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I’ve had near misses with agents and publishers – should I self-publish?

I had this very interesting comment from Paul Gresty about my interview with John Rakestraw at BlogTalkRadio, and it’s typical of questions I’ve been seeing a lot of authors wrestling with. What follows is just my opinion as an author and freelance editor, and may be typical only of the UK publishing market, but here goes.

Paul: You talked in the interview about writers who have had near misses with agents. A few times now, the agents who’ve read my novel have said: ‘This is really good, but we can’t see a major publisher going for it. Try finding a smaller publisher of literary fiction for it, and send us whatever you write next.’ At the same time, smaller publishers, with whom I’ve published bits and pieces before, are saying, ‘We don’t have the means to publish a new book right now’.

I know a number of writers who have excellent, interesting novels that are not getting published. Perhaps they cross genres, or they’re too edgy to be literary and too intelligent to be genre. In all likelihood if those writers were submitting those same novels to the market 5 or 10 years ago they would have landed a publishing deal. But publishers don’t want them any more.

My agent says he’s had plenty of situations in the last few years when editors have adored a novel by one of his clients, have recommended it for publication and had it rejected by the marketing department. So these novels were definitely good enough. But the marketers didn’t want them.


Publishers don’t sell to ordinary readers

The major publishers sell to book stores, and they want to make bulk sales to chains. They want titles that will sell in quantity. Not something ‘interesting’ that will sell one or two copies per store.

Meanwhile, smaller publishers are inundated with submissions and can only afford to publish a few titles a year. This is because there’s a lot of work in bringing a manuscript up to standard and it is simply impossible for a shoestring staff to handle more than a small number.

Paul: Perhaps the solution is to publish an ebook?

That seems to make perfect sense. While you may not shift very many copies in your town or even your county, worldwide you might find 15,000 people who want to read what you write. Providing you can reach them – and the internet is the place to do it. Some small publishers are testing the water by epublishing titles first, and then if sales go well they produce a print version. But again, you have to land on their desk before they hit their quota for the year. How lucky do you feel?

Paul: On the writing courses I’ve done over the last few years, I’ve been advised against self-publishing – ‘vanity’ publishing, with all the negative connotations. ‘It shows that you haven’t looked hard enough to find a ‘real’ publisher,’ I’ve been told. But maybe that’s changing. Maybe self-publishing is becoming more legitimate. Is it?

Ooh, this is interesting.

Vanity publishing is not the same as self-publishing. With vanity publishing you pay – usually a lot of money – for someone to print thousands of shoddy copies of your book and then you discover they’re not going to sell or distribute them for you. It’s usually verging on a scam. With self-publishing no money changes hands until a copy is sold (of course you may spend money on covers, editing etc, but that doesn’t usually have anything to do with the self-publishing company).

As for the assertion that if you can’t get a ‘proper’ publisher you haven’t earned your spurs…

Many of the people saying that either wouldn’t get published now or have never tried at all. I still encounter people who imagine they only have to slip their magnum opus through a publisher’s letterbox and they’ll be Rowling all the way to the bank.

Take no notice of the stuffy gits at those writing courses. They’re well out of date. I bet most of them don’t even know what an online platform is, or assume we’re all writing undisciplined noodlings about what we had for breakfast.

I couldn’t get a ‘proper publisher’ for Nail Your Novel. I was told it was far too short and there were far too many how-to-write books. It was not needed in the market, apparently. So I self-published. Far from being a flop it’s been getting great reviews and sales that have surprised me. I regularly get emails and tweets from people who are genuinely grateful I put it out there.

Catherine Ryan Howard, of the blog Catherine, Caffeinated, self-published her travel memoir Mousetrapped after agents told her it was a good read but hard to place. It’s doing very nicely for her – especially in ebook form. (She’s got a book coming soon all about how she self-published. I just read an ARC. If you’re interested in self-publishing it’s called Self-Printed and I urge you to get it.)

Which brings me back to…

Conventional publishers have narrower tastes than the book-buying public. Much narrower.

My agent also says that the pendulum is bound to swing the other way in favour of these maverick, original writers. That’s lovely of him, but who knows if it will? Self-publishing makes sense if you’ve exhausted normal channels and don’t want to wait for ever.

The trouble is, as I said on the radio show, anyone can now hit ‘publish’. There isn’t yet a reliable way for readers to find out which the good self-published books are, especially with fiction. How do you even get noticed?

I haven’t got an answer for this. Except…

Let’s show those stuffy gits

Self-publishers are now more credible than we have ever been. We must keep that credibility. We must aim for the highest possible quality. That means getting professional help with the editing, proofing and design, so that the book can hold its own against the best of conventionally published titles. (In fact, I’m just revamping the interior design of the print version of Nail Your Novel so that it looks as crisp as possible. Not the content, just the layout and typestyles. When I first formatted it I didn’t think I’d be getting it on Amazon alongside the top-selling books in its field. Now it needs to look the part.)

To sum up: Paul, if you’re really sure you’ve done all you can to make your book as good as you can, hit publish.

(Thank you, Oldonliner, for the picture)

What would you tell Paul? Are you another ‘near miss’ author? Discuss in the comments!

112 thoughts on “I’ve had near misses with agents and publishers – should I self-publish?

  1. Publishing is changing — and has made a dramatic move towards the self-publishing world in the last couple years. In my writing classes I point out two things:

    1. If your dream is to be on the bookstore shelf with your favorite authors, then continue to pursue traditional publishing. That’s your dream. Don’t settle for something else because it is easier. However . . .

    2. Self-publishing is always a possibility and it is becoming more acceptable every day. Four or five years ago, I would have advised to choose it as a very last resort. Now I’m self-publishing some of my novels and shorter works. The publishing world has changed.

    There are still problems, of course. There are far too many people who finish a book a first draft at 5pm and have it published on Smashwords by 5:30 pm. The work is almost always poor quality with errors that could be easily corrected if the person took a little more time with it.

    Those are the books readers are going to see and think that’s what self-publishing is all about. The author is going to have to fight against all that drek that is dropped into the Indie Publishing world in order to get people to look at his or her work.

    It is not an easy path, and those who go that way because they think it would be easier are going to fail. People who self-publish because they can’t stand the thought of an editor turning down their work are going to be devastated by bad reviews.

    Any author looking at publication today needs to look at all sides and weigh not only the choices but also the work involved with both sides of the coin — and look at their own, personal dreams. Never give those up.

    1. Zette – it’s good to have the tutor’s perspective; thank you for commenting! You’re absolutely right that too many people get itchy to publish, especially now they see Smashwords, Lulu et al are all ready and available to take their manuscripts immediately.

      You also make an excellent point about writers being worried about an editor rejecting them, or telling them to go and work a bit harder. Many writers who are starting out have no idea – or refuse to accept – that so much of writing is reworking. And then, when you feel you can’t rework any longer, getting someone else to point out all the stuff you missed. Conventionally published writers get that kind of support, and there is a danger that self-publishers don’t seek enough of it. Especially when they have the confidence of the naive!

