Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her authorwebsite.
People say lots of stupid stuff about publishing.
When I was pursuing publication in 2001-ish (which feels like centuries ago—the Kindle wasn't even around yet) I often received really dumb advice. Sometimes the advice was easy to ignore. Like if it was coming out of the mouth of my friend's boyfriend, who worked as a river raft guide and had no connections to the publishing world. I knew I should just smile, nod, and ignore.
But sometimes it came from an agent at a writer's conference ("No one is buying YA books. They're a waste of your time.") or other sources that seemed trustworthy. In our current landscape, where anyone can set up a blog or podcast and seem like an expert, how do you know who to listen to?
That question has been rattling around in me for a few weeks now, thanks to an interview I heard on a podcast. The host asked the author why she had decided to be an indie, and the author responded, "After I wrote my book, I sent a query letter to an agent and got a rejection. I hated the negative vibe of trying to be published traditionally, so I decided to go indie."
If I had heard this interview during the years of frustration when I received rejection after rejection, I know I would have been like, "I'm with you! I'm totally going indie too!"
And maybe that would have been an okay thing. The author being interviewed has seen much financial success from her choice, and is very happy with it.
But her glossy portrayal of indie publishing made me think of other misguided advice I've heard from the traditionally and indie published alike. As a hybrid author (three of my books are self-published, and four are traditionally published) who sees value in both camps, I think it's worth examining those bits of advice often tossed about:
"Put your work up on a blog or WattPad. The important thing is to get stuff out there."
But success stories like The Martian are pretty rare. Most of the time what happens is you put your writing out there, your friends comment, and that's about it. It's not a bad thing to do, and it can be a great way to hone your craft and learn how to write for an audience. But it's not a realistic strategy for getting published, if that's what you're after.
And in response to that whole idea of "just get stuff out there," the goal is really to get the RIGHT stuff out there. Stuff that's so good people want to read it. Having a lot of junk out there doesn't do you any good, and is potentially harmful.
"To get an agent, you have to have a publishing contract. To get a publishing contract, you need an agent. You can't win!"
I hear this a lot, and I have felt the same way at times. And having one (an agent or editor) certainly helps with finding the other.
I was already published when I started working my agent. She was my first choice, and a friend (who I knew from making online connections like Rachelle Rea Cobb discussed in this post) recommended me. But my agent didn't sign me because I was already published. She signed me because she liked my voice. And that became very important when we went through a long contract drought together.
But if you don't have an agent, you can still connect with editors on their own blogs, on Twitter, or at conferences. Same with agents.
"Self-publishing is the way to go because there are no gatekeepers."
When people say this, the gatekeepers they're referring to are book buyers, the people who curate the shelves for book stores. But there are still gatekeepers even if you go indie—they're called readers.
Remember that self-published author I mentioned earlier? The one who didn't like the negative vibe of traditional publishing? What grated on me about her comment is the way it made self-publishing sound like a shortcut. Like this is the way to not get rejected, which is something none of us enjoy, And while it may be true that Kindle Direct Publishing doesn't care about if your book is polished enough or if you used Comic Sans on your book cover, readers do.
Just because you put the story out there doesn't mean anyone is going to read it. And just because they read it, doesn't mean they're going to like it or buy another book from you.
"Don't self-publish or you'll never get traditionally published. You're going to make a lot of mistakes, and it will be up there forever for everyone to see."
First of all, it doesn't matter what kind of published you are, you will make a lot of mistakes. Because even when you're traditionally published, you're still self-employed. (And human.) There is no one calling you and saying, "Now is the time to be doing this and this and this." Mistakes will happen no matter what.
But you can definitely minimize them by doing your homework on self-publishing! The Creative Penn is a great, exhaustive resource on the topic. The podcast is good too!
And if you decide to take down your book, you can. Roseanna White did that with her first self-published title. She shared her story on self-publishing earlier this year, and you can read it here.
"Publishing houses are only interested in you if you have a platform."
First of all, by "platform" I mean the number of people you can reach. How many Twitter followers you have, how many people subscribe to your email list, how many people follow your blog, etc.
But a low number of Twitter followers is no reason to think, "I'll just go be an indie writer." Because if you want to sell books, you still need a way to reach people and get the book in front of them. So don't let yourself think that platform is only an issue if you're trying for a traditional house.
"You're only an author if you're published traditionally."
Please laugh at anyone who says this to you. Because it just ain't true.
In my experience, writers who are really against self-publishing have had unusually successful journeys as a traditional author. They've never had a publisher cancel a series when they still had two books left to write. Or had their acquiring editor leave. Or gotten the painful email that their book is wasting space in the warehouse and they're getting rid of it.
There's a self-published version of this sentiment too. It's, "only sell-outs publish traditionally."
I instantly distrust writers who refuse to acknowledge that there are smart reasons to choose either path. Or both, as many do.
So ... where does all this advice examination leave us?
Here's where it leaves me. I believe:
That there's no One Right Way.
That this industry is changing, and everyone is trying to figure it out. What's true today might not be true tomorrow.
That even people who have been in the industry a long time disagree with each other on what's best and what sells books.
And that we should be cautious about taking advice from just one source, or in condemning others when they make a choice different from our own.