Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Self-publish?

I know someone who has self-published a book, which was kind of a pet project of the author’s.  It’s not a bad book, but it’s rather odd in some ways, and it’s easy for me to see why the author couldn’t find a publisher.  And lots of people in the book business don’t think much of self-publishing.  Robert Sawyer(unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the link in my blog) thinks it’s a terrible idea, and told one aspiring writer that in so many words. My recollection is, that he essentially told the would- be author to “trash” that book and write a lot of short stories.  Personally, I thought this was a bit harsh, but  there is still an attitude in the book business, that self-published books are badly written “vanity” pieces

 

On the other hand, I was at a wedding a couple of years ago, and one of the relatives – the groom’s family – I don’t know how this guy was related – got me in a conversation about my writing.  He kept trying to “sell” me on self-publishing.  I was leery at the time, and still am, somewhat, but at that stage, I was not about to try to peddle a “half-baked” Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, in any  form!  Besides which, if you self-publish, everything falls on you!  This includes marketing and distributing the thing, which many writers simply do not have a talent for.  So I held firm and essentially, after I got back from the wedding, which was out of town, I went back to writing. 

 

On the other hand, there is an interesting article about self-publishing in the current Time Magazine, which told several stories about authors who “did everything right”:  they wrote the proper queries, carefully submitted their works to as many agents as they could, in the genres they were writing, and still remained unpublished.  One of them simply got frustrated, plunked down $450 or some similar amount, and got her book published.  She then peddled it around herself, and a few people, including some agent, picked it up.  The end result was, the agent liked what he or she saw, picked it up, and it was published by a respectable publishing house.

 

I don’t know exactly what to make of this, since most authors don’t sell that many books anyway, published or not.  Some get their start, for instance, by writing books that sell only to libraries.  I’ve read some of these, and the writing is decent, but they are awfully short and sweet.  But on the other hand, perhaps that’s all a lot of library patrons want.  And the author can then say, somewhere down the line, “Yes, I’ve published (insert title) and  so-and-so liked it”.  Which can add to the person’s writing credibility.  Unfortunately, unless the agent is fairly open, if it’s self-published, the old attitudes may persist. 

 

I think the Time Magazine article is right about one thing, though.  And that is, that the nature of reading, and publishing, is changing considerably.  The reason for this is partly economic – though not the reasons the author of the article has listed, I think.  The author of the article accuses publishing houses of being kind of uneconomical and old-fashioned about the way they do business with writers, but in fact, one problem writers have, is that book publishing, while always interested in making money by selling books, used to be fairly “writer-friendly”.  If you had any degree of writing talent at all, they would nurture you, and you would stay “midlist” for a while, but if you were lucky, gain a following through word of mouth and the like.  But in the last twenty years or so(if not longer), publishing houses have become increasingly “bottom line” oriented; they are looking for the next blockbuster of a book – a Da Vinci Code or Harry Potter to  carry them to the next profit margin.  But in these tight economic times, people may be less likely to actually buy a book that costs nearly $30.00, especially when they may be able to get it out of the local library system(which I actually encourage, for many books, because I’m a huge supporter of libraries), or trade it with some friend, or get it second-hand.  And that’s hard on authors, too.  This is something the author actually pointed out, in the article.  Furthermore, once you pay the fee for Kindle, which is becoming increasingly popular, and again, I can see why, because I’m acquainted with a lady who actually owns one, it is far cheaper to download some book onto a Kindle and read it that way.  So people may actually end up being less reliant on bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble or Borders(which is rumored to be in considerable financial trouble anyway), and more so on Kindle-like devices.  And, in turn, this may allow a lot of authors to simply put a book on file and have it carried by Amazon.com and sold to anyone who is interested, without intermediaries.  There would probably be some fee or percentage of sales going to whoever carries these electronic books, but it is likely that an author would get a larger share of any profits.  Which, of course is nice for writers, sine few of them make a whole lot of money. 

 

In the end, I think the article may well be right, that this is the future of book publishing.  But at the present, it seems to me that everything is still in a state of flux, and it will take some time before things in the book publishing business to settle into any new pattern.  So should an author self publish?  I have mixed feelings.  I would say, “It depends”. . . .

Anne G

7 comments:

Cash Matrix said...

What better will make your target visitors remember your website but with a very easy-to-recall domain name. Something sweet and short will prove to be very invaluable. Registering your domain name is not for free. But creativity is.

Marg said...

There are a a couple of authors over at HFOnline who started our self publishing their books and ended up getting deals as a result, but as a reader I am more likely to be wary of a self published book.

Nan Hawthorne said...

You are right, Anne. Publishing is changing. The corporate publishing houses are so heavily leveraged that they can't help but be risk adverse. So they publish the sort of lurid cover thrillers that look good on the a supermarket checkout line shelves.

