Thursday, May 12, 2011

Guest Post by Stephen Leather

I became aware of Stephen Leather after hearing about his huge Kindle success on Naturally, I asked him to guest post and share his perspective on self-pubbing.

Here's Leather:

I stand in awe of Joe and his success selling eBooks. And I’m no slouch myself – I’ve sold more than 250,000 eBooks on Kindle alone since Christmas, almost all of them in the UK. (I’m sure you remember the UK – we’re the guys whose nuts you pulled out of the fire sixty-six years ago, for which many thanks!)

Joe is at the vanguard of ePublishing, shouting from the rooftops that traditional publishing is dead and the self-publishing is the way to go. Long live the revolution!

Is he right? You know, deep down I think he probably is, but I’ve just signed a new three-book deal with my UK publisher for close to $500,000. Could I make more money doing it myself? Yes, probably. So why don’t I? Here’s the thing. I love books. Real books. I always have. And one of the biggest kicks I get is to walk into a bookstore and see a shelf-full of my books. I’ve got more than twenty ‘real’ books in print so often I get a shelf to myself. And I get an even bigger kick if my 12-year-old daughter is with me and she can see for herself the results of Dad locking himself away on the laptop for hours on end. I never get the same kick when I see someone reading a Kindle. It’s just not the same. So I’ll be sticking with real books, for a while longer at least!

But for most writers, a traditional publishing deal just isn’t possible. It used to be that a writer could send his work off to pretty much any publishing house and someone there would read it. I came up through the ‘slush pile’ and so did most of the writers of my generation. But one by one the publishers stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts and agents became the new gatekeepers.

Literary agents in the UK are actually quite nice people, but they are a totally different animal in the US and I do understand the frustrations writers face when trying to get an agent in America. I’ve been writing for almost a quarter of a century and in all that time I’ve only met one decent human being working as a literary agent in the States – the rest have been horrible, self-centered, arrogant shits. Pardon my French. They seem to take pleasure in denying writers access to publishers and I for one hope take pleasure in the fact that the new ePublishing route cuts them out of the loop. Good riddance, hopefully.

So I do understand why so many writers are embracing Joe’s philosophy and turning to self-publishing eBooks. But there is one cold hard fact that I don’t seem to see anywhere on the blogs and forums devoted to ePublishing. You probably won’t like hearing it, especially if you are one of the new wave of “Indie” writers. But I’m going to say it anyway. Here goes. The vast majority of self-published eBooks are bad. Worse than bad. Awful. There, I’ve said it.

By “bad” I don’t just been badly formatted or lacking originality. I mean badly written. Bad punctuation. Clichéd descriptions. Clunky dialogue. And here’s the thing. When I hear “Indie” writers talking about their books, all they seem to talk about is how they go about marketing their work. How they blog, how they work their Facebook contacts, how they post on the forums. I never hear them talking about how they want to improve their craft. For most of the ones I come across it’s all about the selling. I get emails all the time from “Indie” writers asking me what the secret is to selling a lot of eBooks. I don’t get any asking how they can become better writers.

Here’s another home truth that I always used to tell wannabe writers. A good book will be published, eventually, by a traditional publishing house. A bad book almost certainly won’t be. The fact that Amazon and Smashwords have no quality controls in place mean that home truth no longer applies. Any book can be published. The floodgates have opened. And I don’t think that’s a good thing.

I think of writing a book as being akin to running a marathon. Anyone who finishes a marathon deserves kudos. It’s a long haul. It’s hard work. But just because you’ve run a marathon doesn’t mean you should be running at the Olympics.

If you have written a book then you deserve a pat on the back. Well done you. But just because you’ve written a book doesn’t mean it’s good enough to be published. And just because you’ve been published doesn’t mean that people will buy it. It seems to me that the rush to embrace self-publishing means that the quality of the work has become secondary to the marketing of it.

Every “Indie” writer now has a blog, mostly pale imitations of Joe’s, they have a Facebook presence which they use to constantly push their work, (a quarter of my Facebook “friends” are writers who do nothing other than post about their books) and they spend hours on the various eBook forums. It’s all about the marketing. They ask for other writers to tag their books, they get friends and family to post favorable reviews (it’s amazing how many self-published eBooks start of with half a dozen five-star reviews on Amazon, mostly from readers who have only ever reviewed the one book) and they share Tweets with other writers. Every “Indie” writer is following the same formula. Sell, sell, sell. The quality of the work seems to have got lost in the process.

A very wise friend once told me about the Rule Of Ten Thousand. Basically he took the view that it takes ten thousand hours to acquire any skill. That’s about how long it takes to learn a foreign language, or play the piano proficiently, or play pool expertly, or become a good poker player. It applies to almost everything (except maybe free-fall parachuting).

My first book was published, by Harper Collins, but by the time I had written it I had been working as a journalist for more than ten years and so had been writing for at last 10,000 hours. To be honest, I didn’t hit my stride until my fourth book.

Let’s say you write for two hours a day. That means you hit the 10,000 hours after 5,000 days, which is what, thirteen years? And yes, that’s probably how long it has taken most writers to reach the stage where they get published. Writing for the most part is a craft. A skill that has to be learned. Very few writers published the traditional way see their first book in print. It’s often their fifth or sixth that is good enough to be published. Jack Higgins famously wasn’t published until after he’d written more than a dozen novels and he didn’t achieve any real success until his 36th – The Eagle Has Landed.

EPublishing has removed that learning curve. Now any book can be published, no matter how awful. And I think that’s bad for writers. The one or two times I have suggested that a writer spend some time improving their craft I’ve had abuse heaped on me so these days I don’t bother saying anything. Yes, “Indie” writers need to sell their work, yes marketing is important, maybe vital, but let’s not let the medium become the message. My advice to any writer who has finished their first book is to relax, take a deep breath, and start the next one. Send your first novel out to every agent there is, and see what happens. You will probably be ignored, you might get a one-line rejection, but the fact is that if the book is good then it will be picked up. Eventually. And if you can’t get an agent, maybe consider that the book isn’t very good and make the next one better. And make the one after that even better.

Once you’ve done your ten thousand hours you can consider yourself a real writer and at that point you can go back and examine your early work. You’ll probably realize how much it can be improved, or maybe that it’s simply not publishable. And if after you’ve done your ten thousand hours you still haven’t got an agent or a publishing deal, then maybe you should think about self-publishing.

Even as I write this I can feel Joe at my shoulder saying ‘What about the money?’ Yes, I know that as a self-published writer you get to keep a bigger chunk of the profits. Yes I know that it’s ridiculous that the traditional publishers keep up to 85 per cent of the money they make from selling eBooks. Yes, it is a fact that you can get an eBook up within hours but a real books takes up to a year from delivery to being on the shelves. But for me at least, being a writer is about producing quality work. Work that I can be proud of. And that takes time and effort. I’m a better writer now than when I started because I have been traditionally published for more than twenty years. I really believe that if the Kindle had been around twenty years ago and I had rushed into self-publishing I would probably have made a lot of money but wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good a writer as I am. And for me, it’s the writing that matters.

Okay, that’s my ten cents worth. Now here’s the sales pitch. I’ve just put my book Nightfall up on Kindle at

Nightfall is an interesting one. It’s a real book, published by Hodder and Stoughton in the UK. I don’t have a US deal so I have the US eBook rights and am free to sell it myself. That means that an eBook that costs about ten bucks in the UK can be sold in the US for the Amazon minimum – 99 cents.

The hero is Jack Nightingale, a former cop turned private eye who discovers that he was adopted at birth and that his real father was a Satanist and that Nightingale’s soul has been sold to a devil, a devil who will come to claim it on his thirty-third birthday, just three weeks away. Think Angel Heart crossed with The Dresden Files with a bit of Constantine thrown in and you won’t go far wrong

Oh, don’t give me any grief about the cover – my daughter designed it for me and I love it!

Joe sez: I've said it time and again: Don't Write Shit.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to know if you've written shit or not, because you're too close to the material.

In the past, the gatekeepers (agents, editors) vetted manuscripts and screened out the majority of the shit. Up until last year, I believed this was a necessary part of the process.

Then I realized that the self-publishing revolution has gatekeepers in place. They're called readers.

Most readers don't have the experience of industry pros, and may not be very helpful in their critiques. But they do vote with their dollars, and a wise author should pay attention to reviews that say similar things (I hated the hero, the writing is repetitive, this needs an editor, etc.).

Writers like me and Stephen have spent years honing our craft. Many indie writers self-pub their first novel, and it's doubtful they spent 10,000 hours on it. As unfair as the old gatekeeping system was, it did force writers to improve, and those who were accepted were battle-tested and reached a minimum quality standard. If the Kindle had been around when I wrote my first book back in 1988, I would have self-pubbed it, and it would have been a big mistake. That book simply wasn't good enough.

But that legacy system also rejected some good books I'd written--books that I've gone on to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars on.

So my overall opinion of the legacy gatekeeping system is that it can blow me. Those traditional gatekeepers aren't almighty differentiators between good and bad. They're ordinary people, and they make a lot of mistakes.

We're better off without them. But that isn't an excuse to write shit.

I've said for years that all writers need to have goals. One of Leather's goals is to see his books in bookstores. He places more value on this than higher profits, and that's fine.

Personally, I've had my fill of seeing my books on the shelf (especially since I know 50% or more will likely be returned), and I feel that the majority of bookstores will be gone in a few years, so those who pursue this goal had better be quick about it.

Ultimately, it comes down to the same thing it always has: write good books.

Once you do that, you can decide which path to publication to pursue. The fact that we have a choice, for the first time ever, is a wonderful thing. Don't take it lightly.


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Anonymous said...

"And one of the biggest kicks I get is to walk into a bookstore and see a shelf-full of my books."

So your ego is costing you money?

Marie Simas said...

Write well, and readers will find you. It may take months, but it will happen.

Vivi Anna said...

Good post Stephen.

I like that we all have a path we want to take. I don't think anyone has the right to begrudge someone who's path is different from their own even if you can come up with a thousand reasons they should change paths.

Sarah Allen said...

Fantastic post! And looks like a very interesting book.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

David said...

Great post. I fear that too many newbie writers not will but ARE rushing their books to the marketplace before the books and they are ready. Most first books are crap. Most second books are crap. Writing crap is how you learn to not write crap, but if you never have to identify it as crap, if you think the whole problem you're not selling is marketing, then you'll always write crap.

Bob Mayer said...

What really popped out at me is the almost 100% focus of many wanna-be authors on marketing and very little on craft. Not only don't write shit, but don't market shit.
It took me three years, three manuscripts, many rewrites, etc. to sign with my first agent. Then more rewrites. Then book contract. And more rewrites. To think one can produce a readable book all by one's self and then publish it, is very naive. Your vast majority of success stories in self-publishing have come from the ranks of former mid-list authors who understand the craft of writing and are always striving to improve what they do. I've learned more about writing in the past two years than in my first 20 years in publishing.
I know very few traditionally published authors whose first manuscript was readable. It was a learning process. Yet too many people are slapping their first manuscript up on Kindle and expecting it to sell.
Honestly, if I didn't have a 40 title backlist, it would be hard going in self-publishing. Not only in terms of marketing, but, more importantly, with all I've learned writing all those books.

Margaret Yang said...

Trying again.

It bothered me that you called paper books "real books." As if epubbed books aren't real. Perhaps you should have called them paper books or traditionally-published or something.

Megg Jensen said...

Am I a bad indie for agreeing with you? I spent six years as a journalist & wrote fiction in my spare time.

I've taken classes with traditionally published authors. I have shelves of books on craft. I'm an SCBWI member who attends workshops and conferences. My novels go through no less than four beta readers (all chosen for their skill set) and two proofreaders. My books don't hit the virtual shelf until they've been through at least five drafts.

Am I a flawless author? Hell no, but I work my butt off to do the best I can with the opportunities I've been given. :D


Anonymous said...

Great post Stephen!

Another viewpoint I heard years ago at a writer's conference was you had to write one million words before you should send anything out into the world as a professional.

That's eight to ten decent sized books. I'm uploading my tenth title a week from now. I passed the million word mark a couple years ago. In September 2010, I began uploading my titles and rewriting the early ones.

If more writers would pump out 10,000 hours or a million words, the overall quality of what's being uploaded would improve without question.

Jess said...

I think Stephen has said some very important things even if I still disagree with the idea of persuing traditional publishing.

It's really important that as writer's we realise that long term the best marketing for our writing is good writing.

I can't say I'm anywhere near the 10,000 hours required to be an expert yet. I'd say more like 3,000, but I'm eager to learn and in 10 years time I'd hope I would be a lot closer to being considered an expert.

A lot of the authors I speak to are very eager to market their work, some of them are ready for bigger audiences, some are not. I'm not entirely sure I am, though feedback so far from other authors has been mostly positive my sales are still very low. It appears that I and many other authors who's books I've been reading lately are struggling to find our audiences and although it can take time, who wouldn't want to find any tips they could on helping this?

The trouble with self-publishing is that it's a two trick game. Not only do we have to learn to be expert writers but we have to learn to be expert marketers as well. I don't know about other authors here but to a large degree writing comes more naturally for me, marketing on the other hand requires more of my effort to learn. Therefore, when trying to balance both I'm going to ask more about marketing than I am about writing. With maybe 200 hours marketing and 3000 hours writing, I've got some catching up to do before I'm equally good at both

Sarah Woodbury said...

I totally agree that if indie publishing had been available when I first started writing fiction, I might have taken that route and that would have been a mistake because the book wasn't very good. It was even my second one! Five years, seven books, two agents, and untold comments like "we haven't had good luck with books set in that era", I took the plunge into indie publishing, with the encouragement of my agent, because even he (who's been in this business for 40 years), doesn't believe that 'good books eventually get published'. Not anymore.

Stephen Leather said...

@ Margaret - yes, I do take your point - of course eBooks are real books. But I do hate it when 'real' books are called 'dead tree books". Maybe it's better to say paperbacks. I think I'll use that in future!

Amy said...

Bravo! I'm glad you said that (re: shit being published). It's something I constantly fret over. I'm afraid my blog is a "pale imitation" of Konraths, although I focus more on craft and have guest authors talk about the research they've done for their books. Because I'm fascinated by the weird things people discover when researching.

