Cory Doctorow: Why Should Anyone Care?

One of my most important formative experiences as a writer was working in bookstores. I worked in three shops: a specialist science fiction store (Bakka Books in Toronto), an academic store near the University of Toronto campus, and a dreadful suburban mall bookstore. Going into my first bookstore job, I’d been supremely confident in my understanding of the bookselling trade: after all, I’d been spending all my pocket money and after-school wages in book shops since I’d been old enough to ride the subway on my own. I didn’t just shop at bookstores, I haunted them. I could happily spend a day reading the blurbs on every single book in the science fiction and fantasy section, perusing every likely-looking magazine on the rack, looking through all the interesting reference books and the sale tables, hunting for…. Well, I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, and that was the point, right? I just wanted a great book, something I hadn’t heard of, new or old, used or new, genre or mainstream, just something that’d grab me by the ganglia that reading activated and drag me around for a few days.

Needless to say, the reality of working in a bookstore didn’t have much in common with my imaginings. On the one hand, I had been right that many bookstore clerks really liked books and were delighted to talk about them with customers (at least, I was that sort of clerk). On the other hand, I’d been totally wrong about the reverence I’d imagined that booksellers had for books. I’d been taught to handle books by librarians, taught to think of books as something more than mere articles of commerce. Books had lives and afterlives, living on as cherished friends in the bookcase and then resurfacing as precious used books, rich with history and old bus-transfer bookmarks.

But the reality of books was this: a publisher’s rep would come in and tell us breathlessly about the lead titles – how much promotion they were up for, how much the house believed in the title, how well the author had done before. We’d order a pile of hardcovers, generally a smaller pile than we’d been asked to take, and usually, they’d sell modestly well. Then we’d return the leftovers, and some months later, they’d resurface as remainders, with their dustjackets clipped or magic-markered lines drawn on their page-edges. Then they’d come in as paperbacks, hang around for a few months longer, and vanish. Sometimes, a copy or two would surface as used trade-ins, and sometimes a regular would ask us to order a copy, but within a short time, the book would no longer be in the publisher’s catalog in any form. It would be gone.

This was the greatest shock of my bookselling career, because these weren’t always bad books. Sometimes, they’d be wonderful books, the kind of books you wrote enthusiastic ‘‘shelf-talkers’’ for and recommended to all the regulars – the kind of books you fell in love with. Sometimes there was an afterword that talked about how much heart and soul the author poured into the book – the years of work and heartbreak. And just like that, the book would be gone.

Now, obviously much has changed since then. The advent of online stores like Amazon combined with efficiencies in short print runs has made it possible to keep modest sellers in the stream of commerce for something like perpetuity. But one thing hasn’t changed: most books – even those that are deservedly well-loved by publishers, readers, and booksellers – make hardly a ripple on release and fade away to nothing before you know it.

Here’s the thing: I’ve just described the best-promoted books in the field, the ones with the biggest push. Books whose authors tour, books with whole pages in the catalog and special, personal mention from the sales reps. Books with lots of advance reader copies, liberally distributed to critics and booksellers and influential readers. Most books get none of that: these days, they’ll get a few hardcopy ARCs and a lot more digital ones (as a reviewer, I’m skeptical of how much attention electronic ARCs get), a short summary in the catalog, and not much more. The author and her friends will make as big a fuss as possible, and sometimes this works (especially in the Internet era, where readers and writers are much more intimately involved in each others’ lives than ever before).

Modestly promoted books aren’t necessarily doomed. A favorable review in the trade press, a surprise review in a mainstream newspaper, online buzz, word-of-mouth among the super-networked library world – they can all translate into healthy sales. Publishers generally know what they’re doing, and they’ve got well-tuned, semi-automated systems for getting readers to pay attention to books. They’ve had a lot of practice.

Writers, by and large, haven’t. Not successful, established writers, and certainly not brand new, fresh-out-of-the-wrapper writers. It doesn’t really matter how much time you spend hanging around bookstores or browsing online stores, until you’ve marketed a book, you don’t really know how to market a book.

I certainly didn’t.

