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This last week in self-publishing has left me overwhelmed, but hopeful.  After reading a whole bunch of blog posts on the matter, I felt like I needed to layout the pertinent info.  It’s helped, and maybe it’ll be useful to someone else!

The Good
(why I should self-publish)

From Joe Konrath’s interview with creator of Smashwords, Mark Coker says,

I decided Big Publishing was broken. Big Publishing is in the business of publishing what it thinks it can sell, not what is good. Big Publishers operate in the rear view mirror. They try to acquire books similar to what was selling yesterday, and then they release the book in 12-18 months.

“Commercial potential” is a myopic, misguided and ultimately destructive prism through which to measure a book’s value. Never mind that publishers, despite their best effort, can’t accurately predict which books will become hits. Readers decide that.

Big Publishing is unable to take a risk on every author, and as a result they say no to books readers would want to buy.

I decided the world needed a new approach to publishing, one that was faster, cheaper and more democratized. I realized there was an opportunity to solve this problem with technology. (read the full article here)

Of course publishers want to publish what they think they can sell.  Duh, that’s a no brainer.  But in my case, that isn’t a very good thing.    Unfortunately for me the vampire romance bus has already passed, and that’s what I write.  Of course I could try and chase the next big trend, but that goes against the number one writing rule —  write what you love.   So what are my choices?  Two years ago, even a year ago, I would have been stumped.  Now I say, why not let readers decide if they like my book or not.   They certainly liked Amanda Hocking’s book, didn’t they?

If I don’t consider this option, I’m left playing catch up in the traditional publishing game.  Agents and publishers are flooded with vampire stories.  I’d be just another fangy story in the slush pile.  The following isn’t too promising either,

My agent, Rachelle Gardner, shared some statistics last week. This was one of them: “Queries received in 2010: around 10,000. New clients taken on from query (no referral): 0.”

When I read that statistic, I was shocked. If you read Rachelle’s blog, did the statistic surprise you too?

Think about it. Those 10,000 queries represent approximately 10,000 writers who have dreams of seeing their book in print, who’ve likely spent months on a manuscript, who are desperately seeking a chance at traditional publication.

Out of 10,000 ideas, surely there had to have been a handful–even just a couple–that showed some promise. But Rachelle didn’t take on any new clients from those queries. Of course she took on new clients through other methods (referrals, conferences, blogging, etc.). But NONE through cold querying.(read the full article here)

God, rejection hurts already — and I’m not even at the querying part of my writing journey.  I have to admit, self-publishing appeals to that weak, pansy ass, little girl inside of me.  The one that is afraid to put herself out there and be told no.  I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or not.  On one hand, by going through the rigors of traditional publishing there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that you deserve to be where you are.  Or is there?  Mark Coker seems to think traditional publishing is a broken and flawed business.  So, what if the tide is turning, and readers no longer believe in the stamp of approval on the spine of your book?  Will the time it took to get published be worth it?

EDIT: Since I posted this article, I keep finding more support for the self-publishing revolution.   But this addition to the compendium is a big one.  General numbers from a traditionally published author/agent, Mandy Hubbard,

So here’s the deal: Chances are, you won’t get rich. Chances are, you won’t even quit your day job.

If you write MG or YA, and you sell to a smaller, independent press–but one who still distributes nationally and has most books stocked in B&N and Borders– your advance will probably be in the $2,000-$5,000 range.

if you sell a book to one of the big six publishers, and its a single book deal, and it’s something deemed more quiet or literary, you may see $7,500-$10,000. if it has a bigger commercial hook, but still seems a little risky, you may get $15,000.

These are all very round, very raw numbers, and in no way does that mean that if you have a quiet book and random house offers you’re oging to see $7,500-10K. You could see more, you could see less. We’re just playing with some numbers here of some pretty customary, run of the mill deals.

