Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing,  On Writing,  publishing

Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing: #10…There is Only One Way to Publish a Book

Myths ignore facts. Myths are often beliefs built from fear or past actions.

In this series, and in the previous series of Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing, I call the myths that control writers “Sacred Cows.”

Writers hold onto myths like lifelines that are keeping them from drowning in a raging river of information. Sometimes sane people in the normal world will follow a publishing myth that makes no sense at all because it has something to do with the publishing business. And they follow the myth without thought.

So this new series is an attempt to help the new world of indie publishing with the growing list of myths that plague it.

And the tenth myth to hit indie writers is this:


This myth is so flat wrong, it’s funny. Yet you hear writers arguing and getting angry at other writers because the other writer is not doing something “right,” as if there is a “right” or “wrong” way.

The right way is your way, the way that makes you happy, makes you money.

Some History

Almost from the beginning of indie publishing, bloggers, me included, were giving our opinions of this new world. And we all gave suggestions with our opinions. Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and I all are from traditional publishing and our opinions, good or bad, at first were colored by our experiences living for decades in that traditional system.

Some of what we suggested was right, some got dated quickly. I still think the best book written on this freelance lifestyle for indie writers is by Kris called The Freelancer’s Survival Guide. It’s still totally valid.

And what Joe and Barry have done over the years to keep all of us headed in decent directions has been stunning. And now Hugh Howey and Data Guy, along with The Passive Guy, are flowing information to all of us so fast, it’s sometimes hard to keep up.

As this publishing world has expanded for writers, so have the options and the ways of making great money in this publishing business.

In traditional publishing, the road was set for you. Write a lot and get better and submit until you got an agent who then could help you sell books.

When I came in ahead of the agent-control phase, the path was write a lot, meet editors at conferences, sell your books to them, have your agent fetch the coffee and chase the money.

That was the path. Simple and clear.

Now the path is not simple and it is far, far from clear.

And anyone who tells you there is only one way to do something now in publishing just hasn’t got their head up out of the sand. Or they just time-traveled from the last century forward.

Some Options

Option #1… Do everything yourself.

This option is how many of us started working on the indie side, and many still do. The writer does everything himself, from covers to blurbs to trading with friends for proofing. The writer puts the books on the bookstore sites, promotes what they can, and goes back to writing.

What is nice about this method to start is the learning curve is steep, yes, but it is possible. And all the money is yours that comes in.

There is very, very little real set costs with this method. Some art, maybe a business license, that’s it. The time to write the book is the biggest overall cost.

I tend to suggest all writers start this way with their indie publishing business because it teaches you many things about the publishing business.

Option #2… Hire Some Stuff Done.

This option works well for those who don’t feel they can do their own covers, or who don’t want to tackle the chore of doing epubs and getting things launched on different sites.

At a certain point, almost all writers hire at least a good copyeditor. That’s critical.

This option, in theory, gives you more time to write, but in the long run, really doesn’t. You are spending time making sure things are done, often more time than if you learned how to do the task yourself.

Another downside on this option is the upfront costs. This limits your ability to write a lot of things like I am doing.

The good side is you don’t have the learning curve of knowing what makes a great cover. The bad side is that you don’t have that learning curve as to know what makes a great cover, so your sales are dependent on someone else’s ideas of a good cover. That is always dangerous.

Option #3… You only write, hire everything else.

This option is used by many, many traditional writers who are working to get their backlist up and write new books at the same time.

This option is done in two ways.

One way is to hire a company like Lucky Bat Books and see if they will take and do your book for you. They do the copyediting, professional covers, lay everything out, and set up the accounts for you. All for a fee and you get all the money.

This option is great for a slower writer who only does a book a year or so. Retired-age writers do this a great deal and it’s a great choice.

The other way is the way Kris and I did it. I started off (after my traditional years) in Option #1, letting the money build up, then we slowly started hiring help as the money increased, and now, except for my magazine, Smith’s Monthly, we have full-time employees building a business that publishes our books and stories, among other projects.

Option #4… Sell Your Book to a Small Press.

This has some good and bad points to it, and everything depends on the contract you sign. If they can’t pay you anything up front, caution. They may be offering a good royalty split, but chances are you might not see your half of the split if the owner of the small press needs to pay a house payment that month.

Small presses always depend on who is in charge. Watch your contract, be able to get out quickly.

But the nice thing is that they do the work for you at their cost. The bad thing is that they might put a really ugly cover on your book and keep your money.

It’s an option, but caution, some of the great horror stories come from writers who went to small presses.

