Monday, 21 January 2013

Is self-publishing now the best option for non-mainstream authors?

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I've been doing a lot of thinking about the climate of the publishing industry lately. And no, I'm not going to complain about it (despite having many complaints I could shell out), I'm actually going to say that it's getting pretty exciting ...

... for authors.

The stigma attached to authors who self-publish, I think, is on its way to the paper shredder. Take a look at this article for a shred of hope.

On a less upbeat note, but still positive if you look at the bigger picture, authors are now getting the courage to self-publish, and feel proud to say that they have, due to the fact that, financially, if you're not selling millions of books, you are better off. It really is becoming the way to go if you don't write commercial hits that the Big 6 (or 5) claim to be "new and fresh", when really, they are just like all the other books on the shelves because they know they will score the big bucks. Roz Morris talks about this on her blog. Excellent article, you really should read it.

And what about the small press? I love to support the small press. Without the small press I would never have had my debut novel published and I would never have had the confidence to self-publish the books that I have. I also have a contract with a small press now, to publish my second novel. And I will see that through, because even though I know that they will not really do anything more for me than I can do for myself, (well this actually remains to be seen, I might be surprised), I still want to stick with them because I adore them and want the small press to thrive.

But ...

... this is not in my best interests anymore, is it? I'm doing really well with my self-published titles. Why would I want to hand over a percentage of my revenue when I'm ultimately doing all the work? I don't really. But I still want to give this small press a go to see if they can go beyond what I can do publicity-wise.

But if it doesn't, I will proudly call myself a self-published author. Because it's in my best interests. Unless I get an agent, and score a 6-figure deal with Penguin, then I think self-publishing is the best option for us now. Don't you?

What do you think?

PS: My novella, THE BOOK, is now available on Kindle.

55 comments:

  1. Jessica - tough decisions. You raise an important point about confidence, which I can relate to. If I hadn't published several ghosted novels, I wouldn't have had the confidence to go it alone. Being represented by agents and getting publisher feedback also added to my confidence. Then there was also my work as an editor and book doctor. All of this meant I felt confident to make my own decisions. But would someone starting out as a writer have that?
    I've known writers who bravely admitted they unpublished their novels because they felt they lacked the backup to go to readers by themselves.
    I feel for you in your dilemma. You have to look after your own interests, but these guys have been an important support - more than that, by the sound of it. If you're able to do it all on your own now, what would they add to future books? And, being hard-headed, you'd have to think what would happen if you weren't doing well. Would they keep you on?
    Not an easy situation. But at least we can say congratulations for getting into it!

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    1. Thanks, Roz. It's going to be hard to decide. Because even though it's getting better, once I permanently put that self-published mark on myself, people who still look down on it, aren't going to see the history in getting there, are they? They're just going to see SP, and think, UGH.

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  2. I’m not sure I would use ‘best’, maybe ‘only’. I’ve thought about sending my books to traditional publishers and there are a handful who I might stand a chance with but since the lion’s share of the marketing would fall to me anyway—especially with the smaller publishers—I’m really not sure what would be gained. I don’t see their other books getting reviewed in The Guardian or The Times so I’m not sure what’s the point other than being able to say that I’d been traditionally published but as I rarely mention the fact that I’m self-published—published’s published in my mind—I don’t see what there’d be to crow about. You do seem to be doing well and I’m genuinely pleased for you. I don’t keep a track of my sales; the figures would be too depressing. The problem with self-publishing (and especially and increasingly electronic publishing) is that it’s not just non-mainstream writers that have jumped on that bandwagon and there are a ridiculous number of people churning out book after book—three or four a year—and that’s a) cluttering up the marketplace and b) not doing an awful lot to change people’s preconceptions about the quality of self-published works. I don’t usually differentiate when I do reviews as you’ll know but in the case of your first poetry book I did because I wanted to use it as an example: this is all her own work and it’s bloody good on every level, from the writing up.


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    1. LOL, yes, 'only' could be right. I do agree with you that some do it too fast. That's the problem with SPing still, it's hard to sift through the trash to find the treasure. That's what is going to make it hard for people like me make the final decision to lift all their limbs on board.

      PS: thanks for compliment re TVC.

