So What Is She Really Saying?

The other day Larry posted this excellent Fisking that he did with his usual wit and brutal pen.  The post from Huffpo truly deserved it.

Here’s the Huffpo post that Larry is Fisking. It starts like this:

As a published author, people often ask me why I don’t self-publish. “Surely you’d make more money if you got to keep most of the profits rather than the publisher,” they say.

That happens  to be the facts.  That is if you expect to have sales to actual readers. with the risk comes the rewards.  Self publishing is a risk because you assume the burden of actually getting what you write to the readers.  The fact is though, that unless you are a special publishing snowflake you are more or less expected to carry that risk anyway.  The publishers in today’s corporate world only want known quantities, just like the film sutdios, media  companies and the rest.  This is in a time when the

I’d rather share a cabin on a Disney cruise with Donald Trump than self-publish.

I don’t know, a Cruise with the Donald would be an experience. As we would probably both find a Disney cruise rather boring, I expect that there would be some interesting conversation.  But then neither Donald nor I are NY Libs. I expect though that we’ve both had our fill of them.

This says more about her, and her writing than it does about cruises of Mr. Trump. What she is saying is that rather than face the actual possibility of actual contact with actual readers she would fence herself around with inpenetrable walls.  Here’s how she sees traditional publishing.

To get a book published in the traditional way, and for people to actually respect it and want to read it — you have to go through the gatekeepers of agents, publishers, editors, national and international reviewers. These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good. Readers expect books to have passed through all the gates, to be vetted by professionals. This system doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s the best system we have.

Actually readers expect books they want to read.  The typical reader could care less about the gatekeepers and their filtering.  All they want is to be  entertained and informed. It wasn’t all that long ago that the editors and the rest of the publishing industry understood that their role was as facilitators rather than gatekeepers.  Literary snobbery was left by and large to the editors of the New Yorker and the members of the Algonquin roundtable.  It was understood that while literature and culture were nice to have, it was diversity and good story telling that paid the bills.

Good writers only become good because they’ve undertaken an apprenticeship. The craft of writing is a life’s work. It takes at least a decade to become a decent writer, tens of thousands of hours. Your favorite authors might have spent years writing works that were rejected. But if a writer is serious about her craft, she’ll keep working at it, year after year. At the end of her self-imposed apprenticeship, she’ll be relieved that her first works were rejected because only now can she see how bad they were.

Good writers are good because they have stories to tell and are good at expressing themselves.  I think that most writers learned the mechanics of writing in high school, at least I did.  Yes, you have to write al lot of stuff, but as Mark Twain said about the literary, “I was not sorry, for war talk by men who have been in a war is always interesting; whereas moon talk by a poet who has not been in the moon is likely to be dull.”  Good stories are about experiences, not navel gazing.

Did you ever hear what Margaret Atwood said at a party to a brain surgeon? When the brain surgeon found out what she did for a living, he said, “Oh, you’re a writer! When I retire I’m going to write a book.” Margaret Atwood said, “Great! When I retire I’m going to be a brain surgeon!”

The irony is that now that brain surgeon really could dash off a “book” in a of couple months, click “publish” on amazon, and he’s off signing books at the bookstore. Just like Margaret Atwood, he’s a “published” author. Who cares if his book is something that his grade nine teacher might have wanted to crumple into the trash? It’s a “published” book.

Margaret Atwood is known for ONE book, The Handmaid’s Tale,  an unreadable  feminist tract disguised as “speculative” fiction and beloved by Progressive academics because of her politics and having the book forced down the gullets of high school students.  By that standard, the brain surgeon, who if all the evidence of all those books, movies and TV shows for as long as I’ve been alive is any indication, probably has interesting stories that people will want to actually READ, will do better than she did.  Which may actually be the point.

The problem with self-publishing is that it requires zero gatekeepers. From what I’ve seen of it, self-publishing is an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature. As an editor, I’ve tackled trying to edit the very worst writing that people plan on self-publishing just because they can.

With the baggage that she brings to the table, I pity any poor new author who sends her a MS for editing.

I’m a horrible singer. But I like singing so let’s say I decide to take some singing lessons. A month later I go to my neighbor’s basement because he has recording equipment. I screech into his microphone and he cuts me a CD. I hire a designer to make a stylish CD cover. Voilà. I have a CD and am now just like all the other musicians with CDs.

The point here is who decides who are the “tuneless clods” a bunch snooty gatekeepers in the big city or the market.  Having CD pressed or a tune up on ITunes doesn’t mean that it will sell.  On the other hand the tune might go viral. We will never know how much truly great music was lost because the record companies controlled the market and the sounds we heard.  Certainly there must have been stuff better  than the screechy noise that came out of the music studios for decades. The gatekeeping problem is even worse with publishing and the gatekeepers in NY.

Except I’m not. Everyone knows I’m a tuneless clod but something about that CD validates me as a musician. It’s the same with writers who self-publish. Literally anyone can do it, including a seven-year-old I know who is a “published” author because her teacher got the entire class to write stories and publish them on Amazon. It’s cute, but when adults do it, maybe not so cute. With the firestorm of self-published books unleashed on the world, I fear that writing itself is becoming devalued.

