The writer/publisher part 17

Do not fall for the trap of scarcity

Scarcity is an interesting trap. If somebody makes something "scarce", it can appear more valuable than it actually is. Your attention becomes riveted on the "scarce" item rather than remaining free to look for available alternatives.

Whether it is the prospect of being published in a literary magazine or having sex, an artificially created scarcity can keep one fixated on something that is unlikely to happen and may be unsatisfactory when it does happen. In both cases, there are many sane ways to achieve a satisfactory conclusion.

Let’s take a look at the role of scarcity in maintaining control of traditional publishing. There are millions of people who write and only a handful of publishers who have figured out the keys to getting their books in bookstores. Therefore, you and I are a long way back in line behind John Grisham and Bill Clinton when it comes to getting the attention of any sane publisher. You do want to be published by a sane publisher, don’t you?

Well, traditional publishers used to be the only real outlets for a writer, but that is no longer the case.  There is no shortage of publishers who can print an excellent quality book and ship it to customers on demand.

With a little work, you can see your work in print and on You can generate sales without having to rely on traditional publishers or bookstores.

Bookstores are another example of scarcity. There is only so much room and they must stock what their customers will buy. As an unknown, your books will only appear in a bookstore if you or your friends bring books to the store.

If you sell online and offer free shipping, why would anyone need to find your book in a bookstore?

Today there are tens of thousands of writers who write well enough to command a following of readers. The vast majority of them seem to be caught up in the maddening hamster wheel activity of writing, submission, and rejection by companies that have no way of profitably publishing their work.

I’ve been following the literary efforts of some dear and talented friends for some time and have wanted to whack them gently alongside their heads to get them to wake up and see the possibilities they are ignoring. Some are online, some are not, but they all are transfixed by the traditional dream of being "published".

There are some incredibly persuasive reasons to look outside the resource-limited world of traditional publishing, if your writing is more interesting and thought-provoking than most of the material you read in "mainstream" publications:

1. When you publish your own work, you gain an immense amount of real experience as to what your market is. You also get honest feedback that helps you determine what to do to get more people reading your work.

2. Blogging is the first step in becoming a self-publisher. The feedback you get in your comments and from watching website visitor logs is instant and brutally or refreshingly honest. You can use this to good advantage in developing a public awareness of your work and a community of people who are interested in seeing that you succeed. They will buy your book and, more importantly, they will tell others about your writing because it is interesting information that they are the first to hear about.

3. There is nothing so psychologically destructive as inviting unnecessary rejection. Applying for a job when the company cannot pay what you are worth is ludicrous. Submitting manuscripts to companies that are frantically searching for a viable business model is worse. If a publisher is doing well, it is because it has somehow found a customer base for whatever it is currently publishing. The only works that interest them are clones of what they are already publishing.

4. THERE IS NO SCARCITY OF OUTLETS FOR YOUR WORK! Get over the idea that your piece is only valuable if it appears in a traditional magazine, collection or whatever. If it is published, it becomes old news by next month. The only value of appearing in a well-known publication is the scarcity of slots to appear in.

Traditional publishing is a zero-sum game. If a known author with a track record of sales has something to release, a traditional publishing house would be crazy to publish something by an unknown instead. If you were publishing, you would do the same, in a heartbeat.

You can publish your work in small quantities as I did, or you can use a POD publisher. Either way, your work will be available for people to buy it and you will do the same promotional actions as if you had published through a main-stream publishing house. There are unlimited outlets for your writing, all you have to do is use them.

There is unbelievable satisfaction in having people say, "I heard about your new book!"

Sometimes they even say, "Where can I get one?"

If you really want people to read your work, please take a hard look at self-publishing. You owe it to yourself to do so. There is no justification for a good piece of writing to remain unpublished.

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0 Responses to The writer/publisher part 17

  1. Suzy Nees says:

    thanks for some great insights, David…
    this is a great counterpoint to the persistent (and unhelpful) attitude that you’re nobody until somebody in the publishing industry decides to mass-market your writing.

  2. Frank Martin says:

    Thanks again dave. You’ve made a very convincing case.

  3. Neil Barnes says:

    I once paid the Scott Meredith Literary Agency $100+ to read a short story of mine whose style was influenced by a passage in Ken Kesey’s Sometimes A Great Notion. The deal was that they would ensure that your story got published, but there was one caveat: it had to be publishable. If your story needed work, they would make the needed suggestions until it was polished enough to go.
    Of course, mine was unpublishable. I lost quite a bit of money and received no useful feedback to boot. Well, there was feedback, just not what I had been expecting. And there’s a lot of that kind of feedback, not only in the publishing industry but in business in general. The long-term psychological impact can be devastating.

  4. Murel Bailey says:

    What’s the strategy for dealing with the artificial scarcity of sex?

  5. Joy Kramer says:

    The last comment made me chuckle. I was trying to think of a comment on that issue but that one says it better. I am enjoying all these good comments and articles about publishing and am going to direct my sister to try this site. She is writing children’s books, but the information is no less valid for her and might stimulate her to try another avenue than sending off her work to publishers. She is shy, however, and not the extrovert to talk to people on the street. Maybe that’s MY job.


  6. Vicki says:

    Hi! I stumbled on your blog today. What a great find! I am new to blogging, and when I read blogs like yours I realize what a novice I am to blogging and writing. My grammar is not too hot and that makes me wonder why I am blogging, too. Anyhow, I said all of that to say that in spite of my weaknesses I am going to “just do it!” I feel like if I keep writing, which I love, one day something of value to others (it’s usually of value or important to me) will come out of it. Again, I am glad I found your blog!!

  7. antra jolly says:

    Thanks David,
    It is a good site. I like it.

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