How To Avoid the Publishing Kool-Aid

by Jami Gold on October 4, 2011

in Writing Stuff

Glass of pink liquid (kool-aid)

This isn’t going to be one of those “let’s bash traditional publishing/self-publishing” posts.  There are still too many of those opinions on both sides, and I don’t want any part of that.

Two people I respect blogged recently about publishing and kool-aid.  Agent Janet Reid posted about the ten things authors should be doing right now.  Number ten was “Do NOT drink the kool-aid on E-publishing.”  Self-publishing guru Joe Konrath responded with a post titled, “Drink the Kool-Aid.”

If you ask me, they’re both being a bit narrow-minded and telling their readers to drink their kool-aid, whether that be pro-traditional or pro-self publishing.  And I hate to say that, because like I mentioned, I respect both of them.

Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong?

The writing blogosphere includes tons of posts about how we shouldn’t compare our journey toward publication to anyone else’s.  The reasons they typically list are absolutely true, which is why I don’t (usually) suffer from author envy.  But one very important reason is often missed:

Every one of us has a different path to success because we each have our own definition of success.

I touched on this concept in my post asking, “Would you ever turn down a contract?”, and I think this point needs to be reiterated.  Anyone telling us there is one right way or best way to publish our work is wrong.

There.  I said it.  I’m talking about how we shouldn’t make sweeping statements, and I just made a sweeping statement.  *smile*

Unlike the other statements, mine says we each have to make our own decisions for what’s the best path for us.  There is no right or wrong way.

Even those who self-publish navel-gazing, grammatical-error-flaunting crap aren’t doing it wrong if their goal is simply to be able to say they’re published, making their sales irrelevant.  In that case, they’re doing what’s best for them and their goal.

How to Avoid the Publishing Kool-Aid

The trick is to identify our goals and keep those in mind while reading other people’s opinions.  Someone’s advice about how much to spend on self-published cover art might not be applicable to us if their goals are different from ours.  Similarly, someone’s advice about whether we need an agent might be irrelevant to our situation.

As I mentioned in my post about the traditional vs. self publishing debate, we shouldn’t beat each other up for our choices because we should be making choices that are different from others.  My goals are different from my critique partner’s, much less from yours or some random writer.

For example, Joe Konrath’s goals include making money and focusing on ebooks.  The advice he gives and the decisions he makes for himself won’t help an author who writes category romance, whose readers follow the publisher—not the author—and expect printed books.

Our wants and needs belong to us alone, so our path to reach for those dreams will be unique:

Once we know what will make us happy, we have to figure out our goals:

  • Make lots of money
  • Not spend any money upfront
  • Start a writing business
  • Start a writing hobby
  • Retain full control
  • Avoid non-writing activities
  • Prestige
  • Name recognition
  • Respect
  • Become part of a publisher’s “stable”
  • Get invitations to participate in anthologies
  • See book in bookstore
  • Sell print copies
  • Provide stories in format readers expect
  • Be a bestseller
  • Write personally meaningful stories
  • Write the kind of stories we want to read
  • Meet the market’s needs
  • Quit day job
  • Not lose day job due to conflict
  • Have fun
  • Self-fulfillment
  • Pad resumé
  • Ego-fluffing
  • Avoid embarrassment

Etc., etc., etc.  I’ll stop now or we’ll be here all day.

All those goals are perfectly valid.  Yet some goals that others would recoil from, we’d give a check mark.  That doesn’t make them wrong or bad, just different.

We can get ideas for how to meet our goals by watching others’ success, but we shouldn’t try to copy them exactly.  What works for Joe Konrath, who has his own perpetual marketing machine, might not work for us.  Similarly, his observations about Barry Eisler’s success don’t provide an example to follow because the publicity surrounding Barry’s various publishing decisions created interest most of us can’t duplicate.

And lest it appear as though I’m picking on Joe more than Janet, let me leave off with this contradictory quote of Janet Reid:

Do NOT drink the kool-aid on E-publishing. … We’re all learning this as we go and the right answer to almost everything is ‘we’ll see what happens.’

… Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to fail. Neither will kill you.”

So which is it?  Should we hold off and “see what happens”?  Or should we go for it and not be afraid to make mistakes?  Once again, my answer is: It depends.  Maybe that should be our motto.  *smile*  Everything depends on what we want and what our goals are.

Do you have clear goals?  How well does your planned path match with those goals?  Have your goals changed over time?  Has your plan changed with them?  When you read publishing advice, are you able to discern how the author’s goals might be different from yours?  Or if they might have an ulterior motive?

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67 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Angela Ackerman October 4, 2011 at 5:41 am

Yes, yes and YES! Thank you for posting this. “Anyone telling us there is one right way or best way to publish our work is wrong.”

I couldn’t agree with this statement more. :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 9:03 am

Hi Angela,

LOL! I’m glad my rantings make sense. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Cyndi October 4, 2011 at 6:01 am

One of the more common sense approaches to the debate I’ve read in a long time – thanks, Jami!

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 9:04 am

Hi Cyndi,

I don’t know how I ended up the common sense one – seeing as I normally consider myself slightly insane :) – but thanks! :)

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Ava Jae October 4, 2011 at 6:01 am

You are so 100% right. What’s right for one writer isn’t necessarily right for another (which is part of what makes choosing indie vs. traditional publishing so hard).

I really like what you said about deciding what will make you happy. That’s a great place to start.

Fantastic post, Jami. :)

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 9:15 am

Hi Ava,

Yes, it is hard to know what path is going to be best for us sometimes. But recognizing how our goals differ from someone else’s helps.

Author envy can make us want to copy what they’re doing. But if what would make us happy is different from what they have, there’s no point. Then we at least know what not to do. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Tamara LeBlanc October 4, 2011 at 6:25 am

EFFFFING Fantastic!
A wonderful post with loads of info that I totally agree on. And thanks so much for ALL of the links.
You are my go to guru for writing info, Jami!
I love your blog.
Thank you for your wisdom!!!
Tamara

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 9:17 am

Hi Tamara,

Aww, thank you! And I hope it helps people find their path and their happiness. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Cherie October 4, 2011 at 7:33 am

Well said! Everyone has different goals and expectations–>so true! People should do what’s BEST for them, what they think is best for them, and what they’re comfortable with. :)

I have friends who were agented, but it didn’t work out for them so they’re thinking of self-publishing instead. I have friends who knew right away they didn’t want to go the traditional route and went Indie instead. And I have friends who are agented, who are going the traditional route. They all seem pretty happy with their decisions, so who’s to say which one was right or wrong?

Excellent post!

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 9:23 am

Hi Cherie,

Yes, and that’s what makes it so darn impossible to figure out the right agent, publisher, path, etc. for us. What might make a publisher a great match for one person might make them a horrible match for us. *sigh* Thanks for the comment! :)

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Charissa Weaks October 4, 2011 at 8:47 am

This is why I love you :) Brilliant post! We all have different journeys and only WE can figure out which paths to take along the way. How do WE want our work to manifest in the published world? And are we doing what is necessary to get it to that place? Again…brilliant. XOXO

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 9:28 am

Hi Charissa,

Aww, thank you! Yes, we can’t just do what someone else did and expect to be happy with the results. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Susan Sipal October 4, 2011 at 10:06 am

Wonderful, as always Jami. I love your fair and honest approach. And one approach not being right for everyone is also true outside of publishing. That’s why diversity is so fabulous!

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 10:44 am

Hi Susan,

Yep, that’s me – opinionated yet live-and-let-live. :) Thanks for the comment!

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PW Creighton October 4, 2011 at 10:23 am

Exceptional post Jami. I’ve been watching these massive debates for the last year and the one thing that always comes screaming out at me is there are people arguing for their livelihoods, their jobs. Everyone has something at stake, there is no ‘un-biased’ opinion. Everyone does have their own goals, objectives and journey. It’s wholly unique to everyone but the only thing that is apparent is that inaction is the only way to fail. Do or Do Not… There is No Try … (yes a Yoda quote).

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 11:03 am

Hi PW,

Yes, even those who have nothing money-wise to gain from convincing others (and adding to their competition) sometimes still want to feel better about their decision by converting others to their way of thinking. Unbiased opinions are rare or non-existent, so we need to read publishing advice with an eye to how well their goals match with ours in order to seek out the relevant bits. Thanks for the comment – and the Yoda quote! :)

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Katie Ganshert October 4, 2011 at 10:42 am

I love this post, Jami! I just posted yesterday about having a philosophy as an author. Because once we have our philosophy pinned down, then we’ll know what advice to listen to. I asked six questions to help people think about their philosophy and one of them was: How do you define author success?

How we answer that question is key to what steps we’re going to take on our journey.

