Friday, January 29, 2010

I Laughed, I Cried, I Kissed A Thousand Bucks Goodbye

This post plays a bit off my last one, so you might want to read it first. Then again, you shouldn't need to.

Consider the paths of these three writers, then answer the question below.

Novelist Nick: Nick works very hard at his writing. After years of submitting his work to agents and publishers, Nick finally lands a publishing deal with a commercial publisher for one of his novels. The advance is $2,500. As Nick's publication date approaches, he gets the impression that his publishing company isn't going to market his book with much diligence; the early reviews are less-than-thrilling, his cover looks slapdash, and the company just doesn't seem intent on making his novel successful. Nick has worked his whole life to succeed as a novelist, so he decides to spend some of his own money on an independent publicist, and still more on an updated website. When Nick's novel comes out, he winds up doing much of the promotional work himself. At the end of Nick's novel's published life, it sold 1,000 copies and didn't recoup Nick's advance. All in, Nick spent $3,500 of his own money, for a net loss of $1000.

Lit Mag Lucy: Lucy works very hard at her writing. She starts submitting her short stories to literary journals and contests shortly after grad school, with the hope of landing one at a respectable literary magazine. This process requires that she spend money on contest and submission fees, and she also pays to fly to a prestigious writers' conference that she's lucky enough to get invited to, where she hob-nobs with writers and editors. Finally, after years of submitting, she succeeds in landing a story at a reputable literary journal. The journal has a circulation of 3,000, and Lucy's story is towards the back of the issue. The journal pays Lucy $50. Over the years, Lucy spent $1050 trying to get a short story published, for a net loss of $1,000.

Subsidy Sam: Sam works very hard at his writing. His best work consists of two novellas, both of which utilize NASCAR racing as a prominent backdrop. Sam decides, after being told by a few in the publishing industry that his work is strong but for various reasons unsellable, to pay to have his work published, consolidating his two novellas into one book. Sam is intimidated by the idea of designing and formatting his own book, so he enlists a subsidy print-on-demand publishing company to do this grunt work for him. They charge $300 to design, format and publish his book. Sam spends much of the next year promoting his book of novellas, investing in independent marketing and taking a trip across his region for a series of readings. Sam receives some good reviews, and through legwork, word-of-mouth and the Internet managed to sell 250 copies of his novel. Still, he didn't make back all of his initial investment, losing a total $1,000 on the venture.

You can assume in all cases that one half of the people who read the works actually liked them, and one quarter liked them enough to consider another similar work by the same author in the future. (In other words, the works were of the same appreciable quality as judged by their respective markets.)

Here's my question: In the instances above, which of the writers exhibited vanity? Answer using the poll below, and feel free to comment in the comments area. Keep in mind: There is no right or wrong answer, just your opinion.

Yours in laying down the law,


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BrennaLyons said...

Assuming all three intend to try to make a career of writing or at least a supplementary career of writing, I don't personally feel any of them were being particularly vain. Most authors lose money for several years before making anything of note. My first thought was, "ONLY $1000 down? Not bad for what they did."

They were offering quality work, though I wonder how effective the blurbs and other promo was, if half the people who bought the book didn't like it? Or maybe I misread that the 50% liked it but not enough to necessarily buy more, in which case it was 75% liked it...and that's not quite as bad. But, that's another subject.

They all attempted to have a quality product. Nick trusted (in error) a publisher to give it to him (it happens to the best of us, sometimes). Lucy went with established literary journals, which is the way many writing programs teach people to go. Sam hired someone to do the grunt work he was unequal to.

And there's nothing inherently wrong with using s/s/v for niche projects with a limited audience. As long as you know what you're getting into, go for it.

No matter where you are (s/s/v, indie, or conglomerate), you will be doing most of your marketing yourself. The best you can do is do a lot of online marketing and get into groups online to help you promote, to make the money stretch further.


Anonymous said...

Subsidy Sam was actually Sensible Sam, as the other two have been shelling out for years -- Sam presumably paid his bill in devalued 2009/10 dollars :-)

But none were particularly vain IMO.

Art Edwards said...

Yes, Brenna. $1000 isn't bad for starting a career. Think of the money spent on graduate school.

Shelley Stout said...

I see nothing vain in any of the three scenarios. I see people working hard and spending money to accomplish their goals.

A similar analogy would be for an actor to graduate from acting school and go to Hollywood to audition, then spend a few thousand dollars on orthodontia. Is that vanity or practicality? In the long run, the investment might help for future roles.

Art Edwards said...

Hey, someone voted for Lucy! I'd love to hear why.

LoriStrongin said...

New reader/poster here, referred from a Yahoo group.

The reason I voted for Lucy was because of her target market. I have nothing against literary writers, and am a frequent submitter to small lit mags, myself, and a former writing conference director. With that experience in mind, I can't help thinking that, if Lucy had done any type of market research before going to these conferences, she'd know that she'd never be able to recoup the money she spent. Even the high paying lit mags wouldn't pay her enough to cover air fare, hotel stay, and conference registration.

Her dreams of publication and her hard work to learn the industry are commendable, but the way she spent money to try to advance her career, to me, fall under the banner of writer vanity, the subtext being that she had to believe her writing was that good to shell out all that money on something guaranteed not to pay her high returns, no matter how well-crafted her work.

And that's my two cents! ;)

Art Edwards said...

In a dollars-and-cents discussion, it's hard to justify Lit Mag Lucy. It seems she spent $1000 to be able to have a nice line on her c.v. that might one day impress an agent--if she ever writes something long enough to submit--or creative writing director, if she wants to teach.

And for the record I submit to lit mags, too.

BrennaLyons said...


I can understand where you're coming from, but this is the way a lot of grads from literary programs are taught to handle their careers. They are taught to submit to the magazines and work on the novel, in the meantime. Some will tell you that you aren't supposed to even try to submit a novel until you have X number of writing credits from the magazines first. But in the meantime, you're supposed to get "face time" with the agents and editors you want to hit up with your novel later.

And it's not just literary. Some spec fic authors I know will say the same things. Submit short stories to the SFWA approved magazines and hang out at the conventions. Then submit to the big publishers.

It's not the only way to run a career, but it's the only way some authors know, the only way they think you're supposed to do it, and everyone else is looking for short cuts to publication.

FWIW, I submit occasionally to the literary magazines...and to anthologies and so forth, but I didn't bother with conventions until I was published in novel length, and my first anthology came after my first dozen novel contracts. Shrug. Just the way I chose to do it.


Anonymous said...

Technology really has become completely integrated to our existence, and I think it is safe to say that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as memory gets cheaper, the possibility of copying our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I dream about almost every day.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4[/url] DS ZKwa)

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