Writing’s Dirty Little Secret

gossip-aug16_jpg_1097337557That sounds luscious and gossip-y, doesn’t it? 🙂

Of course there are far more than one…but today I’m going to spill about one in particular that’s been giving me fits over the past several months. It’s this: The most beautifully written words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages the world has ever seen won’t matter a bit, if you can’t get a handle on the business side of being a writer.

It’s the dark horse truth that’s always been a factor in any author’s career, but it’s particularly apropos in this newer age of professional self-publishing (i.e. self-publishing that will approximate in quality and form what traditional publishers produce).

creative-brainVery few will mention this dirty little secret. Most “writerly” discussion is about the work, the words, the characters, plot, themes, message…of writing from the heart and bleeding onto the page (represented by the colorful half of this brain). And all of that is good and necessary for the first leg of the writing journey that ultimately results in pulling a completed novel from an author’s head and placing it into a reader’s hands.

But it’s only the first half. The whole second half (represented by the not-so-colorful half of the brain in the illustration…since I don’t like the second half and I want it to come across as plain, boring, and uninteresting 🙂 ) is glossed over, like it doesn’t exist.

And maybe that’s because it really didn’t used to exist – at least not very tangibly – for authors during the era when the only path to publication was through the great gatekeepers and traditional publishing. Back then authors relied on their agents to do the work of negotiating and managing financial issues (for 15% of all gross earnings, beginning with advance and continuing through royalties), and the publisher, with its vast employee list, took care of all of all the nitty-gritty elements of bringing a book to market (for the measly fee of 100% of the profits, shifting down to 92% of profits, once the author’s advance was earned back for the publishing house). Even so, there is something to be said for the trade-off.

This business side of writing is not something that makes me comfortable and all cozy, like I prefer to be (reference my warm and fuzzy posts like the one here and here. Or venture over to the search box just above my picture up on the left toolbar and enter in words like “cozy”, “love”, “nostalgia” or “warm”. You’ll see posts about the things that make me happy). But it’s a necessity.

Actual Final copy with endorsement

This cover art is the result of months of work gathering and trying various images and text placement and styles – probably nearly 50 – before settling on this one

Having to set up accounts at Amazon, CreateSpace, B&N, Kobo, Google, AllRomance, and iTunes, complete with tax ids and all sorts of technical information – having to think about a business plan, building and maintaining an online presence and platform, and keeping track of all the miniscule aspects that go into a book being available for purchase, like hiring out and working with a cover artist, editor, formatter, and conversion expert, and then reviewing e-files and formatted files, while also keeping track of how much money it costs to complete all those processes without getting into a financial hole one can never dig out of unless one’s book becomes a bestseller (which would be great, Universe, if you’re listening!)  – all give me figurative hives. And it all takes a large amount of time, which as a person who really inhabits all of the roles listed under my picture up a bit and on the left, is in short supply.

But unless I’m going to be the only person who is ever going to read my book, it has to be done.

So there you have it. One of the dirty little secrets of being a (self-)published writer. I’m not very good at keeping secrets (I’m a “wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve” kind of gal), so I feel better already, having shared it, LOL.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this – or even one of your secrets (it’ll be like a self-help program!) Anyone have any (rated PG-13 or lower, please) to spill – whether as a writer, reader, artist, employee…heck a breathing human being? Join the fun in the comments. 🙂

8 thoughts on “Writing’s Dirty Little Secret

  1. I’d like o hear from those of US (writers who have become authors through publication) who have done it with and without an agent. I have a publisher but sold my novels without an agent. The first dime I make (first novel comes out Oct 2015) will be more profit than Simon and Shuster will make on Hillary’s “book”. Her agent must be laughing all the way to the 15% bank from their cut of the advance (13 million?).

    So if agents moan on their websites about the “hundreds” of queries they receive every week, why do they spend the time and effort to go to “conferences” to sit and hear pitches from just a few writers? I don’t see the logic. Who cares how well an author speaks or presents? It’s the writing, stupid.

    And what does the future hold? Is the traditional writer/agent/publisher/hardback/paperback model still the “best” ay to go? Or is self/independent publisher/e-book the wave to be surfed into the future? These are the secrets I’d like to hear about.

    I see so much talent here and on other media platforms. I’m amazed at the clever and thoughtful words cast upon the wind. How we get all this stuff rumbling about in our heads out to the reading public is the question. Any secrets anyone would like to share?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting, Mike.

