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The Launch Pad

When I was a teenager in the late 70s, the only Toyotas I remember seeing were these tiny pickup trucks that looked flimsy and ready to break down any minute. Half the people I knew owned huge four-wheel-drive Chevys and Fords and scoffed at these vehicles. In my (red)neck of the woods, they were considered junk.

Today, Toyota is a major automaker, and the U.S. is their primary market. It’s nothing now to see friends and family driving one of their fancy sedans, hybrids, SUVs, or great-looking 4x4s. But here’s the weird thing — I can’t get that old perception out of my head. Stigmas are a hard thing to kill. Once they take root, they cling as long as they can.

That’s what is happening in the publishing industry. It’s changing but changing slowly. No matter how many successful indie titles have been published, and there have been a ton, the old guard in the industry still wants you to believe that if a book is not published by one of the Big Five, or an imprint thereof, the book must be inferior.

But it is the traditional side of publishing that has changed. Long gone are the days when they only cared about the quality of the story and the writing. Now, the new members of the old guard are willing to publish just about anything as long as they think someone will buy it. They want celebrities, even pseudo social-media celebrities, cranking out personal memoirs. They want politicians flaunting their extreme views to that niche in the market who crave it. In short, they traded “quality” for “platform” decades ago.

I truly believe that if Harper Lee, a fellow Alabamian, had written To Kill a Mockingbird today, I doubt she would have ever gotten anyone on the traditional side of publishing to even read it. Harper who? How many Tik Tok and Instagram followers does she have?

I’ve known a lot of authors who are dedicated to that dream of landing a publishing deal with one of the Big Five. They spend years and decades getting rejection after rejection. But they persist, thinking their writing must not be good enough. They hold on to their dream and keep honing their skills to no avail.

My advice to them and to you is this — start thinking differently and evolve with the times. Indie publishing has become the domineering force in the industry. It has also become a launchpad for many authors into a big traditional contract. When William Young wrote The Shack, no one would give him a chance. He released it as an indie title. A year later, it had sold one million copies. Others like Hugh Howey, Lisa Genova, and thousands more have similar stories.

If you believe in your book, stop waiting on someone to have faith in it. Have faith in yourself. Go the indie route and show them what they’re missing.


Neal Wooten is a contributor to the Huff Post, columnist for the Mountain Valley News, author, artist, and standup comic. His new true-crime memoir, With the Devil’s Help (Pegasus Crime/Simon and Schuster), is being made into a miniseries. He is also the creator of the cartoon, Pancho el Pit Bull, which is being made into an animated series in South America.


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