How to be a Rock Star

Anna Lewis is the co-founder of CompletelyNovel.com. Follow her on Twitter at @anna_cn.

Should you find a publisher or publish yourself? Why not be a rock star and do both, asks Anna Lewis.

A frequent question that crops up from writers on my website is: “Should I self-publish or should I send my work to agents and publishers?” The writers are aware of how competitive the traditional route is, but still want to give it a shot. Yet, at the same time they feel like it could be time to take things into their hands. How should they choose which path to take?

My answer is – why not do both? In fact…you should do both, and there are lots of reasons why.

If you were trying to make it in a rock band, you wouldn’t face the dilemma of ‘should I play gigs or try and get signed by record labels?’ You’d be thinking, “I’ll play lots of gigs, record my music myself and send it off to the record labels”. You’d have a MySpace page and do as much as you could to build up your fan base and reputation as a way of drawing attention to the quality of your work and proving that there is a market for it.

So, why not apply the same philosophy to writing?

Have publishers changed their tune when it comes to previously self-published work?
There was certainly ‘sniffiness’ in the past regarding writers who had self-published to try and kick start their careers (despite the fact that the likes of William Blake did this too!) but the game has changed. Publishers such as HarperCollins have started their own initiatives that encourage self-publishing to try and help identify new talent. There are a number of great examples of success stories that show that you can venture out on your own, and then go on to get a publishing deal. Christopher Paolini, Lisa Genova and William P. Young are some examples of authors who have done this.

It can work out better to get your own gigs
It’s also becoming increasingly apparent that publishing deals aren’t necessarily the best option now in any case. Even if you turn out a bestseller, a look at the figures can reveal that it is not always as profitable as you may think. Also, if you have a niche market that you are targeting with your book, you aren’t necessarily going to be more successful, especially in financial terms, by going with a publisher, as web developer-turned-author Peter Cooper discovered.

The publishing industry has changed a lot in the past 10 years – there have been some monumental best-sellers such as ‘Twilight’ and ‘Harry Potter’ and these have had an effect on the way other writers are dealt with. A recent New York Times article, ‘James Patterson Inc‘,  gives a great commentary on just how blockbuster-focused the industry can be. Midlist authors often don’t get a look in. So, if you can use the tools available to you to grow your own network then you could be onto something really special.

Why put it all on pause?
If you are sending in submissions to literary agents and the publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts, then you could be in for a long wait. It’s not unusual to be waiting many months for a reply – and you won’t always even get one of those!

Instead of worrying and incessantly checking emails, you could be doing something much more exciting…taking destiny into your own hands! Use the time to build up contacts, get feedback and refine your work, learn new skills and find out more about the publishing business. Self-publishing is a great way to do these things.

No financial barrier
It was a bit different when self-publishing a book meant forking out a small fortune to get an expert to prepare the files and have thousands of books printed. However, now the barriers have been broken down and you can start self-publishing with no set-up cost, and no need to spend a long time acquiring specialist technical skills.

Having said that, it is definitely worth putting in some time to learn more about things like blogging, using social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and other reading/writing communities. These tools are very accessible and having experience of using them puts you in good stead for the future. There’s no better music to a marketing manager’s ears than finding an author who already has a network of online contacts and is willing and able to help promote their book.

There’s definitely something to be said for trying both options. At best you’ll end up being in a much more favourable bargaining position, with great marketing potential if you get picked up by a publisher. At worst you’ll know that you have given your best shot at getting a foot in the door the traditional way but have also learned lots of skills and built up a network that you can tap into for your next book release!

So have your cake, eat it – and rock on like those MySpace kids!

[Image ©iStockphoto.com/pascalgenest]

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About Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis is the co-founder of CompletelyNovel.com, a publishing platform which enables writers to publish their work online and in paperback, and link into a community of readers. The website was launched in 2009 and has seen a number of writers use their success on CompletelyNovel to obtain publishing deals or successfully self-publish their work.

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2 Responses to How to be a Rock Star

  1. Dear Anna,
    Thanks for your article. After 7 years of writing and working on my book and sending it to publishers I have finally got myself in gear and have self published it. It is already having great success and I totally agree with your line of thinking. If you have a dream, or a book in your heart, don’t let anything stop you from bringing it to life. That’s what I did with Silver to Gold and I hope through your article many more are inspired to just get on with it.
    Thanks again,
    Jen
    http://www.silvertogold.com

  2. Ed Desautels says:

    I think this article is spot on. I liken it more to the DIY punk rock ethos than to the “rock star” ethos. You might never become a “star,” but you will get your work out there. The longer you keep at it, the larger audience you will touch. I’ve seen too many great writers ignored by a publishing industry now dominated by major corporations whose only concern is the bottom line to leave my fate in their hands. Even the small houses are, more and more, moving toward “safe,” marketable work. So, yes: take your fate in your own hands and let the chips fall where they may. Just make sure you at least have a pro copyedit and proof before launch!