The writing blogosphere is alit this with the news of Amanda Hocking, a 26-year-old writer from Minnesota who had written nine ebooks and sold 900,000 copies, was looking for a traditional publisher and signed a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press. That’s like winning the lottery. For those of us tolling away in relative obscurity from the bright lights of the publishing world, the message is loud and clear: sell enough copies of self-published books and/or ebooks, the traditional publishing world will soon slobber for the opportunity to throw down big money on the next big thing. However, Hocking’s reason for wanting a traditional publishing deal is somewhat curious.
But here’s what I can say – I’m writer. I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling emails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full time corporation. As I said before in my post - Some Things That Need to be Said - I am spending so much time on things that are not writing.
What makes her think that by signing a four-book contract with a traditional publisher she will actually have more time as a writer who actually writes?
Some of the more bothersome tasks of being a DIY writer will go away with a traditional publisher. But, by signing a four-book contract, Hocking is trading in the idiosyncratic demands of running her own writing business for the idiosyncratic whims of a traditional publisher concern about the bottom line.
She will have to write, submit, revise and proofread on the publisher’s schedule. If she gets sent out on a nationwide book tour for several weeks or months, she may find it next to impossible to find time to write on the road. Or, if she does find the time to write, the quality of her writing may suffer. Although she may now be a successful ebook writer in the virtual world, her dead tree books may fail to find a broad enough audience in the real world to justify the large advance being paid out and the publisher could easily cancel the contract after the first book. If that happens, finding her next publisher will be problematic and going back to being a DIY writer even more so.
Stephen King, who spends every day writing, had to hire assistants to handle the administrative side of his publishing empire. Even living out in far-flung Maine doesn’t prevent the publisher, media and Hollywood from making excessive demands on his time that can take him away from writing. Every now and then, he reportedly drops out of sight to focus exclusively on his writing.
I mentioned on #writechat this past Sunday that I missed my early days of submitting short stories by snail mail. I would go to the post office with 20 to 30 envelopes, come home to write new short stories, and the responses to my submissions would start to tickle in six weeks later. The following weekend I would prepare all the rejected short stories for submission again, go back to the post office, and write new short stories for the next six weeks. Every seventh weekend I did nothing but admin tasks. I did that for three years straight.
Then two years ago I started submitting my short stories by email. This came about because literary magazines were starting to move away from snail mail submissions, and I started writing speculative fiction for anthologies that accepted submissions only by email. My office expenses for paper, envelopes and postage dropped by two-thirds.
Unfortunately, now that everything is done by email and I recently started publishing short story ebooks, it seems like I have less and less time to write because of all the admin tasks that need to get done. Even if I did finish revising the 700-page rough draft of my first novel and found a traditional publisher, the admin tasks will still demand more of my time. Being a writer these days is no longer about being a writer who writes.