The best of times and the worst of times

by Allan Leverone  @Allan Leverone

When I was very generously invited by Jodie Renner to share a post at The Kill Zone, my intention was to talk about career options for Indie writers. I was going to highlight my new novel, THE OMEGA CONNECTION, which had just been released by Kindle Press after being selected through the Kindle Scout program, and use it as an example of authors giving new opportunities a chance.

Well, the initial releases by Kindle Press have been delayed a couple of months, presumably because Amazon recognized the intense scrutiny those first Kindle Press releases will face, and they want to be certain each book is as polished and reader-ready as it can be.

I’m one hundred percent in favor of this.

However, that decision did leave a gigantic hole in my Kill Zone plans. So, instead of talking about options available to those who have already dedicated themselves to a writing career, I’ve decided to direct my post toward aspiring authors, and the whole “things are wonderful/things suck” debate that seems to be raging among Indies at the moment.

There’s never been a better time to be a writer.

It must be true, because more people than ever own e-readers.

It must be true, because reading as a pastime has been making a comeback over the past few years.

It must be true, because now, anyone with a story to tell and the self-discipline to pound it out on a keyboard can get that story out to the public, no agent or publisher necessary.

There’s never been a worse time to be a writer.

It must be true, because e-book sales have flattened out over the last year or so.

It must be true, because the glut of available material has made it increasingly difficult for new writers—traditionally published or Indie—to get their work noticed.

It must be true, because anyone with a story to tell and the self-discipline to pound it out on a keyboard can get that story out to the public, no ability or talent necessary.

So, which is it?

Is this the best of times or is this the worst of times? There are plenty of people on each side of the debate more than willing to hit you over the head with fact and opinion until you commit to their camp.

Here’s my take: it depends.

If you’re looking to throw some half-assed crap together, poorly written, unedited and formatted badly, stick a homemade cover on top of the whole mess and then wait for the cash to come rolling in, well, it might just be the worst of times for you.

There might have been a period when that was possible, way back in the prehistoric early days of the e-book/self-publishing phenomenon. But that train left the station a while ago, and hopefully it ran over you while it was pulling out. Readers are savvy, not stupid. They know what to look for and they’re not falling for amateurish junk cluttering up their e-reader.

Mostly.

Have all the charlatans disappeared? Of course not, and they never will. They spring up like poisonous mushrooms in every fast-growing industry, hucksters who think they’ve found a way to make a quick buck by circumventing hard work and offering an inferior product to a gullible public. These are the people who give Indie writers a bad name.

On the other hand, if you have some talent and a strong work ethic, if you approach writing as a craft as well as a job, if you’re willing to listen and learn and respond in a positive way to constructive criticism, this just might be the best of times.

I place myself firmly in the second camp. Am I making millions of dollars with my fiction? Hell, no. I’m nobody’s idea of an overnight success. But I am making money.

More importantly, I’m doing what I love and building an audience. With nine novels to my name and two more coming by April, I’m paying my dues, laying down a career foundation.

There’s nothing quick or easy about it.

But it’s extremely gratifying, and everything I was working toward when I was sending out dozens and dozens of agent queries over the course of several years. To no avail. Everything I was working toward when I attended Thrillerfest back in 2008 just so I could put myself through the torture chamber/learning opportunity that is Agentfest. Also to no avail.

For the record, I was never able to snag an agent, either through the query process or through the Agentfest meat market, or any other way.

But something happened along the way. I stopped actively seeking an agent years ago and now, as far as I’m concerned, the shoe is on the other foot. Any potential agent wishing to represent me would have to convince me of the value he or she could add to my career, not the other way around.

If you look at writing as some kind of get-rich-quick scheme, one where you can rake in lots of cash quickly, you’re probably considering the wrong profession, especially now. Not that it doesn’t happen, but it’s such a rare occurrence you can be virtually certain it isn’t going to happen for you.

You’ve got a better chance of getting struck by lightning. Twice.

On the other hand, if you start to feel a little…twitchy…when you go more than a day or two without writing, if you have the ability to tell stories and phrase things in interesting ways, if you are confident in that ability without being unrealistic in your expectations, if you recognize the value of hard work and you’re willing to take a chance on yourself while understanding there are no guarantees in this world, then by my estimation, there’s never been a better time to be a writer.

