The Duality of “New” Media for Writers

For nine years I worked for an online publicity firm for authors. The company was one of the first, if not the first, dedicated solely to online publicity. When I joined them, in 2000, none of the major publishing houses had online publicity departments. Some of them didn’t yet have company email or Web sites.  It sounds archaic, by today’s standards. Publishing, as an industry, had not yet seen the potential for online book marketing, or the migration that media was making to the Internet.

What a difference a decade makes. By the time I resigned in 2009, we were competing with dozens of other online only firms. We were competing with all of the traditional publicity firms who had incorporated online marketing into their campaigns. We were even competing with our own clients, the publishers, who had created online marketing departments in house.

The internet had captured the lion’s share of many marketing budgets and discussion time at meetings. Newspapers and even television had almost taken a back seat. Or, at least, they were riding shotgun.

What the internet has done for writers is a double edged sword. Published with a major house, or self published, a writer is open to taking the helm on much more of her/his own promotion than it is possible to imagine. Billions of potential readers are out there and the writer can connect to them, personally. But the road is littered with vicious petards. I recall one author, several years ago, that made the New York Times, not for the quality of their book, but for the shame of spamming millions of internet users with unwanted advertisements. It was a career death sentence. Other authors have sunk themselves by shilling for their books, surreptitiously, on message boards, sabotaging competing books with bad Amazon reviews or simply annoying bloggers,  by not knowing the professional way to approach them. A writer has to think of themself as a brand, even if they don’t want to. A writer has to remember that everything that leaves their computer has their name on it and it could remain online for all eternity.

For self published authors, like myself, the duality is even more distinctive. On the right hand, a writer who decides to publish themselves is able to write, edit, publish and market from their computer. They can reach the infinite number of readers out there and decide what direction they want to go. There are a lot of success stories for the writers who have done it correctly.

On the left hand, there is the stigma still attached to self-publishing with the media. Although that stigma is dissipating, it is not gone. Many major media outlets, even a lot of middle of the road media, will not touch a self-published book. As someone who worked on the other side, I can tell you exactly why.

I read the statistic once that 52,000 novels were published by respected houses every year. Most every editor, online, or in traditional media, was probably offered or sent a copy of each one. I worked with these people every day and they were stressed by the amount of books coming in to them. It was a monumental task to decide what to ask for, read and write about. I don’t know how many self-published books are created every year, but, it adds to an already staggering amount of work for these folks.

And the truth remains that there are a lot of self-published books out there that are pretty terrible. Hence the reason they could not find a publisher. Sadly, there are also a lot of great ones. I never read any, until I became a self-published author. Since then, I have come to realize that there are a lot of people, like me, who have self-published because they got frustrated with the process of finding an agent and publisher. They spent seven years on a novel and didn’t want to wait two more for it to be available. Some just didn’t want to share the deep cuts into their work that an agent and publisher take to publish. Differentiating yourself from the pablum in the crowd is incredibly difficult, but, for some, that is worth the potential reward. We owe the Internet thanks for making that a small possibility.

  • Kudos, Jeffery, for the wisdom of your concise take on publishing and self-publishing.

    I’ve been self-publishing since 1985–pretty much gave up a traditional career to do so–and I wonder how I succeeded before the Internet took hold. My only explanation is that I had a small following when I went to the sunny side, and my niche. military history, is small enough to have been able to figure out and exploit with the tools available at the time–niche resellers and museums and interest groups. I made a good decision to get into print-on-demand as soon as Lightning Source (then Lightning Press) went operational. And I kept going when the Amazon tidalwave sank those independent niche markets because, by then, I had an excellent following and thirty titles in print. This has carried over to ebooks, where I’m making way, way, way more money every month than I ever made picking and packing books in my garage in the 1990s and early 2000s.

    Bottom line–and you nailed it: It’s all about brand.

    • Eric,
      Thanks so much for the comment. I’m just starting out and I hope to experience a sliver of the success you’ve enjoyed. It is a monumental task for anyone to get here. The thing I left out of my article was that I always wanted to be an author, but I never had the full appreciation for what authors go through until I became one. Had I known, I probably would have approached my day to day job much differently when I was in the industry. I wish you continued success and hope we can continue to exchange ideas.


  • Jeff,
    Nice article, and so true.
    Have you found a reputable online marketing firm that will handle self published fiction novels? I looked into FSB, but it appears that they only handle published authors.


    • Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for your comment. There are a number of marketing firms for Self published authors out there. I can’t vouch for any of them, as I haven’t used them. However, if you are a member of Goodreads, and you join some of the self published authors groups, you will inevitably run into the owners of these companies and you can chat them up about their services.

      Best of Luck,