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Old 06-22-2012, 07:54 PM   #1
Steven Lake
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Destroying The "Big or Bust" Mentality About Writing

Here's my latest writing blog post. I wrote it in response to something a friend of mine told me he'd run into at a major writing forum. (And no, it's not MR. Everyone around here is very nice, realistic, and level headed, for the most part. ) I won't say who, but I'm sure you can picture a few after reading this. Anyhow, read and discuss, because I find this mentality even outside of writing. But since I'm only concerned with writing, I tackled it within my field. :P

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One of the things that came up recently in a discussion with one of my friends is the incredibly vitriol, virulent and oftentimes vicious "Big or Bust" attitude that is displayed and expressed by a surprising number of people. Ie, If you're not published through one of the big 10 publishing houses, then you're not a published author. Yes, I kid you not. People actually follow this insane mentality.

The same goes if you're a publishing house and you're not one of the big ten, or "heaven forbid" you're one of those "pay to publish", "print on demand" or "vanity" houses. The "big or bust" people consider you the scum of the earth and you're usually called every nasty word in the book, and probably a few that aren't.

Now here's the kicker. The vast majority of these perpetrators are, believe it or not, people who have never ever in their entire life been published. Yes, I kid you not, again. This all sounds completely insane. Yet there are a LOT of people out there like this. There are also major writing forums that follow this mentality as well.

So if you're not from, or published by, one of the big ten publishers, you're almost guaranteed to get shredded the moment you step foot in the door. It doesn't matter who you are. If you don't fit their extremely narrow "big or bust" mentality, regardless of who you are, you will get eaten alive. Personally I find this kind of activity to be completely deplorable and infantile.

First off, it is *NOT* the publishing house who makes you big or famous. It's you, the author, who are responsible for that. Sure, some of the bigger publishing houses can help you in that effort, but ultimately it's entirely up to you. So if your book can't stand on its own, and you can't be personable enough to sell your book, then you will not succeed. Period. End of story. Therefore who you are with, as far as publishers go, means absolutely squat.

If you don't believe me, just look at the stats from Random House, one of the big ten. It only sees about 1% of its authors ever achieve a level of sales or popularity that the "big or bust" people would recognize or acknowledge as "success". Of the other 99%, most sell less than 100 copies for the entire "in print" life of their book. So just because they went with one of the "big 10" publishers means about absolutely squat in the grand scheme of things.

Secondly, if you've never been published, DO NOT tell someone else what is the "right" or "approved" way of doing things. If you've never been through the meat grinder, then you have absolutely zero grounds on which to stand. If you do that, you're no better than a 5th grader telling NASA they shouldn't have sent a man to the moon.

Now, if you've been through the meatgrinder, and you've experienced life as a published author, THEN and only then do you have any credentials to speak. But even then, don't think your few weeks/months/year or two of experience outweighs more senior writers who've experienced a LOT more than you. So before you open your mouth about anything in the publishing world, know what you're talking about for experience, and not what you've read or think you know.

And thirdly, success IS NOT how many books you sold. That means jack squat as well. The question of the day is, did people like it. If yes, you're a success. If no, then try again. And if you ever think that you've "arrived", then you've failed, because no writer ever "arrives". There's always room for improvement, always another hurtle to leap over, another level to climb up. A truly good writer is always self critical, humble, and never assumes that what they've produced is their best.

So, for any of you "big or bust" people out there, consider what I've said. Do not tell authors what they should or should not do unless you've been in their shoes, and have more experience than them. However, even if you do, always remember to be gracious, humble, and considerate as you should always treat others with kindness. Who knows, some day you may need their help.

Anyhow, that's my rant. Consume with your own portion of salt as you see fit. ^_^;;
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Old 06-23-2012, 06:17 AM   #2
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My feeling is that it doesn't really mean anything to have self-published. If I had less shame I could have five or six books out there now (I have seven complete bad novels from nine years of Nanowrimo.)

It is an achievement to be published, simply because it's not easy, and many fail. if you're starting with a finished manuscript, then clearly it is hardest to get it published with a BPH, slightly easier to get a small press or to be accepted by an agent, and almost impossible to fail to self-publish.

That completely misses the point of whether you're able to get any success out of it. If you're making a living from fiction, then I'm going to want to hear how you did it. If you have a single fan, or if your sales are a least covering your costs, then I reckon that's an overall victory.