My current hobby horse is characterization--which to me is the foundation of any novel. After all, if we don't care about the characters ("care" may just be--curious about) then who is going to read the book?

I just don't know how to tell other indie authors, "No, do NOT publish your book just because you've finished it and think it's the cat's PJs. Send it out to contests. Get critiques. Send it to a few agents and see their reactions."

It's just that here's the problem with that advice. The people who most need it will ignore it because: It doesn't apply to me because I'm the best writer who ever lived.

Those few who will take the suggestion are probably already working with crit groups.


But I'm still trying to figure out how to write about the lessons I've learned and perhaps reduce the junk by a wee fraction.

Thanks again for your insight.
Amy Corwin

Darrell B. Nelson said...

"Joe sez: I've said it time and again: Don't Write Shit."
I think you contradicted yourself saying you should write for 10,000 hours and then saying Don't Write Shit.
A better saying would be Write lots and lots of shit, but only publish quality.

Jennifer Froelich said...

I appreciate your views, Stephen. I find paradox in all of the epub/traditional pub discussion -- there's truth in what you and Konrath have to say, even when you contradict each other. Ultimately, each author must choose to be a professional, no matter who we regard as our gatekeepers. We need to self-examine, but we also need some kind of peer approval before we take our craft to the readers.

Icy Sedgwick said...

I can't help agreeing with a lot of this post. I know several "indie" writers who are putting out crap while shouting about the revolution of self-publishing - just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

So far the story anthology I self-published contained stories that had already been edited and then published in other magazines. Maybe not the quality control of the publishing industry, but definitely some kind of third party input. I couldn't put something out WITHOUT having had someone take a look at it.

Then again, I've also read some self-published work which has been fantastic. The difference? The writers have either hired editors, or used an extensive beta-reading process to knock the story into shape. I do think it's possible to put out quality self-published work, it's just whether someone is inclined to put in the effort.

Jeff Faria said...

"The vast majority of self-published eBooks are bad. Worse than bad. Awful. There, I’ve said it.

By “bad” I don’t just been badly formatted or lacking originality. I mean badly written. Bad punctuation. Clichéd descriptions. Clunky dialogue. And here’s the thing. When I hear “Indie” writers talking about their books, all they seem to talk about is how they go about marketing their work."

Refreshing and all too true. Saw Ken Follett on TV the other day. He said what really sells books is this: A person reads a book. He/she likes it enough to recommend it to someone else. As long as the process repeats itself, the book sells.

Covers matter, marketing matters. But nothing matters like the work itself, and the work itself is the hardest part. So it's no wonder so many writers put the cart miles before the horse.

Nick said...

Great post, and though I don't quite agree with sending off to agents and so forth, as Mr Leather says, I do agree that self-publishing has removed the learning curve and resulted in a lot of shit being published that otherwise wouldn't have a shot.

But, as Joe says: now the readers are the gatekeepers. Consumers will vet what is and isn't good, so what's worthwhile will rise to the top and the rest will fester at the bottom, untouched. Sure, there's still luck involved - and that beast that is marketing, as Stephen makes reference to - but this is the way things will be. And it will only continue as the eReader market share grows and devices find their way into the hands of other readers out there.

Anonymous said...

I'm having a lot of contradictory feelings about this post. I am an indie writer. I'm very proud of that. Under no circumstances will I be accepting a traditional contract, nor seeking one.

The process of crafting a novel is, for me, a very long one. Themes, research, development, character building, structure, revision, editing, etc. I *am* my own business. That's how I prefer it.

I have a lot of trouble with the use of phrases such as "real book" and "real writer." What is it that makes one such a thing?

Coral said...

Not all Indie authors write crap. I review them (no money or bribes exchange hands) and what I'm impressed with is the diversity. And I'm backed up with reading material until this fall. :)

I was one who said, "You'll pry my pBook from my cold, dead hands." when eBooks/Readers first came out. Not so now, I love my Kindle and am trying to get rid of as many of my pBooks as I can. I think we'll still have bookstores, but they'll look more like coffee shops. I wouldn't mind opening up the first one and seeing what happens...

I love the fact that readers are vetters now. Writers, you are asking hard-working people to plunk down money for your story. Make it the best! :)

Eric Christopherson said...

Give a fellow indie author a carefully crafted and constructive critique and it's often heard as "You suck." This kind of exchange is not helpful in building social networks, whether for personal or professional aims. Thus the author sites bereft of craft talk, focusing on sales.

My guess is most of the successful indies have at least a few fellow authors they interact with privately, people they can go to for candid advice and feedback, a complete read of the ms, etc. So the craft networks are largely invisible.

Carradee said...

Oh, I agree that anyone and everyone can self-publish, and many do long before they're ready.

But the same thing happens on,, other such websites—and folks still manage to find writers they love. When the book's shoddy, the product description and cover tend to match. If not, that's what the samples are for checking.

I released my indie novel April 1st. It's not selling well. I honestly don't expect a ton of sales for this book, because a serial version is readily available for free.

But here's why I mention that: because my book isn't selling much, I get a vivid picture of how much a mere sale or two affects the Amazon rankings.

That majority of poorly-written books isn't selling. No selling = no ranking change = no visibility. You can market all you want, but slipshod writing won't get you anywhere unless you're doing something right.

By the same token, fantastic writing won't get you anywhere if nobody knows you exist, but it's easier to fix that than to break someone's negative perception of your writing.

There's a legacy published author who I stopped reading because her characters kept behaving inconsistently (or so it seemed to me). I was at B&N the other day, found another book series that looked interesting, wracked my brain for why the author name looked familiar, then saw that particular book with weirdly-behaving characters beside it. Same author. Maybe she's improved her character development skills. I may never bother to find out.

A high % of any industry knows less than they think they do. It takes knowledge and humility to realize how much you don't know. I've seen grammar-loving folks with English degrees flunk copyediting tests that a self-taught editor w/o a degree passed with flying colors.

Stephen Leather wants to see his books on the bookshelf. That means more to him than the money, right now. That's fine. Different folks have different goals. There's nothing wrong with that.

Merrill Heath said...

Great post, Stephen. Thank you! I agree with almost all of what you said. The only point I disagree with is if a book is good enough it will eventually be published. I don't think this is true.

The number of manuscripts submitted for publication each year is staggering and a very small percentage are bought each year by trad publishers. Therefore, there are lots and lots of very good books that never see the light of day. Granted, there are a lots of bad books in that slush pile, but there are some really good books, as well. Quality is no guarantee it will be published.

But I couldn't agree more about the rush to publish with ebooks. Most of the emphasis is on making money rather than improving your skills.

Merrill Heath
Bearing False Witness

WDGagliani said...


Food for thought! However, I'd like to take exception to one point you made. As a fan and a bit of an expert on Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson, et al), I agree that his "big" success came with the 36th book, THE EAGLE HAS LANDED. But I must say, the great majority of the 35 that came before that one are also real books, and really pretty darn good books. In other words, he was already a real writer before the public caught on to him. Pick any: EAST OF DESOLATION, THE LAST PLACE GOD MADE, THE SAVAGE DAY, A PRAYER FOR THE DYING... and tell me he wasn't already an excellent writer. So in the indie model you imply, perhaps those don't count because they were part of his apprenticeship? I know that's not quite what you mean, but it sounds a little like it... by extension, we can say that an early, "apprentice" novel might still be very well appreciated by an audience, as his books certainly were. They were "real" books, too. The gatekeepers gave him a long time to "make it," but today's gatekeepers would not under any condition give a writer that many chances -- which is what's wrong with the system. And why the indie revolution is so important.

Bill Gagliani
Author of SAVAGE NIGHTS and The Nick Lupo Series

Silver Bowen said...

The majority of self-pub is crap. The majority of legacy-pub is also crap. The vast majority of everything ever written is crap.

Everyone's taste is different. One reader's crap is another's treasure, right?

Regarding the entire rest of the post, I couldn't disagree with Stephen's opinions more.

Money-schmoney. You wanna be an artist? Write what you believe in writing, and put it up. Obscurity is a far greater enemy than poverty. It's about readers, not sales.

S Alini said...

Great to know that this phenomenon is spreading and becoming worldwide.Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.
S Alini
The Strange Journal of the Boy Henry

Grant said...


That book description sold me completely. I'm off to buy the ebook.

Also, I've written seven or eight books, haven't published any, and just finished another manuscript. I've sold a couple stories, have written hundreds, about to have another published. I used all these years working on craft, knowing I'd get better with time. I enjoy the process of writing. I agree: rejection actually helps you hone your skills, learn more, etc. I don't understand the "rush" to epublish. If your book is good, it will probably do well regardless of when it's self-published.

My girlfriend raved about Endurance.

Jacklyn Cornwell said...

I agree that books should be well written, no matter the format, and that no one should write merde (French for shit). I spent a long time honing my book, rewriting, editing and having my editor go over and over it for errors. A couple slipped through, but have been changed and new files uploaded. You can't do that with the big publishers or with an agent. You can if you self-publish.

I agree wholeheartedly with Stephen and Joe, and have said so numerous times in blog posts. Pay attention, people, this is the real deal.

Jeffery Evans said...

It is an antiquated notion to think that a writer needs to write some arbitrary number of pages before publishing work. Becoming a mature writer in public is the literary version of a reality show, and reality shows can make big money. Publishing is primarily about the money, and I have invested in some "indie" authors' works because I am enjoying the "reality show" essence of their process. It may take ten-thousand hours to master the craft of writing, but there is no guarantee that even a master will find a contemporary audience. Likewise, you can find an audience and not be a master of your craft as long as you are showing your process. None of your modern readers are going to hold it against you if you confess you are still learning. As for the economic success of revision - How many times has George Lucas revised Star Wars now? Come on down from that ivory tower!

Genevieve Jack said...

As someone who spent a great deal of time focusing on my craft in order to put out a well-written first book, I find it frustrating that the indie market rewards writers who produce volumes of dirt-cheap mediocrity. My biggest fear is that a reader might not give my book a chance because of a bad experience they had with another indie title. However, when I remind myself of some of the poorly written traditionally published books I've read after paying an exorbitantly high price for the title, I recognize that this anxiety might not be exclusive to the indie world.

Judith Mercado said...

There is a lot of truth and wisdom in what you both say, but the greatest wisdom of all is: "write good books."

Marcia Richards said...

I agree that there are many self-published books that just are not good, hence the reason those authors self-published. However that is not to say that all self-pub books are inferior. It's been said by many professionals, that new authors stand little chance of being traditionally published today, even after trying for many years with several books. Publishers apparently aren't willing to take the risk representing a new author presents. You were first published in the days when this was not the case. Writers must write the best content with perfect grammar, spelling, voice and all else a good story requires, but getting published can still be amazingly difficult. So self-publishing is the way to go. Maybe then a traditional publisher will take notice. Marketing is now the job of the author no matter which path you take and agressively (not annoyingly)marketing your book is the only way to get it sold, in my opinion. I'm happy for you an other authors who are able to get book deals with traditional publishers since it means there will be 'real' books on bookstore shelves. I'm a fan of those too.

Kris Bock said...

I totally agree about writing quality -- I have 10 unpublished novels (and now 14 published books, 12 of them traditional and two self-published). Of those 10 unpublished novels, maybe two more can be revised into something that wouldn't embarrass me today.

I've met a lot of nice U.S. agents, though, including mine, who encouraged me to self publish my romantic suspense, Rattled, because he saw the advantages. I interviewed several agents for an article on "The Changing Role of Agents" and while some were completely dismissive of self-publishing, others are seeing how they can work with their authors to bring great books directly to the market without traditional publishers. See some comments on my blog (where I discuss craft on Fridays and self-publishing on Wednesdays):

Anonymous said...

The 10,000 hour rule is nonsense. It's true that the craft of writing must be learned, but we all learn at different rates, and our intelligence, background, experience and drive all come into play.

I wrote my first book very quickly, five years ago, and it has been very successful, both in bookstores and on Kindle. It continues to thrive and excel today.

While a large part of writing can be learned, no one will ever write a good novel unless they also have that certain something extra. For the person who starts out with that something extra, the craft can be quickly learned.

The point is that timing or speed or seat time in front of a keyboard doesn't define quality or success. Look at the Beatles for example, who crafted many of the worlds greatest songs before they were even 18.

JA Konrath said...

So your ego is costing you money?

Money is only one of many reasons to write.

Steven Konkoly said...

Like Joe said, the readers ultimately decide whether your book works. I rushed my book out onto the market, sans editor (beyond a few apparently blind friends) or professional book cover...what a mistake? Not really. I learned more from reader reviews and emails in the first few months than I had ever thought possible. I could have hovered over the manuscript for another year, like a sweaty parent at an overcrowded elementary school bus stop, but there came a time when the book needed to walk on it's own. And it stumbled. Six months later, I've changed the manuscript several times based on reader critique.

Now I have a real editor, a real cover...and I know the story is viable on the market. There is little doubt that the book has improved, drastically, since it was first published. This is the beauty of self-publishing, you can change your book at any time(to a reasonable degree...this isn't a chose your own adventure book). Put it in print (if you are one of the chosen few) and that's the end of it. You better hope it finds an audience.

Katie Klein said...

My guess is that the majority of the people who disagree with this post are the ones uploading their first books.

CROSS MY HEART was the 12th complete manuscript I wrote (not including many "half attempts").

My first novel will never see the light of day in its current form. In fact, without major revisions, I wouldn't feel comfortable trying to sell any of my early stories.

I'm not saying that it's impossible to find success with a first attempt, but most writers I know wouldn't dare publish their first novels.

JA Konrath said...

The 10,000 hour rule is nonsense. It's true that the craft of writing must be learned, but we all learn at different rates, and our intelligence, background, experience and drive all come into play.

It's valid to the point of practically being universal. Read Outliers by Gladwell.

Melissa F. Miller said...

I think Stephen Leather is to be commended for his honesty.

And, of course, we all think we're the exception to the 10,000 hour rule; but, I have to wonder if "cross-training" counts?

I published my first novel, a legal thriller, late last month through an independent publishing company my husband started (think Robin and Michael Sullivan, with the roles reversed).

