• Robin Martin

As fiction writers complete their novels, if they don’t want to keep them to themselves in a drawer, trepidation soon replaces jubilation, for it is time for them to send the work into the world to find readers. Each year, only a fraction of fiction writers complete the traditional process of querying and signing with an agent, pitching and selling their book to a large publishing house, and seeing their books appear on the shelves of mainstream booksellers.  Few writers understand either the process or the options available to them, which puts them at an even higher risk for failure. This is why a group of writers, of which I am a part, researched and compiled a white paper on the subject.

Options in publishing, as discussed in the white paper, How fiction writers can get their work into the hands of readers, 2009: A report of options in publishing, include: traditional large houses that require the writer first obtain an agent, no small feat; small presses, which don’t require that writers have an agent for submission, but because they limit the number of titles they purchase, competition is very high; and self-publishing and digital publishing options, which are growing in popularity as technology makes it easier for a writer to get his or her work out in the world.

Summary and Findings

A serious writer of fiction should look at all of these options for publishing, but then must step inside to evaluate his or her own goals for the work.

GOALS Traditional Small press Self-publishing Digital publishing
Critical Acclaim Most likely likely Not likely Not likely
Livable Wage Most likely likely Not likely No way
Bound Text yes yes yes no
Publishing Credit yes yes no no


yes yes no yes

Does the writer want critical acclaim? To make a living? To see the work bound? A line on a resume stating, “published author”?  The public to have access to his or her work? The only one of this list that can be legitimately guaranteed is to see the book bound, and this is most easily accomplished with self-publishing. But if one has the other goals as well, even putting “published author” on the resume might be questioned with self-publishing, as self-publishing is an avenue that, despite recent advances towards legitimacy, is still held suspect. Also, the biggest success stories in self-publishing are those that initially self-published and were spotted and picked up by a traditional publishing house. In order to achieve the giant distribution and big money, these self-published books received the backing of traditional publishing houses. And while digital publishing may guarantee that the work is available to the public, without marketing, still no one may read it.

Next Up- My recommendations for serious writers of fiction. Reprinted from the addendum of How fiction writers can get their work into the hands of readers, 2009: A report of options in publishing

To Be Continued…

Author: Robin Martin

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  • I don’t understand why your chart shows that self-published books don’t have public availability.

    Self-pubbed books (and even vanity press books) are readily available from online booksellers, and can be ordered at bricks-and-mortar booksellers.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — author of “Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don’t be a Victim of a Vanity Press,” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661742
    — author of “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” coming 4/1/10. http://www.silversandsbooks.com/storiesbookinfo.html


    • Hi Michael. It is great to meet you and visit your website. Certainly, it is apparent that your experience with self-publishing and print on demand is far greater than mine, so I defer to you on this. In our study, we found that “While gaining credibility in a difficult economic marketplace, self-publishing is
      fraught with scams, and despite some high-profile successes, self publishing does not generally result in high sales or exposure for the author. Depending on the author’s intent, POD can be useful: to fill a niche market or to be used as a calling card or family gift.”
      I realize that at a certain point in our study it became difficult to keep separated the genuine author who self publishes, buying his own isbn #, etc., and uses his own editor and a POD company, and a self-publishing company who will find an editor for the author and do all the legwork for him.
      Regardless of the availability of a title on Amazon, if no one knows the book is out there because the author doesn’t have the resources to advertise the way a large publisher does or the focus to advertise the way a small indie publishing house does, doesn’t that make them less available to the public?

      But I’ll give it to you, that box should probably say “yes.”

      I am sure I could learn a lot from you, and do plan to visit your blog to continue my education on the subject.

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