There might be the assumption that you pitched it high, and settled for self-publishing, in which case, yes, that does seem kind of like a failure, but I think it's increasingly true that people just aren't going into the traditional process. I dont think I'm patient enough, now I've decided to try to publish one of my novels. I'd be looking at about 2014 if I went through the system. I could publish it myself this weekend if I thought it was ready.

There is no lower bar in self-publishing. In itself, it means little, but if you have succeeded at it, I don't quite see the difference.
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Old 06-23-2012, 08:12 AM   #3
Steven Lake
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I actually went small house originally because I didn't like the way the big houses were treating their authors, or their customers. Ultimately along the way I learned that success is whatever you make of it, because nobody else is going to help you. Either you do it yourself, or you don't. So IMHO there's no shame in self publishing. Because it's not whether you get in the door or not. It's what you do once you're out there in the wild. I've talked with plenty of authors who got accepted by big publishing house only to have their book pigeonholed for 2-4 years, then kicked out, never having been printed.

So just because you get accepted by a big house doesn't mean you'll get published, and even then it doesn't mean you'll be successful or popular. It's like getting your drivers license. Great, now you're legal to drive. So what do you plan to do with it? Just because you've got that shiny little square of plastic doesn't mean you're going to use it or even get in the car and go somewhere. That's the same idea with publishing. So to me, big deal if you get through the slush pile at the big houses. Short of them doing a huge advertising blitz on you (99% of books at the big houses are never marketed at all, period.) the chances of defeating the 100 book barrier are pretty nill.

Yet via my own hard work and marketing I'm about to cross the 1000 book mark. Okay, yes, I'm not a Dan Brown sales wise, but nearly everyone whose read my books love them. So to me that's success. Ultimately it comes down to, just because someone bought it doesn't mean they loved it, and if they don't love it, we've failed as authors.
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Old 06-23-2012, 08:19 AM   #4
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There does seem something a little odd about writers, and new writers in particular (of which I am one). There is, I think, an inherent nervousness and self-doubt that sometimes comes out in strange ways. For example I find myself now often more conscious of what I am reading, and critical of it. Not that I can necessarily do any better, but I am now more aware of when things are going wrong, when the writing is not working. (When the book is good, when the writing is working, I am less conscious of the writing and so less critical - which is largely the point, a reader should not be conscious of the writing.)

The consciousness of the writing is necessary for a writer, it's part of what you need to be a writer, but when you lock a group of writers in a room the results can be a little disturbing. And when you let a writer loose on the subject of writing and getting published it can also be pretty ... "interesting". For this reason I tend to stay clear of writing forums (except this one, which is only a relatively recent thing for me).

What is odd is that the world, outside the locked room of the writers, still doesn't seem to care too much how the writer is published, or even if they are. The simple fact of choosing to write still carries an aura of mystery, as if anyone that chooses to write is given of some strange power.

But for writers that mystique has been stripped away. Yes there can be times when strange powers appear to be involved, but it's not like we understand it, we just use it. And having used it, we discover that that's not the end - suddenly there's this huge, seemingly insurmountable, hurdle between having written and getting published. It can be incredibly frustrating.

The reactions to this frustration sometimes come out as anger against the establishment (the big publishers), of which I have seen plenty of here (including some of my own ). But sometimes it is revealed as our own aura of mystery around publication: those that have the power to get published, versus those that do not; the age-old haves and the have-nots (some of which I feel myself).

Because self-publication is so easy, and because so many choose to use self-publishing to avoid the work of refinement that is part of more traditional publishing, it is easy for anyone, but writers in particular (who know how much work really is involved), to sneer and look down on those that choose that path - assuming that anyone that chooses to self-publish has only done it to avoid the work. Such assumptions don't always apply: not for those that take their work seriously; those that understand that publishing is a lot more than printing words on paper pages; those that treat self-publishing as a real publishing process, not just a file transfer.

While that aura of mystique surrounds traditional publishing, some will inevitably use it as a measure of an author's success. It's not a good measure, it's not even a valid measure, certainly not anymore, but it's largely our own fault. It's part of what we are.
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Old 06-23-2012, 08:34 AM   #5
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It's the myth, the willing suppression of disbelief. Nice post Steve. Also see this recent post from Dean Wesley Smith that echos some of your post.

