Monday, July 11, 2011

Guest Post: To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish?

Apologies for not getting a round-up to you last week, mes auteurs. However! You've now got a full week of guest posts to look forward to, starting with this one by Chevonese Fender. Sit back, relax, and enjoy! — E

"Self-publishing used to have a real stigma attached to it. To be self-published meant your work was SO BAD that not one publisher would take you seriously. But that’s just not true anymore. Readers just want a great book to read." — Kaia Van Zandt, from Alan Rinzler’s post, "Advice for Amanda Hocking from authors and agents"

It is true that I, too, fell victim to this stigma. When I spent some time in New York, I would always see street vendors alongside 34th Street hustling to sell books that I would never take one second to peruse, let alone purchase. The approach is a turn off and the quality of the books, i.e. the print and cover quality, are a no-no in my standards.

Two years ago I was on the 2 train to the Bronx and noticed a Caucasian girl reading an urban novel, which I decided must have been self-published based on the distasteful cover and book quality. I was not surprised when I got a glimpse of the content and how less than classy it was. That was my impression of self-publishing. So when my friends and family have the gall to suggest the idea, I literally cringe and regard them with utmost disdain. Me, self-publish? Oh heck no! The goal is to be seen and known as a respected author, not the other way around.

I always agreed with Van Zandt's description of how self-publishing used to be [1]: that to self-publish meant my work was not good enough for a literary agent or publisher to give it the time of day. So, for a while I continued with my upturned nose, bent on having representation. It was not until I realized how the self-publishing industry had transformed and how beneficial it had proven to be for countless struggling and aggravated authors that I began seeing self-publishing for what it was.

Granted, there are those self-published authors who, out of anticipation, eagerly publish their work without serious editing and consulting. These authors partly contribute to the negative connotation that self-publishing carries. But it seems as if the tables have been drastically turning. Now, self-publishing appears to be the second best approach, if not the first, for getting your unpublished work out there.

So with two stories completed—one short story and one full length novel with its sequel on the way—would self-publishing be my best bet? Well, I would no longer have to hopelessly wait, after submitting my query letters for representation, for months to know if I’ve been given a "yes" or "no." I would no longer be limited to sharing my stories with my ten friends and family members and accept their praises as mission accomplished. And most importantly, no longer would I have to WAIT!

So many tools, websites, and literary agent blogs offer advice and tips, weighing the pros and cons of publishing on your own or taking the traditional route. It doesn’t hurt becoming your own agent, marketing and representing your own product, and reaping total benefits from book sales, as opposed to splitting it three ways if you were represented by an agent who found you a publisher. Most importantly, you are in full control of your content! Sounds like hard work and it most certainly is.

Is there respect for self-published authors today? Absolutely! Exhibit A: Amanda Hocking, after being told "no" numerous times, went on an ambitious whim and published on her own, only to find that her audience did exist and that her work is now worth a two million dollar contract with St. Martin’s Press. The publishers simply got on the bandwagon because they saw that there was money to be made; a foundation that was already set had been set through self-publishing. Even traditionally published authors like thriller and suspense writers Stephen King and Barry Eisler have self-published. Eisler [2] consciously opted out of a major contract simply because he wanted full control of his work and his money. Certainly these authors have an upper hand, as they have years of experience with the market—but the fact is, self-publishing is becoming more appealing than it was five or six years ago. Now, many services offer print-on-demand, which cuts out unnecessary printing costs.

We Jamaicans have a saying: "Puss and dog don’t have the same luck," which simply means that one man’s success story may not be the same for another. There are a lot of factors to consider if you desire the same success story as Hocking. The genre, writing style, content, target audience, cover images, and marketing and promotional strategies are all vital things to consider. But who’s to say how successful you will be unless you actually try it? In my book, not trying is failing.

Based on the numerous dialogues that I’ve come across, I’ve deduced one main thing: go off your gut instincts and your pocket. So should you venture beyond the traditional and daringly choose self-publishing? I’m certainly not against taking the bull by the horns, and there are many reputable authors, agents and editors who aren’t either. However, at the end of the day a decision has to be made.

Here’s what I advise: create your checklists of short term and long term goals for your books and your literary career; weigh your options, do your research, understand the benefits and pitfalls of choosing either publishing option; and be patient.

So, you tell me. Where do you stand?


Chevonese Fender is from Jamaica. She modeled for five years, the latter part spent working in New York. She was represented last by Boss Models in New York, and a little over a year and half ago she made a life-changing decision to actually put her God-given skill to use and write. She writes edgy, inspirational romance and has not yet been published, but her first novel is recently completed and she finds herself at the crossroads, so to speak: publishing traditionally or just say, the heck with it—publish the darn thing yourself!


[1]
http://www.alanrinzler.com/blog/2011/04/04/advice-for-amanda-hocking-from-authors-and-agents/

[2]
http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/ebooks-and-self-publishing-dialog.html

17 comments:

  1. I'm self-publishing one book, and will be releasing it this summer. I may self-publish again, but I'm not opposed to traditional publishing if the book and market have the right fit.

