Guest Post: Emmie Mears Talks About Barry Eisler’s Bottom Line

Today, the fabulous Emmie Mears is guest posting about a killer panel that I missed during the Writer’s Digest Conference. Because super nerd me lined up 50 minutes before Pitch Slam started.

I’m a follower of her fantastic blog (which you should definitely check out). I thought you’d appreciate her perspective on the panel too.

And now, I turn the blog over to Emmie…

E-Pub vs. Legacy Pub: Barry Eisler’s Bottom Line

If you’re like me — a self-professed lover of traditional publishing — you might not have heard of Barry Eisler before now. If you’re an e-pub guru, you’ve probably at least heard his name.

Mr. Eisler was a keynote speaker at the Writer’s Digest conference. At first glance, he reminded me a little of Bradley Cooper. Take a moment to swoon if you must.

Barry Eisler is an author who has recently transitioned from a successful traditional publishing career to the world of self-publishing. Here’s the reason behind his notoriety: he turned down a $500,000 book deal with St. Martin’s Press in favor of self-publishing his newest book as an e-book. His e-book has been wild and successful, and I think it’s safe to say he has capitalized on his risk.

Before everyone flies into a tizzy of self-publishing, allow me to use Mr. Eisler’s words to deflate you. I apologize in advance for the poof of air rushing out of the sails, but this very successful author had a point to make. First of all, he explained that making a living in the writing business is — to an extent — like a lottery. Sometimes fantastic books hit the shelves only to run their faces into a brick wall — current events, economic downturn, the arrival of a similar book by a better-known author. Any number of great books has struggled to compete with the many distractions of our frenetic little planet. A lot of success is timing, and a lot of it is luck.

Barry (I can call you Barry, right?) has a mantra that I chanted to myself daily even before I saw him speak: Work hard, work hard, work hard, work hard until luck finds you. Writers and dreamers, take heed. It might take a flash of luck, of your query catching the exact right agent the moment she desperately wants your book or of an influential e-book buyer wanting a dystopian romance right as your book pops up in her marketplace. The only way those things will happen is if you keep working, keep sending queries, and keep doing your thing. Work hard until luck finds you.

Now. That little inspiration was fun, but let’s dive into the nitty-gritty, shall we?

Barry loves e-books. Barry loves e-books because they never go out of print. Tangible books are subject to their sales and how profitable it is to keep them on shelves. When I was in high school, I sold a bunch of my Night World books by L.J. Smith at a yardsale. I regretted it even as the money changed hands. A couple years later, I tried to buy them back, only to find that they were A: out of print and B: really expensive used. I still bought them, but I’m a weirdo. Most people won’t go hunting down books that are out-of-print — they look for things that take less work to find.

Traditional publishers lure writers because they have the golden goose in their warehouses. You didn’t hear the honking? Yeah. She’s there. Her name is Distribution. Don’t ask me. I didn’t name her. Sure, you can waltz into a Barnes and Noble with your self-published books and ask politely for them to give you shelf space, but I can almost guarantee you can’t make it to all of their stores — and even if you did, you would be paying a lot of money to do stock them. Traditional publishers have the networks, the salespeople, and — oh yeah — the product. They can print thousands of books and get them onto shelves. Until recently, this was the only way to do it.

What the e-book has changed is that writers who choose to publish that way do not need that golden goose.

Oh, see? Now we hurt her feelings. She’s crying big honking alligator tears.

But seriously — if you choose to e-publish, you have the distribution. You have the assurance that your book will never go out of print. So says Barry, and it’s true. Of course, there is a downside to that. While in traditional publishing, about 93% of books fail (sell less than 1000 copies and go out of print), that number doesn’t really change in e-publishing. You go from being one of a few hundred thousand titles in trad publishing to one of millions of titles in self-publishing. Six of one, half dozen of the other.

Publishing will be built on direct-to-consumer marketing in the future, says Barry. This makes writers powerful players and provides a nice segue into another one of his points: if you write for a living, you are your own CEO.

Say that with me. If you write for a living, you are your own CEO.

Barry meant it purely in the sense of the business of it, but I see another juicy layer there. What does that mean? It means you (you, not Barry, not Random House, and not Kindle or Nook) are responsible for your success.

Hold it, Emmie. You and Barry said that making a living writing is like a lottery.

It is. When you own your success, when you take that responsibility for your own progress and sales and brand, it’s like buying a brontosaurus’s share of tickets in that lottery. If you work a piddling amount and hem and haw and splutter about, you’re only buying a ticket a day. Sure, you might hit jackpot and win big, but you know what’s true about people that happens to? They’re broke again next year.

When you own your success, you stockpile enough tickets to win not just next month or next year, but the months and years afterward. And that, my friends, is what it means to be a career writer.

How do you own your success? How do you take that responsibility? Barry has an answer for you, via me.

First of all, understand that readers love to read — and they still buy books. If you keep that in mind, you will keep writing. The readers are waiting. Don’t keep them waiting forever.

Here are three things that you need to do to take responsibility for your career as a writer, no matter which avenue of publishing you trundle down:

1. Editing. Oh, dear gawd and kittens, I cannot stress this one enough. I downloaded a sample chapter of an e-book I saw advertised a couple weeks ago. Within a page, I’d banged my head on my keyboard twice and cringed enough to make a kicked puppy feel brave. Edit your work. If you don’t know what a comma splice is, find out. If you don’t know what a dangling modifier is, find out. If you suck at editing, hire someone. This is your duty to your readers: don’t suck. Please, for the love of the grammar gods, don’t suck.

2. Proof-reading. This goes hand-in-hand with editing. Beyond grammar, your writing should pop, zing, and other comic book words. I’m guilty of this one too. If you haven’t figured this out yet, I tend toward verbosity. Don’t worry; I belong to a support group.

3. Packaging. You don’t want your self-published book to look like your five-year-old drew the cover with crayons and then snotted on it. Professional is key, and for newbie writers it’s not easy. This is an arena where the legacy publishers still have a leg up on the indies — they have the artists, the graphic designers, and the polish to make books look awesome. Have you been in a Barnes and Noble lately? I went to one a month ago and about peed my pants at how much covers have evolved in the past couple years.

The bottom line? From Barry to you: write great fiction. Make it pop, make it shine, and people will want it, no matter how you publish it. And because of e-books, you now have choices.

About Emmie Mears

Emmie studied history and languages in college — at least on the surface. Woven into stories of World War II Poland and trying to wrap her tongue around tongue-mutilating consonants, she discovered a world within our own. A world of magic where trees can come alive and humans aren’t at the top of the food chain.

Armed with pen and paper, she set out to coax that world from the ether and commit it to ink. It’s there she found her home in a land of urban fantasy. Reality filtered through a supernatural lens — that is the magic.

Emmie lives outside D.C. and wishes she had a cat to laugh at and a dog to chase the cat. She lives with her husband and some intrepid raccoons who weren’t quite invited.

Emmie is currently working on the third novel of an adult urban fantasy trilogy and seeking representation.

Emmie’s Blog:

Emmie’s Twitter: @emmiemears



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