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 11:08 am

Hi Katie,

Great thoughts! Yes, once we know our philosophy, we’ll be able to better discern what advice will work for us. (Katie’s Philosophy post) Thanks for the comment!

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Jacquelyn Smith October 4, 2011 at 11:23 am

I totally agree with your take on this. It drives me nuts when I see people up on their soap box (on either side of the traditional/indie fence), telling other writers what to do and trying to scare them off of the alternatives. It becomes such a negative back and forth that divides the writing community. The bottom line is, there is no One True Way.

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Hi Jacquelyn,

Yes, I try to avoid soapboxes in general. They’re slippery. ;) Seriously though, I don’t like the division of the writing community either. Thanks for the comment!

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Jennifer Barricklow October 4, 2011 at 11:34 am

Yes! Publishing is evolving before our eyes, and writers are as much a part of that process as industry interests are. It is truly valuable to read what proponents (and opponents) of various publication options have to say — how else can one expect to reach an informed decision? I think “don’t drink the Kool-Aid” can be most usefully decoded as “don’t make the mistake of believing that there is One True Way to be published, or even that a certain path will guarantee success,” no matter how that might be defined.

Thank you for stepping beyond the sides of the arguments and the rhetoric to get at the heart of the issue — our goals and the best way to reach them.

(That being said, I will weigh in that one does a terrible disservice to oneself, one’s work, writers in general, and all avenues of publishing by putting out a product — electronic or hard copy — that hasn’t been at least properly proofed. My opinion, humble despite how loudly I say it.)

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Hi Jennifer,

Very true! The industry is changing too quickly for hard and fast predictions. What’s true for today might be woefully out-of-date tomorrow.

And yes, my opinion–especially as a Grammar Nazi–is that editing is important. But I can see how some people who don’t care about sales also wouldn’t care about the damage such crap does to people’s impression of the industry. I almost wish self-published works would have a disclaimer if the author didn’t care enough to have it edited. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Merry Farmer October 4, 2011 at 11:57 am

Whew! Thank you! I have been thinking that and wondering if anyone would say it for ages! I am right there with you on the idea that different people define success differently. One size does not fit all. And we should all respect each other’s different goals instead of insisting our personal goal is the most legitimate goal. :)

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Hi Merry,

Yes, our personal goals are just that: personal. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Julie Glover October 4, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Brilliantly put, Jami! The pros and cons of self-pub, epub, indie, traditional, etc. are all over the place, and eventually your head starts spinning if you try to listen to everyone. Thanks for reminding us that authors are individuals with different goals and that we eventually must decide for ourselves the best route.

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Hi Julie,

Exactly! I’m happy for everyone’s success whether they found it with self, small, e, or traditional publishing. But only I can know for sure if their style of success would make me happy. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Nicole Basaraba October 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I know I’ve been watching the debate. I’ve never put in my two cents because I’m still a newbie. But I sure to enjoy learning and seeing what works for people. I’m sure it will help me in figuring what I want to do down the road, although I do have a pretty clear path anyways.

I like how you always get people talking on your blog. Its like a blog/forum mashup of awesomeness.

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Hi Nicole,

LOL! Thanks! I do have the best readers and commenters. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Roxanne Skelly October 4, 2011 at 1:30 pm

+1 on “we each have our own definition of success.”

Unfortunately, IMHO, the “us or them” mentality is in vogue (politics, sports teams, best coffee shop). It takes less work to simply chose one side or another, instead of critically looking at all of the issues.

(Okay, not wanting to think about the details of publishing may be a requirement for some, so I admit my hypocrisy).

I find I can be more adaptable if I think about the individual issues, instead of emotionally investing in one camp or another. If I do emotionally side with someone, I tend to dig in my feet and ignore other opinions. Silly me.

As far as e-reading? I’ll buy off on it as soon as they have one that I can use while taking a bath, or sitting in the hot tub. Till then, I’ll go with my $5 paperbacks.

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Hi Roxanne,

LOL! My Kindle is small enough to fit in a quart-size plastic bag, so I’ve taken it out to the pool. I could never trust myself not to drop it. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Amy October 4, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Thank you so much, Jami, for being a rational voice in this debate. This is one of the best posts I’ve read on this subject.

Writers get so worked up about this, but the truth is, we each have to make the decision that is best for us personally as a writer. Just because other writers are making different choices does not mean that any of us are necessarily right or wrong.

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Hi Amy,

*looks around* Rational? Who, me? :) Thank you and I hope this helps!