Oh, when I launched my DIY short story collection With a Little Help, I figured I could deploy all the stuff I’d done when my other books had been published by mainstream publishers, the stuff that had given my books a little push to get them out of the midlist and into wider circles of attention and discussion. I knew I’d have to do some of the stuff my publisher had done, but like everyone doing something complicated for the first time, I dramatically underestimated how much work this would be. It’s not impossible, and it’s not horrible work – it’s challenging, exciting stuff, but it’s incredibly time consuming and it can be tough (and expensive – sending out hundreds of review copies ain’t cheap, but it was worth it, if only for the major feature in The Wall Street Journal this garnered me).

I get a lot of e-mail from writers starting out who want to know whether it’s worth trying to get published by major houses. The odds are poor – only a small fraction of books find a home in mainstream publishing – and the process can be slow and frustrating. We’ve all heard horror stories, both legit (‘‘Why is there a white girl on the cover of my book about a black girl?’’) and suspect (‘‘My editor was a philistine who simply didn’t understand the nuances of my work’’). And we’ve all heard about writers who’ve met with modest – or stellar – success with self-publishing. So why not cut out the middleman and go direct to readers?

There’s not a thing wrong with that plan, provided that it is a plan. Mainstream publishers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over decades learning and re-learning how to get people to care about the existence of books. They often do so very well, and sometimes they screw it up, but at least they’re methodically attempting to understand and improve the process by which large masses of people decide to read a book (even better, decide to buy and read a book).

I firmly believe that there are writers out there today who have valuable insights and native talent that would make them natural successes at marketing their own work. If you are one of those writers – if you have a firm theory that fits available evidence about how to get people to love your work – then by all means, experiment! Provided, of course, that you are pleased and challenged by doing this commercial stuff that has almost nothing in common with imagining stories and writing them down. Provided that you find it rewarding and satisfying.

You’ll probably screw it up (I did). You’ll probably learn and improve (I did). If you’re lucky, you’ll make some money at it (I did). If you’re very lucky, you might make a lot of money at it (not yet!). But, as with any arts venture and any entrepreneurial effort, the realistic odds are that you’ll be one of the people whose efforts fail to shake the world. The realistic odds are that you’ll earn more working a regular job in an office than you will trying to invent fictional worlds and then invent new ways of selling them. There’s only one good reason to do that kind of thing: because it makes you sane and whole and happy.

Getting people to care about the products of your imagination is a profound and infinitely complex task that will absorb as much attention as you give it. Every book and every author brings a different proposition to the negotiation with readers, but there’s one thing they all have in common: unless someone takes charge of doing something, something clever and active and good and slightly improbable, no one will care about the book or the person who wrote it.

Cory Doctorow is the author of Walkaway, Little Brother and Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free (among many others); he is the co-owner of Boing Boing, a special consultant to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a visiting professor of Computer Science at the Open University and an MIT Media Lab Research Affiliate.

From the September 2011 issue of Locus Magazine

87 thoughts on “Cory Doctorow: Why Should Anyone Care?

  • September 2, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Really interesting (and useful!:) article. I was given a sack of remaindered sf books when I was a kid. At the time I didn’t know why the covers were clipped.

  • September 3, 2011 at 5:53 am

    Hey Cory — like you, I grew up loving books, and still read every day. One thing that I think is really exciting is the connection that things like e-readers will make with authors (see Amazon’s @author announcement).

    Are you excited about participating in stuff like that?

    Another project that I’m aware of, KindleGraph, allows you to send signed ‘digital covers’ to e-readers (they’re changing their name to be less kindle-specific) — I’d bet that your readers would love that too.



  • September 3, 2011 at 6:37 am

    This is very sobering but also helpful, Cory. My debut children’s novel, Fly a Little Higher, Piper Lee, will be out from Harcourt next Fall, so of course this subject of book promotion is certainly on my mind.

  • September 3, 2011 at 8:16 am

    Excellent post, Cory. My late grandfather was traditionally published in a career spanning 50 years, but I suspect he would love the independent publishing model were he around today. I certainly relish the guerrilla marketing aspects of it–though the time investment does pit you against the clock between the “day job,” family/personal relationships and oh yeah, writing.

  • September 3, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Nice sermon on preaching your own gospel.A “a profound and infinitely complex task” indeed. Amen.

  • September 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Enjoyed the post – well written!

    Thank you.