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  3. After mucho queries and rejections, I'm probably going to have to self-pub. What I've realized though through all these years is that self-promotion is key to any book's success. THat's what I've got to focus on however my books get published.

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  4. Yes on what Jim said. There have been some great SP books that I've read. And I've read a book whose author is more interested in quantity than quality. Apparently the first ones were well edited, but then she stopped caring. This is why I stick with the bestselling SP books. I don't want to take a risk on another poorly edited book, especially since reviewers on Goodreads tend to overlook the poor editing when they rate the books. Two bad there aren't two ratings on GR. 4 star story. 1 star editing. :)

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    1. I'd have to agree with you there, Stina.

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  5. Marie Force got the agent and then the publishing deal. Then she self-published and THAT'S when she hit it big. A MILLION times over. :-) It's really nice to have choices and better opportunities nowadays.

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    1. If only we could all get as lucky, hey?

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  6. I still worry that self-pubbers won't always be quite up to par (along with what's already been said). We still need the input of editors and designers and other writers to say when a book is ready. I think that was the point of publishing before it turned into a money-making mess. So hopefully self-publishing will continue to grow and prove that it can produce good books and be a viable option for writers.

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    1. I do think though that's it's getting little easier to find the gems. My yuck radar has gotten pretty good. You can usually tell from the slap-bang-that'lldo covers.

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    2. Yes, the cover of a book is a dead giveaway.

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  7. I think it's great that there are choices out there and that self-publishing has become an acceptable option with a lot of support for authors wanting to go that route. But I don't think there's a right or wrong way to get published--just what works for the individual author.

    And I agree on what Jim and Stina said about the problem with some self-published books and too many of them coming out too quicky.

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    1. Natalie, I agree with you there, but i'm not just talking in general. I'm talking people like me who have been trying FOR YEARS, but never getting anywhere because of the "love your writing, but I don't know how to sell it" attitude from agents. As much as they like to say they're after something different, they're not, regardless of how well it is written.

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  8. yes,I do agree, Jess. It is now quite acceptable.

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  9. I just wrote this long comment, and it couldn't be processed!

    I'm all for people having options. Jessica, you had such a hard time after your small press closed, so I'm glad you've had another option. And because of the novels you write, I think it's a wonderful option for you.

    But I agree with the others who say there's too much out by too many. Everyone's vogueing at the club, but there are only so many Madonnas out there. I find myself tuning much of it out. I've read enough not so good ones, so I'm really picky about what I'm willing to buy. And those who are just promotion machines--who don't even have their actual pictures on Facebook-turn me off completely. Those who have small press experience get it all right from quality of story, no typos, and a don't overpush promotion. And for those who do it right, I think it's a great option.

    For a while I worried all the self-publishing would ruin my chances at traditional publishing, but I think that's not the case. I don't think people buy fewer traditionally published books. The genre I write in is thriving. Now to find an agent...

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    1. I totally understand where you're coming from, Theresa, but as I said above, I'm talking about tom dick and harry. I'm talking about those that have made the effort. Gone beyond the effort to get an agent, but not succeeded despite their writing being good because it's not commercial enough.

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  10. If the writer takes a professional approach, acting as if they were a small press and focusing on a quality product, then it's a very viable option. Part of my upcoming book focuses on self-publishing.

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    1. I'll be interested in reading that! when does it come out?

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  11. Self-publishing is definitely a great option for many people. Kudos to you for all the hard work you put in to make your books a success. That's not easy! I think that work is the key. Many self-publish who don't put in the work.

    Actually, I sometimes think the stigma is going the other way. I feel like those of us who still want to publish traditionally are pressured to explain our choice. But in the end, I think both options are good if not different, and that it's about respecting others' choices. :)

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    1. I think it depends on the person. I find that the SP authors have a whole lot of complaining to do about the traditional route is simply because they've been a success and beaten the odds. I like to look at both sides of the argument with an open mind. Every choice has its pros and cons.

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  12. I think you’re thinking pretty straight on this one. I’m not very familiar with small press but I’ve heard stories regarding how they don’t get the word out on an author’s book very well. If you’re doing the same things and putting in more effort, you’re better off doing it yourself. But can you do it? Maybe you already have been doing it well, and if you are then I congratulate you. However some of us are not as familiar with the advertizing aspect or our time is limited. If your small time publisher can get you out there, it might be a plus.

