Let’s Get Hypothetical


Photo Credit: Savvy Stews

Hm. Oh the many things I could ask now that we’re speaking hypothetically. There’re writing questions. And book questions. And character questions. And publishing questions. And author questions. And reading questions. And…okay you get the point. There are SO many things I could ask you right now. Some questions would be outlandish and you might just give me a weird look, but others would really make you think. At least that’s what I’m hoping for.

So hopefully I’ve come up with one that will make you think just a bit. I’ll give you a slight heads up. We’re about to talk publishing. Okay. No, I’m not going to just ask if you prefer traditional over self-publishing. That’d be too easy. I’m also not going to ask what you think about the current dispute between Amazon and Hachette. Nope.

Here’s our little scenario. You’re an author. You’ve written what you think is a pretty damn good book. It isn’t your first foray into fiction, but you’re not exactly the most experienced author out there. So now you’re considering your publishing options. You’re thinking the story is worthy of a big publisher that can put some marketing behind it, but you haven’t forgotten about those 92 rejections your last novel received before you ultimately decided to shelve it for the time being, Then a strange little man appears on your doorstep and before you can make up an excuse to get him off your porch he barges in without a word.

You start to protest but he’s able to quiet you just by lifting his index finger in the air. Then he sits down and waits for you to do the same.  You do so against the screaming voice in your head. Then he says, “I have a proposition for you.” He doesn’t wait for you to respond. “You have two very simple choices to choose from when it comes to that book you’ve just finished. And you must make your decision before I leave here.” You nod your head with a confused look on your face. How the heck did he know about your book? After getting people excited about the last one and having it go nowhere you’d told not a single person about this one. You’re probably about to be cut up into pieces by this little man, you think.

“Okay,” he says, “listen very carefully to your choices. I’m only going to say them once.” You nod again. Your curiosity getting the best of you. “Your first choice is that a big publisher publishes your book. You’re new to them so they won’t get behind you as much as their more established authors. But you accomplish your goal of being published by a Big 5 publisher. There’s a slight catch. You won’t make any money off the book.” The hopes that had built up inside you as he spoke disappeared as soon as he finished.

“Your second choice is a bit different. You decide against traditional publishing like so many have before you. You publish an e-book online. You expect to sell a few copies to family and friends before the book falls into the recesses of the self-publishing craze. But you’re wrong. Some promotional things you do for the book pan out and you sell more than 1,000 the first month and you’re above the moon. But it gets better and after six months you’ve sold nearly 15,000 copies of your book. Your royalty is just under $5 a book. A year later you’ve written another book that you have already decided will be published online only as an e-book. Traditional publishing is not something you’ll ever consider again. The final part of this scenario is that your e-books will not be published in print.”

You should be wondering how this little man can possibly come up with these things, but you’re not. Your mind is racing trying to come up with a valid response that isn’t just “whaa.” Every real writer still wants to be traditionally published, right? All the writers in your critique group have expressed such disgust with self-publishing that you stopped mentioning it long ago. Self-published authors aren’t really authors.

But on the other hand you could quit your job at the newspaper that you hate. The people suck. The stories suck. It all sucks. But then you’d likely never show your face at critique group meetings again. Your book would never be on bookshelves at the bookstore down the street from your apartment. And whenever people asked who published your book you’d have to say you did.

He stands up. “I’m leaving now. You need to pick one.”

What would you do?


6 thoughts on “Let’s Get Hypothetical

  1. Sounds so easy, this. If the BIG FIVE don’t want me, I’ll just suck it in and become an Indie writer. I’ll show them all. Just wait until I sell thousands of books a month. Just wait. My critique group won’t be able to make fun of my writing anymore, etc, etc etc.

    Okay, the dream is over. Just take a trip to Amazon and take a look at some of the indie books there. They’re easy to find. Look at who published them. Look for the Amazon number instead of an ISBN. When you find one, look inside. Amazon provides most books there with this feature. Next look at the sales ranking. If it’s over a million, the books not selling. Did you know that most Indie published books are free?

