In anticipation of tomorrow’s post, which should be about self-publishing and an author’s career path (unless I forget), I’d like to hear your thoughts on self-publishing.
Andrew Sullivan wasn’t the first and surely won’t be the last to assert that POD (in this context I believe Andrew is referring to POD as self-publishing mechanism rather than the printing method that is also used by mainstream publishers, although I don’t speak conservative pundit-ese) will eventually replace the old-fashioned publisher and distribution model that has prevailed for the last hundred and some odd years.
Due to the Internet, which allows people to discover small and hidden-away books that in days of yore needed to get into a bookstore to sell, some people see the potential for self-publishing to reap the YouTube effect — little known authors can all of a sudden catch on through word of virtual mouth and become big in a major way. Or people will still depend on those old fashioned and yawn-inducing nuts and bolts things like marketing budgets, bookstores, sales forces, distribution, imprint cache and professional editing offered by mainstream publishing.
So what do you think — will self-publishing make inroads into the territory once reserved for mainstream publishing or will it always be an also-ran for lack of the distribution and big-ness of the mainstream publishers?
The future hangs in the balance. Or it doesn’t. You decide.
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April Groves says
I am very curious about a couple of things – and please understand that I am not in the industry and am just learning.
1 – I have seen some horrifically published books – both self and otherwise. Does the cost of self publication and lack of advance money provide the same type of “weeding” that traditionally occur or do I over estimate the expense?
2 – Don’t many self published authors employ an editor? Does this change the way traditionalists feel about self published books?
I am not sold on either idea. I can tell you that the biggest hang up I have is the agent process. Maybe I am just confused about how the business should work.
As a person that works with clients based on commission, I work with clients through the process. I was hoping I would find a literary agent of the same train of thought. A person who felt that working through the process was part of the job. I find it interesting that the agent of fictional work requires a full manuscript prior to offering any assistance.
I am fond of the query process that accompanies non fiction work. I think it is fair to evaluate an idea and a concept to determine if two people are right to work together.
While I don’t know that self publishing is the answer, I do think the agent acquiring process may be uncomfortable to some people. I for one would prefer to feel like I am working with my agent instead accepting a favor from him.
Nathan Bransford says
Just a small clarification — agents require full manuscripts for fiction because publishers require full manuscripts from first time novelists. Every agent I know is interested in growing an author and helping them achieve as much success as possible, however, this does not usually extend to taking a partial manuscript and helping the author finish it. That’s the author’s job.
We can help an author who has a great manuscript, but except in rare instances it’s virtually impossible for us to be able to invest the time necessary in steering a partial manuscript to fruition when there’s no guarantee we’re going to like it enough to represent it in the end.
Ben in PDX says
The biggest thing is that you expect/want people to buy your book. People think “I’ll just advertise it on the internet, and then everyone will buy it.” I don’t think so. Getting people to part from their money is harder than you think, and not having the validation of a major publisher or a known bookstore is a huge red flag.
Sorry, the previous comment got scrambled. Here’s a second try.
What a snotty comment!
Yes, I “clearly” don’t write erotic romance but I do write historical romance–I’ve completed two novels–and I spent several years active in the RWA and even helped get a new chapter off the ground. So I learned quite a lot about how the erotica genre got started and matured.
You have that right! It is so hard to sell books that the numbers that would make a hardback book a New York Times Bestseller can be low enough that they would be condsidered a failure if they were the sales numbers for a music CD. And keep in mind that the free download thing has really lowered CD sales too!
I had one friend whose book hit the NYTimes top 10 list without selling even 100,000 copies.
Amy Lane says
I see self-publishing as a place for Horatio Algier myths to grow…
Some of the stats I’ve seen on traditionally published novels are pretty horrific–something like 85% of first time writers don’t sell out their first printing? If a writer doesn’t sell 500 books in a year, his agent drops him?
With stats like these, hitting the NYT best seller list is actually harder to hit than the lottery. At least if you self-publish, your friends might get a chance to see your work… and if you sell a first printing (or something close…) the bigger publishing houses are suddenly very very interested.
My first self-published novel was not adequately proofread–I’ve been reading comments here, and I know that yes, in some circles I would be crucified–with lemon juice in the whip-slashes and spike holes, I’m sure. But people loved the story–and now I can oversee re-editing the copy. And it’s sold out a modestly sized printing–or would have, if it hadn’t been POD.
To those of us out of the loop–those of us who just humker down and write and love what we do–publishing is like a big party on the other side of a six-foot thick wall of plexiglass.
You’re not going to let us join the party–hell, you laugh at our clothes, our hair, and our funny accents.
But, dammit, we can throw our own damn party–and it may not be as glitzy, but the beer is tasty, plentiful, and free.
