I'm an unknown novelist. How can the net help me?

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In your article about the forgotten novelist James Wilcox, you say that writers should use the net to find an audience, and avoid chasing after dead-tree publishers.

I have one goal in life, and that is to support myself modestly by writing and publishing novels and short stories.

For years I've sustained myself (quite miserably) with freelance non-fiction work while I also worked on the material that is my art. Right now I have many polished stories and a big, serious novel that was years in the making. I think it's good---I can't sleep, I think about it constantly and sometimes I'll read a passage and it'll make me holler and weep. I'm writing another novel now.

But so far I have had little success with selling my fiction---I've gotten many personal and encouraging letters from top editors and agents, two very famous writers agreed to blurb my novel once it found a publisher, but after a year of this (and about $800 in postage costs) I still haven't found an agent, and while I've been able to place some of my stories in that time, that's just not a way to make a living---nearly all of today's literary journals are obscure academic affairs that only pay token amounts (I think I'm only about halfway to getting my postage recouped, so I'll be very much in the red this year).

Oh, and once upon a time I had a popular blog and a huge site full of articles---I took it all down because I can't update a blog and have online exchanges and update web pages all day when I'm also engaged in the intense, demanding and solitary work that is writing a novel. I just don't see how that can be done. Good novels take years, and if your business is making very polished, crafted prose, it seems like blogging can even work against you on many levels. I've seen how the net has helped self-published musicians like Jonathan Coulton or headline compilers like Matt Drudge, but I don't know how that would apply to a serious novelist---and I don't know of a one who also keeps a blog.

I'm at the point Joyce was when he'd completed A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: I know that I have created a work of promise, I feel like I have found my form, and I'm about to embark upon my Ulysses. But at this moment the world doesn't even know my name, much less my work. I'm not after celebrity or riches---I just want what every artist wants, which is an audience for my work, and the time and modest income to keep producing more at the top of my bent so that I might get out everything that I have.

If the net can turn a paper clip into a house, it's got to be able to help me achieve my modest goal, and turn my career (and life) around. But how?

-- Samuel Edmonson, November 19, 2007


I would have expected the Web to mature a lot sooner as an environment for fiction, but it hasn't. The Web has worked out well for people who make three-minute films and for writers of non-fiction, especially if they write about things that make valuable Google ads.

I was at a photography show at a museum in Maine over the weekend and wrote about it for photo.net. I expected the under-40 art photographers to have extensive Web sites with a lot of examples of their work, but they were almost invisible to Google. It seems that schmoozing museum curators and gallery owners is still the way to get ahead.

Probably the depressing truth is that dealing with agents and editors is the only way for a fiction writer to make money, though of course this means that only 1 percent will ever make any money at all and even those 1 percent who get published will make little unless their novel is bought by Hollywood.

-- Philip Greenspun, December 17, 2007

I would recommend you self-publish your book using lulu.com or cafepress or some other print-on-demand publisher. I think it is about $800 and you have a printed book that can be sold via amazon.com or the like. (Disclaimer: I haven't done it and I don't know anyone who has)

You could use your other writings to promote your book. Perhaps with a web site where people can read your short stories and possibly a teaser for the book, with links to where they can purchase the book.

Another plan would be to publish your first book online via a web site and let people read it there, and get on with writing your next book.

-- David Walker, November 30, 2007

This is kind of depressing. But I believe it. I also read how writers can't make a living at short stories anymore, which is another eye-opener. I think all of this is outside of the writer's control. Self-publishing is not the answer if you're trying to make money, and fiction does not make good Google ads. (I wonder if that can be fixed as a programming problem: for non-fiction, body text keywords will match a reader's lifestyle and interest, but for fiction, the body text describes the virtual world of the story. You need to figure out the genre and market of the fiction and come up with appropriate keywords, maybe that will help).

-- Jen Garzun, February 29, 2008