Friday, May 28, 2010

The E-pocalypse Draws Ever Nearer

As Ms. Ombreviations is unavailable this fine morning, I'll be taking care of today's post. Laura will no doubt be back next Friday with some witty rejoinder and a basketful of strange and hilarious links.


I mentioned the other day that Barnes & Noble, via PubIt!, is getting in on the self-publishing act. It now appears that Apple is doing the same thing; all you need is an isbn, a US tax ID, and an iTunes account. Oh, yeah, and a new(ish) Mac: the Intel chip variety, running OS 10.5.

Because Apple's model places a relatively large number of restrictions on would-be self-publishers, I don't necessarily see the company as the proverbial "go-to guy" for most authors looking to self-publish their e-books. It's much easier to upload an e-book to the Kindle store via Amazon's Digital Text Platform, and the Kindle app on the iPad would automatically make those books available on Apple's device.

Amazon also grants you substantially more flexibility with format, the option of using their DRM (it seems to be automatically encoded into any books sold through the iBookstore), just as many (if not more) options regarding rights territories, and the benefit of knowing what you're getting into (royalty-wise) ahead of time. As far as I know, the details of Apple's royalty structure for self-published material still haven't been hammered out.

Again, I'm not encouraging you to self-publish because, frankly, I think it's still to your disadvantage. (I think it will be to your disadvantage for the foreseeable future, but there are many who disagree with me on that.) Think of it this way: if you're recommended to an agent, you have an implicit seal of approval that means you're going to get that agent's full attention much faster than if you were to appear in the endless query sea through which (s)he slogs so dutifully each day. Likewise, if you are published traditionally by a publishing house, you are going to get the attention of the reading public much more easily than if you self-publish your novel and throw it out into the infinitely larger sea of written material available for sale on the Internet.

I believe that the theory that e-books will utterly democratize publishing is a myth, as is the theory that agents and editors will be out of jobs once the market share for electronic books reaches a certain level. I'm not saying this out of some misguided sense of self-preservation, either; I mean, Christ, I'm in sales. If you can sell books in America today, you can sell anything. If publishing were to finally die tomorrow, I'd find a job selling something else.

In brief: I don't think you should self-publish, but if you're totally committed to the idea, make sure you do your research. Find a good product/platform, do as much as you possibly can with it, and sell yourself and your book as much as humanly possible. Without an agent, editor, marketing team, publicist, or sales rep, no one else is going to do it for you.


  1. It is indeed better to publish than to self-publish; you'll make a higher-quality product and the fact that it's so hard to 'get' published means that consumers will percieve a published book as being of higher quality even if it isn't. (Insert Tyra/Sarah Palin/Mick Foley rant here.)

    Since the entry barrier to publishing for the n00b author is so high, though, we n00bs need to build credentials and our brand. After all, the reason Tyra can publish a crappy book and you can't is because she already IS a brand. Self-publishing, if done right, might be a way to build that brand. So is blogging and more traditional ways of becoming an authority in your subject. Oh, and there's always getting published in markets with lower risk and lower entry barriers than the full-length book racket: magazine articles, short stories, maybe even trade pubs, electronic or printed.

  2. I don't think most people should self publish as well, but I think there is one reason why having a good self publishing format might be good. For example: I'm working on compiling the history of my grandfather's brother who passed away at 23-- if I wanted to get that out to just family, obviously, self publishing would be a good choice. But who would really consider that "published", I don't know.

  3. The topic comes up so frequently, that I just toss it in the can as soon as it comes up. Others start with the caveat of "small market, or specialized niche," but they have that twinkle in their eye that says they're working on a mass market novel and self-publishing will be their ticket to internet fame! Blah blah blah.

    But today, I'm feeling benevolent. Here's your bone wannabe self-publishers. Self-publishing is not bad. It's a great way to keep control of your content and reach the market you want to reach. You should do it.


    (there's a but coming here, you knew that, right?)

    BUT, you should only do it if you're going to do the work. And I don't mean posting in blog rolls of agents with links back to your websites or trolling forums looking for a chance to name drop. I mean you're going to WORK. You're going to slave for a long time getting your name and your work's name out in every conceivable venue. You're going to go to conventions. You're going to guest on podcasts. You're going to guest on blog rolls. You're going to get on your local news as a human interest piece. You're going to have an account on every forum under the sun and you're going to participate in all of them so you don't look like you're a troll advertising some drivel you slapped on the web. You're going to build a professional website to deliver it and properly research the necessary ecommerce solutions necessary to safely receive cash and deliver the product to your future buyers.

    Effectively, you are taking on the roll of publisher, marketer, and author all in one and if for a second you think it's too hard or takes too much time, then you shouldn't of self-published.

    There's your bone.

  4. Joseph Selby: And that's different from traditional publishing, how? If you're a midlist author, you'd better be performing every action on your snarky list. Your publisher certainly isn't going to do the legwork for you, not in this day and age.

  5. I used to dismiss self-publishing out of hand because I assumed the result would be a lesser book. I also assumed publishers would run away from a self-pubbed author in droves. But we just got an AMAZING guest post in from Kiera Cass for next Weds WOW Wednesday feature, and she self-pubbed The Siren. Her latest book is being shopped by her new agent now. I'm thinking I might need to broaden my horizons. The world is definitely changing.

    Have a great weekend.


  6. Published authors everywhere in the list--low, mid, or high--have to do a ton of work, that is true, but they have two distinct advantages over self-publishing that IS provided by the publisher. Assumption and Distribution.

