‘Social’ Media: Author Ignorance

Writer Unboxed, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Though our publishers will tell you that they are ever seeking “original” writers, nothing could be farther from the truth. What they want is more of the same, only thinly disguised. They most certainly do not want another Faulkner, another Melville, another Thoreau, another Whitman. What the public wants, no one knows. Not even the publishers.

Henry Miller, as quoted by Jon Winokur at AdviceToWriters.com

Writer Unboxed, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press
Henry Miller (1891-1980)

I count Henry Miller among my favorite authors. But here in the Tropic of Porter, I could enjoy that comment of his a lot more if I didn’t think it made today’s least savvy writers feel smarter than they are.

In my corporate career, I’ve seen corner-office carpet curl right up at the edges under chief-executive declarations of devotion to “creativity.” The suits always want to:

  • “Change the game.”
  • “Take it to the next level.”
  • “Reach out” to their staffers and ask those employees to “share” (without extra compensation) the innovative marvels of their fecund imaginations.

And the traditional publishing establishment is a creature of corporate structure, of course, whether privately or publicly held. It exists to turn a profit for its stakeholders. Corporations tolerate disruption badly, poor sales unhappily, and creativity not at all — lip service only.

However, if you look at Miller’s passage again, you’re likelier than you were the first time to notice the next to last sentence.

What the public wants, no one knows.

No one knows.

Not even writers.

A couple of recent events have made it clearer than anybody might like that authors can be as far from knowledgeable as Miller complained the publishers were.

(1) The LendInk affair. This is the case in which a site designed to help ebook readers offer and find ebooks to lend — all perfectly legal and in no way involved with piracy — was shut down by authors who mistook LendInk for a piracy operation.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press
Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware in her post The Dark Side of Author Activism points to two ugly features of this incident:

First, the ignorance of some of the authors involved, who’d used Amazon to publish their books but apparently didn’t realize that Amazon allows ebook lending. Second, the lack of careful investigation, which caused some people to assume that a legitimate service was a pirate site, and others to perpetuate the meme without bothering to verify it.

(2) The DBW eBook Best-Seller List. Part of the populist appeal of a digitally empowered army of self-publishing authors, as you know, is the assumption that those writerly action figures are closer to their readers than big corporate publishers can be.

The whole idea of author platforming, in fact, is a response to just this. Your platform is that holy connection with your readers, a lifeline of sharing that gets gurus of self-publishing all woozy at the knees, visions of virtual spaghetti suppers dancing in their heads.

A lot of hands have been wrung over the question of how major traditional publishers, accustomed to their B2B (business to business) relationships with distributors and stores, will be able to learn B2C (business to consumer).

Well, in fact, last Monday’s release of the first weekly Digital Book World eBook Best-Seller List came with surprises.

Are you familiar with the new DBW list yet? For the first time, we are able to see ebook pricing factored into best-seller list-making. The DBW list looks at overall rankings plus rankings in various price ranges or “bands.”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press
Mike Shatzkin

As I wrote on the Ether on Thursday — agreeing with the analysis of industry consultant Mike Shatzkin — three general eye-openers turned up:

  • Self-publishing doesn’t have as much presence as might have been expected (not one self-published ebook made it into the overall Top 25, and only two in the price-band breakouts);
  • The Big Six traditional publishers come out in a far more commanding position, up and down the price bands, than many might have anticipated, with far more best-sellers than smaller or independent presses, let alone self-publishers; and
  • Super-low pricing may be a bust — and higher pricing points ($9.99 and up) don’t look as daunting to readers as some have asserted they are.

As an aside, I want to give you a bit of good news: following my coverage (OK, my carping) on Monday in my EXTRA ETHER: DBW’s Best-Seller List, Digital Book World and Dan Lubart’s Iobyte Solutions, I’m told, will begin crediting authors by name for the best-sellers listed, as is done on other major best-seller lists.

I may open a new line of columns: Embarrassment on the Ether.

| | |

Now, as I get into this last bit here, I have to call your attention to the tagline David Vinjamuri applies in his “sig” (as we once called a columnist’s photo-ID in newspapers) at Forbes:


Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press, Extra Ether

“Speaking truth to power?” In his red polo? The Jeanne d’Arc outfit must have have been at the cleaners.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press
David Vinjamuri

In an essay headlined Publishing Is Broken, We’re Drowning In Indie Books – And That’s A Good Thing, Vinjamuri gets one thing right — and it’s not the “And That’s A Good Thing” part.

On Page 4 of his piece, he does a quick refresher on how we got to where we are. He writes that because of publisher staff cuts in the Age of Amazonia:

Most new authors who make it through the arduous process of finding both an agent and a publisher are surprised to learn that it is the author who is responsible for marketing and promoting his or her own work.

There it is, see it? Shocked, I tell you, shocked these authors are — even though, as Vinjamuri writes:

An entire generation of traditionally published authors has come of age learning to self-promote.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press
Brian O’Leary

Now, Brian O’Leary, who led me to Vinjamuri’s essay, points out in The end of scarcity:

Vinjamuri uses “indie” to mean “self-published”, not independent presses or bookstores.

O’Leary is right to note this: we see this usage creep of the term “indie” too much — I consider it a grab for the sunglasses, although I appreciate how much easier it is to fit “indie” into a tweet than “self-published.”

But more importantly, O’Leary goes on to pick up on three predictions Vinjamuri finds time to make between bouts of speaking truth to power:

  • Platforms will emerge to offer new titles a chance for real reviews
  • Mid-list authors at traditional houses, dissatisfied with the support they receive, will go out on their own
  • Traditional publishers will start to use the self-published community as a farm team

I do like a part of Vinjamuri’s vision for that first part (in which he’s arguing for independent, compensated, professional criticism):

There is enormous pressure in the market to solve the “drowning in bad writing” issue with Indie publishing. It’s hard to imagine that a solution won’t emerge in the next 12-18 months

He gets out with a truthfully powerful bid for one reason authors need to get past the ignorance that’s hobbling them as amateurs in publishing right now:

Ben Franklin would recognize this era. From the 16th to the 19th century, pamphleteering allowed unpublished hacks like Thomas Paine to espouse their views and argue their points cheaply and individually. Pamphleteers were accused of vanity, incompetence and even sedition. But the best of them survive in the literature of the Reformation, the English Civil War and the American Revolution. In generations to come, the same may be said of a few of the Indie authors publishing today.

To make that happen, we who ply the grid every day need to start asserting our demands through our social media (still a plural word, damn it), kindly but forcibly: authors simply must wise up. Learn contracts. Learn business. Learn publishing. Learn marketing.

Nobody loves an ivory-towering boor. Don’t be one. Don’t let your favorite colleague be one. Shun the amateurs — we’ve seen enough degradation at the hands of their shortcomings. Distinguish yourself as a pro by getting the experiential and/or academic credentials you need, and be proud of it.

  1. Awful incidents like the LendInk debacle show us there’s nothing funny about the jackass-authors who freak out and attack things they don’t know they approved in their own contracts.
  2. DBW’s new list makes it all too clear that authors are not making the independent progress many of them think they are, and that Big Six domination and higher-end ebook pricing are still very much a part of this story.
  3. Everybody, traditionally- or self-published, must get past this shock at the diminished services and/or personal cultivation once offered by major houses. Self-promotion is the order of the day.

If you follow me regularly, you’ll know that I’ve long argued that authors need opportunities for briefings and networking that match the sophistication of some of the major industry conferences. I’m encouraged to think we may soon see such opportunities.

For now, the Writer Unboxed readership comprises some well-practiced observers of the author community and writing scene, so I’d like your input.

What are the key areas of author ignorance you’ve observed? — where are the weakest points, as you see it? How willing do you think writers are to learn the ins and outs of the business and escape author ignorance? How willing do you feel you are to call a spade a spade when necessary and point out author ignorance?

Main photo: iStockphoto: StefanoLunardi



About Porter Anderson

@Porter_Anderson, BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in publishing. Anderson is The Bookseller's Associate Editor for The FutureBook in London, a sister site focused on developments in digital publishing. He is also a featured writer with Thought Catalog in New York, writing on publishing and on #MusicForWriters in association with Q2 Music. In 2015, Anderson has programmed the IDPF Digital Book Conference that opened BookExpo America (BEA) and is programming the First Word event at the Novelists Inc. (NINC) conference later in the year. And he is working with the Frankfurt Book Fair on special programming for its new Business Club suite of events and facilities, now in its second year, 13-16 October, in the 2015 Buchmesse. More on his consultancy, which includes Library Journal's and BiblioBoard's SELF-e among its clients in 2015: PorterAndersonMedia.com | Google+


  1. says

    I’m going to be an indie author when I finish revising my book (and yes, I use the term indie because, to me, it represents the person who is looking at this as a business). It’s cross-genre, and worse, not a pair of genres that’s been crossed before. I may get interest from an agent to look at it, followed up by, “We don’t know how to sell it.” I can’t even find something similar — I’d be reading it like crazy!

    That being said, I think the biggest author ignorance is in thinking that because they wrote the book, it’s the greatest thing ever and will be a best seller. Admittedly the submission process to agents will quickly change this opinion, and indie publishing unfortunately, allows publishing to be “easy.” I thought the same way about POD when it first came out. You have to know where your problems are and fix them, because no one’s going to tell you. Yes, you can pay for an editor — and should — but a published book goes through even more hands to fix everything. So that’s a disadvantage for an indie author who can’t see problems.

    At one point, I did a review of an anthology of fantasy and horror stories by an indie author. He was all glowing with pride at the release of his book, and was bouncing around saying, “Do an HONEST review.” I looked at the book, took note that he actually said in the comments that the stories had all been rejected by everyone he submitted them to and that didn’t know why. He also noted that he’d had them critiqued and followed what they said, which was apparent — someone told him to take out the description, so he did. A year later, I unfollowed him as a spammer because he turned to that after his book didn’t sell well.

    The best marketing tool is to have a good book that people want to read.

    • says

      Hey, Linda,

      Thanks for reading the post today and for taking the time to comment – some very good observations here.

      Yes, as a critic, I’ve had people insist they wanted a straight-up, no-holds-barred review, only to be intensely put out when the results weren’t what they’d expected.

      Jane Friedman once wrote of how one of the greatest problems of amateurism being that you don’t know your stuff isn’t professional-class if you’re not professional. And it does seem to be a nasty Catch-22 — as an amateur you simply don’t know what you don’t know.

      And particularly in the realm of how to understand and handle critiques, that’s something that can be offered in many scenarios, writers can be helped to get what legitimate criticism (of the kind David Vinjamuri is describing).

      Certainly, yes, the over-inflated estimation of one’s own work. While that can exist in the pro end of things (ego gets around), it’s a major problem among relatively inexperienced people in any of our offices these days.


      Good stuff, Linda, thanks again!

  2. says

    I think at the macro level, it is easy to find “ignorance,” where every individual example somehow represents masses of “ignorance.”

    But this is why I like spending my days talking to actual authors, actually writing, and actually trying to connect their writing to actual readers. Because you see the real, in the trenches view of the successes. Of the meaning that is created, and how evolution is a series of experiments, successes, failures, and iterations.

    And I am also VERY hesitant to make too many sweeping conclusions based on any aggregated list. I like what DBW is trying to do here, and it is “interesting.” But the last thing I want to use it for is to fuel the “traditional vs indie vs self-pubbed” debate, as if there needs to be one winner. As if this is a war.

    Writing. Reading. I don’t see a war here.

    But as usual… thank you for your keen insight from the Tropic of Porter.

    • says

      Hey, Dan, thanks as always for commenting! (And sorry for the slow response, some domestic disturbances are afoot here today.)

      I don’t think I have asked you here to see “masses of ignorance” where you’d rather not.

      I know how much you like talking with “actual authors.” It was one of those authors I believe, who said that she or he had tried Facebook and it “didn’t work,” right?

      That is what I mean when I refer to “author ignorance.”

      In that case, an author was ignorant of how a social-medium platform’s dynamics may function in support of author-reader connection. While we need not extrapolate that incident into an idea that there are legions of authors who think Facebook “didn’t work,” you used the point, yourself, to demonstrate that these are the types of shortcomings in knowledge, experience, understanding, perception that can hobble authors. They’re based in ignorance, they reflect a lack of awareness.

      And let’s look at the open of your August 22 piece at We Grow Media. ( http://ow.ly/dekbV ) Here’s your lead:

      Many writers I speak to are nervous about the idea of becoming more like a marketer, less like a writer. They want their book to find an audience, and they assume that they have to try marketing “tricks” in order to do so.
      But they don’t.

      That’s another great example of what I’m talking about. Here, we see you describe “many writers'” ignorance about marketing, their erroneous assumption “that they have to try marketing ‘tricks.'”

      It was, in fact, a large number of author take-down notices that went to LendInk. Its owner told the media that his ISP took “hundreds of threats regarding possible lawsuits.” (Per The Verge’s report.)

      So while I appreciate your worry that we not overreach, I don’t think that’s happening here. And if the word “ignorance” is unpleasant, remember that it doesn’t mean someone is a bad person. It just means they don’t know something.

      Just think how many things I don’t know. Cry me a River of Ignorance!

      Lastly, I guess I’m a little thrown by your final line. — “Writing. Reading. I don’t see a war here.” — Help me with that, did I miss a reference to a reading/writing war?

      Thanks much for reading and commenting,

      • says

        Touche! :)
        Actually, I just like putting your research skills to use. And boy, I’d hate to run against you in any kind of political campaign!

        As for the war reference, it was simply to the idea that charts are telling us that indies are not making traction, or traditional publishing is, etc.

        Hope things are well at home.

        • says

          So, I am rather confused here as to what the two of you are arguing about. I do have to admit that I stopped reading and started skimming this blog post about halfway through, as I found it to be a little verbose and haughty. I think this is mostly due to the fact that I’ve known a couple of old disgruntled men (writers) who are constantly arguing about self-publishing and how it’s the devil; this whole issue makes me roll my eyes. I do understand that as a writer I probably should make myself more aware… but it just seems that sometimes people argue about it for the sake of arguing. I will agree that no matter how much a publishing company backs up an author, it’s always the artist’s job to promote their own work. Always. It’s the same for Painters, Musicians, Writers, etc…

          To the original poster:

          While I am not technically a “published author”… I’ve been published sans pay before. So, I suppose my opinions are of little importance to this entire debate. I will say though, after reading/editing drafts for published writers in my area that it’s crucial for writer’s to let others read their work. I don’t mean immediate friends and family… they’ll always have a biased opinion… but other writers, professors, poets, random acquaintances, etc… It’s nice to have a well-rounded perspective on any particular piece. I think that writers SHOULD be willing to learn the ins and outs of the business to escape author ignorance… and I also think that perhaps they should not be writing to get published if they’re not willing to learn. I personally am willing to call a spade a spade and I’d hope that someone who is critiquing/mentoring/editing on my behalf would SCREAM spade at the top of their lungs so I can see the bigger picture.

          Anyway, these are my random, verbose opinions on a random blog that I randomly stumbled upon! ;)

          @SillyStephWhat on Twitter

  3. says

    Porter, Thanks for bringing light into a discussion that generally generates just heat.
    I received my first book contract from a ‘traditional’ publisher (whatever that means) a few years back, when the ‘revolution in publishing’ was in its infancy, I’m now on the threshold of the publication of my fifth novel by a recognized publisher. Thus, I have been sort of a fearless non-combatant in the indie vs. traditional publication fray. But there’s no question that authors have to promote their books, however they’re published. And social media (plural!) seem to be a major method. Thanks for your analysis.
    Appreciate you.

    • says

      Hey, Richard,

      My apologies for the tardy comeback here (it’s been one of those days) but I very much appreciate your input, particularly as you’re able to verify the point from the traditionally published side — all authors have to work to promote their books. Exactly.

      The more that this and other reality checks get around, the better off we all are, as our community of writers grows savvier in the aggregate and individually aligned with values of informed entrepreneurship.

      Thanks again and congratulations on that fifth novel!

  4. says

    I read ‘indie’ published books, usually in my favoured genre (sf), but I’ll read anything that looks as if it might broaden my knowledge as a writer, and I try to be random in at least half of my choices. This means I will select a book that’s on free promotion, or I will pay for it if it’s a work I need to read, or it’s been recommended or whatever. If it’s an ‘indie’ I usually buy the Kindle format. The reasons for my choices don’t really matter, I try not to be prejudiced about it.

    More often than not, I find that lack of editing is a big problem: either lack of structural editing, or worse still, copy editing. The really frustrating thing is to enjoy a book, but still see the editing failures. A little more work and it would have shone. If the book is really bad, and I can’t finish it, I wonder if it has undergone any editing at all. This matters to me as a reader, because I want to be assured of a certain level of quality when I buy a book, as in the ‘pre-indie’ days. What it means is that manuscripts are being chucked out there as finished products before they washed, brushed and dressed and their collars are turned down properly.

    More importantly, it matters to me as a writer. I take great pains to find the editing services I need for my current novel, and it’s hard to find the right editor for my concept and my genre. Where do I start? Luckily I belong to a forum of trustworthy writers and I have some good leads. I have paid for crits, and they have been invaluable but they serve a different purpose. Somehow writers have to find a way to get matched up with the right editing services for their particular project, and I have no idea how that might begin to happen.

    • says

      Hey, Fiona,

      I like that you put the importance of this into terms for yourself both as reader and writer.

      I read self-published work, too, and sometimes review it, and I’ve been appalled at times how bad a very good talent can be made to look by gaffes in spelling and formatting — and how common this is.

      And as a writer, yes, I’m with you on the struggle to find the right editors for your work. It’s really not at all easy and can be aided only so far by contacts, groups you work with, etc. These things are harder than they should be. There are centralized services starting to come together in reputable settings, but these haven’t been fast to turn up.

      I do, by the way, think we’ll be hearing more concepts to handle the needs of authors whose work stands outside traditional publishing. And in time, as non-traditionally published work begins to prove its professionalism, I think the markets for those books will grow.

      Thanks again, good to hear from you!

  5. ML Swift says

    Unlike many I’ve seen, I entered the publishing world realizing that writing, as with any job done well, takes much more effort than appears on the surface. People think, “I published a book; I’m an author.” I know better.

    Even an occupation such as, let’s change one letter and say a waiter (and I’ve had to do that many times to make ends meet) is more than setting a plate in front of a customer and expecting to make great tips. Learning the menu, the daily specials, the art (yes, art) of gracefully carrying a tray of four to six heavy, food-laden platters above your head, anticipating your patron’s needs – all that makes the difference between a $5.00 tip and a $50.00 tip. Yet, other waiters would merely serve the food and wonder why I got the big bucks and people requested my tables. They suffered from a lousy work ethic. Transfer that to writing.

    The ability to self-publish and widespread social media has given us lousy waiters who aren’t willing to do their side-work. Touting their work on Facebook is marketing, reading one blog article is education. “I published a book; I’m an author.” I’ve had the misfortune of suffering through three books written by these authors: a relative’s husband, a self-proclaimed humorist (not a giggle one passed twixt these lips), and a hip, edgy college student (or so I was told). Let me rephrase that: I’ve suffered through half-books. It was all I could stand.

    I want to hear, “I toiled, revised, queried, cut, queried, revised again, rewrote the entire mess, got published, did tons of readings, and worked my ass off on this book.” It might not be a best-seller, but I respect the hell out of you much more.

    I’ll even finish reading your book.

    • says

      Hi there,

      And many thanks for reading the post today and commenting!

      I love your analogy to waiting tables here, there is a certain parallel to all the side-work that keeps you out of the weeds and getting the best tables.

      It sounds, too, as though your experience of this is that it’s almost an innate inclination in the person who knows how to get this right — does that sound correct? Needless to say, in any profession there are the “self-starters” and the others. But surely something like the publishing industry’s trials of the moment make this a bigger plus than ever for those who go in self-motivated.

      I hear you on the reading of the work, too. May it get easier to handle because more goes into it!


      • ML Swift says

        Hey Porter,

        I’ve read past articles of yours and have always appreciated your observations.

        Yes, I agree with you fully about self-starters in any profession, and that’s what I intended to show by choosing a random and seemingly easy occupation for my analogy. One can serve a plate of food, or one can be a waiter. There’s a difference. One can write a book, or one can be an author. BIG difference. I was mainly honing in on your statements:

        “…authors simply must wise up. Learn contracts. Learn business. Learn publishing. Learn marketing.”

        “Distinguish yourself as a pro by getting the experiential and/or academic credentials you need, and be proud of it.”

        I do believe there is an innate inclination in a person, a drive – nay, a passion – to “get it right,” rather than merely be content with passable and sloppy work (in any profession). But it is nurture that instills the work ethic and desire to obtain the skills necessary to do so, whether the nurture side of it comes via negative or positive examples during the formative years.

        I gave the examples of the three who did not do the the side-work necessary, and how each of their books took a dive faster than stock in Facebook. It was as if someone said, “That’s interesting…you should write a book,” and they took a three-day weekend, wrote, and had it bound and ready to sell by Tuesday. However, it wasn’t a Mary Shelley weekend with friends. They didn’t pen “Frankenstein.” They all had “Kick Me” signs on their backs. I read their works and could not believe they had been through a single editing. At all. Even by the dog.

        And that was my big “author ignorance” to point out. Ignorance to think they’re authors simply because they put a few pieces of paper with words on them in-between two other slabs of thicker paper, when all they really managed to do was turn Frankenstein into a vampire.

        – ml

  6. says

    Even having been published for eight years and my “real job” as a brand strategist and marketer, I still cop to author ignorance myself. It mostly sticks it’s head out when I do what I think is a pretty good job pre-promoting a book and find it always takes more, more, more than I thought it would to push sales. More glowing reviews. More blogs. More PR. More retweets, shares and pins. And even with decent impressions (going from 500 weely to 25,000 in a week, for example) that still doesn’t guarantee conversion to sales. If there is a magic formula, I haven’t found it yet, so I keep plodding along. There is competition for everything, even free books, as I’m finding with a freebie I have right now for one of my short stories. Yes, you need everybody talking about your book, but you first have to get the awareness about your book in the first place, which is tougher with sooooo many books out there. That’s right. New word: sooooo, no italics necessary. And I could use a margarita if you make those in the Tropics of Porter.

    • says

      Hey, Malena,

      Great of you to read today, and to comment!

      Boy, do I hear you. There is so much to learn, and much of it needs to be witnessed, at least, if not personally experienced, in the “real” realm of having it happen or watching it happen. If anything, I’m grateful to hear you say that you still can be caught off-guard by what it takes, although you’re in branding and marketing.

      The push to understand and act on needs of discoverability has become hugely important. (I’m afraid I’ve talked everybody senseless about the 32 million active titles being listed by Books in Print, and that’s up from 900,000 in 14 years — http://ow.ly/deaxr ).

      But this is where we have to look, and thank you for jumping in with the reality of what it takes — more, more, more. Surely our best heads are trying to help us do this more smartly. But so far, the sheer weight of what’s needed can be astonishing.

      Thanks again!

  7. says

    “Nobody loves an ivory-towering boor. Don’t be one. Don’t let your favorite colleague be one. Shun the amateurs — we’ve seen enough degradation at the hands of their shortcomings.”

    Porter, you regularly astound me with your investigative and synthetic skills and I hope you know I think of you with great respect. However, I’m not comfortable with shunning or shaming. I come from a discipline where that was some preceptors method of teaching, and to be frank, it’s crap. People spend more time worrying about being publicly humiliated than in problem-solving for the patient’s sake.

    Are authors responsible for their actions? Of course, but let’s be honest: not all writers really intend to go pro. Many don’t know what they are capable of nor how entrepreneurship works, and in any case, it takes time to get to a certain level of competency. In other words, the label of “author” contains as much prospective value as the label “patient.” (I’d put myself in the category of ignorant-but-willing, and I’ve still made and make significant mistakes. Know what? Hello life, in all its imperfect glory. ;) )

    DBW stats are interesting and a good start! (Thank you for getting the author’s name on the list.) As you and I’ve discussed, though, if an author were to slip into a pro/ entrepreneurial mindset, this list doesn’t necessarily provide useful information. For instance, what is the difference of scale between #1 and #20? Are there self-published authors whom, but for a few thousand sales, would be there? Without knowing the royalty rate being paid and actual numbers, pro authors cannot really use this list to make decisions. From a purely financial perspective, it might be better to be #100 on the list than #1 when traditionally published.

    I find it interesting that the list which might most speak to a self-publishing author still provides talking points which are framed by the old model. To be clear, I’m not saying this to shut down the flow of information–that’s fantastic–but maybe there’s a way to make this list more helpful for authorpreneurs? If DBW is going to all the trouble to provide a new and useful tool, I bet they can refine it to embrace the viewpoint of several audiences.

    As always, thanks for the thoughtful conversation. You’re good at firing my neurons up on a certain Saturday!

    • says

      Hey, Jan,

      Sharp thinking, as usual, and thanks for it!

      I know you’ve been interested in knowing what kind of revenue is represented for authors on the DBW list — and who wouldn’t love to know that? But of all possible info, that’s easily the least possible to get. Who wants to announce their income? And even if the people pulling together the data for the list could get at that material, it would be invasive, to say the least, since we are in fact looking at specific books attached to specific authors, not aggregated (in that sense) data. Those actual numbers you mention simply aren’t available. Nevertheless, I think the list does have a lot to offer. It can always be better, of course. All data-gathering can. I don’t feel like dismissing the list because it cannot tell us everything we’d like it to.

      I’m also hesitant to remain focused on talking points framed around the old model in a world that’s moving on. I’m not sure that helps us move forward, though I can understand your interest.

      And as for the question of shunning amateurs, I’m not suggesting that one turn one’s back on well-intentioned and motivated folks who want to learn. I’m must more concerned about the people who pile material into the bottom ranks of the commercial slush pile without learning the industry they’re impacting. These aren’t people of publishing but folks who, as Jim Bell puts it so humorously, think you can “just throw some ebooks up there, throw them up on the Internet” and make money. People who assume that everyone can write, let alone publish? — these are the amateurs I don’t feel like encouraging. I think there are a lot of them at the moment.

      Maybe I could try on you the term “wanton amateur” — folks who want it easy more than they want it good. When someone doesn’t read his or her contract and doesn’t stop, as Victoria Strauss suggests, to do some research into what he or she is attacking — as happened in the LendInk case — I just don’t find a lot to support them. Those people closed down a site that was designed to enable them as authors. Not good. And I think they’re representative of many others.

      As usual, however, I respect your opinions as I know you respect mine. And I’m not happy if my distress over the vast number of people prompted to jump in by the Internet’s arrival isn’t the way you think I should feel. We can, at least, agree on our disagreement and carry on as we know to do. I consider this the kind of capability I see in professionals more than amateurs, that ability to handle cognitive dissonance and to see the value in doing it carefully.

      And if I’m not making sense here, call me on it, I’ll keep trying. :)
      THANKS for the robust response, as ever!


      • says

        Here’s the trouble, based upon what I saw from medicine:

        1. Wanton amateurs become pros all the time, and no one know who will make the switch. No one. Sometimes they turn pro because of their failures, not in spite of them. The typical smoker quits 12 times before it sticks, but does that mean a physician should be less vigilant when they see a patient on attempt #1? #30? Past does not predict future. It can be indicative of a pattern, but that’s all.

        2. Following up on Therese’s point below, if we want an educated author body, it is important how data is presented, what data is presented, and that conclusions are framed within the point of view of the author. (Or clearly shown not to be framed within the POV of the author for those who are time-challenged or less savvy about data interpretation.)

        For instance this: “Super-low pricing may be a bust — and higher pricing points ($9.99 and up) don’t look as daunting to readers as some have asserted they are.”

        I read Mike Shatzkin’s blog, have done so since Nathan Bransford named him as a worthwhile voice. I respect him. (I do, honest, Mike.) But Mike’s POV–and the one getting airtime–is that of publisher.

        That talking point might as easily be “Self-published authors earn more across all price points than any traditionally published author.”

        Is it true? Point is, we don’t know. Don’t you think that’s critical information for the pro authorpreneur?

        I would love to know the balanced, non-axe-grindy resources that would parse and frame all these opinions for authors. That’s what people count on their family doctors and physicians to do, right? To take complex studies and make them relevant to them and their decisions at a singular point in time? (This might be the single best reason I know to defend the role of ethical agents who frame business decisions within the POV of their clients.)

    • says

      Oh, by the way (sorry, very distracting issues on this end today), I meant to also respond to your point about folks who don’t want to work in publishing professionally — absolutely. I’m not put off by bona fide hobbyists, I respect that group completely. I’d say — and maybe this would take some debating, too — that once a writer gets to the point of selling her or his work in wide commercial forums such as Amazon (as opposed to friends, family, and so on), a line is crossed at which we may not have to *demand* some silly “oath of professionalism,” lol, but at which we can *expect* without being unreasonable that this person will take responsibility for knowing her or his contracts and other pertinent business matters. We’d need better and clearer parameters here, but I just want to assure you that I’m respectful of the true “amateur — for the love of doing, as long as the wider readership isn’t asked to accept (pay money for) ill-prepared material because the author is “I’m only an amateur.” You get the distinction, I’m sure.
      Thanks again,

  8. says

    On observed author ignorance, I completely agree with Fiona. Self-publishing authors need to learn that their work–unless they are a rare and brilliant demigod of a human being–should be edited by someone other than him/herself. Not a critique partner. Not a friend and never a mother. An editor. A good editor. In fact, I guest-blogged about this very issue yesterday.

    How willing do I think writers are to learn the ins and outs of the business?

    That’s a tricky question. I think smart writers do want to be informed. But wanting to know and taking the necessary steps so that they do know are different animals. Where do writers get their news? Do they know what galleycat.com, for example, even is? (I’ve met some pubbed authors who do not.) What if a writer’s “news” comes primarily from an online group that’s disseminating fear-driven, ignorance-driven, wrong-isms?

    Add to that, writers might be aware of what’s happening, but may feel lost in terms of putting it all into context. Posts like this can help, absolutely, as can your comprehensive Writing on the Ether posts. But–and I ask this with all due respect and gratitude to you, Porter–are they digestible for the truly ignorant writers out there? Or do they presume—even demand–some level of knowledge, with a wink to the folks who already know quite a lot?

    Maybe some otherwise brainy people have *chosen* ignorance because the rapid-fire changes in the industry leave them feeling overwhelmed and somewhat hopeless, because the thing writers can best control at the end of the day is the work itself. Would that still be considered ignorance, or does that shift into a form of survival, ala avoidance 101?

    I feel like I’m a pretty well-informed person, because I stay on top of things for the WU Twitter account (shameless plug, follow us here), but I wouldn’t in a million claim to know the latest in anything, because anything can change within a week–even a day or hour. How much time does it require to stay on top of industry changes? A lot of time. I know you know this, Porter!

    A Writers’ Guide to Avoiding Ignorance in Social Media is what writers need. Lists of people to follow, sites that can be relied upon. Abbreviated info for those writers already struggling to find time to write because of demands from family and day jobs. Help for the led-astray among us. Ten pages or less, to be kept beside the keyboard at all times.

    None of this stuff is easy. Not whining here, just stating the obvious. Avoiding author ignorance is like battling a riptide–fatiguing but necessary, if you’re going to jump in and live to tell the tale.

    p.s. “Indie” has become as muddied a term as “women’s fiction.”

    • says

      Hey, Therese!

      What a fantastic response, thanks so much!

      Just to take your last note first, yeah, the term “indie” is a lot like “women’s fiction” … even something like what’s happening to YA as the idea of its popularity with adults grows. Very good parallel.

      As for your concept of the capable authors “choosing ignorance” because the time-and-energy drain is so severe, there’s a lot to be said for that. Doing what I do, I stay enmeshed in the incremental changes of the day but others might very well need to run the other way completely to keep going. (Many days I’d like to!)

      I’m completely with you on the fairly sophisticated demands that Writing on the Ether can make at times. The key there is the breadth of readership — rather than being a column for writers, it serves many sectors of the industry! the industry! , therefore often running at a fairly advanced pace just to get things covered.

      I’ve actually been working on a possible response to that issue and will keep you and my other great colleagues and our always-engaged readers informed on progress, there might be something in the offing to help.

      And in the meantime, your idea of that Writers’ Guide to Avoiding Ignorance in Social Media sounds so valuable! Where can I get one? — do you have it for Kindle yet? Seriously, what a smart idea, particularly if it could be formulated in HTML to live online (thus updatable, fixable, changeable). Big undertaking, though, and it would require a constant presence, Wikipedia-like, to maintain and manage as an organic document. Let’s think on this. We have so much talent in our community (just look at the great WU crowd alone).

      You are, yes, one of the best-informed members of the community, Teri, and keeping WU running with Kath is no mean feat, either. But yes, I do indeed know the amount of time it takes just to stay across the business’ ins and outs. I was just saying in another comment, the phrase I hear from so many about the Ether, in fact is, “head spinning” — to be a relatively small industry in economic terms, publishing is deeply layered and surprisingly complex — getting more so, too, as we see the US industry increasingly (and rightly) in touch with our European, Asian Middle Eastern and African colleagues.

      Progress is so taxing. :)

      But you’ve done a super job of sorting out the truly tough demands of being informed AND producing. Being an island dweller, I love this line from your piece:

      Avoiding author ignorance is like battling a riptide–fatiguing but necessary, if you’re going to jump in and live to tell the tale.

      That’s it exactly. Exactly. One hell of a swimming lesson.

      Thanks again, Teri, so many good ideas here. Together, we’ll all keep thinking and growing –

  9. says

    I was going to stay out of the DBW list thing, especially since I’m a guest blogger. But the “startling” conclusions drawn from that list make me yawn. So I will write a post over at DBW and address it, start with the “oversight” of not bothering to put author names next to their titles. It was much more important to put the publishers names there, since that seems to be the whole point of the list. Really does NY have to try so hard to justify its own existence in a business that they dominated for decades?

    And to title something “author ignorance” is also interesting. Publisher ignorance? I could do a very long list. Agent ignorance. Another very long list.

    Actually the most ignorant authors I’ve run into are bestselling traditionally publisher authors. They have little idea how eBook publishing works, and most are content with their checks. They don’t have to participate in social media or most of that. Ignorance is indeed bliss there and no reason it shouldn’t be.

    Until things change further, which they are inevitably going to do.

    • says

      Hey, Bob,

      Thanks for the note — you’re definitely in a position (as both author and publisher, both traditional and self-) to see the DBW list in a different light entirely, so I’m sure your post would be welcome on the Expert Blog. Hearing what you’re saying about NY having to “try so hard,” I do have to concede that I was surprised — maybe no one else, just me — at how strong a hold on the Top 25 the Big Six have. Not that I had a specific percentage or other number in mind, but the way things fell out on Monday, it’s a prodigious lead for the majors. I’m not even trying to interpret what that means (this is
      Saturday, lol) but just on the face of it, some 17 of 25? That’s more than I’d have guessed.

      As for the application of “ignorance” to various parts of the industry! the industry! — yes, of course. :) My point at Writer Unboxed — since it’s not Agent Unboxed or Publisher Unboxed, lol — is the author, naturally. Certainly, there’s enough ignorance around to float everybody’s boat on a really high tide of cluelessness at times. I think I’m just worried that authors get a leg up as fast as possible and not stay in the ignorant category longer than necessary.

      And the bliss of traditionally based authors? That makes almost scary sense, as long as they don’t look at their royalty splits.

      Thanks again,

  10. says

    Porter–what a great article! I’ll be sharing this everywhere.

    I second and third Therese’s comment above.

    The biggest issue is the self-pubbed and indie-pubbed works that have not been screened by editors. I find this to be a naive and ego-centric practice. Besides, it junks up the net, making quality books more difficult to find–though I will say, it may be a good thing for traditional publication in the end. Eventually ebook users won’t wade through the crap. They’ll return to the publishers whom they know will produce quality books.

    Other arenas in which writers miss the boat: the lack of research of industry professionals, poor social media skills, learning to keep abreast of industry events and ATTENDING them, supporting other authors rather than attacking them for differences in styles and opinions.

    I find it incredible how few writers are initiators, innovators and how few lack the drive to really learn, grow, and “conquer” the many facets of the publishing industry. Of course this can be applied to any business or trade. Those who apply themselves and seek inspiration from others will rise to the top. I suppose I expected such creative thinkers to be movers and shakers. This just doesn’t seem to be the case for the majority. (Though I’ve met many hard-workers who write beautiful and compelling novels, articles, etc, too.)

    Lastly, I love the idea of a social media guide or a website that gathers links to assist writers in their crusade to become marketing machines.

    • says

      Heather, what a refreshing comment, thank you!