    P.S. – I’m from Toronto, too! 🙂

  • September 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    This is a *great* article. One of the best I’ve seen on this subject yet. As someone who has been a writer, and a bookseller, and now an agent, I can’t agree with you more. It is HARD to do it all yourself.

    Really well said, Cory. Thank you for sharing this insight!

  • September 3, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    The major publishing houses in a way are paying for their picky way of selecting authors. I know they get all kinds (“I’m the next Stephen King” kind of thing) but when they play it safe so often they end up losing readers (and possible new readers). And now, many are closing up shop or laying off thousands. I plan to e-publish once my novel is done b/c I’m sure that getting an editor to even glance at my work is akin to speaking to the President. In fact, I probably have a better chance at the latter…

  • September 4, 2011 at 1:22 am

    From South Africa: great article and it supports the sentiments in my book, now in a third revised edition “Successful Self-Publishing in South Africa”. I have never used trade publishers. Just identified niche markets and wrote for them; my books (on a variety of topics from unusual fiction to non-fiction and biography and business books) have sold throughout the country for nearly thirteen years and bring in a small, regular income. Also get great reviews and the books are in book chains, independent bookstores and libraries. But one must do the market research like the publishing houses do. And I do not do book launches but give regular talks, at least one a month.
    I like the writing, setting the book, doing the photography (even put photos in my second novel) and distribution is a challenge.

  • September 4, 2011 at 9:09 am

    Excellent post.

    I’m lucky enough to have a book deal with a major publisher in the UK (Gollancz), so they do a lot of the work for me. Even so, I try and make the effort with self-promotion, because there’s only so much a publisher can do (my latest book, despite their best efforts, has yet to get a review outside the blogosphere and it’s been out 2 weeks); as you say, the personal connection is vital in getting (potential) readers to notice you, and care enough to buy your work. And as you, and J. Alexander Greenwood also say, the time spent doing this is time not spent writing, which when you’ve got a book-a-year contract, a day job and a family, can be a major consideration.

  • September 4, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    In other words, doing things on your own is tough. Remarkable insight!

  • September 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    I can’t say this is a comforting article to read after heaping out wads of dough to self-publish my kid’s novel, Pistachio the Tyrant.

    But isn’t there something to say for the long game now as opposed to immediate sales? Rather than trying to sell a ton of books before they’re yanked off the shelf, can’t I expect to sell them over the course of the next 40 or 50 years via Amazon and print-on-demand? Sure, I may not make a living at it, but the point for me is that someone reads the thing.

  • Pingback:“Why should anyone care?” asks Cory Doctorow « Digital Authors Australia

  • September 5, 2011 at 3:25 am

    I am not sure about dampening expectations, I would rather see this article as getting authors to respond to the reality of the challenges out there. Small print runs are the answer and once my book is in a university library it is available for posterity. That is what I aim for. I like the income but even more I like the idea of living for ever through a book I have written and sharing my thoughts with those I will never meet. And I am fussy, I won’t sell a book if I know the person is not going to read it and I won’t sell a book to a store if I don’t like the manager’s attitude. My books are my babies and I word hard for them, I also run my own home and have another job and grandkids to look after. If you are passionate about your writing you will succeed!

  • September 5, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Thanks for the great post (And for Little Brother, BTW.)

    I only have one quibble. I worked inside the traditional publishing industry for several years (Toronto) and I wasn’t that impressed with the competence of my peers. A lot of poor decisions were made and continue to be made. The industry has not been adapting despite other models failing and serving as ominous warnings (i.e. the music industry for one, Blockbuster finally died in Canada this week, bookstores are spinning into the ocean like Japanese Zeroes in the movie Midway.) I recently attended a conference in which a bookseller rhapsodized about the book as a paper product alone. She sounded positively Amish. It was quaint, but nostalgia doesn’t defend a changing industry from the future.

    Some publishing professionals I knew were great, a lot were empty suits (and empty ratty old cardigans) The rest were just like me, writers and aspiring writers who were otherwise unemployable who couldn’t imagine doing anything else without succumbing to a murderous rage.

    Self-publishing is a lot of hard work. It is a gamble. But whatever happens, it will be yours and you’ll have more control rather than leaving it to strangers of such varied talents and competencies. The fun is in the writing and the reading and doing. Will it be profitable? When my books come out this fall I want wild success of course, but when one can do naught else, why worry?

