If you aren't sure whether to self-publish, ask yourself what you want.

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Splendad

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I've been getting a lot of questions lately about self-publishing, so I thought I'd put something general out here that I can refer folks to.

This is one man's opinion, and will be anything but technical.

First, if you really, really, really want to be a mainstream author, as of this moment, your best bet is to go ahead and follow the formal procedures of going through years of writing, edits, rejection letters, and publisher dictatorship over your stories and covers. Statistics show that that is more likely to get your name into lights than self-publishing.

However, I firmly believe that great writing cannot and will not be held back. I don't care how you get it out there. If it's great, it will work. Probably half of the all-time great names in literature that most of us are familiar with have self-published. What would you do without Mark Twain's Huck Finn or Thoreau's, Potter's, Twain's, or T.S. Eliots self-published works?

I have heard many arguments stating that self-publishing is career suicide for a would-be novelist. Absolute hogwash. Again, if you are unsure, go the old-fashioned, formal route. But if you know you have great writing, and you're ready to get into print right now (no upfront fees are necessary) then there is no reason not to go for it.

It seems to me that there is a smothering texture to the attitude that most naysayers display about self-publishing. Here's really what they are saying: "If you self-publish, your work will never be accepted or respected. Either people will believe you weren't 'good enough' to get published the old-fashioned way or you'll lack that proper foundation of editing/revising that a traditional publisher would offer and for that reason, you'll fail."

If you want to believe that, go ahead.

Within the past six months, I've written and self-published three books (to be fair, one was only a collection of articles I had already written). My sales have been slow but steadily rising. All my friends and family are absolutely fired-up about having my books and having them autographed. I've been listed in the local newspapers three times for book signings. I've built a loyal following of hundreds of people that await my next book with the help of promotional giveaways (and, of course, I am always working to make that thousands, then many thousands of fans...).

Here's what I say; if you have the fire in your heart and you've done the rejection-letter dance with traditional publishers, go for it. Don't hold back. Just do it. You have one life, and you aren't getting any younger. Write it, publish it, sell it, repeat.

My 2.
 

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First, if you really, really, really want to be a mainstream author, as of this moment, your best bet is to go ahead and follow the formal procedures of going through years of writing, edits, rejection letters, and publisher dictatorship over your stories and covers. Statistics show that that is more likely to get your name into lights than self-publishing.

The problem I see is that by the time your book is ready to appear on the bookshelves after five years of working through the system, the system may not exist anymore.

I think in five years we'll be able to see much more clearly which route is the most likely to work for a new unpublished writer, but today if I had a novel sitting around which was good enough for publication I would be thinking very hard about whether I wanted to spend years waiting for it to come out or self-publish as an ebook and spend those years building up a readership.
 

zegota

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Probably half of the all-time great names in literature that most of us are familiar with have self-published. What would you do without Mark Twain's Huck Finn or Thoreau's, Potter's, Twain's, or T.S. Eliots self-published works?

I really wish people who stop pushing examples that not only are over a hundred years old (I'm sure car companies use the realities of the transportation industry in the late 1800s to make business decisions), but that don't even really fit. Huck Finn was only self-published by a very liberal definition of the term, if I recall, and the same can be said of most of the others that plaster the websites of vanity publishers.

All my friends and family are absolutely fired-up about having my books and having them autographed.

No offense, but I could print a chapter out of my home printer and my friends and family would be "fired-up." That's what makes them friends and family.

I'm genuinely glad for your success, but I take issue with you casting people who are wary of self-publishers as be-monocled people living in high houses, jealous of how easy the self-pubbers have it. I think a lot of traditionally published authors (and authors looking to be traditionally published) are truly concerned with people going down the self-published route with bad expectations, only to be wrecked a year or so later. We've seen it all too often.
 
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scope

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However, I firmly believe that great writing cannot and will not be held back.