    2. Hi, when I wrote the first in my series of children’s books, I searched for an agent or publisher who maybe interested. Being extremely green about these things I got tied in knots and ended up with an American publisher who was really really keen to publish the book once completed. However, I discovered some bad press about them so dragged my feet till the 6 month contract I’d signed expired. Meanwhile I did a bit more research and felt so overwhelmed, like I was about to put my head in a lions mouth!
      So I decided to self publish and chose what I thought was a good publisher, mmmmm, wrong.
      I was so disappointed with the whole experience that the 2nd book stayed in my imagination only, until it just had to be written, for the bears sake!
      I love writting for children and they have loved reading the books, so instead of searching and worrying, I did the whole thing myself.
      I spoke to a local printing company who said ‘they’d give it a go’, so I created my own publishing company, ‘Sherfordbear Publishing’, and bought a block of ISBN’s from Nielsens; the printers had the facility to create the bar code.
      Once the manuscript was completed, I sent it to Cornerstones for editing, (they’re brilliant). I drew the illustrations then sat with the printer and discussed lay out etc. I chose the font, style everything and he put it together. It was an excellent experience and the finished product not only cost me less, but I feel is far more child friendly and better presented than the ‘self publishing’ company’s attempt.
      I don’t have great dreams of becoming world famous, I just really enjoy writing for precious little minds, so this has been an enjoyable way to get my books published.
      However, it is hard work getting it known and out there, but it’s not my only source of income, so I can just enjoy it.
      I’m on twitter, so if you want to chat, tweet me. sherfordbear.

      1. Hi Dee! Nice to see Cornerstones mentioned – I’ve done a lot of work for them over the years! This kind of attention to quality is so important. You got the kind of input that a professional publisher would give you, you made sure the books would stand up well next to their conventionally published counterparts. All credit to you.

  2. Roz, I just spent yesterday summing the entire history of modern publishing for my blog. (I think I blew a gasket.)

    I do have an answer for Paul—it’s probably about the same as yours. ‘Tighten your seat belts, guys, it’s going to be a humdinger of a ride.’

    1. Funny – I just saw you did that. Right as I was formulating my extremely long answer to Paul. Times are changing. But we’ve got to play this right.

  3. Heya Roz,

    What an interesting post; very good points made. I am unable to provide any useful insights for Paul as I have yet to have my book published; I’ve just jumped on the bandwagon, so all this is new; however, this I can say; why not give self-publishing a go? I’m sure it won’t hurt; I personally have bought a few ebooks from less established authors and I am glad they were available as I would have lost out on a good read; I even have a copy of Roz’ book and what a great find that was too!

    Thank you for a worthy read Roz.

    1. Hi Yikici! Actually, that’s an interesting point. If you self-publish a book you will probably not be able to persuade a conventional publisher to buy it. But if that doesn’t matter to you, then fine. In the case of Nail Your Novel I’m quite happy keeping it for myself… and by the way, thanks for getting a copy and I hope it works for you!

      1. Heya Roz, call me Oz 🙂

        Your book is refreshing; it’s a plesant read.

        As for my above comment; I only suggested to go for self-publishing if it becomes extremely difficult to get a publisher via the conventional method; I’m all pro for the established publishers; saying that, I would not dismiss the option to self-publish if going the traditional way becomes a session of cat and mouse; in the sense that you never quite get there… That is why I said there is no harm in trying; if one method doesn’t work, why not try another?

        My stance on this: As I am writing, I am reading more and more on which is a viable option of the two and it seems it is a tight call to make; so for now I am just sitting on the byline; watching, reading to see where it all goes. I know I have a long way to go before getting my novel published and so I am not taking this task lightly.

        Last note: I agree with Zette; it’s worth investing in editing your work properly and not doing a bodge-job; I get disheartened when I come across typos, gramatical errors when I am sitting down reading a book; it sometimes takes the joy out of it. I am a perfectionist at heart so I say; if you are going to do a good job then do it properly.

        1. And it goes much further than typos and grammar, Oz – especially with fiction. Getting a story to work the way you want it to is extremely hard, and there’s only so much you can correct by yourself.

          1. I am aware of that already. You can overlook things or be blinded by your love of the idea you have.

            Sometimes you have to be open to looking at your story from another perspective; different viewpoints and possible change of characters, sub-plots -and in my case historical context! 🙂 A learning curve which in all is a great challenge…

    1. Intelligent in terms of the questions raised by the story, beyond the depth and breadth that would normally be expected of the genre, and possibly using the tropes and traditions of the genre in an unusual way because of it… Good question.

  4. I’ve read a lot about self -publishing on ebook recently and it is certainly a viable option if your work is good ( ie not picked up for market not quality reasons) but it is vital for the author’s career and for the self publishing business as a whole that authors have their work properly edited before publication. Too many aren’t and every book that isn’t turns readers away from all in the same category. It’s a message that I think we need to get out to authors.

  5. I’ve certainly been reading the articles you’ve linked recently on the topic with interest. I think I’ll still try the conventional route first once I have something ready for submission. However, if feedback suggests that the quality is OK but they doubt their ability to market it, then I’d certainly like to give self-publishing a go.

    I don’t think I’d ever self-publish something without it being pulled up to the quality I’d want it to be for submitting to a publisher though. I’d be too aware that a new reader (or potential future agent/publisher) could read it and judge my writing in general on the basis of that self-published book. So a first draft that I’ve just banged down for NaNoWriMo off the top of my head will not be finding its way online. I want people to like what they read and to want to read more of it!

    1. Hi Zelah! I think that’s a good plan. Try doing it conventionally first, and see what the feedback is. Only self-publish if agents and editors are saying ‘this is a perfectly good book, only I don’t know where it fits in the market’. Anything less and it’s not ready.

    1. Hi MIchelle! Certainly self-pubs are another slush pile. But how will the cream rise? That’s all about spreading the word about your book – and hoping it comes to the attention of the right people. Cream rises by itself, but deserving books don’t, unfortunately.

  6. Yep, I’m also one of those ‘near miss’ authors and now I’m saying to myself, to hell with it. I’m self-publishing my novels from now on. Major reasons:

    1) I’ve been rejected for the content of my books. “A lesbian space opera will never sell”.

    2) I’ve been rejected for the balance in my books. “Too much romance to be sold as sf; too much sf to be sold as romance”.

    3) And I know I’ll get rejected for a major character in a series I’m now writing. “Who wants to read about Asian heroines?”

    (I have been digitally published however. Digital publishers tend to take more chances than the dead-tree variety.)

    OF COURSE I already have professional editors and cover artists lined up. After all, this is now my own business I’m talking about. And now that I think about it, having successfully run several businesses in the past, this is the ideal path for me. At least I won’t be able to bitch about my covers or marketing efforts in the future! LOL

    1. Hi Kaz! ‘Lesbian space opera’, ‘too much romance’ and ‘Asian heroines’…you’ve definitely pushed some buttons there. Best of luck – and you’re right, this is a business.

    2. Kaz, I think I may wind up in the same boat as you. I also cross genres and am already wondering how to describe my work to someone who wants to put it in a particular pigeon-hole! (‘Light comic, action, fantasy, romance’ is as close as I can get for my stand alone novel!)

      Both of my current main works in progress (the stand alone novel & the trilogy) feature gay/lesbian/bi characters. Not as the hero/heroine (though a sequel I have planned to the trilogy will) but as significant players & I think this might cause me problems when looking for a publisher.

      The way I see it, their sexuality is by the by, it’s just part of their character, part of what makes them who they are. I am concerned that the publishing world may not quite be ready yet to embrace gay characters as a natural part of the landscape yet, without calling it gay/lesbian fiction, which mine isn’t as it’s targetted at a more general audience that includes gay & lesbian readers rather than aiming it at them directly.

      The real world features people of all sexualities, to be realistic, they are going to crop up in a fictional world as well and I don’t want to be forced to write out that aspect of their characters.

