Stepping aside to let my friend Y S Pascal take the dais:
We get it. It's all about the money. Isn't everything nowadays? Why encourage people to record their thoughts and experiences on paper or bytes, when there's not going to be an investment return for an agent or publisher? Goodness gravy, a girl's got to make a living.
Ms. McKean's piece in the Outline this week https://theoutline.com/post/5541/unconventional-wisdom-you-should-not-write-a-book?zd=1&zi=geupuvv3 discourages nascent writers from putting fingers to keyboard. Yes, she's right, that 99.9% of books will not become hits. As my GLAWS colleague Tony Todaro likes to say, "today, there are more writers than readers." But, our stories are our heritage, and we are best served as a people and culture to document and share them with present and future generations. Fortunately, with the advent of online publishing, we can. We can write, we can publish, we can print. If we have an exceptionally appealing product, we might even be able to eke out a bit of revenue that can "establish" us as paid professionals. But, whether our readers number in the dozens or the thousands, we have contributed to the human conversation and the human experience.
The dream of penning a best seller dies hard. As with much in life, if one doesn't have connections, breaking out from the solid journeyman layer of talent to the ethereal elite is a lottery, with similar odds against winning. The "best sellers" that we see on the crowded and limited shelves at the few remaining bookstores or on beachside or airport carousels have been positioned there with investment dollars from major publishers. Like the movie studios reviewing screenplays, these organizations have hordes of staff, not just in literary departments, but accounting units, whose tasks, as McKean implies, are to weigh the odds of striking gold from each new manuscript. What do you think will sell? (If you're already famous, you're halfway there.)
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But, that's not the only barrier. "Selling" means backing up the decision to publish with hard advertising dollars and a campaign strategy. Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, for example, not only had prime paid placement in bookstores when it launched, but had pre-launch marketing nation-wide via giveaways to outlets such as newspapers that could carry some of the publicity weight. It's a business. Once name and brand recognition is built, a successful sequel can continue the ride. But, take good care not to release a "Solo" or the franchise could be in danger. And, don't attempt to prove your literary worth by eschewing your brand. J K Rowling found out quickly that her name meant millions of readers when she released The Cuckoo's Calling as Robert Galbraith to the sound of readership crickets.
So, if you're hoping to build a fortune, and you're not represented or backed by the powers that be, you may be better off in real estate, start-ups, or entrepreneurial ventures. But, if you have a good story--or book--in you, write it. Write it, for yourself, for your friends, for your colleagues, for e-book readers at Amazon and Smashwords; readers who may find your story moving, heartwarming, instructive, or simply entertaining. And, you can do it for free.
Yes, beware of marketers who promise to publish your book for a fee, often far beyond the costs of self-publishing. Sure, help with editing, a fancy cover, and a stack of hardbacks can offer a sense of achievement, but is an investment of several thousand dollars worth it to you? If so, at least shop around, and read the fine print. And, no, despite the promises, your book won't "break out". Not unless you invest in the marketing machine to the tune of much more than a couple thou.
So, Kate, let writers write. If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? Yes. Even if we don't hear it, the sound has affected our world. Even if no one reads a story or a book, the words have joined our literary universe. And, if the book is e-self-published, a tree will not need to fall for it to be printed. Who could ask for more?
Y S Pascal is the co-author of Elementary, My Dear Spock, and the author of the Zygan Emprise Trilogy, whose first book, Renegades, won a Mensa Sharp Writ Books award. As Linda Reid, she is the co-author of the award winning mystery-thrillers Dead Air and Devil Wind, and the upcoming Deep Waters.