I Am Not Writing About Writing

Okay, I am. I told myself I wouldn’t, but I am. I’ll lead with some news to fool myself…

I woke up to a couple interesting emails in my inbox. The first was from the staff at ConDFW. They’ve got the schedule put together so I know when I’ll be able to sneak off to the gaming room and when I need to sign, read, and chat with the fans. (A few things are still up in the air but as soon as I have the finalized details, I’ll post ’em.)

If you’re in the DFW area, I highly recommend this local sci/fi con. For starters, I’ll be there. Also, a whole bunch of other local spec-fic writers, some you might not have heard of yet but you should definitely be reading.

Discovering new books is exciting. The NYT bestseller lists bore me to tears lately. Sure, any writer would love to sit atop that throne, but there’s something to be said for the originality of work that hasn’t been engineered and edited to strike some statistically perfect audience at the optimum time. Mid-lists, self-pub, small presses – these are places where crazy original ideas can thrive and niche works don’t get pulped before their time.

But discovery is the hardest part. Cranking out the next in a long line of teen-vampire-dystopian-chosen one books sometimes feels like the best option when you’re struggling to be heard. However, you can make a niche book work, you only need to be realistic about the costs involved and know how to reach that target market.

Speaking of which, the other email was from a writer’s discussion group I visit from time to time. There was a new post from a fresh-faced poet looking to self-publish her first book of poetry.

Poetry is one of those few cases where I would tell the potential self-pubber to shoestring budget that stuff. Like a dental floss budget if you can and still make it look presentable. Or combine it with solid artwork or photography to add another point of interest. Anything. ‘Cause poetry doesn’t sell.

The bestseller lists for poetry at Amazon are still littered with the work of hairy old white dudes that died over a hundred years ago. The majority of the rest are anthologies, not single author works, and those single author works that show up at all tend to be from a very exclusive group.

I’m not trying to dis poetry, the American public does that enough for me and they seriously won’t buy your book.

When you self-pub, you’re essentially going into business for yourself. You need to center your business around a product that stands a snowball’s chance of surviving an overcrowded hell. If you want to be a poet you need to either scrap for the few trad pub opportunities or find unique ways to market your words and get the most bang for your buck – maybe consider the backs of paper cups at Chipotle.  Anything, but don’t bank on that self-pubbed book of poetry being the profit on your balance sheet.

True, I just said that self-publishing is an amazing opportunity to get work out there which people might not otherwise see. But it can also be a trap for starry-eyed writers who feel that they are going to change the world with their words. Most likely you won’t.  What you will discover is how badly you want to make this writing gig happen for yourself.

4 thoughts on “I Am Not Writing About Writing

  1. Shawn Scarber

    You’ll find most poetry published in chapbooks for a reason. They’re cheap to make and if you can manage to sell one for two bucks you’ve made a profit. I think you’re correct about discovery. Other than Goodreads and Amazon, there aren’t many large scale options available–and both of those platforms are basically the same entity now, so I’m not even sure how reliable they are. One semi-cool, semi-uncool thing to pop up recently is the bundle. Bundles are a great way to discover new writers, but they’re a terrible way for authors to make any real money. I’m definitely a supporter of having a lot of publishing options, I’m just not a big fan of the amount of money stories are going for these days.

    • Russ Linton

      Funny you mention bundles….

      I agree with the pay for stories – definitely something that hasn’t kept up with inflation.

      In part, it is a supply / demand thing. Now you don’t even need to go buy stamps and paper and printer ink (ribbons), you can simply flood publishers inboxes with digital bits you pounded out on your lunch break. Competition got even more fierce (and muddled) in an already hard-to-break into space.

      Though on the other end of the spectrum, trad pub guys are selling digital books at the same price as an already over-priced paperback because all the “new” stuff scares them to death (and of course, their authors aren’t making any more despite the lack of distribution, delivery and printing costs on eBooks.) Lots of reasons out there to experiment with self publishing!

      As much as I appreciate Amazon’s reach and their making it easy for guys like me to self pub, I do think a more diverse range of viable markets would be nice. Problem is, nobody is really supporting those other markets.

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