Cory Doctorow and the Reality of Bookselling

by | Sep 8, 2011

I read an interesting article today by novelist and blogger Cory Doctorow in the Perspectives series at Locus Magazine online, a hangout for science fiction and fantasy fans. Here’s an excerpt:

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.—Cory Doctorow: Why Should Anyone Care?, Locus Magazine

I think Doctorow is right. I know there are writers out there who fit this description because I talk to them all the time. Sometimes, in talking with authors, it’s clear that they could be very successful publishing because they have the combination Doctorow is talking about here:

  1. The are able to create valuable content, and
  2. They enjoy connecting with other people

Maybe the result is commercial, maybe it’s philanthropic. Not everyone is in publishing primarily to make money. Connecting, being influential, making a valuable contribution—people have so many goals.

Doctorow has published numerous book with a large traditional publisher, and is also an active self-publisher. Here’s another excerpt:

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).

Big publishers are hierarchical, corporate structures in which work is done by different specialists in a more or less collaborative process. As Doctorow says, it can be shocking to realize just how much work, how many decisions, how much specialized knowledge it takes to get a book into print properly. And to discover just how challenging it is to try to sell them.

To be honest, I think one of the biggest challenges for writers who want to get involved in publishing their own books is getting a big view of the process, the 30,000-foot view where you see how it all connects. The rest is a matter of details, conventions and regular actions that aren’t all that difficult.

Here’s a link to the complete article, it’s worth the read:

Cory Doctorow: Why Should Anyone Care?

Photo of Cory Doctorow by Gruntzooki

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Don Horne

    Doug, I agree. My current project is being produced as an ebook first and if anyone wants a printed copy, I will make them available. Most of the people I know have an ipad, iphone, or a laptop and digital versions of my book make lots of sense.

  2. Doug Lance

    There is no better way to make money than selling digital products. It’s a product with an infinite supply, the only cost is producing the original copy, can be distributed freely, and everyone is a potential customer.

    Layering all the hangups people have with publishing and the “art” of writing on top of that simple truth complicates most people’s views and opinions of ebooks.

  3. Don Horne

    My comment is on the picture. A self made millionaire, W. D. Wilkins, once told me after watching me clean and dust the showroom of his agri business, “If the place is too clean, no one will think you do any work.” The office in the picture is of a man which must do a LOT of work! Looks like mine, actually.
    I am “hunkered down” toiling over two books of my own, visiting 3 writers groups, speaking to Full Gospel Business Men groups and others. I have not had time to blog much, but I read yours every day, Joel.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Sounds like you’re busy, Don, and that’s a good thing. I guess I do a lot of work, because it’s not that neat and tidy over here either.

      • Don Horne

        One of the best perks of becoming an “involved” self publisher is the people I am getting to meet. I had lunch with another author on Tuesday and found he was realistic in his goals like most of us in that he wanted to do new things when he found self publishing. He also wanted to build a business of producing condiments for grilling steaks. My new direction is to be more involved in encouraging young people to write. I am a young person at heart and the youth I am meeting are very wise and driven. I have a 17 year old playright in my author group and he is going to be famous! My point is, ENJOY being a self publisher. You are doing something nearly everyone you meet would love to do! I am no longer defined as just a business owner or a sales manager. I am a self publisher! The trip is a great ride!
        Gotta cut back on the caffeine, don’t I?



  1. Why Do Authors Do What They Do? | Notes from An Alien - […] a self-published writer who’s doing my own promotion. Am I crazy? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ EDIT: Joel Friedlander also thought Cory’s article…
  2. Why Do Authors Do What They Do? « Notes from An Alien - [...] a self-published writer who’s doing my own promotion. Am I crazy? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ EDIT: Joel Friedlander also thought Cory’s article…

Submit a Comment

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