Self-Publishing, Part Whatever
While I was at the Durand Fantasy Expo on Saturday, I ended up talking to several other authors and publishing folks about self-publishing and print-on-demand. Here are a few of my thoughts from the drive home.
1. Dear self-published authors: As a writer, I am not your target audience. I can’t count the number of times authors, mostly (but not always) self-published or PoD, have tried to hard-sell their books to me. Just don’t.
2. Self-publishing seems to work pretty well for comics and graphic novels. This is something I’ve noticed over the past year or two. Maybe it’s just me, but a lot of the self-pubbed/PoD comics I’ve seen are just plain good. A while back, Jane Irwin gave me copies of Vogelein: Clockwork Faerie and Vogelein: Old Ghosts. They were well-done, and I enjoyed the stories.
A lot of web comics seem to go the same route, using small PoD printers or self-publishing, and producing very nice products. It makes me wonder what we on the prose side of things could learn from the comics folks.
3. Self-publishing takes a lot of time and work. My very first book, a mainstream novel called Goldfish Dreams, recently reached the end of its contract with Fictionwise. I’d really like to put the book out there on Kindle and maybe in a few other places. Thus far, I’ve done absolutely nothing on this project. I only have so many hours, and I also have to write my next book. It makes me wonder — if I was fully responsible for the entire publication process, how much longer would it take to release each new book?
4. People will believe anything that protects their egos. “New York editors don’t want good stories, and won’t take new authors. You’re better off without an editor, because they’ll destroy your unique vision. Self-publishing is better, because publishers only pay 6-12% royalties.”
There are times when self-publishing can work. However, many of these claims are total crap … but they’re crap that protect the ego, and thus people choose to believe and defend ’em.
5. I’m outnumbered. There were a handful of other authors there on Saturday. As far as I know, I was the only “traditionally” published one there. A lot of people kept checking out my books and saying things like, “So I have to go to your web site to get these, right?” Um … sure, you can go through my web site. Or you can walk into most any bookstore in the country and pluck one of my books off the shelves.
I don’t know what to think about this. I know the technology has gotten better and more available, and this is going to mean a lot more authors taking advantage of that technology. But it was an odd feeling.
Please note that I’m not bashing self-publishing. As I said in #3, I’m planning to use it myself.
Anyway, questions and comments and discussion are welcome, as always.
September 7, 2010 @ 1:39 pm
You may have seen it already, but I really think that these are the 10 biggest keys to digital publishing success.
Number three on your list is frequently underestimated. For example, mere conversion to ePub (at least, so that it looks good) is a goodly bit of work. It usually takes me somewhere around 8 to 10 man-hours, depending on the complexity of the text, which is why my rates for that work are what they are.
Self-publishers frequently seem to forget that there’s legit line and copy editors, or legit freelance artists that they can hire for covers. I’ve had pro authors tell me that they hired a freelance editor to proof their first novel before submission (and thought it was an investment well spent). Reminds me that it’s past time for me to assemble that list.
The somewhat-rambling point being that if an author decides to take the role of a publisher, they need to both take up all the roles of a publisher and treat it like a business. Sometimes you do the work in-house. Sometimes you sub-contract. But you always treat it like a business.
September 7, 2010 @ 3:03 pm
#1 This is a hard one. Not speaking as a writer, but as a (former) small business owner, self-publishing means you have to take your own destiny completely in your hands. You don’t have marketing, sales, or anything else. So you have to do everything. And when you are that deep, every single sale matters. I could imagine they don’t see you as a writer as much as a potential sale; you know you won’t buy it, but they don’t know that because they have to really push to get anyone to buy their stuff. It’s a hard route to take, and requires a lot of willpower.
#3 Self-publishing is a lot of work. For my novel, I saw no reason to keep making it commercial after the publishing company went out of business, so I did the self-publish route. It took a lot of hours to do, but I happen to enjoy typesetting, getting illustrators (I did per chapter illustrations), and doing the whole nine yards. Yeah, I don’t have enough hours to really sell it, but I viewed self-publishing as an long tail solution, not the beginning. POD is the literary graveyard for me. I polished the book up one last time and let it go; I thought it was better than letting it disappear.
#4 Heh, I completely agree with those. They are myths. Then again, I’d rather someone was brutal and honest about its viability (traditional) instead of kissing my ass and taking my money (POD).
#5 At GenCon, there are a lot of self-published authors. Occasionally, one of the traditionally published authors shows up in Authors Alley and there is this interesting mix of cultures. I don’t remember for Mr. Strout, but there was one guy I remember who had a sci-fi novel, but wasn’t selling it at the convention because it was “available in any bookstore”. It was kind of a bummer, because I was picking up all the books I could, I forgot what he was selling because he didn’t make that much of an impression on me (I think that year, I came home with 1.2 meters worth of books of all types including game systems).
