Analog Mindset

Reader JD Cowan passed along a blog post by an author who attempts to give reasons for his decision to never self-publish. I say attempts because there are no reasons involved; only pre-rational biases.

Normally I'd shrug and get back to earning a living in the publishing industry, but Steve is spreading some truly heinous misinformation that could prove detrimental to aspiring authors' careers. As a public service to writers and the readers who might one day enjoy their work, I'm going to correct Steve's erroneous assumptions so authors of the digital age don't get stuck in his analog mindset.

Excerpts from the original post will appear in italics. My comments will appear in bold.
I don’t intend for this post to be a, “bash self-publishing party,” or to put down the many, fantastic indie authors that I know. Instead, I simply want to respond to a damned annoying statement that gets brought up in almost every conversation I have with self-published authors. Usually it goes something like, “You shouldn’t waste your time trying to get an agent, because indie publishing is so much better,” and it makes me want to kick someone in the teeth. (Not that I could, a punching bag has literally given me a black eye before.)
Translation: "I am a frustrated author who's spent years playing by the old rules only to see indie authors earn money from their work and reach readers while I perpetually ride the rejection carousel. I yearn to bash more successful indie authors, but I'm afraid of the potential repercussions, so I'll couch my naked envy in passive-aggressive terms and hope nobody notices."

[NB: everyone notices.]
I completely understand that many indie authors hear the exact opposite of what I am experiencing, and I think it would be interesting to read how an indie author deals with the, “Traditional publishing is the only real publishing,” mindset.
I look at this chart.

Author Earnings Market Share 2017

Then I laugh.
For this post, I am only going to focus on my experiences, though I really would like to hear if you’ve had to deal with the opposite.
I have, though it comes up less and less as traditional publishers lose revenue, cut authors, and switch to cheaper paper stock.
First, the main reason why I have no desire to ever self-publish is because part of my dream is being traditionally published and part of that process is getting an agent.
Setting aside the tautology, Steve brushes up against a good point. Before you set out to become an author, you need to sit down and think hard about why.

Live I've said before, self-publishing isn't ideological for me. It's purely pragmatic. That's why I have always been, and continue to be, traditionally published in addition to my indie publishing enterprise.

I want to please readers and make money in the process. Steve wants to earn validation from a bunch of MFA candidate editorial interns in Manhattan. If you share Steve's dream, trad publishing is definitely the path to your goal.
I know it sounds stupid, and it’s not fair, but I place higher prestige on traditionally published books versus self-published ones.
Most people base their decisions on emotion. A rare few individuals subject their worldviews to the reality test. I'll let you decide which approach was used above. 
I know that there are bad books on both sides, but since I am a nobody, the only way any of my manuscripts will get accepted is if they are actually good. And one of the best people to spot a quality manuscript is an agent.
1) Being a nobody is entirely up to you.
2) Anyone with a phone, an internet connection, and a P.O. box can call himself a literary agent. Assuming that agents in general are qualified to judge the merits of an author's work betrays a staggering degree of gullibility.
Off subject, but while there are countless, courteous self-published authors, I always see some SOB in on social media who truly thinks that their work is the best thing ever written. Even through the Internet, their ego has a god damn gravitational pull.
Remember: Steve doesn't want to bash indie authors. Except those SOBs whose egos have their own gravitational pull.
I hate the culture of shameless self-promotion. I hate that writers would rather give four and five-star reviews to crap books, simply because they don’t want to hurt another writer’s feelings.
Important ethical principle, kids: don't give crap books four and five-star reviews. It's unclear how Steve knows which books are crap, though, since he's not a literary agent.
I don’t want a participation trophy, and I don’t want to be associated with those kinds of people. I want to earn it.
Again, Steve isn't bashing self-published authors, even though he strongly implies that indie authors give each other unearned four and five-star reviews as a matter of course.
I understand that many self-pub authors have to market themselves if they hope to have any possible financial success, so it isn’t fair to hate on self-promotion. It takes a lot of work outside of writing to make a book successful, but this is another reason why I don’t want to self-publish. Agents, editors, and publishers exist to fulfill this part of the industry.
No, Steve clearly doesn't understand. It's not just indie authors who have to market themselves, a.k.a. their brands. All authors MUST engage in self-promotion.

My editor was traditionally published by Tor Books before she got her rights back and went indie. When she was signed, Tor told her to spend hours each day blogging and self-promoting on social media. Later on, Steve mentions looking up to guys like Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, and George R. R. Martin. All of those guys blog extensively and maintain active presences on social media. All of them attend conventions and promote their brands.

