Salon Magazine’s Laura Miller has an article looking at the recent moves by Barry Eisler away from and Amanda Hocking toward traditional publishing, and how the current author-marketed nature of the publishing industry means that even traditionally-published authors have to be their own publicist to a greater or lesser extent.

This is, of course, a problem that has been apparent at least ever since the Internet expanded beyond the ivory towers of government and academia, and publishers started standing back and letting authors do more of their own marketing while they did less. It didn’t spring fully-formed from the brow of self-e-publishing. Nonetheless, it is becoming more and more of an issue as financially-squeezed publishers try to cut unnecessary corners.

The problem is that a talent for writing doesn’t translate to a talent for marketing. In fact, in a number of cases writers start writing because they’re introverted and don’t do well dealing with real people. But someone unwilling to blow their own horn might have trouble finding success in a market biased toward people who are. Miller writes:

With all due respect to Hocking and Eisler (and I’ve got plenty for both), I’d rather have "To Kill a Mockingbird" than any of their novels. Even though they are much better at interacting with their fans and orchestrating their careers than Harper Lee is, Lee (in my opinion, at least) is the better writer. Today’s conventional wisdom, in both traditional and indie publishing, decrees that someone like Lee might as well not bother; however good her book is, it won’t find an audience unless she’s willing and able to make hocking it at least a part-time job.

This means that tomorrow’s reclusive writers may have a lot more trouble getting read—which means that readers could very well miss out on the next To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s not clear if there’s any solution—even marketing via social networks and blogs can take up a lot of time (as Amanda Hocking noted), time that could otherwise be spent writing. Books don’t sell themselves.


  1. Actually this kind of makes me wonder if there might be a market for a new kind of publisher – basically a compromise between today’s traditional publishers and self-publishing. Instead of being a gatekeeper, they’d provide partial or full support services for authors who want them. An established author for instance may not require the full marketing push that a publisher can provide for instance, but could still use an editor. The author gets to keep the royalties and control that self-publishing provides, but has to assume the risk of paying for marketing, editing etc. provided. It does require a financial investment not everyone would be willing to incur, but I think we might see a shift in that direction.

  2. Exactly Frode. What is now referred sometimes as a ‘Producer’ I think. Offering a suite of services on a Pick’nMix basis. Also offering these services on a fixed fee basis or as part of a royalty sharing agreement where the Producer shares the risk but also shares the royalty.

  3. How fortunate that Harper Lee lived in a time where there were so few books being published that each one was a huge event.

    Maybe there were ten better writers than Harper Lee who we don’t remember now, because their books never got published outside a limited area (or never got published at all.)

    Maybe the modern equivalent of Harper Lee is writing right now, and their work is sitting online somewhere waiting for Miller to go find it.

    The thing that people like Miller don’t get is that not EVERY writer WANTS to make a living. Some people are happy with writing as a sideline to their day job. What is happening is that writers who do want their job to be ‘writing’ are going to have to give up the old notion of ‘writer’ as sitting in a studio apartment, scribbling prose onto cheap paper, stuffing the pages into a big envelope and mailing it to the publisher.

    So, to answer the question of “what is an introvert author to do?”. I guess the answer is “either find a great support network or don’t make a living as a writer”.

  4. The article has a good point but a bad example. Comparing genre writers to Harper Lee is like comparing apples to oranges, they attract different audiences. Genre readers generally are voracious, reading book after book by the same or similar authors. Literature readers like to savor that perfect book. Some people read both, many do not.

    It would have been more accurate to compare Amanda Hocking to Stephanie Meyers, for example. I haven’t read Hocking’s books yet, YA isn’t my thing, but I did read Twilight because my daughter asked me to. It was OK, but I couldn’t get through the second one. I didn’t like the characters and found the writing and story simplistic. JK Rowling is a far better writer.

    I don’t know of a writer from my generation whose genre quite fits. I loved Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley, but their stories aren’t paranormal fantasy.

    Writers ‘back in the day’ did self promote. They did book tours and corresponded with their readers. Marion Zimmer Bradley published fanzines and anthologies to encourage new writers. Modern technology has just given authors new tools to communication more easily.

  5. Frode, I agree that a new kind of publisher is required, and they should also be credible. I know there was a lot of concern out there about fraudulent agents who want you to pay them to read your work.

    If you self-publish, it costs a lot up front to get the deep edits that a publishing house offers, but perhaps the editor/ publisher can split the fee and work for part of the royalties. Then, through recommendation and relationship, new writers could produce higher quality work.

  6. There are already a number of people out there with solid experience in traditional publishing who will accept authors as clients, and who will pitch in on one or a few parts of the process.

