by Toni L.P. Kelner
In speaking of Hollywood, William Goldman once said, "Nobody knows anything." These days I think that's just as true of publishing. Or maybe it's just me.
I spent this past weekend at the science fiction convention Readercon, and tonight I'll be participating in a panel about mystery writing at the library in Medford, MA. So it's arguable that for the past few days, I've spent more time thinking and talking about writing than actually writing.
Not that I mind talking about my work. Whether you call it self-promotion or self-centered, I usually thoroughly enjoy it. But as I was going over my notes, I've realized that I was getting more nervous than I should have been. After all, I've done dozens of these kinds of talks since my first book came out. This isn't going to be a new topic. I'll talk about where I get ideas, designing characters, picking settings, my writing process, and how I got published. So why was I worried? I eventually realized it was that last piece: getting published.
Chances are there will be some aspiring writers in the audience, and they are going to want advice on how they can get their own work published. For most of my writing career, this has been an easy answer:
- Write a query.
- Get an agent.
- Let the agent sell your book to a publisher.
- Let the publisher do the rest.
I actually considered myself a poster child for this procedure, since unlike many writers I'd met, I had no connections in the publishing industry until after selling a book. If people had questions about self-publishing, I discouraged them as gently as possible, and nobody mentioned electronic publishing or print-on-demand because they didn't exist back then.
Then the industry started changing, but for most of that time, I'd still discourage people from self-publishing because it was impossible to make any money with it. Plus you'd never get an agent or "real" publisher for that work, let alone movie deals or subsidiary rights. Ditto electronic publishing. Yeah. Right. Tell that to J. A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking and E. L. James. I knew that publishing would eventually change, but I had no idea that it would change so quickly. Now I'm worried that I've given scores of aspiring writers bad, or at least incomplete, advice because I wasn't keeping up.
So what will I tell people who want to hear about publishing? I'll still start out with my own story, because taking my route does still work for a lot of writers. But I'm also going to talk about the other avenues , without discouraging anybody from anything. Fortunately for the audience, I won't be alone. I'll be sharing the stage with Sharon Love Cook, who publishes with a small press, and J.R. Reardon, who self-publishes. So they'll be able to give their invaluable perspectives. This audience will get a much better view of the field than a lot of my previous audiences.
But folks, especially aspiring writers, please remember this. When we writers share our experiences with you, take them with a grain of salt. It's not that we're not trying to help you, but we can only share what we know. And nobody knows anything.