    My primary reason for self-publishing is speed-to-market. My middle-grade novel, THE MAN IN THE CINDER CLOUDS, is about a book found buried in the arctic ice...A book that tells the origins of Santa Claus.

    To pursue traditional publishing at this stage, I doubt my book would see Christmas 2012, and certainly would have no hope for 2011.

    I've been patient (I could have released something in 2010, but I've continued revising and making this the absolute best it can be). I am approaching this as a start-up business, not a vanity project to see my name in print. I think the time is right for disciplined authors to take such steps, and I'm glad to see that the public perception of self-published books is slowly changing for the better.

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  2. To some extent, a lot of it depends on what you write. Some markets are bigger than others; if you write in a genre where the market is tiny, publishers are more reluctant to invest in work by newcomers. Unless your work is so fantastic that it wows every agent and editor, self-publishing may be your only option. Of course, that tiny market also means you need to work really hard to get the word out about your book.

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  3. I think things also depend on whether we're talking about e-publishing, indie publishing, or vanity publishing. "Self-publishing" seems to fall under all of those, and they're certainly not created equal.

    E-publishing will be an interesting creature to watch over the next few years, and I think we'll see more and more success stories...as far as popularity and distribution to readers goes.

    From my perspective, going traditional with an agent is not just about the initial publication. If your book gains a following, and someone comes up with a book deal or--dream of all dreams--movie deal, you're going to be facing big-wig contracts. Navigating legalities? That is where a good agent is worth their weight in gold...and royalties.

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  4. I self published a memoir with a few twists in January and am tremendously pleased by the process, the speed, and the control it gives. There are two major drawbacks of which I was unaware: bookstores can't (or won't) handle you, even if you approach them with a way to control inventory and accountability for sales is a litle shaky. I don't have the level of account with Amazon that allows easy on-time monitoring of sales and sales through the self-publisher have been sporadic in their reporting.

    Having said that I am proud of "Harnessing a Heritage" and glad I wrote and publishd it in a year.

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  5. I think we'd all sell body parts to be picked up by an agent or legacy publisher. Different reasons for all of us but we'd do it. I had a legacy contract and I was not happy with the publisher--albeit a small publisher, the lack of support and willingness to do what my contact stated they would do was deplorable. And I figured if I'm going to be doing all of that work for myself anyway, I might as well indie-publish and keep the lion's share of the sales of my book. I've more than earned them! So, when the contract ended, I said, "so long, suckers" and the reissue will be out this fall. Around Halloween, actually!

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  6. Rick--Best of luck on the new venture. The book sounds fantastic. I think the slowness of the system is the biggest thing pushing me toward self-pubbing too.

    Also, although my genre--romantic comedy/mystery--is very popular with readers, agents and editors have declared it defunct.

    I've written a post this week about how the Kindle revolution has freed readers as well as writers, and those of us who love genres that have been declared 'dead' no longer have to indulge in acts of literary necrophilia.

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  7. Wow! I really like the feedback here, because I haven't really tested the waters yet. And hearing your experiences really is an eye opener. Jesse, I definitely know an author signed to household publishing name and when it got now to the nitty gritty, she had to do quite a bit of ground work herself, i.e, set up her own readings, promotion etc. That didn't make sense to me, especially if you are a big publishing house. So I understand that frustration.

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  8. Here's a slightly more negative side to self-publishing, though in your defense, it's primarily my fault...

    I've been writing stories and things since I was in 3rd grade, and after losing my job two years ago, I decided to try the author hat on as a way to make my living. I found a piece I'd started years ago and had at it, getting up everyday at 5:45 with my fiancee, writing furiously till I had to cook dinner in the evening, bleeding onto my laptop and doing it with a smile on my face. I reworked the last scene, wrote my butt off till I reached a conclusion, said to myself "this can't possibly end here," wrote a second half bigger than the first, and was astounded at the progress I'd made as a storyteller. I put together some cheesy art in Windows Paint (which I intended on just being a concept), and decided to self-publish because I was in something of a rush to make sales. The company I chose to work with asked if I had "my cover," but they had told me that they had layout artists that could make a decent cover for me, and startled by the request and too impatient to say no, I sent them my cheesy file, hoping they'd rework it with better images and such. Sure enough, saw the galley proofs for my cover and it was the Windows Paint version. I began to get attached to it and actually justify liking it, but now it's in the Kindle store racking up sarcastic 5-star ratings for how bad the cover looks.

    Honestly, I don't think the story or writing inside is that bad, many people I've sold it to have really enjoyed it, but I do admit that I've learned my lesson. I made a grave error in thinking that everyone could look beyond what the cover looks like and simply appreciate the tale that's told. I want to solely blame my impatience, however I was living off unemployment at the time and had my head in the clouds.

    It took the fright of getting kicked out of an apartment to put a dream I've had on hold 12+ years on hold even longer. I just now got hired on full-time at a marketing firm in Princeton.