How does having more to read devalue writing. Writing isn’t money, where there is a fixed quantity.  As a reader the more writing that exists the better.  Yes much of it’s going to be truly bad, but readers are capable of making those decisions themselves.  The important thing is that self publishing  rewards writing.  The best writing will get the readers’ attention and the rewards it deserves. She goes on.

I have nothing against people who want to self-publish, especially if they’re elderly. Perhaps they want to write their life story and have no time to learn how to write well enough to be published traditionally. It makes a great gift for their grandchildren. But self-publishing needs to be labelled as such. The only similarity between published and self-published books is they each have words on pages inside a cover. The similarities end there. And every single self-published book I’ve tried to read has shown me exactly why the person had to resort to self-publishing. These people haven’t taken the decade, or in many cases even six months, to learn the very basics of writing, such as ‘show, don’t tell,’ or how to create a scene, or that clichés not only kill writing but bludgeon it with a sledgehammer. Sometimes they don’t even know grammar.

She can’t understand the point of the exercise. It’s story, story , story.  Also she’s stuck in the bubble of thinking that the book market is the same as it was in the 1970’s.  That was a long time ago and with the exception of vanity writers like Ms. Gough, who get subsidized through big advances even when their sales tank, most authors get screwed and chewed up by the publishing industry.  The biggest losers are the readers though, who are left with grey goo books from franchises, progressive religious tracts masked as fiction and navel gazing self examination books of the kind that Ms. Gough writes.  She ends with yet another appeal to the authority of other authors.

Author Brad Thor agrees: “The important role that publishers fill is to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you’re a good writer and have a great book you should be able to get a publishing contract.”

Author Sue Grafton said, “To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy and s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. … Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.”

Ms. Gough obviously needs approval of the people that she deals with in the publishing industry.  She needs her agent calling, the talks with her editor, the reviews in the New Yorker.  She’s not into writing for the money and I think that she needs the affirmation that being published gives her more than she needs the money from actual books sales.

For rather different take here’s a great post from Darcy Conroy.

Yes! I thought. We do need to take example from the suffragettes, we do need to stop being so polite and seize our own power, raise our voices and… That’s when she lost me. Because what Shamsie suggested we raise our voices to say to the publishing industry was, essentially, “Please let us in. You’re being unfair. Just for one year without any boys in the way and see if the readers like us. It doesn’t have to be right away, 2018 is fine, but give us a go? Please?”

I don’t see the spirit of the independent presses of the 70s and 80s in that. What I see is a spirit of dependence on an industry that infantilizes writers, making them grateful for any morsel of approval and attention, convincing them that a publishing house is the only way to ‘real’ publication. This seems to be particularly so of literary writers (a group to which I do not pretend to belong) who appear to have been convinced that even though they are the keepers of the “artistic flame,” they would not have an audience at all without the festivals, the reviewers and the awards the publishing houses so carefully close to all but their own.

Surely the lesson from the independent presses of the 70s isn’t to plead for someone else to start a press and offer better opportunities, it’s to stand up, use the technology available and become our own publishers. Many of us are already doing that.

Read the rest

View at
Back to Larry, who explains the reality.

The verb I would pick for Laurie’s essay is Bloviate


verb (used without object), bloviated, bloviating. speak pompously.

It might take a long time to find that perfect verb.

Naw, it was pretty obvious right out the gate.

But that’s how art works. Writing is an art deserving our esteem.


It shouldn’t be something that you can take up as a hobby one afternoon and a month later, key in your credit card number to CreateSpace or Kindle Direct Publishing before sitting back waiting for a stack of books to arrive at your door.

Why not?

No, seriously. You bossy know it all… Why not? What if that book was brilliant, but the gatekeepers didn’t like it for some biased reason? Where do you get off being the arbiter of what the market can or cannot have access to?

If that book is garbage, it’s garbage. It probably won’t sell very many copies, but looking at your Amazon ranks, neither do you.

Let’s all give the written word the respect it deserves.

Which is why I took the time to fisk this awful article. Unlike the HuffPo’s abysmal writing advice pieces, my goal is to help writers achieve financial success, rather than some arbitrary and capricious fluff about art.

Thank goodness we got that tripe out of the way. Now onto business.

Okay, aspiring authors, this is how it actually works. I’ve said this plenty of times but there are really only two steps to becoming a successful pro author.

  1. Get good enough that people will give you money for your stuff.
  2. Find the people who will give you money for your stuff.

That’s it. That is how it works. Whether you do it traditionally or independently, that’s all there is to it. You want to make a living at this, you need to produce something that people want, and then you need to find a way to get it in front of them.

I’ve done it both ways. I’ve got friends who are making good livings traditional or self-pubbed, and I’ve got friends who are dirt poor and struggling both ways too.