      So, we’ll see!

      Good luck with your self publishing quest!

      1. Zelah! Yes! This!

        their sexuality is by the by, it’s just part of their character

        That’s it exactly. I subbed that novel to a whole list of agents and got very good responses but the bottom line was, “Er, we’re not sure how to sell this so we’re passing. Sorry.” Very frustrating when I’d already been told that my “voice” was great and the story was interesting. A couple of agents even said they “loved” reading it.

        Like you, mine is actually more a general audience story as well (well, SF! 🙂 ), so it doesn’t neatly fall into that category of gay/lesbian fiction. It just happens to have a main character who’s lesbian.

        Sigh. Best of luck Zelah. I sympathise, I really do. And we’ll see what happens when I self-pub it. At the moment, it’s going through a final self-edit before getting passed on to the editor.

  7. Hi Roz, and everybody else who has replied.

    This is a lot of feedback to my original question. Thank you for that. I’ll admit I’m leaning towards the epublishing route. Some reasons, and some concerns: –

    – I’ve yet to read the small print associated with such a route. I think it’s important to be able to withdraw the book at any time I want, or to physically publish it, if that opportunity comes along, without impediment. I’ll want to retain control; accounts I’ve read concerning website breakdowns / deleted reviews etc worry me.

    – My long-term objective remains ‘paper’ publishing. Realistically, my goal with this book – Netherman – is not to sell a million billion copies. Because I won’t, simply, even with all the best self-marketing in the world. I’m happy with this book – I’ve invested four years in it, and I think it’s at least as good as many books in Waterstones. But honestly, and looking at my potential career as a writer with a long-term lens, I see Netherman as a stepping stone to the next book, and the one after that. I think it’s extremely rare for somebody to ‘make it big’ with their first novel; the – few – working writers I know are starting to make a decent wage when they publish their fourth or fifth book, maybe. With ‘Netherman,’ I hope to open a few doors; I hope to be able to let my name circulate a little in the world of writing and publishing, and when it comes time to sell my next book, I hope to be able to say, ‘well, you know, I’ve already managed to sell XXXX copies of my first book without any backing whatsoever’. Maybe epublishing is the medium that will allow me to do that. And, of course, I want at least two or three people to tell me that my book is the best thing they’ve ever, ever read.

    – The self-marketing necessary to sell beyond my immediate friends and family concerns me. I feel I’m not naturally the most outgoing person; doing so through a computer allows me a greater degree of control over how I project myself, but I feel I’ll still have to force myself into the slightly grimy world of ‘sales’. Plus, I’m still an absolute novice concerning HOW to go about promoting my book, and myself. Small, baby steps have already brought me to the Nail Your Novel blog, and yet I still feel I’m stepping out into the unknown. Distasteful as it may seem to an ‘artist’, some sort of business plan seems necessary, and I simply don’t yet know how to go about creating that.

    – Are publishers ‘stuffy gits’? Maybe that’s unfair. The publishers – and agents, and working writers – that I’ve met seem to be smart people, and open to new ideas both creative and commercial. But, for the reasons you mention in your post, they’re also constrained by the business side of the writing industry – if Waterstones and WH Smith won’t be interested, what’s the point? The last writing course I took part in was a good 6 years ago; I’d be curious to see what kind of advice is being dispensed now.

    – It’s a finicky point, and maybe not one I need to worry about yet, but how on earth would I go about creating some sort of ‘front cover’ for Netherman? I draw somewhat less well than your typical six-year-old. I suppose I’d be comfortable with a very basic cover, knocked together with some sort of graphics programme. Seems a missed opportunity, though.

    But yes, overall I’m definitely thinking along the epublishing lines.

    1. Hi Paul
      I’ll split my reply into chunks or it will be too tricky to read with the formatting!

      Re stuffy gits… the stuffy gits I refer to are NOT the publishers! Editors and even the marketing departments are well aware that writers are giving them new gems all the time, and indeed they lament that they can’t acquire them.

      The stuffy gits I refer to here are the dinosaurs who diss self-publishing without knowing how radically things have changed. I didn’t realise you did your courses 6 years ago, and quite a lot of people may have changed their minds since then – but I still encounter these attitudes now (including one who commented here not so long ago).

      1. As to your other queries, Paul…

        As you know, I’ve had problems with Lulu, with them removing my listing or lousing it up – and if you keep drafts on their system they will sometimes make them mysteriously available for public sale. But the solution is clear – don’t use them for anything but proof copies. (The revamped Nail Your Novel is going via CreateSpace. I’ve already been corresponding with Amazon and they have proper, obliging customer service, so I feel I’ll be far more in control over the product.)

        With ebooks you can remove them from publication any time you want to. That includes Kindle.

        With print books on Createspace, you can remove them but the listing will stay on Amazon in case someone has a second-hand copy to sell via Marketplace (but how could they bear to part with it?!)

        I don’t know about Smashwords, but assume it’s the same.

        At all times copyright remains with you.

        I don’t publish on Smashwords because I’m worried about DRM (copy protection), but some people don’t worry about that and are very happy with Smashwords. You might call me anal, but I don’t want my book pirated.

        1. Roz, piracy isn’t necessarily a bad thing (it means you’re in demand). The question is, how will you deal with it, or be proactive to stifle it in the first place? If you price your stuff right, and have a connection with your fans, they will be less likely to steal. I know it sounds kind of corny, but it’s true.

          DRM actually never stopped anything from being pirated, and actually just irritates people, and inspires them to pirate your work, or just not buy it at all.

          True pirates won’t buy it in the first place, but DRM could cause actual real sales.

          Don’t think of it as art, think of it as a product, and let your fan enjoy it how they want.

          There I go again, yabbering on… sorry.

          1. Piracy is not a bad thing? We differ there, I’m afraid. I price my books reasonably – it’s not much to ask someone to pay the few pounds (and add to my Amazon ranking). Much as I love to communicate, and that drives my urge to write, it takes a long time to write a book to professional standard. That, in fact, is treating it professionally and as a product.

            This is another area in which self-publishers need to have decent standards. Price sensibly (ie not stupidly high), but don’t roll over and let pirates rip you off.

            I can see a manifesto developing here…

            1. Maybe I should have phrased that differently. Your stuff will be pirated. It’s something that has gone on since we had the ability to copy things. If you price right, connect, etc, piracy wont affect you. Think about all those people who buy your book, read it, then pass it on to a friend. Is that piracy? Technically, yes, but somehow we don’t freak out about it unless it’s digital. This is why I say piracy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In some circumstances it could lead to a sale.

      2. covers… there are lots of professional artists who are affordable. Just as there are professional editors …. (me included tho I’m not necessarily touting for business as I won’t necessarily be right for your work). Every professional you need to hire can be found, and it needn’t cost an arm and a leg.

        As for promotion… that was usually one of the things a mainstream publisher would help with (but see Phil’s comment later for how that usually works for most writers in the real-world ). The best thing to do is try blogging, or interacting on a few blogs. Get used to an environment where everybody talks about writing – both theirs and other people’s. It will soon seem quite natural to talk about what you write too, and it won’t seem grimy in the slightest.

        Most writers are shy and all this blogging and tweeting was alien to us all when we started, but there’s a certain intimacy to cyber-interactions that brings out the best in us.

        But one thing’s for sure. If a tree falls in a wood and there’s no one to hear it, it might as well not have bothered to fall. You’ll never sell a darn thing if you don’t get out there!

