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Staying Balanced in the Confusing Modern Publishing Industry


By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

As the modern writing industry has changed at lightning speed over the past couple of years, I've noticed that there are a lot of voices out there shouting instructions to writers, telling us what we need to do to succeed.

Some of those voices are brazen, even divisive in their claims. And I've been saddened to see some of my writing friends push away, growing cold and distant, especially as they've chosen publishing options that have been different from mine.

I've worked hard here on my blog to maintain an open atmosphere, to stay balanced in my views, and to be a voice of reason in this ever-changing industry.

Becky Doughty recently summed up my philosophy very nicely in a comment. She said: I so appreciate your voice in this industry - we're told to push and pull and move and promote and socialize and chat and make all other kinds of animal noises... then there's Jody saying "Chill, man. It's all going to be okay."

Besides summarizing my approach, Becky hit on a growing problem. And that's the extreme push and pull of advice we're being given, things like:

Every writer needs a blog versus blogging isn't all that useful, especially for novelists.

Traditional publishing is dead versus traditional publishing is still the best way for debut writers to build a readership.

Social media, if done right, helps writers sell more books versus social media doesn't really make much of a difference in sales.

We're faced with a constant barrage of pendulum-swinging advice on the internet. Some of us decide which camp we agree with and pitch our tents there. Others of us waver back and forth, growing increasingly dizzy with the contradictory advice.

I've decided to take the moderate view, to look at both sides of every equation, to weigh the pros and cons, and to remain flexible and open with my attitude. Because honestly, I don't think there's a wrong or right publishing choice.

I believe that the modern writer who wants to not only survive, but also thrive, would be wise to cultivate several attitudes regarding the publishing industry:

1. We should continually educate ourselves: I know I'm probably preaching to the choir since those of you reading this blog are trying to educate yourselves. But I'm still constantly amazed when I hear from writers who have already published or are standing on the threshold of publishing, but know almost nothing about the industry.

We can't hope to survive if we don't immerse ourselves in the industry, including the ins and outs of both traditional and self-publishing. We need to keep ourselves aware of both sides of the pendulum swing of all publishing issues, even if we're firmly planted in the middle.

2. We should be careful NOT to rush into anything: If I had to pick a word to sum up our modern culture it would be: Impatient. We're always hurrying whether we're driving, eating, or shopping. We want don't want to wait, and that's especially evident in our spending habits. We buy what we want, right away, even if we have to go into debt to do so.

And that impatient mentality carries over into the publishing world. Too many writers are rushing to publish or query first or second manuscripts, ignoring the advice of seasoned authors to learn the craft and hone their skills first.

3. We shouldn't let emotions dictate our decisions: With the abundance of advice, it's often hard to keep a balanced view. If we're traditionally published, it's only natural that we want to defend our choice. And likewise self-published authors often feel attacked and belittled for their choice and so naturally try to defend themselves.

But we can work harder to keep our emotions out of the equation and instead look at all our options with a level-headed, business-like attitude. We can openly accept and encourage all views of publishing. And we can leave the traditional versus self-publishing cliques where all cliques belong–in junior high (if they even belong there!).

I love James Scott Bell's recent Declaration of Indie-Pendence and think his approach is really balanced. He says this: We writers, therefore, appealing to the supreme value of independence and creativity, do solemnly declare that we are free; that we are absolved from all allegiance to one way of doing things, and that as full, free and responsible beings we have the right to enter into any deal we think is best. That may be indie publishing. That may be traditional publishing. It may be a mix of both. But it will be a free choice.

What about you? Have you noticed the extreme views in the publishing industry these days? How have you handled contradictory or confusing advice?

