“Learning the industry isn’t my job.”

This was the reply an author sent me after I suggested that the more she understood about the industry. Her query was horrendous. She had no clue about who her readership was, she didn’t understand why it was so blamed important to include so many details regarding the plot, was unclear about the genre, no word count – and on and on. It was a typical response from a green author who decided to feel insulted that I dared to critique her rather than realize I was trying to help her.

But understanding the industry doesn’t stop with simply writing a better query letter. It’s also important to your literary future. Understanding how books are sold, what the author’s responsibilities are, readership, promotion,the difference between a print run and what is actually being shipped out, understanding what real distribution means…the more authors know, the better equipped they are to to make decisions that will enhance their success.

But there’s the dark side to learning the industry. At no point in time have there been a plethora of ways in which an author can be screwed:

  • Vanity Presses – You have vanity presses who charge gobs of money and justify those fees with lies. It isn’t until the authors get the end product and see how difficult it is to sell their own books without any help that they realize they’ve been had.
  • Print on Demand – I’ve talked about them to ad nauseum, and the reason I do is because they wear a lot of camouflage in order to suck in unwary authors. The good ones say up front exactly what they are and what they can and can’t do. A lot of others, the ones that draw my ire, obfuscate and lie about how the industry really works.
  • Skank agents – Sadly, there are agents who prey on trusting authors. Just because someone says they are a literary agent doesn’t mean they are a good one, or even an honest one. I’ve seen agents who sell their authors to POD companies. Why? It’s an easy buck. A lot of PODs are author mills, and they need a lot of authors who will order their own books. As such, PODs have a much lower threshold for talent. If an agent sees that an author has a somewhat good platform, they may actually sell some books – in which case said agent would get 15% of the royalties. Not bad for a day’s worth of unethical work.

So to answer my arrogant little friend above, learning the industry IS your job if your intent is to be well published and have a literary future. What are some of the aspects of publishing that you don’t fully understand?

10 Responses to “Learning the industry isn’t my job.”

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    And then there are situations like the entire Dorchester mess. Research before submitting…

  2. That’s true, Ninjie. Sadly, shit does happen. But within the industry, Dorchester had been on everyone’s radar for many years. It just took a lot longer for them to implode.

  3. Digital Dame says:

    This, exactly: “…the more authors know, the better equipped they are to to make decisions that will enhance their success.”

    Probably back in the early part of the 20th century when people like Hemingway and Agatha Christie were tapping out their novels on their manual typewriters it wasn’t so critical for writers to understand the business end of writing (although I’d be willing to bet the more savvy among them made it their business to understand it anyway). These days, to continue to live in this fantasy bubble of some romantic ideal of what it means to be a writer is no better than people who don’t bother to educate themselves on the process when they buy a house. We may not be responsible for physically boxing up the books and getting them on the trucks to the stores (let’s hope it doesn’t come to that), but to willfully refuse to learn how publishing works, if for no other reason than to save yourself from scams and cons is woefully ignorant. As they say, the more you know…

  4. When Hemingway and Christie were banging out their tomes, there was only one game in town – mainstream publishing. Only it wasn’t called mainstream publishing…just “publishing.” All our choices have left us dazed and confused, and for many, disillusioned and disheartened.

  5. Moondoggie says:

    Bottom line is: writing is art, publishing is business, and one without the other is like that unheard tree falling in a forest. It simply BAFFLES me to think that anyone who considers themselves a writer wouldn’t make it their business to learn more about…their business. In the words of the great Auntie Mame (who ripped it off from that Francis Bacon dude) “Knowledge is power.”

  6. Tara Maya says:

    It’s like a surgeon saying, “Learning anatomy is not my job.” Hm, you’re gonna cut into someone when you don’t know what goes where? Except fortunately in the case of writing, the only casualty will be the writer’s own career.

    Tara Maya
    The Unfinished Song: Initiate

  7. There are some people who really can’t be helped, because they don’t want to help themselves.

    They don’t read – not helpful blogs like yours – the horror is they don’t read anything. And yet they expect their book will be read ‘by everyone’.

    As Dorothy Parker said, ‘You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.’

  8. As Dorothy Parker said, ‘You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.’
    BWAHAHAHAHAHA! That is a new one on me.

  9. That’s just sad.

    Writers who want to be authors need to understand the duality of the situation. On one hand, the writing of your story may be an art, especially once it is polished and honed. But, once it shines, the second situation comes into play.

    Simply, it means turning it into a product for sale. The art part fades and the hard-nosed business part rises to hammer out something that readers will pay for. Shifting gears while on the fly can be tough, but it has to be done if publishing is in the cards.

    This is the cold reality behind the old, worn idea of writer as a solely creative talent. Authors need to be businesspeople. Period. Aggressive ones at that.

  10. Lev Raphael says:

    The first thing authors have to realize is that it is an industry, it is a business. You have control over the writing side of what you do, so you need to learn as much as possible about the other side, about what happens out there in the world, starting with your publishing house and on into the chain that leads to your readers. There’s nothing romantic about it. It’s just smart thinking to be knowledgeable and prepared.

Tell me what you really think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: