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

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ResearchGuy

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. . . Ken -- ResearchGuy -- has a really informative pamphlet about how to self publish linked in his sig.
Thank you. And, if I might add (and really, more fundamentally its purpose) it is about how to pursue commercial publishing, albeit with a realistic view of the obstacles and with discussion of the range of alternatives.

To quote some passages:

I want to encourage writers who seek commercial publication, but I recognize that most will not achieve that goal, either because their writing does not meet commercial standards or needs or because there is simply too much competition and there are too many obstacles. Writing is a tough business in which to make a living.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So, quality manuscript in hand, now what?

First of all, if you are confident in your manuscript and in yourself as an author, forget the odds. Your odds of acceptance are zero if you do not query and submit (and query and submit until you succeed). Persistence and professionalism improve the odds.[1]

[1] Leonard S. Bernstein’s 1986 book Getting Published: The Writer in the Combat Zone gives a superb exploration of that point. The book is worth finding in a library or used book store. Also see Ray White and Duane Lindsay, editors, How I Got Published (Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 2007). A key theme of writers who tell their stories in the book is persistence.

--Ken
 

Medievalist

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Thank you. And, if I might add (and really, more fundamentally its purpose) it is about how to pursue commercial publishing, albeit with a realistic view of the obstacles and with discussion of the range of alternatives.

One of the reasons I tell people to read it is that it has a solid discussion of the process and workflow, with decision points.
 
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HapiSofi

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Yeah, I love it too, but am afraid this summer is turning out just like last summer. No tomatoes, and my lavender plants drowned. I'm not a native ... I choose to live here ...
The only path to happy gardening in the Pacific Northwest is to choose appropriate plants. Forget the lavender and tomatoes. Meditate upon the Thompson & Morgan seed catalogue -- it's full of English garden varieties that like cool damp weather. Roses do well too, as long as they're not Clotilde Soupert.

(Apologies for the interruption. We now return you to your regularly scheduled discussion of publishing.)
 

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Of those top hundred items, six are Kindles, or Kindle accessories and software, leaving 94 items to download to your device.

Of the remaining 94, 10 are subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, and, in one case, a blog. (I'll count that blog as self-published, for 10% of the total subscriptions.)

Of the 84 books: 14 (16%) are self-published.

(And of those 14 self-published books, over half (8; that is, 57%) are by John Locke.)

The take-away lesson?

If you want to do well on the Kindle, be published by Random House.
Hmmmmmf. Random House has lots of titles on the list because they publish lots of titles. Hachette and Penguin and the like do just as well by percentage.

Anyway, thank you for checking, and for reproducing the list.

My take-away lesson from that list is also the reason I never believed Kevin's claims about ebook sales: mystery novels have distinctive sales patterns, no matter what format they're in.

A new mystery author or series is like a new perfume: the hardest part of selling it is getting it established in the first place. New writers have a rough time. It's difficult enough to get mystery fans in bookstores to pick up novels by writers they haven't read before. If Kevin's claims were true about ebook bestseller lists, especially genre bestseller lists, mystery readers in a more challenging sales environment would have to be picking up books by unknown writers nearly as fast as they're picking up books by writers they've already been following. No way! -- and in fact, they aren't. However, they have decided they like John Locke and his Donovan Creed series, so they're buying all of his books.

That's a real list, and it reflects real mystery fans and their real reading habits, in all their characteristic and particular glory. It couldn't be more different from Kevin's abstract theoretical oversimplified weightless dicta about publishing. No one buys abstract theoretical books. Readers buy specific books by specific authors because they specifically want to read them.

I'm not interested in defending conventional publishing for its own sake. I'm interested in trading and discussing true and useful information for writers. So far, nothing Kevin McLaughlin has said about writing or publishing has matched reality as I know it.
 
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HapiSofi

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The Big Six have only recently turned their attention to e-publishing in a serious way. One of them, for example, was only writing its production standards for e-books this last January/February.

Four major publishers that I know of were formulating their production rules and procedures during that period. It wasn't that they'd never done ebooks before; they had. What the rising tide of ebook sales did was give them a pressing reason to standardize their formats and procedures.

Here's what's going on: The pioneers found the way through the trackless wastes. Thanks, and a hearty handshake. The railroads are coming through.
As I told a pioneer epublisher many years ago, "You'll know when you've got a working business plan because [name of publisher] will be standing right there beside you, shoulder to shoulder, doing his best to swipe your customers."

And why not? Customers didn't love the Pony Express or the Wells Fargo Stagecoach for their own sake. Given a choice, they'd prefer Western Union and the Southern Pacific, or telephones and the Interstate Highway System, or iPhones and Jet Blue.
 

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Maybe, but as long as the bigs are charging over ten bucks for ebooks, there is room for the indies to get a nice piece of the action.
Let's say you're standing in an airport bookstore, picking out a book for a six-hour flight. Do you pick the new Stieg Larsen or George R. R. Martin or Simon Schama, or do you go with a less inspiring-looking book by someone you've never heard of because it's five dollars cheaper?

If you tell me you buy the downmarket book, that'll be an interesting datum; but the fact is, most readers will pay a few dollars more for the books and authors they already know they want. They may grumble at having to pay it, but they grumble all the way to the cash register.

And that, dear authors, is why you'll be able to stick your publishers for big advances when you've become famous and your books are selling like hotcakes.
 

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. . . It's difficult enough to get mystery fans in bookstores to pick up novels by writers they haven't read before.. . . .
That is where an effective title and cover come in (for me, anyway). I pick up what looks promising from the new mysteries shelves. That does not translate well to e-book browsing, so a visit to B&N from time to time is still essential even if I might end up downloading the books later. (Sometimes a hard choice, but probably less so with my B&N discount card expired and not to be renewed.)

FWIW.

--Ken
 

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None of this changes the fact that consumers expect an eBook to cost less than a paper book. You can try to "educate" the consumer, but many a company has gone out of business going down that path.
No. Companies go out of business by trying to sell books that readers don't want.
Also, it's weird that Amazon is a "bully" for offering huge discounts on paper books when every single brick and mortar bookstore has been doing this for eternity.
Amazon isn't a bully for discounting books. They're bullies because when they get frustrated about having to actually negotiate with publishers, they they try to force the issue by turning off the "buy this book" mechanisms for all of the publisher's titles. They did that to all of the POD publishers to force them to switch from using Lightning Source to using Amazon's second-rate POD-production service. They also did it to Hachette. You heard about them doing it to Macmillan because instead of knuckling under, Macmillan took the fight public and raised a big stink about it.

There was a lot of intelligent commentary about the issues involved that got published at the time. Nobody's stopping you from tracking it down and reading it.
 

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I think Baen is still a company to watch. They've been in the vanguard for a while now.
Jim Baen was brilliant at marketing to his core audience. He genuinely understood why his readers bought books. I hope the company continues that, now that he's gone.
 

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Let's say you're standing in an airport bookstore, picking out a book for a six-hour flight. Do you pick the new Stieg Larsen or George R. R. Martin or Simon Schama, or do you go with a less inspiring-looking book by someone you've never heard of because it's five dollars cheaper?

Personally I go for the book that looks most interesting, which is often the unknown author whose books may be cheaper. Last time I went book shopping only one out of eight I bought was by a writer I'd heard of, and that was because they post here and I recognised the cover from their signature and the blurb looked interesting. I certainly looked at and then put down several that seemed too expensive for their content.

Of course in airport bookstores you may not get much choice other than the big name authors anyway because they tend not to have a lot of shelf space.
 

HapiSofi

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Context would help. I am a longstanding board member of a regional organization of (primarily) self-publishers/micropublishers. For that matter, I AM a self-publisher (on a very small scale, learning along the way the last few years). I support self-publishing done right for the right reasons. But the fact is that a lot of bad to very bad books are published by their authors, and with barriers to entry dropping nearly to zero via ebooks, that situation can only be aggravated. I can be pretty sure that a book of a type I like to read, from a major trade publisher, will be worth reading. I cannot be similarly sure of a typical book from a self-publisher (or subsidy or vanity press). I've seen too many bad self-published books, despite seeing some good to superb self-published books.
That's a real problem. Even before ebooks took off, there were credible reports that bookstore customers were rejecting titles published by conventional publishers that happened to resemble self-published POD trade paperbacks. We'd known that readers have a strong aversion to authors or series if they've had a bad experience with the previous one, but we hadn't known how far it extended. "Looking like a self-published POD trade paperback" encompasses a fairly subtle batch of clues, but my guess is that they were rejecting edge cases as well as the actual targets.