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    1. That's true. It all really depends who the author is and how much time and effort they can put in.

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  13. Claiming to be self-published is no longer the dirty word it used to be. True, the stigma is slowly eroding but for some, it is still there. And there are plenty of self-pubbed titles going out into the world to keep a little life to that stigma

    With that being said, I can understand why you would prefer self-publishing over giving a percentage to a small press or any press when you are ultimately doing about the same that you would do if you self-pubbed. It sounds like the small press you are with is one worth sticking with and supporting as it sounds like you have a good rapport with them. Sometimes, that's a rare thing to have. Plus, there may be ways your small press can help that may not seem significant right away but can really help along the way.

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  14. I think self pubbing is an excellent option for many writers. Things are so different than before. It's so good to know that the gate is open and great authors can let the world see their writing that otherwise wouldn't be able to.

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    1. It is great. I don't know what I would have done without it!

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  15. Great...now my brain hurts! Why are you making me think so hard on a Monday morning! :)

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    1. LOL, sorry, DL. But your country music makes MY head hurt! ;)

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  16. I've been watching a lot of writers do it and with success, so obviously it's an option.

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  17. It's all about choice now. I still have my agent for one YA series, but I am also doing very well self publishing another. I'm not interested in small presses. Good luck to those who do publish via a SP but I've heard too many horror stories of presses going bust and authors losing everything.

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    1. I was one with a horror story. :-) debut novel pulled off the market only six months after release due to publisher going bust. I got back on my feet though. Fingers crossed it doesn't happen again!

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  18. Actually, even if you get an agent and a six-figure deal with Penguin, self-publishing is STILL in your best interests - at least it can be, financially speaking. There are many self-pub successes you hear about getting scooped up by the big houses, but there are many who turn those offers away as well - because if you're a huge success as a self-pub, it's difficult for the publishers to make an offer that's to your benefit, financially. There may be other reasons to take it, and if you can get the Hugh Howey/John Locke deal (print-only distribution), it makes financial sense.

    The world has changed, because the financials have changed. The "respect" for self-publishing comes directly from that.

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    1. And you would know, Susan! Thanks for chiming in! :-)

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  19. I think it's very acceptable. But hard to stand out. You need to have a network of writer friends already in place to help boost visibility, which you do, Jessica. For a new writer just putting it out there, the odds are much less positive. So networking becomes supremely important.

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    1. It is VERY hard to stand out. That has been my main struggle. I think I'm finally starting to get there though. Fan mail from a stranger is a good sign :-)

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  20. I think it all comes down to what you hope to have happen with your career. Are you a writer who needs the assurance of a big six publisher. Do you need the cash? Do you need the prestige so you can get the teaching job to supplement your income. Different answers for everyone, but the advent of self-publishing means there are more avenues. And I'm a believer that more choices are a good thing for everyone involved.

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    1. I couldn't agree with you more, Johanna :-)

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  21. Great minds think alike. :D I think it's great that you are giving them a go. I don't see any reason why authors can't do both actually. I plan to continue to pursue traditional publishing, but right now my focus is on my Indie endeavors.

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  22. I think there is also the point of temperament. I'm not sure I am enough of a perfectionist to turn out a professional product unless I hire an actual editor... now I have enough friends who do it who might be willing to do it for a cut instead of a flat fee... but I still think it's possible I might be better off with a small press for that reason. But then again my genres really ARE more mainstream.

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  23. I like working with my small press. I think it'll one day help me move into self-pubbing. Learning as I go.

    Congrats to all the strides you've made--you're on FIRE!!!

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  24. Love how this is finally becoming a real, recognized, acceptable topic! More and more writers will choose this method because readers are the key thing here--not publishers. Though most of us would still love to be able to pub under traditional means, it simply isn't an option. Thank you for posting this... A day or so ago I even tweeted the question, "Why is it that whenever people announce they're self-pubbing, they feel the need to apologize?" (Course, I didn't receive a single answer.) We shouldn't feel "bad" or "not qualified" for taking that step... it's a necessity in this day and age for many, many writers as we try to share what's on our hearts with the readers out there! :)

    Jessica

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  25. i have heard the best and worst of both worlds. i myself probably will not do self publishing...but undecided still. new follower, hi!

