A Note on Traditional Publishing

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* A Note on Traditional Publishing
* I’ve Been Fretting
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“[O]f the 58,000 trade titles published per year, fully half of those titles ‘sell fewer than one dozen books.‘ (Not a typo, that’s one dozen.) More broadly, 90 percent of titles sell fewer than 2,000 units. Even a small advance of a few thousand dollars would not earn out at standard royalty rates.” Dean Wesley Smith, quoting directly from the Hot Sheet (emphasis added).

“The story so far: in the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” Opening Line from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams (via The Passive Voice)

A Note on Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing companies typically keep their cards close to their chest when it comes to business. Especially the number of copies sold. We
hear numbers about the top sellers within days of a new release, or sometimes even before the official release date. But we never hear that information about the vast majority of works published every year by traditional publishers.

Until now. The big trial, in which Stephen King and other authors are taking on big publishing, has divulged facts and statistics that are usually kept from those who aspire to a traditional publishing contract.

If you’re one of those writers who’s still thinking about going with a traditional publisher, you might want to think again. Traditional publishing isn’t the automatic sales-maker that you think it is.

Please read Dean Wesley Smith’s short posts on the topic in order:

See “What a Number… Shocking” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/what-a-number-shocking/.

Then see “Another Interesting Bit of Information” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/another-interesting-bit-of-information/.

And finally, see “Bestselling Books” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/bestselling-books/.

A New Personal Challenge

I’ve been fretting over not already being back up to speed with my writing. Then I read an exchange between a traditionally published author and his editor. What follows is a snippet from that verbatim conversation. The editor has just congratulated the author on a good review from Kirkus:

“Now, let’s keep that momentum on the upswing. How’s your new novel going?”

“New one?”

“Sure! You have a pub date in a year.”

Uh, oh.

I’d never considered how fast they’d need the next book, so I told her it was coming along and hung up.

Okay, so seriously—a publication date looming a YEAR AWAY constitutes the publisher needing a book “fast”? A year away is soon enough to invoke panic?

Well, suddenly I don’t feel so bad. After all, having finished a novel a week or so ago after not writing at all for over half the year equates my production with that of the author above.

Turning out a new novel only once a year is too mind-bogglingly slow for me to even think about. If I may reference the examples I used in yesterday’s post, if I spent a whole year writing a 60,000 or even a 120,000 word novel, what in the world would I do with the rest of my time? Would I even be justified in calling myself a fiction writer?

As to my own ongoing conundrum, yesterday I was talking with a writer friend who is suffering a similar situation. After some discussion, we agreed that the best way to get back to the fun and the high of writing is to take baby steps. So baby steps it is, combined with a new mantra that helps keep the conscious, critical mind at bay: “Trust and type.”

As a result of that discussion, I’m starting a new, short-term personal challenge: to write one novel per month for the rest of this year. So when December 31 rolls around, I will have written at least 4 more novels, for a total of 71.

At first, that didn’t seem like much of a challenge, but things change. I’m out of practice right now, so this new challenge is realistic, even if it seems a little easy. Almost no pressure. Baby steps.

To be sure I’ll accomplish the challenge, I’ll set a daily word count goal: at least 2500 words per day. Accomplish the little things and the big things will seem to accomplish themselves.

If I meet or exceed that daily goal, when December 31 rolls around, I will have written at least 4 more novels, for a total of 71.

(In fact, 2500 words per day for 120 days is 300,000 words. By contrast, as of today I’ve written only 200478 words total, fiction and non-fiction, all year. So if I meet my goal each day, more than likely I’ll have more than 71 noves at year’s end.)

But much more importantly, this challenge will get me more used to spending time in the chair writing. With any luck, by early next year I’ll be back up at my previous production levels.

My challenge can be your challenge. Feel free to set your own goals for the rest of this year and to run with them. You’re always welcome to report your progress in a comment on the Journal.

For me personally, there was no writing yesterday, and no writing today or tomorrow. I’ll get back at it on Monday. Happily. Trust and type.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “What makes a romance novel a Gen Z hit” inside “Gen Z is driving sales…” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/gen-z-is-driving-sales-of-romance-books-to-the-top-of-bestseller-lists/.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 880 words

Writing of The Jury (novel, tentative title)

Day 1…… 2488 words. Total words to date…… 2488
Day 2…… 0789 words. Total words to date…… 3277

Total fiction words for September……… 3277
Total fiction words for the year………… 69708
Total nonfiction words for September… 2540
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 130770
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 200478

Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 67
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: Along with discussing various aspects of the writing craft, I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. WITD is “the only way” to write, but it is by far the easiest, most liberating, and most fun.