      I think Simon and Schuster took a gamble with Hillary’s book – and lost. And that’s a sad thing for every author, because every time a big five publisher (it used to be six, but in 2013 Penguin and Random House merged) does that and fails, it makes them less likely to step outside of the trad publishing box….which was a big impetus behind self-publishing and the growth of amazon. It’s been said around the cyber-sphere that trad publishing is becoming a dinosaur in its methods of operation and it will be digging its own grave if it doesn’t find ways to adapt the old business model.

      I still retain two agents in a major NYC literary agency. Yes, they earn 15% of anything I make *that they negotiated for me*. My current book, Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven, is not one of those titles, since it’s my first entirely self-published venture. Even my four rights-reverted-from HarperCollins-titles, that I brought back and re-released, were done so through a small publisher with NO advance, and for which they claimed 25% of all earnings off the top (and did all the grunt work described above for that money).

      It was still a better proposition, financially, than I had at the trad houses, where my advances were very modest (averaging between $10,000 – $15,000 gross per book, before agents payments and taxes…with agents getting 15% off the top and taxes taking approximately 45% of the rest because I’m considered “self-employed” under tax law) and where I earned only 8% royalty AFTER I’d earned back that advance in sales for the publisher. For a $10,000 advance, I took home about $3,700…and a bit more in dribs and drabs came in through royalties over the years.

      We’ll see how the self-publishing venture goes. Marketing is a challenge – finding ways to let readers know there is a book there to purchase. But that is every self-publishing author’s conundrum. For me the time and logistics of the business side of writing is a challenge as well, hence the initial post. 🙂

      As for which way the publishing winds will blow? I don’t know. I’m still a hybrid in many ways (phrase coined by Bob Mayer several years ago), with one foot still in trad publishing (three of my titles are still owned at this point and being sold by HarperCollins) and one foot in self-publishing. I’m going to continue to write the best books I can write, and then see what way the wind is blowing at that point before making any decisions. I might still decide to try the trad route with the next book. Or perhaps write another historical and feel out those waters again. Or perhaps not. I will have to wait until the time comes and see what looks most beneficial to me from all standpoints.

      I think that’s what every writer needs to do. There are many paths and roads on the publishing journey, and each author must choose his/her own.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks. You are kind and brave to share your details with us. I am going the small publisher route for now. They saw something the big girls and boys in New York didn’t and that’s ok by me. I have very modest expectations for the business back half of my work. But that’s not why I started writing.

        I am the luckiest guy I know. I have a comfortable place to write from. If the books wither and produce nothing (which I doubt because they are GREAT!) that will be ok too. I won’t stop. It’s my drug of choice.

        I hope that someday I will have the opportunity to sign a deal with a real agent. I suppose I have to prove something to them first but so be it. I don’t have to prove anything to myself. I just do it and enjoy it. This has been a real education and folks like you and the other writers that contribute to these platforms are a wealth of knowlege and information. I guess I’m never going to be too old to learn something. Keep it coming and again, thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You are very welcome!

          Writing is such a solitary pursuit, that I think it’s important that we all share and talk and support each other. I have benefitted over the years from many other authors and their insights, and I’m glad to be paying it forward when the opportunity arises. 🙂

          As for the agent bit – there are many, many successful authors for whom agents are not a necessity or even a desire. It depends on the business model one is working from and the complexity of the issue. I was fortunate enough to retain my agents prior to signing my first publishing contract – but that was back in 1999, in the age of trad publishing being the ONLY venue for getting one’s work published.

          The world has changed since then. There are, as Bob Mayer has said often, “Many roads to Oz”. I did not involve my agents when working with the small publisher (though it was for rights-reverted books and the agents had already made their share of those titles when they were originally published by HarperCollins). It can be a tricky path and it’s all still working itself out for me, trying to make sure I fulfill the issues of my agency/publisher contracts without hampering myself or closing doors that don’t need to be permanently closed. Every author’s path is truly different.

          I have another author friend who rejected a six figure advance from a major publisher because self-publishing and being in control of every aspect of her books was not only more fulfilling, but also had proven more lucrative for her!There were some tense moments for her with her agent (who was naturally not enthusiastic about her turning down that advance) but ultimately they decided to keep working together on foreign and other rights issues, as my author friend doesn’t have legal expertise and the agent does.

          Who knows what the future will bring. I think you have a great attitude and I love your confidence in your work…it’s a very necessary thing in this career path, IMHO. I, for one, will be purchasing and reading your book when it comes out in October. I trust you will keep posting reminders and then links when the time comes. I’m looking forward to reading it! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. The term self-published is outdated, think “independent author” which is what I believe and it is an accurate description of what it means to be publish without the entourage.

    The business side of writing has always existed, but writers did get royally screwed over in the traditional side of publishing. Certainly as a freelance journalist, you learn very quickly about the value of your word. The way it was described to me is that agents do have their uses, if you have something for sale and can be marketed over several books, then certainly that is the way to go. However, the publicist is by far the more important person in publish now because of the huge competition on the marketplace. Plenty of bestsellers have come from very humble beginnings with BLOGS or from Youtube. Publishers too have had to rethink how they source their talent. Agents are longterm, but the product needs to be more than just a book – you have to think beyond that.

    Traditional publishing does take longer, but the up shot is that everything is part of the deal. The down side is that few authors are paid up-front, and to wait anywhere from 18 months to two years on a product you have spent years on, isn’t always easy for people. I know what I like, and so traditional publishing was always going to be a longshot and something I wouldn’t be entirely comfortable with. I work best when I can control how something looks, is marketed, etc. Some writers are happy to just write, whereas the bulk of writers I know understand that they are also a brand. And with “the brand” you have to think marketing.

    To be a writer in 2015, it takes more than talent, but it depends on what your aim is. There are people who just want to make money, and people who are like that, will always find a way to do it. For those that love writing and will produce work regardless of the market, virtually nothing will alter what they do or why they do it. If you have to work three jobs for the rest of your life so you can publish what you write, then that’s what true writers do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think there are upsides and downsides to both trad publishing and self-publishing. As I mentioned in my comments above to Mike, each author must make choices (or have choices made for them, if they are locked out of the trad publishing route, due to their own writing issues or the boxed-in market wherein trad publishers won’t take a chance on anything a little “different, lest their publishing house lose money on it).

      However, writing, like anything else, is a business as well as an art, and I also don’t think the aim of making money is a bad thing for publisher OR authors. It’s the way either entity pursues or balances out that goal that matters/how much it affects the art or even can potentially subjugate it, as has happened in many publishing houses, which place making money at the top of the list, and some writers who care about the money over anything else as well.

      But wanting to be a writer who can live off of your writing doesn’t automatically make one a hack or not a “true” writer, IMHO. I agree that the writing needs to come first, but there is nothing wrong with having an eye on the market and trying to accomplish both at once. It’s exhausting and challenging to work full time, sometimes at several jobs, have a family and a home and one’s health to care for, and still have the energy to write the way, in the timeframe, and about what you want. I have managed it thus far, but it has been a real struggle and frustrating more often than not. I BURN to write and revise and work the craft to get better and better, but I often run out of energy and am forced to put my writing on the back burner because of “real life” and the demands of my job. It’s why my current book took me five + years to write. It would have gone much more swiftly had I had more time, creative space, and therefore the focus to devote to it. As I get older the ability to eek out the needed time and focus becomes more difficult, because I have less flexibility in terms of loss of sleep etc that I used to take to accomplish my writing. One of my goals/aims IS to be able to write full time.

      For me, at least, part of “good” writing requires space and time to think and write. Having to work a job (or two or three) outside of that and have a life too (I don’t buy into the whole starving/troubled/drunken/anguished artist thing…cultivating balance in one’s body/life can also lead to great writing) is tricky to pull off. Like a proverbial Virginia Woolf in A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN, that time and space is necessary for me.

      So, to me, a “true” writer is indeed focused on the writing itself, but the focus on making enough money at it to continue doing it in a way perhaps even better than one can do when one is fractured by constant outside demands doesn’t negate one’s calling or purpose as a “true” writer.

      I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head re: every writer needing to figure out what model works for them (the trad, wherein everything is handled but there is little authorial control, or the self-publishing model)…the problem is, some are boxed out of the first for various reasons and ill-prepared for the second. Lots of dreck gets out there because of it.

      Self-publishing has been around for a couple decades, but it boomed in the last five years and is now settling out a bit. It’s still in progress though, and what that – and trad publishing – will look like in another ten years is anyone’s guess. The key for any writer who wants to have their work read by the public and not just friends and family is to keep working the craft…learn and grow and WRITE…and stay the course. Try different things as they come along and pay attention to the market and the methods and means of getting one’s work to it. There will always be a factor of luck and timing that plays into whether any book takes off; that part may be out of our hands, but the writing aspect and the choices we make are firmly ours.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. kris fletcher says:

    I so wish this wasn’t the case … but as always, you have done an excellent job of addressing a hard truth.
    As for my secrets – seriously? They’re all on the internet already!

    Liked by 1 person

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