The real gatekeepers in publishing now? Authors.

I already hear the screams.  What about readers?  Agents?  Publishers?   Bookstores?  The aliens from Roswell?  That single book buyer for Wal-Mart?

Let me explain.

For many years the choke point in publishing was distribution.  That is no longer true with the rise of the eBook.  So the traditional route of writer-agent-editor-publisher-sales forces-book buyer-bookstore-reader has been broken.  We’ve got writer-reader (of course there is editing, formatting, etc. but that can be outsourced so it’s not a chokepoint any more).

Left with those two choices, most people would say readers are now the gatekeepers.  To an extent they are.  But here’s the deal:  writers create the product.  The quality of the product is going to determine how readers react to it.  The ability to promote/market the product is going to determine if readers even get a chance to react to it.

So it’s actually the writer who is going to determine their own success or failure.

99.5% of indie/self-published authors will be gone in two years.  Other will take their place.  And be gone in two years.  The gatekeeper to a writer’s success is the writer.  Here are the trends I see that will determine the few who get through the gate:

  1. In it for the long haul, rather than thinking you’re playing the publishing lottery.  I see way too many writers who want success now.  They check sales figures every day.  Instead, they need to think about perhaps succeeding in 3 to 5 years with at least a half-dozen titles under their belt.
  2. Plan for the long haul.  At Who Dares Wins Publishing we’re looking at least three years ahead.  We have a writing and production schedule laid out that keeps us on task.
  3. Stay one step of ahead of the trends.  Act, don’t react.  This means sometimes you must take risks.  Many of these attempts will fail, but the ones who succeed will be on the front end of the trends.
  4. Writing good books.  This one seems so basic, but I see too many writers spend so much more time worrying about promotion than worrying about the quality of their craft.  I’ve learned more in the last two years about writing than in my first 20.
  5. Sweat equity.  This aint easy.  Never has been.  I’ve watched the careers or many writers.  The majority of writers who are having the most success as indies have backlist, which is the sweat equity from the time they spent in the trenches in traditional publishing.
  6. Running an efficient business.  Most writers just want to write.  They don’t want to deal with all the details of running a business but being an indie author means you are self-employed.  I know people who were great doctors or lawyers but went bankrupt because they couldn’t run their business.
  7. Networking and team building.  “Indie” is an interesting term because in fact, I believe it’s very difficult to succeed on one’s own.  You’re going to need help with the books (editing, covers, formatting, etc) and you’re going to need help with the promoting.
  8. Building a platform that as a specific message.  At Write It Forward I view my platform as author advocate.  I see too many writers whose platform seems to be “buy my book”.  People have to have a reason to read your blog, RT your tweets, listen to you.  Kristen Lamb’s book: We Are Not Alone: A Writer’s Guide to Social Media is a good place to start in this as she focuses on content before procedure.
  9. Stay informed.  Things are changing fast.  Many people are trying a lot of different things.  Some will work, some will fail.  But staying up to date on everything that’s happening can help you make informed decisions.
  10. Be assertive but not obnoxious.  I’ve grown much more assertive in the past six months.  One of the largest mistakes I made coming out of Special Forces and going into traditional publishing was trusting that other people would do their jobs without having to look over their shoulders.  This cost me.  Now I push others, gently, but consistently, in order to achieve goals.

In sum.  Writers, your fate is in your hands now.

 PS:  We’re proud to announce The Jefferson Allegiance peaked as the #2 overall bestseller on Nook over Labor Day weekend.  We plan on releasing it on other platforms later this month.

About Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer is a NY Times Bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former Green Beret (including commanding an A-Team) and the feeder of two Yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He's had over 60 books published including the #1 series Area 51, Atlantis and The Green Berets. Born in the Bronx, having traveled the world (usually not tourist spots), he now lives peacefully with his wife, and said labs, at Write on the River, TN.

Posted on September 14, 2011, in Write It forward and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 67 Comments.

  1. Well said. It’s all on our shoulders now. No excuses. Write, plan, work a business plan, reevaluate, repeat. Cool.

  2. Thank you for more great advice and knowledge of how things are changing and how we need to act accordingly.

  3. “So it’s actually the writer who is going to determine their own success or failure.”

    Never have truer words been spoken and why Bob and I agree so much on what is going on in publishing today.

  4. Dang, Bob, if you take the publishers and readers away, who are the writers going to blame for their failure?

    All facetious comments aside, it worries me a little when I see writer friends ignoring the business aspects of publishing. They want the rewards without the work, then they wonder why income dribbles away when they don’t have new product to put up.

  5. “Writers, your fate is in your hands now.”

    I wouldn’t have it any other way. Great post.

    — Al
    (No relation, although I have a son named Robert.)

