whitney roberts hill

"One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began." -Mary Oliver

Category: Publishing


quotescover-JPG-77Confession time. Half of this word scares me. Also it makes me a little angry, a little frustrated, and a little unsure about my ability to succeed as a writer.

Here’s why: I’m not sure that the skills needed to be a successful writer can cohabitate with the skills necessary to be a great entrepreneur, brander, marketer, social media mogul and sales executive.

I’m afraid I only have the former set of skills. I like to be alone, I like psychoanalysis, probing deep questions, imagining alternative realities, crafting language, and communicating my most dearly held truths.

The following things, on the other hand, make me feel icky: self-promotion, money, too much time on the internet (especially social media), strategizing, marketing, thinking about the salability of my most dearly held truths.

Am I doomed in the new arena of writing and publishing?

I hope not.

But I worry that developing the skills to hold up the entrepreneurial end of this equation will take place at the expense of the author end. Time spent in strategizing, marketing and social media blasting is time not spent writing, after all. And I only get the same 24 hours in a day as everyone else, unfortunately.

The alternative, of course, is to hire others to do the parts of the business that I don’t have an affinity for. This upsets me for an entirely different reason. Are we kidding ourselves about the great egalitarian wild west of self-publishing on the web? If time and money must be invested now by the author, instead of by the traditional publisher, aren’t we empowering some kinds of authors (those with an abundance of time and/or money) over others even more than we were before?

This troubles me. And I don’t have an answer.

But, if I may be permitted to play devil’s advocate against my own argument for a moment, I can see some of the proclaimed advantages of this new author-centric system of publishing. For one, authors have greater creative control over the final form of their work than ever before. If you don’t want to listen to a bossy editor or publisher, you don’t have to. You want to write an 800 page debut novel? Knock yourself out. “We don’t see a market for that” is no longer a full-stop for writers seeking publication.

Authors stand to take home a greater slice of their profits than ever before, too. People are not writing novels in the hope of becoming millionaires by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s nice that the time and energy vested in such a long project can be rewarded by a higher percentage (if not all) of the profits of the book’s sales.

And I do think that for some, the skills used in the writing process are transferrable to the realm of entrepreneurship. After all, entrepreneurs must also be highly creative to be successful. Blogging is just more writing (a good place to put all the ideas in your brain that don’t fit into your novel!). And many writers also have a knack for the visual arts, making designing their own covers a fun challenge, rather than an overwhelming chore.

I’m still hoping to be picked up by an agent and a traditional publisher. But, in the meantime, I’m learning how to build a platform, generate blog posts, and talk about my project to any willing listeners. Dogged determination, after all, has always been a part of the writer’s toolkit.



A Dragon Named ‘Publishing’

DDP_logoThe journey of writing a novel, or other lengthy work, is a bit of a hero’s journey unto itself.

For months or even years you keep your head down, diligently doing your work, the daily effort of writing. Maybe you get feedback from a few trusted others, you make changes, you cycle through edits and polish paragraphs.

Then the day comes—the exultant, terrifying day—when you are finished. The novel is complete. And homeless, you suddenly realize. This thing that you have labored over tirelessly must be set out into the world in some fashion. After all, writing—for all of its innate fulfillment through the process—is an act of communication.

Writers in the modern era face a choice that is totally unprecedented in literary history. We can choose to go it alone all the way to the finish line. Self-publishing has a growing share of the market. With that comes self-designing and self-marketing.

If you, like me, have always dreamed of that pristine white letter coming in the mail,

Dear Ms. Hill,

We are pleased to inform you that we at Random House loved your manuscript and are prepared to offer you a publishing contract complete with a handsome advance to get you through writing your next book. . .

It would seem that those days have passed. More often than not, those sorts of publisher-writer relationships are becoming relics. And, the common wisdom among many of today’s fiction writers is that traditional publishing can still leave you doing all the work of marketing and somehow getting only a swiss cheese version of your book’s sales.

I will venture to say that the skills that make you a good writer do not necessarily translate into the skills that make you an effective editor, graphic designer, marketer, and sales director.

New skill sets aside, these things require a Teflon belief in yourself and your book. Who better to advocate for the work you are so intimately and passionately connected to than yourself, though?

I think you need bravery to write honestly. I think you need bravery to put what you have written into the world. I think you need bravery to declare that your work is worthy of an audience.

This need for bravery is one way the writing process acts upon the writer, refining our humanity, if we are willing to do the work it takes to invest totally in our books and then separate from them when the time comes: sending them out of the nest like our mind’s grown children.

The merits of traditional or self-publishing must be carefully weighed by each author when the time comes. The proliferation of the written word, and the democratizing effect of the internet, surely levels the playing field. There are more published authors than ever before, but there are also more potential readers.  I will not pretend to know which kind of publishing is “better.”

What I do know is that writers need the expert advice of those who speak a different first language, and can act as interpreters and translators from the unknown lands of publishing. Agile Writers provides just such opportunities through our “Beyond Agile Writers” series, to comb the minds of expert graphic designers, book sellers, editors and publishers.

You must slay that final dragon called Publishing for yourself. But, don’t leave your Armor of Knowledge at home.