I worked in publishing as a (nonfiction) book editor for three years before I went to law school. So, I've seen the sausage being made. And, after twelve years as a practicing attorney, I'm probably close to 25,000 hours of writing. Most of it legal writing, of course; and, you may not agree that it's even in English, but brief writing is all about telling a story.

As I type this, I am sitting at #6 on the Legal Thriller ebook list and #13 on the Legal Thriller book list. Now, that's because today I am the Kindle Nation Daily Ebook of the Day sponsor. (I believe it was Debbie Mack who said this is the only advertising that's gotten results for her). It's the only paid ad we plan to do for the book.

Until today, though, sales have been steady. Not earth-shattering, but steady.

And, I, for one, am just thrilled to have strangers say they've read and enjoyed the book. A circumstance I am afraid might never have come to pass if I'd continued to query.

What traditionally published authors who already have agents may not realize about the industry is that agents---apparently overwhelmed with queries---can take as long as a year to get back to an author ON A QUERY. Not to mention the agents who ask for a partial then sit on it for another six months, only to reject it within minutes of the author having the temerity to ask for a status update.

Eighteen months or more to find out my book isn't this agent's cuppa? No thanks.

I'll let the readers be my gatekeepers and trust them to let me know if I have slung crap out into the world.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe Stephen Leather is on your blog Joe. I ran across Stephen's blog a few months ago (he has good advice for writers on there) and after I read about how happy he was with his publisher and book deals I thought 'well this is one author who won't be on Joe's blog'.

Life amazes me.

@Stephen. I have plans one day to make it to Dublin just so I can stand in that pub across the street from you and say Doesn't Stephen Leather the famous author live around here? (of course the'll just think I'm some crazy yank, but that's the liberty of the lable too).

Keep writing your books and enjoying your success.


Tony said...

Look at the Beatles for example, who crafted many of the worlds greatest songs before they were even 18.

No they didn't... Don't be an idiot.

Melissa F. Miller said...

Feel compelled to clarify that IRREPARABLE HARM is my first novel I've published.

The first novel I wrote will NEVER EVER see the light of day. No way, no how!

Stephen Leather said...

On the question of ego, and money. One of the best-paying jobs in journalism I had was working for a tabloid newspaper, The Daily Mirror. Great pay and six million readers. But I take more pride in having worked for the London Times for less money and a twentieth of the readers! I love 'real' books and am proud to be a paperback writer. I would put that feeling ahead of money, really. Money isn't the driving force in my life. If it was I would have become a banker....

Stephen Leather said...

I actually would bet that John Lennon did 10,000 hours playing his guitar before the Beatles made it big.... the Quarrymen years....

Michael Canfield said...

The Beatles played 12 hour long gigs 7 days a week comprised entirely of rocknroll cover songs for years before they ever started writing there own songs in their early twenties.10,000 hours and more. Age doesn't have anything to do with it, but practice does.

Michael Canfield said...

Beatles played those gigs in Hamburg, meant to say.

J. E. Medrick said...

Stephen, a whole shelf to yourself? Impressive! I'm sure your daughter is very proud of you, too :)

A lot of unsolicited work that comes out is, indeed, junk. But there is sampling to help us sort what looks good from what we'd actually enjoy. Personally, I've found it helps tremendously! Also, the $2.99~$.99 price point on a new author won't necessarily break the bank!

I'm working on a series and I think my biggest failure is my lack of marketing. My sales are picking up, bit by bit, and I have new releases planned. But trotting all over the interwebs and leaving my mark everywhere is tiring! I'd rather be vetting my WIP to my best ability :) At least one book blogger (Man Eating Bookworm) is following the series and loving it! I'm so appreciative to him for spreading the word, since I'm not doing it so well myself.

All my free time is spent going tappa tappa tappa and working on that next piece! But, I'm still proud to call myself an Indie :)

I understand your love of solid books (I still buy traditional even though I LOVE my Kindle!) But I am honestly finding more (quality) reading material at better prices on my Kindle! I can get more of my fiction fix for less of my (very) hard-earned dollars!

YA: Cheat, Liar
Adult: Shackled

Stephen Leather said...

@Joseph. Small world, I am this week signing the papers to sell my Duke Street flat after twenty years of living in Dublin. The Irish have started to tax writers and tax them hard so I've had to leave. I'm now based in Bangkok! I miss Dublin a lot, truly one of the world's best cities. Now of course I will be flamed for putting money above living in Dublin, so I should point out that my family is in Bangkok! :-)

Stephen Leather said...

@JEMedrick -Yeah, I have more than twenty books in print so often Waterstones outlets in the Uk will have a whole shelf, and it's the norm in Thailand in Asia Books stores. I always get a buzz out of it and more often than not I film it and put it on my blog :-) It's also a great way of cheering myself up when I'm blocked - I place all the books on a coffee table, open a bottle of wine and just look at them. Can't do that with a Kindle! :-)

Stephen Leather said...

Sorry I called you Joseph, Josie! :-)

Michael Canfield said...

Enjoyed this post a lot. Focus on craft, no better advice. I do get a kick out of seeing brand-new uploads on smashwords that come with their own instant four-star review though. Must be some very fast readers out there.

JA Konrath said...

I place all the books on a coffee table, open a bottle of wine and just look at them. Can't do that with a Kindle! :-)

I have a full five-shelf bookcase filled with everything I've published. I call it my "trophy case" and it has well over a hundred books and magazines from around the world that I'm in.

That said, when I need to be cheered up these days, I get a much bigger smile from my bank statement.

Denise Baer said...

Nice post.

I agree with you regarding anyone can publish a book. The procedures to get traditionally published have changed, and this encouraged an influx of “bandwagon writers” to self-publish, which ultimately discredits many writers. BUT traditional publishing has put me off as an aspiring writer when I see books published for “names” instead of “talent”. Most of these celebrity books were ghost written, so the time and sweat that writers put into writing and revisions, was never done.

I disagree with your comment, “A skill that has to be learned.” Writers need to listen to their critics and craft each sentence, paragraph and page to the best of their abilities, yet not all writers have the talent. I can take piano lessons, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to learn how to play like Mozart. Then again, many may argue that a great story trumps great writing...and unfortunately, this is true in several cases.

I'm in no way making a claim that I'm a great writer, but I know the flaws of my earlier writings and continue to work on them.

I do hope my book makes it to the shelves because I’m not a Nook or Kindle fan. As a reader, I still love my books—there’s an intimacy I feel with the writer.

Good Luck to you!

Anonymous said...

Joseph -- Josie it's all the same.

Bangkok - wow. I'm sorry you felt like you had to flee Dublin for financial reasons. I didn't know writers were taxed differently there.

I'm glad you can be with your family. Obviously from the cover of your book this arrangement is agreeable.

Douglas E Wright said...

A great article. (Maybe I should say post as not to upset anyone) I've been writing for a lot of years. I'm still not where I should be. I see the mistakes. I think of ebooks as a replacement for paperbacks. And that's about all.

I will always collect signed hardbacks. An ereader has made it easier for me to read, but my collection of books make me happy.

I want to sell, but I want the work to stand out also. Not to be just another throwaway.

Adam Pepper said...

Great post, Stephen. Craft is crucial. There may be short cuts to publication but not to success. I love Joe to death and have learned a ton from reading this blog, but he can come off as a bit of a mercenary. It’s nice to hear your perspective. I’ve always believed art and commerce can meet in the middle somewhere. Although, after 17 years, 5 novels, 2 agents and hundreds of rejections without a mass market deal, I certainly don’t begrudge a successful mercenary!

Robert Burton Robinson said...

What constitutes a good book? How can one reviewer think the book is priceless, while another thinks it's not worth a penny?

Nobody enjoys a book that's filled with typos or grammatical errors or unbelievable dialog or boring characters or a plot that's full of holes. But beyond that, who knows what makes someone like a book? People like what they like. And with the Kindle store, and no gatekeepers, they have the freedom to make up their own minds.

Sometimes it's not pretty. You'll come across some real stinkers. And you'll find a lot of books that just aren't your cup of tea. But hasn't that always been the case?

The same is true with movies. You pay enough for the tickets to have covered a dinner at a very nice restaurant. The film may inspire you, or make you laugh your butt off. Or make you wish you'd opted for the fancy meal instead. But there's something to be said for the adventure of taking a chance on the unknown. The same is true with books. But you spend a lot less---especially on indies.

You write your best book, do your best editing, cover, and description. You price it right. And you hope you connect with readers. They may hate your book. But they might love it. And if enough people love it, eventually you'll have success.

One of my books is currently #72 on the main Kindle Bestseller list, and is selling at a rate of 550 per day. So apparently somebody likes it. ;)

Penelope said...

Stephen, I understand your message here, and I agree with most of what you said barring, "Every “Indie” writer is following the same formula. Sell, sell, sell." Aw! That generalization is not accurate and you know it :). The “real books” comment. *shrug* Terminology is pretty irrelevant at this point, but I can see the connotation behind it, and I prefer reading physical books too.

Hello, Joe. I dislike it when agents and publishers are referred to as Gatekeepers (though you do about turn and effectively say they aren’t a few lines down). They are barriers to mass market entry, there is a difference between the two. By god, I refuse to be taken in by that creative Gatekeeper shtick I read way too often. That is like saying only MacDonald’s know how to serve a good burger. Publishers are businesses, strategic organizations … they are in it to make money, bottom line. Quite frankly, there wouldn’t be Independent Authors if said Agent and Publisher models weren’t so archaic and defunct they make my Nana look spritely. Readers are Gatekeepers, and they always have been. The issues we have with Indie’s and “bad books” right now are transitional and will disappear … eventually. If that wasn’t the case there would be nothing more to say on the Indie topic as it would fade, not get progressively stronger.

And to conclude my latest ramble, Stephen, my genuine congratulations on your latest book deal!

Stephen Leather said...

@Josie For the last twenty-five years writers living in Ireland paid zero income tax. The same for songwriters like Bono and film makers like Neil Jordan. That all changed last year. I have moved to Bangkok and U2 moved their base to Holland - we have the same accountant! Ireland is in big trouble and I would have liked to have stayed but if I had done they would have taken half my earnings! :-(

Mark Terry said...

A great post. Excellent really, but I'm not sure it's at all contradictory to what Joe usually says.

And Joe, I'm proud of ya man: Don't Write Shit.


One of my writing mantras for years - and yes, I'm a professional full time writer, both nonfiction and fiction, and yes, I've got e-books out there, check 'em out, you'll love 'em - is:

Nobody's as good a writer as they think they are.

Nobody. Even the best, most raved-about bestsellers and literary writers. It's damned near impossible to evaluate your own writing.

But if you've been successfully published by other people and read by other people, you probably have a reasonably accurate idea of how good your work is, which makes the self-publishing work reasonably well.

The biggest problems I see with unpublished writers jumping to self-publishing is they have no bar in which to compare their work to.

Oh well.

Don't Write Shit

Words to live by.

Nicholas La Salla said...

Stephen, I see your point and agree with you to some degree. I do think however that, as you say, here in the States the publishing system is hopelessly flawed.

Their vetting of a manuscript is completely irrelevant. It has nothing to do with how good a book is, it is simply if they believe it will sell.

My book One More Day was purchased and was set to be released. I worked with my editor to a final draft state. This meant slaving over a handful of changes, finishing them in a day or two, and waiting weeks for them to respond to my changes.

Months later, the final draft was approved. All was well. Then, Hasbro pulled the plug on Wizards of the Coast's spec fiction line, and suddenly my book and many others' were without a home.

No other agents would touch One More Day. No publishers were interested.

What am I supposed to make of this? One company said it was great, and many others said it was written well, but it just wouldn't sell, so they wouldn't represent it.

If my book is good, it should find a place in the grand scheme of mass market publishing. I agree with you. It should.

Many books just don't.

Now on to the part I agree with you about: a lot of E-Books are horribly written. I've written seriously for 13 years now, attempting to be published all the way. Met some success and some failures.

But through it all I believe in myself and in my writing. I believe I can make a difference in other people's lives.

This is where I agree with Joe: readers are the new gatekeepers. If your book sucks, they will not hesitate to let you know.

My new short story collection, Three Before Dark received its first review yesterday: a four star review. Not bad at all.

I believe this is the direction we need to go as writers. Publishers come and go, but the product they sell -- that's us, folks -- will never go away.

We can all make a difference. We may not all sell $500,000 a month, but simply knowing that I connected with a few people, sold a few books and brightened a few days is enough payment to make up for the day-to-day grind of living paycheck to paycheck.

I hope Stephen has a great success with his new E-Book! I completely agree that seeing your book in print is an amazing feeling -- one that I have yet to enjoy -- but when it comes down to the line, it's not about that. It's about reaching people.

That's what I am here to do.


One More Day: Kindle Nook
Three Before Dark: Kindle

Mark Asher said...

Readers care more about story than they do about the quality of the writing, at least the fans of genre fiction.

I'm all for better quality, but I think readers don't care all that much as long as the quality doesn't drop through the floor.

And sure, there's a lot of crap being published, but how is that any different now than it was 20 years ago? New York has been putting out crap for decades. It's just polished and packaged better. And they charge a lot more for it.

Unknown said...

Quite the interesting perspective.

Ender Chadwick said...

Great article. Thank you for that Mr. Leather. I completely agree that there is a lot of garbage being put out in the eBook market right now, although I disagree with your idea of judging the quality of a book by the reaction of agents and editors. Now I say that as the opinion of a reader only. It seems publishing more and more over the past decade has pushed towards what is saleable rather than what is good.
I’ve read novel after novel that seemed like they were pandering to the lowest common denominator, rather than taking a risk.

Sometimes I seriously doubt that classics like 1984 would be picked up by a publisher these days. Again this is just an amateur opinion from someone who reads a lot. Yes there’s a lot of crap being put out by indie authors, but there’s some gems too—edgy, daring novels that don’t easily fit into a saleable category.

But I applaud you for your success and speaking your mind. I also like that Joe put this on his blog, a very different opinion from his own. That shows confidence.

But I wholeheartedly agree, young authors need to improve their craft. This is why I haven’t released anything yet.

Rebecca Stroud said...