    I won’t go on much longer. But before I go, here’s something you might consider. There’s only one way to make it in this business and that’s through very hard work beyond just writing something and throwing it on Amazon. It takes loads of work to get readers to want to read what you write, to let readers know who you are. For instance, you have this fabulous story idea, what’s the first thing you do? No, you don’t begin writing. You find out if anyone want to read it. You begin cultivating an audience before you begin to write. Unique thought? You bet. This is why 99% of what’s published doesn’t succeed. It’s because the cart is always before the horse. Audience first, writing later. If you know your reader and know where he/she lives, all you have to do is knock on his or her door. It’s like fishing. You know where and how to fish BEFORE you go fishing. If you don’t, you’ll waste bait on old socks and boots.


  2. If a self-published book has good sales, it may get picked up by a big publisher and put in print anyway. So if success was guaranteed, I’d go with self-publishing. This hypothetical suggests that SP would pull a larger audience and all I want are readers. If no one bought the book despite a Random House logo on the spine, that’s not satisfying.

    Funny enough, your reputation would actually hurt more in the first scenario too. No agent would sign an author with a known flop on their resume. But if you’re new or if you’ve build a decent self-publishing audience, they might give you a chance. Agents are somewhat respectful of indie authors if those authors have good sales records, because agents just want someone bankable. Having a built-in “brand” makes their job easier. And I could give a crap about what critique groups thought of me lol.


    • The question here is how DO you build that following? Who are these readers who are going to give you that audience. The problem is most writers have no idea who will buy their book after it’s written. They feel their only job is to write and it’s someone else’s problem figuring out where to find an audience. This is why most indie authors fail. It’s the same reason most authors don’t have agents. Some reason. Agents always see if the author who queried him or her has done his or her homework. Who is following them, who is friending them, how many hits do they get on their blog or blogs (plural is better). Wonder how I know this. I was an agent for a long time before I became a publisher–but the same rules apply. If no one knows you, it doesn’t matter where you publish. Indie authors have the same problem as anyone else. They fail mostly because they have no audience. No one knows they exist.


  3. This is an interesting scenario. Shame on me, but I couldn’t tell you who the Big 5 are. I know probably two or three of them. I guess I just don’t care that much about them. My primary goals are to write because I love it and for people to read it. Why would I waste time and energy on traditional publishing if no one would read the book? That defeats the purpose of writing in the first place.
    Yeah, yeah, all the writing books say to write to make yourself happy, but that’s not very realistic, nor do I think it’s all that true. People write because they have a story to tell and they want other people to know about it.
    I’d go with self-publishing, and I agree with aetherhouse’s comment above.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Self-publishing’s fine, going with a publisher is fine, trying ot find an agent is fine—but all of it is a waste of time if no one reads what you write. I’ve said this over and over and over. No one can sell anything unless there’s a market for it. Sure you can self-publish. Anyone can. A two-year-old can do it, it’s that easy anymore. So now that it’s out there, will there be any sales. isn’t the idea of writing and publishing to get others beside family and friends to read what you’ve written? So how do you find those people? Do you give your books away to supposedly build an audience? But just because clicky-loos at Internet Kiosks in India or Kazakhstan download your book doesn’t mean they’ll read it. Again, how do you create an audience? Figure that out and maybe after Indie publishing your book someone will ACTUALLY read it.


  5. Go with the big 5. The first book may not make money but the next one may…..Self publishing is okay but the amount of work you have to put into promoting it can be ten times more than the writing of it, and hey you are a writer not a marketing person. Honestly if your book is good and publishers can see they can make money, they will push it.

    Also, if you think you are going to make money out of being a writer, then forget about it. To me any kind of money you may make is a bonus. In fact in a lot of cases if you make money out of your book, it corrupts you, or ultimately destroys you. How many writers had their first book a hit and could never live up to it again.


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