*Photo Credit: Flickr sylvar


41 comments:

  1. Jody this is so true and it sets up a very confusing situation for writers - especially new ones like me. I've also noticed the same in critiques that I receive. Like most things in life I think this is very subjective and we tend to judge from the narrow world of our own experiences, or worse, with no experience at all and very little information. For me, I try to keep doing my best, learning, and trust God to open the right doors at the right times. Anything else is just too overwhelming! :)

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  2. This post is a very good reflection of all the battling advice out there for writers. When I stumble upon such advice, I usually slam my eyes shut, put a pillow over my head, and start singing to myself.

    After I got my first writing contract last summer, I was really curious to know what I could do to promote my book and learn about ways to get involved in social media. Now I've figured out that no matter what I do with social media and self promotion, someone, somewhere is going to think what I'm doing is wrong. So why bother wasting my time on it?

    I'm a writer who likes to write novels, not blog posts or cute twitter sayings or snappy facebook thoughts. And so I write my novels first, then I blog, and then if there's time for other social media . . . well, I'm dreaming by the time I get to that part. Because in truth, before I've even finished working on my novel, my kids are up and fighting over who gets to watch T.V. first, the dog has already thrown up on the rug, and my husband's asking how long it will be before breakfast.

    And I still wouldn't trade any of it, because I love my family (even the sick dog) and I love writing. So I make those to things work first and ignore all the social media gurus out there.

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    1. Naomi,

      I think one of the most important things is to know what is right for you individually. You have to do what will work for you. And of course, keep an open mind as well. But ultimately, as novelists, our stories have to come ahead of social media.

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  3. Though blogging about the industry draws readers and more retweets - as blogging about writing does - I pulled back from it because I felt a bit like it was a rat race and I don't like that feeling. I loved James' article too.

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    1. Hi Laura,

      I think it IS easy to get caught up in the rat race. There's a constant push to keep doing more and being better, and it can get quite draining. Sometimes we need to just chill out for a bit and refocus our energy on the things that really matter in our lives!

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  4. James Scott Bell's Declaration is great, and so are your three points, Jody! I continue to enjoy and learn from your blog because of your balanced viewpoint. Remaining open & flexible in this business really resonates with me, so when I come across experts who promote extremes or absolutes, I tend to stop reading.

    My kids roll their eyes at me when I suggest "everything in moderation" but I find it to be a great life-saying that can be applied in almost any situation.

    (Side note: I just got an email informing me the copy of Unending Devotion I ordered from amazon is on its way! Woo hoo!)

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  5. Taking the middle road.
    Remaining open to learn.
    Cultivating patience.
    And wrestling my emotions to the ground as needed. ;-)

    Wonderful post, Jody!
    ~ Wendy

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  6. Hear, hear, Jody. And thank you for linking to my modest Declaration. What you advocate is spot on. There is no need, and indeed it is unwise, to stake out some extreme position so early in the proceedings. Rather, stay educated, stay informed, and most of all--keep writing.

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    1. Thanks for taking such a balanced view too! I appreciate your wisdom and voice of reason in this ever-changing industry! :-)

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  7. There was a point in April that I almost tossed everything but the book and holed up in a cave, and cried.
    SO MANY messages said: "Do this, do that, say this, don't say that, my POV is wrong, my POV is uniquely mine, no one will read this, who cares about my subject, everyone will read this, I'll change the world, you'll creep people out, Ted Dekker sells millions, don't have a white girl kiss an Indian, don't say *Indian*, have the white girl kiss him anyway...kiss it all goodbye"

    Now I'm good. Why? God did not give me a spirit of fear. He did give me an ability to tell a story. I'm 99% sure that there is not one single book in the Christian market dealing with my subject matter. That will either crack the door open, or slam it shut.
    I've got a blog, actually, two, I'm on FB and Twitter and I'm ready.

    We'll see how God uses what I've offered Him.

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    1. Jennifer, I have felt the same way - I feel that the subject matter in my book is different than anything else I have found in the Christian market but would never fit into the secular market either. But if we don't crack that door open, who will? From what I have learned from this market is we need to be different, but not too different. I guess finding that balance is the challenging part.

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  8. Thanks Jody. Your take on the industry always leaves me feeling more at peace.

