Why we won’t—and shouldn’t try-to find a traditional publisher
It constantly amazes me how Kris Rusch always puts her finger on the right button every time. I’m sure many of you are tired of hearing me tout her blog, but—seriously—she knows her stuff because she’s been at it for so long and has so much experience. Being a writer, she’s faced the same issues most writers have at one time or another.
So what’s she on about this time? In her latest post THE BOOKS WE WANT TO WRITE she talks about… well… the books that we as writers want to write, not the books publishers want us to write.
In her post she pretty much drives home the point I’ve made over and over, that going after a traditional publisher today is an goal driven by vanity and in the end, won’t satisfy us as much as we think it will.
Let’s back up for a moment and ask WHY authors still believe they want (or need) a traditional publisher. Putting aside the belief that a publisher will actually do most of the marketing and promotion—something I’ve told you many times won’t happen—I encounter two other reasons:
The first is that some writers totally misunderstand self-publishing and either believe it’s expensive or that it carries no credibility. If you believe one or both of these, then, you shouldn’t attempt being an author until you get your head out of the past and understand the modern world of publishing and self-publishing.
The second, possibly more pervasive, reason is that writers believe they need the validation of a publisher to prove that they’re a good writer. As Kris Rusch says, most traditional publishers (meaning the bigger ones) are only interested in publishing what they think will sell based on what’s currently selling. In her words: “The breakout books, the ones that change genres forever, were accidents in that period of tight control. Somehow a book slipped through that was different…”
It’s this narrow-minded philosophy that stifled book publishing for so long until authors finally had the outlet and means to publish something new without the risk of having to spend a hundreds or thousands of dollars (through a Vanity Publisher) to put their book out there, and those authors who did go the Vanity Press route learned the hard way what a waste of money it was. Sure, they published their book, but no one bought it.
Unfortunately, too many writers still believe that Vanity Publishing is their only other viable option because they misunderstand what modern self-publishing is. Sure, the book may not sell, but at least it hasn’t cost them thousands of dollars.
One more point here: Some writers are still trying to chase the markets in the belief (shared with traditional publishers) that if they write what’s currently selling, then they will likewise find a publisher and be successful. In seeking that validation, they are almost certain to be disappointed
Let me bring this short post around to a more personal level where I align with and agree with Kris Rusch. I’ve never fallen into the trap of believing that I need to write what’s popular or currently selling. Like Kris Rusch I try to write what I like to read and what hasn’t been written. I try to deviate from the norm. I don’t find a challenge in writing a variant of what’s been done before. I’m trying to give my readers something new and different. If it sells, that’s a plus, but sales are not my first goal.
Sure, the novels I write have elements of others’ novels. It’s nearly impossible to create something completely new. The key is to put a new spin on old themes. Most of the writers I have helped publish their novels have done that: not just another sci-fi or fantasy or romance or vampire or werewolf or mystery or thriller, but something that goes beyond what’s been done before. To me, the mark of a good writer is one that doesn’t write another variation but goes beyond what’s been done before.
And therein lies the problem of finding a traditional publisher. Many traditional publishers won’t take a risk on something new. So if you’ve created something new, your chances of finding a traditional publisher will be slim to none. Why bother in that case? Why waste your time? Be adventurous and do it yourself. You can hardly do worse.
But if you want the validation of having a “real” publisher, that’s ego and vanity talking to you. Good luck finding someone who sees something in your work beyond the money it may make for them.