I've been wondering whether a rising tide of reader distaste for bad self-published books could swamp the lower reaches of small publishing.
Anyway, sure, there is a market for cheap anything. Liquor, facial tissue, used cars, canned beans, you name it. Books too. Yer pays yer money and yer takes yer choice. And to borrow another phrase, you get what you pay for.
What they're shopping for isn't a book; it's a satisfactory reading experience. If they don't think the cheaper option will give it to them, they probably won't buy it at all.
 

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Even before ebooks took off, there were credible reports that bookstore customers were rejecting titles published by conventional publishers that happened to resemble self-published POD trade paperbacks.

a) Were there any good self-published novels on bookshelves before ebooks made self-publishing popular? I've never knowingly seen a self-published novel for sale in a bookstore, whereas I've been actively looking at self-published ebooks.

b) From what I've read, self-published POD paperbacks looked cheap, so people may just be rejecting cheap-looking books without caring whether they're self-published or trade published.
 

scope

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Personally I go for the book that looks most interesting, which is often the unknown author whose books may be cheaper. Last time I went book shopping only one out of eight
I bought was by a writer I'd heard of, and that was because they post here and I recognised the cover from their signature and the blurb looked interesting. I certainly looked at and then put down several that seemed too expensive for their content.

I find it unusual that the books you find to look the most interesting are often from unknown authors. Are you saying visually or that they read the most interesting?

Reading books I believe I will enjoy is my primary buying motive, not the price. I don't think that a couple of dollars here or there is motivating for most, in spite of what I read here. And for those to whom it does matter I would think they would be library oriented as opposed to looking for a retail needle in a haystack. I first look for either subject matter and/or authors I enjoy.
 

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Originally Posted by HapiSofi
. . . It's difficult enough to get mystery fans in bookstores to pick up novels by writers they haven't read before.. . . .
That is where an effective title and cover come in (for me, anyway). I pick up what looks promising from the new mysteries shelves.
An effective title and cover, and good cover copy, are essential for everyone. There's a gap between the reader and the book that needs to be bridged. It may be enough that you already know the author, or are an enthusiastic fan of the genre and subcategory. Otherwise, you and the book need to somehow become acquainted.
That does not translate well to e-book browsing, --
True! I hope publishers will come to recognize that ebooks need that congenial surround of information every bit as much as hardcopies do.
-- so a visit to B&N from time to time is still essential even if I might end up downloading the books later.
I hereby confess to having bought and downloaded a less-expensive ebook edition while standing next to the hardcopy edition in the Barnes & Noble on Union Square.
 

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a) Were there any good self-published novels on bookshelves before ebooks made self-publishing popular? I've never knowingly seen a self-published novel for sale in a bookstore, whereas I've been actively looking at self-published ebooks.

Yes. Many. In fact, there were a large percentage, I think, of good, worthwhile self-published print books than there are now.

It took time, talent, and money--all three, before. It still takes them now to do it right, but the buy in is much much less.

One of the niches where self-published print books used to excel was in cookbooks; not only the Junior League/Church ladies sorts, but more specialized cookbooks as well.

For a very long time the most respected bar manual was self-published.
 

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I wonder, too, if we're a bit more eccentric than the average book-buying population as a whole, here.

Like ResearchGuy's confessed tendency to look for "New Mysteries" first, I actively hunt for first novels -- but within specific parameters: I look for first novels with a publisher imprint I know and trust, and if the front matter notes that it's edited by someone I recognize and respect, that's generally a guarantee I'll buy the book.

And while word-of-mouth recommendations are a huge factor for any average book-buyer, if the recommendations we're getting are from people actively engaged in writing, editing, and publishing as a career and life-style orientation (*wink) then those are pretty sophisticated avenues of communication informing our reading habits.
 
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One of the niches where self-published print books used to excel was in cookbooks; not only the Junior League/Church ladies sorts, but more specialized cookbooks as well.

Sure, but they're not novels; self-publishing has been a viable market for non-fiction for a long time and I have a few such books myself.

But I don't remember ever seeing anything on a bookstore fiction shelf that was obviously not from a trade publisher.
 

