This is Ask Me Editing, a new writing and publishing-advice column where we have industry experts answer your questions.
Hi folks! Thanks for joining me at Ask Me Editing, the publishing and writing agony aunt column that in no way infringes on Reddit’s AMA. No way at all. Let’s talk about publishing – what else are you gonna do, actually write your book?
Q: Is literary fiction antithetical to self-publishing
I'm a writer who, like, I guess, does literary fiction. While traditional publishing is certainly where I'm looking at to begin my career -- I don't have the time or money to invest in the small business ownership I vaguely understand a self-published career constitutes -- self-publishing is certainly something I want to consider in future. However, I notice that all of the big self-publishing advocates (Hugh Howey comes to mind) seem to be genre fiction.
This Guardian article broaches the subject, but the condescending tone is off-putting. So, my question: What about literary fiction is so antithetical to self-publishing?
OK, so antithetical is the wrong word – it’s not that literary fiction CAN’T work in self-publishing, it’s more that it hasn’t as a genre yet. It’s kind of like saying that strawberries can’t grow in a particular climate, but then growing a tiny weak flavourless strawberry plant in your backyard, just to spite people. Literary fiction being the strawberry, the digital marketplace being your backyard, and genre fiction being the nice strong fronds of wheat and barley or whatever. Note to self: learn something about crops before using them for extended metaphors.
The reason genre fiction works so well in self-publishing is because the readers of science fiction, fantasy, romance and erotica are online and know that they can get their books there. That’s not currently the situation with literary fiction as a genre – although the digital realm is always changing. It might be the new thing. And where readers congregate, they form communities, with established pathways of recommendation, and promotion and selling. There are basically all the elements that genre books need to survive.
Literary fiction however has traditionally different avenues to success and sustainability. A lot of that comes from the fact that the literary fiction audience is roughly 1% of the entire commercial fiction readership. Success for a literary book usually comes in the form of critical recognition and prize winning, rather than simply being a bestseller. That’s currently all stuff that exists in traditional media and outside of the purely digital.
Once again – that’s not to say that an AUTHOR can’t be a successful literary fiction self-publisher. The basics of self-publishing: - talking directly to readers, skipping the gatekeepers, being a small business – those are all still present. There could even be some authors who are doing it well that I’m not aware of – if any readers know of any, send them in to me!
Q: There, there, you’ll be fine
I wrote THEIR instead of THEY'RE in a message to my editor. Should I kill myself?
Short answer, no.
Editors are highly trained individuals whose entire job is to track down incorrect grammar, wandering punctuation and splling mistakes. By giving them a classic their/there/they’re/Thor switcheroo, you’re really validating their existence. Plus, and I mean this in the nicest way to all editors, who are literary gods who I respect and venerate: there’s no point in even trying to impress an editor, unless you want to compete with them at their own level. And their level is the utmost joyless pedantry, only assailable by other editors. Just focus on writing the best that you can, and know that while an editor is judging you for your mistakes, with a sharp indrawn nose breath and wide triumphant eyes, they also feed off them. Feed the editors.
Q: Pitch bitch?
I want to do my PHD one day, I want to write a book one day, I want to do a lot of things okay.
Right now I write a lot of tweets but I want to know your best advice for building a better body of work. Do I just make a medium and curate things every few days/once a week or do I pitch, pitch until I am a tired whiny bitch?
My first instinct is always to pitch, pitch, pitch until you’re a triumphant, successful… golden snitch? OK, rhyming isn’t my Will Forte.
There’s a bad idea that a lot of new writers have where they feel like people are doing a favour by accepting their articles/stories/ essays etc for publication. It’s easy to see why – you’ve put a lot of work into it, and it’s a huge goal to get it published. However, it’s also the wrong attitude. You’re providing a good, like a chairmaker. You don’t see a chairmaker thanking someone for buying their chair! Well, I mean they do out of politeness, but not because they’re super grateful for the chance to see their chair sat on. It’s because they are exchanging money for a chair. Ah, commerce. Do I need to explain commerce?
So this idea of apologising for pitching is built into this attitude – you surely don’t want to annoy the lofty editor too much? But actually the best way to go about it is to be professional – offer your pitch, offer your chair and if they’re not interested, see if you can pitch a different type of chair, or a table. Basically don’t feel like you’re harassing them, but also don’t push too hard in the other direction and feel like you’re entitled to have your article published. It might not be about merit, it could be about something as impersonal as budget, or too many articles already commissioned about the same thing.
As to the question of making a medium – I also understand that it’s hard to get a start without having a body of work behind you to back you up. Sometimes it is worth having a blog or an online portfolio that people can read to work out what your style and writing proficiency is. The days of huge blog followings are over, so my advice is to write as much as you’re able – it sounds like you’re busy. Use it as an example of your craft, rather than trying to pick up lots of readers and punishing yourself with a huge publishing schedule.
That’s certainly how I got my start in freelance writing – wrote on my blog for ages and an editor read some of my pieces and enjoyed them. Then once you have a publication history, you can use that!
Patrick Lenton is your NEW PROFESSIONAL AGONY AUNT. Patrick is an author, works for Momentum books and runs Town Crier, a social media and digital marketing consultancy for authors. If he doesn't know it, he'll go and find out. ASK HIM ANYTHING! Send your questions to Patrick care of firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them to us, and he'll respond with FREE professional advice.
Patrick Lenton is an author, works for Momentum books and runs Town Crier, a social media and digital marketing consultancy for authors.