To believe is fine, but unto itself isn't it simply an opinion? And, I can't agree with the above when each year over 99% of manuscripts submitted to trade publishers and/or agents are rejected. Now I agree, the great majority of this 99% isn't worthy of publication -- for a variety of reasons, but I do believe that thousands (?) rejected are worthy of being published. And to me, 'great writing' begins when professionals recognize a work and make the determination to invest people, time, and money into it. The rest will be decided by the public.

I don't care how you get it out there. If it's great, it will work.

Assuming it is 'great' it won't be recognized as anything unless the public knows the book exists. This is one of a trade publishers tasks--which they can do quite well. This is the writer's job (promote and market) when they self-pub or
e-pub. Pick your poison.

Probably half of the all-time great names in literature that most of us are familiar with have self-published. What would you do without Mark Twain's Huck Finn or Thoreau's, Potter's, Twain's, or T.S. Eliots self-published works?

And what about the millions who went nowhere while investing a whole lot of time and money, or simply did nothing while falsely believing the sp company would take care of same? Do we forget about them? I have absolutely nothing against self-publishing as long as the writer realizes s/he has started a busines, one s/he has to run and has the ability to run, has a lot of money to invest with the understanding that it may all be lost, and has the know-how and ability to promote and market their book.

It seems to me that there is a smothering texture to the attitude that most naysayers display about self-publishing. Here's really what they are saying: "If you self-publish, your work will never be accepted or respected. Either people will believe you weren't 'good enough' to get published the old-fashioned way or you'll lack that proper foundation of editing/revising that a traditional publisher would offer and for that reason, you'll fail."

I don't beieve that, but in the majority of cases it probably applies, although there are things I'd add to your list.

Within the past six months, I've written and self-published three books (to be fair, one was only a collection of articles I had already written). My sales have been slow but steadily rising. All my friends and family are absolutely fired-up about having my books and having them autographed. I've been listed in the local newspapers three times for book signings. I've built a loyal following of hundreds of people that await my next book with the help of promotional giveaways (and, of course, I am always working to make that thousands, then many thousands of fans...).

To be frank, what a writers friends and family think is not all that important. That is, unless that's the reason one
self-publishes. From a business standpoint hundreds of sales is unacceptable. And while it may be fine for some, which I understand and have no disagreement with, I can't understand starting this type of business without knowing how to reach and make that thousands of sales. But again, I fully understand that all of this depends on one's reasons for self-publishing.

If I may, let me ask you two questions:
1) Do you believe your book would have been purchased by a trade publisher and made into a paper book (and other forms) if it was originally presented to them?
2) If so, why didn't you go that route?
Just curious.

Good luck.

ss
 

shadowwalker

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... going through years of writing, edits, rejection letters, and publisher dictatorship over your stories and covers.

... Again, if you are unsure, go the old-fashioned, formal route.

... and you've done the rejection-letter dance with traditional publishers, go for it

Seems it's not just the self-publish 'naysayers' who have a a certain 'tone' to their opinions. :Shrug:
 

quicklime

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It seems to me that there is a smothering texture to the attitude that most naysayers display about self-publishing. Here's really what they are saying: "If you self-publish, your work will never be accepted or respected. Either people will believe you weren't 'good enough' to get published the old-fashioned way or you'll lack that proper foundation of editing/revising that a traditional publisher would offer and for that reason, you'll fail."

.


funny, maybe we read different boards.

most of what I've seen have been the very simple caveats that:


1. if you self-pub you are now in charge of all of your own marketing, editing, etc.--basically, you are no longer free to just be a writer, you are also your entire business....which takes time from the writing itself.

2. if you're looking to self-pub because there is no gatekeeper and you don't have to wait, you can get a move on, you aren't just one face in a sea of thousands, but of millions and millions....and again, with all the marketing entirely up to you. No house is getting you a fancy book cover, or professionally editing your work, and no house is getting you shelf space at B&N or paying for ad space for your book or sending it out for reviews. Have you just randomly browsed e-books under "thriller", or do you go looking for recognized names like Grisham or Harris? Nobody to help you get recognized or elevate your position besides yourself if you self-pub, and that is fine, but remember, all that work is yours.