  8. I am watching so many talented authors self publishing now, I think the industry is really changing. Ebooks are definitely the ‘in thing’, and a quick way to produce your hard work.

    I would have loved to find an agent, and go the publisher route, but in this current climate, I know I haven’t a hope. I will be seriously considering s/p when the time comes.

    1. Hi Glynis – always nice to see you! You never know, you might land an agent, but you have to be prepared to wait. If I were you I’d give querying six months while you write something else and see what feedback you get. You might not be one of the unpublishable unusuals who have been gathering here today!

      At the very least, agent feedback will give you a feeling for whether your book makes the grade in quality terms. Most agents will let you know that.

  9. All I can say is Self-Publishing is working for me. But words of warning – Self-Publishing is an all consuming beast – it certainly isn’t an easy route when done to a level which aims to compete with industry published works.

    (NB note use of word ‘industry’ not ‘traditional’, as I have cited previously, many ‘traditional’ publications / English canon (Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Bloomsbury group etc) were more like the current concept of Self Publication than the relatively new concept of Agents and large scale publishing houses. Many literary stars started off by self printing their works, creating magaizines etc.)

    1. Katie, you’re right – it’s not easy at all. But mainstream publishing isn’t a walk in the park either.

      And you make an excellent point about our literary forebears. Charles Dickens was another.

  10. Hey there everybody,

    This post got me fired up, and this may be long, so I’ll apologize ahead of time for being long winded. 🙂

    The publishing world is not changing, it HAS changed. Self publishing is no longer a means to an end for many, it’s a first choice and a business decision. Publishers were necessary in years past because there was no way for an author to get their work in front of a mass amount of people. The system was flawed on several layers, but it worked because each one needed the other to survive. Today, it’s different. Publishers still need authors, but authors don’t need publishers (not an opinion, it’s fact).

    I’ve seen too often how many writers aren’t looking at this in business terms. For those of you considering trad pubbing, have you asked yourself what a publisher can do for you that you can’t do yourself? I mean really sat down, and be realistic as to what kind of marketing muscle they are going to give you (not what they give Stephen KIng, but what they will give YOU)? Have you worked the math, figured out how much it would cost you to hire out things like book covers,editors and other things you lack the skills in vs. how much that would cost you coming from a publisher? Have you looked at the market to see how books and authors are being discovered today? Sure publishers have marketing experience, but is that experience still relevant today? Again, it might work for Patterson, but will it work for YOU and YOUR book(s)?

    Now to address the “dream of being big time published”. If your goal is to be side by side next to Nancy Drew in some bookstore, then you are writing for the wrong reasons. Why do you write? Do you want people to read your work, be entertained, be touched, and thrilled? Isn’t that more important than just *seeing your book on a shelf*? Having the satisfaction and validation that people – readers- read your stuff and they liked it – no LOVED it. As Roz said, Publishers aren’t selling to fans, they sell to bookstores. They could care less about your story. They only care about it in the sense of whether or not they can sell it. Look at what’s out there now? 12 different Harry Potter books, vampire this, zombie that. It’s all the same. Is this the validation you really want?? Do you want to be just like everybody else, or do you wanna be the Lesbian Space Opera? Hell, the title alone would make me pick it up!

    On the subject of promotion. I hear this all of the time, and it’s a biggie for most. It’s also the most misunderstood. First, you don’t need to be the slimy salesman that Paul eluded to, in fact if you are you will fail. You need to be yourself. If you go out there and “sell” you will fail. If you go out and connect with people, get to know them, you will win hands down (something the big 6 doesn’t get). You don’t shove stuff down peoples throats, you engage with them organically. Again, look at how people discover books, and make sure you are a part of that. Are you in the book store following people around saying “buy my book, buy my book- look, it’s right over there”? No, you create a cover that kicks ass that gets people interested.

    Promotion is a ton of hard work, but it’s also very rewarding (you get to meet a lot of great people, most of which will buy your stuff), and it works. It’s really nothing to be freaked out about.

    Again, sorry for taking up so much space. Good luck to all!


    1. Phil, you talk good sense. Many authors are deciding to go it alone because publishers’ deals are so bad.

      It has always been difficult being a creative. No one in business wants to pay the creative. They seem to imagine we’re like monkeys with typewriters amusing ourselves – even though without us they’d have nothing to sell. The tide is turning in our favour as we can now do a lot more ourselves.

      But I still think that to break through to the major audiences we need big guns. In many cases it’s not possible, because the unpublishable mavericks don’t get offers. But big publishers can get access to influential reviewers, which means big audiences take notice. One of the most prominent self-pubbing companies in the UK offers a (very pricey) package that gets your book on the literary pages of a Saturday broadsheet – but it’s only on an advert, not a review. Reviews aren’t for sale. Reviews are got only if you are chosen by the prestigious imprints.

      Even good reviews are no guarantee, of course. Excellent books still flop, even with top-flight marketing.

      And the flipside of this is that self-publishers have ingenuity on their side. There are ways to sell besides getting a review in the TLS or on Open Book or Front Row.

      1. I don’t think there are big guns anymore, or at least not the way we think of them now. Look at Amanda Hocking. She sold over a million titles w/out a publisher. No big guns, just her and maybe some friends help. It’s not like her books were anything special (not meant as a jab, my daughter actually loved her), so if she can do it, we all can.

        My little book that nobody has heard of has sold over 500 copies since October. Sounds measly, and it is, until you realize that outside of a couple of tweets, I haven’t promoted it at all. As the months go on, the sales grow just a wee bit. Could I add a couple more zeros to that if I made the effort??

        But, like Amanda, the marketing can be too much for some. It is time consuming, but she wouldn’t have gotten that deal if she didn’t have the fan base. Her new publisher didn’t buy her, or her books, they bought her fans.

        This discussion is awesome, and it’s great to find writers that make the effort and treat this like a business. Believe it or not, it’s somewhat rare.


  11. I have to say I agree wholeheartedly with Phil. Self-publishing is not second choice anymore, and in fact sometimes it’s a must, whether for fiction or non-fiction. I self-published my first book, because I’d become tired of waiting an age for traditional publishers to look at one of my other titles only to get a handwritten ‘no’ after several months, plus my work was very specialised. So I self-published my book and sent it to academics in the field. It cost a fair bit, but was worth it in the end as it got me lots of comments and reviews which I then reproduced on my website to get credibilty and at the same time get myself known well in my target niche. Second time round for the second edition I got a traditional contract by publishers in two countries. It’s even getting a translated edition, and all this was down in part to my having become known in the academic niche. I swear by the self-publishing route for a first title, and in fact it can work well for all your books. I happened to get lucky with my second edition, but with my fiction I’m almost definitely looking at self-publishing again. Incidentally, another thing I don’t like about the traditional route is the fact that first-time authors get virtually no promotion, even by the big names. So you might as well self-publish and hire a PR agent! 😉

    By the way Roz, it was funny to see you use language like ‘git’! I’m so used to your posts being very polite! lol!

    1. Sally, that’s an awesome story. And you must include your URL on your comments because after the chats we’ve had here I’d love to see what you’ve written.

      PS Warning, this post contains the word ‘git’. Please make sure you are reading this post after the 9pm watershed in case sensitive persons are in the room with you and you have to explain why you laughed.

      1. lol! No worries – I’m probably the most sensitive in my house, and I’m not that sensitive!

        Just this once, I’ll include my url in this post. My non-fiction subject is, as I said before, a specialist subject so most readers in the mainstream wouldn’t find it all that interesting. I want to make a new website for my fiction, design and music, which I’ll probably use as my url in future posts – once the novel is done.