    Thanks again. Big Fan.

  • September 5, 2011 at 9:17 am

    Not necessarily, Heather – I have met dozens of passionate writers whose books will only ever be read by a dozen or so readers. Unfortunately, success and a wide readership will not come to many thousands of new authors, simply because there are so many, and some of them know too little about the business. Some others are plain unlucky. Others can’t really write. Some of the latter might get lucky, and some gifted ones not. There are no guarantees for anyone in an open market. It was hard before the upheaval we are seeing. For some, it will be even harder afterwards. A practical sense of reality is necessary: some authors might very well work hard for nothing.

  • September 5, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Thanks for the article. I just self-published my first book, a fantasy novel, that I wrote for fun. That seems to be a terrible thing to say – I’m supposed to breathe to write and be willing to sacrifice anything. The truth is, I have a nice job and a comfortable living. It’s clear to me – and your article makes clearer – that self-marketing is a huge amount of work, and maybe work that won’t really interest me. On the other hand, gaining the attention of the traditional publishers is also a huge amount of work, sending out query letters, sample chapters, getting dozens of rejections.

    The big advantage of epublishing, as you note, is that books stay around longer. My plan is to promote my books as time allows around my “day job”, do more publicity when the second book is published at the end of this year, more when the third book is finished.

    I agree with Robert, the fun is in the writing. My dilemma is whether I want to do a lot of work I’m really not interested in (the marketing) to make money when I already have a job I am interested in that makes me money.

    Brilliant answers welcome (-:

  • Pingback:Cory Doctorow’s >> Blog Archive » Advice for self-publishers: why should anyone care about your book?

  • Pingback:Cory Doctorow’s >> Blog Archive » Why Should Anyone Care?

  • September 5, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Great article. I would like to add that the electronic age is a great boon to handicapped authors who cannot travel. The internet may be the only place where their work can appear. It may not be much, but it is better than nothing. I doubt a publishing house would represent someone who cannot travel.

    And, I will tell you this; I find few books in a bookstore that appeal to me. If bookstores are failing, maybe they should look at the product they are carrying. The internet is where I find stories that keep me hooked from the first to the last page.

  • September 5, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Thought provoking article Cory, I’ve been writing an online fantasy serial for over five years now and my readers are bugging me to put it on kindle as well as my newest stand-alone sci-comedy novel. The biggest problem I’m having is reformatting the whole damn thing for .mobi and epub separately. It seems every time I shift one line it ruins the rest of it! Cover art isnt cheap either – my favourite artist quoted $1k for a cover piece.
    As for fun in the writing – it surprised the heck out of me when I woke up one saturday with an entire book fully formed in my head – I pounded out the first few rough chapters with a sense of exhilaration and excitement in a day and haven’t stopped since.

  • September 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I see the novel I’m finishing revising as a start-up. It’s a product I need to sell in a field with a lot of competition. I need a business plan, a marketing plan, and a lot of efforts to turn it into a viable business venture. Writing is just half the job. Getting people to give your book a chance is a real challenge — you could write the world’s greatest book and it wouldn’t matter if nobody ever reads it to discover that it’s great.

    Hoping that readers will just randomly pick up your book in a bookstore, read the back cover, and decide to buy it based on that is not a viable business strategy in my humble opinion. Neither is hoping that a large publication will write a review of the first, self-published book of an unknown author. If it happens, great, but you shouldn’t base your business strategy on an unlikely event like that. You need more. Some way of reaching your target market, showing them the value of your book and turning the resulting interest into a sale. (You have clear idea of who your target market is, right?)

  • September 5, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    Having gone through the self-publishing experience
    Several times, I can say that “marketing” is the key!

    But without the ebook revolution, I’d still be sending self- addresed envelopes
    to disinterested publishers!

  • Pingback:Advice for self-publishers: why should anyone care about your book? | Geek News and Musings

  • Pingback:Advice for self-publishers: why should anyone care about your book? | CASH

  • Pingback:Locus Online Perspectives – Cory Doctorow: Why Should Anyone Care? – Yostivanich

  • Pingback:Advice for self-publishers: why should anyone care about your book? | It's like, Really?