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  26. I think one of the key words in this assessment is the 'non-mainstream' authors. Truth is, self published books have, in a way, become the new slush pile. Except it's not agents or editors picking people out of the crowd. It's readers- which is even better imo. But while writers of non-mainstream genres or styles used to be passed over in favor of what was 'big' and 'selling', now I find that authors self publishing mainstream genres are the ones who have the hardest time making a name for themselves in the SP pool because there's just SO MANY of them and it's easy to be passed over.

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    1. Just wanted to weigh in on this: I think it's much easier to be a self-pub success in a mainstream genre than in a non-mainstream genre. After all, the (by far) largest selling genre in self-pub is romance, just like it is in trad-pub, and for the same reason: that's where the readers are.

      But "success" depends on your goals. If by "success" you mean "make enough money to support my family" it's far easier to do that writing in a mainstream genre and self-pubbing than just about any other route. Even for non-mainstream genres, it's easier to make money self-pubbing, for the reason you state - they don't have to prove they will be a large commercial success to publishers, they can go straight to readers. What may not be enough sales to garner publisher interest can easily support an individual author.

      But if by "success" you mean "make it to the top 100 on
      Amazon in my genre so that agents will pick me out of the bestseller list" then yes, there's more competition in popular genres, so you have to sell more before you'll get noticed.

      Then again, if you're in the top 100 in romance on Amazon, you're selling crazy numbers of books and are probably not super concerned about getting an agent - you've already won the lottery.

      Examples:
      The #1 ebook in romance at the moment is Hopeless by Colleen Hoover, which I believe is self-published in the uber-freaking-hot genre of sexy-NA contemp romance. She's #2 in the Amazon store overall at $3.99. To be there, she's got to be selling thousands of books a day. THOUSANDS. She's on the NYTimes bestseller list. She's a happy camper.

      Near #100 on the Romance list is another self-pub title at $2.99 with a rank of 317 on Kindle overall, which means she's selling hundreds of books a day (probably 300-600). Let's assume 300 - she's making about $600 a day ($219,000/yr). She's also a happy camper.

      That's a hard list to get on, but not because there are so many self-pub romance titles out there - because you have to sell SO MANY COPIES to get ranked on the list. There are many, many authors that would be very happy selling 50 copies a day and never make the bestseller list in romance. In fact, I would say MOST self-pub authors who find success are in this "midlist" range. They may not be on the bestseller lists, which means they won't get noticed by an agent, but they will still make a fine living from their writing.

      (BTW I estimate over half of the titles in the Top 100 Romance category are self-pub)

      My point being that looking at self-pubbing as a new slush pile is like trying to view a new business model through the lens of an old business model: it doesn't work because it's an entirely new approach.

      #justmy2cents :)


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    2. I have to totally agree with you on this, Susan. Exactly. It's like a new business model. What a perfect comparison.

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    3. I always defer to Susan on this stuff.

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  27. I think right now is a great time to be an author. :o)

    I'm into the self-publishing, as you know, but I'm also into diversifying and keeping all options open. Traditional publishers haven't been around as long as they have because they don't know what they're doing. They just don't know how to handle ebooks and Amazon. But I bet they'll figure it out.

    And then it'll REALLY get interesting... :D *hugs*

    Got the book scheduled for 2/4~ <3

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  28. Just from the self published titles I've read recently, my confidence has grown in the field. A few years ago it would have been an absolute "NO WAY" as far as publishing options, but quality is changing, and reviews will always highlight the better works out there.

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  29. Very interesting conversation here, Jessica. I always keep all options open, I learned that long ago. It's a survival trait.

    Thanks for sharing your opinions, I read most of the replies, too.

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  30. Over a year ago, when Nathan B. said on his blog that midlist writers would do better self publishing, that started to push me over the edge. Lots of other posts convinced me too, but I've very happy about my decision. I do think there's lots of room for a hybrid author, even if the self published works are better financially at times.

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  31. I've been asked many times why I don't just self-publish my books now, but it's such a personal decision, I hate to get too far into it with people. I love where I'm at. I've both self-published and published with my small press publisher. I prefer going with a publisher at this point. I'm so happy, though, that authors have the choice now, and that it's possible for so many to make their dreams a reality. I have a lot of self-published friends making a lot of money. It's exciting!

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