  12. Hi. Very interesting post. Traditional publishing was a Bible until now. I think that most readers don’t care about the publishing house that published a book. They care about the author and the book itself. And if it’s about a new author, then some will read the book and spread the word to others. So, if an author insists on traditional and gets nowhere, what she/he has to loose by trying indie publishing? Nothing.
    The idea that if you go indie then you will never get a deal with a traditional publisher is illogical. Publishers care about money and sales, so they won’t care if you have self-published before or not. It will not be against an author, since large publishers will look at what the author submits to them (if it’s saleable then they’ll take it). Self-publishing might actually work for the author, if the book he/she self-published hit large sales, then he/she will get publishers’ attention.

    Thank you 🙂

    1. Thanks Irene! If we get attention in the right way, it can only do us good. But I think it’s unlikely that whichever book was self-published will then be reissued by a conventional publisher. However, writers’ careers have to be longer than one book, right?

  13. I think that most readers don’t care about the publishing house that published a book.

    Irene, I disagree with you on this point.

    I think readers look to publishing houses for credibility of a work. The editorial process that is so crucial to getting your work in the best shape possible is guaranteed with a known publishing house. It is hit or miss with self-publishing.

    As a reader, looking at two books by unknown authors, I will always choose the book backed by the house, all other things equal of course (cover, premise, blurb and general feeling of interest).

    Until there is another way of differentiating between self-published works that have been polished and those that are first drafts, there will always be a struggle for self-published writers to reach their full readership potential when compared to established houses.

    I suppose this is where your online platform begins to fill the gap, though.

    1. Hi Therese. Then fan pages and groups would be made on publishers, not authors and/or genres.

      As far as I recall, bookstores put books on shelves according to genre, not publishing houses. And checking on statistics, readers search books on genres and authors, not publishing houses.

      Repeating myself, there are so many errors I’ve found in books, made by the so called guaranteed crucial editorial process that I can’t even count.

      Does that mean that all the editors in the world that do not work for large publishers (freelancers) are not good editors?

      Most editorial departments in large publisher houses have few senior editors and a lot of assistant editors who have one or two years experience. Do you really think that all the books they publish go through the chief editor? Then they would publish like maximum 10 books per year.

      I don’t have anything against traditional publishing, as I’ve said in my post, the author should choose what fits him/her. It is the author’s choice what he/she will do. I don’t support either way of publishing. What I’m saying is that now there is a choice.

      But an author will never face a choice, if he/she is stuck in the mentality of viewing in awe of publishers and editors, as gods all mighty. I will totally support any author who chooses traditional publishing because he/she chooses that traditional publishing is the best for his/her book, market, target audience etc., but I won’t if the author chooses that because of the myth.

      Of course, the above are totally my opinion. 🙂

    2. Personally, I’d be more swayed by reading reviews of the work than by whether or not it was self-published. I recently read two free modern romance novels (not my first choice of genre but they were free!) on my new Kindle. Both Mills & Boon. One was really well written, the other I only read a tiny amount of before deleting, because it was so full of cringe-making cliches and characters that didn’t make you empathise with them at all. In that situation, having a publisher (the same publisher!) didn’t count for anything!

      If neither book had any reviews and both seemed equally interesting, I’d probably buy them both, or buy neither of them. Either something intreagues me enough to want to read it or it doesn’t. I don’t set out to buy the book that looks the best, I set out to buy a book that looks interesting. If I find one that looks interesting enough for me to want to buy, then I buy it & stop looking until I’m in the market to buy another!

  14. Roz: Nice post and great round of comments. Thanks for that.

    I had one thing to add regarding the “cream rising to the top.” I believe that a handful of readers drive the book sales for the majority. If readers are concerned with a “safe purchase,” as many are, they buy from the “top 100” list or from recommended reading lists in their community. But how do you get your book into those lists? You can directly appeal to reviewers, you can use your own connections to get those first few sales to happen (platform IS important even for self publishers), and you can price the book so low initially that it becomes an impulse buy. Once Amazon sees action on your title, you start getting better placement in search results and in cross-sells. That leads to more sales, and better placement yet.

    But the most important thing of all is that you have to write a good book. Generating a lot of attention for a bad book works against you. You are so right that professional editing and design are crucial. You don’t want the reader asking “who published this thing, anyway?” with a disgusted look on their face. If you do a good job, readers don’t give a rat’s ass where the book came from.

    My wife and I have been self publishing for years now…since long before it became the latest get rich quick scheme. As soon as Lighting Source came on the scene, we saw the clouds part and the light shine down on our literary aspirations. Yes, e-publishing is the rage now, but POD is still a great option for selling print versions of your books.

    It amuses me to see the recent interest in self publishing from folks who would have never considered it before. We’ve been trying to get the “self publish a professional book” message out for a while. My wife wrote a book on self publishing (Publishize: How to Quickly and Affordably Self-Publish a Book That Promotes Your Expertise), and next month we’ll be hosting the Self-Publishers Online Conference for it’s third year.

    Yes, we are going to see a lot of writers who publish junk in hopes of getting a Hocking payday, but as readers become the new gatekeepers, crowdsourcing tools will continue to evolve and help the best books come to the fore. It’s not so much the cream rising as the whey sinking.

    1. James, thanks for your reply. You’re right that the first step must be to write a book to a professional standard, to hone your skills, work to make your art better etc. When you think you’ve done your best, get a proper professional to look at it – there is only so much you can learn on your own. All the expert twiddling in the world won’t cover up shoddy content. But as Zelah said above – and as we all know – a ‘proper’ imprint doesn’t guarantee that you’ll like the book. What a ‘proper’ imprint will do is make it more likely that more potential buyers will see your book.

      Good luck with your conference!

      1. Thanks Roz. The conference is a lot of fun for us because we get to talk with cool folks like Dan Poynter, Mark Coker, and other paragons of the self-publishing industry.

        I also wanted to add that a “proper” imprint won’t have an advantage for long in getting your book in front of readers. Big publishing has largely outsourced editing to the agents and promotion to the authors. You are going to be the one promoting your book no matter who publishes it. The main value add for trad publishing at this point is bookstore distribution, and that advantage won’t be worth much for long.

        In a digital world, your self-published book takes up just as much virtual “shelf space” as a traditionally-published title, and you can distribute your books just as effectively as the Big 6 (just not to book stores). On top of that, you can price your book FAR below what they can do, and still make more money than you would have in traditional royalties. In fact, the real advantage on the virtual book shelf goes to authors who have multiple titles, as John Locke (a self-published Amazon top 100 author) has repeatedly demonstrated. Most large publishers won’t even LET you publish more than one book a year.

        As you probably know, ebook sales outstripped mass market paperback sales in February. Times are changing far faster than large corporations frozen in a hundred-year-old paradigm will be able to respond. We are experiencing a revolution in publishing, not an evolution.

        Sorry, I can get fired up about this stuff.

        1. Digital has arguably been the bigger revolution than high-quality self-printing. In the Kindle store, it’s a more level playing field.

          Aside from the cover, the books all look the same inside, so the content is what shines through. And as you say, indie authors can price more competitively.

          Another plus is that a book can be the length it truly deserves to be, rather than padded or pruned for the economics of distribution.

          It’s interesting that you raise the point that traditional publishers won’t let you publish more than a book a year. If you have a back catalogue or can produce quality content fast, that’s frustrating (for the very good reasons you mention).