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=7172

Last edited by kennyc; 06-23-2012 at 10:04 AM.
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Old 06-23-2012, 12:07 PM   #6
Steven Lake
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GMW, I agree that self publishing is easier on the "get in the door" side of things. But as has been proven by a number of very successful self published authors, it's not what you are, but what you wrote, and to a lesser degree who you are. Now, in the age of print media, the barriers to entry were insanely high, and going any route other than the big houses meant guaranteed failure.

However, about 1998-2000 that all changed. By then the internet was firmly established, marketing was going online, and the barriers to entry were rapidly falling. At that point you could become a popular and successful author with just a vanity press, access to Ingram (via said press), and a good online marketing campaign, plus a few of the old school tricks like book signings.

Since about late 2006, and most especially Christmas 2010 and onward, all you need is a good novel in ebook form, a good cover that popps, a website, a few social media links, and a few trusted distributors, such as Smashwords, Amazon, and BN. Beyond that, it's just good interaction and self marketing (not even the high dollar kind) by you via social media, and you're golden. No longer do you need any publishing houses, nor print books, nor Ingram, nor any of that since the bar is pretty much ground level for almost everyone now.

So being self published these days, although it does cost to get in the door, is really the best way to go these days. And before anyone says, "but it doesn't cost you to submit to and get published by the big houses!" I would like to say bull. You have envelopes, paper (usually it requires the expensive kind if you even remotely want to have a snowballs chance of being considered by most big house), ink, postage, and more. The only way you'll come out dollars ahead of a self published author at this point is if you submit 10 or less queries and get picked up immediately. So in the end you're really ahead of the game being self published these days.

And yes, I'm with a small house press, but I'm not a hypocrite on what I said. When I first signed up years ago it was still best to go the big/small press route rather than self publishing. But that's all changed in the last 18 months. At some point in the future I'll probably completely jump the publisher ship and go entirely self published as that seems to be the best route to go these days. Especially with the traditional publishing houses going the way they are.
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Old 06-23-2012, 03:27 PM   #7
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The same goes if you're a publishing house and you're not one of the big ten, or "heaven forbid" you're one of those "pay to publish", "print on demand" or "vanity" houses. The "big or bust" people consider you the scum of the earth and you're usually called every nasty word in the book, and probably a few that aren't.

Now here's the kicker. The vast majority of these perpetrators are, believe it or not, people who have never ever in their entire life been published. Yes, I kid you not, again. This all sounds completely insane. Yet there are a LOT of people out there like this. There are also major writing forums that follow this mentality as well.
Would their opinions be more valid ithey WERE published writers? You seem to be down-rating them for the same reason they're down-rating you!

If you badly want the status "Published Author", I suppose you could make and wear a hat.
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Old 06-23-2012, 06:59 PM   #8
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:: Edit ::

Just looked at the preview... Looong post. Sorries.

:: end ::


I totally understand those trad published writers who have low expectations of indies; I totally understand those indies who feel that the trad route is legally and artistically stifling, elitist, exclusive, industrial.

I understand how both can feel threatened by the other. And yes, among indies the lack of gatekeepers means that the dross gets published. And yeas, among the trads, the presence of gatekeepers and hurdles to jump (should that be hurdlekeepers) keeps a lot of great stuff from being published.

Actually I've been frustrated with trad publishers' attitudes to ebooks in general, but also with their excessive caution about getting involved. But they are monolithic businesses. They have wages to pay and shareholders to satisfy.

For me, the best thing about going indie is that if your book is of interest to two thousand people, in the past, those two thousand would never have been able to read it. In fact, the traditional gatekeepers set the bar an awful lot higher than that. Indie publishing serves readers like nothing else; it gives them a choice that they have never had before.

To a lesser extent, it also serves writers. So what do I think you have to do to justify calling yourself a writer? Well, 1. I'm a language student and 2. I'm an editor. For a linguist, you're a writer as soon as you devote extra time to writing, for whatever reason. Do NanoWriMo every year? You are a writer. You are a professional writer as soon as you make a regular income (no matter how small) from writing.

I think that storytelling is so much a fundamental element of what our culture tells us is what it means to be human, that potentially there are far more writers out there than people generally think. Storytellers aren't special people. Everyone is a storyteller. Novelists are people who write down stories.

Author is for many people a reserved word. It's etymology offers no clues to when you can call yourself an author without offending someone. It's generally pretty safe to let other people call you an author, and if you gain celebrity from writing a book you can probably call yourself one.