3. if you're looking to self-pub because gatekeepers "don't appreciate your genius", not only do you again have to make sure your head bobs above the crowd, you have to be damn sure, and realistic, that you aren't confusing genius and golden word syndrome.


Nothing wrong with self-pubbing, but there's no getting around the fact you'll have no marketing help, you have to become your own business instead of just an employee, and you are taking time from your own writing to do so. Some folks absolutely love that level of control; outside the world of writing, they would be the ones intent on starting new biotechs or opening their own restaurant, instead of just being a R&D scientist or head chef at an established restaurant. But for me, I'd rather devote that time to more writing and learning how to do it better, instead of taking on all the peripheral work. that's only my decision, there is no right and wrong about it, but that seems to be the con the self-pubbers who border on religious sort of shoo away. I want to write, not run a business.


I do think telling us what Twain did and using it to justify slapping something out in smashwords is silly, sort of like suggesting since the Wright Brothers built the very first plane as a small collaboration and they were nobodies, you and your buddy with an engineering degree and an arc welder might as well throw your hat in the ring and sub a bid next time the Pentagon wants a new jet...
 
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Roger J Carlson

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3. if you're looking to self-pub because gatekeepers "don't appreciate your genius", not only do you again have to make sure your head bobs above the crowd, you have to be damn sure, and realistic, that you aren't confusing genius and golden word syndrome.
Quite true. Writing is all about communications. If you can't get a gatekeeper interested in your work, then you should seriously consider whether you have communicated as well as you think you have.

When you read your own work, you have the mental picture of what you are trying to communicate. Other people don't, and if you haven't put that picture into words well enough, they never will.

When family and friends read your work, they will slog through to the end because they love you. Strangers won't do that. At the first sign of the story flagging, they'll bail.

That's what makes gatekeepers useful, even necessary.
 

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The problem I see is that by the time your book is ready to appear on the bookshelves after five years of working through the system, the system may not exist anymore.

Why do you assume it'll take five years before your book comes out?

A friend of mine started submitting to agents at the end of January: she got an agent a month ago and now has several book deals in place (home and translation rights), and her first novel will be published before Christmas of this year in this country with her next coming out within the next 18 months.
 

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Why do you assume it'll take five years before your book comes out?

Because plenty of books do take that long, or longer. I suspect you'll find at least as many books that took several years as you will people who were in print within a year of beginning submissions to agents.

The real median time from starting submission to hitting the bookshelves would be interesting to know if you have any numbers for it.
 
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Why do you assume it'll take five years before your book comes out?

A friend of mine started submitting to agents at the end of January: she got an agent a month ago and now has several book deals in place (home and translation rights), and her first novel will be published before Christmas of this year in this country with her next coming out within the next 18 months.

That seems as unusually fast as five years would be abnormally slow. ;) Most fiction writers I know talk about two years from contract signing to books in bookstores. Publishers are able to jump faster - I've heard of times as short as nine months from book turn-in to bookstore for novels based on films, or special seasonal material. But those seem to be the exception, not the norm.

Although maybe things will speed up. Honestly, I don't see any reason why they can't... As publishers push forward into the digital age of publishing, I think we'll see a lot of the process get faster. There's no real reason for a book to take two years; it's a legacy of old processes that don't really work anymore. I suspect successful publishers in the future will have managed to start moving at a less glacial pace.
 

scope

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The problem I see is that by the time your book is ready to appear on the bookshelves after five years of working through the system, the system may not exist anymore.

How in the world do you come to such a ridiculous conclusion? Could you please elaborate?
 

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That seems as unusually fast as five years would be abnormally slow. ;)

Absolutely. But that was kind of my point.

Although maybe things will speed up. Honestly, I don't see any reason why they can't... As publishers push forward into the digital age of publishing, I think we'll see a lot of the process get faster. There's no real reason for a book to take two years; it's a legacy of old processes that don't really work anymore. I suspect successful publishers in the future will have managed to start moving at a less glacial pace.

