Deb: Ten Truths about Publishing

I want to speak a moment to those of you who aren’t “making it” in publishing the way you’d hoped. J.A. Jance, Dan Brown, James Patterson, J.D. Robb: you can quit reading now.
For the rest of you—those who’ve been struggling to place your book with an agent, those who’ve placed a book but suffered disappointments when it comes to sales and readership, those who’ve published on your own but aren’t finding readers—these ten truths are for you:
No one way of publishing is better than the rest. Each route—Big Five, small press, self-publishing, hybrid blends—has its own advantages and disadvantages. Inform yourself of the options and choose the path that’s best for you and your book.

Finding readers isn’t easy. To upload an e-book or a print-on-demand file to a vendor and hit “publish” is simple. But if you want readers, you’re going to have to do a lot more, which is why authors continue to publish through traditional channels.

There’s a content flood, and it’s not going to recede anytime soon. As reported by author William Dietrich in a piece published by the Huffington Post, an estimated 130 million books have been published throughout human history. That number is growing by the minute—and with e-books, titles stay in print forever. Bottom line: the supply of books far exceeds the demand.

Statistically speaking, your chances of “making it” as an author are small. Dietrich cites a 2004 Nielson Bookscan report which found that of 1.2 million books tracked by Bookscan, only 2 percent sold more than 5,000 copies. And that was before the digital publishing revolution set off the real content flood.

Trying to second-guess the market can be frustrating—and unproductive. It’s great to know your brand and your niche, but don’t try to remake who you are to fit someone’s ideas about what’s selling and not.

Real advertising takes money—lots of it—and the returns may be slim. Publishers spend big money advertising books by celebrity authors, and not so much on the rest. The small budget they have for your book—or the little you can afford, if you self-publish—will do little to generate sales if the book isn’t one that captivates readers.

There’s no gaming the system. Yes, it helps to have connections if you’re trying to publish through traditional channels. Yes, getting in on the ground floor of the self-publishing revolution was wonderful timing. But as far as what you can do right here and now to get noticed, there are no “tricks.” Learn what you can, but don’t believe anyone who claims to know the secret to becoming a bestselling author.

Wonderful books are overlooked, and some that aren’t so wonderful sell more than anyone could have predicted. As they say, there’s no accounting for taste. But if sales are steady, and if a title stays in print long enough and is popular within a niche market, it may in the end outsell certain flash-and-burn bestsellers.

We all measure success a little differently, and that’s how it should be. Don’t appropriate someone else’s idea of what makes you successful. If your primary aim is to make money, there are better ways to do it.

Write what you love and make each book the best it can be. That’s the one aspect of publishing over which you have complete control.

The author of sixteen books with six different presses, Deb Vanasse is co-founder of the 49 Alaska Writing Center and founder of Running Fox Books, an independent press and author collective. Her most recent books are What Every Author Should Know, a 5-star Readers’ Favorite, and Write Your Best Book. While Deb is a regular contributor to the IBPA Independent, the opinions expressed here are solely her own. A sought-after teacher and editor, she enjoys writing at her mountain home in Alaska. This post also ran at
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