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  9. Jody, You've voiced what I, and a lot of others, have felt for a while. The tendency is to choose sides, while the best course is to choose our own individual path--and then not worry about it. (I know--easy to say, hard to do). As always, thanks for your post.

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  10. This may be one of my most favorite posts of yours ever, Jody. And I'm a long-time fan of all of your posts. :)

    Writers must take a patient, educated approach to their publishing choices. There are so many options out there, and it's so important to understand what each choice means before choosing. As I'm nearing completion of many rounds of edits with my current manuscript, I'm actually excited for the first time in a while at my choices as a writer. It's just a matter of not rushing into something without first learning what that something will mean in this ever-changing climate.

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  11. Great post, Jody! I think the bottom line is that so many writers have been hurt and beaten down by the traditional publishing industry and they are angry. Also, many traditionally-published authors hate the fact that indie authors have bypassed the system and are successful. Several famous authors have come out against self-publishing based on their lack of understanding and anger that indie writers didn't have to go through what they went through.

    Everybody needs to get a grip and realize that things have changed and will continue to change. The new is always challenging, and fear won't make it go away.

    But, as Rodney King once said, "Can't we all just get along?" :)

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  12. At this point on my journey, I'm simply learning the craft of writing (and even there, I've come across conflicting opinions). I've had to choose what to focus my time and attention on and I feel the craft is #1 for now. I am seeking traditional publishing, because, frankly, I want the satisfaction of knowing my work is publishable and I want the pleasure of working with a team of people at the publishing house to help me make my book the best that it can be. I don't know if I'll ever self publish. That's a path I'll learn more about later. For now, I appreciate a seasoned writer's thoughts and opinions! :) Thank you, Jody!

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  13. I am teetering on the top of the fence!
    My WIP is halfway rewritten. I would like to have a plan for when it is done.
    There are strong feelings about all the different avenues. It reminds me of the battle between stay-at-home and working moms!
    I could be wrong, but I think it comes down to two things: Whether it is more important to the writer to attain the holy grail of being published traditionally and be on the shelf in book stores and keep the dream alive to be on the NYT best seller list or if they prefer to have total control and make some mula. If you have a good product, both avenues seem to work and you will need to use your author's platform (carefully) in order to sell and promote.
    I haven't decided yet

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  14. Thanks for the permission to hold the middle ground. I like to think of all of the opinons on writing as simply writing news. What worked for someone else may or may not work for me.

    Is it worth a try? Sure. But if it doesn't feel right for me, then I shouldn't feel guilty about discarding that advice. Because at least I've learned something from it. Even if it's what not to do.

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  15. As I ice my elbow from pulling on push doors, I'm comforted in knowing I'm not alone in seeking balance. It is an old lesson learned over and over again. Find what fits you not someone else. Like trying to run in someone else's shoes, it is all about fit. Thanks Jody!!

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  16. Thanks for your awesome thoughts on this, Jody. I'm taking a moderate stance as well, recognizing that everyone has certain reasons for choosing the side they choose. Let's face it, everyone's lives are different--they have different obstacles and different opportunities. Some people only have enough time to write the book, not do social media; some want traditional publishing for the prestige, and some want self-publishing for the money (because if they're talented and good at marketing themselves, they might make more going this route). I think it all depends on an individual person's goals and challenges. I only know what path I want to be on. I set goals to reach it, and I do my best to reach those goals.

    Thanks for reminding us that it's okay to relax a bit and not freak out about all the messages we're being fed.

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  17. Good perspective. Sometimes reading all the advice, following the Kindle boards and reading instructions to do this and do that is confusing. Remember what one of the greatest writers advised: To thine own self be true.

    I was interested to read that 'To Kill a Mockingbird' was recently voted the best all time novel. (I can't remember who was sponsoring this vote--maybe Huffington Post) That book was written a long time ago. What an honour it would be to have a book that survives and is read for such an extended period of time. I'd take that over quick popularity churned up by blogging and tweeting.

