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Questions and Thoughts on Self Publishing


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#1 Shademan

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Posted 02 March 2014 - 07:45 AM

I've only recently begun the query process, so I haven't yet been given a major reason to feel bitter and disillusioned with traditional publishing. I have been reading a lot of interviews with agents, and they do tend to paint the industry in rather grim terms, but I guess that's just part of the experience these days...rough for everyone, but especially creatives.

I'd considered self publishing an option before, but mainly assumed that it would be something to do if the traditional thing didn't work out. Now I see that I was looking at it from an antiquated point of view. I simply hadn't been tracking recent developments.

These days, it seems to be a viable, if a touch costly, path. The stigma is on its way out, and publishing democracy, for better or worse, is on its way in.

In theory, I've never been a huge fan of monolithic creative industries that one must "break into." It's just that being published, being selected, is something of a boyhood dream. The idea of getting an advance, and getting others to do the bulk of the promotion, as opposed to having to hustle personally for every sale, also appeals...though not to the anarchist in me.

But self publication is something I am uniquely positioned for. I've a BFA from an expensive art school, and have spent five years as a professional, freelance web and graphic designer. I'm a competent painter and illustrator. Those thousands of dollars some have to shell out for professional covers, layouts, and website turn into...well, zero. Unless I want to have the cover designed by one of my many fabulous artist/designer friends or contacts, which is possible, but even then we're talking little money up front (many of them, especially those who might owe me a favor, could do it for a few hundred up front and a royalty agreement). And that's IF I decide to go for a style I can't personally execute. Whatever the case, I wouldn't only have more control than a traditional author; I would have more control than most. Basically, aside from editing, my costs would be minimal.

I'm no wiz with social media, but I'm not terrible with it either. And I did run a business for five years, and made a sort of living, so marketing isn't something I'd be starting from scratch with.

I mean, these are all blessing that I'm very grateful for in general, but wouldn't it be better if they were being put to good use?

Has anyone had any notable experience with self publishing? Is it really as viable a choice as traditional these days (so long as one is willing to put in the extra effort)? There are still mixed opinions out there, I guess. If so, and I literally can do most of the stuff the traditional guys would do for me, professionally at that, at greatly reduced personal cost, and while retaining full creative control, am I wasting my time with all the querying?

Just looking for experiences, notes, thoughts, etcetera. I still haven't made up my mind one way or the other.

#2 lizellor

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Posted 02 March 2014 - 08:13 AM

It really depends on what you want to get out of it. I tried it last year, hoping that if I made enough sales, I could break through to a traditional deal. Promoted the crap out of my work, held giveaways, used my decently popular blog. Nothing. I sold twenty copies after three months and got out of there. Don't think it'll lead to fame, fortune, and success. If your goal is to sell a few copies, have a few people see it, and maybe get a couple unbiased reviews, go for it. But you most likely will not make a huge profit nor achieve lasting popularity. There's a few exceptions to this rule, but you can't count on being an exception. 

 

It also depends on genre. If you're writing for kids, don't bother. Kids don't buy e-books and will rarely seek out books outside their local bookstores. Romance is traditionally the area that has the most success. For SF/F, the market is very saturated and competition is huge.

 

Also, know that if you self-pub it and it doesn't sell like hotcakes, you won't be able to traditionally publish it. So if you'd just like a few people to read it, go ahead--but don't delude yourself in thinking self-pubbing is the easy path to success, because it's not. 



#3 Shademan

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Posted 02 March 2014 - 08:42 AM

Thanks for the take. Definitely food for thought. Not looking for or expecting fame or fortune (even with the tradional route), and know that it's just as difficult (in different ways). I'm still trying to decide which set of soul crushing difficulties my personal skill set is best best suited for.

If I were to self publish, it would be a big step. I know about first pub rights, and I know that in most cases self publishing won't help one break into traditional publishing, or sell a large number of copies. For that reason, if I were to do the former, I would likely choose to commit to more than one book, and keep in mind that those books will be in that format forever. It's s pretty serious hustle, that much is clear. Lots of food for thought indeed.

#4 ClarkLori

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Posted 02 March 2014 - 08:48 AM

I self-published 2 books on Amazon and B&N last year. My 1099 from Amazon said I made close to 7k in sales of books. Certainly, I am not ready to quit my day job, but, for me, it was definitely better than sitting around boo-hooing over receiving rejection letter after rejection letter.