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a)I've never knowingly seen a self-published novel for sale in a bookstore, whereas I've been actively looking at self-published ebooks.

b) From what I've read, self-published POD paperbacks looked cheap, so people may just be rejecting cheap-looking books without caring whether they're self-published or trade published.

a) I have. A couple of friends own bookstores and on occassion, as a favor only, they have stocked a few
self-published books of local authors, but only for a month or so. Every one I've looked at was simply awful, and after one month sold one or no copies.

b) I have no feelings about this since self-published POD paperbacks only come from individuals, not trade publishers.
 

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I find it unusual that the books you find to look the most interesting are often from unknown authors. Are you saying visually or that they read the most interesting?

I tend to find when I read 'bestseller' authors that after three or four books they all start to feel the same. I'm more likely to pick up a book I've never heard of where the blurb makes it sound different than I am to buy the latest Stephen King or Dan Brown novel.

Of course I'm also aware that I'm far from a typical reader.
 

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We've touched on the importance of promotion and marketing to the success of POD books and ebooks. To me, this is the dramatic flaw with such types of publishing, for the moment puting aside quality and the proliferation of junk. I don't see how this can be solved, although I don't think trade houses will have any problem doing same with ebooks once they gear up to dominate this market. Any thoughts?
 

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a) Were there any good self-published novels on bookshelves before ebooks made self-publishing popular? I've never knowingly seen a self-published novel for sale in a bookstore, whereas I've been actively looking at self-published ebooks.

b) From what I've read, self-published POD paperbacks looked cheap, so people may just be rejecting cheap-looking books without caring whether they're self-published or trade published.
In the most detailed report I've seen, they were specifically identifying what they didn't want as "self-published books." That account came from someone working at a specialty SF & fantasy bookstore, so the customers may have seen PODs on sale at conventions, or online -- SF readers have an affinity for the internet.

Since the books in question would have been SF/fantasy, here's a list of the cues I suspect the readers were reacting to:

  • Thinly applied low- to medium-gloss (never matte) lamination.
  • Lightweight cover stock.
  • Medium-saturation medium-contrast generic cover art, i.e. wallpaper.
  • Full-bleed cover art that doesn't wrap around the spine or back cover.
  • Modest FPO typeset spine.
  • Slightly clunky overall layout and design.
  • Author and title typeset, without modification or hand-rendering, possibly with imperfect kerning.
  • Title and author type laid directly on the art, rather than paneled.
  • Unpunchy cover copy in a light- or medium-weight text font, possibly using default leading.
You know -- the kind of cover that looks like it's never gone near an irritatingly commercial-minded marketing department, or incurred significant charges for the cover design as well as the cover image.
 
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Sure, but they're not novels; self-publishing has been a viable market for non-fiction for a long time and I have a few such books myself.

But I don't remember ever seeing anything on a bookstore fiction shelf that was obviously not from a trade publisher.

University literary journals, for one; some are actually pretty good. They do tend to be picked up by local indie bookstores, pretty easily. I was never turned down by a bookstore wrt to stocking the one I typeset and helped typeset for a couple of years.

I've seen chapbooks by Charles De Lint.
 

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University literary journals, for one; some are actually pretty good. They do tend to be picked up by local indie bookstores, pretty easily. I was never turned down by a bookstore wrt to stocking the one I typeset and helped typeset for a couple of years.

I've seen chapbooks by Charles De Lint.
The SF community has always been into self-publishing, small presses, and unpaid or semi-pro periodicals, while simultaneously being clear on the differences between that and commercial publication.

What's interesting is that the customers in that SF specialty bookstore weren't described as having their aversion reaction to books like those issued by the genre's small presses and semi-pro publishers (Small Beer, NESFA, Circlet, Old Earth, Necronomicon, et cetera at length). Instead, they were avoiding books that looked like POD trade paperbacks, i.e. self-published fiction. What's the difference? The small presses have knowledgeable gatekeepers, and they're picky about what they publish.

If I were self-publishing novels right now, I'd be thinking hard about ways to differentiate my books from all the unfiltered slush that's been going into print over the last decade.
 

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Reading books I believe I will enjoy is my primary buying motive, not the price. I don't think that a couple of dollars here or there is motivating for most, in spite of what I read here.

Price is not the primary motivator, but it does play a significant role. If your book is $11.99 and mine is .99, you better be able to convince your reader that you're a lot better than me. And if one of your readers happens to say what the heck and tries mine and likes it, he'll probably be a little more likely to buy mine the next time around over yours.
 
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