out loud. Way too reclusive for that anyway, right? :p) I thought maybe they were really good at bullshitting people (and maybe they were). But they all had one thing in common. They had a boatload of work and sheer utter confidence in themselves. That was really the one shining difference these people who had found success had that I didn’t.

I learned something from actually doing the work and submitting it and putting it out there. Well, many somethings. One–it’s hard. Pardon my French, but it’s fucking hard. Two–I noticed that there is a litmus test on how to be a writer. How quickly people get back to you is a pretty good indicator. Three–That the doubt is only in your head (well, my head. Speaking for myself, right?) It’s just me, paralyzed by fear. Often I’m wondering what will happen if I fail, and it turns out I’m just as crippled by the thought of what happens when I succeed.

So here’s how I judged my own success. I don’t think this is a model for anyone other than me, but this is how I chase the demons away with the flickering flames of my dying torch.

I started sending things out. And–

I assumed that anyone I didn’t hear back from within a week did not like what I wrote. (SEE ALSO: Hated it). So, I’d write something else. Something write better. Stronger. More gripping. Compelling. And, as an aside, I’m not an idiot. (No, really. I’m not). I’m well aware that most places say they’ll get back to you in 2-3 months. That’s “reality” right? They can’t bend space and time just to compensate you on your wild pipe dreams, just to placate…

What?
What do you mean they started contacting you?
Over a weekend?

Every deal I landed, every option, always, always, ALWAYS came from someone who read one of my scripts over a single weekend and got back to me the following Monday. The work that took longer than a weekend to hear back from–I never heard back from. Kinda eye opening.

I realized that the scripts that laid around were the ones that no one has/had the heart to tell the writer that it just wasn’t “good enough.” (And that’s not even true. Because I’ve been on the flip side of it. “Not good enough” means a lot of things, many of which have nothing to do with quality of writing. Here’s just a few reason I’ve seen people say no. 1) We just did a project like that. 2) That project is too dissimilar from the type of projects we do. 3) Budgets too big 4) Too small 5) The actor we know who can get us funding would never star in that).

No one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings. So no one tells you the truth. Not the honest truth. And when they do, you assume they’re assholes… or cry. I did one of those. (Maybe both).

There’s so much on the business side that has so little to do with the author that it is mind boggling. Especially if you’re a writer like me who takes it personally when people can’t give you a straight answer. Someone who blames himself when he wrote something with AMy Adams in mind only to be told, “Who’s that?” (Yeah, this was seven years ago. Oops, right?). Someone like me, who thinks that any time anyone says, “No,” it’s because I am a terrible and an utter failure and should jump off a cliff… or end things in the way so many other authors have before…

And then there’s self-publishing. Do you hear it?

The angelic voices ringing out. The clouds parting before your eyes. (For some reason, my version of this also has a chorus singing “The Simp-sons.” Odd. I know).

I honestly can’t wrap my head around why anyone like Paul would feel that way about self-publishing.

Self-publishing puts the control back into your hands. Your successes are your own. You don’t have to wait on that one person to say, “Yes,” to feel like your life and career and path you’ve chosen is meaningful. There’s no one to tell you what to do except yourself (Maybe that’s the real problem, isn’t it? Isn’t it! Grrr! You know it is).

I love this quote, Hugh. “In many ways, traditional publishing has become the new vanity press. Authors used to spend a lot of money for the ego boost of being an “author” and holding their “book.” Now they simply give up a lot of money in order to think of themselves as “real authors” who can hold their “real book.” It’s still ego and money lost.”

I wanted to end this rambling with a quote from Ben Hecht from A Child of the Century. But I can’t find it. Ugh. And this comment has gone on way too long. (Apologies). The one thing I envy about Ben Hecht is that he never cared what any one else thought. The quote was a passage in which he talked about how there is no difference between the hack writer and the pro. If you’re bit by the writing bug, you’re bit, and that’s all there is to it. That the hack writer approaches the blank page with the same due diligence as the professional.