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Tahlia Newland October 4, 2011 at 4:05 pm

So true, sometimes I think that Joe Konrad makes it sound as if we can all make heaps of money going Indie and that just isn’t true, because we are all different and our books are all different and as you say we have to work out what’s right for us. I find it interesting that people make this into an either/or thing, I’m doing both, indie publishing shorter works that there’s no point offering a trad publisher, while my novel is in the hands of my agent. I’m taking different paths for different works, but they’re all aimed at finding my readers.

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Hi Tahlia,

Exactly! Joe’s audience is different than my audience or your audience. Some audiences are more attuned to ebooks and Amazon buying than others. And that’s why some stories–even from the same author–will do better with some publishing/marketing methods than others.

As you pointed out, I think many, if not most, authors will end up as hybrids, doing a combination of self and traditional publishing. They’ll make different choices for each project. Thanks for the comment!

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Melinda Collins October 4, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Absolutely brilliant, Jami!! ROCK ON!!!

Thank you for this post! I get so tired of reading articles out there that try to convince you that one is better than the other.

We’re individuals – and as such, not one particular way of publishing is going to work for everyone. To each their own!

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Hi Melinda,

I have my theories of why the division exists, which will probably be Thursday’s post. Stay tuned. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Elle Strauss October 4, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Very well thought out. Personally, I’m conflicted, because even though we get to choose our own path, we still have to choose. I’ve gone indie with one book, but should I go indie with all?

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Hi Elle,

That’s a great question! And unfortunately, the only person who can answer that is you. :)

I’d take a look at how indie worked for you the first time, whether future books are the same or similar genre/tone/length/characters, etc. In other words, if indie worked well the first time, does your indecisiveness mean that something still felt missing from the experience for you? Or are you looking for something more (bigger, more support, etc.)? Then if you did get a contract offer for a more traditional publishing path, you’d know whether the contract would meet those missing pieces or not. Hope that helps. :)

Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Elle Strauss October 4, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Thanks for your thoughts Jami. It’s too soon for me to know how indie is going, so the jury’s still out. The second book is much different which creates the question.

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Julie Musil October 4, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Jami, I agree with Charissa. This is why we love you! What a thoughtful post, full of awesomeness. Yes, we must choose our own path. And right now, I think it’s darn awesome that we have a choice! In the “old days” there weren’t as many choices. I’m thankful I’m writing right now :D

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Hi Julie,

Aww, thank you! And you’re so right that this is a great time to be a writer and that we have these choices. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Todd Moody October 4, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Hi Jami! I think it’s a bold step putting yourself between these 2 warring factions, but I agree with you 100%.

I know that I want to make a career of writing, but I’m still not sure which way will end up being the best for me. In a perfect world I will get a traditional deal that will have a contract on my ebook rights that will revert back to me to self pub and at the same time offer a more competitive payout to the writer, something closer to 70% as opposed to 25%. In the meantime I keep my ear to the ground and hope the smoke clears before the book is ready to sell. Not likely at this point.

Great post as always! You never disappoint!

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Hi Todd,

Yes, I understand. I’m hoping the smoke clears before I have to be serious about my decision too. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Dean K Miller October 4, 2011 at 6:32 pm

I’ll never drink the Kool-Aid, unless of course it’s spiked with some Barbadosian Spiced Run! I concur with this in so many ways. When I get there, I’ll decide what fits my goals, my plan, my choice. And then gee, I get to be accountable for my decisions. Certainly not the norm, but I’m good with it.

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Hi Dean,

LOL! Yes, stick to the “special” Kool-Aid. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Murphy October 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Hi Jami!

I’m thinking of a philosophy I read about once that kind of stuck …but, um, you know me I shaved it and clipped the edges because I never write s**t down. ;) I think it works with what you’re saying though.

**Every action we take in life is either a victory or a defeat in the struggle to become what we want to be.**

And, as you say, only you can know what you want to be. :) At the end of the day, I think it’s up to the writer in all of us to decide what’s going to define us and live with that decision.

Great post!
Murphy :D

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Jami Gold October 4, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Hi Murphy,

*gasp* She lives! :) Thanks for the comment and sharing that great quote!

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Suzanne Johnson October 5, 2011 at 6:12 am

Here, here, Jami! I’ve been called “sellout” and “foolish” by so many other writers for choosing the traditional publishing route that I just don’t enter the conversations anymore. In this publishing climate, there’s room for all of us.

