I’ve been doing some long-term thinking about writing careers. A few of the writers I know have recently made very different choices about their writing careers than I would have, and I’m still thinking about it.
So I figured I’d do some of my thinking “out loud” as it were.
Back in the bad old days of old-fashioned trad pub, most writers’ careers were the same, or at least similar enough. (NOTE: I’m primarily familiar with genre writing careers, for commercial fiction. Not talking about literature or non-fiction.)
Maybe you made a name for yourself selling short fiction to the magazines first. Or at least built up your confidence and your craft so that you could start submitting books either directly to the publishers (because that was a thing) or to agents.
Others sent their books directly to the publisher (or agent) without going the short story route. It just depended on the author.
Then, the goal was to work with the editor of the publishing house and get better at your craft. You could see a slow but steady rise in the advances you got paid. If you were lucky, you might be able to build a solid midlist career for yourself.
But even then, luck did play a role. You needed an editor who believed in you, who would stick with you, let you develop over the course of two to three books, and give you time to find your audience.
That doesn’t happen anymore. Not at all.
If you go the trad pub route, you get a one-and-done deal. Chances of getting a second novel contract are slim. You have to have hit it out of the park with the very first novel.
Plus, you give up all rights when you go the trad pub route as a new writer. (Some of the writers who have been with a traditional publisher for years are managing to hang onto their rights. But only some of them.)
Then came indie. There’s been a lot (A LOT) of change in the indie sphere over the years. (If you’d like some history of publishing in general, go and read Dean’s blog post about it here: https://deanwesleysmith.com/some-publishing-history/)
A big part of that has been the proliferation of potential writers’ careers.
There’s no longer a single path to the mountain.
You could publish yourself, and only yourself, and only to Amazon. Or you could publish and go wide, but you still only use a single distributor, like Draft2Digital.
Or you publish yourself and go wide and send your work directly to lots of distributors. Which ones and how many depend on what you write and where your audience lives.
Maybe you go one extra step, and you go to craft fairs and other small markets and you hand-sell your paperback books. Then, you can also add in conventions as places to sell paper books.
If you don’t want to do that work, perhaps you sign with a small press who does all of that for you. Perhaps the contract is actually writer-friendly. (Just because it’s small press doesn’t guarantee that. There are small presses whose contracts are WORSE than a traditional publisher’s in terms of right’s grab.)
As there is a large—and growing—number of indie publishers. For some, this is a market that they want to target.
What prompted this was watching a writer friend who’d decided that instead of making his money off readers, was now going to make his money off writers.
Some writers go into this industry with that goal in mind. They adamantly do not want to make all their money from their writing. Instead, it’s just a leg in their multi-pronged writing career, which also includes teaching workshops, getting paid for speaking at conventions, as well as getting corporate sponsorship for their blog/podcast/what have you.
However, what we’ve seen is that writers who switch audiences mid-career, from readers to writers, frequently stop writing. They stop doing the thing that made them famous in the first place.
And often, they fade away. Unless they’ve managed to make such a name for themselves with whatever it is that they sell to writers.
This isn’t a value judgement. Those decisions probably weren’t made easily or lightly.
I’ve made my own decisions, trying to make my living strictly from my writing. I do market a little to writers, with the Substack Milestone newsletter, (https://milestonenewsletter.substack.com/) as well as the Business for Breakfast series. (https://www.knottedroadpress.com/series/business-for-breakfast/)
I wouldn’t turn down a paid speaking gig at a convention. But my focus is going to stay where my heart is. The words.
That’s my writing career.
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