And yeah, I should really look that up, cuz, ya know, it’s actually a pretty profound statement in its original incarnation (That I’ve now butchered).

Again, my apologies. This comment feels way, way self indulgent to me. Didn’t mean to make this the me show, but I think many of us can relate to what Paul is going through. For what it’s worth there’s a little bit of mine. The Cliff’s Notes of a lifetime.

Deep down, if we’re honest with ourselves, we all seek validation for our work. Sally Field’s Oscar acceptance speech always springs to mind when I see posts like this. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rl_NpdAy3WY) It’s only 17 seconds and I promise I’m not Rick Rolling you ; )

We all want to feel like we’re “good enough” to sit at the table with our idols. Paul mentioned a bunch of good ones. The thing is, our idols are people, too. Just like us. Yes, they had to go through a much more arduous process to have their work see the light of day than we do these days, but how many of those idols would have self-pubbed if they were starting out today? I daresay more than a few. Would that make their work less enjoyable? I doubt it.

Just because my father programmed computers with punch cards and hexadecimal, doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy advances in technology that allow me to use a modern word processor rather than a typewriter. And just because the trad pub route was the only one available to my idols, doesn’t mean it’s the only route to acceptance, validation, and success.

Mr. Howey. What you are proposing is deliciously dangerous. You are essentially inciting us all to take the red pill and wake up.

Just be careful that “Agent” Smith doesn’t come after you. You are threatening The Matrix.

I agree with everything except the dangerously naive assumption that badly-written and badly-designed self-published material does not reflect poorly on the rest of us in the self-publishing industry (ie., the “rubbed-off stink factor”).

Look at it like this: do you have a certain brand of appliance or automobile that you no longer patronize? Perhaps you used to drive a Ford until you discovered one day why people call them “Found On Roadside Daily”, and now you avoid Ford cars at all costs. Perhaps you once bought a certain inexpensive non-domestic brand of toaster, blender, microwave, and it quit working or, heaven forbid, almost burned your house down–and now you no longer buy that brand. You once watched a shitty movie by Michael Bay or Uwe Boll ten years ago and now you no longer watch any of their movies, regardless of the reviews they’re getting these days.

The self-published-book industry operates in the same fashion when it comes to the layman reader. Too many of them have been burned by crappy books, too many badly-written, unformatted, unedited novels, too many ugly covers designed by myopic children. Now they avoid self-published books in droves, including the ones made by those of us that actually put effort into our material–those of us that pay for developmental editing, pay for a good cover, have beta readers that strain the gold out of our river-water.

Look for layman readers and ask them if they trust self-published books. Not career writers, not self-published writers, not writers at all: READERS. The men and women that work at the factory, at Walmart, at McDonalds, the ones that have never written a fictional word in their life. Poll them and see what they think. I guarantee you that because of what Wendig so eloquently refers to as “the shit volcano”, a great multitude of them have been burned out of the customer base.

The stink is REAL. The basket of rotten apples is REAL. IT IS ALL REAL, all of the analogies, no matter how many of you so vehemently deny it, it is REAL, and it is a poison in the market. If we want to be taken seriously as an industry, we need to shatter this glass ceiling of shit-lava contentment, of being obliviously happy to sell our hard work on the same shelves as refrigerator-art MS Paint Chiller-font covers and My Little Pony fanfics, and fucking do something about it. Take pride in your work and quit letting shitty books bend your career over a table.

If you do all those things you say, how does the reader know it’s self-published?

I agree that crayon covers hurt the chances of other books with crayon covers. But people buy books with Jason Gurley covers and have no clue that they aren’t professional. I’ve never met a reader who searches for books by filtering for “Random Penguin.”

You swear off Fords. Then you notice sleek-looking Fords that zip around and have all the features of a BMW at half the price. Do you still swear off Fords? I don’t think I’m losing sales to (or sleep over) that segment of the market.

