What's the game now?

Cory Swanson

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#1
I just finished reading Stephen King's 'On Writing.' At the end, he explains the game of becoming a published writer. In short, it looks like this:

Write short stories.

Submit them to anywhere and everywhere appropriate.

Get rejected.

Keep doing it.

Finally get a few publication credits.

Use these to pitch to agents when you have a book ready.

Get published.

Seems pretty straightforward. Play the game over and over again, and eventually you'll break through. Though I can't help but feel that the game has changed in the past twenty years since this book was written.

What does the game look like now? I hear more and more that publishers won't look at you if you don't have a huge social media presence. As someone who won't twit, am I doomed?

I suspect there's a lot of different games now.

If you've been successful in the new age, what did your game look like?
 

sknox

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#2
There was never just one game. There are many paths to success, many more to failure, and the fun part is no one knows which is which.

What do you mean by successful? I'm guessing you mean "make enough money to quit my day job," but there are many other targets out there. Mine, as with many self-publishers, is "make enough money to break even, cover my publishing costs." Actually, my first marker is: get a fan email from a stranger.

It's also worth saying that success is not a yard marker. You don't cross it and win the game. It's more like building sand castles at the beach. No matter how grand, it can all wash away again and there are no guarantees.
 

Steve Harrison

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#3
I don't think much as changed, as publishers are still looking primarily for good writing (or what they think is good writing) that appeals to their market. And there are a lot of small publishers who specialise. It still took me years (until three years ago) to find one willing to buy my novel. I then found an agent and started to build my Twitter profile, so it wasn't a prerequisite.

Self-publishing is much easier these days if you don't want to go the traditional route, so that's a real option if you are prepared to put in the hard yards to produce a professional quality book.

So, in summary, I don't thinks it's any harder to find a publisher today - it's just as hard - but there are far more options to get your book out there.
 

Cory Swanson

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#4
I suppose defining success would be nice. At the moment, I would settle for, “What I write is read by anyone who isn’t obliged to because they are related to me.”

“Published” sounds like a nice goal, but I know that being published and being “successful” can be very different things. I have a friend who is published, and his book hasn’t sold much. His publisher is lame and didn’t provide things like basic copy editing, so it’s hard to imagine his book becoming successful.

“Self published” sounds cool, but I know there are pitfalls here too. Breaking even or even making a little money sound like worthy goals.

Maybe I should have asked if you feel like a successful writer, and how did you get there?
 

tinkerdan

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#5
I Self-Published--through a POD(Xlibris)and it cost a bit--I had money aside for it. It feels good when you have the solid object in your hand, so you need to have a paper volume and I have both hardcover and trade paperback. Haven't sold a lot but people around here call me an author. And I've been diligently learning more about the craft and just recently(like last week)published the third edition of my first book--with quite a number of alterations and corrections to make it more professional and hopefully a better reading experience. However I'm presently leaving the older copy available for those who want to sort through and find all the things I fixed.

As I said though, having the hard object in your hand with your name and all that hard work in it; you have something to show for the effort and it is at least a small measure of success. I also have a better handle on things so I don't need the expensive POD; just some efficient editors.

The pitfalls of self-publishing are to be measured by how much effort you put into the work. I do feel successful as a writer, as an author, and as a publisher(I've accomplished what I set out to do)--if I could sell a few books I'd be well fed too.(As yet not so successful at Marketing.)
 

DrMclony

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#6
That game was fading already when the book was published. The demise of genre periodicals was killing it long before ebooks became a thing. Of course, genre periodicals have never really died, but they are nowhere near what once they were, and you just have more authors fighting for a smaller pie, so it is a harder game to play than when Mr King was starting out.
 

Cory Swanson

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#7
That game was fading already when the book was published. The demise of genre periodicals was killing it long before ebooks became a thing. Of course, genre periodicals have never really died, but they are nowhere near what once they were, and you just have more authors fighting for a smaller pie, so it is a harder game to play than when Mr King was starting out.
So is it worth playing? And if not, how do you get the attention of publishers/agents?
 

sknox

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#8
>how do you get the attention of publishers/agents?

Write stuff. Write more. Write a lot. That part of King's message has always applied, always will apply. It's no good asking what to do once I write stuff. First I write stuff. Novels, short stories, novelettes, and anything else including blog posts, guest articles, and so on. The more you write, the better the odds.

>So is it worth playing?
I never met a phor I didn't like, but this one's misleading. It's not a game. It's a life's work. If there is any chance one can be talked out of it, then one should be. This one's only for the fools unable to quit.