Jim C. Hines
September 7, 2010 @ 3:05 pm
I think number three is underestimated in general, not just with self-publishing. Look at how many people argue that e-books should be cheap/free because there’s no physical cost, and that’s the only reason books are so expensive, right?
September 7, 2010 @ 3:47 pm
::waggles finger at Jim::
Dude, you know to not get me started on eBooks. ::grin:: I’m so looking forward to hearing the recording of the WorldCon eBook panel to see how much what I’ve been saying mirrors what they’ve been saying…
September 7, 2010 @ 4:42 pm
Re #5: And that is why the guy fails. Doesn’t even matter if he was self published or traditionally published. If you want your book to succeed you have to market it and yourself, everywhere you go! When my mom sold her first book, she would take copies of it everywhere she went and either give them out free to people or sell them. We always had 15 copies of it lying around… I still have several on hand, even!
Just because its “Available in any Bookstore” doesn’t mean that it actually is. There are many authors who are published traditionally who probably aren’t in a bookstore at all.
September 7, 2010 @ 4:44 pm
I’m not a fan of the self-published area of the world and that is simply because you tend to see quality take a hit. Either in type setting, cover art, or just overall writing. And as a consumer, I’m not willing to weed through all the crap to get to that one golden jewel.
Jim C. Hines
September 7, 2010 @ 7:21 pm
“If you want your book to succeed you have to market it and yourself, everywhere you go!”
I’d argue with that one. Admittedly, when I did GenCon, I was lugging a suitcase full of my books, and sold a good number of ’em. And I’d agree it’s a little silly to not have them available at that sort of event.
But — at least for me — I don’t believe I have to be “on” all the time. I don’t have copies of my books in my car. I don’t have bookmarks to hand out everywhere I go. Heck, even on the blog, I spend a lot more time talking about publishing and rape and picking fights with other writers than I do just pushing my books.
Some of that probably falls into the “marketing myself” (as opposed to marketing the books) category. But I also think it’s easy to become that writer who’s always on, and that can become a turn-off to potential readers.
“Just because its “Available in any Bookstore” doesn’t mean that it actually is.”
Definitely. Even a lot of my books which were once stocked and shelved have by now been stripped and returned to make room for new releases. Most stores have a few of my books … but few stores have all of them.
September 7, 2010 @ 8:12 pm
@Zollmaniac: You’re absolutely right. Even my absolute favorite self-published work – a chapbook put out by a local sf poet – has a few quality issues. (A typo here and there.)
But that’s what word of mouth is for. Again, for example, that local poet I mentioned. His name is Matt Betts. Most of his self-published chapbook “See No Evil, Say No Evil” has previously seen print in magazines and ‘zines, and it’s just absolutely fabulous. It’s great stuff. It’s definitely worth the cover price (and I’m trying to convince him to let me help him release it as a slightly cheaper eBook).
On the other hand, at the same con where I first met Matt, I had an erotic furries in space novel pushed into my hands. (Jim, you know who I mean.) I’ve… um, not read more than the first page of it.
Jim C. Hines
September 7, 2010 @ 9:21 pm
On the other hand, at the same con where I first met Matt, I had an erotic furries in space novel pushed into my hands. (Jim, you know who I mean.)
::Blink:: I’m drawing a complete blank. E-mail me a reminder?
In the author’s defense, it sounds like at least they gave it to you as a sample instead of trying to sell it to you?
September 7, 2010 @ 9:33 pm
Concerning typos. Even one of my favorite books, Deeds of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon, which has seen more than a few reprints, has a bunch of typos that draw my eye every single time I read it.
Not to say there aren’t any typos in self-publish stuff, just less eyes looking at it to find the stupid little ones.
September 8, 2010 @ 9:27 am
Re: #2–I think a part of what makes self-publishing work for comics is because a lot of them start as web comics. That means that they can build up a fanbase online, whether through ads or word of mouth or whatever, and then when they have fans they can see if there’s interest in a “dead tree” version. There are plenty of web comics that I would LOVE to have a hard copy of, but that I would never have heard of or spent money on before I began following the comic. I don’t know if there’s really a written analogue to that, although the Baen Free Library did turn me on to a lot of authors I’d otherwise have ignored.
September 8, 2010 @ 10:45 am
This is technically about a film and not a book but bear with me.
I just got back from Dragon*Con, and since I’m a filmmaker I attended a couple of the filmmaking panels. At the first one, a gentleman on the panel came in, and was having a discussion beforehand with somebody else on the panel. The second gentlemen mentioned that he couldn’t find his copy of the first’s film.