What I’ve seen lately is a lot of anger directed in the vicinity of authors who know better. Do you think the people who need to hear this advice are going to listen? Do you think they’re going to suddenly become un-lazy?

The circles I hang around in, authors discuss how to make their works shine. More of that positive encouragement among those who care and less ranting in a vacuum is probably the thing. But that’s just one man’s opinion.

They know it because of the medium that they find it in. Because we’re relegated to the “indie books” section of Amazon, because our POD books have “CreateSpace” on them. Because we’re not on the brick-and-mortar shelf at Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million. Come on, Hugh, work with me here. Meet me halfway, at least.

I’ve been told on more than one occasion that my work is “surprisingly good” for a self-published author (“I’m never in a hurry to read self-published books since they are usually not well written or edited to any visible degree. […] Even still, I accepted this book with reluctance. I mean, first off, it’s from Createspace. Why don’t I just get out my red pen and start clenching my jaw right now?” https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/545802597?book_show_action=false ). The public perception is there, and it’s a lot more visible than you think it is. Your readers are always smarter than you give them credit for.

You do realize, don’t you Hugh, that this blog post–and indeed, your entire underdog literary career as a self-publishing Rocky Balboa–is itself a subliminal fly in the face of this very phenomenon, right? You’re denying the very hurdles you had to jump to get here. You’re Rosa Parks and you’re telling me straight to my face that the bus doesn’t have a back seat.

No, I don’t expect The Ones That Don’t Give a Crap to listen to me. I rant because it’s the only thing they /do/ listen to, for good or ill. Calm, collected advice is nearly always ignored–but they always remember the angry guy. And I do it in the vicinity of authors that know better precisely /because/ I know the ones that need to hear it won’t heed me. I’m hoping that the choir I’m singing to might just turn around and bring a few of these sinners into the church. I’m saying the things I’m saying for the same reason a lot of you people reading this comment don’t like going to Walmart–because we need to run the nasty-ass riffraff out of our store so people will actually want to shop here.

The ones of us that put effort into our work: I need you to care. Not just care about your own work, but when you see an ugly cover or read a slapdash book, please, please unfuck these people. Barter with them–make them a better cover, offer to beta for them, improve their book in exchange for exposure on your own.

I do pro bono covers all the time for this very reason–because I do not have tunnel vision.

I and my work are not an island unto ourselves. I understand that the condition of the industry itself has a direct bearing on how well I do, and that cream does not “rise to the top” because cream does not rise in curdled milk.

This is not a myth. This is not my imagination. This is not a flight of fancy, and it does not simply go away because my cover is pretty. It’s an issue inherent to the industry itself, and Hugh, you may not be able to see it anymore because someone took a chance on your work and threw you a life preserver. And now, quality is so endemic to your name that the authors around you don’t pull you down. You’re not down here in the muck with the rest of us.

But the invisible truth is, too many people are tired of being tricked into eating rotten apples, and now they only eat apples picked by the Big Pickers. And you, Random Internet Commenter reading this comment on Hugh Howey’s website, if you’re a self-publishing author like us, it might behoove you and your career to quit overlooking the hobbyists and lazy-asses and help us bootstrap this hot mess into something respectable. Or keep querying agents in the hope of overcoming your self-publishing stigma, whatever. Put your blinders back on and keep wallowing in shit.

I hope you are right and that the recent chorus of people yelling at self-published authors to stop being a bunch of worthless cattle will help save literature. Because, like the crayola covers, I doubt the ranting is going to end. So at least have it do some good.

I’m as interested in gatekeepers for the internet as I am gatekeepers for literature. And yeah, anyone saying that they know what works don’t deserve to be published is a gatekeeper. I’m going to continue looking for ways to up my quality and help my neighbor. Because I’m fairly certain that the outpouring of anger is going to kill at least a handful of worthy manuscripts written by self-doubting authors right on the fence, and that troubles me more than typos in books no one reads.

