This article was written years before indie publishing was a viable option for authors. POD publishing, or on-line publishing via some of the small and mini-publishers that published ebooks and POD only was a flourishing alternative for authors in 2008. I’ve left this article up as there are authors who crave New York publication and this is still a viable method of getting there. –t.
For every writer, there’s a different path to success. There have been books written about it, including one I’m currently reading, How I Got Published by Writers Digest.
But there are certain strategies and paths that are more common, even while the details are different for everyone. One of those strategies is what I call the Two-Step fiction career, and it has emerged out of the POD revolution.
The end goal is New York publication: wide distribution, mass market paperback format, on every shelf of every brick and mortar store…the stuff we all dream of.
More and more New York editors, though, are looking for authors with platforms. “Platforms” for fiction authors are the equivalent of a mass of dedicated readers who will read anything you publish in a certain niche, and a means of communicating with those readers so they’ll follow you anywhere.
It’s a real chicken-and-egg conundrum. How do you get readers before you get published?
That’s where POD publishing comes in. I’m referring to the royalty-paying publishers who use POD technology to easily produce titles that they tend to distribute mostly on-line and through on-line booksellers. This would work almost as well using pay-for POD services, although it’d be a much tougher row to hoe. (For a breakdown of different publishers and styles of POD publication, see “Publishing terms, POD and the Amazon ‘Thing’“)
Step One of the Two-Step Career: Build your Platform
For a number of years, or let’s say about ten books, you forget about New York and traditional publication. Instead, you:
- Choose your fiction niche
- Focus on royalty-paying POD publishers
- Produce the very best books you can in your chosen niche
- Knock yourself out marketing those books and building your readership
- Develop a two-way communication platform with those readers. (If you’re curious, the two major slices of mine is Stories Rule! and my homepage)
In the years it takes to get ten books in your chosen niche out there, one or more of several possibilities will happen:
You’ll build up a huge readership and buzz, and New York will come looking for you. This has happened to at least five authors I know, including Lora Leigh, Cheyenne McCray, MJ Rose (who self-published, rather than royalty-paying POD).
You’ll build up a readership, and a monthly income that is nice enough to quit the day job right there and then, and you decide to screw New York and stay loyal to your fans and lucrative publisher relationship.
You decide you’ve written yourself out in that niche, and start another one, building a new readership (although hopefully, your publisher will keep you on).
There’s any number of things that might happen when you put yourself out there. Maybe, like me, you’ll find yourself building a following in Spanish-speaking countries (Hola!), or being picked up for a movie deal, and breaking into New York that way…. But you do need to put yourself out there, first.
The other possibility is that you’ll get to ten books published in your chosen niche and although you have readers, buzz and income that is adding nicely to your escape stash, New York hasn’t come calling.
If the last possibility is the one that happens to you, then you move on to:
Step Two Of The Two-Step Career: Start courting New York.
Get an agent. Although lots of authors like to argue the toss over whether you really need an agent or not, believe me, for New York, you need the agent. As an anchored author with a fully-fledged career, you just plain don’t have time to blow on queries and all that blather. And an agent will get you read by markets that won’t look at unagented queries (eg: MIRA.)
Start sending your completed manuscripts to your agent, first. Let them hawk the script around New York, and when/if New York says ‘no’, then offer it to your POD publisher.
In the meantime, every second book you write should be given directly to your POD publisher, as you must keep up your book output, and keep your readers happy. Every second book is going to slow down your rate of publication, but that can’t be helped. See if there’s ways of picking up your production of finished books, to decrease the lag as much as possible. Eventually, the lag will even out, as the New York rejects (if any) come back to you.
You could jump straight to the second step right now, but without Step 1 in place, you wouldn’t have the platform (i.e. readers) that New York editors love.
The platform can make or break your New York courtship. If you’re writing in a niche that is even a little bit unusual, New York will shun you…but with a large, vocal readership, and a buzz about you and your books, New York could very well say yes. The erotic romance trend was started by POD publishers, and POD-published authors like Cheyenne McCray have made the jump to New York with stories in niches that may never have been picked up without that author platform in place.
Remember, though, that you must:
- Stay in your chosen fiction niche
- Stick with your chosen publisher
- Cultivate your readers and listen to their feedback
- Produce damn good books consistently
- Produce as many books as your schedule allows
This isn’t the only way to build a viable fiction career, but it is one way that has good odds of working, so long as you stick with it for the long term.
First appeared on Anchored Authors, July 28, 2008