The first guy pulls out a DVD from his bag, and says he has a stack on hand. Somebody in the front row asks how much, and just by virtue of having it with him and ready to sell, he sold probably ten or so copies of it just to people sitting in the room, including me. I ended up buying one not just because the other panelist recommended it, but out of respect for the sheer tenacity of the director. He didn’t do a hard sell, he didn’t come up pushing his film on anybody. He just mentioned he had some in his bag, if anybody was interested.
I feel like that’s the way self published authors need to be most of the time, not necessarily on all the time (I agree, that would get annoying) but ready to seize opportunities when they present themselves. With traditional publishing at a con like that, you wouldn’t need to bring your books to the panels or anything like that, but you still need to have them available somewhere so you can send people to that table/seller so that they can pick up your book while it’s fresh on their minds.
Jim C. Hines
September 8, 2010 @ 10:52 am
Ahem. Anyway, I agree with you. I don’t necessarily carry bookmarks or business cards around with me to work or to karate or things like that, but if I’m at a convention, you’d better believe I’ve got bookmarks, business cards, and goblin tattoos in various pockets, ready to give out to anyone *who’s interested*. Likewise, I make sure the books are available in the dealer’s room, and I try to bring extras in case the dealers forget or sell out.
Really, I should probably stuff a few business cards into my wallet, too. Just for the completely random encounter where someone asks about the writing…
But yes, not pushing, but being prepared for opportunities.
Out of curiosity, what was the film?
September 8, 2010 @ 10:56 am
Continually intrigued by how self-publishing evolves alongside traditional publishing methods. I wrote a bit about Paul Carr’s latest article (http://jrvogt.blogspot.com/2010/08/updates-links-and-thoughts-on.html) where he discusses what he sees to be a growing trend of authors abandoning publishers for self-publishing, and then turning around and disparaging the very publishers who helped them get established in the first place. For me, I recognize self-pub can be a viable option, but it continues to have a certain stigma in my mind that is hard to overcome, especially considering how many scams have been connected to it over the years.
Jim C. Hines
September 8, 2010 @ 8:38 pm
A lot of scams, and a lot of bad information perpetuated by the scammers.
Hey, do you know Scott Nicholson? I saw you mentioned him in your blog. I met him about a decade back, at Writers of the Future.
I’d need to read and ponder more on Carr’s thoughts and your comments. I don’t think those are the *only* two times it makes sense to self-publish. I think it’s a potentially good way to get your backlist back into print, for example. And I’m not sure about the “saving face” argument.
September 8, 2010 @ 11:37 pm
I’ve only recently become acquainted with Scott, mainly after he began his 90-day virtual tour. I ran an interview with him on Examiner.com, similar to the one with you last year, and have been following his endeavors on Twitter.
I always love seeing efforts people are making to take full advantage of the virtual community, eBooks and otherwise while filing away future plans for my own novel.
I would agree there are more instances where self-publishing would make sense then just people already established or those who want to save face–authors aiming for incredibly niche audiences with a release is one example that pops to mind. So it’s a more timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly issue than the post makes it out to be. That’s what makes the ongoing conversation so much fun. I like your idea about bringing out the backlist.
September 8, 2010 @ 11:38 pm
Whups, sorry for the wonky links there.
September 9, 2010 @ 12:46 am
I have a friend that used exLibris to POD religious books. They sell best at his speaking engagements and to visitors to his congregation. He also published his Master thesis, a compilation of the magazine type articles he has written and a collection of sermons he has turned in to narratives. The people he intended to reach are buying the books. I helped “Test-Teach” some of his material and gave him my input.
Jim C. Hines
September 9, 2010 @ 8:03 am
No problem. HTML has been fixed.
Jim C. Hines
September 9, 2010 @ 8:05 am
I used Lulu to print a few copies of my wife’s Master thesis, for her personal use. Much cheaper than the university was charging.
And for people with a platform and an ability to get in front of people and engage them, self-publishing can work a lot better, since you’re already reaching your audience. Sounds like your friend is making this work for himself.
September 9, 2010 @ 3:29 pm
This was my first trip back in four years, so I was just happy to finally be there again. Man, I love hanging out with like-minded people.
Of course, I also made the mistake of not bringing any of my business cards with me when I had about twelve opportunities to have given them out. I’m not used to the whole thing yet, having business cards.
The film was called God of Vampires, it was an indie horror project. I haven’t watched it yet, but the other guys on the panels gave it glowing reviews. It apparently took him ten years from conception to finished product, so I don’t blame him for carrying copies everywhere he goes.