    I've since been working furiously on other pieces in hopes I'll find an agent willing to take a chance on a dreamer, however I do want to know conclusively...is it even worth it? I know that self-publishing has (or used to have) a stigma attached to it that many talented authors are chipping away at with quality novels. Even if the book I self-published has some inadequacies as far as literary presentation, it's far from terrible and can easily be tuned up with time. The writing I'm doing now is much more concise, impactful, engaging and exciting and I'm quickly watching as my skills grow in leaps and bounds.

    But if most agents are going to see a query letter from me, google my name, find out I self-pubbed a book with a stupid cover, and frame my query letter like it's a Wanted poster or one of those "Don't accept checks from this man" pics at the convenience store, then I may as well hang up the dream for good and either be content never being famous/rich or moving on to other creative endeavors.

    If there's a chance that a literary agent will consider my new work and take a shot on me, though, then I want to still go for it, :-)

    Tell me...is that chance still something to hope for? Or have I pretty much signed my writing career's death warrant?

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  9. I know of quite a few talented writers who have self-pubbed some of their stuff via Amazon as e-books and they've made sure that they put out top notch work.

    Also, a short story anthology that I'd picked up about a month ago was put together by the editors of Beat To A Pulp e-zine, which they self-pubbed through Smashwords. They did a fantatic job on the product (which is about 85% of the battle) and its been extensively (and positively)reviewed and nominated for a few genre awards.

    Self pubbing is not for everyone, but if you put out a quality product and market the crap out it, it will make people sit up and take notice.

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  10. I worked for an e-publisher for a year, and had the "Don't ever self-publish!" poured down my throat the entire time.

    As a reviewer I have been reading more and more self-published works, and have decided that I may decide to go that way for my writing!

    I'm glad that you posted this, it's showing me that my way of thinking may not be so outside the box after all.

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  11. Anyone looking objectively at the self-publishing market will realise it is the future. Not just e-publishing, but self-e-publishing.

    Hocking and Locke used to be the exception that proved the rule, while Eisler and Konrath were riding on the back of their legacy horse.

    But there are so many self-published writers now who are making good money from selling books the gatekeepers didn't want to know about.

    @Jesse "I think we'd all sell body parts to be picked up by an agent or legacy publisher."

    Actually no. Unless the enticement was seriously, seriously tempting I think most successful self-published writers would endure considerable pain before giving up their freedom to the legacy guys.

    You cite examples of what an agent / publisher might offer, but any of these could be handled by a professional for a one-off fee, leaving the writer in charge.

    What we're seeing now is that legacy agents and publishers are approaching successful indies and offering substantial enticements way beyond what existing legacy writers are being offered, precisely because indies are so reluctant to hand over their freedom.

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  12. I think self-publishing still has a stigma attached to it. I've been writing stories since I could write (the first few, from kindergarten, were admittedly ten page atrocities) and have several finished manuscripts, including two that I'm actually quite proud of and would be thrilled to publish.

    But not to self-publish. I feel like you need the legitimacy of a legacy publisher and a solid agent to really give your book the best chances and, though one of the two that I'm trying to publish looks to be indefinitely stalled in the agent-acquisition process, I'm still trying to follow the same path (hopefully successfully, this time) with the other.

    Wish me luck!

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  13. Thank you for this post! Wonderful to read peoples' thoughts and experiences. I like best @Rick's perspective of the start-up business. Its a new frontier for the American spirit. I imagine most people thought the pioneers were crazy too, impatient, a little irreverent. But almost every one of these comments reflects the desire for an alternative to what has previously been acceptable. Its a fantastic freedom that may now be viable.

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  14. @ livinglearningeating: All the best with your endeavours. If you do get and agent and publisher I pray you do well in the market. Hopefully you will get an awesome deal.

    A part of me would still consider an agent solely to see my freshly printed new releases on the book stands in stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble. You know that elation, one can only imagine at seeing their hard work put on full display? But at the end of the day, if I feel like I'm getting nowhere in that area, I don't see why I should limit myself by a stigma that is clearly fading.

    I also think having complete ownership of my work that I've worked so hard on, and seeing that story sell when I market the heck out of it can be just as gratifying as seeing that same book on a book stand.

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  15. Now that J.K. Rowling is self-pubbing, the stigma won't last. Epublishing is better for everyone, readers, writers, the environment, the economy. It's the equivalent of the renaissance for writers, for some it's like the end of slavery! But I don't think there's any reason why a writer can't don't both, traditional and epublishing, as long as he is shrewd enough to include a non-compete clause like Hocking did. Personally, I like the idea of never having to write another query letter, never having to wait six months for a reply, and never having to hope the MS wasn't lost in the mail. Epublishing is a joy. I actually got a rejection from Clarkesworld the other day and it was a bit of a shock: Ahh, the good old days. Not.

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  16. I recently published a middle grade novel (Elsbett & Robin Take On A-Nasty-Sia, available for purchase, along with a free preview, here: https://www.createspace.com/3651515 )

    I'm still trying to get promotion and marketing going! Wish me luck :P

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