  • September 5, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Intriguingly frightening but factually accurate. Thumbs up for the article. A good cue for up-and-coming authors to step-up their game especially if they want to be appreciated.

  • Pingback:Locus Online Perspectives » Cory Doctorow: Why Should Anyone Care? | Writing and reading fiction |

  • Pingback:Locus Online Perspectives » Cory Doctorow: Why Should Anyone Care? | Self-Publishing Ideas |

  • September 5, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    I’m actually find it quite exhilarating that authors and readers can make such an impact in this digital age. While there is that definite struggle and disheartening promise that it will be a tough journey to get your writing out there, I have seen so many enthusiastic authors and book lovers connecting with readers and getting them excited about unheard of books in a way that a random cover and blurb in a store can’t necessarily convey.

    I’m an aspiring author and a blogger on the subject of writing as well as reviewing books and I think that while there will always be these huge challenges to face up to, it’s such an exciting prospect, that I can’t help but want to make that journey.

    I was directed to this post by a fellow writer from my writing group back in Wellington, NZ. Funnily enough, I realised that I recognised your name from the ARC of the Steampunk! anthology I’m reading at the moment. I’m six stories in and so far ‘Clockwork Fagin’ has been my favourite of the lot. Excellent post!

  • Pingback:Self-publishing = vainglory? « Mortal words

  • September 5, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    Well, to answer the question, why should anyone care (about ‘my’ book) – we are having problems with pretty much everything ‘we the people’ want, including publishers who care enough to read and edit and publish manuscripts and bookstores who have the freedom to just be bookstores providing a needed service rather than maxing investment for capitalist investors, the cause of this problem is that ‘we’ have allowed the governments of ‘our’ societies to be usurped by those who care nothing about what ‘we’ want or need – and I have written a book which offers a vision of a better future, a vision which might also help people understand what is happening today, why it is not necessary, and what we might do about it all. Anyone interested in a better, more sane world – a starting place here – Green Island .

  • Pingback:Why would you publish a book yourself? : All New Musings

  • » Blog Archive » some guilty pleasures

  • September 6, 2011 at 7:55 am

    As a former editor, publisher, NYT bestselling author, I just want to say that this is an astute view of what’s wrong (and right) about publishing. I’ve reverted my backlist and made it available in e-versions and will proceed to self-publish new work as well. The “old” system is moribund.
    Thanks for an excellent article.

  • September 6, 2011 at 9:13 am

    I’d say the deal with traditional publishing is this. They provide the author the access to the bookstore. Why is that so important? Because the gate-keeping function of a bookstore means that there’s an implicit promise that books carried by a bookstore have some minimal quality that means that picking up a random book may be worth the effort.

    In other words, for many people, browsing a bookstore is worth-while way to more or less randomly find new authors based on nothing more than a cover and a back cover blurb. If enough people like what they read, then word-of-mouth kicks in, and an author has a chance of making a career.

    The trouble with self-publishing via e-book is that without the gatekeepers, a random reader picking up a book from a totally unknown author has a much smaller chance of finding something enjoyable. Only 1 out of a 1000 manuscripts eventually becomes a print-book, and if even 10 times as many *could* have found an audience, the dilution effect is still 100 times worse in the e-book market.

    Given that readers value their time, you get to the point where even a free e-book of unknown quality has negative value to the reader! There’s just too little chance that it is good enough to have a chance of being enjoyable.

    Once the e-book revolution *really* gets started, we could easily see 100,000 books published a month. How does one get enough people to sample your work (even for free) that word-of-mouth effects can kick in? I don’t know. Even worse, if there was a way, the 100,000 writers would be using exactly the same technique soon enough.

    I worry that eventually, the only way for a writer who hasn’t established an audience to get people to take a chance on their book might be to be famous for something else. Good news for the Cory Doctorow’s (and other dynamic people who live interesting lives) of the next generation, bad news for those who’s only real skill is to write well.

  • Pingback:Cory Doctorow: Why Should Anyone Care? | digitalassetman |

  • September 6, 2011 at 9:43 am

    If you care for something, like a book, it should be taken care of. With paper books slowly going almost extinct, book readers should know more about care and repair.

  • September 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    This is such a wonderful and honest and edifying post, Cory. Thank you – I’ll tweet it and blog about it.

