Bestselling Author JA Konrath Thinks You're Delusional

In a blog post dated 2/25/09, bestselling detective/crime author JA Konrath says, among other things:

"Are you confident or delusional?

Chances are high the delusional people will believe they’re confident, since self-awareness is in short supply in the writing community.  Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Have you been published by an impartial third party?

Confident writers eventually get traditionally published. Period."

Okay, so Mr. Konrath is saying pretty much anyone currently reading this on Publetariat is delusional. He goes on to say:

"Would you rather be paid or be praised?

Confident writers know the best form of praise is a royalty check."

A book from an author you might not want to supportSo it seems Mr. Konrath has much less interest in his readers’ praise than he does in the checks coming from the accounting department of his publisher.  If you take Mr. Konrath’s comment to its logical end, he’s basically saying that he doesn’t care how much readers ultimately like or hate his work, so long as a publisher is willing to pay for it, he’s satisfied and fulfilled.  Here’s my response to Mr. Konrath, as posted on his blog:

 


Getting signed with a large, mainstream publisher nowadays has much more to do with marketing concerns than it does with the quality of the work. Being published by a mainstream publisher only proves one thing: that the publisher’s marketing department thinks your book will appeal to a broad enough sector of the public to sell very, very well—45k copies or above, as a guideline.

This isn’t to say that all mainstream-published work is of poor quality, but the inverse: that not every manuscript which *isn’t* picked up by a mainstream publisher is necessarily of poor quality. Now, it’s simply a numbers game. Big publishers have dropped their midlists and many multiply-published authors on the grounds that while those books may be successful, they’re not quite successful *enough* by today’s publishing business paradigm.

At the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference, at which I was a speaker on The Rise of Ebooks panel, I spoke to countless publishing pros who confirmed what I’m saying here. Furthermore, I got confirmation of the fact that for a new author, there’s an unwritten rule among most big publishers that the author be able to demonstrate a significant online presence with a minimum audience of 25K. You might say this is merely a case of publishers asking the author to prove his "confidence", but what does it have to do with writing?

An author with enough entrepreneurial spirit to build his own audience to that degree AND the ability to write well has all the tools at his disposal to become an indie author, much the same as an indie musician or filmmaker. If such an author can find an appreciative audience of something less than 25K, an audience deemed too small to be worth big publishers’ time, why shouldn’t he reach out to that audience directly by going indie? And who are you to judge him as "delusional" for choosing to do so? Many formerly midlist, mainstream-published authors are choosing to bring their books back into print by going it alone—are they "delusional" as well?

Furthermore, you seem to be saying that all confident writers are published by the mainstream, period, but what about all those who approached the mainstream, were rejected by all, self-published to great success, and were *then* signed by a big publisher? True, they did *eventually* meet your criterion, but there was no way of knowing that would happen when they originally self-published. You’re saying that anyone who self-publishes—and I suspect you’d think *especially* after being rejected by a big publisher—is "delusional", but neither you nor the author have any way of knowing whether that author will achieve solo success and go on to be picked up by a mainstream publisher. Moreover, what would you have said about a self-published author such as Brunonia Barry (The Lace Reader, originally self-published, picked up by Harper and went on to become a NYT bestseller) on the day BEFORE she signed with a big publisher? And what would you have said if she had elected to remain independent, rather than sign with a big publisher? What I’m getting at is this: the involvement of a mainstream publisher, or lack thereof, proves nothing about the quality or desirability (or lack thereof) of Ms. Barry’s work.

Big, mainstream publishers are chasing after big, mainstream blockbuster hits, much the same way mainstream movie studios do. Yet in the film industry, there’s a vibrant indie movement that gets nothing but respect from the mainstream. This is because the mainstream knows the indie movement is a terrific proving ground for both films and the individuals making them. An indie film even swept the Academy Awards this year, so that alone should tell you how much respect is afforded the indie filmmaker by his mainstream peers. Why should writers treat one another so differently–so badly—by comparison?

Forward-thinking luminaries such as Jeff Jarvis, Tim O’Reilly, Peter Brantley and Bob Stein see self-publishing as the new frontier in publishing, a movement that stands to benefit authors and publishers alike, as evidenced by their keynote speeches at the O’Reilly conference. In my opinion, forward-thinking writers would do well to heed what those at the leading edge of change are saying.

I launched Publetariat.com, an online news hub and community for indie authors and small imprints, on 2/11, and it’s already achieved an Alexa traffic rank in the top 4.5% of all websites worldwide. You probably think this is because there are so many "delusional" writers out there, grasping at any straw of legitimacy offered, but it might interest you to know that a large (and growing) sector of the site’s audience is made up of mainstream publishing professionals. They’re savvy enough to know a sea change is afoot, and wise enough to know that finding ways to leverage and cooperate with the new, indie author movement will serve their businesses much better than simply dismissing it out of hand, as you are doing here.


[UPDATE 2/10/10 Since the time this was written, JA Konrath has become a self-publisher. He still has his print editions and some e editions released by his mainstream publishers, but he’s self-publishing works to which he owns the rights in electronic format, and reaping major financial benefits. So I guess even someone who used to be as staunchly anti-self-pub as Konrath has come to see there are valid reasons for authors to self-publish: well-considered reasons which have nothing to do with confidence or delusion.]

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