Challenge,  publishing

I Feel Bad For New Writers… Part Six… Things Change

The Changing Terminology…

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.

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, terminology that was common in the big publishing paperback era is now just confusing or really has no meaning.

Going to deal with a few of those terms here in this part…


In the last era, editors were the front-line gatekeepers in fiction book publishing. At least for the first 40 years of it. And the myth was that a book editor could help you make your book “better.” Total myth. They often made your book fit a book line better, but they were all non-writers, usually young, and had no clue how to actually help a book.

In indie fiction publishing, that myth has drifted over and new indie writers think they need a book editor and go spend a ton on money on scams. These scams are people who claim to be able to help the writer have a better book. Terms like book doctors and story editors. None of them are writers.

Reality in indie publishing is that you need someone to read your book to find typos. Also in indie publishing, there are editors of magazines and books for short fiction. That is where the term editor comes into indie publishing.  Never in book-length fiction. For any reason.

Book Launches

This is another term that has drifted in from traditional publishing and the myth of book launches has cost more indie writers more money than I care to imagine.

In traditional publishing, book launches were important dates. Everything aimed at that publication day. All printing, shipping, and warehousing had to be done and so on. And the newly launched book had about four to eight weeks on the shelves in stories before it was pulled after its publication date.

I tend to compare this to the same thing that bananas have to go through to get to store shelves. All steps have to be hit to have those yellow bananas on the store shelf. And if they sit too long, they turn black and are pulled.

Books in traditional publishing are exactly the same way. Every step has to be met exactly on time.

And if a fiction book didn’t sell well quickly in traditional publishing, all was lost.

That belief for some reason moved over to really sane indie writers who knew that a book never spoiled, never was pulled from the electronic store shelves. And Print on Demand (POD) made paper books always ready the moment a customer bought it.

Really, books last for the life of the author plus 70 years, and indie fiction writers can make money from that book for that entire time.

But you still see the myth in indie publishing of launch dates. And sadly, that is not the ways sales work anymore, so a big push for a launch almost always disappoints the indie writer and sometimes makes them quit.

Fiction books don’t spoil. That is a major difference between the traditional era of books and the new indie fiction era. Books don’t spoil. The book is always new to the reader the moment they find the book.

Books don’t spoil.

Front List

This is a term that has not come over to indie publishing, thankfully. It is a part of the need to publish new books every month. So each imprint of a fiction house would have a list of books on their schedule they hoped to publish that month.

Monthly lists were started years in advance when a book was first purchased.

Lists at imprints used to have anywhere from three to six books per month on it.

  • Lead title
  • Second lead
  • First novel
  • Media (or sure sale)

When traditional publishers used to have sales forces (They have not for the most part since middle 1990s), the sales force would push to book buyers the lead title, then the second title. They might show a book buyer a cover for the first novel, and then they would push the media that often had standing orders.

Back in 1989, I watched a salesman for one of the major sf imprints at the time go through a four month folder of book covers for a bookstore owner. It was brutal to watch. If you were not the lead or second title on a list, you got nothing.

Indie publishers now mostly are not that organized, which is actually a good thing. They do not have to be. They finish a new book, they put it out. Books can go from being finished to publication in a week or two if the writer wants.

So front list meant those books that were being published that month. To traditional publishers, after the books were pulled from the shelves and returns in, the books because “backlist.” 99% of all backlist are forgotten. All the focus is on pushing out that month’s new books.

So for almost all traditionally published writers, they have about six weeks for their book on the market to find readers, a book that had taken them years and years to get to that point. Indie published writers have the entire life of the copyright of the book to keep it selling and finding new readers.

That fact alone is the most important aspect between the two paths.

Next post I’ll talk about more terms, such as rights bought, advances, and the idea that traditional publishing feels like a job with bosses while indie publishing means you are your own boss. Stay tuned.


  • Philip

    I don’t know what’s more dangerous to an indie writer, a self-described “editor” who has an English degree and wants to make a quick buck or one who honestly believes they’ll “fix” your book.

  • Kristi N

    I recently saw a post on a writer’s group from a new writer publishing his first book. He budgeted ~$4K for the launch and wanted to know what he should use it for. Many, many people said ‘development editor’. Others advised covers, advertising (Amazon and FB), and so on. It made me think, because #1 I don’t have that kind of money to throw at a single book, #2 if it’s a first book, how does anyone know what would work? and #3 if it’s a first book, then all of the money is being put on one book to earn back.

    As I thought, I realized that I would rather spend the money on learning the craft, learning the business, and let the earnings of the previous books fund anything that happens after Book #20 is out. There were a few comments on the post along those lines, advising the new writer to save the money for other books down the line, or to pay bills if money grew tight. But so many went straight to the advertising and editing, and never flinched at the $4K price tag.

    • Annemarie Nikolaus

      I see that even in groups with “rather wise” writers. then they brag about the amount of sales they get with all that advertising and marketing efforts – but the bottom line?
      I always think the bottom line, over time, would have been the same without other people making rich.
      And worse, they have to *advance* that money for marketing. No one is waiting to get paid after the sales being made.
      You have to have some brain cells to be a writer – so why not do the math?

    • Kate Pavelle

      I’m floored by that figure. My husband and I put out a cookbook, and even with hiring out half of the photography and the interior design, it cost a lot less than that! If I had an extra four grand burning a hole in my pocket, I’d stash a part of it toward research. Good vacations to unexpected places had spurred a lot of stories for me before! I have books set in Vegas because I’ve been there a few times.