Now, here’s the thing– advances of these size will generally mean your book will have little to no publicity budget. If you get a $10K advance and its from a big six, it’s likely that your book will be sent to the usual reviewers and put in the catalog, and they may have ARCs on display at the trade fairs or events, but they aren’t going to throw money into a PR campaign. Your book will quietly float or sink on its own merit and your ability to publicize it yourself.

Mandy continues on with numbers for six figure deals (that aren’t six-figures by the time you get to the bank, by the way) and major book deals.  It’s really underwhelming, actually.  And again, it makes me question, why do I want to do that?   There’s more to Mandy’s article, so please visit her blog to read the rest!

Further to what Mark said on Joe Konrath’s blog, in his smashwords blog he’s outright daring the Big 6 to do something about the uprising he says is coming. Mark says what big publishers did for authors 10 years ago, authors can do for themselves today.  And therein lies the success to self-publishing, I think.   With twitter, facebook, blogging, and some hard work you can effectively launch a self-promotion campaign with little to no money.  It’s a self-serve world out there.

The biggest draw to self-publishing? FOR-EVER royalties!  Let’s say your first book didn’t do so well, or even your first three — nobody is saying no to you.  No publisher is saying, you tanked, we’re not offering you another contract.   So you learn, you evolve, you write another book.  This one is the one.  Not only does this magical book start selling, but so do the others.  Huzzah.  Doesn’t this sound familiar?  It’s every published author’s story to publication.  Without the royalties on the “failures”.  Barry Eisler gives us a rundown of the math he did to help him make his decision, over at The Beast. I believe if the math was applied to other authors, many would find more success in self-publishing.  If you’re leaning to the side of optimism and you can successfully market your book, self-publishing is the answer that pays more.

So what’s a girl to do?  Self-publish of course!  Right?  Right…?

The Bad
(damn grain of salt)

Amanda Hocking.  Need I say more?  If you’re an unpublished author you’re probably wondering why she’s in the bad section.  Well she’s not bad.  Her story is great.  The kind of story that gives hope to us poor unpublished types.  But if you’ve read her story, or seen some of the posts on her blog, you know she’s urging writers to approach the idea of self-publishing with a grain of salt.   In a post called Author, Sell Thyself, Laura Miller quotes Hocking,

Hocking, on the other hand, is ready to say goodbye to all that entails. In a series of impressively sensible blog posts, she explained to aspiring authors all het up about the riches awaiting them that they shouldn’t think it was easy. “This is literally years of work you’re seeing,” she advised. “And hours and hours of work each day. The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn’t writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.” To the New York Times, she said, “I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling e-mails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full-time corporation.” (read the full article here)

What’s interesting about how Hocking spent her hours is that for most successful authors that pretty much sums up their non-writing time.  Being a published author is a lot more than writing.  Sure you’re not looking for cover artists and editors, but you are spending plenty of time replying to emails, hosting contests to create buzz about your book, blogging, etc.  Amanda Hocking may have scored a sweet deal and will be taken under St. Martin’s Press’ wing, but not all authors will be treated equally.   So if her biggest warning is that you have a lot of work to do,  I’ll take my chances.  I’ll just use my $2M in royalties to hire a really good assistant.

Which brings me to my next point that Eisler summarizes nicely, “I’ve always believed the writer has to be an entrepreneur and CEO,” he told Pinter, “with all that entails.” If you’re not prepared to run the business of being an author, then publishing isn’t for you, no matter if you’re traditionally published by or not.

The Ugly
(Heel, inner pessimist. Heel!)

So many debut authors fail.  I’m talking about the traditionally published ones.  And many times the publisher isn’t doing all that it can do to promote that debut novel.  The promotion and buzz is up to the author.  In many cases authors don’t realize in time.  Their numbers come in and the publisher doesn’t offer a contract for more books.  And your career is over before it’s really begun.  With self-publishing the onus is all on you.  You know where you stand in terms of marketing.  You simply have to get it done.  Easier said than done.  Self-promotion scares me.  I’m not naturally super-confident and/or eager to toot my own horn.   I haven’t quite figured out what the magic is for the people who have successfully marketed themselves, but I figure confidence and the ability to communicate is essential.  Heh.