 

A couple important things to remember.

Marketing yourself sucks...you're better off hiring someone to do it for you. Like cover reveals, release day blitzes, etc.It's not that expensive. Shop around for pricing.

Cover art is important. I do my own so that doesn't cost me much.

A good editor is an absolute MUST for self publishing authors.

Don't read your own reviews. :)

 

To each his or her own, but if you're good enough, eventually, they will come to you. And there are a lot more big name self-published authors out there who did make enough to quit their day job. :) 



#5 Darke

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Posted 02 March 2014 - 09:00 AM

Another thing to remember is not to use Amazon alone for your books. I'm in Smashwords as well and through them my books are in Kobo, BN, iTunes, Sony and many other places, including the distributing channels via the places I've mentioned which get me into European markets that don't have Amazon.


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#6 itsmary

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Posted 02 March 2014 - 07:02 PM

It's different for every author and every book. If you have a book that falls into a niche category and you don't think would appeal to a mass audience and you're good with marketing and running a business, then you might want to consider self publishing. Because that's what you're really doing when you self publish -- you're running a business. You're not just in charge of the content of the book, but the design, editing, and marketing. 



#7 MJ O'Neill

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 11:11 PM

No matter which way you go, success in publishing is like winning the lottery. Not many hit it big, more do okay, most don't get anything despite playing every week. Google Joe Konrath's blog for a good essay on that thought.

What genre do you write? Some genres are easier to break through with than others in the land of Indie.

Here's a thought: if you query and don't get a contract, you can always then go self pub. It's much harder to go the other way, unless your book is a smash hit. So you're only out some time lost.

If you query and do get a contract, it might suck or you might think its great. Hopefully your agent will look out for your rights, either way, there's no guarantee they'll want your next book or that you'll want to give it to them. You can always self pub the next one and you'll have obtained that boyhood dream by that point.

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#8 Russell

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 11:34 PM

The only problem with self-publishing is you lack the marketing power of a publishing house. If you do follow the route of self-publishing you have to take up the marketing part yourself, which means advertising your book on their forums and other creative ways to get your book noticed by people.

 

The other thing is with a new e-book. Most people will not purchase a book that has no reviews on it. Another thing you will have to do is look up people who have reviewed plenty in the past and invite them to review your book, and hope that they do.

 

The last thing I can bring up with e-books is that the editing is purely on your part. You have to make sure, without the protective eyes of agents and editors, that your novel is flawless or reviews will tear you apart. Negative reviews means other people will shy away from your novel.

 

Those things being said, I have experience myself with e-book self-publishing and it is a good route for short stories, flash fiction, and novels. It is a great way to get your name out there. There are quite a few authors who have made a name for themselves by self-publishing. However, look at the statistics of how much the average book sells for and you will see that Amazon states that the average sale amount is about 100 sales over one year. Then again there are some novels selling 30-40,000 copies a month (I believe that statistic is for Wool, the #1 paid sci fi novel seller at the time I was looking up the stats long ago). KDP also offers plenty of other information and advice as well that I found very helpful when doing my first self-publishing.

 

Just remember that with self-publishing you are a one man/woman show. You are your support and back up. You are the marketing department and the customer service department. It is a lot of work, but then again, what isn't? Writing (and the several editing runs afterwards) is definitely the hardest part! Keep working towards your goals and keep writing.



#9 Shademan

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Posted 06 March 2014 - 02:04 AM

There are a lot of great perspectives here. Thanks guys.

I started to really consider going the indie route after having read a variety of interviews from industry insiders, agents and editors alike. A recurring source of frustration for the agents is apparently the fact that many commercial publishers, aside from having become more and more risk averse over time, aren't really willing to put all that much marketing muscle behind the work of an unknown author (even one whom they'd signed with). This is paradoxical, because the new authors are the ones who need that publicity most. Some of these interviews have made it sound almost as though the house basically just throws your book into the pond and watches to see if it sinks or swims. A very obvious catch 22, if even remotely true. If they aren't willing to market a book until the author or the book shows signs of being "successful," it probably won't be successful, unless the author and the agent take up the slack and do a bunch of the marketing themselves, or unless a miracle does happen (and they do, occasionally). I am sure (or I hope) that this isn't a universal phenomenon, and I'm sure that it isn't quite so bad as all that (the publishing house does want a book to make them money, after all, so they must do something), but I suspect that these statements have some basis in reality. 