          But with fiction it’s rarely possible to produce more than one GOOD book a year, and my other agent (yes I’m repped to my eyeballs, one agent for adult and one for MG/YA) says a year is too tight for an author to get a novel up to standard.

          In my work as an editor I see writers who are champing at the bit wanting me to green-light their work for instant publication – and usually it needs more work. Please, folks, don’t rush to get a novel out just for the sake of increasing your epub presence. Finish it properly. As you should see from the above discussions, readers CARE!!!!

  15. What an interesting discussion! I am in the middle of my second novel, and this one will be the first I query to agents/editors. I intend to start out this way simply because as a newbie, I want to get the reaction. Even if I get all rejections, if there are a few gems of editing wisdom in there, then it will be worth the disappointment and effort.

    But the self-publishing aspect has a lot of merit and seems to be gaining every day. However, digital publishing isn’t always self-publishing, correct? There are digital houses you can go through with roughly the same editing process, etc.

    In regards to Phil’s very interesting comments, my question as a newer writer is this: where do I find the information needed to ‘do the math?’ Where are the best places to look at those trends, prices, etc., so that I can accurately compare the two options?

    I am also working to build my online platform, but the progress is slow. I’m hopeful that as I join more blogs and share more of myself, things will pick up:)

    1. Stacy:

      If you want to see how to “do the math,” check out Joe Konrath’s blog:

      Several of his posts in the past few months included comparisons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing, and he does the math.

      But be warned: Joe is now outrageously pro self-publishing. He has good reason to be, given his history as a mid-list author with a major publishing house, but he comes off a bit strong for some people.

      Nonetheless, I am admittedly a Fan Boy of Mr. Konrath.

      Also, you are correct that digital publishing and self-publishing are not the same thing, although that misconception has popped up a lot in recent months. Smashwords and Kindle changed everything for self-publishing as authors are now able to upload a book and start selling it literally overnight. Of course, the Big 6 and plenty of small publishers put their books out on Kindle and other e-formats as well. You can usually identify the trad published books by their high price!

      I’m interviewing Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords on April 26 at 10:00 AM Pacific, if you want to hear more about how digital publishing works. Just go to this page and sign up for the call (it’s free):

      Best of luck with your book project, whichever way you decide to go!

      1. Stacy,

        Doing the math means the whole business side of things. Assess the talents you possess or have free access to (like creating good covers, editing, so forth), and then taking a look at what you;ll need to contract out (cost).

        That’s the amount you’ll have to invest in your start up (yes, think of it as a start up). As your book sells, you can recoup your initial investment, and start putting money back into your business for the next book. And on it goes.

        These costs are fixed. For instance, a book cover, editing, and other incidentals may cost you $500 vs. 75% for the life of you book contract with a publisher. You can see the math doesn’t quite make business sense. If you sold 100 books, you’re already @ $750 for those services, rather than the $500 (I used the standard $10 price set by most publishers).

        Now, I would hope you would sell more than just 100 books, so when you look at what the publisher is actually providing you vs. the cost, you need to figure out if it’s worth the premium price tag.

        Also remember (and I think someone pointed it out here already) you are also giving up rights. How do you put a price tag on that?

        Everybody always looks at the marketing aspect of signing with a pub, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

        I hope that answered your question/concern.

      2. Thank you for the response. I’m still in the middle of writing my book, but I’m really trying to learn some information as I go. I do still feel that as a brand new author, I should at least try the traditional route for 6 months or so.

          1. Thank you. I actually just posted on my blog about the different advice you get from various sources. I’ve had a frustrating week because every time I think I’ve got it all figured out, I make an innocent comment about one part of my book, and I’m told it’s wrong. I’m all for learning, but it’s like running into a brick wall.

        1. Stacy:

          If you have the time, it couldn’t hurt to try the traditional route. Although your odds of getting a deal are low, it could happen, and even if it doesn’t, you might get some feedback from agents and editors that will help you improve your novel.

          Just going through the query process will make you think more about how your book will be marketed to your readers. That knowledge will help you even if you later decide to self publish.

          I think Roz is right about the time too. At six months you’ll just be coming off the learning curve on the process, so you’ll probably need at least a year to give it a fair shot.

          1. Realistically, I do have the time. But I can understand the authors that spend a year of time on their book and then quickly jump to self pub because of the frustration.

            I do agree, going through the query process will help with marketing, and getting feedback would be great.

            I have to admit, I’ve always known chances of getting pubbed the traditional route are low. But when you go to Barnes and Noble and see how many crappy books that are out there … it’s frustrating.

    2. Stacey, self-publishing has certainly come a long way. But I think you should try the conventional route first. I aimed this post at people who have done that and been given every indication that their work is good enough. This is crucial. Don’t self-publish to duck under the quality bar.

      Good question about digital – yes there are small publishers now who publish on digital. If you get into talks with any of them, check what they can give you that is substantially better than going it alone. It probably won’t be money, but it should be access to prestigious reviewers.

      As for comparing the options? A debut author is usually much better off going with a conventional publishing deal if they can get one. Again, find out what they will give you in return for the share they will take and work out if you could do that on your own. Think also how much the prestige of their backing is worth.

      Keep going with the online platform – I just went over to your blog and subscribed!

        1. Well, Roz, it’s your blog, so your opinion is the one that counts here, but I have to take exception with your assessment that Joe is successful *because* a publisher helped him build his brand. His blog includes several interviews with authors who are making very good money (more than he is in some cases) and who were never traditionally published. Amanda Hocking and John Locke are just a couple of of the most visible examples of this. Of course, Amanda has now taken a corporate publishing offer, but she plans to continue self publishing as well.

          1. James, when Joe Konrath began self-publishing he was in a much stronger position than anyone who is bootstrapping themselves from nothing – because a major publisher had been behind him. Anything can happen in this funny old world, of course, but Joe Konrath’s example shows not that ‘anyone can self-publish and be minted’ but ‘the canny thing is to get your rights back and then keep working extremely hard’.

        2. Roz, add me to the list of peeps who disagree with you on this one. I never heard of Joe until he went the self pub route. At that time he actually was on the fence if self pub was a viable route, but it’s unfair to say that the trad route provided the path to his fame and fortune. There are a ton of “joes” out there that are/were trad pubbed that nobody has ever heard of, and they only get discovered because of what they do in the self pub arena (pricing, marketing direct to fans, etc.).

          Joe was not a household name like King, Rice or Patterson. It’s not apples and apples.

      1. Roz, thanks for the response. I’m glad you feel I should try the traditional route first. Of course it’s scary but I think it’s worth the effort, if only for the learning experience. I do agree that the prestige of a traditional publisher would be good for any new author, which is yet another reason I intend to try.

        Thanks for the info about digital as well. I will keep that in mind.

        Wow, thank you for subscribing to the blog!

  16. It’s really good to see some common sense talked about self-publishing. I self-published simply to get the job done, rather than have a manuscript that I hawk around for months or years on end. I’m glad I did – I get 4/5 star reviews and lots of positive feedback direct from readers.

  17. If we are to show publishers and the world that indie publishing is credible, then we need some gatekeepers. I see a niche opening up (and maybe it already has) for people who have a good eye for books and know how to spot and promote the good ones in the indie publishing world.

    1. Kevin, we do have gatekeepers. They are called fans. Some also call them readers.

      The “traditional” gatekeeper mentality of having some all supreme entity decide what’s good and what isn’t doesn’t make sense. Harry Potter got rejected by many, many publishers. It’s one of the best selling franchises ever. Who decides who has the taste, knowledge or bias to judge books for everybody?