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  18. I agree with the balanced perspective as well:) Love James Scott Bell's quote...I love it that we have the freedom of choice...what a blessing as well as a responsibility:) Great post as usual Jody...thanks!

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  19. Thank you so much Jody! I'm relatively new to all of this and often feel overwhelmed by all of the advice out there. Thank you for sharing the James Scott Bell's Declaration, and for being the voice of wisdom for me.

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  20. Thank you for this post. You reflect a growing trend I'm seeing in the writing cyberworld - a sense of "Let's slow down and examine what we're doing." A sense of "Writing first, promotion second." A sense of "Social media as service/connection not horn-blowing." And I love it. Amen, sister!! :)

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  21. You beat me to the gun! I'm considering doing a blog series on writing advice as an attempt to create pillar advice for my blog. I'm just willing myself to write it.

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  22. Hi Jody,

    This morning I opened my email and found a post from Steve Laube about "What successful people do the first hour of the day." In other words, how they maintain their balance. Number one was "Don't check your email for the first hour." WHAT??? That's exactly what I do... and then I get bogged down and distracted and waylaid and weary. So today, even though it just about killed me, I closed my email box without checking anything else until now... and here you are talking about that exact thing (and mentioning me, to boot! Thanks!) Funny thing is, I got a LOT done today. Hmmmm.

    I think the other thing that I really appreciated about the article was the challenge to "BE GRATEFUL." I know for me, that's hard when I feel overwhelmed, but when I stop and just be grateful, things seem to settle around me just a little; just enough for me to do the next thing. I am grateful for the many writing mentors and friends that I've connected with online - and I'm thankful for the internet because of that! I'm thankful for steady voices who've gone on ahead of me and can turn around and remind me why this journey is worth it, not just in the field of writing, but in life. And I'm most thankful for a God who loves me unconditionally and knows my heart.

    Thank you, Jody. Praying for His continued covering in your life,
    Becky

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  23. Absolutely, Jody. Taking the time to educate yourself so you can make the decision that fits you best is probably the most important lesson anyone can learn, in any walk of life.

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  24. I try and stay balanced as well. I don't think there's any right way to do things, just the best choice for us. Indie or traditional, their both good.

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  25. Great post. Learning and patience always important. The one thing I will say about "impatience" is that it's not a sign of the times just because... It actually can have some value if it forces you to put yourself out into the soup and LEARN fast! Sorta like jumping in a deep end. Could you drown? Yes. But you won't learn to swim at all if you don't get in. For some of us the deep plunge may be the only way to get the nerve. So I think what's best is always somewhat personal. I'd change the way I did some things but not all... Great post.

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  26. It's funny - I went to a writer's conference and was convinced I had to immediately start a blog if I was going to be successful as a novelist. So I started a blog. It's done nothing that I know of for my novel writing career, but I've found something that I love to do and a group of people who enjoy what I write, even though what I write really has nothing to do with writing. The blog kept me writing through a very difficult family period, when writing fiction just wasn't in the cards. I'm re-writing/editing the novel now and I'm doing a much better job of it than I would have if I hadn't been reading all these great blogs. I guess my philosophy would be, try everything, but keep doing what works.

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  27. This post really hit home for me. If you try to listen to everything, the noise becomes bewildering. I know I'm guilty at times of letting impatience get the better of me and it's something I'm working on for both personal and professional development.

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  28. I love your perspective, Jody. I'm so glad you're voicing it.

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  29. Jody... I so agree with you on this. So much advice from so many different places. I agree with some but disagree with many. Thanks for posting this.

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  30. This post is AWESOME. Sharing everywhere.

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  31. Good post. I see it more with social media and how to blog. This is industry professionals giving completely different advice. I've decided to make my own decisions based on what I see and what I've experienced. And I don't always listen to the gurus. Not when I don't think they've got it one hundred percent right.

    I love that quote at the end. It's perfect.

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