  • September 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I’ve been traditionally published, now I’m trying to decide if I have the make up for self publishing. Thanks for this!

  • September 6, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Another insightful, honest article! Thanks Cory. I have yet to write anything that should be published but I still enjoy the process and it makes me all the more appreciative of the work of those of you that are published. We live in a world where literacy rates are dropping and the simple, quiet pleasure of a good book has to compete with wall sized video displays and the immediate gratification of social networking via ubiquitous personal comms devices.
    Part of the time of published authors everywhere might well be spent in bringing up the next generation of the reading public. No matter how you are published, this particular game of musical chairs isn’t sustainable too many years into the future. Self publish, ‘big time’ publish, periodical publish or blog, with a large enough reader pool there is room for all iterations of the publishing world and maybe a few new ones not thought up yet.

  • September 6, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    There are two kinds of people–the realists who see that this method of making a living is impossible.

    Then there are those of us who say “Who really gives a damn about reality?” and then go and do it.

  • September 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Hi Cory,
    I’m just starting to succeed as an indie writer/publisher, but I want to play the devil’s advocate here. I wrote one blog post about what is now my bestseller (The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World). That’s it for marketing. I assume *reader* word of mouth is what got it going on the Kindle.

    Joe Konrath’s recipe for success is just to keep writing, keep publishing, price it cheap, and “get lucky.” The real power of the new world order of publishing is that you get to hold on to your copyright while waiting for your readers to find you. In the olden days, if the readers couldn’t find your physical book, you were scuppered. These days, your readers will find you sooner or later (and you have the duration of copyright, a lifetime plus 50-70 years, to reap the benefits).

    Traditional publishing is definitely powerful too, but you need to know how to read contracts, hold on to your rights, and audit royalty statements.

    One size definitely doesn’t fit all, but I’m so happy to live in this new world where I can concentrate more on writing than on marketing. Good luck to all!

  • Pingback:Geekus

  • September 6, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    I found this article fascinating. Without meaning to demean those who toil in Big Six publishing ventures — the many talented editors and illustrators and designers I’ve met along the way — as a formerly (and still sometime) traditionally publisher author, I must say that there is precious little that big houses offer that authors can’t do themselves . . . and often better. Now, by that I don’t mean all by themselves, but with the assistance of the many talented freelancers and independent designers and editors, and “self-publishing” houses like Cornucopia Press and others. I hear that writers can even commission reviews these days on Amazon and other book sites from folks like and other venues. The only thing that publisher can still offer, when the have a mind to, and which authors can’t do themselves; they can serve as the bank and provide an advance. But, even this is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. I say, if you have the stomach for it, hire a good freelance editor and book designer, get a specialist to do your website and Facebook page, and spend your days honing your craft.

  • Pingback:Writerland » 10 Steps to Becoming a Self-Publishing Superstar

  • Pingback:Cory cares, and so do we | Mosaïque Press

  • September 7, 2011 at 5:55 am

    I’m going to assume the poster stealth promoting the is a sockpuppet. Companies like are scams that destroy the credibility of the entire review process. The don’t just “commission” reviews. They guarantee only positive reviews in exchange for money. Companies like that are bottom-feeding scum. Cory, if you are interested, I have some emails you would like to see from those guys to see just how unethical they are.

  • September 7, 2011 at 6:31 am

    A. Nonymous: there is precious little that big houses offer that authors can’t do themselves

    Access to a bookstore (while they still exist) so that your book (in the company of a few hundred (not hundreds of thousands) of other books) is seen by several thousand browsers primed to buy.

    Almost any book is guaranteed a few thousand sales if it gets national bookstore distribution, and that is enough to generate the word-of-mouth avalanche if the book just happens to touch what the public wants that moment.

    Of course, for that privilege, they get the lion’s share of the pie.

  • Pingback:Mediactive » Cory Doctorow on Self-Publishing

  • September 7, 2011 at 7:25 am

    Thanks for caring, Cory – and for cajoling others into doing the same. From the bottom of my heart!