      I for one would like to choose my own books. My wife, who is writing her first fiction novel already has offers for not only beta readers, but fans wanting to buy it. Why, because it sounds good to Them.

      Gatekeepers stifle the really good stuff and keep that hidden because “they don’t know how to sell it”. I don’t want the same ‘ol same ‘ol. I want stuff that’s fresh and unique.

      IMO the lack of gatekeepers combined with the creativity of authors out there is the reason why self pubbing has taken off and is working for so many.

      1. Naturally, gatekeepers will emerge: the Twiiter equivalents of Oprah who lead others’ opinions. Even if that role weren’t filled by traditional publishers, most people don’t have the time to go trawling through everything that’s published. Give it time and we’ll see which reviewers are becoming the look-tos for self-published books.

        What authors need to realize is that there is a large degree of luck associated with how well their book performs. Self-publishing creates a less structured body of content and some what rises to the top will be good. Some good stuff won’t, just the same as in traditional publishing.

        I’ve sold over 4 million books and I’ve been both traditionally published and self-published, so I can speak with some authority on this. My main concern is that first-time authors may be misled into thinking that because such-&-such a famous self-publisher did it, that means self-publishing is a sure route to success. Look at the statistics and you’ll see that most self-publishers are making less than if they had gone with a trad publisher. Since self-publishing is easier (especially self-epublishing) there’s going to be a lot more competition, so your odds are not going to be so good and for every hit there will still be a hundred misses. That isn’t a reason not to do it (writing was always a lottery; if you want a surefire investment try real estate) but it is a reason to keep your eyes open.

        1. Dave, self publishing is in no way easier. It is a lot of hard work, commitment and determination. To say that it’s quicker yes, but easier, no way.

          To the statement of people not having enough time to sift thru everything, I agree, but they don’t have to, that’s why there’s search (amazon, google, and even twitter, facebook and other niche sites). This is why how someone markets is crucial (the hard part I was referring to).

          There’s also other things you can do with your book listing to help aid in people discovering your book. Things like getting on lists, tagging, and the “people who bought this also bought…”. Taking advantage of things like this will greatly increase your chances of being seen– almost (not quite, but almost) the equivelant of that table in the front of the bookstore (except targeted to your interests).

          1. Phil, when I say it’s easier to get self-published I mean that if you take any 10,000 would-be authors, all 10,000 of them can self-publish but less than 100 would get into print if they went via a traditional slush pile. So easier in the sense that for the other 99% self-publishing actually makes it possible to get published at all. They will need to work hard on marketing, that’s true.

        2. Dave: I agree with the majority of what you are saying here, particularly the part where first-time authors may believe there’s a big payday in self publishing simply because that’s how it worked out for a few others.

          However, I disagree with the idea that self-publishers are making less than they would with a traditional publishing deal. The truth is that the vast majority of those self-published authors would have never gotten a traditional deal in the first place, so even $1 is more than they would have made from a traditional publisher!

          The most successful authors (self-published or not) are those who have a good grasp on marketing. Gatekeepers, whatever form they take, are not the only factor in a book’s success. It is up to the authors to make sure their book gets noticed and has a chance to get through the gate in the first place. THAT is where most authors fall short, regardless of how good their work is.

          If you want to be in the business of writing, then you need to treat your writing like a business.

          1. James, yes, that’s very true – better to earn $1 than nothing! However, all the bullish self-promotion in the world won’t make *every* self-published author into a success. Currently around 200,000 new books a year are published in the UK and US. Just 5% of those earn more than the average royalty revenue; 70% of them earn less than half the average. With self-publishing there is no real barrier to having a million or more titles a year. Even if all those enterprising authors apply themselves to every marketing trick in the book, inevitably most will be disappointed to find that diligent tweeting and blogging still leaves them becalmed at the very shallow end of an unforgiving curve.

            I am not against self-publishing – as I said, I’ve used it myself, in my case because I’m publishing a graphic novel series in a country (Britain) whose trad publishers loathe comics! But any self-publisher needs to be level-headed about the facts of the business. Most importantly, they need to realize that just because the most successful authors are those who have a good grasp on marketing (totally agree with you there), that does not mean that having a good grasp on marketing will make somebody a successful author. Hmm, does anybody know if Aristotle was self-published or not? 🙂

        3. Absolutely, Dave. I’ve been on both sides of the fence, too. Self-publishing in the era of POD and ebook is a heck of a lot easier that working your way through the system, especially now that forces have conspired to make the traditional system such a bottleneck. (Click! There’s Lulu!) And now that publishers are expecting their authors to work long and hard as their own self-marketers, yeah, it does kind of beg the question: for what?

          Traditional publishers have visibility, distribution, and a whole industry established to favor their names and established practices. This is where their clout comes in.

          Self-publishers with no understanding of the industry, who just read someone like JA Konrath and think, “He’s right! That could be me!!” and rush to throw something out there, have no idea what all is going on in the background. So, yeah, the vast, vast majority of them get lost in the shuffle.

          It’s going to shake down eventually, just as the ‘new’ traditional publishing industry did in the early twentieth century, and we will eventually have certain places we go to find self-publishing quality that meets our particular tastes. But in the meantime, it’s a madhouse.

          1. Victoria, you’ve hit on a great point there. A lot goes on invisibly in the background – both to prepare a book so that it is fit to be seen and to propel it onto people’s radar.That doesn’t mean a talented, dedicated writer can’t break through on their own – but they have to realise what they are competing against. At the end of the day, it starts with a book that is truly good enough to stand up with the best of them.

  18. In between self-publishing (very high risk, statistically low reward) and traditional (barely lower risk, often lower reward) there is a gap for new indie publishers that could give individual authors a way of spreading risk/reward. Books, like other entertainment industries, follow a steep curve with just 5% of the product earning back more than the average revenue. If you can publish 30+ different authors, you can make a business of it. If you’re just publishing one author then you may as well buy a lottery ticket.

    So anyone who feels they are working in a genre that the big publishers don’t understand should probably look around for a couple dozen like-minded souls. Start your own self-publishing imprint and pool your promotional efforts, and maybe even build in a shared reward pool to help spread the risk. (In the mid-’70s, film makers like Lucas and Coppola used to exchange a few points on their movies so there is a good precedent for this.)

    Having said that, my advice is to go the traditional route if you can. An established publisher will set up ways for your marketing efforts to be way more effective. A couple of hours having beers with the major buyers in a town, for example, will shift more books than a week spent tweeting and blogging. It’s true that publishers don’t do enough for first-time authors and their royalty rates do not reflect the relative investment and risk taken by the author and publisher. But the threat of self-publishing and indie start-ups could help to fix that.

  19. Very interesting discussion going on over here. I’m leery about a “traditional” publishing deal for several reasons. One, there seems to be quite a shake-up in accounting practices and some authors are getting royalty statements that don’t match with the statistics reported by outside sources. To me, that is VERY disturbing. Two, the contracts are very restricting as far as e-rights, and that is also concerning.

    To be honest, things are so much in flux I think the best thing for me to do is watch and wait and self-publish for now. Look, there is not just one path for everyone — some will combine self-publishing with small press with indie with “traditional” publishing. That’s the beauty of the business today! There’s so many options, and you get to choose what suits you and your work best. Just because you choose ONE way doesn’t mean you’re obligated to continue the same way.