      I’ve been gently raked over some hot massage stones if not outright coals, by a few good colleagues here, particularly for extrapolating from the mistakes of a few authors (though LendInk involved an awful lot of them) to a supposed wider field. Unhappily, I fear the field of the feckless is wider even than we imagine at this point (just as the lead of the Big Six over all others on the DBW is stronger that I’d guessed it might be).

      And it’s really nice to see someone else willing to say simply, we’ve got these problems among a lot of our self-appointed writers .. such as attacking each other (the tone of some of the self-published folks has been amazing, huh?); the lack of innovation; the concept, thank you, of “conquering” the industry! the industry! (as we call it at Writing on the Ether each week) – mastering the mysteries, as it were. What better goal?

      I’m trying to think more about Teri’s fine idea of the Writers’ Guide — I seriously think it would need to be held and housed online as a web-based resource, not as a lie-on-the-desk book. But what could be more doable? Time is the issue (as in who has enough of it to do this?). And I’m also interested in a couple of chances I’d like to develop to get some specific interpretation for authors into place.

      So there’s a lot to think about. But I love the line you’ve contributed to the debate: “Eventually ebook users won’t wade through the crap. They’ll return to the publishers whom they know will produce quality books.” When I look at the DBW list and its display of the Big Six holding such dominance over the Top 25, I worry that this return you talk about is already under way. What if the readers are savvy enough to know that major publishers give them a better product?

      So much to think about. THANKS, Heather!

      • says

        (psst… I agree that it should live online, Porter, if and when we collectively lose our minds and try to do something like this. I particularly like your idea of a wiki-based collab. Where’s that guest post by Lisa Cohen about creating a wiki? I know it’s around here somewhere… )

  11. says

    To me, DBW’s lists serve as a reminder that there’s simply far more muscle behind the breakout books published by the big houses, and the sheer numbers of units they sell are at quite a different scale than most other books. Think about it: these books have a ubiquity that few if any self-published books have yet attained, available in every airport, grocery store, drugstore, etc., and that high level of visibility is certainly an influence on ebook sales of the same titles.

    But I don’t think that supports conclusions like “low pricing is a bust,” or that the self-publishing wave is ultimately insignificant. There’s more to the situation than that, just as there was more to LendInk.

    So in response to your prompt, I guess the kind of ignorance I’ll point out is the temptation to be too quick to simplify a complex situation. It’s SO tempting to look for the quick answer, because we just want to understand this stuff so we can get back to actual *writing*, and not have to keep wrapping our brain around all this constant change in the publishing landscape.

    But I think the DBW list is a tool still in its infancy, and the way it currently slices and dices the data does not yet provide a comprehensive analysis of the marketplace. I’m glad it exists, but it’s just one more helpful input for us to consider.

    • says

      Good thoughts here, Keith, and thanks for jumping in!

      Probably I’ve overstated what I think I see in the (still young, as you say) DBW list results. I think it’s a certain level of surprise (for many, certainly not all) at the way these things fell out on the list this week for the first time.

      You’re right, of course, about the ubiquity of the Big Six titles, that “muscle behind breakout books.” And I think what I found to be a key to responses to the list was the sheer surprise factor at how much that ubiquity works as a kind of grandstand effect on such a list.

      So I’ll own this one for you and pronounce myself ignorant in regards to just how much “overwhelming force,” Secretary Powell, lol, we would see if DBW dashed out and checked on the Top 25 ebooks. Twenty-one or twenty-two out of twenty-five belonging to Big Six publishers? I was ignorant.

      Same on low pricing. If I were an author with my life’s work sitting right now at 99 cents on Amazon and I looked at DBW’s list and saw all those agency-priced ebooks leading the way? I’d be into one heavy reconsideraton of my low-price strategy. Is that strategy “bust?” Maybe not, but as that author selling at such “popular prices,” I’d feel I might have underestimated the populace — which is to say, I could be operating in some ignorance on the matter.

      And thanks especially for your positioning of the rush to simplicity. We see it a lot. You know the phrase I get the most each week after Writing on the Ether comes out? People — they mean this as a compliment and I take it as such — always say their heads are spinning. Being the one who puts the Ether together, that head-spinning thing feels pretty Linda Blair on my end, I get exactly what folks mean.

      But you’re right. None of us can afford to dash off to our actual *writing* without slowing down and working through pertinent complexities that are, like it or not, part of the arrival of this digital dynamic on our turf.

      Really good to have the benefit of your input here, sir, thanks again and bests for an ignorance-free weekend. :)

  12. says

    You already know you’re preaching to the choir here, Porter, but I’ll jump in about this whole pro/wanton amateur thing anyway.

    I’m now on my 4th career (theatre director/stage manager, fundraiser, book seller in my past). I only went to school and earned degrees for the first one. But…all of them required training and ongoing professional development. It was necessary not just for the nuts and bolts of the job itself (researching donors or writing grants or reading plays). It was necessary for the marketing of myself and/or my clients. It’s the same for this business (you know, the industry! the industry!).

    The reason new authors (like myself) need to spend a disproportionate amount of time marketing ourselves – on and offline – is that we are creating new customers. Any marketing professional worth their salt can tell you the stark difference in what it costs to get a new customer vs. what it takes to retain them. We are creating our audience – creating a need in people to read what we’ve written. That takes time and effort. Once we’ve earned an audience, each subsequent marketing effort (each subsequent book, that is) should be easier.

    If you choose to do it on the cheap – or not do it at all – that will be blatantly obvious. If you choose to accept the fact that you need to learn this new business because it is, damn it, your business now….then that will take some time and effort on your part.

    My first ebook is at the editor. Then it goes out for blurbs while I decide on a cover design. I’ve never looked at this as anything other than a business – one in chaos, to be sure, but still a business. And I choose to build my particular self-published writing business in a professional way. Not everyone does, but this is what makes sense for me.

    Is it cocktail time yet?


  13. says

    I can hear the frustration in this post, and I understand the reason behind it. The glut of self-published writing that has not gone through any sort of rigor, that has developed a reputation for poor quality and unprofessional approach, does make the environment more challenging for writers who have studied the industry and who are making dedicated attempts at producing well-written, well-edited, and well-marketed novels.

    In noticing ignorance and gnashing our teeth over it, I have to wonder — does it help? Them, or us? Do we really feel that this state of affairs is because not enough authors have been vocal about it?

    Is “calling a spade a spade” going to help? Telling someone “you are ignorant, your book is terrible, you’re a lazy hack and you don’t know anything about the industry” going to shame them into correct behavior? Or just “enlighten” them? Or simply reassure us that we, at least, are not ignorant… and that we will put out the “correct” information in a time when hard facts are hard pressed, and the fine line between opinion and flame war is already razor thin?

    I can’t police other writers, and let’s face it, some people just don’t read warning labels. The best I can do is commit to quality work on my own, and have faith that the environment will adjust as readers rebel. Which is slowly happening — in my opinion.

    I do feel strongly, though, that when we start to sink into a mire of “this isn’t how it’s supposed to be” as opposed to “this is how it is,” based on what other people are doing rather than what few elements we have control over, then we’re sapping energy that we can’t afford into something that won’t help anyone.

    I appreciate the time and effort, and emotion, you put into the piece. And I realize there’s some irony in my attempting to “enlighten” you on this. ;) I just wanted to present a slightly different opinion, that’s all.

  14. says

    Well, you’ve instigated another lively discussion, Porter! I’ll jump in with a few thoughts.