Option #5… Sell Your Book to Traditional Publishing.

This is a very long and slow process now, with a lot of issues with it. It might take four or five years to get your book into print, and that’s if it fits some unknown publishing vision of an editor.  And you have to be extremely lucky. (I don’t much like luck as a business plan, to be honest.)

From agents to bad contracts to bad editing, traditional publishing isn’t a path I would suggest until things level out.

Many traditional companies are going to be in financial hurt very shortly and shutting down entire imprints and merging and laying off editors over the next few years. It’s a mine field you would have to be scary lucky to make it through.

Remember, I published over 100 books with traditional publishers and this new world of traditional publishing flat scares me. I’d rather go play poker again then sell a book back into that mess. But that’s just my opinion. Make your own decision.

Option #6… Have Your Agent Publish Your Books for You.

This again is full of all sorts of issues, including money issues. Your agent has suddenly become a publisher and is collecting money on your sales, money you can’t account for because your agent gets it all first, and then takes a cut and sends you the rest. You can only hope it’s the right amount.

Plus agents have fifty clients they are doing this for, so your book or books will get no attention. And chances are they are hiring out most jobs as well. I don’t see this option being around for more than another ten years max as agencies collapse under the weight and lack of money. They will take your money with them when they go down. That is a proven fact in just the last year.

Option #7… Brand New Forms of Publishing Businesses.

This is part of the fun of this new world. I’ve seen numbers of new forms of publishing starting up. Authors grouping together to share skills, forming a co-op of sorts. Authors grouping together to form publishing companies like Kris and I have done to get more clout in promotion and sales and distribution.

The key with this path is be careful and watch who has control of the money.

Option #8, 9, and so on… Who knows what will be invented or is blooming right now for options for writers.

So many new things are coming along, the best thing we can all do is keep our eyes open and be willing to take a look at a new option when it opens up. It’s a wonderful new world.

Caution on the scam publishers out there.

Every traditional publishing company now has a pay-to-play publishing imprint or two or three…. Those imprints  are similar to the old vanity press scams of ten years ago. I don’t consider those an option and I hope no one reading this does either.

The Harm of this Myth

The sad thing about this myth (of believing there is only one way) is that it doesn’t just apply to indie publishers, but to all writers. In fact, this myth is chanted the loudest to the young writers coming in that think that there is only one way: Get an agent, sell a book.

Get an agent, sell a book.

Get an agent, sell a book.

Get an agent, sell a book.

It’s like a bad nightmare. Or a bad cult. Maybe both.

Nope, that agent route is far from the only way to get your book to readers who will love it.

Another area of harm is when this myth invades a writer’s writing mind.

The writer starts thinking that the only way to make it is have fifty books and the writer must write a dozen books a year and work a day job and have family time with kids.

Well, gang, you watch me write a novel a month on my Writing in Public blog, but remember, I’ve been doing this for almost forty years. And I write short novels, seldom over 50,000 words long. And I live with another writer and we have no children.

In my first few years of writing seriously, I was excited that I managed a short story per week. If I had been able to watch a Silverberg or a Resnick writing at my pace now (They did, and faster), I would have been stunned that it was even possible, and if I had tried it back then, I would have been frustrated and just quit. That’s the truth.

So don’t let anyone tell you there is only one way to produce words. There is your way. I would suggest that if you are writing a certain way and only producing one novel every year, you may want to explore other ways until you find something that helps you pick up speed.

But if you don’t want to pick up speed, then don’t. No right way, only your way.

You Must Write (blank) to Make a Living.

Holy crap, any time you hear anyone say that, just laugh in his or her face. Or let me know and I’ll laugh at them.

That is flat the dumbest advice, and the most harmful advice, anyone could ever give.

And if you hear yourself thinking that you should move to (blank) genre to make more sales, laugh at yourself.

Folks, the best way to get to rich with your writing is flat be an artist. Protect your work, write what makes you passionate, what you love, what makes you angry, or as Stephen King says, what scares you.

Write to passion.

Never write to market.

Who knows, maybe what you are writing will be the next hot things and you will look like a genus for being out ahead of all the followers.


In this modern world of publishing, there is no one way, no right way, no perfect path.

My suggestion is to keep your eyes open on the publishing side, look around, try one way or another, and be willing to change if something sounds right.

Do a writing plan and a business plan as to where you want to be in five years and figure out if the plan is realistic for your writing.

Write to passion.

And never listen to anyone who tells you there is only one right way.

There is only your way.

Experiment, learn, find it, and have fun.