I respect you for having a position, but I have to say that I can’t respect the position. Sorry. :(

What exactly was the position? That the authors who can write should help the ones who are struggling? man, there’s so much GOOD advice on the internet already about how to write, whether it’s from Konrath or Hugh or any one of a dozen agents, I doubt there’s much left to say. Everyone has their little sphere of influence, and should try to help therein, but let’s not get carried away here and say that an author who’s on a roll should drop what he’s doing to help every straggler out there. There’s such a thing as individual responsibility. If a struggling author wants advice, there are tons of places to go for it.

Seems S.A. Hunt is suffering from Terminal Victim Syndrome and feels that if only someone could implement his controls and way of thinking, all would be right and he would be sitting where you are, Hugh. They have a vision of how things SHOULD BE, reality be damned.

People like Hunt want gatekeepers because they think themselves as one of the few who can nab a ticket for the ferry, safely floating above those “wallowing in shit.”

It’s not my “position”, it’s an irrevocable truth, and you and so many other people denying it doesn’t make it any less tenable a fact. Saying the sky isn’t blue doesn’t make it not blue, dude.

And until indie authors wake up and start taking accountability of their own product, we’re going to remain the red-headed stepchild of the literature industry.

Hugh, the part that baffles me is how you’re either completely denying or forgetting your own rags-to-riches overcoming-the-selfie-stigma success story. You literally got your boardwalk star by beating the stigma I’m sitting here talking about, that Wendig talked about, and that Paul mentioned. It’s real and it’s one of the key angles of your own freaking career. It just blows my mind how you seem to have completely lost all awareness of it. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills over here.

You think I forget my story? Dude, c’mon.

What you don’t know is the three years I spent writing and self-publishing happy as a clam, excited for a handful of sales and fans here and there, and spreading none of the negativity and fear that seems to be rampant these days.

Hey, maybe that positivity and care-free attitude had something to do with my success? Imagine that. :)

S.A. Hunt:

You just did me a favor. The last comment Hugh made, but being ‘happy as a clam’ writing cinched it.

No, he CAN’T see what you are talking about.

Do you have a website? I’d like to read more on you.

I know what you are getting at. So does Chuck Wendig. And you aren’t crying poor here and anyone who is suggesting that is not getting you either.

But I do.

Thank you!

Heather dubious of all heroes

I’ve seen this lately on blogs across the internet the past couple weeks. Chuck Wendig and Joe Konrath and Russel Blake. (Hugh too, obviously).

For some reason I can’t fathom, supporters of traditional publishing (as the one and only true God) seem to forget that traditional publishing cos. are just companies run by individuals who make choices based on what they like and dislike. It’s not science.

Amateurs can do it to. I mean, amateurs do do it. All the time. There’s nothing that makes a traditional publisher’s opinion better than any one else’s. (They’ve just put their money where their mouth was and made a business out of it. And good for them. But you can do that too. Anyone can).

–What’s the difference between me hiring a future Big 5 editor to work for me and a Big 5 publishing company doing it?

–What’s the difference between me hiring a cover artist and the Big 5 doing it? (Well, besides the fact that I worked as an inker for DC, and have numerous friends that are comicbook artists that… Yeah. You’re right. I’m probably better at finding an appropriate cover artist than most. And I’m just an amateur).

That’s kinda my point. We aren’t doctors. The threshold for entry is pretty low. Most people attacking self published books aren’t even complaining about quality of story. They’re complaining about typos, grammar, and formatting–things that are easily fixable. Good.

If typos and grammar was truly the only problem writers face when writing a book–could you imagine?

I think the mentality that keeps people beholden to these institutions is really similar to the human notion of perception. The idea that — because something costs more, it’s better. Because traditional publishing is more exclusive, it’s better. Neither are true (or untrue).

But publishing companies aren’t beholden to anyone. They’re just a business. They’re beholden to making money. They’ll adapt. Or they won’t. There’s not really any argument here. It’s what happened to the horse drawn carriage. It’s what happened to radio.