5 thoughts on “A Note on Traditional Publishing”

  1. Those are some impressive statistics. Half of the books traditional publishers put authors through hell to submit sell fewer than a dozen copies?

    After finally being blessed by agents and editors and publishers? What?

    I may try your method – and trust more. I know the path to the end by now, so even with a damaged brain I should be able to follow along with my notebook, seeing what this crew is up to. They think they know what they’re doing – who am I to stand in their way?

    • The stats… isn’t that something? And 90% sell fewer than 2000 copies. Wow.

      Re the method, I appreciate the credit, misplaced though it is. Not my method, but certainly the one I preach incessantly. I encourage you (or anyone) to give it an honest shot, even if only to prove once and for all that it doesn’t work. (That was my intent when I tried it back in 2014.) If you try it but can’t quite bring yourself to pull the trigger, you can always go back to what you were doing before, or come up with a hybrid method of some sort.

      • Read your post and the one on Dean’s blog and I’m shocked… that they sell that low. Less than twelve copies. 😬😬😬

        Anyways, cheers to a new challenge. I’ve got something similar but for this month only. 

        My original plan was to write 4 novels this year. Actually finish one and write three. I know that’s slow. Now it’s September.  Still not done with the first one but I’ve made considerable progress. 

        It’s a long novel now.  

        What have I learnt from my yearly goal?
        1) Although I can type over a thousand words an hour; I write sloooowllly. Because I don’t write consistently.  I might write 3000 words today and not write for the next six days. Which amounts to only 500 words per day. I actually did the maths and I felt stupid. Because in my head, writing 3000 words is a big achievement and should majestically add up. It doesn’t. I’ve got to show up like every other day. For the last novel I actually finished…😔 I wrote less than 250 words per day for a whole year. But it wasn’t 250 words for a whole year. It was spurts and bursts of about 2000 words on paper. Just spread out across a really really long time.  

        2) I have a problem finishing things. I seem to have this shiny-new-idea syndrome or next-best-thing syndrome where I convince myself that I can write a new shorter story where I practice things to implement in the original project but the next story is never a short story. Before the story I finished, the one I was working on is at 96k words while the one I finished ended somewhere close to 80-85k.  So, it is shorter. Just not short. This is tied to my September  challenge.

        3) Transitioning from hobbyist writer to professional writer is harder when you’ve picked up a lot of bad habits. I didn’t say writing was hard. Just adjusting to a professional is not happening as fast as a snap of a finger. I have to learn to come back after the first writing session and I can’t keep switching from project to project because I think the current work is hard. 

        4) I’ve got to be flexible about my writing methods if I want to meet my goals. Electricity isn’t stable where I live and in the little town where I stay, some electrical device got damaged, no one wants to pay for it because it is  costs a lot. If you wait for the government, they may probably not get around to it for like ten years. So, most times I write with a physical notebook and pen. (Calculated it today and I write a page’ roughly 125 words, in 7-10 minuites which means less than a thousand words per hour)

        These are thing I wouldn’t have learnt if I didn’t have a yearly goal that I tried to meet. Now, for this month of September,  I have a new goal of:
        1) 3500 words per day. 
        2) For six days.
        3) To finish three novels.

        And if I keep this up, all through the year, I could still meet my goal of four novels this year. 😁 

        It is day five and I’m having some doubts about actually being able to write 3500 words per day on my notebook. Other than the fact that I write less than 1000 words per hour, hand cramps get in the way.

        But I’ll keep trying until the day is over and try again tomorrow.  

        • Thanks for the nice, long comment, Tari. Re traditional publishing, yep. It’s never been a good idea, but now, thanks to the trial, we see why it isn’t a good idea. Still, thousands of writers will clamor to have their books published by tradpubs.

          I’ll leave most of the rest of your comments for others to read and react, or at least determine what they can glean from them. But if you want to “transition from hobbyist to professional,” you have to BE professional. You have to give your profession the time and focus it deserves. First, establish a reglar schedule, then discipline yourself to show up and write. No excuses. The words will begin to add up. If you are unable to discipline yourself to write, you will not become a professional. Good luck with your new goal.

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