Contrary to what you may believe, getting a tradpub deal is not all roses and sunshine. The average midlist author only makes like 30k a year. Which is way more than you get for writing for the HuffPo, but still not something that enables you to quit your day job. Only the top 1% of us make over 100k a year, which is kind of sad if you think about it. I’m making several times that annually and I still don’t meet the HuffPo’s standards to be a *real writer*. So basically they can kiss my ass.

The key is building a fan base and providing them consistent content. And unlike HuffPo staff authors, that means putting out books every year, not once a decade.

I’m not some self-publishing evangelist. It isn’t an easy button. It is freaking hard work. If you self-pub, you need to figure out how to differentiate yourself from the hundred thousand other scuts who just released something. If you put something out there but have no other means to drive traffic to it, it will remain obscure.

All of the self-pubbed successes I know aren’t like the hypothetical Doctor Book In A Month above, they are professionals who work their asses off building up a loyal fan base and consistently providing quality product.  

The big thing self-pubbed has got going for them is that they get to keep a far higher percentage of the sales price (something Laurie’s imaginary friend touched on in her opening paragraph but she never came back to).  So you can self-pub, sell fewer copies, but still come out financially ahead of somebody who is tradpub, but only keeping 8% of the cover price of every mass market paperback.

But, because of distribution, and things like being on the shelf in every Barnes & Noble, tradpub folks are going to sell more copies (hopefully). I can’t say if it will even out for you or not, because that depends entirely upon your market. (hell, one of the biggest things I’ve got going for me is audiobooks and ancillary foreign rights, which we haven’t even talked about at all)

Tradpub can be awesome for writers, but I’m not one of these twerps that worships at the feet of Manhattan publishing. They are dinosaurs, and not the cuddly kind.

All her stuff about Time Enough for Art is bullshit, because your editor is going to be dropping some nasty deadlines on your artsy-fartsy ass. And if you aren’t selling like Patrick Rothfuss or George Martin, they ain’t going to give you half a decade to leisurely finish the next one, they are going to cut you off.

Don’t believe the idealized hype. Tradpub turns out plenty of trash, and their gatekeepers often screw up, BUT if you can get picked up by a traditional publisher, they’ve got wide distribution, and if you are one of the lucky ones that they decide to throw some marketing money behind, you can make bank.  If you get a good editor, love and cherish them, because they are the best thing ever.

However, watch out, because many of the dinosaurs are carnivorous and they will eat you. I know many authors who have been screwed over in a wide variety of exciting ways by their big publishing houses.

Most tradpub authors aren’t treated like artistic royalty. The golden child gets all the love and marketing money. The rest are treated like monkeys banging a keyboard, and if you fail to bang the keyboard good enough, they will get a new monkey. Some publishers are ruthless. They will give you a deal, then give the book zero marketing push. It gets tossed out  there on its own. And if it doesn’t sell well, or doesn’t earn back its advance, so long loser. Sink or swim.

So either way, you are your own best marketing department. If you are indy, you are it. If you have a traditional deal, you can’t count on your publisher selling your books for you, so you might be it.   

Regardless of how you get your stuff out there, you have to keep doing it again, and doing it better. Most of us don’t have the reliable income to quit our day jobs until we have four or five books out, with more on the way. You live off of your back list. And your back list remains viable because every time you release a new book, the old stuff gets a bump up.

So each method has pros and cons. Only idiots and zealots get caught up on the method of delivery rather than the product being delivered. No matter how you do it, the more you produce art, the more art gets produced, the more likely we are to see great art.

I’m just  going to point out that  the publishing business is now  in the hands of large conglomerates who manage by financials and trends.  There was a time, not so long ago, where  the publishers were willing to put books on the market and take the risk that the book would be  discovered.  That was before  the megastores, push sales and trying to find trends  rather than creating them.  All of this is the result of managers who learned the  “everything is groceries” management style hiring English lit majors from the Ivy Covered Snob Factories who have learned very little English or literature, but are all up on the latest Progressive drivel.  The result has been a publishing industry that is out of touch with it’s readers and far too much in love with numbers and coloring books over good books.  Which is why we have so much grey goo and formula and very little things that people like to actually read.

What been lost is the sense of joy, brightening of the day and the felling that the writer was taking us on a new adventure to places we’ve  never seen before.  The current publishing industry is governed by numbers, progressive religious trends and focus groups.  It has no visions and no sense of what people want to read.  Consider just how close J. K. Rowling came to shelving Harry Potter.  Consider that The Martian would not have been published if Andy Weir had not self published.  This is the liberation that self publishing has unleashed.  This is the chance for the liberating and great meeting of the reader and the writer without the need of a gatekeeper.  Only people truly afraid of having no more walls, like MS. Gough are frightened by the great times for both readers and writers coming.  Writers should stop worrying and embrace the change that liberates them from any opinion other than the one that truly matters, the reader’s.


  1. penneyvanderbilt · January 4, 2017

    Reblogged this on Crazy Pasta Child.


  2. Pingback: Some More On Self Publishing | The Arts Mechanical

Leave a Reply

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

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s