Maya Reynolds says
Jenny: I’m sorry you felt my response was snotty. It was not intended that way. I sincerely meant that if you could say the erotica sold so successfully were in download form online, you needed to check your local bookstore where erotic romance fills multiple shelves.
For the record, I am one of the founders of Passionate Ink, the erotic romance chapter of RWA. I was also the first membership chair who was nearly overwhelmed by the four hundred applications for new membership we received within three weeks of opening our virtual doors.
Espresso Machines are rare for the moment as, say, photocopiers once were. I expect the home version of the Espresso Machine will be available eventually. Following closely will be the torrent pirates and books will join CD’s and DVD’s as free comestibles.
Honestly, what are we talking about: the short distance between a 3 in 1 home office machine and collated pages, a paper cutter and glue.
If you are still a writer, you won’t be in it for the money.
Yes, the traditional publishers makes sure that non-readable sludge isn’t put in the bookstores. But they also are very short-sighted and prejudicial. There are so many memoirs in bookstores – many of which have the same theme or story. Yet when someone comes along with a well-written unique story, they said, “I can’t sell it.” How is this possible, when one of the chapters was nominated for a Pushcart, one chapter was in a good lit journal, and one chapter won a non-fiction prize? So the writing must be good. Also, all memoirs are basically for a niche audience, so why would a well-written memoir about some things that haven’t been written about in detail and from real experience be shunned? And a writer who already has a following in another genre COULD sell a lot of books. I think traditional publishers are afraid of controversy from a writer who is not famous. Therefore, that writer, if turned down forever, should self-publish. At least what they have to say, and I mean, HAVE TO say, will be said, and read by at least 1,000 people.
I know two authors who have written memoirs and got traditionally published, and both had connections.
I only read about half way down, so excuse me if I am repeating something.
Everybody clearly has a lot of different opinions about the legitimacy of and potential for growth for self-publishing. I don’t think that self-publishing will ever overtake traditional publishing. I think that self-publishing will eventually come full circle. I think that self-publishers will have their day the same way 80’s hair bands had theirs. Then, after everybody and their brother has self-published and the market becomes inundated with exceptionally poor writing, traditional publishing will reclaim its throne as /the/ primary mode of publishing. What do I think will happen to traditional publishing when self-publishing is at its peak? I think that traditional publishing will be even more prestigious and elitist than it is now.
Take a look at what the internet has done for business in general. A high school girl became a millionaire /just/ from creating backgrounds for people’s MySpace pages and I don’t have to tell you about the Google, YouTube and MySpace guys. The singer Lilly Allen launched her own singing career using MySpace. Clearly the internet has changed the way business is done. However, the internet in all its glory has not done for authors what it has done for so many other industries.
The publishing business as a whole has certainly benefited from the internet and technology, but individual authors have not seen /as/ much success as individuals from other professions. Authors will always have to overcome the instant gratification barriers. You don’t have to be smart in any sense of the word to enjoy movies, music and television and you don’t need to have any patience. You do with books.
Most people are only really good at one or two things. Self-publishing only really works when the two things a person is really good at are writing /and/ marketing. You could be the next Faulkner, Hemingway or McCarthy, but if you don’t have the marketing skills (on top of the time and money necessary to do it) then your book isn’t likely to make the waves that your daydreams allow you to believe that it might.
While there are some self-publishing success stories you have to take into account the considerable time, money and effort that is required of the author. Two of the biggest self-publishing success stories, James Redfield and Christopher Paolini, laid down some serious groundwork in order to eventually be picked up by traditional publishers. When it comes to Paolini you have to consider the luck factor of Carl Hiassen pitching his book to Knopf.
And let’s not forget that many self-published authors probably got turned down at the query stage for the simple fact that they didn’t do their research to find out what a great query letter looked like. Many of them probably didn’t do more than one revision (if any), didn’t have their manuscript professionally edited, submitted to agents that didn’t specialize in their genre and based their “talent” and potential for success on the opinions of their loved ones; people that aren’t likely to rip into you like Simon from American Idol. If there’s one thing that American Idol auditions has taught America is that people don’t have the heart and/or don’t have “the ear” (or eye) for what’s actually considered good in a given industry. Friends and family are /not/ great measurements of talent. My parents aren’t mathematicians, so they’re not going to be able to tell me if my math equation that covers two white boards is correct, but they sure will be impressed. Novice authors need to stop basing their expectations on the praise from their parents and girlfriends.
I think that the word “possible” is used too optimistically when it comes to describing the potential of self-publishing. Anything is “possible,” but if the two things that you are really good at is writing and basketball then it is probably best if you leave the marketing and publicity to the pros.