Monday, May 10, 2010

A Question of Goals

As a follow-up to last Thursday's post, I'd like to offer the below poll, prefaced by (what else?) my thoughts and opinions.

It seems to me that a lot of people (some of you, fair readers, included) are hoping that they'll earn the attention of agents, editors, and Big Publishing in general via self-publishing success. While this isn't intrinsically a bad idea, I ask you to consider the number of people who you think are self-publishing with this goal in mind, followed by the number of people who are successful in that pursuit. To be honest, I have no idea what those figures are (if they even exist). But it seems to me that the number of people who land traditional book contracts through attention gained by self-published work is vanishingly small, and (to my mind, at least) likely smaller than the number of people who get those kinds of contracts by referrals and queries to literary agents.

So, cats & kittens, if you're thinking of self-publishing (or even if you aren't, consider it as a hypothetical): is your goal to get a traditional contract? If not, would you take one if the price were right, or would you stick to your DIY guns and continue to self-publish? Is it a question of principles, or a question of practicality?


  1. For me anyway, one of the great joys of self-publishing Here Comes Your Man was letting go of any concern about the traditional publishing industry. So far, self-publishing has been a blast, and I think it would be a lot less fun were I still trying to get the attention of anyone but readers.

    I think most self-publishers would accept a traditional contract if, as you say, "the price were right," but people will have very different ideas about what "right" is.

  2. You don't have a "both" choice; I would have picked that one. Yes, I would sell a body part or two to have a traditional contract--I do now with the latest book but I'm not happy with my publisher. Fortunately, they shot down my next novel, so I'm free to shop it elsewhere. But if I'm going to do all the work in setting up marketing and my own book signings, etc, they're not worth it. I was better off remaining in self/subsidy pub land.

    As I said before, I like self/subsidy publishing--I have more control over the final product and a higher royalty rate. But I would dearly love either an agent to help out with the leg work and the bookings or my damn publisher to do that job like she's supposed to.

    So, my answer is both. But I chose yes.

  3. An editor at a seminar this weekend announced the answer to this question! To a roomful of unpublished authors she said that around 5% of self-published authors would go on to get traditional print publisher contracts. If true, that's astoundingly large!

    I don't believe it is.

    I think you are right that the number is very small, just like the number is vanishingly small of those who get print contracts. So the question remains: what about all those other writers/books?

  4. As I've mentioned before in a couple of posts on here, my goal was mostly educational in nature. I have clients who have books they want to publish and I was/am ignorant about many of the aspects of the business. So, when I finished my novel, I decided to give the self pub route a go after a few (maybe a dozen) agent queries.

    My reasoning was that even if I found an agent in short order (unlikely) it would still be at least a year and probably two before my book ever saw the light of day. So, why not spend that time in self pub, promotion etc. and see where I could take it on my own? I don't expect to make wheelbarrows full of cash, or even pocketfuls, but if it brings some enjoyment to a few readers along the way — I win. Because I've learned a ton and can help my other clients down the road with their projects.

    Now, if a publishing contract fell in my lap because of my efforts, I doubt I'd turn it down. But I agree the chances of that are exceedingly small. I don't buy lottery tickets either.

  5. While the numbers may be small, I'm hosting one such author on my Blog Talk Radio show on Wednesday - Boyd Morrison.

    You might also check out Joe Konrath's take on the state of the print industry today. It's quite funny.

  6. Self-publishing is not the goal for me: I'll stick it out and wait for my phone call.

  7. I'm not looking to self-publish. At All. I do think the majority who do hope somehow (like a it'll snow in hell kind of a chance) that someone (ie an agent) will stumble upon their book and it will be an instant hit.

    The only thing I can say about self-publishing is that it's generally for the people who can't get picked up anywhere else. That may be harsh but who can name an author who by self-publishing made it big? Anyone?

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  10. Ack, seriously having trouble with the comment form here. Sorry, for all the deleted comments. it's Monday. I've heard that 5% get acquired also, from editor Alan Rinzler. It's probably easier for nonfiction than fiction, but it does happen -- "The Lace Reader", for one, and all the books in the Amazon Encore program. This isn't to say it's easy, but I wouldn't completely rule it out. As for me, if I'm unable to get an agent, I'll assume the book's not good enough. But if I can get an agent but can't sell it to a publisher, I may consider e-publishing or serializing my work online to build up a readership.

