Challenge,  publishing

I Feel Bad For New Writers… Part 8… Myths

Massive Numbers of Myths on Both Paths…

I say this little introduction to each new parts… New fiction writers coming in now are really torn between all the myths and hype of traditional publishing and all the myths and hype of indie publishing.

But as I said back in the first post of this series, the paperback era of big publishing is pretty much done, and the distribution of fiction is changing over to the electronic era of indie publishing, with indie writers in charge.

These kinds of major shifts in fiction distribution to the readers has happened four major times through the history of this country, with each new era lasting about 50 years and the transitions lasting about 25 years. Again, see my first post.

New writers coming in today don’t know this history, don’t realize they are coming in smack in the middle of a transition. And to make matters worse, the myths passed on by writers on both sides make it often impossible to know what is truth and what is myth.

So for the next couple of parts, I’m going to point out a myth and explain the truth on both sides as best I can.

Myth: Traditional Publishing Creates Better Quality

This is so far from the truth as to be almost laughable for those of us who have published a lot in traditional publishing and also worked in it.

Just the path to publishing that causes numbers of rewrites, thus instead of making your book better, it tends to dumb it down to what some unknown person believes will sell, and makes the book bland because it is written at that point by committee.

Plus the copyediting process alone introduces mistakes and then the printing process on big web presses can mess up more than you can imagine. I can’t even begin to remember how many authors I know had their book printed without the last signature. And unless you are a big name, they will not reprint and reship your book.

I had a book published with my chapters shuffled with another writer’s chapters from his book. Needless to say, the book was unreadable. Both for his fans and mine. They did the same to his book. They would not reprint either book. Kris has had her name spelled wrong on covers more than I can remember as well. And so on and so on.

On the indie side, you are in charge of quality. And if you mess something up and find it later, you can easily swap out a file and fix it. Very simple. And the print on demand quality has gotten better than anything that could be done on a web press.

The myth that traditional publishing quality is better than indie publishing quality is maybe the funniest (and most wrong) myth that exists.

Myth: Traditional Publishing Gets You More Promotion…

Young writers don’t realize that in modern traditional publishing contracts, they are required to do the promotion on their own dime.  Someone pointed out to me that a young writer who had sold a small book to traditional publisher had started a Kickstarter campaign to pay for his tour promoting his book. He had gone past $20,000 on the campaign.

Now let me see if I have this right… He got paid (if lucky) $5,000 advance for a small book through a genre imprint of a big corporation. He will make 8-10% return per sale. So maybe a buck or so per sale. His traditional publisher won’t promote the book (they do not anymore), so he did a kickstarter to get over $20,000 to do a tour to sell the book for the traditional publisher.

He does not realize that on a book like his, it will have a set print run, set before the book is printed and it will never, ever, go back to press.

Just saying, but wouldn’t he have been better off to just publish the book indie and keep the $20,000 plus 70-95% of all sales as well?  The myth is strong in that guy. Head shaking.

But sadly the myth of needing to promote your own book stops many writers from indie publishing. It is a myth, usually fed by people who want to sell you some course to tell you how to promote your book.

The writers who fall for those indie promotion myths and scams and who push them are usually one or two book writers who are in a hurry and want their book to sell like they believe it would have in traditional, not understanding that of the 98,000 traditional trade books published last year by the big five publishers and their imprints, over half of them sold less than 12 copies.

Also keep in mind that when you hear someone bragging about how much money they made with their advertising of their one book, ask them how much they spent to make that kind of money? You will not get an answer in most cases.

Truth… Promotion in indie publishing will do very little or no good until you are past the magical discovery point of twenty major books published around the world. Your next book in those early years is always your best promotion. Build a mailing list, tell your family on facebook, sell stories to major magazines, and constantly learn how to write better books and stories.

Then publish and write another book and repeat. Nothing hard at all about that.

But if you are letting the promotion myth either stop you or drive you to traditional, just keep in mind that the myths are wrong on both sides of that choice.

Back in another part with more myths… But figured these two will get me enough hate mail to last for a day or so.



  • Philip

    I recently heard a podcast where a traditionally published author was deep in the myths. He’s very respected in his genre and has a cult following but was just dropped by a Big 4 publisher after 3 books in a crime series “flopped.” So he found a tiny indie press for Book 4 but I kept wondering why didn’t he just self publish Book 4? He kept talking about “hoping” the tiny press would publish Book 5. I wanted to scream–almost choked on my cigar–because thid guy absolutely has 10,000 true fans and could be a powerhouse indie but only knows how to beg at the feet of Traditional. I may email him, but why would he listen?

    • dwsmith

      He won’t listen Philip. But nice of you to think of doing so. Better to help those who will listen. The myths are a powerful thing and often impossible to break.

    • Indiana Jim

      Short answer: he thinks he has to have a “Publisher” publish his book or else it isn’t “published.” He probably can’t separate in his mind independent publishing from vanity press.

  • Annemarie Nikolaus

    I truely admire how you try again and again to talk some sense into the brains of still relunctant authors. I remember you blogging about similar themes years ago; something about holy cows ..