Poets & Writers

How to Get Paid

LAST year James Wolf, a retired insurance agent making his first foray into literary fiction, sent portions of his unpublished novel, “No Good Day to Die,” to a handful of agents and publishers. In their responses the industry experts all told Wolf essentially the same thing: that his novel, an eight-hundred-page fictional recounting of the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn and its aftermath, had promise but that it needed a lot of work before it could be published.

One publishing professional, however, went one step further. Kathy Springmeyer of Sweetgrass Books, the self-publishing arm of Farcountry Press in Helena, Montana, referred Wolf to novelist Russell Rowland, who has long maintained a sideline as a freelance editor for aspiring authors. When the two men met, they quickly hit it off, and Wolf agreed to pay Rowland $4,000 to edit his manuscript.

“If I’m going to make my book substantially better, my position was I needed help,” Wolf says of his decision to hire an editor. “I’m a first-time author and never had anything published before. When I started this, one of the questions I had for myself was, ‘What the hell do I know about writing a book?’”

Wolf is hardly alone in asking this question. Spurred by innovations in e-book and print-on-demand technology, American authors self-published more than a million books in 2017, an increase of more than 150 percent since 2012, according to a report by Bowker, an affiliate of the database firm ProQuest. At the same time, the traditional publishing industry is shrinking at an alarming rate, having

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