“When Writers Are Unleashed…” Photo: Google Images
Last week I went to two Los Angeles writing events. Two very different kinds of writing events. The first was a panel of literary agents and managers, some of whom had snarky things to say about self-publishing: “Self-publishing produces so much dreck”… “You still can’t sell a book to a mainstream publisher without an agent”…”People in New York think people in LA don’t read”…”Before you self-publish, have you even thought about how you’re going to promote it?”…”99 percent of self-published books end up selling one hundred copies,” and, “A self-published book will never re-sell to a real publisher unless it has three zeroes after it.”
Ouch! Bummer. I left with my shoulders drooping.
I was in that other world once, the traditional publishing world (back when my first books were published), but for the past three years, self-publishing has been my life. I started my own publishing company in 2010, published and marketed a friend’s memoir, am completing the last chapter of my own book called The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published (I’m a licensed psychotherapist), and I plan on “indie” publishing it within weeks. I love self-publishing. But it is a very different world indeed.
It’s not that the agent folks on the panel were wrong. They made valid points. But they weren’t inspiring. They were disheartening. They were just another set of book industry gatekeepers explaining to the great unwashed how the rules of the ivory towers work, translated as “only one percent of writers today have a chance of breaking through the first gate and having their work read by one of the agents on that panel.”
Ah, if only this panel of agents had been able to Skype the second writing event I attended that week, the monthly drop-in writers group that I run at a local Barnes & Noble. No drooping shoulders there. Instead, there were fifteen excited, highly energized writers, many of them older, some traditionally published in the past, a few still trying that route, talking eagerly and with hope about their future projects, their creativity suddenly released anew — all thanks to the Internet, the digital revolution and the self publishing phenomenon.
One group member, an actor as well as a writer, picked up his Kindle and read from the first of his self-published family fiction trilogy. Meanwhile, he passed around copies of his newly designed book covers, done by a graphic artist friend. When he finished reading, we applauded — right there in Barnes & Noble. (Remember when you had to be quiet in bookstores?) Then a woman read one of her hilarious senior romance short stories. She is turning one into a screenplay and is contemplating self-published others as a collection.
A fellow psychotherapist, new to the writing group, told us she was there because she realized that after many years of working in her specialty, she is now considered an “expert” with a lot to say, so she wants to write a book. We brainstormed fresh angles on her topic which has already been written about a lot. Then there was the retired vet, a group regular, who has written 19 novels and finally dared (with much prodding from the rest of us) to upload one of them to Smashwords. He sold three copies the first day — his first ever sales. More applause.
And you ask, “Have these writers even thought about how they are going to market these books?” Are you kidding! They are laser focused on marketing. Take, for example, the woman who wrote a tofu cookbook which also includes a family story and inspirational quotes. She spiral bound copies (buying her own spiral machine) and sold 5000 copies to various health food stores, pharmacies and about twenty other kinds of stores. How’s that for “three zeroes” after the number, Mr. Agent Man?
And as for exhibiting creative “outside the box” marketing ideas, look again at the above-mentioned senior romance writer who has done a series of readings in lingerie shops? Or the retired teacher and poet who recently gave a talk on his writings and was approached later by a man in the audience who exclaimed, “Gee, I wish my father did stuff like that.”
Towards the end of the meeting, a shy woman reached into her purse and pulled out a copy of her children’s mystery book. As she passed it around the group, she told us: “The cover of the sequel is in the same style, just a different color. And here’s the bookmark that goes with it,” she added. She looked wonderfully happy. When our meeting time was up, we all stood up — but people kept on talking, getting referrals from each other for editors, proof-readers, book cover designers, and suggestions for clever marketing approaches. As we were finally dispersing, a woman ran up: “I saw your sign. I couldn’t help eavesdropping. I’ll be here next time! I wish you met every week!”
Now, which meeting would you attend for a little zap of inspiration?
Copyright (c) Sylvia Cary, LMFT