For starters, I've put in my 10,000 hours. As a former reporter/columnist for over a decade - because of deadlines - I also learned early on how to self-edit. Ergo, 99.9% of my work was published with no - or very little - change.

That said, my books still languish. Admittedly, I only have five works published (and three are short stories). But I also agree with Stephen that I've wasted too much time trying to "market, market, sell, sell" instead of "write, write, write" simply because my marketing efforts have been a huge time & brain drain.

So it's back to the keyboard for me. Hopefully, readers will eventually find my work the same way I found the books I love: old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

Coral said...

One more comment - wow, the comments here are kinda outshining the post. hehe I read some great stuff!

Outliers - $14.99 Kindle version O.o

Practice makes perfect! Free and the saying has been around forever. :)

Bailey Bristol said...

At last! Your blog today is an affirmation of all my epubbing concerns. I'm enjoying success as an indie epubber, but continue to be frustrated with the horrid grammar and misused words of many indie pubbed works.

Once many years ago I told my piano tuner that I wanted to learn to tune pianos. He looked at me, frowned, and said, "Fine. And when you've tuned your one thousandth piano, you'll be a piano tuner."

I've never forgotten that. And you have reiterated it with regard to writing. My best to you, a seeker of continued growth surrounded by worshippers of the lowest common denominator.

Bailey Bristol
Top 100 Kindle Romantic Suspense

Werner said...

"The vast majority of self-published eBooks are bad. Worse than bad. Awful."

Couldn’t agree more Stephen. Right now a lot of readers have to spend the money to buy a self-pubbed book, then invest their time reading it - only to find that it sucks. Then, with any luck, they take the time and do the rest of us the civic duty of writing a review to warn us off. The reviews are the only gatekeepers we currently have to cull out the “bad” ebooks.

Selena Kitt said...

I always find it amusing how the "present company" is always excepted from the criticism. ;)

Readers care more about story than they do about the quality of the writing.

This is a truism no one seems to want to acknowledge. And readers are now the gatekeepers, guys...

Anonymous said...

"The vast majority of self-published eBooks are bad. Worse than bad. Awful."

And nobody thinks it's their book.

Here's a secret. If you self publish after not being able to find an agent or get a book contract, it's your book people are referring to when they say most self published books are garbage.

The ones that aren't garbage, are the one from authors who've been traditionally published in the past. Maybe one or two books out of the hundreds of thousands of others might be good, but that's probably being generous. 99.999999999999999999999999% of them are shit.

Good thing readers have no ability to judge quality. They see $.99 and it becomes an impulse buy. In most cases, the book sits unread on their kindle, but who cares. The author got their $.35, and that's all that matters these days, right?

Ender Chadwick said...

Werner wrote: "Then, with any luck, they take the time and do the rest of us the civic duty of writing a review to warn us off. The reviews are the only gatekeepers we currently have to cull out the “bad” ebooks."

To this I say, download samples! I ALWAYS download the sample first. Even at the .99 price point. I haven't bought a bad eBook yet, I have read a lot of bad samples though...

Anonymous said...

Great article!

I totally understand this and am behind the 10,000 concept completely. I started out writing screenplays when I was 18 and at the time my first script, to me, was the best story ever committed to paper.

Now, 16 years later, I don't even want to look at it! It is so bad.

The same is true for my first two novels which I have no intention of ever publishing. BAD. After finishing a book and reading it once over to correct glaring mistakes, I put it aside for a minimum of four months while preparing to write something new. Then I go over it again. It's amazing how many stuff you pick up and how the time off is beneficial to the book.

So I'm going indie now. I've paid my dues, put in my 10,000, and I'm confident readers' heads won't explode.

Kate Madison, YA author said...

Great post!

Completely agree with you that craft matters and to that end I've signed up for David Farland's Professional Writers Workshop next month. I want to write, learn, and grow and then write, learn, and grow some more.

I have to echo the sample comments-- I download samples willy nilly and then put them in a sample folder in my Kindle. Then when I'm done with a book, I go "shopping" from there first.

And Stephen- print books actually are dead tree books. The paper came from dead trees. That's a fact. Whereas 'real' is a term of opinion. Loved your post, tho, and am excited to check out your titles. I think I might try 'Once Bitten' first.

Kate Madison

roh morgon said...

Thanks for hosting an alternative viewpoint to self-publishing.

Writers who choose to self publish should do so only after carefully considering the positive and negative aspects of both publishing routes.

I think as this revolution progresses, we're going to see those route coming closer together, crossing, and even merging.

This is such an exciting time to be a writer!

T.J. Dotson said...

I usually keep my mouth shut on this type of topic. As I don't want to offend anyone.

But man...the majority of e-books are crappy! Those that sell well are usually well written and professionally edited. Not too mention good quality covers and all the rest.

That's a fact. A good look at the Amazon top 10 will show you that.

A lot people say that Joe's successful because he had a previous following.

I say he's succuessful because he honed his craft. I haven't published any of my stuff yet..its not ready. Sometimes I want to just put it up and cross my fingers. But I know its NOT I don't.

nwrann said...

Agents, editors and publishers keep the shit out of paper books??


1 word: Snookie.

The reader is the gatekeeper.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot to agree with in Stephen L.'s guest post, in particular how many atrocious ebooks exist. All you have to do to vet most of them is read their accompanying blurbs.

But I just picked through the carcass of a closing Border's this weekend and had the exact same thought about paper books: How did so much trash get published? No wonder you're going out of business! Inert stacks of the latest thoughts of VP Joe Biden, celebrity cookbooks, joke books, yoga/business trends/recycled exercise and fitness regimes, cupcake recipes, maps of upper-lower New Guinea, retreads by Danielle whatsit and Mary Higgens whosit. Who buys this stuff when it's full price? (At all, ever?)

All I'm saying (now that I've offended all the yoga-loving Mary HC fans out there) is that traditional publishing has been guilty for years of churning out trashy, purposeless books, so Kettle: Meet Pot.

Whatever the medium, readers need to do some research, question those in the know (librarians, bookworms they trust. . . ), and read a LOT to refine their own sense of what's good.

One reason I self-published recently is because I am flat out getting too old to wait around another two years (or maybe never) to find another agent who likes it AND who has the ability to sell it. Not ready for the nursing home, or even to retire (not even close), but way past the time when I can sit on my hands for years while others pass judgment on me. I believe in my book and wanted to get it published one way or another, simple as that. Money is not the point for me. It deserves to be out there; it fills a niche and it is well-written (I'm a former writing teacher, book reviewer, and editor). It's based on real-life experience that is not often written about because those doing it are too busy trying to survive to stop and write books.

I will never again waste time with an agent who does not have meaningful relationships all over NYC and whose commitment to my book isn't total and breathtakingly enthusiastic. If these two things aren't in place, a new author has next-to-no chance of getting published by the so-called Big Six and their minions.

Thanks for the great blog, JAK.

nwrann said...

Also, I think it's a misperception to say that all indie writers are doing is sell sell sell. You're only SEEING the ones that are taking that tactic. Because you WON'T see writers that aren't in your face sell sell selling. Those writers who write publish and move onto the next are the dark matter here. They're invisible.

Plus, simply because someone manages their time wisely and spends a few hours per week facebooking, blogging, tweeting etc doesn't mean that they aren't also spending the other 90% of their time improving their craft. But you don't SEE that because it's invisible.

Btw, loved the blog.

jtplayer said...

The Snookie knock on big publishing is played out man.

David Tanner said...

Okay, blogger apparently ate my first comment, so I'm reposting.

@Stephen: I agree with the 10,000 rule, even if you intellectually understand the concepts behind story craft you, you have to get down and get your hands dirty. But I think that the writer is always the worst judge of his own work-good or bad-so I think you should get it all out there and let the market decide.

I'm a firm believer in the old school model of write the book, make it the best you can, get it out there (whether that is traditionally or indie) and move on to the next one. Keep doing that and that's how you build a career.

Also, I don't think that a good book will always find a home is neccessarily true anymore. At least not in The States. Check out Kris Rusch's blog She goes into detail about how things have changed.

nwrann said...

The Snookie knock on big publishing is played out man.

Yet true and succinct. Traditional publishing has never been concerned with publishing good books. They're only concerned with making money. It's a business. Let's not pretend they're some Protectors Of The Great Art.

Btw, if we're going to start putting an arbitrary vetting process in place I think that ONLY Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winning books should see the light of day. All others should be deleted or burned. That way buyers/readers are ONLY subjected to good books.

JVRC said...

I agree and I disagree with this.

I agree that there's a lot of crap out there that's being indie published. But I see a lot of crap out there that's being traditionally published. I've seen trad published books with typos, misplaced commas, misused punctuation, and that doesn't stop them from being published. I fault the copyeditor. Do I think there are still those who have no business in indie publishing? Sure. But there are those who have no business publishing, period and end of statement.

I've also seen a HUGE amount of authors that are bloody brilliant story tellers who have moved to indie publishing because...well, not to put too fine a point on it, getting published is not all about talent. Sorry, but it's not. And it hasn't been for a long time. I've worked as an acquisitions editor for a few publishers and I know this for a fact.

How many times did J. K. Rowling get turned down before someone FINALLY believed in Harry Potter? Stephen King and Carrie? I can name many. It's marketing potential, it's query letter, it's...well, quite frankly, whether or not someone woke up in a good mood that day and decided to give it a shot. It's luck and timing. And too many of us are getting tired of waiting on both. So we're moving to Indie Publishing -- no bending, twisting, sucking up, hoops to jump through to get a book out there. As Joe has said on many an occasion, the proof is in the pudding and the ultimate judge of my work is the reader who buys and rates. Suits me right down to the ground.

jtplayer said...

Maybe big publishing hasn't been primarily concerned with putting out good books (a fact I would dispute), but along the way they've succeeded in doing just that.

Sure, there's been crap, but for the most part this reader has enjoyed 40+ years of great reading. And I continue to enjoy books each and every day that are published by the Big 6.

I will readily admit though, in the past few months I've read some ebooks that are real gems. That being said, indie publishing via ebooks has a very long way to go before they come close to matching the consistent quality of traditionally published books. IMO.

Anonymous said...

The Snookie knock on big publishing is played out man.

Yeah, time to move on to Levi Johnston (high school dropout gets book contract) and Bristol Palin.

Kate Madison, YA author said...

Is the apocalypse coming?? Twitter/Blogger/FB all freaky today. But look: I'm 2nd 1st commenter on this post. Laws of physics be damned!

Moses Siregar III said...

Haha! We're back. I definitely want to comment on this one after I eat my lunch, but first some awesomely good news for me. Amazon dropped my novella to free a couple days ago, and so far that's been good for about 5,000 free downloads.

I'm barely hanging on in the top 100 at literally #100 overall in the free section of the kindle store. In case you'd like to help me stay in the top 100, you can download my ebook for free. Thanks!

Kate Madison, YA author said...

Awesome Moses! Did u ask them to make it free?

Mark Adair said...

Interesting take, Stephen. I just finished reading Dreamer's Cat and I liked it...not the ending so much. :) Overall I'd rate the writing quality above most of what I've read from indie authors. Having said that, I wouldn't put it in a different category than my own, even though the sales results are much less impressive than yours. :)

Maybe the capitalist approach of the consumer decides is just more American and that's why we like the freedom of that option...and the sense of revolution in it. And maybe having the experts decide, separating the wheat from the chaff, is more European...more respectful of well worn institutions and processes.

In any case, congratulations on the great publishing deal and all your success. I carefully consider the words of anyone who's accomplished what you have.

Thanks, Joe, for keeping the conversation going.


Moses Siregar III said...

Kate, IIRC I didn't ask them to make mine free. I'm just incredibly lucky, although there were over 200 lucky indie authors this week (lots of new Amazon freebies).

Although I will say that I did all that I could (besides notifying Amazon) to set myself up for this to happen. I made my novella free at Smashwords, and from there Smashwords pushed the freebie to all of the other sites (B&N, iBooks, Sony, Kobo, Diesel). I don't know what else I might've done or what else might help someone to get an Amazon freebie.

Christina B. said...

I've read so many blog posts and articles on self-publishing in the last few months and I always walk away with the feeling that the most difficult decision is the one made by the not yet published, those ready to start querying today. Unpublished authors face the threshold issue: is the book good enough?

And really, how do you know your book is good enough? Do you get on the query go-round? See what agents say, if anything? How do you know you're there, if the previous mile-markers for the journey have changed so drastically in the last few years?

I think those of us just starting out in publishing are facing the biggest risks, with no fan base or name recognition and no one really knowing what things will look like in 5 or 10 years, and agents saying they won't even consider your future works if you self-publish and don't sell. And since it's partly based on luck, the book needs to be good enough AND you need to get lucky, otherwise you're out of options. That seems so risky.

And yet, my instinctive thought after getting each of the last three full requests from agents I queried was, if they offer representation I probably can't put my books out myself...

Evelyn Lafont/ KeyboardHussy said...

Self-publishing is new to the mainstream and I think that is the reason that most self-pubbers are fixated on marketing when talking to other self-pubbers. It doesn't mean they don't want to (or feel the need to) improve their craft, it simply means that the resources for definite and proven craft improvement are there and easily accessible--they have been for...well...ever. We can all get our hands on them and apply the lessons and see immediate improvement.

This leaves people fixated on marketing and sales, which has no readily available, sure solution.

David said...

Haha. I thought Stephen may have pulled it because of some of the more colorful tweets from American Agents. Seriously, what's up with the internet?

Douglas E Wright said...

Again, I thought this was a very good article. To the point. I agree with most of it and I will still look for a traditional publishing deal. I think one needs both, not one or the other. I want my work to survive in print form as much as digital. I too like looking at my books! Ego or not. lol

Moses Siregar III said...

I still have all of the old posts up in a browser window, in case anyone really needs one copied and pasted. If you do, you can contact me on my FB profile.

Moses Siregar III said...

So, back on topic.

I agree with Stephen on a lot of points. But once an indie author puts his or her work out there, you're not likely to see him or her going around in public asking people how to write (just like any traditionally published author). So once someone decides to independently publish, you're going to see them try to figure out how to sell books, and so on.

In private (mostly), hopefully each of us continues to work on our craft.