And if the marketing advantage of a major publisher is diminished (or entirely gutted), then the only advantage that's left over is the advance, and those have been shrinking steadily over the years as well, and can't be the only consideration when trying to bring your book to an audience (it might be nice to pocket a few grand for something you made, but it doesn't help you as a potential career author if nobody knows that your book exists).

I wrote a somewhat experimental literary fiction novel with strong metaphysical elements, something along the lines of what Herman Hesse used to write, at least thematically (I don't presume to compare the quality of my work to his), so it isn't exactly an easy trade sell to begin with. Not in this market, it seems. It'll be a rough road either way. The strategy I've landed upon for now is to focus my querying and submission process on small, independent presses that are interested in that kind of work, query agents who have some history of selling to such presses (and/or representing similar work), and continue to send out a trickle of queries to agents that work with literary fiction in general, cause, you know, eggs, and baskets, and all that. In the long periods of waiting between my submissions and the rejection letters (or rejections by silence, as the case may be), I should have plenty of time to quietly prep the book, and myself, for the self publication option, while working on the next book, of course. That way, I figure, I am prepared to move either way. If someone does decide to pick me up, the time spent doing layouts and cover designs won't have been wasted, since it never hurts to hone one's skills.

It is nice to see that possibilities are opening up, despite problems and etc.Rough sailing ahead, but I suppose it is very much about the journey itself, and it's a fairly exciting one to embark on.

 



#10 MJ O'Neill

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Posted 06 March 2014 - 08:10 AM

Distribution is also on the trad publisher side. In fact, it's the biggest point in their favor. The more places your book is, the more chance it has of being sold. Plus, while trad publishing may not be hugely helpful with marketing these days, they do have a built in email list that you won't.

I'm not on the trad pub side. In fact, I think if you are a volume genre writer Indie is the best way to go on your way to hybrid.

But literary fiction seems to be a tough go. If you capture an editor's heart, they may be able to give you some extra muscle.

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#11 Secret Intellect

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Posted 06 March 2014 - 08:55 AM

I am self published. It's definitely not the way to go if you're looking for huge success. That's not to say it's a bad idea; I definitely don't regret doing it. It's been a fun experience so far & I plan on releasing a few more books this way. But you really have to promote it to death. You have to put time, effort & money into it and be the sales person that you aren't. You have to let go of any illusions you may have about it & accept that you may only sell a few copies.

But you do get some good things out of it. If you promote it and get others to help, you sort of begin making a name for yourself as a writer. You get to see your work in real, live print - and self published or not, it's a real thrill to have your own book in your hands. You also get a chance to literally do whatever you want with your book; you don't have an editor telling you to cut this or rewrite that, you can design your own covers however you want, that kind of thing. And for the creative, that can be a lot of fun.

#12 E.B. Black

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Posted 17 March 2014 - 02:43 PM

I have self-published two novels and about eight short stories (under a different pen name).

 

It's as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be. From experience, a few hundred dollars for a book cover is actually expensive. I've gotten covers for as cheap as $15 before made by other people. (And if they are charging you for royalties on top of that, it sounds way over the top.) And editing costs me a few hundred and the copyright costs me thirty five, but other than that, I usually pay nothing. so my books on average cost anywhere from three to four hundred dollars a piece.

 

You can spend up to a few thousand for better editors though and maybe a few hundred for better covers and unlimited money for marketing, but you don't have to. There's ways to market without spending any money, but they take time.

 

Just so you know, I am very poor. Under the poverty level poor and I still find ways to make it work. =)

 

Also, I want to point out something that I think is important. No matter what path you take when it comes to publishing, you can't go back. It's not just self-publishing like everyone says. It's also traditional publishing and small press. I've met authors who have been published like that and come to regret it. At minimum, to get rights back for your book, you are going to have a lawsuit that will cost you a few thousand dollars. So you usually can't self-publish a book after traditionally publishing it either, even if your publishing company ruins it or stops publishing it. They still own the rights and can do whatever they want.

 

And any path is hard. Whether you are querying OR self-publishing, the likelihood of you becoming a bestselling author is very, very small. I don't think it's any smaller whether you choose self-publishing or traditional.