To top off all the drama in self-publishing, we also got to witness the complete crash & burn of an Indie author’s career.  I won’t link you to the train wreck, you can find that on your own.  If I had to tweet what happened, here it is: “Jacqueline Howett had a complete meltdown.  On the INTER-NET!   Total murder suicide.”  I bring this up not to rag on Ms. Howett (good lord knows how many people jumped on that gang-pile).  But to ask, where were her friends when she was destroying her career?  This was a multi-day affair.  Did none of her writer pals think to intervene?  At any point?   Or maybe they did and instead of blowing up the reviewer’s house she went for verbal abuse on a public forum instead.  We’ll never know.  But it makes me question the difference in camaraderie and community between published authors and self-published authors.  Seems like self-published authors are the proverbial black sheep in this industry.  How much that matters is personal, I suppose.   Did I mention that The Replacements is one of my favorite Keanu movie?

The Links
(must reads)

A frank 13,000 word chat between Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler

Barry Eisler explains his decision to leave traditional publishing

A Traditional vs Self Publishing comparison — with numbers!

Traditional Publishing numbers from Mandy Hubbard an author/agent

Interview with Smashwords creator Mark Coker

Mark Coker’s post about the self-publishing revolution

Joe Konrath’s post about the same revolution Mark’s talking about

More revolution talk (scroll to the bottom for the links section) Jeez, I feel like Sarah Connor.

Marketing tips for authors

Did Hocking make a good deal?

Another article about Hocking and Eisler

Self-pub (with help from industry friends) success story

Does the quality of writing matter any more?

A sorta intro into self-publishing

More self-publishing tips

The Conclusion

No matter which form of publishing you choose, seems like neither choice is the be all end all of anyone’s writing career.   The Hocking/Eisler switcharoo is proof of that.  Many of the steps to publication are similar in both forms of publishing: finish book, rewrite book, test book, promote book/self.  I’m willing to do all those things and then let the chips fall where they may.

So what’s your story? Will you self-publish?  Have you had experience with either? Predictions for the future of publishing?  I wanna hear from you!  And if you found this post useful, please share!

Edit: The Money
(aftershocks)

It seems like just after I posted this, everywhere I look, someone is saying,”Self-publish, now!  Hurry!” or “I’m self-publishing. I’m awesome.  Join me and be awesome, too.”  Despite all this hoopla for self-pubbing, what are the numbers really like?  I came across a few, real/average/normal author numbers and wanted to share.

In this BlogTalk radio show, the ladies from the Indie Book Collective gab about their author promos — Bestseller For A Day and Blog Tour De Force.  What you want to stick around for (or skip to, it’s closer to the second half of the program) is Rachel’s sales/marketing numbers.  She spends a lot on ads but makes that back and more.   They elude to the fact that there was a formula to those ads and that some were successful others weren’t.   Thankfully these ladies are quite friendly and offer monthly workshops for authors so I’m sure you can learn some of their secrets.

My average author, and I mean this in the nicest way because Lindsay is awesome, has also posted her sales number.  I think for most of us who are too uncomfortable, inexperienced or lazy to market and pimp like the IBC ladies, you’ll find this post by Lindsay aka @GoblinWriter very informative.  I think I’m more like Lindsay than the IBC ladies and therefore would probably market myself similarly.   If I could make $700/month off my writing I would be a very happy woman.

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17 comments

  1. April 4, 2011 at 7:35 am E. M. Rowan

    Hey lady, awesome compendium! Very helpful, with much food for thought.

    In your case, I think self-publishing is looking like the better option. With few agents/editors looking to take on more vampires, the odds are against you. Besides, you have talents that many authors do not. You could create your own cover, and you probably wouldn’t have any trouble formatting an e-book. You’ve already proved that you can create your own website and use social networking sites. Plus you have me as a Grammar Nazi, LOL, and other friends who could help you edit.

    For me, the decision still isn’t clear. I just got back from a conference for children’s book writers, and most everyone there seemed to be anti-self-publishing. I think it’s harder to reach young readers thru self-publishing. They’re not using e-readers as much as adults, and they’re not as easy to reach through Internet marketing. So I don’t know what to do.

    • April 4, 2011 at 10:14 am Syd

      Thanks E!

      You bring up an interesting point. Your genre definitely has unique obstacles in this “revolution”. Hee hee, I really like saying revolution 😀 I think the children’s books that are marketed towards 12 and under have the hardest time. Are you saying that the “tween genre” would have the same issues?

      I think in most writing circles and certainly writing conferences hosted/promoted by agents/publishers there will be a certain negative connotation associated with self-publishing. But I see this changing.

      As for the marketing and website and cover and all the other things you have to worry about when you’re a one man show — of course not everyone is gonna want to do it. But you can find help. Which is what Mark Coker was saying — that authors CAN do for themselves what the publishers were doing for them years ago.

  2. April 4, 2011 at 10:53 am Lindsay

    Great post, Syd! Lots of good stuff here.

    Yes, children’s ebook are harder to sell than adult stuff, but my middle-grade “Goblin Brothers” do sell a few copies here and there, and that ebook is a short story collection, a format which seems to do worse than individual short stories (how odd, huh?), novels, and novellas. I have a rough draft of a novel with those characters that I’m hoping to get out this summer, so I can see if that works better.

    I do see more and more kids, if not with their own e-readers then with access to mom and dad’s. I have a feeling it might be good to get in now, because there’s actually not a lot of competition in the Kindle Store. What’s there (by mainstream publishers) is way over-priced for kids’ books, so an indie selling at $2.99 or even $0.99 (perhaps for shorter works) could do well in the future.

    • April 4, 2011 at 11:29 am Syd

      You’d think that more stories in one =’s more value. Interesting stuff.

      I think you’re right about more kids getting access to e-readers. Or at least computers. We forget that there are desktop apps for Kindle, Nook, Kobo…

      Great point on competition. I think this is the time to get in on self-publishing for all genres. If authors start really considering this option as Eisler has, well…

      Thanks for commenting! Please come back and update us on your progress! I’d love to hear how the new story is received!

  3. April 22, 2011 at 2:05 am Tony McFadden

    I personally got tired of agents replying to my queries with the “our plate is too full to consider anything new right now” line. I get up at 4 to write and frequently I’m writing until midnight, sandwiching a full time job as an engineer. If I didn’t love doing it I wouldn’t. If they don’t have time to read what I’ve written, I’m sure many other people are.

    I think the biggest allure of self-publishing can be it’s downfall – it’s easy to do. And because it’s easy to do people – authors – tend to throw less than perfect product into the stream. I’m on my third edit AFTER the version I sent you and I’m still finding small errors. It’s easy AND hard at the same time and if you don’t have the discipline to do the work to make sure you have quality for your readers you’re letting yourself and every other self-published author down.

    Oh, and thanks for the fantastic cover. ;^)

    • April 23, 2011 at 4:56 pm Syd

      Thanks for stopping by Tony! Yes, I think you’re right about it being easy — a good and bad thing. There’s a lot of bad self-pubbed stuff, isn’t there?

      I just love the fact that there are options and I don’t snub my nose at either forms of publishing. If publishing is my goal, I’ll take it anyway I can get it.

      And you’re welcome for the cover 😀 I’m so happy you liked it!