So as far as that debate over whether things are good or bad for writers is concerned, I suppose the real answer is: who cares? Worrying about it isn’t going to advance your career. Get writing.

Allan Leverone is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of nine novels, including MR. MIDNIGHT, named by Suspense Magazine as one of the “Best Books of 2013.” Allan lives in Londonderry, NH with his wife of more than thirty years, three grown children and one beautiful granddaughter. Connect at AllanLeverone.com,  on Facebook or Allan Leverone (@AllanLeverone) | Twitter.

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15 thoughts on “The best of times and the worst of times

  1. It’s the best of times in my opinion, because writers have choices about the route their book can take to publication. There’s always been competition in the marketplace. A serious career author persists despite the curves thrown at him by the changes in publishing. How wonderful that you’ve found your path and are successful at it.

    • I couldn’t agree more with your point about choices, Nancy. In my case, I wouldn’t have had ANY choices if it weren’t for the ebook/self-pub revolution. Prior to that point, the best I could say was that I had gotten some very positive feedback from agents among my hundreds of query rejections. None of the agents were impressed enough to rep me, though, meaning my chances of ever reaching readers would have been zero…

  2. Welcome to TKZ, Allan. I love hearing your success story. There definitely are greater opportunities for writers who are willing to put the work in and who care about quality work. Congratulations, my fine friend.

    • Thanks very much for the warm welcome, Jordan! Usually after I make a guest post on a blog, the owners are forced to change the locks, take out a restraining order and call the cops to get me to leave, so this is a nice change…

  3. Thank you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.

    There’s a reason you had problems with Kindle. Because you were meant to write this for me to read. That’s right, the universe does revolve around me. Try and stay on my good side.

    My first (and, so far, only book) is traditionally published and I did it without an agent. But important people keep telling me I need one, so I’m booked for ThrillerFest to find myself an agent (Nelson DeMille being there also might have something to do with it) and with this one post, you’ve relieved most of the pressure.

    If I find one, good. If I don’t, I’ll just get on with writing.

    Also love your website.

    Cheers,

    • Hi Amanda, and thanks for taking the time to check out the post! I’m not about to denigrate the traditional publishing option, and in most (but not all) cases, snagging an agent is a critical part of that, which you obviously already know. For my money, the more options available to writers, the better.

      And the Agentfest experience is definitely something I’ll never forget – the shared camaraderie of a bunch of writers all in search of the same thing, the sheer bizarreness of the whole “three-minute timed interview” thing, the nervous exhaustion at the end of the three hours. I took part in 2008 and I still remember it like it was yesterday.

      Whatever direction you end up going, good luck! Oh, and thanks very much for the compliment about my website – much as I’d love to take credit for it, that all has to go to Maddee James and Xuni.com, they’re the absolute best…

  4. Thanks Alan. I actually found my first agent at the ‘speed dating for agents’ event at my first writing conference (I remember the trauma of it well!). I think the current market provides many opportunities for writers going whichever route they choose but all of them require hard work and great writing. I try not to worry about what I can’t control and focus on the writing (after all it’s the only thing I can control!)

  5. The white rabbit that led Alice into wonderland had the same problem. If he stopped to say “Hello, goodbye, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late,” then he was even later–and he might literally might end up in a rabbit stew,, according to Walt Disney.

    So if we take the time to wonder (get it?) whether it is the best of times or the worst of times, then we might miss the best. Or avoid the worst.

    So, it seems to me, the best thing is not to worry, rabbit-like, and simply plow ahead and write. I once attended a writers conference when one of the speakers threw a phrase at us. “Write, right?”

    The laughs she got made it a fun conference session. So, perhaps a good phrase to set the tone of our times, is, “Don’t worry. Write, right?”

    Because straight ahead, there’s an unbirthday party waiting, and I don’t want to miss that.

  6. Allan–
    Thanks for your post. There’s nothing to add to it, other than to say that the “hucksters” you speak of aren’t the inept writers who glut the market and make it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Like the poor, the delusional or lazy writer will always figure. The hucksters “who think they’ve found a way to make a quick buck” are the various putative experts that have sprung up “like poisonous mushrooms” to exploit naïve, hopeful indie writers. They sell authors plans and systems related to so-called platform-building and marketing. But as you say, no business or endeavor is ever free of such people. Fortunately, there are some great sites like The Kill Zone, where writers can learn what matters, and be confident that the teaching is done by real pros.

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