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An erotic fiction writer that I’ve had the good fortune to share a message board with (the J. E. of the estimable J. E. & M. Keep) said something interesting the other day about e-publishing:

I remember in the 90’s, every author used to respond to “how to become a writer” questions with the basic notion of: these days it’s just a matter of being out there, writing regularly, and writing a lot. The publishing houses tended to only go for those writers who produced a lot of material regularly in the short story periodicals.

Publishers wanted Salvatore’s and Stephen King’s. i.e. Writer’s that got out content fast, regular and in need of little to no editing on their part.

ePubbing really didn’t change the formula from what I saw, just made it more apparent to everyone.

I realize you can legally buy porn these days without having been alive for much of the 90s, much less thinking about a writing career during them, but my younger readers can take him at his word — back in the pre- and early-internet days, that pretty much was the conventional wisdom, at least for people who wanted to write the much-maligned “commercial” fiction.

You wrote a bajillion genre stories, you spammed them out (by mail) to every magazine you could think of, and you wallpapered your room slowly with the rejection letters until you finally started getting some hits. And then you were an author! Drums and cymbals, yay.

What’s changed?

Not much, as J. E. points out, except for the loss of periodical magazines as the realm of early authorial successes.

You still write a bunch of stories, and you still get them out there as fast as you can. The difference is that now you can publish them directly, rather than waiting for that lucky intersection of your writing, an editor’s tastes, and the subject matter needs of that month’s issue.

In a lot of ways that’s good for writers — it means your work can be instantly available as soon as you have something polished enough for public consumption.

In other ways it’s bad — you no longer have to get past the editors, but you also no longer have the infrastructure of the magazine doing the work of finding your readers for you. The “circulation” of your story is exactly zero when it starts. Even the tiniest magazines were guaranteed at least a few readers. So the burden of self-promotion has increased dramatically, even as entry into the game has gotten easier.

Has it changed the final results that much? I don’t personally think it has — if you write hard and persistently, and put good work out there for others to judge, you’re eventually going to hit on a success. It’ll come in the form of ebook downloads, rather than an acceptance letter, but you’ll still know when you’ve “made it.”

And once you’ve had that first success you’ll still have to keep cranking stories out for the rest of your miserable life, or at least as much of it as you want to devote to a writing career. Epublishing hasn’t changed the need for the writer to keep on writing.

And just like in the 90s — and the 1890s, for that matter — at the end of the day the difference between the “career” author and the hobbiest will mostly come down to who puts the pen down first, with all other considerations (including quality) a distant second.