Should more people wait and hone their craft more before self-publishing. Well, yeah. Then again, some people have made a lot of money self-publishing their earlier works and if their goal is to make money, then they have to make a tough decision. But as Zoe Winters would say, no one's losing a kidney over this.

If you're having fun, do what you want. If you want a writing career, study and work hard before publishing a book.

I've chosen to wait. My first full-length novel is almost ready, but it's probably going to take at least another 2-3 months before it's where I really want it to be, even though I could release it now and feel good about it. But in the end, I mainly want to publish the best work I possibly can.

Christopher John Chater said...

In 1965 my dad and some friends got together to form a band. They played the local bars and the bowling alley. My grandfather wanted my dad to go to Juilliard to learn how to be musician. He stayed with the band and in 1968 they were selling more albums than the Beatles. I can go down to the local bar and watch a local band that sucks. Years before I saw another band that sucked called Nirvana, and another called Green Day. They both got better. Fans encouraged them.
Indy publishing doesn’t mean you can't learn as you go. The act of publishing is teaching me invaluable information about craft as well as marketing. I read crappy published books all the time. Snooky's book sucks, but she probably drags her friends and family into Barnes and Noble to look at it on the shelf, and some of them might even be impressed. I can't imagine why anyone would buy it, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Get it out there. Listen to the fans, learn, grow, get better.
By the way, there's nothing wrong with having a blog like Konrath's if the model works: Ed Sullivan, Jack Benny, Johnny Carson, Dave Letterman, Conan O'Brian, Jimmy Fallon. If it works, do it.
We don't need park avenue's permission to rock!

John Ling said...

Stephen Leather's been a long-time favourite author of mine, and it's good to see him chime in with his views.

Self-publishing, like most things in life, is a neutral tool. It is neither bad nor good. It's how you use it that determines what the result will be. =)

Moses Siregar III said...

Christopher John Chater's father is???

Anonymous said...

Kerry Chater of Union Gap

David said...

Great post. Needed to be said. Print is the easiest form of validation, but successful indies experience that validation through money.

On a side note, as long as we're working from the premise that a lot of the indie novels are crap (while the good ones are REALLY good), does this explain why there is only a top 100 list on amazon and not a top 1,000?

Scott Gordon said...

Sorry Stephen, but I disagree with you on almost every point. Especially this:

"Yes I know that it’s ridiculous that the traditional publishers keep up to 85 per cent of the money they make from selling eBooks. Yes, it is a fact that you can get an eBook up within hours but a real books takes up to a year from delivery to being on the shelves. But for me at least, being a writer is about producing quality work. Work that I can be proud of. And that takes time and effort. I’m a better writer now than when I started because I have been traditionally published for more than twenty years."

Are you kidding? You're better now because you had had to go through the rigors of traditional publishing, while the publisher kept the lion's share of the profit, and provided an editor, but did not allow you to pick the cover (even if you didn't like what they chose), waited forever to see your book in print, etc.? How did this make you a better writer???

Producing quality work is a choice, not the result of the Big Six.

S.E. Gordon

Sheri Leigh said...

Although I will say that I did all that I could (besides notifying Amazon) to set myself up for this to happen. I made my novella free at Smashwords, and from there Smashwords pushed the freebie to all of the other sites (B&N, iBooks, Sony, Kobo, Diesel). I don't know what else I might've done or what else might help someone to get an Amazon freebie.

Mine's free too! :)

I did the same thing - set it free on Smashwords. That was months ago. It's been free in the UK for a long time. Some books went free in the US this week, but some (like Gemma Holiday's Spying in Heels) which have been free in the UK didn't go free in the US. Hard to say what happened there...

But I'm #3 Free in the Kindle Store, #1 Free in Horror, #1 Free in Romance and #1 Free in Thrillers/Suspense.

But it looks like people, at least if the reviews are to be believed, didn't like the ending! LOL

Anonymous said...

During the great pulp era, the publishers printed tons and tons and tons of pure, unadulterated crap. They also printed Raymond Chandler, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Dashiell Hammett, and H.P. Lovecraft. Ultimately it was the readers who picked the winners. The guys who wrote dreck are forgotten.

How many fantastic books never made it to the readers' hands because some publisher or editor didn't like it, and are now lost forever? No, let the readers be the gatekeepers. They know good stories when they read them, and they will stick with a good storyteller and encourage him to improve his craft by demanding more stories. Practice makes perfect.

Form rejection letters and a thousand rewrites of the same book aren't going make you improve. Once the book is done, it's basically done and you're just reshuffling the same old pieces. The only thing that's going to make you improve is writing more, pushing yourself with new material, trying new things.

So put the book out there and do better on the next one.

Kathleen Dienne said...

Anyone with eyes can see that most of the self-published stuff is crap - you won't catch me disagreeing, Stephen :) I'm also glad to see someone sticking up for the *writing.*

I just don't agree that the traditional system is the most effective one for some of us.

I have been a writer for ten thousand hours, and while I still have quite a bit to learn, I believe (along with my editor and a few reviewers) that my work is ready to be seen.

This pen name writes a length and a genre that print publishers don't want to buy. There's a big e-market for my work, but I've been running numbers and looking at royalties and concluding that with only two publisher exceptions, I can do as well on my own.

- Kathleen
The Hitchhiker, Part 1

Tara Maya said...

Is it my dyslexia, or were there 81 comments before and now there are only 18?!

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Ender Chadwick said...

Moses, thanks for letting me know about your novella. If I'm not mistaken when Amazon sets it to free you still get royalties correct? I hope this is the case because The Black God's War looks right up my alley and I downloaded it :) I look forward to reading it.

As far as my comments to Stephen Leather's post...well I already said my peace but they were sucked away in the great blogger storm of 2011. So I guess I will leave it be.

Jude Hardin said...

Well said, Stephen. I could have written your part of this post, (except for the $500K deal, lol. Congrats on that!).

The other day I read a sample of a book that is ranked in the 2000s (which means that it's selling very, very well), and the writing was absolutely awful. It would have been a form reject from the desk of any reputable agent or editor, and rightfully so.

And I've seen plenty of other highly-ranked books with similar issues...

Sorry, but as a general rule readers suck as gatekeepers. Agents and editors aren't perfect, of course, but the good ones have put in THEIR 10,000 hours and they know quality work when they see it.

If you've been at it a while and you're not getting any nibbles from the pros, your work probably just isn't ready yet. There's no shame in that. If you're really a writer, you'll keep working at fit until it is ready. If you're not a writer, there are plenty of other great hobbies to pursue.

Richard Brown said...

Jude, you read a sample of a book, thought it was awful, and then decided not to buy it? What's the problem? Seems to me like you did a fine job being a gatekeeper.

If other readers enjoyed the book, however, as perhaps indicated by the high sales rank, so what. They have their opinion, you have yours. It's not like you were forced to support the book.

Christopher John Chater said...

Who's your daddy? Moses:

What? A Brit steeped in tradition? There's a shock. That's why 200 years ago everyone was coming to America and that's why were number 1. While traditional pubbing is sipping tea, everyone else is going to be self-pubbing, because its better. I agree with anonymous: Get it out there. If people read it and like it, then it's worthy. Whether or not something is good or bad is subjective.

Christina Garner said...

I agree with much of what Leather is saying here. In my early days as a filmmaker, the Canon XL1 came out and boom, suddenly everyone was a director. On the one hand, I benefitted from this phenomenon--equipment became easier to get, as did crew. On the other hand, getting people to come see my work at film festivals became harder because a) they were now inundated with similar offers, and b) the programs were filled with sub-par films. (Whether mine were among the sub-par ones would be a matter of opinion, of course.)

My point is, that while there were some breakout stars, it also became harder to separate the wheat from the chaff. Believe me, I'm excited about self-publishing. My own YA novel, Gateway will be up in a week. But I do agree with Leather that many authors are focusing on the promotion of the novel as opposed to actually writing a novel so good that it promotes itself. Both have their place, but the craft should be the priority.

wannabuy said...

@Judy: "Sorry, but as a general rule readers suck as gatekeepers"

And so do publishers. They get stuck in a rut and ignore new material. Its like a gate was opened and 20 years of suppressed innovation was released.

e.g., Nathan Lowell because his books have no sex, no violence, no cussing, and no chick with a laser rifle... He never would have made it into Barnes and Noble or Borders Sci-fi section. Instead he found an audience. Or Derek's DDDD, or Tara Maya's painted world, or ... :)

I'm much happier being my own gatekeeper. :)


Silver Bowen said...

My original post managed to disappear during the crash, apparently.

Summary - 99.9% of everything is crap. Artists need to grow a pair and stand up for their work. gatekeeper, shmatekeeper.

'Nuff said.

Anonymous said...

I talked about the quality of our work as Indie Authors for months and months. Why we should strive to give readers only the best of ourselves. 150% effort to be 99.8% perfect. I even wrote and published with Kindle a little piece called What Not To Do, which highlights my mistakes over the last two decades, what I learned from those same mistakes, and it lists eleven of the best How To books out there today any aspiring writer can learn from. From dud to stud. The best info I could find. But, I’m not a mainstream published writer. Nobody cared about what I had to say, so I’m very pleased to see it all here now.

I can’t hire an editor, so I spent years learning how to edit myself into print. I’m published with a few great magazine credits, but never could land an agent. I always seemed to be in the wrong place with the wrong material at the wrong time. I have four books I self-published, with five more finished novels on the way, but only after I’ve reached my goal of 150% effort to be 99.8% perfect. I have my time in, and then some.

My formatting is simple but clean, my covers I do myself, and I like them. I’m a damn good storyteller, and a good writer. I do everything myself because I have to. I don’t have any other choice. I believe in this movement. I’m a proud entertainer, a proud storyteller, a proud writer, editor, formatter, and cover artist.

I’m fifty this year, and a social networking dud. I can’t milk jack or shit online. I can’t afford ads. I am obsessed with marketing, sure. Why? I know I have good books, and I want them to be read. I want my day to come. Twenty years in the making, and I have to fight for every reader. You, you know how much luck comes into play in this business. Me, I have to make my luck. I’m one of those. My blog grows by the day, within the top twenty at Network Blogs, but that has never translated into sales. I don’t know why.

I’m now selling a book a day on average. Almost one year after I started self-publishing I published a porn novel, a sexual satire called Alice! XXX, and I now average a sale a day. I’ll take what I can get.

Terrance Foxxe for your Kindle

A Post-apocalyptic Story of Love
In The Dreaming
What Not To Do
Alice! XXX

Kannan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kannan said...

I agree with Joe and with some other commenters who said that readers make excellent gatekeepers. If publishers made great gatekeepers, then why aren't all books best sellers? Just like there are lousy self-published books, there are lousy traditionally published books. The quality of book and how well it sold depends on how well the book was written, edited and marketed IMO; and not on whether they were self-published, or published by a big publisher.

Good self-published authors do hire an editor and do get their books proofread and beta tested. So they do get feedback to know whether they have written crap or not. A good product will promote itself and sell itself through word of mouth. A bad product with crash and burn, no matter how well it is promoted.

It looks to me that the only people who seem to afraid of self-publishing are authors who are afraid of competition and feel that their "good" book will go un-noticed just because there are hundreds of "bad" books out their. Trust me, if you have really well written book, it WILL sell by word-of-mouth. If your book is not selling, it's not because of the "other" bad books; it's because either your book is not good enough, or you did not get the initial word out to enough people to get the snow-ball effect going. People should not feel threatened by the other "bad" books. They should just worry about making their own product better and get the word out once they have given it their best. Peace and Namaste! And best wishes to all!

Kate Madison, YA author said...

I don't know, Jude. I think I do a pretty good job of guarding the gates to my wallet. The marketplace isn't some art criticism course. It's where art and commerce meet. Sounds like you have strong opinions about where that intersection should be.

David Tanner said...


I'm wondering what you meant by "readers suck as gatekeepers?"

I THINK I know what you meant but I'd like some clarification since I don't like to assume.

L. David Hesler said...

Great post, Stephen. And as always, wonderful thoughts afterwards, Joe. It's shaken me... in a good way. The whole piece has me thinking about my own work. And contrary to what many might say, thinking is pretty damn fun.

I think it's too easy to get caught up in the tornado of "mandatory" indie trends, thus losing sight of what drives us in the first place.

I certainly don't want to sell shit, so I'm going to start doing something each day to improve my writing. A writer's ability to be self-critical is essential, especially when self publishing. We can be close to our work and be honest at the same time; otherwise our work is disingenuous.

Stephen Leather said...

@Christina Yes, there is a comparison to be made with film-making. I do worry that Amazon will go the way of YouTube, where 99.9 per cent of what's put up is garbage. Yes, videos do go viral and yes it makes stars, but it's very difficult to get noticed. The more badly-written books that go onto the Amazon sites, the harder it becomes for the quality writing to get noticed. It's not true that the cream rises to the top, much more so that you can't see the wood for the trees.....

Stephen Leather said...

@Mark Adair - I agree it's not my best work, and between you and me I actually wrote it not long after I hit my 10,000 hours! I do think that it's a good 99 cents Kindle read though. That is one thing I am noticing - that shorter, pacier, action-packed stories seem to sell better than my longer (140,000 words plus) thrillers..... I wonder if the Kindle is better suited to short attention spans? Should eBooks be shorter/faster than paperbacks?

Tom said...

Stephen, I love your work (especially The Double Tap). You make a very interesting post, and I can relate to it in a lot of ways. Going through the traditional route really turned what I thought at the time was a great book into what I'm now told is a great book. In comparison, that first finished product just wasn't good enough. Had I self published it without the innumerable changes agents and editors encouraged me to make, it would have been a huge mistake.

Indies who rely on friends and family to edit them are walking a dangerous line. I have to beg my friends and family to be honest about my work, and they rarely are. Those in JK's situation who can use other writers to edit will be fine, but those without could regret rushing to get their ebooks out there.

Stephen Leather said...

Thanks, Tom. The Double Tap is one of my favourites - though I always regret killing off Mike Cramer. With hindsight it was a huge mistake...

Mark Asher said...

"The other day I read a sample of a book that is ranked in the 2000s (which means that it's selling very, very well), and the writing was absolutely awful. It would have been a form reject from the desk of any reputable agent or editor, and rightfully so."

