There has never been more opportunity, more options, more pathways for writers.
But with choice come potential pitfalls, traps, and career-limiting plays.
Some of the perils writers might encounter on their writing and publishing journey come from nefarious operators seeking to prey on the hopes and dreams of writers. Other dangers might even come from within, tendencies and traits that authors sometimes overlook; misunderstood information, or potentially even well-intended, but misguided and misinformed advice picked up along the way.
This book, which draws upon more than three decades of experience in writing, publishing, and bookselling, explores those pitfalls and hazards that writers should be aware of so they can navigate their own pathway to writing and publishing success.
Mark published books of his own, started Kobo Writing Life and now works with Draft2Digital. He has seen every publishing pitfall there is. He'll help you avoid all of them…if you but listen. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"As always, Mark is brimming with thoughtful and actionable advice for writers of all genres. Well worth the time to read."– Simone Leigh (Amazon review)
"This is a great book for writers at all stages of their career. This will be really helpful and help you to avoid pitfalls that can damage, harm or even kill your career. Highly recommended!"– Connor Whiteley (Kobo review)
"Mark is full of insight, and his experience in the industry is invaluable."– Amazon reviewer
One issue that continues to plague both self-publishing and traditional publishing circles is the "follow the pack" mentality.
Historically, traditional publishing has long chased trends and earned billions of dollars from that habit. With the popularity of novels such as Ira Levin's 1967 Rosemary's Baby, William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel The Exorcist, and Stephen King's 1974 Carrie, the publishing industry exploded with a deluge of horror paperbacks. Mass-produced to meet the popular demand of blood-thirsty readers (yes, the pun is completely intended), there were more schlocky and campy-looking horror paperbacks flooding the market through the '70s and early '80s.
Publishers couldn't publish enough Young Adult fantasy novels to pick up on the popularity of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter craze worldwide; sparkly yet angst-filled vampires were all the rage following the huge success of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. And there was a similar trend of erotic "poor rich man" billionaire erotic romance novels to chase the runaway success of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey.
Publishers claim to be looking for something new, but more often than not, they are spending the majority of their publishing dollars chasing the next hottest trend.
Writers trying to chase that trend when submitting to publishers will often face a huge brick wall. Because by the time something is hot, the publishers are already moving on to something else or looking for that next hot thing.
What they want is something that's like the hottest latest trend, but with a new twist. And this is difficult for writers to gauge because the acquisitions teams are often looking one to two to three years into the future, rather than what is hot at the current moment.
So, if you're a writer hoping to sign with a publisher, you could fall into the trap of always chasing those trends far too late.
Indie authors similarly fall prey to those same shiny objects. First, something is hot, and an author is doing well with it. Then thousands of other authors try to mimic what they are writing and publishing, hoping to ride the wave of a massive trend.
One difference, of course, is that self-published authors benefit from being able to publish more quickly rather than be beholden to the red tape of the four-season selling cycle of traditional bookselling. In that way, indie authors might be able to catch a wave well before it's finished running its course.
But, when it comes to marketing tactics, this is where indie authors often miss the ball.
Speaking of balls, I'd like to use an analogy of what I've witnessed repeatedly in the indie author community since it first started to explode in 2010/2011. One or two authors do something new and remarkably innovative that allows their book or books to explode onto the bestseller lists, earning them unprecedented amounts of sales and money. That author then generously shares what they did, and the community clambers to mimic those tactics. Some of the early followers might catch enough of a benefit from being on the scene in time to pick up their own thrilling action. But the majority of other authors are madly chasing after that trend in the hopes of seeing similar success.
I equate it to the way that a group of untrained eight-year-olds might play soccer. Instead of playing their positions, they all chase madly after the one kid with the ball.
The kid with the ball heads to the far left of the field, having a blast and delighted that they've got the ball. The whole rest of the pack is desperately chasing them, eager to get that ball for themselves.
Then another kid takes the ball and heads to the far right. And that giant mob all follows along to the right, eager and thirsty to have the same fun as the one with the ball.
The pack keeps shifting back and forth across the field, a mass, almost mindless, group, the majority of the players chasing and never getting the ball. Meanwhile, one or two of the kids is having all the fun and "winning" at this game which looks virtually nothing like the sport is supposed to.
There was a time when everyone was rushing to create a MySpace page, or a Twitter account, or a Facebook profile. In mid-2021, it seems like every author is part of the stampede to figure out how TikTok can make them an overnight sensation.
And so much time, energy, and enthusiasm are spent chasing down these tactics rather than focusing on the core basics of writing or focused marketing strategies.
In most cases, if you do nothing but chase these trends after the fact, you're one of those kids chasing the one with the ball.
Yes, there are trends within the hottest genres, and there are unique opportunities when it comes to marketing. But make sure you don't lose focus on your position within the writing and publishing sphere and that you're constantly playing to your individual strengths and following your unique path.
Trends will come and go. Things that are hot will change and morph. If you're expending energy chasing the pack, you'll always be chasing the pack. But if you play your position, you'll likely be exactly where that ball is heading at one time or another. Then, you'll be the one in control of it, instead of blinding following the pack to and fro.