The notion that you can "just write" while your publisher handles all of the marketing hasn't been true for years, if it ever was. In the words of Hyman Roth, this is the business that we've chosen. Market or die. No exceptions.
I love writing and not just narratives. I enjoy writing for my blog, connecting with like-minded people, and pretty much writing whatever I want.
Then you're an amateur. That's fine. Far be it from me to tell you what to write. But pros write to please their readers. They write marketable fiction, and they start treating it like a job long before they can do it for a living.
I do not like the idea of being forced to make post after post about my own work with the hope that I get a few e-book sales. It makes my success as an author contingent on my ability to market and not my ability to be a fucking writer.

That crude distortion is one of the poisonous items of misinformation that prompted me to fisk Steve's post. If he thinks that the way to generate indie book sales is to only post about one's own work, he doesn't know jack shit about marketing.

Protip: the way to generate book sales is to write posts that inform and entertain people. If you consistently give your audience free entertainment, they'll be willing to pay you for more.

And in case it wasn't clear before, EVERY author's success is contingent on his ability to market his writing.
The biggest upside that self-pub authors use to try to convince me is that the royalties are much higher in indie publishing. This is completely true. Amazon offers like 70% royalties while most big houses offer around 10%. The problem with their argument is that most major publishers will offer an advance which will compensate the author for the work that they have all ready put in. An indie book does not see a dime until their book starts selling, and if an indie book flops it doesn’t matter that the author had 70% royalties. Their poorly performing counterpart will still have earned their author a few thousand dollars in an advance.
Derp concentrations critical.

OK, Steve gets a couple things right. Amazon KDP does indeed offer 70% royalties on eBooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99. The Big Five publishers offer anywhere from eight to fifteen percent royalties depending on several factors, such as the author's track record, whether it's a hardcover or paperback edition, and how much they like you. Tradpub authors get a flat 25% of net on eBooks, which works out to 12.5% in the end.

As for advances, Steve has no fucking clue what he's talking about.

Where to begin unraveling the tangled ball of tardation that is the modern book advance? First, contra what Steve implies, an advance is not compensation for the hard work the author has put in writing a book. It's a no-interest loan against future earnings originally intended to financially support the author while he writes the next book.

Publisher advances to new authors have continually shrunk over the years to the point that a standard first-time advance these days is $2500-$3000. Try living on that for six months. As you can see, book advances no longer serve their original intended purpose.

Second, advances have to be paid back out of the author's royalties. So actually, a tradpub author doesn't start earning anything until his share of the royalties from the book's sales exceed the advance amount. Until then, all he's got is borrowed money.

What if you don't earn out your advance? The answer is that you're done. The publisher knows there are thousands of starry-eyed aspiring authors where you came from, and they have no qualms about cutting you loose and tossing the dice again with someone else. A new author's odds of earning out stand at about 50/50, so flip a coin when you sign that contract.

Selling one eBook on KDP for $4.99 gets you about $3.43 in royalties. An indie author who sells one copy of his book can honestly boast more earnings than a tradpub author who fails to earn out a $3000 advance.

Oh, and due to Amazon's higher royalty rate, the indie author only has to sell 1/5 as many copies as the tradpub author to make the same amount of money.
There is one last item that makes me never want to self-publish. 9 out of 10 self-published books that I have read are terrible, but 10 out of 10 self-published authors believe that their book is the exception. If I self-published, I could never be sure that my stuff wasn’t crap just like the rest of them. I should add that I am okay with writing crap, hell that’s pretty much all I write right now, but I’m not okay with that being the culmination of my life’s work.
Hey, Steve. Your elitism's showing.

Again, by your own standards, not being a literary agent means you're not qualified to judge the quality of those books.

But let's toss out that snobbish BS and talk about how, without the expert services of an agent or a Big Five editor, you can know whether or not the culmination of your life's work is crap.


Pro authors don't write for agents, editors, or publishers. They write for their readers. You know, the people whose hard-earned money pays your advance and any royalties you might earn? It's not just gladhanding indie authors who leave Amazon reviews. Readers review books, too. Read them. Engage with your audience on social media. Trust me, they'll make their preferences known.

Once you know what they want, give it to them. Because they need a damn good reason to spend their money on your books instead of video games, movies, and beer.
If I ever publish a novel it will be with a traditional publisher. Like I said at the beginning, this has not been a knock against indie publishing, but rather a response to all of the people who try to belittle my choice of pursuing my dream. I still would love to hear about indie authors dealing with snobby people from traditional publishing, so if you have a story please don’t hold back. I hope that everyone is having a wonderful day and that at least someone found this helpful.
I hope that Steve has a wonderful day, too. Furthermore, I hope he breaks out of the analog mindset that's keeping him from reaching readers and GETTING PAID.