Writers care a lot more about the quality of the writing than the readers do or ever have.

Readers are interested in story. Give them a good story and they don't care about the quality of the writing as long as it doesn't fall through the floor. Writers are sensitive to the quality of the writing because writers are knee-deep in it and think about it all the time. Readers really don't care.

You know what readers typically ding a book on in terms of writing quality? Typos and easy to spot grammatical mistakes.

Unknown said...

Stephen: I worked as a print journalist for many years before trying to write creatively. While I had certainly written my share of feature stories over the years, it's really nothing like writing a novel. Different skill set and, yes, it is like running a marathon.

I agree with your comments about marketing. Although, as an "indie," if you have written a good book and you don't do those things, how is your work going to be discovered? Luck? I know Joe says that's a part of it, but I don't think we can totally rely on it.

Stacy said...

You're spot on about the quality of a lot of the books on Amazon. It's a sad fact but true.

As an unpublished author, I've been reading a lot on this debate, and it's a tough decision to make. I'm willing to invest the money and time to make a self-published book as good as possible, but there's something to be said for going the traditional route, and that's the learning curve.

I think I'd like to take the risk and have the experience, even if it's all a wake-up call. I'd rather query 50 agents and have one actually give me advice on my manuscript than jump into self-publishing just for the sake of saying I've got a book on Kindle.

Jude Hardin said...

The more badly-written books that onto the Amazon sites, the harder it becomes for the quality writing to get noticed. It's not true that the cream rises to the top, much more so that you can't see the wood for the trees...

That's it, I think. And right now it seems a lot of readers are making choices based on price and marketing with little regard to quality.

But I'm sure once Joe Reader gets a taste of some of these stories he will quickly realize they weren't such great bargains after all. So maybe, once the market stabilizes some in regard to price ($.99 for a novel is insane), the cream really will start rising to the top.

Anne Marie Novark said...

I don't understand how readers suck as gatekeepers.

Are we forgetting that it's all about the READERS???!!!

Writers write so readers can read.

I always write with the reader in mind. And now that I'm Indie, I don't have to write with an editor in mind any longer. Only the readers matter. I write stories and share them with readers.

IMO, that's the whole point of this exercise. Money is nice (and I'm making a respectable amount), but those lovely reviews are nicer.

Connecting with readers is my main objective when I write. Readers are the most important part of the equation, IMO.

jtplayer said...

I've read some very good indie ebooks. And I've read some that were just ok. Lately I tend to alternate, ebook to paper book and back.

The last ebook I read was Bob Mayer's Duty, Honor, Country. The paper book I'm currently reading is Adios Hemingway by Leonardo Padura Fuentes.

I can say that uniformly, the traditionally published books are a cut above the indie ebooks. It's not something I can put my finger on, but it's there.

That's not to say the ebooks shouldn't have been published, but my sense is they would have been much better had they been vetted in the more "traditional" manner.

Mayer's book is a great example of this. I'm fully aware of his back story, how he went indie after a long career being traditionally published. How he wanted his book out for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and he felt the traditional route would take too long. How he wanted more control over his writing and his career. I get all that, and I wish him the best of luck.

But I gotta say, while the book was good, it falls short for me. I was fully pumped to read it from the moment I read about it on his website and over at the Writer's Cafe. I bought it the day it came out and jumped right in. And I read it in a few days and walked away feeling let down.

To me, it's a 3 star book that should have been 5 . I have a strong sense that had Bob gone a different publishing route, he would have gotten those extra 2 stars from this reader.

David said...

It's not worth it to comment anymore if everytime I type comments in they get lost. Boo.

The irony would be if this complaint gets posted.

Charles said...

This post hit me between the eyes. I've got some things for sale and guess what I've been doing with all my free time. Reading about tagging. Blogging. Social networking!!! And the lowest priority? More writing. Well said and said well.

Sharper13x said...

Interesting conversation. Personally, I feel like a key point is being missed somewhat. Something to do with with what it really means when we say "the game has changed."

When everybody has access to the same audience, and the audience itself becomes the "gatekeeper," then people who can change the way they think about the game have an advantage.

Stephen Leather mentioned in a comment that maybe ebooks should be shorter and faster. Maybe so. I certainly agree as my series of 99 cent, 100 page cliffhangers will attest. This is a time for experimentation and a time for forgetting about old barriers. The sooner we realize the wall is no longer there, the sooner we can go about the business of blazing a path into the forest.

The big deal right now is in all those possible paths. Because while the function of traditional gatekeepers has been useful in some ways, it's also true that gatekeepers are stifling to the creative community in many, many ways.

Use movies as an example. In big-budget movies, the gatekeepers are firmly entrenched. It is true that from a technical standpoint, movies are greater now than they have ever been. It is also true that the people making the movies are as talented and probably more skilled than they have ever been. But...

We will never see a film like Lawrence of Arabia again. We will never see an expensive film shot entirely on location in a desert where the only special effect is the interplay of the Sun, sand, the blue sky, and an awesome cinematographer. We will never again see a big budget movie that introduces a key character with 5 minutes of silent riding through columns of heat rising from the sand. Never, never, never, because the gatekeepers are paying for it and they simply won't have it.

And that sucks.

But with books? You can write anything you want. Even stuff that the gatekeepers would never sign off on. Because it's too complex. Or maybe because it's too silly. Whatever. You can do it. And if it's good, who knows, maybe it will catch on. You are free to succeed or fail on your own, and it has nothing to do with me or my success or failure, because the IS NO WALL.

Worrying about genies already out of their bottles is old world thinking. It's like moving to New York City because you want to start a career in Radio, then finding out that people are pod-casting from their phones.

To me, if you are capable of writing good material, every moment spent lamenting over the sea of dreck currently available because the gates have come down, is wasted. Because it's already happened. Better that we all learn to swim.

Oh, and congrats Moses! You've worked your ass off for the success that's coming.

jtplayer said...

Stephen...I just bought the first Kings X, based on what I read on your website. It's not a genre I normally read, but I dig the concept.

Good luck to you.

Moses Siregar III said...

Thanks very much, Stephen. I hope you're right :-)

I want to add that it's very possible to put in the work to make an indie work comparable to a traditionally published book. It requires paying for good editors and having good beta readers, plus many hours (months or years) of rewriting and revision. There's no reason you can't put out a high-quality book as an indie if you work for it and get the right kind of help. You test the book with test readers and they'll let you know when you're there.

I've had my book looked over by literally hundreds of readers when I include all of the online crit groups I've participated in, and that's been extremely to me. I've also paid three editors and I have some damn sharp beta readers, who also publish books.

If not for them, I would've released my novel by now. Because of them, I've been pushed to revise again and try to shore up some weaknesses and play to more strengths. I wouldn't want to do it any other way.

Moses Siregar III said...

correction, *and that's been extremely helpful to me*

jtplayer said...

Very good points Moses.

Unfortunately, there's nothing about this brave new world of indie epublishing that encourages your approach.

Instead, we're advised to just put it out there, and revise and modify on the fly. Change covers, tweak content, fix obvious can all be done after publication, simply because there's no one saying you can't.

To me, it's an ass-backwards way to publish.

And it's the very reason so many indie ebooks are just OK, when they most likely could have been excellent.

Sadly, many seem to think making money equals good. And the way to make money is to publish fast and often.

Ender Chadwick said...

@ jtplayer,
I was hoping you expand upon a point you made, I'm not disagreeing with you (I haven't read it so I can't) but you said: "To me, it's a 3 star book that should have been 5 . I have a strong sense that had Bob gone a different publishing route, he would have gotten those extra 2 stars from this reader."

I'm just curious as to what you feel he'd have gotten out of going the traditional route that would have brought it up 2 stars in your estimation. Editing? Rewrites?

I've heard from several traditionally published authors now that they were underwhelmed by the editing work they received.

Again, I'm not disagreeing with you or arguing, I would just appreciate a bit of clarification on your opinion.

This however I do feel like I need to say something about: "Sadly, many seem to think making money equals good."

I can't disagree and say that isn't the case, but it does beg the question, isn't that exactly the publisher's point of view as well?

I don't actually have any personal experience dealing with traditional publishers but I do have experience with record labels and the two seem to have a great number of parallels. And that is certainly the attitude of music industry professionals.

Eric Christopherson said...

Readers do not suck as gatekeepers. They may suck as YOUR gatekeeper if your tastes aren't majority tastes.

But even if your tastes are in the minority, after a time, enough likeminded readers will leave enough reviews to provide a good gatekeeping mechanism for you too.

jtplayer said...

Ender...I'm not necessarily advocating for traditional, or "legacy" publishing (as some like to call it), I'm simply pointing out observations that I as a reader have made.

I purchase and read both ebooks and paper books. I still prefer paper books. Maybe that will change over time. And let me say again, I've read some fine indie published ebooks lately.

For my own completed novel, and the ones yet to be written, I'm still on the fence about how to proceed. But I fully admit to not being in it for the money. Honestly, I don't need to make a dime from my writing. Sure it'd be nice if I could, but it's not a motivation for me.

As far as Bob Mayer's book goes, I feel it could have benefitted from the traditional vetting process. I have no idea how far he went with professional editing and proofreading and whatnot. All I know is the book had consistent errors in it, and it tended to meander a bit. In short, it felt indie published to me. Compared to what I normally read that is.

Moses Siregar III said...

jt said: "Sadly, many seem to think making money equals good. And the way to make money is to publish fast and often."

There is a fair amount of that going on, including people making lots of $$$ this way. I'm glad to be taking the slow man's route, even though it might cost me financially. Who knows, maybe it will pay off more in the long run, but what's more important to me is knowing that I gave readers my very best effort. If someone is going to spend, say, 10-15 hours of her life reading my book, I want to feel _really_ good about those hours. Otherwise, I'd just feel like a douchebag.

If my top goal was to make money as quickly as possible, though, I'd do things differently.

Rebecca Stroud said...

(I had this reply ready to go before Blogger fell into the two days late and a dollar short, here goes anyway.)
To Anonymous who said 99.999999999999999999999999% of indie books are shit:

If you have 99 cents to spare, I'd like you to read one of my stories (link below) and then post, here on Joe's blog, if you think it's garbage. Yes, it is indeed short but shit? Please tell me...and everyone else here. Seriously.

Rebecca Stroud
Zellwood: A Dog Story

Jude Hardin said...

Readers do not suck as gatekeepers.

I'm talking about books (poorly-written ones, using objective criteria, not opinion) that sell simply because they're a certain genre and have a cool cover and cost $.99. A good portion of these books are not nearly ready for publication, by anyone's standards, yet they sell well regardless.

You're right, really, that the gatekeepers don't suck; essentially there are no gatekeepers. Books that never should have been published are becoming "bestsellers." How can that possibly be a good thing?

Ender Chadwick said...

Thank you for the clarification jt. That sheds light on your opinion of that particular book. And I can understand where your coming from, it's just from some of the traditionally published work I've read, I've lost a good deal of faith in that vetting process.

Side note: Nice Tele's in the pic ;) I'm more of a Strat guy myself but I love Tele's too.

Moses Siregar III said...

Btw, thanks very much, Ender.

jtplayer said...

Strats are cool Ender...but Teles rule baby!

As far as this notion of readers as gatekeepers, I say nonsense to that. That's simply a Konrathism that's perpetuated here repeatedly.

Readers are consumers. Period. By the time the book gets in their hands, it's already passed through whatever "gates" there may be.

In my mind, it's more accurate to say the writer is now his own gatekeeper. He or she gets to say when and where their work will be published. The reader will ultimately decide if the book languishes in obscurity, or rises to the level of bestseller.

Sharper13x said...

JT said "Very Good Points, Moses. Unfortunately, there's nothing about this brave new world of indie epublishing that encourages your approach"

That's true, another fact of the new world. But we'll see how that shakes out. It's still quite possible that quality control going "above and beyond" the new-necessary will pay off with audiences in the long run. I suspect that what it will really do is help "your" audience to find you.

Because, the thing is, this isn't really a mass-audience game any more. The key is reaching "your" audience. Much has been said on Joe's site about the uselessness of advertising. Mass advertising is too broad of a brush for an unknown to reach readers in this new environment. That's why social media is so valuable.

One other thing I wanted to talk about before my last post turned into another book, is the importance of branding. Brand consulting is actually my day job so I notice it a lot.

I've sampled a lot of the more successful Indie authors. What I found is a pretty wide variance in writing ability, some quite good, some not so good - but one thing all the successful Indie authors have is a discernible and cohesive brand.

So much of good branding is about "knowing who you are" and consistently living up to it. When people/customers/readers know what to expect (and they like it) they keep coming back.

That's why it's so important to write what you love. Write what moves you and you're way more likely to move somebody else than if you're deciding on the best niche to write for. This might be truer now even more than before.

JT, first, thanks for giving my book a chance. And second, along the lines of branding, it's interesting that you say you don't normally read the genre, because it illustrates my own continuing failure with marketing this project. Namely, I'm not sure what the genre is. Saying "The Maltese Falcon" meets "The Lord of the Rings" creates a vast area for people to ask... "wtf does that mean?"

Turns out, doing your own branding is kind of like doing your own editing. I may be a little too close to it to do it right. I've changed the way I position King's X several times. Everything I say about it is accurate, but the bottom line, so far, seems to be that it's a little too different to fit into whatever expectations the cover and description convey. It's definitely a Suspense/Thriller, but all the other tags you could put on it come with expectations that it flaunts. "Paranormal" with no vampires, "urban fantasy" with no monsters, "Historical Fiction" but with paranormal elements... etc...

The good news for me is that people really seem to like it when they read it. So, slowly but surely I'm building a brand based on that. However, "no one is sure what it is, but everybody likes it" is not the strongest tag line in the world. Ha, ha.

I'm wide open to suggestions if anyone wants to help.

But ultimately, I do believe in what Joe says about ebooks being forever. Write the thing that would blow you away if you read it. Word of mouth is the great equalizer and the place where "little engine that could" books come from.

Eric Christopherson said...

I'm talking about books (poorly-written ones, using objective criteria, not opinion) that sell simply because they're a certain genre and have a cool cover and cost $.99. A good portion of these books are not nearly ready for publication, by anyone's standards, yet they sell well regardless.

