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The New Story of Publishing

Creative Commons (Moyan Brenn)
Creative Commons (Moyan Brenn)

2016 might be the year you create a book that matters. I hope so. We need books that change our minds and change our lives. We need stories that expand our imaginations and expand our hearts.

My team and I are devoted to helping you become a captivating author – or an even more captivating author – this year.  I’m committed to helping you become an artisan-author, someone who learns the fine craft of her medium and genre so she can create exceptional work for her audience. And I’m driven to help you sort through the confusing multi-directions of publishing in the 21st century.

I hear and read a lot of anxious talk around publishing these days. Random House (#1 in the world) recently acquired Penguin (#2) so soon there may be just one mega-publisher. Or with the digital revolution maybe no books. Or with Amazon’s and Jeff Bezos’s dominion maybe no bookstores. The angst-ridden speculations go on and on.

I’m committed to filtering through this “Babel” for you and myself.

Among the things I’m sorting through are the several stories about the nature of publishing, past and present.

Let’s take a look at these stories about publishing and discern what matters most for you to focus on. I’m curious what your take is. Share your views in the comments below.

One Old Story of Publishing goes something like this:

Write a good book. Get well-connected. Make a good pitch. Get an advance. Get a good editor at a good publishing house. Your book gets published. The fans line up. You’re set.

Actually, this story is a myth. It was never that simple, and in many respects – before the big and short-termed publishing boom of the 1990s and early 2000s – it was never that easy to get published. And very few writers, even in the “hallowed days” of publishing, felt set. Have you forgotten the stories of the Herman Melvilles who died poor and barely known?

One New Story of Publishing goes something like this:

Conventional publishing is near-dead. Aspiring authors have two choices.

Choice 1: Go through the hoops of conventional publishing, hope for a decent advance, and work your tail off not only to write the book but also to promote it only to discover that your book still gets lost among the heap.

Choice 2: Go rogue, take advantage of alternative publishing options and technology, become an author-entrepreneur, work your tail off to become more of a marketer than an author, and make a fortune, leaving the conventional publishers in the dust.

Actually, this story is a little mythical, too. Authors still succeed via the conventional route. In fact, I know and have worked with authors whose books have surpassed marketing maven authors’ books in sales.

Another problem with this go-rogue-and-market approach is the nature of marketing itself. Its ploys are fickle and short-lived. They often smack of gimmicks, which turn off the very readers you seek to attract.

And those who do go rogue and take publishing into their hands discover that the route is not for the faint-of-heart, either.

So, why bother?

The Story of Publishing 3.0 might go something like this:

In short, whatever way you look at it, publishing your book or getting it published is hard work. Making a living as an author – whichever route you go – is hard work. It always has been. And whatever route you go, certain principles remain true about what that hard work entails.

First, write a book that matters.

Focus on that. Why does this book matter to you deep down beyond glory and recognition and even self-gratification of completing it? Why would this book matter to your patch of the planet – to those readers who may never know or meet you? How would it provoke or change their minds about something? What ideas might it arouse? What do engaging stories do for them?

Second, give your book a family. 

When a first-time author assumes that no other book is like it, or if she doesn’t really know the field, genre, or tradition that book might fit in or resist, then that author has orphaned her book. Know what other authors – in content, style, genre, field – you are in conversation with through your book. When you study those authors and books, you give your book (and you) a family.

Third, give your book its due and learn to play well. 

If you wanted to make a violin, you wouldn’t assume that because you can cut wood and tie strings together that you could make a violin worthy of being played or enjoyed, right? So, if you want to create a book within a field and genre, apprentice yourself to the medium.

The page is your greatest teacher. Remote mentors in the form of authors whose work you study as a writer also can help. But you might find a real mentor, too. And then, yes, do learn to sell. Because being an artisan-author in the 21st century isn’t just about birthing a beautiful baby. It’s also about parenting it once it’s born.

And those claims about books’ impending deaths? They’re good for headlines but not so much for truth-seekers. In the 1960s, several writers announced the death of the traditional novel and story. Hmmm. People have been announcing the book’s death at least since 2005.

Books in one form or another – both physical and digital and who knows what else – are here to stay. Why?

Because we human beings will continue to empower ourselves through the written and digital word. Our imaginations and hearts will continue to need feeding via stories on the page and screen.


What’s your take on writing and publishing these days? What’s the most important thing for authors to focus when creating a book that matters in the 21st century?

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