  6. Bob – Your understanding of the future of publishing is amazing!! Thank you for outlining in such detail the steps writers needs to take to succeed. I owe you a great deal. I just passed the 100,000 sales mark – Thanks in part to you!
    Thank you for more great advice!

  7. And there are still the writers whinging about how agents hang them up interminably by not responding to their submissions. Because, you know, they spent years writing the masterpiece and the least the agent can do is acknowledge it. Especially since the said agent is probably just sitting around with their finger up their nose and not doing much of anything. Entitlement, anyone?

  8. Well, said, Bob! And great advice. Thanks for sharing your insight and knowledge.

  9. Bob, writers subscribed to your “Write if Forward” blog, and those who connect with Kristen Lamb and her book, are in a better position at the starting gate. Thanks always for keeping us posted and advised.

  10. Great post and very uplifting. It’s heartening to hear success can take 3 – 5 years – it justifies the slog when the rewards seem so few and far between at the moment….need to give it time.
    Grace x

  11. Back in 2006, my husband made a comment: “Give it five years.” My five years was up in April of this year and I mentioned to my husband that it was a good thing indie publishing had come along because otherwise, maybe I would have to reconsider this five year plan idea. He laughed and said that his whole comment had been “Give it five years and see if you still love writing”.

    Yup. Still do. And indie publishing too :)

  12. Well stated Sarah. Your hubby is a keeper and what I observed from your post—a much needed support factor in your craft. Good luck

  13. I totally agree with each point, Bob. It’s as if you looked inside my head and read my thoughts. Authors must have a long-term perspective on an indie publishing career because the short-term may have too much volatility to judge whether you’re successful or not.

    You need to keep writing and publishing on a consistent schedule, and you need to analyze data over the long-term to see if it shows consistent growth. It takes time to build an audience.

  14. I agree with all your points, especially with “Plan for the long haul.”.

  15. A great run-down of the things required by an indie writer to succeed. Many indie writers are not treating it like a business, but even worse, too many of those are not even giving due attention to their craft. Writing is a business, and must be treated as such to do well, but a business needs a product to sell that people want to buy, and more often than not, most indie writers do not. I am not suggesting there are no good indie writers, but your statistic, 99.5%, seems reasonable to me. They will be gone either because their books are not worth reading, or because they cannot hack the business aspect. And I must stress, part of the business aspect is producing a product people want! Too many indie writers see self-publising as an easy way to publish without asking the question, is it even worth publishing? Some who do have a story which might be worth publishing forget your team-work step, and don’t get an editor.

    • Ciara. I have to disagree with you. Only business is equal with quantity, something what everyone with basic writing skills can do. You may consider writing as a business, and it’s good if you consider it as one, but it’s foremost a form of art what many simply forget. Traditional publising slowly sinks, because they considered an artistic business as “Only business”. You must find the balance between art and business, between quality and quantity. Otherwise, you’ll end up like the desperate Big 6, 5, 4…

    • I can see the merit of the business argument. While writing and art require passion and heart, the emphasis sometimes cause us to become wrapped up in our own little egos. When ego comes into it, we can’t always see the inherent flaws that readers seem to hone in on. If we think of our books as producte, then we as creators should obviously want to put out the best products we can. We can’t do that if we let our hearts and egos influence how we see the work.

  16. Bob, you’re now responsible for a night’s worth of depression, my own included for “So it’s actually the writer who is going to determine their own success or failure.” It’s a hard truth that is sobering, difficult and at the same time, exciting to acknowledge. Right now, I’m focused on the next book, rather than the current three. I still hope a well-written book markets itself.

  17. It shouldn’t be depressing. Depressing was when after writing 40 books, you still had no idea if your agent would “like” it and whether a publisher saw a market for it. My last rejection from an editor in NYC simply read he “didn’t fall in love with it” which is a heck of a way to run a business.

    • Absolutely, Bob. I found your post truly empowering. It brought to mind Martin Seligman’s “Learned Optimism” and his assertion that helplessness, learned from repeated negative results regardless of your actions, produces depression. Self-publishing is exhausting and scary, but I wouldn’t call it depressing. Thank you for that list.

      Linsey Lanier, Someone Else’s Daughter

  18. A great post as ever Bob, Thanks. I am including it in my weekly roundup because every point you made was right on the money. I have been referencing you a lot lately… I think it is because you write a no nonsense straight forward blog. More power to you!
    New Zealand

  19. Dear good sir … I do love the way you think :)

  20. I love this blog too. Grounds to lay a real plan coupled with serious hope for success over time. I’m thinking the little unexpected boon I received today has something to do with all I’ve learned from the beginning this year here and at Kristen Lamb’s awesome blog. Thanks so much!