You know what's really funny is a few of these books have been picked up by major publishers or Amazon Encore. They've bought sizzle instead of steak, but that's publishing for ya.

You're right, really, that the gatekeepers don't suck; essentially there are no gatekeepers. Books that never should have been published are becoming "bestsellers." How can that possibly be a good thing?

If you take the short term view then consumers as gatekeepers might not be any better than agents and editors as gatekeepers. Consumer-driven gatekeeping needs time to work, at least right now.

But reader reviews collect drop by drop, and the amateur book infrastructure that's developing, e.g., Good Reads, RedAdept and BigAl, improved analytics from Amazon and B&N, and so forth, is going to make things better one day. The reader will have cheaper books, much more variety from which to choose, and will be better satisfied than under the old system, which isn't going away, at any rate, merely downsizing (IMHO).

jtplayer said...

Stephen...I think you're on the right track with your marketing. At least as far as snaring me in.

I was hooked by the Maltese Falcon reference for sure. If you'd left it as a Lord of the Rings thing, I probably would have skipped it altogether. I'm just not into that.

I also like the cliffhanger serial idea, and was very tempted to buy all of the books, yet chose to hold off until I see what you're about. That's the power of .99.

I've got a few other things to finish up first, then I'll dive right into your book. I'm looking forward to it my friend.

Sharper13x said...

I'm going to try really hard to write a shorter post this time (not including quotes from others).

Eric C. said... "But reader reviews collect drop by drop, and the amateur book infrastructure that's developing, e.g., Good Reads, RedAdept and BigAl, improved analytics from Amazon and B&N, and so forth, is going to make things better one day. The reader will have cheaper books, much more variety from which to choose, and will be better satisfied than under the old system, which isn't going away, at any rate, merely downsizing (IMHO)."


Sharper13x said...

Thanks, JT. I held off on embracing the LotR element for that reason, but the reader reviews kept bringing it up, so I decided to stop arguing with what it was. The thing is, it has nothing to do with elves or goblins or any of the pure fantasy things LotR conveys, so I didn't really want to bring it up. But nevertheless, the description is accurate, and I think pretty compelling.

Thanks for the feedback. I'm going to stick with it for a while and see how it goes. It sounds like something I'd like to read, so that's a good start.

Mike Dennis said...

Quote: "I really believe that if the Kindle had been around twenty years ago and I had rushed into self-publishing I would probably have made a lot of money but wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good a writer as I am."

Stephen, I have to disagree here. You might've rushed into self-publishing 20 years ago, and maybe made some money, but you certainly would've gotten better with each successive book, just the way you have done by being traditionally published. You may have actually become even better than you already are because you would've been able to write more books and not have to wait two or three years between each release.

The arrogance of the publishing industry, the notion that they are "gatekeepers", denying entry to all the crap while admitting only the very best of the best, is total bullshit. These people are not patrons of the arts. I can take you into any major bookstore in the US right now and show you plenty of crap shoveled out there by the trad publishers.

Let's start with Snooki's "novel". Think that's something the gatekeepers allowed inside because they felt the groundswell of demand for the literary gems it contained? No, it was allowed in for the MONEY. That is the only reason any book is given entry by the so-called gatekeepers, because they think they can make money off it. That's why you were published, that's why Joe was published, that's why Stephen King is published.

And yes, that's why Snooki was published.

So please, no more talk about the gatekeepers and their burning desire to maintain a high level of quality for their readers.

But other than that, Stephen, good post!

Anna Murray said...

I had to self-publish TAKEDOWN. Going through agents and the traditional contract system takes 18 months to 2 years to get a book published (if it gets picked up immediately), and by then the content would no longer be as timely.

My only realistic choice was to self-publish. The story and themes are relevant today, not two years from now.


Ender Chadwick said...

@ Stephen T Harper,
I just downloaded the sample of King's X. Fantastic opening, so I had to buy the first one. My 'to read' list is getting too big, but I suppose there are worse problems to have.

You mentioned that you do branding as a profession correct? I'm curious to hear your take on cross-genre authors and how to brand someone who writes everything from Sci-Fi and fantasy to horror to erotica?

Will Granger said...

My biggest problem with traditional publishing and agents being the gatekeepers is that most make their decisions after just reading a query letter. I have confidence that my book isn't shit, but I am not sure about my ability to write a good query letter. It is also frustrating that most self-proclaimed experts have different opinions on how to write a query letter.
I'm tired of sending my queries to agents - it bugs me that they make decisions based on a query or a few pages. I'm also tired of them saying how busy they are. Excuses are for losers.
I'm giving self publishing a try, and I'll try to do a better job on my next book, and on the one after that.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Leather said:
That is one thing I am noticing - that shorter, pacier, action-packed stories seem to sell better than my longer (140,000 words plus) thrillers..... I wonder if the Kindle is better suited to short attention spans? Should eBooks be shorter/faster than paperbacks?***

I think what happens is people who are looking at buying your longer works, but aren't sure if it is a good investment of their time (and maybe money) will try a shorter cheaper read. And then if they like it they'll keep you in mind for one of their bigger purchases. So you'll have a larger base with short fiction. (Also, there are a lot of people out there that seem to like short fiction -- one of the things the e-readers seemed to have uncovered).


Jude Hardin said...

But reader reviews collect drop by drop, and the amateur book infrastructure that's developing, e.g., Good Reads, RedAdept and BigAl, improved analytics from Amazon and B&N, and so forth, is going to make things better one day. The reader will have cheaper books, much more variety from which to choose, and will be better satisfied than under the old system, which isn't going away, at any rate, merely downsizing (IMHO).

You're probably right, Eric. Time will tell, I suppose.

Sharper13x said...

Typing on phone at poker table. So must keep short.

@ Ender. Thank you very much. Re :branding for authors, I have no experience specifically, so take everything with grain of salt. But general pirinciples of building a good brand should apply. Know who you are for. And who you are not for. Deliver consistently on who you are for. And don't dilute what you are good at by reaching for who you are not for. You might lose more than u gain. Make sense?

That said, if you love more than one genre then write for them both. But don't expect readers of one to necessarily follow you. Unless what you are promising goes beyond genre. For example, I'd read anything from John Steinbeck. Other than that. Many people here are more qualified to help than me. Good luck.

Kate said...

I'm sorry, but this is one of those silly arguments that never seem to go anywhere. Both sides have merit. I can think of 3 different series from the traditional gatekeepers that had the most horrible horrible writing. (Shiver being the newest) I think to myself,"This got past the experts???"
Do you know why? Because the "experts" are quickly realizing that lots and lots of readers who pay money, just don't CARE about errors or bad prose or cliche characters. Shiver has 21,000 reviews on goodreads and 12,000 of them are FIVE STARS. It is some of the worst storytelling and writing I've ever seen.
Then look at Amanda Hocking, whose books are RIFE with errors. 4,000 ratings, over half are four stars and above.
Writing doesn't matter to everyone. It's a shame, but it's true. So, why should it matter whether you publish or self-publish?
Either way, the readers are going to choose. I agree with Joe, readers are and always will be the gatekeepers.
Caring about writing these days is like caring about the fact that Justin Bieber sings dumb songs. No one who pays the money for them agrees with you. And there are a LOT of people paying.

Moses Siregar III said...

Kate, because you didn't use empty lines between paragraphs I almost didn't get to this nugget at the end:

"Caring about writing these days is like caring about the fact that Justin Bieber sings dumb songs. No one who pays the money for them agrees with you. And there are a LOT of people paying."

Anonymous said...

Eric C wrote

You know what's really funny is a few of these books have been picked up by major publishers or Amazon Encore. They've bought sizzle instead of steak, but that's publishing for ya.

I blogged about this recently.

I won't name any names here, but there was at least one author who, just a year ago, put "Kindle bestselling author" in siglines. Today? Sales are abysmal for that author, we're talking rankings of 100,000 + for the 99 cent "bestseller" of a year ago.

Eventually the readers figure it out. A flashy cover and compelling blurb and 99 cent price might get them some attention today, but if the writing isn't good then the fame is the 15 minute quickie.

Unknown said...

Interesting post. I'm still digesting it so I haven't quite sorted my thoughts about it.

I agree that readers are excellent gatekeepers, but sales figures aren't always a good indicator of book quality. Best sellers are generally good books, but not all the good books are best-sellers. If an author can't get his/her book in front of readers, it won't sell no matter how good it is. Hence, all the blog and forum posts on how to market. Word of mouth takes time and brand new authors have to build their reader base from scratch.

I don't agree about the reviews of new books all being by friends and family. Or maybe it's just that my friends and family are abnormal as I have no real life friends or family who have left reviews. Only my dad has read my books and he could barely download the book from Barnes&Noble on his Nook. Asking him to leave a review there would be beyond his technical abilities. ;-)

Anonymous said...

We exist because of readers, but what if they, your average reader, don’t know you exist?

A lot of us end up stuck in writer Hell, and not reader Heaven. Writers do very little if nothing for other writers. We’re invisible.

Me, I Facebooked, asking for readers and reviewers, offering free e-books for anyone willing to try me out. Month after month, nothing, nobody, phuuuuut! My blog tour consisted of two blogs. Other than that, I was ignored. Reviewers ignored me. It seems as if I can’t catch a break. Funny thing is, this is normal for most of us Indie Authors. Why? A lot of writers producing flawed, amateurish material. It doesn’t matter to them how hard I worked to see each novel read as if they were professionally produced, and I’m lost in the crowd.

I’m still invisible. To end this nightmare I’m going offline with all my very cheap marketing efforts. I have to let my audience know I exist before they can find me. Excuses ARE for losers. My stuff isn’t shit, and I’ll never take no for an answer. I put too much hard work into each novel to be invisible.

shaved monkey said...

If the new gatekeepers are the readers, they're doing a shitty job, because 99% of vanity publication today is shit. Faced with having my books buried under a pile of shit or being an extinct T-Rex, I think I'll choose the latter, Thanks.

Unknown said...

Agree with your arguments that the focus should be on craft rather than marketing Mr. Leather. Well said, though I also agree with you Joe, when you say that the days of publishing in the traditional way are numbered. I think that it is incumbent upon all indie self-pubbers to work as hard as we can to publish as professional a product as possible while exploring the new ways to market it like Joe is currently doing.

David H Fears said...

No one has a monopoly on truth--Joe has his POV and I agree with most of it. Stephen is so right when he argues that the writer should constantly try to improve his writing. Over a decade ago I self-pubbed a short story collection under the name DH Henry...sold perhaps 300 of these books after finding an editor, a graphic artist, a printer, etc. There were no ebooks then and I was in love with the short story form. Then I did novels & am selling 4 in a series of PI mysteries, ala Raymond Chandler ( I wish! ). Funny thing--I've tried to read about 6 indie novels from those on the Kindle boards and I couldn't finish any of them, the writing was so bad. Maybe because I taught English comp? Maybe. Anyway, good writing and self-publishing are not mutually exclusive.

wannabuy said...

@JT:"Mayer's book is a great example of this. "

I enjoyed that book more than any other I've read in 2011.

That is the weakness of the old publishing system. They onley let books through they 'loved.' I'm finding they blocked quite a few of the books I love.

1st rule of business school is 'you are not the market.' I'm with Kate, the spending audience will determine what they like. The current system is an excellent filter.

I'm happier with the new selection. About 80% indie in 2011. Only 2 pbooks so far in 2011 too. At this rate my paper TBR pile will last 25 years!


wannabuy said...

@David:Maybe because I taught English comp? Maybe. Anyway, good writing and self-publishing are not mutually exclusive."
1st, nicely balanced post.

I am of the opinion the old publishing system targeted books towards those with an extensive background (English major, taught comp, etc.) Heaven forbid books be written/slanded for scientists/engineers or even those sans a formal education. ;)

I was always taught to encourage reading. Since ebooks appeal to a broader audience, I seem them expanding reading. :)


jtplayer said...

I enjoyed Duty, Honor, Country as well Neil, and I'm in no way saying it was not a good book. I just honestly believe it could have been much better. And despite being let down a bit, I'm sure I'll buy the sequel when it comes out.

To me there's an "x" factor missing in many of the indie ebooks I read. Does traditional publishing provide the missing piece 100% of the time? Certainly it does not.

But consistently, for over 40 years of reading, big publishing has satisfied me, and brought me countless hours of pleasure.

Kate said...

Sorry. I didn't realize there was a comment leaving etiquette. I rarely post comments on these blogs, there are so many!

I will be sure to leave a space between them from now on. :)

BTW: Downloaded your novella from Amazon. Very interested to try it out.

Laura Resnick said...

Well, I was swith you until you recommended that people send their work to literary agents and, if an agent won't represent it, consider the fact that it's not good enough.

I've been making my full-time living as a novelist for over 20 years, and I've sold about 30 books.

During most of my career, I either (a) haven't had an agent and sold on my own, or (b) had an agent who wouldn't send out my material, so I sold it myself despite being agented, and/or (c) had an agent who demanded a full 15% commission despite not having been involved in getting an offer on the table.

So having an agent is not only seldom useful, it's also VERY expensive. A MUCH better, more effective, more productive, and more fiscally rational choice is to learn the business, manage one's own career, and pay a literary lawyer to negotiate the clauses of one's publishing contracts.

I've made over 20 of my books sales myself; a few to small presses, but most of them to major houses.

At least 9 of those sales (including the books currently being released by the Penguin USA empire) were with books that MULTIPLE literary agents told me were unsaleable and/or that my own agents declined to send out. Those 9 sales of projects that agents denigrated and declined to handle, in their wisdom, include books that were nominated for awards, that got starred reviews in the trades, that made various "best" lists, and that were some of my most lucrative work. With 3 of these "unsaleable" books, I also RE-sold them to other markets, for more money, after rights reverted.

Yet literary agents--the same profession bitching about how they can't make a living selling books anymore--actively refused to handle those books. (In one of my favorite examples, several agents told me a project was unsaleable a few weeks before, sending it out on my own, I got a $75,000 offer. In another example, as a brand new unknown, I sold my first two books to a major house within a year of a dozen agents telling me the books were unsaleable and/or I wasn't a good enough writer to sell. I sold an additional 10 books to that house over the next few years.)