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Jami Gold October 5, 2011 at 8:00 am

Hi Suzanne,

Yes, and we have no way of knowing how things will play out in another 2 to 5 years. If Amazon changed their policies, self-publishers would be screwed. So the answer is never as obvious as promoters want to make it. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Patricia Royal October 5, 2011 at 8:46 am

YES! So glad to see that more people realize it’s not us versus them. Both options can work and each person has to figure out what’s best for them. Great article.

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Jami Gold October 5, 2011 at 9:05 am

Hi Patricia,

Yes, I hate us-vs.-them diatribes in general. Every one of us who has successfully written a well-rounded villain knows how true the saying is: There are two sides to every story. Thanks for the comment!

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Rebecca Haden October 5, 2011 at 9:00 am

At the risk of being unkind, writers who have leisure to attack one another’s definition of success aren’t working hard enough to attain their own success, unless their definition is “Hang around talking and call myself a writer.”

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Jami Gold October 5, 2011 at 9:07 am

Hi Rebecca,

I do wonder where all the anti-whatever vehemence comes from. I don’t have the time or energy to get all worked up over most things. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Patrick Thunstrom October 5, 2011 at 9:27 am

You’ve hit the nail on the head. I had my own words for Janet Reid that I chose not to write out, which say much what you’re saying here.

As for me, I know my goals, part of it making a living while writing, leaves many options. While, at the moment, I’m fairly certain I won’t go the traditional route, that has more to do with business reasons than others. What I’ve seen coming out of the traditional element regarding contracts makes me sick, and I’d prefer to avoid doing business with anyone willing to use some of the tactics coming to light. Thankfully, I can always submit, and read the contracts for myself.

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Jami Gold October 5, 2011 at 9:37 am

Hi Patrick,

Yes, I worry about finding a contract that won’t give me hives. :) But I have the same attitude as you, sort of a “you don’t know unless you try” approach. Thanks for the comment!

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Wayne Borean October 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm

The main thing to remember is that this is a business. I don’t care if you are going the traditional route, or are self publishing. It is a BUSINESS.

If you aren’t planning to make money, you don’t belong here. The question is, where is the money?

I went over my situation carefully, looked at what I was doing, and made several decisions.

1) I write paid non-fiction articles.
2) I write un-paid non-fiction articles, which I later bundle and self publish because they are odd stuff that traditional publishers aren’t interested in.
3) I write non-fiction specialty books, which I self publish, because they are odd stuff that traditional publishers aren’t interested in.
4) I write short stories for anthologies, which are traditionally/non-traditional. Very fun stuff though, and I enjoy it.
5) I write novels that I want to write, and ignore what everyone tells me I should write, and publish them myself because they are odd stuff that traditional publishers aren’t interested in.
6) I also edit my mother-in-law’s poetry, and publish it, because Dad is dead now, and he can’t do it. The traditional publishers don’t do a lot of poetry, Mom has well over 6000 poems written, and I’ve got about sixty books of her stuff to publish…

But it all comes down to the money. If you aren’t in this for the money, you are a lunatic, and should be institutionalized.

Wayne

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Jami Gold October 5, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Hi Wayne,

It’s interesting you should post this, as I’ll be touching on this idea in my post tomorrow. Stay tuned. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Kerry Meacham October 6, 2011 at 7:55 pm

You know I’m not publish ready, but so many people aren’t willing to put in the time and effort before getting their work out there. I’m willing to wait until I think I am ready to put something out there that I can be proud of. Another great post. Thanks, Jami.

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Jami Gold October 6, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Hi Kerry,

Absolutely! I don’t want my name on anything I couldn’t feel proud of. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Catie Rhodes October 7, 2011 at 11:32 am

I’m sorry it took me a few days to reply to this. Today is the first chance I’ve had to click all your links and actually read them.

What you said at the end of your post about having clear goals really had an impact on me. Thanks for making me think. :D

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Jami Gold October 7, 2011 at 11:37 am

Hi Catie,

You know I love to make people think! :) *head slap* Do I still owe you an email? Ack! Thanks for the comment and the memory jogger! :)

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Catie Rhodes October 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I didn’t comment because you owe me an email. I am not really sure you do. :D

I have been trying to get to this article since you pubbed it. It looked so interesting. I didn’t have time, though, to read all the clicks. You know, if I had a magic power, it would be to freeze time while I kept working.

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Jami Gold October 8, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Hi Catie,

Oh yes! Time Freeze is exactly the superpower I’d choose. :) Thanks for the comment!

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