    There are designers by the bushel, editors of every flavor and style, and free-lance publicists who work for authors have been a staple of the business for decades. There are book shepherds, book coaches, and even subsidy presses that put out solid books (usually operated by a good small press that just doesn’t have the working capital to produce all of the books it would like to publish).

    For that matter, there are even more specialized and technical types like me who do free-lance work for small and micro-presses. (My area is finance, accounting and operations.) And what is a self-publishing author if not a micro-press?

    To add to the mix, many of us are writing and publishing (e- or printed) books about the type of work that we love doing. If you can’t afford the pro, you can always afford the books that tell you the basics. (I quite like the book you chose for the thumbnail, by the way. Steve Weber did a good job with it.)

    When barriers to entry drop, the inevitable flooding follows. The rise of digital publishing has made it easy to publish (badly — publishing well will never be easy). The rise of word processors did the same thing to editors and agents, flooding their slush piles with badly written screeds and with authors who know nothing about the business. I don’t know what the solution will be, but it’s going to be interesting to watch!

    I expect that one effect will be that people suddenly begin to understand more about how editors feel about slush. . . .

  7. Marion – I guess one editor’s “slush” is another editor’s JK Rowling or Rudyard Kipling, or Richard Bach.
    Slush seems a monumentally subjective term and one that would appear to me to often reflect more about the editor’s than the writers.
    It’s all very well regaling the plethora and variety of specialists ‘out there’. It’s another to establish a structured and coherent way of coordinating a mix of services and marketing them to a client/writer in a way they can appreciate and understand.
    The established model became bloated, inefficient and rigid in a monopolistic industry. The freedom of eBooks has now flipped this model, and is with the author.
    as is so often the case, what is a huge problem for the establishment is in actuality a huge opportunity for those with some vision and daring.

  8. Frode, many of these hybrid publishers exist, like Authority Publishing, Happy About and THRIVE Publishing. And I know of many others! The questions each indie author will need to ask is still what is the right fit for me? And how best can I reach my audience?

    Chris, I actually think introverted authors can learn how to market themselves. If you can get inside the head of your characters, you can learn to communicate to your audience directly. It’s just another skill. It sure wasn’t easy form to learn how to be a novelist, but I applied myself to learning characterization, plot, story structure, and how to write compelling and memorable YA fantasy. If I can do that, and repeatably, then I can and have learned how to market via social media.

    It’s a false separation our culture, really Western culture, has fostered for a very long time, this notion that creative people can’t be good at marketing and sales. Phooie! Marketing and sales is just another skill set. And if we can learn to write novels — these complex multifaceted beasts — then we can learn how to market ourselves.

    And yes, I teach this, specifically Social Media for Fiction Authors, because I get the fears and concerns shy introverted authors have. We can learn!

  9. As a publisher, I wanted to comment on “slush”;

    Firstly , the word doesn’t necessarily mean we think everything in that pile is awful. Personally I have published several terrific books that came to us that way. That’s why we bother to look at the slush pile.

    However, we do know that 99% of the slush pile is, um, slush. So yes, “one editor’s “slush” is another editor’s JK Rowling or Rudyard Kipling, or Richard Bach.” That comment applies to about 1% of the pile, where another editor might recognise a great book that I didn’t spot.

    Unfortunately, for 99% of the pile no editor and no reader is going to spot a great book, because they just aren’t there.

    I look forward to the glorious future where all of those authors are self-pulbishing and readers have to pick through them to try and find a decent book. I can’t personally think of a better way to kill books.

  10. There are many kinds of books, but what we are losing is artistically inspired writing … our money-mad culture is going broke spiritually and financially, ironically.

    When the Muses leave a society they don’t return, historically speaking. Market away ye blind guides. Maybe literature was not a commodity, and humankind has once again stepped arrogantly into the abyss.

  11. Thalia: Isn’t that slush at least a little subjective, based on areas of interest? If I were publishing literary fiction and somebody sent me a cowboy story, it would likely stay in my slush pile. Or if somebody, sent me a vampire novel and I’d had it up to my eyeballs in teen vampire stories, it might stay in my slush pile.

    I’m not trying to attack the publishing industry, but I think there are good books out there that might get missed. I also have a friend who just finished writing his memoir, doesn’t know how to edit it, and doesn’t even want to read it again. But he’s “written a book” and wants to self-publish. He believes, “publishers don’t want you unless you’re already published,” which I know is his way of saying, “I want to be a published author, but I don’t want to do the work.”

    This kind of writer makes me cringe, because it’s the equivalent of somebody learning how to apply a Band-Aid and calling him/herself a doctor.

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