  21. Again, another “fist pumping” post. There was some big talk today on KB about September’s slowdown, etc., but it seems again, the basics apply: Write. Plan. Write. Plan. etc.

  22. It’s absolutely true that many writers are impatient.
    I think this is human nature to want things soon. Now. Yesterday!
    Writing good novels requires patience by the truckload. Anyone who thinks they can make a fast buck out of it is out of their tree.

    I am in this for the long haul. I only have two books out so I consider myself a newbie author. When I have 8-10 books out is when readers will know the first two weren’t a fluke.

  23. I don’t believe that most writers are impatient. But most self-publishers seem to be. True writers write because they are driven to. Self-publishers write for money. True writers write books. Self-publishers produce product. You are right, most self-publishers won’t stay the course, they’ll move on to the next get-rich-quick scheme once they realise that no one wants their ‘product’….

    • Interesting theory, but a little short sighted. Do you know what is the difference between “true” writers and “self published” writers other than you get 7-10% for your job, while we get 70-85%? Nothing at all. Both sides has quality work and craps (And from traditionals I’ve read a lot from the last one lately.). What you say maybe was true years ago, but not today. Try self publishing and you’ll see. If your work will be worse just because you’re self publishing you’re not a writer, you never was and never will be. But if you’re a writer, at least you supposed to be one, you should know that quality depends on you and not on the publishers. True writers are writing books, you say. True and I have to agree with you. But quality won’t depend on who is releasing it.

    • In ways, I disagree. I think most writers *are* impatient, because they want to write full-time, without the hassle of that pesky money thing. Day jobs are such a pain, don’t you think? However, some of them wait for dollars when they should expect pennies.

      It certainly doesn’t mean every self-pubber out there is expecting to get rich. However, it’d be a nice bonus.

    • Last time I checked writers need to eat, just like everyone else.
      Personally, I see nothing noble with the notion of remaining a starving artist out of some misguided notion of integrity.

      I wish Samuel Clemens was still around to tell you as much himself.

  24. Another great post. Fantastic observations from someone who gets it. Thanks, Bob. Here’s to the future.

  25. I believe Stephen Leather has self-published and with amazing success.

    • This was the reason why I wondered on his comment in the first place, Bob. Few part of his comment sounded a little bit arrogant and contemptuous (No offense, Stephen. Presumably it wasn’t intentional from your part.).

  26. Jenni Holbrook-Talty

    Bob wrote: “Now I push others, gently, but consistently, in order to achieve goals.”

    Ouch, that was a little more than a push! Just KIDDING! Actually, taking the above statement in the context of “running a business” checks and balances are necessary in order to achieve goals. We need to trust our team, but with that said, having someone looking over my shoulder ever so often is a good thing. Keeps the business running smoothly so that the business of writing can be attended to.

    There is a sense of urgency in publishing from both traditional camps and self-publishing camps. I’m seeing many writer friends leap into things without really thinking them through, both in traditional publishing and in self-publishing. One of the things I enjoy about working with Bob is that I’ve learned that sometimes slowing down actually speeds things up, when you think the whole process through.

    But publishing, no matter the form, is a business. Any writer who is making their living from writing, is in the business of writing. Being successful, whether that be in traditional publishing, self-publishing, or in both, means two things. First, writing a quality product. And second, running an efficient business. I don’t care how fabulous a writer you are, if readers can’t find you, you won’t be read. I don’t care how great of a salesperson/promoter you are, if you don’t have a quality product, it won’t sell. Readers Rule.

    One thing that really disturbs me that is being discussed across the internet is this idea that its really easy to write an eBook as if an eBook is different from a book. A book and an eBook are the same thing. They are just produced differently.

  27. Great post and spot on the money in my opinion. It’s up to writers to learn business, focus on the writing, and build a team around them to help. Well said. Thanks for saying it so clearly.

  28. Good food for thought. Funny, I used to fear the advent of digital publishing and the restructuring of the publishers business model. Piracy concerns were always at the forefront of my thinking, too, since as a screenwriter, it really hurts to lose the backend sales since that’s food going off of your table. But I now see the new model as being very empowering for authors.

  29. Brilliant. Just what needs to be said. Said so well. Thanks! People who think they can jump in with a NaNoWriMo mess and become a selling author won’t make it. People who learn their craft FIRST, then self publish (preferably with some inventory) just might make it. We decide. All by ourselves.

  30. Wonderful blog post, Bob. I’m hearing all these “indie” or “self-published” success stories, but not one of them is talking about writing the next book. I learn so much from you blog and thank you for giving your time and expertise.

  31. And the thing is, authors have more control over their fate than ever. It’s an exciting time to become an author. :-)

  32. Totally agree with your blog. I think, given the technical nuances between moving a m/s to a tree-book or an e-book format, there will always be the need for an intermediary. But let’s call this person a facilitator, a guardian angel even, but not an agent, publisher or publicist, and certainly not a gatekeeper. The writer is the ultimate provider of the produce that moves through the gate.