  • Pingback:Why Do Authors Do What They Do? « Notes from An Alien

  • Pingback:Getting people to care about the products of your imagination is a profound and infinitely complex task | The Passive Voice

  • September 7, 2011 at 8:18 am

    Tom, I think it’s more like in the company of a few thousand titles at retail, not just a few hundred. But I appreciate your point. On the other hand, if a title is noticed at retail, it’s usually because the publisher paid to have it showcased in a special display. And if, as an author, you’ve made it onto that list, you ARE guaranteed to sell a few thousand titles…because the publisher is pushing you, not just because your title’s at retail. Plus, even if you are selling a few thousand titles at retail, you’re probably not earning out, given the economics of most “traditional” publishing contracts.

  • September 7, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Sadly, I think your last paragraph may have just helped nudge me further from publishing. I write for my sanity, for my enjoyment. I have a day job that pays the bills and I enjoy. I can’t ‘unpublish’ my debut novel, and I will definitely publish the sequel for the sake of readers who want it. I’m not sure I’ll publish again though. I think I’ll share my work freely, online, and save myself the grief.

  • Pingback:Infobib » Cory Doctorow: Taught by librarians

  • September 7, 2011 at 11:02 am

    It should be noted that BigPub can NOT make me care about a book. They can bring it to my attention and let me know that it is out there but they can’t make me care about it. Caring is the vital part. When I care about a book is when I talk it up to my friends, when I write online reviews, when I buy extra copies to give away. BigPub is a Buzz machine. They can make the noise but in the end they can’t do much to guarantee they are not packing up a load of flash and trash. If BigPub knew how to make me care then every book would sell like gangbusters and we all know that is definitely not the case.

    You get people to care about your book by crafting the best work that you possibly can, by pouring your heart and soul into the work.

  • Pingback:Across a crowded room (full of books) « Rachel Hartman

  • September 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Without “placement” a new book is doomed. Nook did a blog on my latest release and it soared to #2 overall over the weekend. Without that, it would have drowned quietly in all the other titles coming out.
    A good book is key.
    But placement and promotion is as important.

  • Pingback:Cory Doctorow and the Reality of Bookselling for Self-Publishers — The Book Designer

  • Pingback:Writing on the Ether

  • Pingback:On the Shelf: Cory Doctorow on Self-Publishing, Jesse Ball on Bookworm, and King Arthur at the Round Table « the contextual life

  • September 8, 2011 at 4:42 am

    Brilliant article. As a freelance editor (and published author) who spent over 25 years as an acquiring editor in the trade publishing biz in NYC I’m delighted to find such a fine analysis of what is going on in the world of publishing today. The big secret, of course is that so many traditionally published books end up selling very few copies. Self publishing is not easy but for the first time authors who have been turned down by the “gate keepers” have a shot at success. And you are right. It would be great if there were one book that gave writers a birdseye view of self and subsidy publishing. Hmmmm!

  • September 8, 2011 at 10:13 am

    “There’s only one good reason to do that kind of thing: because it makes you sane and whole and happy.”

    “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing.” —J.D. Salinger

    Write because you love to. Market because you love to. If you don’t love something enough to do it without winning the lottery, find something else you love that much and do that instead.

    This is your life—spend it wisely.

  • September 8, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you, Cory! Yes, it’s a lot of work, and I’ve learned to pick the few things that I can handle and concentrate on those things. I self published my first book, The Challenge of Epilepsy in 1986 and I’m still selling it on line. My new book, Music Healing and Harmony is completely different so I feel like I’m starting over in many ways.

  • Pingback:Finds « Toucanic

  • Pingback:Geek Media Round-Up: September 8, 2011 – Grasping for the Wind

  • September 8, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Plus, even if you are selling a few thousand titles at retail, you’re probably not earning out,

    Absolutely. For a traditionally published book, a few thousand is a *disaster*, but my point was that at least with a bookstore, you had a shot. If you wrote a book that happens to touch most readers, then a few thousand is enough for word of mouth to kick in, while a self-published book (from an unknown author) may have difficulty picking up 20 or 30 readers, which is probably not enough, even if the book has “the hit quality”.

    So my thesis is that a traditionally published book (from an unknown author) gets its 1 in 100 chance to be successful. The unknown self-published author has to work miracles to get even that.

    By the way, let me make it clear, I consider book’s success with readers to be unrelated (not opposite, just unrelated) to how good the book is. And to be honest, *nobody* knows what’s going to click with the reader, otherwise they’d only publish successful books :-).