    Distribution is the easy one. The value of a brick and mortar store is foot traffic. It is people standing, looking at the shelf for something to read and finding your book. Or walking by and seeing a front-faced cover that catches their interest. Or if you're truly blessed, having a co-op at the front of the store. You may be able to talk the local bookstore into carrying your self-published novel, but your distribution area is your neighbors. A publisher provides national distribution.

    Second is assumption. Despite the poor quality books that make it onto the shelves, a publisher releasing a book offers an implicit statement that the book is of a quality worth paying money to print and distribute. A reader is more likely to forgive the errors of a professionally published book and not forgive the same of a self-published book because other people told him it was good.

    As for looking at any self-published authors, those anecdotal examples are always just that, anecdotal. One author among the hundreds of thousands that self-publish every year that had the chops to generate whatever success they do. For everyone of those people, there are 100,000 others who published before their manuscript was ready and sold copies to their parents and siblings.

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  8. Budgets for marketing are getting lower every day, forcing authors to create platforms that are essentially their own marketing efforts. As far as exposure goes, an average of 70% royalties vs 30% significantly lowers a self published author's need to find a large audience.

    Unless offered six digits, I would turn away an agent/publisher in an instant. They offer nothing I can't do myself.

  9. Come on: Average wages for authors -- average, not median or mode -- is $27,000 a year. MOST authors are not getting rich off the work and "foot traffic" is a joke. Have you been to a bookstore? Unless you're one of the books up front or on the endcap, there's no foot traffic. The B&N near us has maybe 50 books that catch the eye -- out of dozens.

    The benefit to getting a traditional publisher is that the traditional publisher MAY market your book. MAY. They'll get it into bookstores and that'll get traffic... a little... but not much more than might see a well-crafted website or catch a shot of you on the evening news.

    The truth is that only a few people in any creative endeavor make millions; there are hundreds of vampire book authors and only one Stephanie Meyer. If you're writing to get rich, you have to understand that (as Nassim Taleb points out) talent is only a part of the equation.

    Self-publishing is a way to market yourself and your book to a different group. As an author or writer, most have always marketed their work to agents and publishers; through Lulu and the Kindle and CreateSpace, those authors can now market their books to people with money instead of marketing them to industry insiders.

    And there's nothing about "being published" by a traditional publisher that says the book isn't crap.

    I think that the e-publishing and growing prevalence of e-books may have the same dramatic effect on writing that Myspace and iTunes had on music and bands: there are lots of musicians out there who suddenly didn't need a major label to get famous (Arctic Monkeys), and authors, if they're talented and lucky and hardworking, might be able to do the same.

  10. I think the poor quality of a lot of self-published books will change as more mid-list N.Y. authors begin to dip their toes into that market. Self-publishing is no longer just 'pop' putting his fishing book out. More and more mid-list authors are getting the rights back on their backlist and are choosing to self-publish those titles. (The royalty split doesn't hurt.) This will be especially true now that fewer and fewer brick and mortar stores are carrying all the new releases. Even New York Times bestsellers have had some of their books shut out of the chains. When this happens, an author has very few options, but to self-publish. Fortunately, the royalty split is in their favor. Will they lose some readers by going this route? Sure. Will they gain some? Absolutely, as long as they keep the price down on their ebooks. With the ever-shrinking N.Y. advance, self-publishing is becoming more and more a viable option.

  11. I was at a conference recently and what I heard about self-publishing made a lot of sense. The speaker explained that, especially for non-fiction, the money and time you need to put into publication needs to translate into sales fairly quickly for it to be a viable option.

    For example:

    If you're a speaker and you have your books on a table outside the venue...that's worth it. Sales immediately following a seminar, class, etc. make up a huge percentage of sales for self published.

    Or if you have a huge following on the internet and therefore are already in front of your desired demographic, then self publishing makes sense.

    The quality of cover art, cost of printing, and help with sales seem to have improved tenfold in the self publishing industry, but I'm not sure how fiction writers are faring.

  12. I have a good experience with self-publishing. After failing to get a traditional publisher three years ago, my agent advised me to self publish with Lulu's or iUniverse. I ended up taking his advice and published two novels with iUniverse. It was the best thing that ever happened to my career as an author. I took advantage of the publisher's evaluation and editing resources to improve my craft, and
    ultimately recieved Editors Choice for both novels. The people who have read my novels so far love them. They tell me they can't wait to
    find out what happens next. Even the Editors that I used loved them. This makes me so happy although I still have to reach more people. This week and next week impressions of my novels will be features on Publishers Weekly website and in the eNewletter, a costly endevour, but a very necessary one, as most agents are not interested in representing self-published authors. Let's hope for the best.

  13. Reading Eva's post, first, I'm not sure what "Editors Choice" means, and second, she didn't say that she's actually made any money. I see she's SPENT a lot of money. I went to PW but can't find the "features" -- and anyway it doesn't sound like a good way to reach readers.

    If I had an agent who advised me to self publish, I would fire them and find an agent who wanted to sell my work. This one has given up.

  14. I don't know why people place so much value on "assumption" or "vetting." The industry is about selling books, not nurturing a nation's great literary aspirations. Show me an editor who fights for beautiful books that will never sell and I will show you an editor who is destined to become an agent (at least before the third career move...)

    Wall Street Journal chimes in rather effectively:

    I probably "shouldn't of" self-published because what strangers think, or other writers think, is so incredibly important to me. Maybe I'll write a masochistic essay about it all. Excuse me, I am now off to fulfill the "roll" of editor, agent, PR flack, and typist.

    Publishers are great at selling books, but they don't know much about writing them, or they would be writers.

    Scott Nicholson