  4. April 23, 2011 at 4:39 pm Lindsay

    Thanks for adding the link to my article. Who woulda thunk the person with the goblin avatar would be the example for “normal”? 😀

    • April 23, 2011 at 4:58 pm Syd

      No problem! Your post was totally relevant and useful! And it’s the weird cat avatars I have problems with 😉

  5. May 3, 2011 at 3:14 am Beth Silverman Landau

    You’ve done all the work and summed it up so well. Thank you!

    • May 4, 2011 at 10:56 pm Syd

      No problem! I needed to sort it out in my own head too! Thank you for reading and commenting!

  6. May 5, 2011 at 6:32 am Jerry Leach

    Good article and obviously a lot of research went into putting it together. for anyone who wants to explore the self publishing route take a look at Skoobebooks. Good luck on getting your book out there and selling.

    • May 6, 2011 at 7:43 am Syd

      Hi Jerry! Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Lately I’ve been bombarded with the self-publishing articles/stories. It was hard to pare it down, actually. Skoobebooks, uh? Cool name! I’ll have to check it out! Good luck to you too!

  7. May 5, 2011 at 10:01 pm Angela Scott

    Wowzer! What an awesome post. Holy cow the research you compiled–fantastic.

    I’ve only just started looking into self-publishing. Up till just a day or so ago, I thought no way. I do know self-publishing is the “black sheep” like you said. So it’s hard to ignore that stigma.

    Yet at the same time, when the agent I have been working with the past 10 months emails me and says she’s quitting the literary agency business because the industry is in freefall and publishing houses aren’t buying, then that got me thinking. Do I waste another year or so querying all over again, wasting time, or do I try something different. I know I can get my stuff prof edited and hire a great graphic designer for the cover–of that I have no doubt. My issue is with the marketing. How does an indy author get their name out there above all the others. There has to be more to it than just twitter and facebook and blogging. Otherwise, the book will tank within a month of its release.

    I appreciate you sharing your link with me on twitter. I’ve actually passed it along.

    I truly appreciate your help and guidance. Thanks a bunch 😉

    ~Angela

    • May 6, 2011 at 2:48 pm Syd

      Angela,

      First of all, thank you for reading and commenting. I’m glad this information is useful to you. This journey to publication is complicated…and difficult.

      I’m sorry to hear about your agent. That’s a really unfortunate situation. Patience is the real skill in this industry, isn’t it? However, you do have options now. That’s what I think self-publishing gives you. An alternative after you try the traditional route.

      After talking to some writing friends — traditionally and self-published, and those still not published, I’ve set a goal for myself. Once I finish my manuscript, I will query at least 50 agents/publishers. If I get nothing, I will give the e-publishers a chance. If I still don’t get a bite, I’ll submit my MS to test readers/trusted but critical friends and see if there’s any potential. If there is then I’ll self-publish it.

      However, if you look at publishing a book with an entrepreneurial heart then I think self-publishing is the way to go. Above all else, you have to have a great product. And if you have a great product, why would you publish traditionally?

      Certainly the money isn’t worth it — if you believe Mandy Hubbard’s numbers are accurate and you’re not the next Stephenie Meyer. But even if I KNEW I had the next Twilight on my hands, I’d want an agent, but not the traditional publishers. I’d make more going it the self-pubbed route…

      Oh, and here’s another great article: http://writeitforward.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/what-does-it-take-to-succeed-in-self-publishing/

      And the more you write and publish the better you do — I believe.

      Anyways, please stay in touch, I want to know what you decide!

  8. May 6, 2011 at 7:23 am Diana

    This is a really good post. Thanks for the info. I’m torn which direction I’m going to take, but I know if I do self-pub I am not going to skimp out on cover art or believe my critique partners have enough copyediting chops to save some cash. I see so many authors rush out with cheesy covers, poor titles, and little to no editing. Not smart. Anyway, thanks for the post.

    • May 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm Syd

      Hi Diana,

      Yes, you’re right — people rush to put out their product and it’s not up to snuff. The good news? You can take it down and fix it or deliver a better product the next go around. Of course, reputation is everything in this business, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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