Cory Doctorow and the Reality of Bookselling

POSTED ON Sep 8, 2011

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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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

Joel Friedlander

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Joel Friedlander

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