The battle wages on in the dialogue between aspiring self-publishers and dyed-in-the-wool traditionally-published authors. Well, perhaps I’m overstating the situation to call it a “battle,” since all sides seem to coexist magnanimously at the moment. Though who can say what the future will bring? One need look no further than the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent decision to bring an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and the industry’s leading publishers to see that the pressure is steadily building.
Here on the Fictorians blog, we’ve periodically discussed the pros and cons of either approach, and indeed, in the following weeks and months we’ll be devoting even more column inches to the subject of self-publishing. And that’s only to be expected, since most aspiring authors are in that awkward in-between stage of deciding whether to go it alone and start uploading our manuscripts to the Kindle Store or hold back in the hopes of securing a lucrative (or limiting) deal with a New York giant.
Noted this past Sunday in our blog’s weekly Sunday Reads feature is a thoughtful article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in which she draws several compelling analogies to explain the current state of affairs in the publishing world. Her position is sound (at least, to my own sensibilities) and her composition lengthy (hard to be helped), and I recommend you set aside a few minutes to peruse it.
After painting an elaborate and persuasive picture of the virus threatening traditional publishers (which is scarcity thinking, and if you don’t know what I mean by that, clearly you didn’t follow my link in the previous paragraph), she comes to a familiar premise. Instead of working tirelessly and placing high expectations on one manuscript, one should produce and release as large a backlist as possible. Instead of one book selling millions, you may end up with dozens of books selling hundreds or thousands. Ultimately, it’s a numbers game and the more titles you have to your name, the better.
I’ve heard this counsel before, and theoretically it’s great advice. Especially if you’re already an established or midlist author. If you’re just starting out in your career and have no (or few) readers outside your immediate friends and family, it goes down about as palatably as a wheatgrass smoothie. “Well,” one might say, “sometimes the truth hurts.”
Why does it hurt? Isn’t this good news for new writers? Well, this is a case where Rusch isn’t really talking to me, the new writer. She’s in the desirable position of having an existing readership… and I think she’s more or less speaking to her peers this time around. That’s her perogative! After all, it’s unavoidable: sometimes advice from established writers doesn’t speak directly to newbies. The truth is the truth, and it caters to no one. If an established author like Rusch never manages to write another bestseller in the remainder of her writing career, a long backlist of titles will indeed keep her afloat, selling hundreds or thousands of copies in place of a million-dollar golden egg. Rusch argues that it’s not altogether important to hard-sell a manuscript upon initial release, or reach a big audience, because if the book is worthy the audience will, eventually, come to you. The speed of a book’s success isn’t paramount, even if that success is inevitable. It could take fifteen years. Or much longer. She calls it “understanding the long tail.”
I agree with her. I respect her opinion and can find no basis to quarrel with it. She’s almost certainly right on all counts.
Which is, unfortunately, a little disheartening, because for fresh-out-of-the-gaters like me, speedily finding an audience remains a priority. It must, or else becoming a successful full-time writer is even further away and out-of-reach than ever. Can I wait fifteen years or longer for my dream to realize? I just released a book this year that I’m certain is good enough to secure an audience-but I really need that audience to find it now. I’ll be thrilled whenever they find it, either this year or in the summer of 2030, but if it takes until 2030 I’ll still be mired in my day job. Alas.
Mind you, I’ll never give up on this dream, and I’m not threatening to. I’m just saying that my day job really gets me down sometimes…