 

I prefer self-publishing because I have more control. But that's just me. Choose whatever makes you most comfortable.


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#13 MJ O'Neill

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Posted 17 March 2014 - 08:19 PM

To clarify, I agree with E.B. that for a given book it's hard to impossible to go back and get rights once it's traditionally published. 

 

I think what we all meant by the going back thing is that for your subsequent books you can make a different choice if you go trad first. You often hear that if you self publish first, unless you have major sales, getting someone in traditional land (agents and publishers) to take you is harder for subsequent books. Although, I tend to think a good book trumps all. However, if you trad publish your first book but the experience wasn't all you wanted, you could always go the self publishing route with book two without any worries on limitations.

 

Also, if you try to get a trad contract first and it doesn't work out, you can still self publish. It's more a commitment of time. Once you hit publish on self publish, you're committed from a rights perspective.

 

But I think she made a great point about considering how much control you want in the process. Because either way, success in publishing is hard and you should choose a path that lets you enjoy the journey the most.


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#14 KindaCozy

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Posted 07 April 2014 - 10:26 PM

I'm late to this party (just joined AQC tonight!) but this is a topic that's been on my mind a lot lately. I'm fresh off a writing conference and heard a lot of similar rumblings about the fact that the big houses won't put much muscle into your marketing. But one of the big advantages, as someone mentioned above, is that they have better distribution.

 

Self publishing seems to go better for genre fiction, as far as I can tell, because people who read genre fiction tend to read a lot of it, and therefore buy a lot more books. Literary fiction seems to be tougher. All that said, it seems you have a skill set that would lend itself to self-publishing, so that helps! 



#15 J. Lea Lopez

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Posted 09 April 2014 - 03:52 PM

I think what we all meant by the going back thing is that for your subsequent books you can make a different choice if you go trad first. You often hear that if you self publish first, unless you have major sales, getting someone in traditional land (agents and publishers) to take you is harder for subsequent books. Although, I tend to think a good book trumps all. However, if you trad publish your first book but the experience wasn't all you wanted, you could always go the self publishing route with book two without any worries on limitations.

 

I just have to disagree with this slightly. I haven't really heard anything about it being more difficult to go traditional with a book after you've already self published one or more different books. Usually people who don't understand what they're getting into will self-publish a book and then when it's not what they thought they'll try to get an agent for that very same book (while it's out there on the market already) or for the sequel to that book. And that is where someone is going to have a very hard time breaking into the traditional publishing model. For a completely separate, unrelated book, I think it's like you said, MJ. A good book trumps all. That's what I see most often from agents and editors on social media - it's all about the book.

 

It's also important to note that if you traditionally publish the first book in a series and are dissatisfied with the experience, depending on your contract, you may not be able to just self-publish the rest of the series. And even if you can, what happens when your print run is up and the publisher decides not to do a second run? You control nothing with that first book - not pricing, cover art, special promotions and sales, etc. and that can hurt you with a series.

 

I think it's a pretty safe bet to assume that, aside from a handful of exceptions, once you publish a book (either traditionally or on your own) you're effectively closing the door on the other publishing path with that book or with any sequels to that book.



#16 sharpegirl

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Posted 09 April 2014 - 06:37 PM

I just have to disagree with this slightly. I haven't really heard anything about it being more difficult to go traditional with a book after you've already self published one or more different books. Usually people who don't understand what they're getting into will self-publish a book and then when it's not what they thought they'll try to get an agent for that very same book (while it's out there on the market already) or for the sequel to that book. And that is where someone is going to have a very hard time breaking into the traditional publishing model. For a completely separate, unrelated book, I think it's like you said, MJ. A good book trumps all. That's what I see most often from agents and editors on social media - it's all about the book.

 

 

I agree with Lea, here. I think maybe 5 years ago, having previously self published work might be a point against you (and maybe to some agents still, definitely depends on the agent) but I'm seeing more and more "hybrid" authors, with hands on both sides of the publishing pond, so to speak. The industry is evolving, agents understand that they've got to be flexible and writers are trying to make a living. In fact, I have a good friend who got permission to self publish a prequel novella before the release of her book in the same world by a trad publisher as a marketing tool. It generated some good buzz for her and her publisher and agent were totally happy to let her do it. 






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