Steve shouldn't be so hard on the people who are belittling his choice to exclusively pursue tradpub. If they get him to question whether his choice is good or not, they'll have done him a valuable service.

And because I eat my own cooking, the award-winning Soul Cycle is on sale this month for less than nine bucks.

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier



  1. Brian

    Thanks forvthat calm fisking.as a reader can i simply add that a wrier's responsibility to entertain me. Life's sometimes tough dull and stresful. I want to enjoy a few hours of fun that let me forget my problems and take part in adventure. The story doesn't have to be perfect but i want to have f7n and smile because the good guys win get the chicks and the buys guys are defeated...until the installment.

    If you refuse to do that's fine go write in obsure pseudoacademic journals that no one reads. but don't lecture me about my tastes. I get lectured enough by my family, my boss, my doctor and my political representative and everyone in between

    I just a few hours where i can be greater than myself and try to emulate the characters' positive attributes and be a good guy in real life.

    So stop being prissy and just admit you don't want your pristine moleskine cahiers sullied.


    1. You're welcome. As you imply, fiction is about escapism. The only people who have a problem with escape are jailers.

  2. I can identify with his insecurity and fear. There is nothing more horrifying than the idea that I might embarrass myself in public. But all you really need is ONE person that you trust completely to read your story and say, "I can't promise no one will hate this but it's ready to go and you will not embarrass yourself in public."

    1. It's also best if that person is not a family member or a friend. Or if there's no other choice than to recruit beta readers from your friends and family, make sure they can be as objective as possible.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Brian
      How can the internet help you recruit beta readers? Some of the daily list I've signed up have that request. Of I had more time I'd take them up on their offer.
      So what would be good practices for internet recruiting of beta readers?

      Alsosteve totally misunderstand self promotion. Does he think that getting published the old fashioned way exempts him?
      Who does he think will be interviews by npr when his book is published? Certainly not his agent.

      Sure market's tough and scary but you're selling your books so don't tell they'll magically sell themselves. Even Patterson's gotta hustle too
      That's why I so appreciate your, nick's and Larry's posts on marketing. You're telling the world you exist and get check out my stuff and thanks for buying it. Please come again and buy even more.


    3. Be active on social media. Engage with readers. Always be closing. Some of them will buy your previous books and become diehard fans. Ask them to beta read your next book.

  4. Brian,

    Thanks for the reply. With respect to social media, which platforms are best or is it better to be in all of them?

    1. Paraphrasing Russell Newquist:

      Your blog is your long game.

      Facebook is your short game.

      Twitter is your fruit fly attention span game.

    2. Brian

      Thanks again. In Europe Periscope is vert popular. So should aspiring authours also use that platform?

  5. I had to laugh at the "how will I know it's any good" stuff. If the answer isn't blazingly obvious, step away from the keyboard and find less heartbreaking hobby. The author is another useless status seeker looking to please the "correct" people.
    As you noted, the only people you need to please are the folks willing to part with their beer money for your work, everyone else can go pound sand.

    1. Good. The world needs laughter.

      You made an important point about writing as a means of status-seeking. For the vast majority of authors, writing means submitting their most deeply personal forms of self-expression to public scrutiny for little or no monetary reward. If you can quit, do so.

      The opposite error of status-seeking is striving to rack up SJW scalps by verbally jousting with CHORFs online. There are multiple reasons why I don't engage the SF SJWs anymore. For one, the Hugos' terminal beclownment and the advent of the Dragons means they're culturally irrelevant. More importantly, the dominance of indie--which has acted as an incubator for movements like the Pulp Revolution--has rendered tradpub SJWs toothless. My time is much better spent writing and managing my brand.

    2. Agreed. From a reader's perspective there is far too much great stuff to read to waste time on such people. I will admit that watching them be-clown themselves can be fun, but engaging in conversation/food fights with them is useless.

  6. Brian, every time you post that graph, I hear Kosh in my head: "The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote."


  7. here's some interesting news. An unknown without won an important literary prize and press self published

    You can only buy the book from his website. O and he tried to get this published through a regular publisher but 15vof them turned him down.
    He now hopes he can get a publisher.
    Second cool fact last year's winner of the same process also self published.

    The writer complains who authors have a difficult time geeting their stuff published well he just showed that self publishing