The Healer and the Pirate

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why Write for Publication?

Writing progress report: I have another chapter of Flight from Endwood up for critique (33!). 34 has been kind of sort of written, and I think I just have one more chapter to go!

And, last weekend I found an Alphonse Mucha calendar (no nudity even). His art is just the type of art I want to see on the cover of my (eventual) next novel, so it seems very appropriate.

Last week I talked about why I write, and I promised I'd answer the question, why write for (traditional) publication?

Writing for publication is not the only way to get your work out there. If you give your writing away for free on the Internet, you just might end up with more readers than if a big publisher had your book. (That works well for webcomics; I don't know about novels.) If you sell your book for a small fee on Kindle, you have a potential to make thousands and reach tens of thousands of readers. Even if you want a book to hold in your hands (and e-books may make those a bit obsolete), there are several ways to accomplish that, with and without going through a traditional publisher.

I'll try to sum up some of the different means of publication as quickly as possible:

*Vanity press = more or less, the author pays someone to print his or her book

*Print on demand = the author uploads his or her book to a site like . When someone orders a copy of the book, the publisher prints a copy just for that person; the author gets a percentage of each purchase of the book, based on how he or she priced the book.

*E-books = like print on demand, minus the print aspect. When someone orders a copy of the e-book, they get it delivered digitally, and the author gets a percentage of each purchase of the e-book, again, based on how he or she priced the book.

*Traditional press = may or may not pay an advance to the author. Author probably gets a percentage of the sales (provided that amount exceeds the advance). An editor probably looks at the book and suggests revisions before it is printed. Small presses might use print on demand or e-book technology, as referenced above, but in this case the press will determine pricing and the author's share of any profits.

I bring all these options up because it was just a couple years ago that I discovered that to most people who don't write, a book is a book. They don't know or care how it was published. From interactions I've seen online and in person, a lot of people consider a print-on-demand book to be about the same thing as one printed by a small press, and maybe even as good as something from Random House. They seem to see it as, you have a book with your name on it! You're an author! I have a copy of a book that I got printed through just for fun and yes, most people I've shown it to are wowed that I wrote a book and am "published." I duly explain that no, I just got this printed out, but I'm still not convinced that they grasp the difference.

Writers, on the other hand, will often argue that you need to be accepted by a publisher in order to really be an author. It can be very hard to get published traditionally. Publishers have very narrow definitions of what they will accept, and finding a publisher can literally take years. They may request substantial edits to the manuscript, some of which the author may not agree with. Small-press publishers can have significant overhead as well, meaning that a book you could have sold for a good profit at $9 a copy, they might need to sell for $12 a copy, which can reduce sales, while still delivering smaller profits to you personally. Publishers on all levels still expect the author to do a lot of the work of promoting the book; many publishers do little or no marketing of their authors' novels anymore. I've also heard it said that publishers really want you to submit a near-ready-for-press novel; they're supposedly not even interested in editing anymore! (An editor I saw at the Tuccon Festival of Books disagreed, but he did seem old-school (and wonderful!).)

And if you're a Christian author writing anything besides category romances like Heartsong Presents or Steeple Hill Love Inspired, many big publishers won't even look at your book unless you have an agent. Meanwhile, it's very difficult to land an agent if you haven't been published.

On the other hand, quite a few people have had success selling their novels as eBooks on Kindle, for instance, with no particular publisher. When I say success, I mean I've heard of people selling thousands in a month. One person on the critique site I frequent ( says she has sold over 20,000 copies of one book.

I'm sure those successful e-book writers generally work very hard to achieve those numbers, and I think these people often sell their books at a low price. But even if you make 35 cents profit on 20,000 books (which I understand is the norm for a low-priced book), that's $7,000, which is more than a lot (most?) authors get from publishing with a small press, and about the size of some advances. Meanwhile, I've seen small presses that offer advances of $10 and consider 300 books sold a success.

So, with all that in mind, why write for traditional publication?

I think the main motivation for being traditionally published for most people is probably validation and respect from one's peers and from some third party authority. I imagine it would be an incredible self-esteem boost to have a publisher accept your work. And fellow authors and authors' groups usually (not always!) consider self-published authors to be the same as amateur or unpublished authors. It can be hard for self-published authors to find promotion opportunities. And of course the (few) famous authors you hear of are all (eventually) traditionally published. There's something to it.

When it comes down to it, very few novelists make a full-time living on their writing, regardless of whether they're traditionally published or self-published. One (of many) reasons I don't play the lottery is because I'd much rather be blessed by becoming a rich novelist than just winning the same amount of money...and the odds of winning the lottery are a bit better than being a rich novelist, I think. So it's probably a matter of putting your book where God wants it to be, and not so much getting rich.

I'm not sure what God wants me to do with my writing right now; I only have one (co-authored) manuscript that's near the stage of being ready to go out, and it's not quite there, so I haven't worried too much.

But barring any specific guidance, the plan is to start with the biggest publisher that will accept Christian fantasy romance, and work our way down the (small) list, until someone accepts it or we end up self-publishing. I believe in our novel and I think God wants us to get it out to people. But I think a publication credit would be good for my co-author and me both.

All that said, I'm most likely going to do some experimentation on self-publishing with a novel that has 8 chapters on my personal website.

Wow; that's a lot of words. What do you think about publishing? I think I need to ask God for some more guidance.


  1. Hmm, this post seems similar to the discussion we were having on facebook. I'm having a lot of the same questions running through my mind right now. I still don't know what to do, but you have given me a lot to think about.

  2. Thanks, Joy! You can tell I changed my mind already. LOL. Maybe I should get to work self-publishing that other novel I referenced above, though...except we've established I'd need an editor, and I'm cheap. Hm....