Cinderella stories have been a mainstay of the publishing biz for a long, long time. The traditional media loves a good Cinderella story and, lately, so do folks who spread the gospel online of self-publishing.
The biggest problem with a good Cinderella story, though, is how much it leaves out. A Cinderella story is always heavy on spin and light on journalistic thinking and facts. So don't take them too seriously.
Cinderella stories, as the the name implies, skim the surface, usually with one particular intention: getting you to buy or buy into something—even if it's just buying in on the idea that the Cinderella story is true. And when writers draw conclusions based on Cinderella stories, the situation becomes potentially dangerous in my opinion.
We writers are already an optimistic bunch, and quite frankly we are prone to wishful thinking. So we need to watch what believe and stick to following the advice of people who are grounded in reality and devoted to our best interests, as we define them.
Help Us, Don't Feed Us Baloney
Off the top of my head, a person who doesn't fudge the success stories of others is Malcolm Gladwell. He gave us all food for thought in Outliers by talking about the real indicators of success like putting in 10,000 hours of work and having impeccable timing. Hard work and the importance of timing are two things I teach the 100+ nonfiction writers I work with each year, so I understand from experience that publishing success is (a) not easy and (b)it takes awhile before a writer gets the hang of it.
It takes awhile to get the hang of it is something we are not hearing about enough in the fairy tales of self-publishing success stories. If you are using Chris Brogan (whom I like and respect) author of the straight-to-best-selling Trust Agents, then please don't forget to mention that Chris blogged for ELEVEN years before his book came out and went straight to the bestseller lists.
I think this is a testimony to being in the game for the long haul that isn't conveyed when people are talking about Chris. (It was Guy LeCharles Gonzalez who brought this to my attention originally and then I got the number straight from Chris.)
Self-Publishing is Issue-free Now, Right?
I've seen a lot of writer's hearts broken by the lofty promises (and profits) of self-publishing. I do everything I can to keep writer's feet on the ground whether they wish to go the traditional or self-published route. I also believe that neither path is better or holier than the other.
Which way to proceed in publishing depends on weighing many complex factors. Which is not to say that the new methods of self-publishing don't offer us some wonderful tools that are better than those we've had in the past. The tools are better today, certainly.
I disagree that self-publishing is always the best way to go for every writer right out of the gate. Especially if that writer wants to become traditionally published. If we give self-publishing the credit for an author's success without taking an in-depth look at the whole picture then I think we are giving incomplete advice. I think writers could use more complete advice than we are often typically offered online.
If you are using Seth Harwood as an example, don't forget to mention that Seth Harwood was mentored by Scott Sigler, a best-selling horror author, a fact that helped him succeed in podcasting more quickly than he might have otherwise. Mentoring was a key factor in his Seth's success. Harwood also spent years in a writing apprenticeship (he has an MFA from Iowa) and is a college-level writing professor. So I suspect that the quality of his writing has something to do with his success, and deserves mention.
More Details, Less Spin, Please
The fact is a lot of writers still wish to become traditionally published. Despite the proliferation of advice that this outdated thinking and that the industry is a dinosaur and deserves to die. My money is on a more balanced future one where self-publishing and traditional publish co-exist and are in fact even more inter-twined than they already are.
Watch what publishers are doing, folks. Think traditional publishers who also offer and profit from self-publishing services. Publishers are not as dumb as everyone seems to think they are. They are diversifying their interests. And diversifying is not a bad strategy for writers, either. In fact, I believe that diversifying is the way everyone needs to be thinking right now because we ALL think we know what's going to be happening in the future but the fact of the matter is: we'll know when we get there.
Traditional Publishing Isn't Dead Yet
Writing for traditional publication is still a valid choice and is still the best first choice for many writers. The decision of which way to go is a lot more complex than many bloggers discuss. So don't let anybody try to sell you on the idea that you should trade in your dream for somebody else's version if your gut tells you that traditional publishing is still the way to go.
Cinderella stories are a technique used by the traditional media all the time in regards to profiling authors and spinning their successes stories in a very ungrounded way that is of virtually no use to writers. Cinderella stories are long on spin and light on helpfulness. They continue to exist and be the preferred spin of the traditional media, because, let's face it, they sell books.
I think in the online writing community, we need to get past the Cinderella mythology and get down to the brass tacks, which is that at the end of the day, publishing anything is still a job that involves a lot of work, good writing, an ability to sell and self-promote, a hefty dose of professionalism, and a willingness to connect with others.
So, sayonara, Cinderella. I hate to see you go but it's time for writers get beyond the debate of Should I go with traditional publishing or self-publish? and just get back to writing.
We're all most likely going to end up doing both...eventually.