Radio is a great example. Most of our television networks were originally radio networks. When TV came along, they either became TV networks or they didn’t. Some failed. Some didn’t.

But what I don’t understand are people outside the system that back it with a sort of blind faith. (Like Paul). What’s in it for them? I don’t get it.

@ S. A Hunt — I don’t agree on the spread of smell. I don’t think most people can tell the difference between a self published book and a non-self published book.

Just like most people don’t even consider the difference between a Warner Brothers movie and a Paramount movie. Most just know there’s a movie with Jennifer Lawrence in it–and I want to go see that!

And what would you call Wool? Did it become untainted from the smell of self publishing when publishers decided to print hard copies?

I think these distinctions are arbitrary at best.

What I do find somewhat unconscionable is the overwhelming sentiment that seems to lump self publishing with quality of writing (and a poor quality at that). Chuck Wendig did it on his blog. He said he wanted Amazon to separate self published from traditionally published based on nothing more than self published has more typos and grammatical errors. He wanted Amazon to whip up an algorithm that flagged books with typos as “self-published.”

Stop and think about the absurdity of that for a second.

Why wouldn’t you have your magical Amazon algorithm that flags books with typos as “A book with typos.” “Grammatically incorrect content.”

Why’s it always gotta be self publishing with you people? You people! What do you mean you…

I think you get my point. People talk a lot about things in theory. Things that don’t really hold up in practice. Or even to common sense. Chuck’s doing that. (And I like the guy and his writing a lot). But he’s just pontificating. Business changes with the times. It always has.

The one thing most people don’t realize is that established business always holds out on change to the very last second for one very, very good reason (it tends to make more money that way). The smart ones hold out as long as possible while secretly (and not so secretly) changing with the times.

I’m not sure I believe that there are many readers out there that don’t buy a book because they know it is self-published. But if there are, I’m perfectly okay if they skip my upcoming novel (when I finally get it self-published).

And if there are readers who deliberately avoid self-publishing, then I would suspect there might also be readers who actively seek it out, wanting to support the community.

And those are the readers I’d love to get.

I self-published my debut novel five months ago, because nowadays it’s the far smarter business move. And I went all-in. I got a pro cover. Pro freelance editor. Pro formatting. Polished it like a diamond before publishing.

But still, in the beginning, I was a little worried that my one-person publishing company might not look “legit” enough to readers. That they would see through my flimsy shell of a publishing imprint and think: “Aha! That sneak is trying to put one over on us. Turns out this is self-published!”

Now, 20,000 sales and 300+ Amazon and Goodreads reviews later, after getting hundreds of fan emails and FB messages, I think of those early fears I had–about not looking “legit”–and I laugh my ass off.

Because guess what?

99% of my readers have no idea I’m self-published. They simply couldn’t care less. The one in a hundred who is industry-aware enough to notice that I’m self-published actually finds it way more impressive than some Big-5 contract. They *respect* the self-confidence and commitment indie publishing requires.

All this talk about “the stink of self-publishing” and “true validation that my writing is good enough” makes me sad for my fellow writers, who allow themselves to be unconscionably exploited because they lack confidence and self-respect.

Tell me, which kind of validation is truly meaningful?

Some vanity “validation” from middlemen you are *paying* a ridiculous % to for nothing?

Or the sincere, heartfelt praise from readers who *pay you* simply because they love your stories?

this quote was another of Paul’s.
“Cypher/Paul: You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize?
[Takes a bite of steak]
Cypher: Ignorance is bliss.

grrrrrrrrrrr

That’s MY favorite scene from the Matrix.

The Matrix is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave with one notable difference — Cypher. That scene with Cypher — OMG. Think about how telling that is about modern times. He understands that the world of the Matrix is an illusion — and wants back in, prefers it even to reality. Imo, that addition is deeply profound.