  11. I voted no.

    I haven't begun to query yet, and I did inform myself about the world of publishing AND self-publishing. It is generally accepted that a book good enough for publication will get picked up by one agent at least... if after 100s of queries you can't find a taker, unless your book has a very specialized niche (which mine doesn't, it's science fantasy) I wouldn't invest my own money towards self publishing if other people aren't even willing to offer representation.

    Also, it seems self-pub has a bit of a stigma against it, and I'd rather not taint any possible future right now for the sake of seeing a book of mine on the shelves faster... that's assuming I could even get libraries to buy it!

  12. There is so much of the publishng business that I either don't know or don't understand that makes me more than a little reluctant to self publish. Once a book is published there is tons of energy that is expended in marketing. If I use all of that energy (and right now that's a limited commodity) getting it printed, distributed, and most importantly paid for, there's nothing left for marketing.

    There is the possibility of digitizing making things easier, but that's another learning curve. I'll stick with traditional for now. That's the greatest learning curve I can handle.

  13. I've blogged a bit about self-publishing, complete with examples of different types of authors giving it a whirl. It seems to me that success in self-publishing is almost entirely dependent on platform: the author has to make her/his own channel for distribution, and that ain't easy unless there's something to stand on.

    Dan Poynter is a great exception-proves-rule example of success in self-publishing. He's also an author with a platform.

    I write fiction, and my 'brand' is not a household word. So I would regard self-publishing as a form of giving up, which I'm not ready to do by a long shot. Not yet, anyway...

  14. When someone announces himself published I get excited, then when they say self published I go, "Ohhhh". I don't want someone to go, "Ohh" about my book.

  15. I went into self-publishing with ONE goal--to start building my audience/platform so that when I wrote my second book, I could choose for myself whether I'd go the traditional route or continue self publishing. And I have loved ALMOST every second of self-publishing. There's one thing I'm missing--brand.

    Brand is so important when you're a first-time author, so I've found. When you don't have a publishing history and can't ride the wave of your own brand, it helps immensely to be able to ride the brand of your publisher. Sadly, in many circles, self-publishers are still regarded as the scourge of the publishing world. No matter how good your writing is.

    It helps to be able to call up a bookstore and set up a signing, and when they ask who your publisher is, you can say "Simon & Schuster" instead of "Meeeee!" lol

    I am one of those self-published authors who is going least long enough to build my brand and--who am I kidding--probably much longer than that if I can make it work for me. But ultimately, that will be my choice. I put myself in a position where the industry didn't choose me, I'm choosing the industry...and I've learned so much more about the business and marketing and just everything because of it.

  16. A publisher has editing and marketing resources I can't access myself or with a self-publisher, so I'd only self-publish if I thought it was the best strategy to get either that book or the next picked up by a traditional publisher.

    I know I've got good stuff, but as a fiction writer I'm just not going to sell 100,000 copies on word of mouth, Amazon searches, and blogging... especially with a lower-quality product than what traditional publishers produce.

  17. I do not have any wish to self-publish. Maybe it is because of my age, I'm not really sure...but I don't think it is right for me. If my work is not accepted by agents I would think that is most likely because I need to work on my writing. I'd like to think I have a lot of time to improve my craft, so that is what I plan to do.

  18. I'm a 'no' on this vote.

    I have the blind arrogance to believe that I can publish a good book without the help of an agent, editor, proof-reader, book designer, cover designer, publicist, promotions team or sales agent.

    More honestly, my self-publishing endeavours are just part of some much wider projects - one that I don't believe would be of interest to a more traditional publisher. Nobody else is going to do it for me, so it's up to me to do it.

  19. Self-publishing to get a deal in "real" publishing is like owning a bookstore so that you can get a job at Barnes & Noble.

  20. I'd rather spend my time WRITING the next book than hustling to arrange cover art, editing and promotion.

    Sure, I have to promote myself as an author but who am I kidding - I'm nowhere as near as qualified to do the job of a publishing house with trained editors, promotional staff, printing and cover art.

    I'd just rather spend my time WRITING than whoring myself out in the hopes that someone will read my self-pub.

    But that's just me.


  21. Another NO vote here. I love the behind-the-scenes stuff, love having control of every aspect of my career, and I'm making more money from my self-published debut novel than a friend of mine whose novel was published the "traditional" way.