October 4, 2011

How To Avoid the Publishing Kool-Aid

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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Comments — What do you think?

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Angela Ackerman

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


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

Ava Jae

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. 🙂

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

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!!!


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!

Charissa Weaks

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

Susan Sipal

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!

PW Creighton

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).

Katie Ganshert

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.

Jacquelyn Smith

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.

Jennifer Barricklow

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.)

Merry Farmer
Merry Farmer

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. 🙂

Julie Glover

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.

Nicole Basaraba

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.

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly

+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.


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.

Tahlia Newland

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.

Melinda Collins

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!

Elle Strauss
Elle Strauss

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?

Elle Strauss
Elle Strauss

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.

Julie Musil

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 😀

Todd Moody

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!

Dean K Miller

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.


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 😀

Suzanne Johnson

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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