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This started as a jokey little blog that might raise smiles, a caricature of writing journeys and paths that, as I typed, became less funny. Why? Because those caricatures were me and my writing mates, and we're facing a quagmire.

This game used to be easy. We used to need to get an agent. We used to have to keep writing books until we wrote one that got us an agent. And then we needed them to find us a publisher, who gave us an advance which mostly went towards writing the next book for the agent.

And some people still go that route. They want a Big 6 publisher and nothing less will do. Worse, anything less equals failure. No matter how many stats appear showing this route is harder than ever, no matter how much that writer understands the market dictates what gets interest just as much as talent does, they hit for the big one. They try agent after agent (but only those who have a record of Big 6 sales). They enter open windows and sit for months. They trunk perfectly good manuscripts while they go off and write a new masterpiece that might be the one.

But, let's be optimistic! Let's assume they get the agent! What then? Honestly, it's only part of the equation. Getting a publisher is the next. And then selling the book follows - and, believe me, your book being taken by a Big 6 and failing is one of the most dreaded scenarios out there. (But it's not a disaster. Nothing can ever finish you as a writer, except stopping writing.)

So, that's fine. That model sucks, say we all! (And, actually, I don't say that at all. The whole point of this blog is pointing out that there is no model that stands out, that we're all caught with no definitive answer.)

But, anyhow, instead of getting an agent, let's stick the book on kindle and watch the money roll in! After all, we've read books all our life! Ours is just as good. So, okay, the first ten agents we sent to didn't ask to see more (in fact, 5 of them never replied) and we've never had a critical reader at it (but Mum adored it!), but anyone can publish a book now! They just need to photoshop a cover and chuck their document on Kindle and whay-hay!

You appear in forums to ask people to buy your book. You join every discussion on *insert facebook group of choice* and bring it round to what you wrote a book about. You wonder why you get barred from group after group and realise they're as against you as the agents were. And then the reviews come in and they say your grammar is poor and you haven't edited the text (you did! You read through it twice before popping it up!) And you slink off, sure the writing world is against you.

Which does, of course, do a disservice to the many professional self-publishers out there. And I do mean a disservice - because the above still happens all the time and their professional product is tainted by unedited manuscripts that clog up Amazon and make yours hard to find.

Of course, some hit the jackpot. The concept is a good one, or the timing right for that type of book, and jackpot is hit! Bingo! You're a kindle bestseller. You'll still struggle to get an agent, mind (you've saturated your market, or the print sales wouldn't merit it) but you have audio books in production and you're killing the kindle charts. Frankly, you probably don't want an agent but, if you do think you need one, and you get one who hits the Holywood deal for you, you've likely made it. The day job can go. It happens to the very odd writer. Just like a lottery win hits the odd household.

So, okay. Trad publishing is a rotten model and so is self publishing (and, again, being clear, I'm not actually saying either is), so you can go with the small publisher who says they love your book and will do it for you without all those pesky up front costs. They produce the book. Some do it well. Some know less about publishing a book than you do. You get less money, sure, but it's not all about the money, is it? And at least you don't have any costs to cover - you're in profit right away!

If you're lucky you'll find a publisher you work well with, who gives you reasonable autonomy in what you write, and you'll build a following. The day job most likely stays (but, frankly, it does under all these models for the majority of authors). You'll never be in many book shops and you'll stay mid-list, unless the magical word-of-mouth happens and you find yourself doing a Time-Traveler's Wife and thumbing your nose at all the big agencies who rejected you and doing a celebratory dance with the people who loved your seemingly-niche book and published it.

And that's where we are. On a roundabout with multiple paths, mostly aiming for the same destination, and none of them are sure to be the right one. So what to do?

I really don't have the answers. I don't think anyone does. For every author who's happy with their agent, there's another unhappy. For every writer who lusts after an agent, another would hate to give away 15% of their sales. For each writer who finds a small publisher they love and work with, another finds a shyster who doesn't know the first thing about books - and doesn't care.

For me, again, it comes down to the old mantra. Do what makes you happy and focus on what you can control. You can never control what will be a hit. Forget about that. If it happens, it happens. Just take the path that feels right to you and follow it, cautiously, keeping the control of your rights in mind. So long as you have that in hand, you can always return to the roundabout. It's just hellish that we might have to.

Good luck to all my writer friends (and those I don't know). Let's at least try to get each other's back.


J.R. Handley said…
Great advice!! In the end, do what makes you happiest and just keep writing! Oh, and an editor wouldn't hurt!

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