Well. Not that you need it, but your works are great. I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read so far and I anticipate further works from you. Somehow I’ve managed to have fairly good luck catching onto authors such as yourself in the self publishing sphere. I’m very grateful that avenue exists for you and others out there. Keep up the great work and I’ll keep reading.

By the way, that scene from the Matrix so poignant. I felt so bad for her that she didn’t get to go down fighting like the rest of them.

One thing not brought up is that you can get “the validation” by writing and selling shorter pieces- stories. Bradbury, Sturgeon and the others mentioned did just that, and Campbell paid them money- and gave them acceptance. When parsimonious magazine editors send you a check for publishing your story, you’ve made pro level.

So I got that validation over and over, while still following the trad route with novels. My agent and others in the field said the work was good and sellable, but months went by with no further action. And I talked with other writers, many who had less-than-favorable experiences from “the validating gatekeepers.” I studied the game further, decided I didn’t like the odds, and struck out on a new path. Every day I’m grateful that I didn’t sign with someone bigger, and lose my series, and possibly my soul. I don’t care to pursue big pub anymore, especially with their attitudes toward people who don’t earn them money. I went with tiny publishers who would do it my way.

And a few months ago, put out my first self-published novel, after doing a bunch of story collections. It started as an early book, so it took 35 years to get it right. If Paul thinks it’s stanky, he doesn’t have to buy it- and I don’t have to care. So many like him are trashing everything and everyone not “pro-gated.” Me, I work hard at the craft, pay homage to the greats, dedicate some of my books to them, and do not feel I am doing them a disservice. They believed in craft, but also in selling enough to keep them continuing to write more stories.

We writers now have a choice in how to tell our stories, and that’s a great thing- except to binary people like Paul and Don Maass and their ilk. It must hurt to be them, seeing the tide of successful selfies get bigger every day.

When I first started writing the goal was to sign with an agent who would represent your best interests. Like everyone else I worried about whether I was good enough to make the cut. My validation came one evening when Kimberly Cameron herself called me from Hawaii during the Maui writer’s conference asking for first right of refusal on a manuscript I had submitted to the writers marketplace. After the smile faded and I looked at the then state of publishing from a business viewpoint I realized that for me self-publishing, though frowned upon, would be my better option. I haven’t looked back since. I still have that little voice in the back of my mind questioning if I’m really any good. But that just drives me to writer better so I can prove that voice wrong.

I love your solution, Hugh.

But I have a dilemma.

See, I’ve made hundreds of thousands of dollars on books that were rejected by legacy publishers.

Do I have to give that money back?

I understand that I can’t trust the 10,000 reader reviews that have given my books an average of 4 stars, and should only trust the gatekeepers who didn’t deem many of these books worthy of publication. But what am I supposed to do with all that cash I made?

And how do I get my time back? You know, the time I spent thanking the thousands of readers who emailed me, telling me how much they liked my stinky books? How about the time I spent writing sequels to books that were never legacy published, because readers wanted them?

If only I had some sort of time machine so I could have avoided the trap of becoming successful with books that weren’t good enough.

Maybe I should follow Paul’s route, and unpublish my ebooks, and submit to a gatekeeper who objectively understands quality. Who was the publisher that put out Sooki’s book? I can start there…

Yeah, this solution only works for people who care about validation from editors and agents. I’m like you. Why waste the time? I’d rather hit the “publish” button when the work is ready to go.