In that light, is writing "worth it?" Only you can say, and no one including you can predict. The only way to know if it was all worth it is in the past tense, after you have tried.

It would be interesting to know if there are authors who "made it" (let's call it financial success) but who then quit writing not because they ran out of stories but because they decided it was not "worth it." That it was too hard, too draining, too much hassle, or not as much fun as, say, dentistry. I confess I don't know anyone who "used to be a published author." Maybe that goes some way toward defining worth.
 

janeoreilly

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#9
It remains pretty much as it always has, I think - read, write, submit, repeat. And this is true no matter what stage you are at in your writing career. Writing is a long game and you don't stop needing to try the day you get your first book contract. I suppose I am what could be considered successful - I've had 12 digital titles published by a digital imprint of a big publisher, I have an agent, I have a trad publishing deal and I have a book in forbidden planet and waterstones with a second due to be published in May. I've done this because I've worked really hard. I've written 5 days a week for the past 9 years, I've rewritten entire books from scratch, I've written through school holidays, chronic illness, surgeries, a second job, a husband working abroad. I've had loads of rejections. I continue to have short stories and articles rejected all the time. I wrote 4 novels which didn't sell. The only way to succeed is to keep trying.

In order to get the attention of a publisher or an agent you have to write something good that they can sell. It's as simple as that. A social media following will not support a terrible book unless you have the following of someone like kim kardashian or Zoella, and when I've talked about social media with my editor she has openly said that things like twitter are not selling books any more. It also seems to be the case that social media only pushes a certain type of book to a certain type of reader, so things like bookstagram and booktube are working for YA and there is a big romance community on twitter, but in the main it makes no difference. I have around 1800 followers on twitter and it makes no difference to sales whether I tweet or not. But honestly, if publishers want you to be on twitter and you want to be published, then you join twitter. Being a published writer is a job and like all jobs, sometimes that means doing things you'd rather not.
 

Cory Swanson

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#10
Great advice, Jane, and largely what I wanted to hear. I do see the long view, and am racking up my rejections. I fully expect to write for years and many novels and stories before anything pops.

I suppose I’m anxious that I’m putting a lot of energy into an outdated game when I should really be building my instagram or something. But your story and others are helping me to see that I should stay the course.
 

Toby Frost

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#11
I agree with Jane. Certain areas - YA springs to mind - seem to have their own rules, but you can never really get away from quality and persistence. Yes, there are occasional bestsellers that are notoriously bad, but those are more marketing phenomenons than real books. All you can do is maximise your chances of being published, and persistence and quality are the best ways to do it.
 

sknox

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#12
>putting a lot of energy into an outdated game when I should really be building my instagram or something.
Ah, that's a color on a different horse. The advice here is a little different.

You intend to have readers. Fans. These are real people and you want to connect with them. Where are they?

Here, for one, right? I find genre-specific forums to be invaluable for all the reasons I'm sure you already know. So, what else?

There are Facebook groups, which to me is like trying to have a conversation in a busy airport. It can be done, but there's lots of noise. Still, I belong to a few. Don't neglect to look for FB writing groups that are geographically local to you.

There's IRL. Join a crit group. Cultivate libraries and bookstores. Attend writerly events. In connection with this area, I'm looking into having swag--bookmarks, at the very least. Maybe business cards. Something to hand to the casually interested.

Twitter is reportedly very useful to some. It has not been for me, but I still have the account and dabble there now and again. The problem I have with Twitter is that it never feels like a community. It's more like that airport, but one where strangers continually interrupt.

I also have Pinterest and Instagram, but these places feel like I'm visiting a foreign country. I recognize communication is happening, but I can't make any of it make sense. I deal in words. These are pictures. Like if I want to connect to readers maybe I'll go to dance recitals?

What else? Blogs. A newsletter. Website. Following other bloggers. Even YouTube, if it fits.

The point of all this is: find places to hang out. Find your people. Keep writing, but meanwhile build your own version of social community. In the old days, the only chances an author and a reader had to connect were either by letter or by a chance meeting at a convention. Now we have all these other platforms, which is great. Do that.
 

Edward M. Grant

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#13
The game hasn't really changed. Just the details.

1. Write.
2. Publish.
3. Goto 1.

If you make every story better than the last, eventually you find your niche, writing stories that readers want to buy.

In the old days, #2 required convincing a magazine or publisher to publish your story. Today you also have the option of self-publishing.
 

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