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A No-BS Tour of Modern Publishing - Part I: Author Motivations

Bennett R. Coles | July 1, 2016

The centre of all publishing is the author. Without the author, there is no art form. There are no manuscripts for agents to pitch, no covers for publishers to design, no books for stores to sell. Without the author, the publishing ecosystem would not exist.

So why is the author at the very bottom of the food chain?

If you are an aspiring author, or are just musing on how you’d like to one day write a book – welcome. My name is Bennett R. Coles and I’m an author. I’ve been traditionally published through New York, I’ve self-published my way to awards, and I’ve even tried out that mysterious new “third way” of publishing, hybrid. I’m still active as an author through Titan Books, but I also happen to be the publisher at a small (but mighty) publishing house called Promontory Press. This dual role gives me a fairly unique perspective on the industry, but in my heart I’m always an author first.

So… you want to be an author. Awesome. The very first question I’m to ask you, though, is this: why?

There are plenty of valid reasons to want to be an author. Perhaps you’re an angst-ridden intellectual desperate to steer the collective will of the people toward a greater tomorrow. Perhaps you’re happiest when writing and nothing would give you greater pleasure than to share your words with the world. Perhaps you have a business which could benefit from having a companion book which can offer value to people over time and serve as a high-quality business card for you. Or, just perhaps, you’re naturally good at writing and you want to make a ton of cash from your skillset, no matter what the genre or style. These are all good reasons to write, and all equally valid, no matter how different from each other they might be.

But, the approach to publication is very different for each one. Before you set out on a publication path, take some time to really ask yourself what motivates you. Are you an artist first, or do you just want to get rich? Is the book a means to an end for you, or is it the end itself? Most people will feel that they have a bit of everything in their motivations. I mean, who wouldn’t want to keep their artistic integrity while raking in bazillions of dollars in author royalties, proud of their book as an accomplishment all on its own while recognizing that it supports something greater. Sounds good to me!

Unfortunately, the reality of publishing rarely winds up being so generous. If you are an author who really has something to say – be it a political position or just a specific genre of fiction – you will likely find yourself fighting to even get your work read by publishers hungry for market success and wary of outliers. Likewise, if you’re just writing whatever the market demands for a bunch of cash, don’t hold out a lot of hope of winning any awards or changing the world.

What I’m trying to say here is this: before you even start to think about which publishing route to investigate, be honest with yourself about what really matters to you as an author. Here are some typical writing goals which you should weigh:

  • Money – would I still write if it paid almost nothing, or am I doing it to make serious money?
  • Fame – do I want to be mobbed at writing conventions, or would I rather remain unknown?
  • Validation – is it important that I be taken seriously as an artist, and if so, by whom?
  • Motivation – is writing this amazing thing I do that I love and draw great energy from, or is it more of a job?

Likewise, here are some skills which most modern authors need. Do an honest assessment of yourself for each, either at your current level or what you honestly think you could develop into:

  • Writing new and original stuff versus formula fiction, academic works or business writing;
  • Working with an editor and potentially seeing your book changed significantly;
  • Talking to strangers;
  • Being involved in social media;
  • Being able to actively sell yourself and your book;
  • Marketing savvy.

All of these skills are required by both the traditional and the self-published author – the only difference is degree.

In this series, A No-BS Tour of Modern Publishing, I’m going to explore the ins and outs of the publishing world, but I’m always going to bring it back to what it means for the author. As we move forward, I encourage you to really take some time and ask yourself the questions above. I’ll do everything I can to break down some publishing myths and provide some solid info, but in the end different authors (and their books) can be genuinely better-suited to traditional or self-publishing. The most honest you can be with yourself, the better chance you’ll make the best choice for your own career.

Originally published at Life as a Human.

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