If I had listened to advice likes your, i.e. "get a literary agent, and if an agent won't submit your book, then maybe it's just not good enough," then I wouldn't have had the busy, award-winning, full-time, self-supporting publishing career I've had for over 20 years--indeed, I wouldn't have a career at ALL.

Apart from that bad advice, though, I think this was an excellent post and I agree with a lot of what you've said--though I imagine you're getting railed at for some of it!

Anonymous said...

Hate to say this folks, but there is no such thing as a "gatekeeper."

In trad publisher, there is only a company who chooses the authors it wants to invest money in. It develops a system to help it make this chose. It does not "keep" anyone from doing anything.

In indie publishing, there are only consumers who decide what they want to buy or not buy. Again, they don't keep anyone from doing anything.

There is no "gate."

David Gaughran said...

I have a problem with this idea that good writing is going to drown in a flood of awful self-published work, pinned to the ocean floor by a swarm of split infinitives and dangling modifiers.

First off, I have no problem finding great books right now. Anyone else having trouble?

Second, there are over a trillion unique web pages, with billions more being added every day. People have no problem finding stuff, and buying stuff. And they are online in greater numbers every day doing just that.

People will discover new authors the way they always have. They will tell each other. It's actually easier now.

Suzanne Tyrpak said...

Stephen! You post about your books on FB and other places...oh yeah, you were kicked off U.K. Amazon.

Congrats on your new book deal, but really, why put down indie authors? I'm disappointed in this post. :(

Your FB friend,

Moses Siregar III said...

Not etiquette really, Kate. It's just hard to read long chunks of prose :P

Brilliant comment, though. And thanks very much!

Roguecyber said...


I agree, recommending an author see out leeches... I mean "agents" seems rather like recommending bloodletting to balance one's humours.


"Second, there are over a trillion unique web pages, with billions more being added every day. People have no problem finding stuff, and buying stuff. And they are online in greater numbers every day doing just that."

Just going to quote that. Amazing and insightful point.

@Mr. Leather...

I have a very dear friend who was a music major (specifically voice), member of the SF Opera, and not teaches music.

Unfortunately we cannot talk about music especially singers.

"Why?", you might ask. Well.. Most singers I enjoy, especially any sort of Pop or Rock music, aren't good singers. By that I mean their technique is poor. They are doing a thousand little things that I don't notice or care about, yet my very dear friend cannot stand. He can hear every little vocal problem. He can hear the strain, the incorrect breath placement. He can hear all of these things because he is a professional singer. It's his business to know. I can't hear those things, so I can enjoy the passion of the music and ignore the voice issues.

Readers are the same way. Their eyes skip over the passive voice or the misspelled word. Their enjoyment of the story isn't effected by these errors. They are still transported to another word, entertained and happy.

Why would you want to take away their joy?

wannabuy said...

@JT"I'm sure I'll buy the sequel when it comes out."

I've mostly read midlist my whole life. Joe has done an incredible job blogging the dearth of support for midlist publishing today. That is where I find the x-factor. Some big6 authors still have it. Today I have an easier time finding it with Indie authors thanks to ebooks.

I'm not going back; there is a reason ebook adoption is accelerating.


wannabuy said...

Moses: done!

wannabuy said...

@David:"First off, I have no problem finding great books right now. Anyone else having trouble?"

None. Ever since I stopped pre-buying big6 books, I have not had a disappointment.


Anonymous said...

Heard about this post on Kindleboards and the heated responses it got from authors there.
I gotta say I disagree on the idea that with no exception, books that couldn't be traditionally published are badly written and "crap." A lot of it has to do with luck and politics.
If anyone wants to disagree, I invite anyone who thinks so to read just this short story and if it's badly written, flame me all over the place you can write a review. There's plenty of authors who've got the gift of the pen who have to resort to self-publishing.
Hell, even Mark Twain did that at one point and so did William Blake.
So do music artists with free "mixtapes," to put things in a contemporary aspect.
But my challenge still stands:


I've lost count of the number of Big-6-published novels in my genre that I couldn't bring myself to finish reading because of the muddled plots in mangled English and rampant typos. Sorry, but the so-called Gatekeepers of legacy publishing cannot be assumed to be guardians of quality. Moreover, the trend among publishers for at least the last ten years has been to trim back on new authors and place all their eggs in the baskets of a handful of proven rainmakers.
After being rejected by dozens of editors, two of my (previously agented) books have been on three Kindle bestseller lists for four months now. I've gotten two NYT bestselling authors to review them. I don't write dreck.
I've canceled with my third agent and my next two books will be self-published this year. I don't feel the need to be "validated" by Big-6semi-competents whose days are numbered anyway. I'm very content to let the broad readership out there be my Gatekeeper and validate me as an author.

jtplayer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jtplayer said...

"None. Ever since I stopped pre-buying big6 books, I have not had a disappointment."

Maybe you shouldn't pre-buy books Neil. Better to wait until they've been out a while and see what others have to say.

Frankly, I've never understood your claims of horrible luck with traditionally published books, and absolute glee over the treasure trove of "great" writing you've found in indie ebooks. It runs so contrary to my experience.

Maybe, as I've suggested here before, it's a genre thing. Whatever works for you my friend.

jtplayer said...

"I've lost count of the number of Big-6-published novels in my genre that I couldn't bring myself to finish reading because of the muddled plots in mangled English and rampant typos."

I've read this and similar comments so many times I can't count. And I just don't get it.

What the hell are you buying man?

Mangled English? Rampant typos? From the Big 6?

Muddled plots I can understand, but that other stuff I have no experience with. I've been buying traditionally published books for over 40 years. I'm a voracious reader. Everything from literary fiction to mysteries to thrillers to horror to everything in between. I buy stuff from big name authors and first time authors and obscure out-of-print authors. And I rarely, if ever, find mangled English, let alone rampant typos.

But one thing's for sure. Every single indie ebook I've purchased has at least several obvious errors in it. If not many more. It didn't stop me from enjoying many of those books, but it's annoying as hell to have to compensate for them.

Silver Bowen said...

As I read all these comments, it's crystal clear to me.

Some get it, some never will. Same as any paradigm shift.

But, for those who are still trying to fit the pieces together: Digital. Changes. Everything. For All Time, For Ever and Ever, Amen.

What happened to music, is happening to books, and movies, and games, and every other media humans use to transmit information. And this is just the beginning.

Things are going to change faster and faster, moving forward. The ones who survive, and prosper, will be the ones who continue to adapt.

The ones who spend their energy complaining, or stick their heads in the sand, will never know what hit them.

One final thought, for the multi-talented: indie self-publishing is only a tiny segment of this immense opportunity. Go get 'em, champ.

jtplayer said...

"Some get it, some never will. Same as any paradigm shift."

There's nothing to "get". It's about which direction a writer wants to take his career.

Believe it or not, some people do not like electronic books. They prefer paper books. Do you not get that?

Besides, digital may change things, but it doesn't make crappy writing good, no matter how many copies are sold at .99.

wannabuy said...

@JT:"Believe it or not, some people do not like electronic books. They prefer paper books. Do you not get that?"

True, but there are only two age groups that matter for book buying. The young and typically those 'post family raising.'

In the later group, I know dozens who have broken down and bought an ereader due to the ease of reading large type on the various ereaders.

In the younger group, the convenience of a portable library cannot be over-estimated.

I fully expect there to be a group that stays loyal to print. For myself, over half of those who I thought would never go to ebooks have in the last six months defected, mostly for the large print.

@JT:"Maybe you shouldn't pre-buy books Neil. Better to wait until they've been out a while and see what others have to say. "

One cannot pre-buy indie books, so it is only with the established publishers one could pre-buy. So I'm not trying to bag on the big6, but they are the only ones I could make that mistake with.

Remember how it was a big deal when Joe was able to set up pre-buying on one of his books? It was a big deal as most Indie authors lack that option.

@JT:"Frankly, I've never understood your claims of horrible luck with traditionally published books"
Simple, I would pre-buy authors who had excellent works in the past who then lost their 'factor-x.'

I've only had bad luck pre-buying. I've stopped pre-buying. One advantage of the good indie authors is they 'beta test' their books (per JA's example). Its one reason those authors knock out excellent books.

Its not that I haven't read excellent big6 books... I've just read out the generes I love.

I personally do not know a single person having issues finding good indie books. Amazon's customer reviews are a great tool!



Roguecyber said...


Yes, some people still like paper books, and some people still print out webpages to read, and some people still prefer vinyl. I don't say that to be hostile.

I think most of these arguments can be boiled down to a more philosophical point. And that is, "Are we talking about Art, or Commerce?" If we are talking about Commerce and Entertainment, I think you are quite wrong. The best way to make money would be to publish material that is "good enough", very very often.

If an author is a "slow" writer, or a literary writer, i.e if their goal is "Art", I'd say you're giving good advice. Not that they should give 15% to leeches, or beg someone to put their book in print, but that they should slowly and thoughtfully write their novel, revise it with much input, and publish it.

However Art, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and maybe they meant to use "they're" not "their" to point out that "God is really Dog" (or some other BS).

kiara ashanti said...

So I guess the real question is, how do you get better as a writer. And I mean beyond the whole idea of, write, write, write. That's not good enough. Imperfect practice only makes you perfect at imperfect habits. So short of getting a masters degree in English or something, "how do you get better as a writer, if you don't have access to editors that are giving you notes, and directional suggestions.

Stephen Leather said...

@ YoungmasterCK. Yup, you can make money selling crap cheaply. No question. Do I want to do that? Nope.

Roguecyber said...

@Mr Leather

Did I say "crap"?

I think not.

Also did I say "cheaply"?

Again, not.

I said "good enough".

Also, I said "quickly".

Anonymous said...

The message of "take your time" is one of encouragement. The message says the first novel does not need to be the masterpiece.

I love the book I am writing but I know how much further I need to go in improving it.

Knowledge that I can improve by writing many more novels, perhaps to the point of competence or even excellence, enables me to advance cheerfully with the hope of one day being worthy.

Thanks Stephen and Joe for the great article.

Ed Robertson said...

You're spitting truth, but it's not going to be terribly popular. Some people can put out a quality book on their first try, but most of us would be embarrassed by our first efforts at this point. I consider it a blessing Kindles didn't exist ten years ago.

Not that it's going to ruin you if you put out a book that's not ready. You can always do better next time, change your name, etc

Stephen Leather said...

Ed, that's something that had never occurred to me but yes, you could put your early work up under a pen name, see what the feedback is like, use that to improve and then when you're ready (10,000 hours or not) release your new work under a different name, maybe your real name. Sounds like a plan! (At this point I should perhaps admit that John Locke, Amanda Hocking and Joe don't actually exist, they are pen names of mine and without anyone realizing it I have cornered the entire eBook market!)

Mark O'Bannon - Better Storytelling.Net said...

I think you need three things to be a great writer:
1. Passion.
2. Practice.
3. Study.

So, feed your muse by watching movies, reading books, going outside for a walk, listening to music. This will feed your PASSION.

Ray Bradbury says, "Write a thousand words a day and in three years you'll be a writer." PRACTICE every day to get good.

The third thing is something that most people never do. For some reason, aspiring writers refuse to STUDY. This is idiotic. Read books, take courses. The best books on writing (and I've read hundreds of them) are these:

1. "The Anatomy of Story" by John Truby.

2. "Zen and the Art of Writing" by Ray Bradbury.

3. "Writing the Breakout Novel" by Donald Maass.

90% of your success as a writer depends on how good your writing is.

After you've written a fantastic story, you're only 10% done. The rest is marketing.

Internet marketing simply increases the best form of advertising: Word of Mouth. If your stuff sucks, you won't get anywhere. If you can write something that's SALEABLE, you will sell.

Mark O'Bannon :)

Stephen Leather said...

Mark, I couldn't agree more!

Andy Conway said...

This whole debate reminds me so much of the ebook I'm reading right now - Steve Hely's 'How I Became A Famous Novelist'.

It's an hilarious deconstruction of the publishing world and sends up so many best selling authors (both genre and 'literary') as the con artists they are, I was laughing out loud and thumping the table on the train yesterday while reading it.

(I nearly choked on the line about Zadie Smith).

He paints a very funny picture of publishing's total disarray and inability to detect what is good and what isn't, and the main character's check list of what to include to write a best selling novel had me weeping (especially as I recognised half of them in the novel I'm currently prepping for publication! And yes, it has the word 'Club' in the title. LOL).

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.2011
Train Can't Bring Me Home
The Girl with the Bomb Inside
on Amazon and Smashwords

Silver Bowen said...

JTplayer said:

"Besides, digital may change things, but it doesn't make crappy writing good, no matter how many copies are sold at .99."

Actually, number of copies consumed (regardless of price) is the only measure of worth. Popularity _is_ quality.

You are right, digital didn't change that. it's always been true.

Whether your personal tastes align with the unwashed is a whole 'nother story.

Little bit more of my thoughts on the bigger picture:

For those that might be interested.

James Scott Bell said...

Let me echo Mark's sentiment above. Study. That's one thing I was told you couldn't do (when I was in college workshopping with Famous Author). But it was what I call now "The Big Lie" and is why I also teach as well as write. It can be done, and it needs to be done. Thanks to Mr. Leather for the fine post.

Walter Knight said...

"A good book will be published, eventually, by a traditional publishing house."

Sorry, but that is just not true. I write science fiction, a genre most traditional publishing houses won't even touch.

Also, your assertion also assumes the only good editors out there belong to the large publishing houses. Wrong again. Good editors are locked out the as are most authors.

And if there is a potitics in your book, even if it is just a little humor, if it does not conform to The Big NY Six, forget it.

Joe is right. The NY establishment can blow me, too. I am doing just fine without them, selling thousands of books.

jtplayer said...

"Actually, number of copies consumed (regardless of price) is the only measure of worth. Popularity _is_ quality."

There are many measures of worth Silver, not the least of which is how much someone is willing to pay for something.

And, popularity most definitely is not quality. It can be. But certainly not always.

But, after reading your blog, it's clear to me where you stand on all this, so there's really no point in us debating.

Have a great day dude.

David Gaughran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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