    As I see it, the biggest weakness, especially for a new writer/aspiring author is to expect that writing a good book is enough. We “unknowns” have to take the responsibility of getting our names and messages out there way before our book is launched. To be considered professional entails taking the time and investing in the resources required to learn your craft and committing to excellence in writing by participating in critique groups, hiring professional editors, publicist, book designers while building meaningful connections via a platform that connects with a target audience.

    There’s nothing quick or simple about it. It takes years. While I have yet to experience the current publishing environment first hand, I know that when I do get ready to publish, whether it be the self-publishing or traditional route, I will still have to maintain a commitment to both the writing and the marketing. We need to view ourselves as a CEO’s and marketing directors of our own businesses.

    I do agree with Linda Adams that “the best marketing tool is a good book” with a caveat that it is only one part of the process. I also agree with Viki Noe- if you try to do it quickly and cheaply, it will show. Amen!

    Thanks for an enlightening discussion. I’ll be sharing this all over.

  15. thea says

    I think the publishers must cackle with glee that, in their quest to eeeck out every dime from every book they publish, that they expect/demand/leave it to the authors to do everything for their books, from editing to publicity to marketing – unless they think it’s going to be a sure thing – like a continuous best selling author. And if that is not enough, the publishers have the power and the inclination to affect sales numbers through marketing initiatives and manipulations that drown out any indie book and its author. It isn’t that difficult for them to marginalize independent published authors to protect their turf if they think their market share is in jeopardy. If one of those books breaks out, they swoop right in and scarf it up anyway. Doesn’t it seem like getting a traditional big time publishing contract with all sorts of marketing perks is a bigger deal than actually getting published????

  16. AJ Sikes says

    I’ve enjoyed every post of yours I’ve read, Porter, and it just keeps getting better. For a new writer, these are exciting (some might say “Interesting” in the pejorative sense), and the wealth of info to be had from you, Jane Friedman, and the WU community is nothing short of ambrosia. On to your questions…

    What are the key areas of author ignorance you’ve observed?

    A profound and ultimately self-destructive lack of knowledge of what social media are for. I’m sickened by the constant urges to “Check out my new book on Amazon” that pop up in my Twitter feed. And I’ve muted more than a few writers who blast my Facebook feed with the same chatter. Social media =/= a billboard!

    Beyond that, I’ll point to the very issue you do, the LendInk fiasco. It was just disgusting. Perhaps unavoidable given how the Internet! the Internet! works, where every post has the kinetic potential of a tipping point towards Armageddon. But I thought writers were better than that. I really did.

    Where are the weakest points, as you see it?

    I’m learning myself just how much is involved in publishing a book. I just got accepted by Lightning Source, and their agreements and requirements read like, well, like something I’ve never encountered before. I’m out on my ear before I’ve even started. I’m still not convinced I need to go the traditional route, but I also have a much more realistic understanding of what lies between me and that glorious day when I’m holding a proof copy. Most writers, I think, are unaware of what publishing really entails.

    How willing do you think writers are to learn the ins and outs of the business and escape author ignorance?

    Sadly, I don’t think even 10% of writers care enough to do the work, to learn the rules and regulations, the formatting requirements, to put out the word, to call the reviewers, to mail out ARCs, to make the follow up calls, to schedule readings and signings. I consider myself fully on board, but boy howdy is it a job I’m faced with. This gig is a lot of work.

    How willing do you feel you are to call a spade a spade when necessary and point out author ignorance?

    Without reservation. I don’t tolerate bad writing getting passed off as worthy of purchase. If I read a book that hurts to hold because it should never have left the writer’s desktop in such condition, I write a review of it and let other people know. And I’m just as ready to advise my writing friends to bone up, beef up, and hone both craft and trade rather than plow forward without any concern for torpedoes. Largely, that consists of pointing them in Jane Friedman’s direction. :)

    • says

      Choir here, being preached to. I agree with everything, AJ, even this early in the morning (and one failed attempt already to respond to your post).

      My best friend has published over 3 dozen books in 25 years, mostly romances, all traditionally published. If you want to make her laugh – and I know many ways to do that – tell her that people want a traditional deal so they don’t have to do all this ‘social media stuff’ and market themselves. She knows better.

      I don’t want a traditional deal. What I want is an agent, though that’s not the right word. I want a guide, a mentor, who will make sure I’m not making stupid mistakes as I hire my editor and cover designer, and tweak my marketing plan. Haven’t found one yet, though I look to Porter, Jane, Dan Blank and a few others for guidance on a daily basis.

      • AJ Sikes says

        Indeed, Victoria, indeed. I want the same thing, and I think that sticking by Porter, Jane, Dan, and others, we’re in good hands. They aren’t being paid (by us) to do what they do, to share what they share, but we all benefit just the same. Could it *gasp* be that they have ulterior motives? :) If they’re all concerned about the state and quality of the industry! the industry! and sharing their expert opinions to shore up where they see shortfalls, then more power to them all. I’m happy to have their back.

  17. says

    Realized I got sidetracked on qualifications about what constitutes amateurism and how information from good sources isn’t necessarily given in accessible ways. I never answered your questions. Quelle surprise, Porter. Herding a Jan is akin to herding a cat. ;)

    The biggest area of ignorance I see, and worry about from a personal perspective, are issues to do with contracts. (With publishers, with agents, with estributors.) Despite having a lawyer review one I signed in medicine, I did not receive good advice and I paid for it. For years. I don’t want to make a similar mistake in this world and am trying to educate myself so I’m not ignorant when/ if the day arises where I need basic competence. Yet when I try to ask questions or discuss points that are raised on some blogs, which tend to be of the more screechy variety, but which are the only ones I see voicing these issues, it seems like my colleagues don’t care or understand what’s at stake.

    I think contractual issues are potentially more damaging and certainly less often discussed than social media mistakes.

    Lastly, I apologize if you’ve felt coal-raked on my behalf! You are always challenging, which I love, and I’ve learned so much from you. If anyone can get that DBW list into shape that makes sense to authors, it will be you.

  18. says

    I agree with Fiona and Therese. I don’t understand how anyone can spend 2, 3, 4…years writing a novel, but once they write “the end” can’t be bothered to spend even 2, 3, or 4 weeks editing it! Any writer who has ever shared their work knows, no matter how much editing you think you’ve done, you can always do more, and we can never completely edit our own work because we know what we meant to write so don’t always see what we really wrote.

    I see that as one of the biggest bits of writer ignorance. My first novel went through my own rounds of editing, two different critique groups, a professional editor, and the publisher’s editor (indy, as in small, not as in me, self-pubbing). I was mortified to find 2 mistakes, one typo and one cut/paste/leave a word behind error, in the final, published book. When I read self-pubbed books, I’m shocked by the total lack of editing of any kind in the majority of them. Because of that, I won’t read any more self-pubbed books unless I know the author, their writing ability, and that they wouldn’t release it withouth extensive and thorough edits (that leaves me with about 3 self-pubbed authors to read).

    My experience as a reader of self-pubbed works has also led to me shunning the idea of self-publishing (at least for now and until some sort of vetting process evolves). While I might think I’d do a better job of producing a clean, edited product, why should any reader believe me? Guilt by association? Sure, but what other means do we have to evaluate self-pubbed works. That doesn’t mean the big-6 pulishers or small/indies don’t put out some bad stuff, but the odds are better that it isn’t totally unreadable, even if it’s a bad book.

    For my own personal ignorance, I confess to being a marketing idiot. I know I have to do it, I’ve read the books, attended the seminars and workshops, have a web presents and am all over the SoMe (love that acronym for social media since, to me, it really says what it’s about…it’s sooooo me!) But, that doesn’t make me an effective marketer.

    I could really use some guidance in that department, and by guidance I mean hand-holding. I know I shouldn’t expect much of that from an agent or publisher, but I’d be thrilled with any help or advice I could get in that department. I really feel like I’m stumbling along blindly. My publisher did create and send out press releases, some promotional materials, and provide lots of info on how to proceed with marketing, but knowledge doesn’t directly transfer to ability and effective application. So, I’m doing my best and know I have to do better.

    We don’t know what we don’t know. But, I’m doing my best to figure it out. I really wish ignorance was bliss, butfor me, it’s just frustrating!

    • AJ Sikes says


      Thank you for adding your thoughts about editing. I’ll echo them with a “ditto me” here. Had I attempted to address them myself, my post would have been laden with profanity. Like you, I refuse to buy self-published books unless I know the author, and for the very reason you state.

    • says

      I think if someone (more than one someone, hopefully) could figure out how to market themselves as an agent/coach/mentor/guide for self-publishing authors they could make a fortune.


    • thea says

      that’s the saddest part of this whole story – agents and publishers serve us in very important ways – new authors do need to hold someone’s hand at some point. Publishers have created a model that is hard to support independently (and they want to keep a good hold on the quality control of what’s being published). I know Porter believes some of the problems are caused by author ignorance. I wonder, though, if it’s more about trial and error attempts to navigate the publishing world. There are a lot of conflicting goals among all the players.

    • says

      If you feel that at sea on marketing, you need to consider hiring a really strong, specialized PR/marketing person for a set period of time to not only help you devise a marketing program for your book but also teach you to maintain and manage it yourself. Professionalism on that front is as important to sales as professionalism on the editing front is to the book’s quality, in my estimation.

  19. says

    I often feel “ignorant” though until now I didn’t think to use such a strong word as that – more like “misinformed” or “sincere but deer-in-the-headlights” or “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” or “I’m doing the best I can – lawdy be in a bucket he’p me jeebus.” But then, I received my royalty check and at first I thought in the Human Way of Never Satisfied-itis, “wish it were more.” But, then I thought – Geez, at least I am receiving regular royalties. I can buy things. I can put some in savings. What am I bitching about?

    Then I re-think: Well, how could I make more royalties? And I come up with “I dunno.” *see above*

    I usually apologize in some kind of way for “touting” any news on my books (Ha! irony: see “blog post link thangee below*).

    So, I settle on “write the best damned book you can and hope for the best.” *see above*

    I will say, there’s one area that I wish I could get through to self-published authors: Please please don’t be in a hurry to publish your book “just because I want to be done with this book and move on” — Take that manuscript and turn it upside down and inside out, shake all the stuffing out of it! I can tell you from experience, and I’m with a traditional publisher, when you send out a product before it is quite ready, even if a trad publisher publishes it, you will never feel settled, you will forever wish you had that book back to fix it how you really meant it to be. We shouldn’t be in such a hurry, but we often are, and we are often told we should shove out books through our arses as fast as we can – *not going to finish that imagery lawd!* :-D

  20. says

    When I finished writing my memoir I knew without a moments hesitation that I would self-publish based only on the fact that I refused to give anyone the opportunity to tell me “no”. I didn’t want to send my book to an agent. I didn’t want to write letters to publishers trying to convince them that my life story was worthy of their time. I didn’t want to call some friend’s cousin’s neighbor who use to work for someone in publishing that could maybe get a contact person who might be able to get my manuscript read by someone really big in the industry. I didn’t want to do any of that. I just wanted to tell my story. So that’s what I did.

    A few years ago, I had been living in Los Angeles jumping through those very same hoops while struggling to make it as a scriptwriter. Finally, one day my big dream came true. I sold a television pilot that I had written with two other people… and it was an absolutely miserable experience. The joy and fun were immediately sucked out of the project the moment egos started positioning for control. I remember sitting on a couch one afternoon in the producers office during a meeting and thinking, “I wish I was anywhere but here.” Here I was right smack in the middle of my dream come true and I was dreading every moment I had to spend with these people who survived on the business side of creativity.

    What does this have to do with the publishing world? Well, when it came to my memoir not only did I want to tell my story, but because of that previous experience, it was hugely important to me that I enjoyed the process. Being rejected by someone unwilling to take a chance on an unknown writer didn’t sound very enjoyable so I wasn’t willing to ask. And with the help of modern technology, I didn’t have to.

    This letter has probably already shown you that I’m not a great literary genius. I don’t agonize over every word in a sentence as though my very soul depended on it. I can’t spell worth a damn, I know almost nothing about grammer, and truth be told, I barely managed to squeek through high school. So yes, I am one of those self-published writers with a couple of reviewers screaming at me in all caps to “USE SPELL CHECK!” My book is flawed just like me. That doesn’t mean my story is insignificant. It just means I didn’t use a lot of big words and perfect punctuation to tell it… and I make typos.

    I have stumbled my way through the publishing process not knowing what the hell I was doing most of the time but I can honestly say I have loved every moment of it. I’ve been asked a few times how I went about creating my platform and as soon as I figure out what that actually means I might have an answer. I keep it simple and I have fun. I’ve had a lot a readers reach out to me and say they felt as if I told their story or that they were inspired to write their own story. For me this is what self-publishing is about. Having my story heard by people who otherwise would have never known I existed.

    Truth is, I have no idea why by memoir is selling as well as it is. I was once asked by a fellow writer, “Who is going to buy your memoir? You’re not famous. You’re just a regular person.” And I thought, “Exactly.”

  21. says

    Porter, the most intriguing data you’ve pulled out of the alphabet soup is that the ‘big six’ still dominate the DBW e-book lists.

    In light of that, here’s some recent responses I’ve received from authors.

    “Those traditional publishers are being shown a thing or two.”
    “I was screwed by my publisher … I’ve taken the indie side.”
    “In the Trad v Indie race, Indie will win.

    These are all off-the-cuff comments by the ill informed. There are no ‘sides’ armed to the teeth and facing off.

    In fact wrote an entire post about this, indicating my view that the big six will simply morph if they need to. They’re not stupid, and also have massive resources, connections and media clout. Despite the thought-provoking rants of Joe Konrath et al, they’ll still be around.

    Having said that, they do face real issues such as internal resistance to change. So just how nimble are they? A good friend of mine is one of the top brass at a ‘big six’ publisher in the UK. She tells me that the pervasive atmosphere is one of deepening gloom.

  22. says

    You wrote: “DBW’s new list makes it all too clear that authors are not making the independent progress many of them think they are, and that Big Six domination and higher-end ebook pricing are still very much a part of this story.”

    It isn’t clear to me how authors’s expectations about their progress in the marketplace has anything to do with the value of what they do (which seems to be implied in this summary). In fact, since it is only “some of them” I don’t understand its relevance to much of anything.

    For me you are mixing two issues in this blog: quality of the product and market penetration and that is part of the problem. What difference does it make if 99 cent books are bombing if people are happy publishing at that price and “some of them” are making scads of money at it still?

    You seem to argue that although things have changed enormously they haven’t really changed at all and I can’t grasp what your point is. Are you only trying to rebut the blog you refer to? If so, it is spotty, just as his arguments are spotty.

    I really would like to see someone take a coherent look at what is going on and stop focusing on whether indies are really indie and whether they or traditional publishers are on the right track. The question isn’t which group (side?) is doing things better (aka more successfully) but who (what individual person or company) is moving in the right direction for tomorrow.