I think DeanWesSmi is adopting the right approach; getting read should be the aim of anyone who wants to write for a living; the more choice you have, the better.

It's easy to say that if you're a good writer you've nothing to fear from a little competition. But it differs from the expression that the innocent man has nothing to fear from the law in that if you are innocent, you can at least be certain that you are. You can never really be certain that you are a good writer. I think Dan Brown is a terrible writer but millions of sales disagree with me. I think Phyllis Jules is a great writer but a lot of readers can't get past the first couple of chapters. In short, we don't all agree on what's good. So writers will always be a little unsure of themselves, and this makes them susceptible to fear, and feeling threatened. Dean doesn't feel this way because he his familiar with both options.

Finally, as an outsider, there is a point where a writer can feel that he's made it, he's arrived. It is precisely when writing pays enough that he can quit the day job. Lots of indies make a nice lower-mid level income. It's a reasonable ambition.
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Old 06-23-2012, 08:07 PM   #9
Steven Lake
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Would their opinions be more valid ithey WERE published writers?
Absolutely. You can't speak authoritatively on any subject until you've at least been there. These people have not.
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Old 06-25-2012, 01:47 PM   #10
Steven Lyle Jordan
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For the most part, the initial cosmetic differences between major publishers and self-publishers are eroding, and consumers will not always have that visual cue that sets apart books by major publishers. As more famous and established authors turn away from major publishers and go independent, the line will blur even further.

This will cause more consumers to check out independent books that appear to be high quality on their face; and as they discover high quality and good reading on the inside, the impression that major publishers' products are always superior will further erode.

Eventually, there will be no strong indicator that one product is better than the other. Unfortunately, this trend could take decades to happen in the public consciousness, and all we can do is wait it out (and try to accelerate the process by presenting our own superior works to the public).
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Old 06-25-2012, 04:32 PM   #11
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This same attitude is less prevalent in the video game industry than it used to be, where indie developers used to be told they're not real developers and their games automatically are low quality because they're low budget. And then Minecraft and Amnesia happened, indie games were permitted on the online stores of the two main consoles, and cropped up all over Steam. Maybe indie authors simply need a similar phenomenon? An independent and self-published novel that outsells enough "real published novels" to make a big splash and make indie writing legitimate in the eyes of the public.

Either way, I predict this industry is going to go in the same direction as music and video games. With the internet and new digital formats making it easier for both authors and smaller publishers to stay in business and stay competitive, the big behemoth publishers will gradually be pushed aside. They won't go away, they may not even be marginalized, but there will be a lot of very good material that will never be under their control.
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Old 06-25-2012, 06:40 PM   #12
Steven Lake
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Exactly, ScalyFreak. It's the lowering of the bar to the point where even the most common of men have access to the inter sanctum. Some might decry this and say we need gatekeepers to keep out the "lesser" authors. I say bull on that. Let them all in, even the bad ones. The market is more than capable of sorting them out from there and bringing success to the truly good authors, and subsequently reject and kick out the bad ones. The only reason that gatekeepers were ever created was to keep out the "common" man by making access impossible without approval from an elite few. It was used as a way to control, use, abuse and ultimately fleece both consumer and those who succeeded in getting in. With the door now open to everyone, the market will once more return to what it was, with the consumers choosing who succeeds rather than a few men on gilded pedestals. I mean, that's how the market operated for thousands of years, so the last few hundred are an anomaly which is quickly correcting itself, much to my relief.
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Old 06-25-2012, 07:19 PM   #13
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I mean, that's how the market operated for thousands of years, so the last few hundred are an anomaly which is quickly correcting itself, much to my relief.
Well, it's certainly changing... I think it's too early to say whether it will return to its past state; in fact, I think it's evolving to something unlike what we've seen in the past.
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Old 06-25-2012, 08:15 PM   #14
ScalyFreak
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Originally Posted by exaltedwombat View Post
Would their opinions be more valid ithey WERE published writers? You seem to be down-rating them for the same reason they're down-rating you!
A published author is more likely to know what the publishing process entails. They would be more likely to understand reasons for why someone chooses to self-publish instead of going with a big or small publishing house, and the advantages/disadvantages of either choice. So while a published author's opinion might not be more valid, it would certainly be better informed.
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Old 06-25-2012, 10:03 PM   #15
Steven Lake
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Again, well said ScalyFreak.
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