I’m just a reader, and at 54 I’ve read a lot, mostly good.
Until recently, I’ve mostly been spoon fed by one traditional publisher or another.
Thanks to the likes of Piers Anthony, I have become aware over time of publishing horror stories, and suffered the loss of good authors who for one reason or another don’t pass the grade or stopped doing so. A great example of this, is another Hugh, Hugh Cook. He was a great original, ground-breaking writer, who unfortunately died young from cancer. He fell off the publishing gravy train, for one reason or another, but had a legion of fans for his Chronicles Of The Age Of Darkness series. Trying to appease publishers, he cut that series short and reluctantly turned to other stories. If he was still alive now, then he wouldn’t have had to do that, because of the vibrant Indie Self-Publish situation we now have. We will never know whether the stress of that change, contributed to his brain cancer.
I think self-publishing is a great, wonderful, liberating thing, though I freely acknowledge some of it’s drawbacks.
Because of those drawbacks, I now read reviews, where in the past I didn’t bother or deliberately avoided, not wanting to risk spoilers or having pre-conceived criticisms of others littering my head and dictating my lines of thought.
I don’t really see that as a good thing, but an unfortunate necessary evil, for there is even more rubbish in the Indie world than the traditional publishing one.
I truly hate mistakes, that take me away from the story, that break the spell.
For that very reason, I don’t count myself a big Indie reader, though it must be noted, that for some time now (many years), I have noted more and more errors creeping into traditional publishing … no doubt a sign of the times.
Anyway, anyone with any sense at all, knows that we are at the beginning of a major change to the publishing industry, and no amount of complaining or wishing is going to make any difference to the end result.
Authors & writers have been given power, and there is no going back.
Some will make the effort to have their works edited and proof-read enough, but most probably won’t.
That is just how it is going to be, and we will have to accept it, and just complain as reviewers if we want change.
It is the Age of the Beta-Reader.

I forgot to say.
It’s my belief, that Traditional Publishers just play the odds, and that in all reality, are no better at judging what a good story is, than any of my many friends. I like a certain percentage of what they recommend, but probably dislike most, and consider that a norm. At the end of the day, it is mostly down to personal taste, just as it is with music and movies, sexual attraction, etc.

Yano what’s kinda interesting? There’s a few million KIDS on Wattpad who read typoed and grammatically incorrect stuff ALL THE TIME. You should see the numbers for some of these writers. I grant you, presently, they aren’t being paid.

But not unlike taking books out of the library. You all did that, as kids, didn’t you?

And they read and they read and they read.

And they will be here after you’re all gone. Still reading.

Cool, huh?

H

Hugh, I’ll submit. And English is not my mother tongue. But I’m not afraid to learn. So I’ll keep an eye on your announcements! ;)
BTW, that scene that you hate? I just love it. Human beings ARE a disease, a cancer to this planet! But no, Agent Smith is not the cure, LOL!
Best
Barb

I went through the submission process quite a number of times. I got a lot of very validating feedback and I got an agent.
However, it all comes down to money. If a publisher doesn’t think that you are likely to make it beyond mid-list level, they won’t touch you. I had an editor I was quite good pals with over the years who said that there was nothing wrong with my writing except that it fit nicely in the mid-list (something I had from many publishers and agents) and until I wrote something that screamed *Best seller* I was unlikely to break through.
Then self publishing came along and I had the courage to go for it, because I already had validation from the so-called gate-keepers. Now I have validation from readers who write to me thanking me for my books, and who write reviews that remind me why I write.

I have the same fears as Paul.

Not only do I worry that my writing is not up to scratch but, as I’m literally just starting out, I know my writing isn’t up to scratch. I know this because I know how much graft it takes to learn the craft of story telling and, well, as I say I’ve only just started out.

My fear lies not in the inner turmoil of knowing if I’m good enough or not because, as I say, I’m not there yet. I will be but not yet. What scares the S&%t out of me that, taking the self-publishing route, I have to take everyone along with me on this ride. Do I really want to learn how to write in plain sight? Why inflict everyone to the mistakes that I make?

My solution was different to Paul’s, I’ll still write but to start with I’ll submit work to the many short fiction and short play writing competitions that are about. Using this avenue with its rejections letters and potential feedback from ‘professionals’ to hone my skills.

Thanks for the second rather innovative solution that you suggested in your blog so naturally I’ll also be following this approach.

Hopefully one day I’ll be able to ‘inflict’ my stories on people rather than my mistakes.

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