Is my ship sinking?

Sometimes I wonder if there’s a comparison between writers writing in the early 21st century and the passengers in The Poseidon Adventure. Some passengers on the sinking Poseidon insisted on staying put, believing that someone would come and save them. Others insisted on taking matters into their own hands on what they knew was a sinking ship.

I’ve recently begun to wonder whether continuing to work as I always have – writing stories and sending them to publishers to (maybe) turn into books (that generally speaking sell in meagre numbers) – is akin to insisting on staying put because “someone will come and they will know what to do.”

It’s certainly not getting any easier to make a living as a writer these days. Is e/self-publishing the way to go? Maybe it’s those who start making their way to where they can save themselves who are going to survive the chaos that new technologies are creating in the world of publishing – people like Linda L. Richards.

In “A Writer Turns EPublisher” (an adaptation of a blog post which I read in a recent Writers’ Union newsletter), Linda says:

The acclaimed financial thriller, Mad Money, which was my debut novel, is now available as an ebook. One of the reasons I’m so delighted is that I’ve had a part in every aspect of this production. From writing the book, of course, right through to doing the coding necessary for ebooks distribution, getting an ISBN and even overseeing the cover that has been created just for this electronic edition. Though aspects of this experience have been very high tech, a part of me is astonished at just how close to the project I am. Something made, in a way, with my very own hands.

The journey from print to ebook began with a serious edit…

Linda offers a retreat in California where writers can learn all the steps that follow the completion of an edited manuscript. I wish I could take it! Not because I really think I have to jump ship totally. Abandoning conventional avenues of publishing altogether would be like deciding not to read any more paper-format books just because I can also read books on my Kobo. But maybe the e/self-publishing route is an additional way I should be thinking about getting some of my books and stories to readers.

What do you think? How have you been dealing with the sense that “our ship” just might be sinking? Or at least the possibility that there’s more than one ocean-worthy ship in the sea?

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Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.

Kathy Stinson


  1. Clo Carey on June 8, 2011 at 5:38 am

    Thanks for this Kathy! Be not of faint heart– I think this is the dawning of the Age of Author. We're no longer at the mercy of arrogant agents and over-worked editors. We don't have to count on under-funded publishers to get our words out there. We don't have to grow old waiting for the next rejection letter. We have choices, we have control. Our ship isn't sinking, it's rising from the depths. Writers Rule!

  2. Deb Loughead on June 8, 2011 at 6:08 am

    I'm with you, Kathy. I think the same thing myself all the time. Publishing has changed SO much since I first stepped into this industry back in the late 90s. I almost start to feel redundant sometimes when I look at everything that's out there, wondering what to write next that might actually sell, and if it really matters anymore. But I can't stop writing, I know that much for certain, because I don't know how to do anything else. Which makes me wonder if I should start exploring all these new options that are available. Take matters into my own hands, because e-publishing looks to be the new wave in this industry, and how great would it be to actually be in control of my own project. What about all my out-of-print titles…would they find new life out there, even in a modest way? When I self-published my first book of poems in 1998, it was a very good feeling to be in charge of every aspect of production, and I reaped all the rewards myself, which was an even better feeling!

  3. Deb Marshall on June 8, 2011 at 8:46 am

    Well, my ship hasn't left the docks yet. Actually it's not even IN the docks, lol. But–I was talking with a fellow writer who is doing the same thinking as you. She is published with a major U.S. player, but she too is looking a e-publishing on her own….I would buy her e-book, because I know her writing. I've bought Arthur Slade's re-released in e-book books (Daugr being one).

    Nathan Bransford has had some _really_ good discussions on this. Here's a link to one:

    Anita Layton Miller has just self e-published a book as a first time author and she is getting some good reviews, word spreading happening.

    I'd buy yours in a heart beat, as well. I know your writing, so whether it be re-releases of out of prints or something new you are trying…I'm there as a reader and buying for my library (er, when we get into e-books that is, pretty small we are)

    Huh, sorry not really the answer to your question. Maybe added too much more food for thinking? Good luck either way–it's quite the decision.

  4. Kathy on June 9, 2011 at 5:40 am

    Clo, Deb, & Deb – thanks for your contributions to this discussion, with all your varying degrees of experience.

    Clo – thanks for the pep talk. I've been lucky in that I've benefited greatly from the input of good editors, so that's a piece self-publishing a brand new title that makes me a tad uneasy. I'd hate for anyone to feel a self-published e-book of mine didn't measure up to my more traditionally published work because that wouldn't serve any of it well.

    Deb L – thanks for sharing your thoughts on where you're at with this subject and your feelings about your experience with self-publishing.

    Deb M – thanks for including the link to Nathan Bransford's fascinating financial analysis of various approaches to publishing. No such thing as too much food for thought on this subject. And thanks for your conviction that you'd buy my work 'in a heart beat'. I wish you all the best with your ship.

  5. Clo Carey on June 10, 2011 at 3:33 am

    I don't think you have to worry too much about your reputation, Kathy. You are already well respected and readers who have bought your books in the past will continue to do so, no matter what the format. I think the whole measuring up conundrum comes down to integrity. You have certain standards. I'm sure if you are in doubt about the quality of anything you write for an ebook, or any other, market, you run it by knowledgeable friends/writers whose opinions you trust. Failing that, you can build up a relationship with a freelance editor. This will surely open up the market for them too!

    The downside to the whole ebook phenomenon is that it opens the door to those who are content to park first draft, total drivel on Amazon and expect it to sell. Sadly, in these days of lauding mediocrity, some of it WILL sell. Many traditional publishers are knee deep in the same trend! The If-your-name-isn't-Beckham-don't-bother-submitting syndrome. I live in hope that the solid, quality, well-crafted story will still win out and that ebooks are just giving authors a more level playing field. Fingers crossed that I'm right.

    Arthur Slade is a great one to watch, he's having such fun with his backlist. I'm sure he would be happy to answer questions. I should imagine publishing your own backlist would be a great way to get your epublishing feet wet. If you need further research, there is lots of information in the Publishers Weekly and Bookseller news letters, as well as The Independent Publishing Magazine, Writers Weekly and the Publish your own EBook magazine.

  6. Kathy Stinson on June 10, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Clo, you've identified clearly the source of much of my ambiguity on the self-e-publishing issue. You are right that I wouldn't want to throw my first drafts (or even fifth) out there for the world to see, even if they were willing to pay for it, but knowing that lots of people are content to do so – either because they don't know the difference between a well-crafted sentence or story and a weak one, or else they don't care – well, I just wouldn't want to be lumped in with them just because I'd gone a self-publishing route.

    I've heard a lot of self-published writers talk about publishers and editors as "the gatekeepers" as if gate-keeping is all bad. I don't see it that way. But your point that traditional publishing churns out some pretty mediocre stuff, too, is well taken. And it is interesting to see what Arthur is doing with his backlist.

    Here's to solid, well-crafted stories finding their readers by whatever avenue works and generates well-earned income for their creators!

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