I think you're wrong here. The reason it usually takes a while to bring a book to market is that there are several rounds of editing to go through, sometimes a re-write; design also takes a while to get right; and then you need to give marketing time to promote the book effectively, and so on. Very little time is wasted on that road to publication: it's all needed to make the book as good as it can be.
 

scope

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Because plenty of books do take that long, or longer. I suspect you'll find at least as many books that took several years as you will people who were in print within a year of beginning submissions to agents.

The real median time from starting submission to hitting the bookshelves would be interesting to know if you have any numbers for it.

If you have no idea of the 'average', why make an emphatic statement that it may take five years before being published by a trade publisher?

Over and over again postings in a variety of AW threads reveal to me a defensiveness and too often a lack of knowledge by most who want to self-pub or epub and who dismiss or put down the trade publishing route. Why? I believe that any point or opinion I espouse is always backed by experience, knowledge, and reasoning. If anyone wants to change my opinion I would like them to do so in a similar manner. Is that asking too much? If anyone feels it's too early for them to draw any conclusions re alternatives to trade publishing, all they have to do is say so, rather than jump to conclusions
 

scope

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Although maybe things will speed up. Honestly, I don't see any reason why they can't... As publishers push forward into the digital age of publishing, I think we'll see a lot of the process get faster. There's no real reason for a book to take two years; it's a legacy of old processes that don't really work anymore. I suspect successful publishers in the future will have managed to start moving at a less glacial pace.

I also believe that the time frame will lessen in the future. Basically trade publishers can bring out any one book as quickly as they want without compromising anything they normally do. However, in the future, if they are to do so with all their books and continue to perform all the functions they do, it will be a challenge in many ways, including costs. We'll see.
 
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I've been seeing a lot about this sort of thing lately. Self publishing is now easier than ever--especially with the e-book market and such. It costs the author almost nothing to get their stuff out there themselves. Toss in the odd success story (Amanda Hocking comes to mind) and the appeal to forgo the pain of queries and rejections is great. So everyone is highly motivated to put together arguments as to why self publishing is just as valid a path as traditional publishing. It used to be that self publishing would sort of tarnish your record if you sought a traditional deal later, though I think that isn't the case so much anymore.

The way I see it, as far as self publishing goes, the appeal is that it is seems so easy. You don't have to worry about anyone else's opinion. No middle man. Just get your stuff out there. This of course opens the door for anyone who writes anything to have a book up on amazon regardless of skill.

The drawback is of course trying to get a big readership via this route. You are sitting in a crowd that hasn't been through any sort of screening process and if no one knows your name, and you don't have anything beyond your word going for you, why will people buy your book? If your writing is really solid and your story has some sort of mass appeal, then perhaps you might be the one in a million who can grow an audience that way, but I would venture to say it is much harder to find success going that route. So, easy to get published-->very difficult success.

Going the traditional route is daunting to say the least. Most queries are insta-rejected. It's all about the stars lining up just right--your book has to not only be good, but has to be what a given agent/publisher is looking for at the exact time when they aren't overwhelmed with other things so they actually do look at it. But, if you get to that point, then you've got editing and marketing and a name bigger than yours backing you up. It still doesn't guarantee success, but I think it sets the stage for success being much more easily obtained.
 

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If their standards are low enough OR if they have all of the necessary skills and tools and put little value on their time and resources.

--Ken

You're right on this--you can actually end up spending a pretty penny self publishing if you pay for professional editing services and hire someone to do cover art and etc.
 

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You're right on this--you can actually end up spending a pretty penny self publishing if you pay for professional editing services and hire someone to do cover art and etc.
A friend of mine recently stated that he spent something like $15,000 on editing, design, printing, etc., for his first self-published book. Grossed $90,000, though, and after other expenses cleared $50,000 (pre tax). He has done better on more recent projects. Still spends a bunch to get a book out the door, though.

--Ken
 

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A friend of mine recently stated that he spent something like $15,000 on editing, design, printing, etc., for his first self-published book. Grossed $90,000, though, and after other expenses cleared $50,000 (pre tax). He has done better on more recent projects. Still spends a bunch to get a book out the door, though.

