Of Two Major Directions…
As I wrote last night, new fiction writers (because we are in the middle of a distribution and form transition) are torn between two paths. A lot of old timers (not me or Kris) spread the gospel of how they broke into publishing in the 1980s or 1990s or early 2000,s. And new writers should do the same.
But now the writers who have gone indie publishing outnumber the traditional fiction writers and are making a lot more money (recent survey) and so the new writers wanting to enter the field of fiction writing are torn. Both sides seem valid.
And the myths on both sides are horrid.
So tonight I’m going to outline how it would go with the traditional path, being as fair as I can possibly be, and tomorrow night I will outline how it would go on the indie path and all the troubles and good things there as well.
Being prolific is frowned upon and you need to be focused intently on one book or one series as you head onto the path. For a lot of want-to-be writers, this really fits their mind set.
You have to then jump through all the hoops these days to get an agent that handles fiction to look at your book. (major learning curve) More than likely there will be rewriting to try to make your book fit with an agent.
If an agent shows interest (at this point years might have passed), they will have you rewrite it to better suit some market and after you do that they might send it out to a few editors. (you will be excited)
If an editor likes your book, it will be taken to a publishing meeting to see if the editor can get your book bought. (Again, maybe another year will pass in this process.)
Your book, if bought, will be scheduled out nine months or a year or more. (You have sold a book as it is called and you will be dancing.) You will get a contract through your agent that will buy all rights for the life of the copyright. You can’t do anything about this contract. You will sell audio, movie, everything.
You will get advance payments spread over three payments. Signing, turn-in, and publication are normal. It might be four or five or more payments if your advance against earnings is high.
You will then rewrite the same book again to editorial request (yes, even though they bought a finished book) and that will get the turn-in payment triggered.
You will be expected to promote your own book. They no longer do that for anyone but the big names, and often not them anymore. Your book might find a few bookstores (not a lot of them left) and if you are lucky will get into B&N.
Yes, you will promote your own book and be expected to, often under your contract.)
It will be on the shelf for about six weeks if lucky, then be pulled. From the start of the process to your book hitting the stands might be four or five years, again if things go well.
You will have no control over the cover, the sales copy, anything. You sold all rights.
If the book is a regular sf book, or a fantasy, it might do a thousand copies on initial ship, but then that does not count for returns. Your book might get a few reviews, but very few.
More than likely you sold a second book in the same contract. You will be required to finish it by a certain date and it will come out about one year after the first one, again if you are lucky. If the first one did poorly for no fault of your own (bad cover, bad sales copy, up against another major similar book), there is a good chance your second book will be cancelled. Or just published in a few hundred copy run and then killed.
Your books will remain in stories as overpriced ebooks. Every six months pennies will be subtracted from your advance repayment, and you can see the flood of paper returns being accounted for.
If the books did poorly, you will not be able to sell another book under that name or in that series. So you will change your name and write something different. Same process only with luck your agent will still be interested in you and returning your phone calls.
Even if the book did poorly, you will never get your rights back.
In these last ten to fifteen years of the traditional big-five publishing world, is there any chance you might make a living and have books really explode? Sure. But there are a lot more major lottery winners around the country every year than books that do that. A lot more.
And if your book gots excitement up front, you might get a $200,000 advance on two books. Eight payments (four for each book) will be spread over four years minus 15% for the agent. For most, that is not a living wage from that spread over four years (do the math).
So you will need to be writing and selling to deadline more books every year to make a living. And in this modern world, every book has to do better than the last or they will just cut you.
There are writers still making a living in traditional publishing. But just not many compared to the thousands and thousands there were when I broke in. And remember, at this point their are only five publishers remaining. Sure, there are second level publishers, but they are having the same issues.
The myths about traditional publishing are tough. One myth is that they will take care of you, but they do not. Another is that your agent is your friend. They are not. Another myth is that if you have a book published by traditional publishing, the rest of your books will sell better. They do not.
But since this is the era of big paper publishing we are coming out of, a lot of young writers really want to be “validated” by traditional publishing. I guess that is a valid goal, but to me it is not worth losing the copyright of a book or books or an entire series to buy that validation. And the cost of years and years of work and shattered dreams.
And in the end, no one cares if you have been validated or not.
So if the new writers I saw at Writers of the Future last week head to traditional publishing, with luck we will see their first novels by 2028, if we happen to be in the right store in the right week looking in the right place.
I know I missed a ton of details in this summary of the traditional fiction path. I will do some posts later talking about sales percentages of each path.
Tomorrow the indie path presented in the same way.