    As an aside, the economics of self-publishing get intensely interesting for an known author with a small but devoted audience. An author with 5,000 hard-core fans will get canned by a publisher, but can make quite a nice living self-publishing. It’s really the unknown author who has nothing they can do to get people to invest their precious time in an unknown book that 100,000 other self-published authors won’t do as well. (Although paying for ‘real’ reviews might work. However, I expect any site that does so will go bankrupt fairly quickly. The review site will only be taken seriously if it is willing to pan the 99% of the ‘not quite ready for prime-time’ books, and what business survives when 99% of your customers are unhappy with their experience?)

  • Pingback:Link Salad: The Endless Rain Edition | Black Magic Dreams

  • Pingback:Demand For Art And The Art Of Demand Creation « Demand by Adrian Slywotzky

  • September 9, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    it’s telling that you begin by saying that
    your perspective has been informed by
    your experience with print-books and a
    context of brick-and-mortar bookstores.

    marketing _is_ important for p-books…
    (but maybe i should use the past tense?)

    if it costs a boatload of money to bring
    a product to the marketplace, then you
    must spend a ton of money to market it.

    because you have to sell enough copies
    to cover the big up-front cost you paid,
    and you gotta sell the copies right now
    (because other product is in the pipe)…

    that’s the “know-how” of big6 publishers
    — how to sell “enough” books _quickly_.

    but none of that — none! — applies in
    a world of no-cost non-scarce e-books.

    here is the truth:

    marketing means absolutely nothing…
    books sell based on _word-of-mouth_
    (which now manifests in many forms),
    and you can’t buy that with advertising.

    your e-book will sell _exactly_ the same
    whether you market it or not… exactly!

    (you will sell some of the copies _faster_
    if you market — word-of-mouth can be
    quite slow — but you won’t sell _more_.
    you will, however, incur a lot more cost.)

    money spent on marketing is _wasted_…
    time spent on marketing is irreplaceable!

    if your book is gonna catch on, it _will_.
    with or without your “help”. so the best
    thing you can do is write another book,
    so if/when the first book does catch on,
    your new fans can buy more of your stuff.

    besides, we love writing, right? right!
    that’s why we are writers… so _write_…


  • Pingback:Weekly Roundup: 9/3–9/9 | Looseleaf Leaflets

  • Pingback:Commonplace Post (2) » Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog

  • Pingback:Industry News-September 10 » RWA-WF

  • Pingback:To understand & improve the process… « Natural Math

  • Pingback:New Discussions of Eternal Topics | Pegasus Pulp

  • Pingback:Sunday Self-Publishing Round-Up [Vol 1, 23] - Taleist

  • Pingback:OMG! I Need to Get Organized … « Debbi Mack: My Life on the Mid-List

  • Pingback:Online Marketing and Passion « Debbi Mack: My Life on the Mid-List

  • Pingback:Cory Doctorow: Why Should Anyone Care? « Readersforum's Blog

  • September 15, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Hey Cory:

    Boy, have I been thinking this over 12 ways from Sunday. I really think a mix of self-, indie-, and major-publisher efforts lies ahead for me. In this environment, there are things I want to write that have long returns for me (like speech income) that do not benefit agents or publishers much.

    I think it’s really important for people to look at all the different gains they get from publishing and put a value on their work to THEM; but also be realistic about what value their work does or doesn’t bring to a publisher, an agent, an industry. Those can be very different calculations…

    Thanks for this,

  • Pingback:Do You Have What it Takes to Publish and Promote Your Own Book? | BookBaby Blog

  • July 31, 2020 at 11:29 pm

    Such an engaging article!
    Nicely framed. I am amazed to see how you have covered different topics revolving around books in just one article in interesting way. One will get idea that a books journey from authors mind then to editors, publishers and finally to the shelf of library. Really nice article specially for those who just want to go for a briefing on books journey.
    KDP, Bookbaby, reedsy are some of the good self -publishing platforms. Just an option besides traditional publishing houses .

    Thanks Cory!

  • August 8, 2020 at 3:43 am

    Hi cory!

    I am overwhelmed with your article.Keep sharing such engaging articles.The best thing about your writing i love is that you have expressed your experience that makes it more relatable for your reader.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *