Monday, November 5, 2012

Wordcraft -- Publishing's imperfect storm

I leafed through Sunday’s Dallas Morning News, luxuriating in the extra hour of sleep from going off daylight savings time. And there it was, an article headlined “How to Become a Published Author,” with “published” printed in red ink. I began hyperventilating.

The next to last paragraph said, “All told, you may want to self-publish this first book.”

The hypothetical question opening the article was from a person who wrote a first book -- “a steamy romance novel” -- and asked whether she needed an agent to publish it. The answer began sensibly with “not necessarily.” Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there.

The article’s writers are from a company that distributes comic strips and syndicated advice columns. They mentioned, correctly, that agents want first-time authors to provide not only a quality manuscript, but a “platform” -- a fan base or other forms of name recognition. So far, so good. But after describing how tough it is for agents and publishing houses to sell books, the article’s writers suggested that authors may want to have a go at selling their own books.

Seriously, if people who make their living selling books can’t sell yours, how do you hope to do it yourself?

Sure, you can publish books on or But publishing is not the same as selling books. (As I know by reading emails from editors whose anthologies I’ve sold to, and who published on one or the other of these formats.)

Of course, the article referenced the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon.

We’ve all heard the stories about people who sold thousands or millions of their self-
published books online or out of the trunks of their cars. I’ll add a couple of cautions. Whatever you may think about Grey author E.L. (Erika) James’ books, she built a formidable writing platform from her works of fan fiction based on the world of Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series. This was not an inexperienced or unknown author.

(Interestingly, the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year that the original fan fiction pages have been deleted from the internet. See

Here’s a second caution. I used to be a professional journalist. And not to deprecate my former method of making a living, but I know why stories make the news -- they’re exceptions to the normal course of events. That’s why tropical Hurricane Sandy devastating the Jersey Shore at Halloween is news. And why the beautiful late autumn weather I’m enjoying here in Dallas isn’t.

The aim of this blog is to bring you accurate information about writing, such as last Monday’s post (“Publishing perils and pitfalls,” October 29, 2012) about people who write books for a living and sell over and over, think about the business.

Want to sell your book? In a quotation I didn’t use last week but will now, “write a book worth buying.” Write, rewrite, consult your critique groups, learn all you can. And keep writing.


In the interest of learning all I can, in this case about writing steamy romance novels, I’m heading to the Readers & ‘ritas Gathering this coming weekend. Of course, I’ll tell all. To join the gathering, see

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