  33. Your posts are always so informative to a new indie. I’ve only been in this game for about six months (wow, that’s it? Feels like forever!), and I came in with high expectations. I have since learned that just because it seems easy on the outside, that doesn’t mean you can waltz in and be a best seller. I’ve discovered a few very helpful folks, such as you (Bob Mayer), Dean Wesley Smith, and Kristen Lamb, and I follow your blogs religiously (well, mostly). The 3 to 5 years for success (at least the kind of success I want) seems reasonable, because that’s what it takes for a business to succeed, but it’s not something a down-but-not-yet-out writer wants to hear. Thank you for reminding me that I’m in this for the full 26 miles, not just a sprint.

  34. >>The ability to promote/market the product is going to determine if readers even get a chance to react to it.

    So it’s actually the writer who is going to determine their own success or failure.<<

    Sadly, I disagree with this statement. There are far too many authors who have superbly edited and written books and they market and promote in all the proper ways and places and still don't sell. They simply don't attract the readers on the surface. It's a total crap shoot. Authors and publishers are totally at the mercy of the moods of readers. Moods change by the moment and have a huge effect on what is purchased and from where.

    I may be in the minority that truly believes there are not and should not be gatekeepers. Yesterday I was excited about getting back to the thriller I am reading by NYT best-selling author. Today I am feeling a little down and am going back to the chick-lit mystery that makes me laugh. The thriller is from a big NY house and the mystery from an Indie pub. The stories are both good, but honestly the Indy book has a better editing job and I paid less for it. I decide what I want to read and when and I don't need, or want, any author or agent or publisher telling me what I SHOULD read. I want them to tell me what there product is and where I can get it. I will make up my own mind from there. And for the record, about 1% of the books I have EVER read were chosen because of any kind of reviews and half of those had negative reviews.

    Karen Syed

  35. The 3-5 year haul point is what got me. Why? Because it’s true, yet I’ve never thought of it that way. Good post.

  36. Thanks for linking to this from KB again, Bob. I had already read it but it bears reading again. It’s one of your best posts.

  37. Great post Bob as always, you’re a true inspiration to us all.
    It’s a marathon not a sprint. I’ve already seen a few Indie authors give up in the year I’ve been submitting my books. ;-)

  38. as usual a very thought provoking post. Thanks Bob. I really enjoyed meeting you at our RWNZ conference last month.

  39. Great advice from a master…

  40. You hit the nail on the head with this one. Successful businesses take a 3 to 5 year investment and publishing is no different!

  41. Thank you, Bob :) so many seem to think that indie publishing is a short-cut to success. Thanks for your wise and experienced observations. Enjoyed your workshop at RW Australia, too!

  42. Super points, Bob. Thanks for the inspiration!

  43. Thought provoking post. Indies need to hang in there and authors need to promote thier own books. If an author believes in thier words than they should support their publisher and promote thier books, on-line, and in person. Do what it takes.

  44. It’s a very exciting time for authors! Thanks for the post! And I’m enjoying your books: Write it Forward and The Novel Writer’s Toolkit.



  45. Thanks to Amazon the publishing world is now accessible to anyone and everyone. I totally agree about building a platform. Some indie writers are like hamsters on a treadmill, churning out books and constantly referring to their ratings. I say slow down, enjoy the experience and master your craft instead of expecting to be an instant overnight success.
    Great post! :)

  46. Very encouraging post. The word “clarity” comes to mind. Clarity about writing quality, about your reasons for writing in the first place, about how to approach the business side–all requiring patience and skill. With these things in balance, one can move forward.

  47. I love point #10 about one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made is trusting others to do their jobs without having to look over their shoulders. I was severely burnt by just that mistake and those same people I trusted left me holding the bag (and a pile of debt) when things went south. That’s a big reason why I’m so excited about the possibilities that exist today, I have much more control and success or failure rests largely on my shoulders. I have no problem with failure, it happens to everyone, but I do have a big problem when it happens because someone else dropped the ball and then sticks the consequences on me. Been there, done that. Not anxious to go back.

  48. Antoinette Clinton

    Great work, check out my work in progress and leave a comment.

  49. I am curious to find out what blog platform you’re using? I’m experiencing some small security problems with my
    latest website and I’d like to find something more secure. Do you have any solutions?

  50. I’v just started reading “we are not alone” and so far it is pretty good. I plane to read your book next “Writ it forward” Right now I plan to use what I learn with my sci-fi articles. Keep bringing the good advice.

    Come check out my articles. You’ll find all your sci-fi needs from how you might build sci-fi gadgets to sci-fi movie reviews

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