--Ken

Wow--kudos to your friend. Indeed it can be done, but I'd be curious to see the statistics on how often authors find success that route compared to the traditional route. Also, someone who garners that kind of success by themselves often has great leverage if they want to go the traditional route later.

I'm sure putting up the money for editing and marketing play huge in the potential for success though, which is a reason I'd shy away from it personally. I simply don't have the cash laying around and I'd be too scared of losing everything invested if I did. I've been lucky enough to secure representation and am getting my editing for free at the moment.(if we don't count the 15% that comes off of future sales...if it sells)

Did your friend try querying first or did he jump straight to self publishing? Does he intend to continue publishing this way?

I'm mostly talking out of my rear end when I start spouting vague opinion, so I stand to be schooled, but it does still seem to me (or at least I have seen) that people often flock to self publishing out of impatience or desperation. Not always, but often. And half the time I hear people spout off about the benefits of going that route it sounds as if they are desperately trying to justify a choice they are unsure about. --instead of conceding that their writing could stand improvement, they say that traditional publishing knows nothing and self publishing is the better way to go. I don't know--that's certainly the stereotype anyway.
 

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The way I see it, as far as self publishing goes, the appeal is that it is seems so easy. You don't have to worry about anyone else's opinion. No middle man. Just get your stuff out there.

Easy? There is no big round red EASY button included in self-publishing.

I've found it very challenging. Some will find it daunting, others impossible. I just decided to create a new self-published book for a contest, that is insanity mode-I nearly cried when I saw how fantastic last year's winners were-I'm really going to have to pull out all the stops on my typography to have a chance.

You have to make a lot of decisions, including "do it myself or hire it out". Not everyone is good at that. It is also expensive in terms of the self-publisher's time and/or the cost of out-sourcing what they can't do themselves.

You can't just get it out there, either. "If you build it, they will come," only works if you are trying to attract ghostly baseball players.

You need to do the marketing piece and that's where trade/commercial publishing has a big advantage, because if you don't know how to self-promote and market a product, self-publishing probably isn't for you.

And you have to worry about the most important opinion of all, the reader's. It doesn't matter if you think what you've written is the greatest thing since sliced bread, if they think it is crap, it's crap, because customer perception is market reality.

Self-publishing isn't easy, it isn't cheap and there are no guarantees.

Focus
 

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Easy? There is no big round red EASY button included in self-publishing.

I've found it very challenging. Some will find it daunting, others impossible. I just decided to create a new self-published book for a contest, that is insanity mode-I nearly cried when I saw how fantastic last year's winners were-I'm really going to have to pull out all the stops on my typography to have a chance.

You have to make a lot of decisions, including "do it myself or hire it out". Not everyone is good at that. It is also expensive in terms of the self-publisher's time and/or the cost of out-sourcing what they can't do themselves.

You can't just get it out there, either. "If you build it, they will come," only works if you are trying to attract ghostly baseball players.

You need to do the marketing piece and that's where trade/commercial publishing has a big advantage, because if you don't know how to self-promote and market a product, self-publishing probably isn't for you.

And you have to worry about the most important opinion of all, the reader's. It doesn't matter if you think what you've written is the greatest thing since sliced bread, if they think it is crap, it's crap, because customer perception is market reality.

Self-publishing isn't easy, it isn't cheap and there are no guarantees.

Focus

Perhaps I should revise my previous statement--I meant that it is easy to do in terms of not having to jump through any middle men or convince some agent/publisher to like it--you're the only one you need to convince at first to get the ball rolling. Also, one could slap something together haphazardly through Lulu, or epublish or whatnot easily. Doing it WELL--not so easy. Which was kind of my point--finding success this route I think is probably far more difficult than the traditional route because of all the work involved in actually finding success that route. I think people are drawn in by the fact that they have the power to just do it themselves, but they fail to realize that success isby no means easier.
 
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