Unfortunately readers get short-changed, especially those who have strong preferences for genres,such as historical fiction. One of the beauties of self-publishing, or "independent publishing" as it is becoming known now, is that people who like these special interest books can be served.

My own belief is that the market should decide. If people want to read something, then thank heavens he or she no longer need rely on the "literary industrial complex" for it. As for distribution, I am not sure what you mean. If you look at any indie book on Amazon, you will see it gets the same amount of space as any corporate published books. PODs make the whole process smoother.

I have a sneaking position the book you refer to in the opening of your post is my novel... yes, I never even thought of trying to get "An Involuntary King" published by a traditional publisher. Yes, it is partly because I did not think I had a prayer with them.. not because of quality issues, in my opinion, but because of the unusual nature of the novel, being both a novel and about a novel. But I also chose to go my own way because this book has a special place in my life and heart.. the characters are my oldest friends, and I wasn't about to let some editor carve it and them up. That would be betrayal of these dear old comrades.

One last point.. everyone knows of the success of independent recording artists and independent filmmakers. They have gained the image of somehow having more integrity than the mass production industry. Why should books be any different? Why do we assume an independently published book is lower quality? I truly don't understand this. I have not muself found indie books suffer by comparison.

I encourage you and anyone reading this comment to learn about the Independent Authors Guild, a coalition of authors with the courage and vision to champion their own work.
www.indepndentauthorsguild.org

Anne Gilbert said...

Cash Matrix:

This may actually be a very good idea, though I haven't gotten to the point, yet, of putting up a website yet. Still, it's my understanding that a lot of domain names can be purchased rather cheaply as things go, which is good to keep in mind when the time comes.
Anne G

Anne Gilbert said...

Marg:

Yes, I've actually met authors who successfully self published. But these were authors of nonfiction, whose books just happened to catch the eye of an agent. I've heard of some fiction authors who get on the scene this way, but it still is rare, and in part because of the attitudes still prevalent in the book business, I'm a bit queasy about the whole idea. However, I offered this essay, and the link that inspired it, as a way of possibly helping others to decide whether they wanted to go that route or not. And yes, I think you're right about readers being wary of something self published. I saw what purported to be a thriller with an interesting premise in the local library a while back. The publishing house was one I'd never heard of, and the book turned out to be Really Bad in a number of ways. I concluded that it was either self published or published by a house where bad books go to die. Fortunately, since I got it out of the library, I didn't lose any money on it.
Anne G

Anne Gilbert said...

Nan:

If you really love something, and don't think it will get published in a "traditional" way, and you can find a way to market it, by all means, go for independent publishing. My comments, such as they were, were not in any way meant to disparage any author who works hard and does the best s/he can, tries to find a publisher, or at least does the proper research before deciding, and then decides to go the "independent publishing route. There may well be good reasons for this. If you read down to the end, and I hope you did, you will see that I basically encouraged readers and writers to think this decision through, based on their own needs. It may well be good for some of us to go that route. Here's the problem, and you(and every author thinking about this should be aware of the pitfalls): the "literary industrial complex" as you call it, still has an "attitude" about independent publishing. This includes some authors. The second is, if you publish independently, everything falls on you, the author. Most authors I know just aren't business types, and marketing isn't one of their skills. They then have to hire someone who does have these skills(thus cutting into their own profits), or else they have to learn them. Not every author has the time, energy, or interest to do these things. But if they don't, the book will surely fail, if you're an "unknown". Again, I just say this as a word of caution, not because I want to stop anybody from making that choice, if they think they can handle it. Still, the very fact that the nature of the industry is changing, is, IMO a good thing, and I think there will increasingly be room for "odd" books in various genres, that people may well want to buy. I think that in the not too distant future, a lot of this will be quite possible. Authors probably still won't get rich, but they'll begin to get more respet, if they're really any good. Stay with it, Nan! I really am "with" you, whatever decision you make. It's just that, for me, I'll wait and see.
Anne G

Nan Hawthorne said...

No worries, I took your post as an exploration of the ideas, not a criticism of them. You are right to weigh the matter.

The one thing I will quibble with is that when you say indie authors have to do all the marketing, you are implying that the publisher will shoulder that responsibility. The fact is that this is not true. Every author I know who has had his/her book accepted by a publisher has been expected to do the lioness's share of the marketing. Just ask Susan Higginbotham.

I just advise not having any illusions about corporate publishing.. it ain't what it used to be, as you note in your post.

And I am happy with my choice.. for the book I have now. Future books have other routes to take.. they aren't my "sacred book" so editors can make me change whatever they want!

Thanks for your well-considered take on this issue.

Nan