Realigning the Thought Tracks

There is some common wisdom shared among authors that has gotten twisted by the internets, like playing a game of operator/telephone (depending on where in the country you grew up--basically a message is relayed through a number of people and it warps with each passing). The very wise advice was, "Don't quit your day job and think to support yourself with a writing career."

Fewer and fewer authors are able to write full time, especially those that don't have spousal revenue/benefits to take advantage on. Certainly it's challenging to make a living when you don't have a backlist to generate revenue on top of your new advances. George RR Martin once said that an author should not quit his day job until his backlist royalties equal his advances that total sum can support his lifestyle. I think this is a good and simple rule of thumb to follow.

Unfortunately, the advice has been warped to say "Don't get into publishing to make money."

Bull. Shit.

There is no better reason for you to get into publishing. It is the best reason to get into publishing.

You want to write a book because you love to write? Fine, write it. You don't need to publish it to satisfy that goal. You wrote it. Goal accomplished. What are you trying to get it published for? The one is completely independent of the other.

You want to be published so more people read your story? Self-publish on Amazon and set the price for as low as it can go. If you just want people to read it, nothing gets your work out there like a free book on a major distribution platform. The numbers say a first-time midlist author can expect to sell only 2000 books. You can pass that total if you're just giving it away, can't you?

So why are you publishing? You just want to hold the book in your hand. Go to Lulu or Ingrams or hell even Publish America will get you a paperback for you to hold onto. Certainly they don't have the thousand hoops you have to jump through to get published by a major house.

Why are you publishing? To be a professional. And professionals get paid, kiddies. Don't think that getting paid for your writing makes you any less noble. Don't think it besmirches your art. If you're going to publish, you do it for the money. Know how royalties work. Know quarterly statements and quarterly taxes. No rights and revenues and plan strategically.

If you are querying agents and pursuing publishing, you are announcing to all parties that you expect to get paid. Don't shy away from that fact and for the love of god don't tell people not to get into publishing for the money. Just tell them not to quit their day job.

Which reminds me of a second thing I've been hearing lately. Actually, I've been hearing it for awhile but it seems to connect with this post very well. There are some agents out there who have VERY helpful blogs that really get into the challenges that agents/authors face in terms of boilerplate negotiations and rights disputes, royalty statements, etc etc. Someone will inevitably comment to the post saying, "See, this is why I want an agent. So I don't have to worry about this stuff."

Bull. Shit.

You will learn the business of publishing, my friends. You know what they call people who let other people manage their business? Suckers. You want an agent because they know people in the industry. They know the workings of the publishing contract. They know likes, disklikes, preferences, and dirty tricks. They're your consigliere. But you're still the motherfucking godfather. All those numbers and percentages and conditions and timed changes may seem intimidating, but you will learn them all. Because in the end, the only person that's really looking out for you is you. There's no guarantee you'll end up with a top shelf agent. There's no guarantee you'll end up with a top shelf editor. You are your business and you need to protect yourself from the failings of others.

Having an agent and an editor are good things, in my opinion. They are powerful tools for publishing. Their DeWalts not piddly Black & Deckers. But you need to read the instruction manual and make sure you don't put a screw right through your thumb.

You're not alone in this great endeavor, but you are the captain of your ship. Know how to sail.