    The biggest errors I’m seeing from some writers are 1) they don’t have their work professionally edited and 2) they forget when they sign a contract they are not selling a book. They are selling RIGHTS.

    It’s a great time to be a writer AND a reader. 🙂

    1. Hi Netta – great to see you here. Royalty statements… don’t get me started. Publishers have always made them virtually inscrutable.

      You raise a very good point that authors now have the choice. Writers are often far more versatile than the narrowcast model their publishers have. If they write a book that doesn’t fit what their publisher wants they can offer it to the market themselves and fans can decide whether to try it or not. That’s got to be good for the artform in general.

      And you’re absolutely right about professional editing. We need quality control – desperately.

  20. I’m responding to a couple of comments down here so it’s easier to read:

    @Victoria Mixon: your argument could be said for the trad route as well. People rush into blindly sending query letters w/out understanding what is involved. People recommend giving that a shot for a year, then if you magically get lucky, it’s another year or so before they actually publish it. That’s over 2 years!

    Let’s not forget that everybody thinks that they are going to get the same treatment patterson gets when it comes to marketing muscle– simply not true. Whatever route people take, it’s important that they get the full facts before jumping. Judging by what I see, there are more people blindly going to the trads “because that’s the way it’s supposed to be done”. They don’t have the numbers, they don’t have all the info. That’s why in an earlier comment I talked about doing the math to make sure whatever you decide, it’s the right choice for your business. Once you sign to a publisher, you no longer have a business, you become an employee.

    @James Byrd: Hey Neighbor! Nice to meet a fellow Idahoan (via a UK site no less- lol)

    @Dave Morris : OK gotcha, I thought you were kinda saying about self pubbers taking the “easy route”. In that sense you are right, any old bloke can publish something.

    @Roz – I think I’ve posted more here, than on my own blog. You better watch out, I’m going to take over! 🙂 Just kidding, I’ll go back to being a casual observer.

    1. Hey, Phil! We are living in interesting times. Vigorous debate will help us understand the issues more – and will help each of us clarify what’s right for us. Thanks for adding your voice!

  21. Wow Roz, when you first penned this post, I wonder if you expected this response! It’s been great reading everyone’s comments and I now have additional people and their blogs to follow. Hmmmm, not sure if I should be thanking you for THAT! LOL

    Great conversation. I’m really enjoying it.

  22. This isn’t necessarily the last word; anyone is welcome to add any more points! But I just need to say this. Folks, it all starts when you write the best book you possibly can, and do whatever is necessary to make sure it’s up to scratch.

    1. Kudos, thumbs up, and a big “hear, hear!”

      I don’t think any of us are suggesting that the ease of self publishing is an excuse to produce anything less than a professional book. However, it will happen.

      I just interviewed Mark Coker of Smashwords this morning. He said his one criticism of his own company is that they’ve made it too easy for authors to publish just about whatever they want (although Smashwords does have a few subject matter restrictions). However, he made the strategic decision from the beginning not to jump on the slippery slope of trying to be the arbiter of quality. You can choose to view that as a blessing or a curse.

      Ignorance, arrogance, lack of budget, and other factors will inevitably contribute some sewage to the flood. Until something is in place to mitigate that, readers will just have to learn to avoid the stinky stuff.

  23. Heya Roz,

    Since I last read your post there has been a vast amount of interesting and enlightening comments; I have been reading avidly and also have been pondering on it for a while as well as reading numerous blogs that feature this topic. Information overload has happened it seems, as I couldn’t resist anymore, so I started to write a comment on here about what I have been thinking; then decided it would serve better as a blog post (it’s become quite lengthy and went off on a slight tangent too; besides I did not want to take up too much space) have a wander and have a read if you like. Having said that; whilst I am here I thought I’d briefly touch on the points raised above.

    @Phil @James @Dave -Very valid points have been made, times are changing and from what I have been observing; the way authors now network/interact with their fan base and other authors; self-publishing, self-marketing looks like the way to. However; I do not think it is as clear cut as some make it out to be; I stumbled across this post by James Maxey and being a Traditional & Self-published author he brings on an interesting argument which seems to balance both the Traditional and Self/Indie Publishing route; yet he favours the Trad route for an unpublished author.

    @Kaz @Zelah –I totally agree. One of the main selling points Self-publishing has going for itself is that of genre. Well, to be more specific: not fitting into the genre ‘norm’ is a big factor for authors going down the Self-publishing route; which is a shame –I have to ask: Why aren’t publishers more willing to take on something new when clearly it can be seen from internet sales that these new genres do have an audience! Playing safe is sensible but without risk-takers there is no fun! I know I know –dollar signs outsell any reasons for trying something new!

    @Netta –I was interested in the fact that you mention authors are ‘selling rights not a book’; it had not occurred to me until this point. Now that I am thinking about it seems that publishers have the upper hand when they sign-up an author and they make good use of the situation; unsuspecting authors just want to have their book published so it can be enjoyed by the many readers out there. Therefore in some ways it is good that the choice is out there; but things do need to settle as it seems still volatile (maybe not the best of words to use).

    Overall –I am still undecided, still watching and observing. I have plenty of time before I delve into publishing my novel; but it’s great to be in the know to what is happening out there and keeping my options open.

    Great post and comments!

    (I still wrote too much!)

    1. If it will be a while before you try publishing your work, you’ll definitely want to keep your options open and watch what goes on in the industry.

      Publishing has changed dramatically from both a market and attitude perspective just over the past year, and I think the industry will look very different again by the end of next year. If ebooks continue to take market share away from print, bookstores and distributors will disappear fast and traditional publishers will have virtually nothing unique to offer authors (new or established). Bookstore distribution is really the only market leverage they have at this point. There’s nothing else you can argue about traditional publishing, for good or bad, that doesn’t apply equally to self publishing (and vice-versa).

      I did read the post by James Maxey, by the way. He and the other authors at Magical Words are great folks, but they are relentless proponents of traditional publishing, and equally relentless detractors of self publishing. Yes, I know that you could make the same argument (in reverse) for me!

      I plan to publish my first fiction book in January 2012. Even if I had an agent right now and my book proposal were accepted, it would still take 12 to 18 months (from January) before the book made its way through the publishing cycle to a bookshelf. That’s 20 to 26 months from now. Will bookshelves still exist? If not, what did I just get in trade for the rights to my book? Zilch.

      Good luck with your book, no matter which way you decide to go.

      1. I hear what you are saying James and waiting is a sensible thing for me to right now as everything seems to be up in the air; certainly things will settle down at somepoint; so I am keeping my eyes open.

        The arguement for both self-publishing and traditional publishing is close in my eyes; both have the positive and negative points; I guess its a case of what route suits you.

        Thank you for your kind words; I appreciate the input. Good luck with your book too.

    2. I think the fact that authors are selling rights and not books has entirely been overlooked by new writers. And you’re right — that does mean the publishers have the upper hand in contract negotiations if you forget that one simple, but absolutely vital point.

      If you don’t know what rights you’re selling, you can’t optimize them. If you don’t know what rights you’re selling, bend over and grab your ankles.

      What about that sneaky non-compete clause? Foreign rights? When do their rights expire, or do they have them for the life of the work? E-rights are fast becoming a monumental issue in publishing contracts. You’d better know what you’re selling, is all I’m saying. If you don’t understand a contract, then hire someone for a FLAT FEE to interpret it or negotiate it for you. Otherwise….whoops.

      Believe me, it happens to even seasoned pros. It’s a jungle out there.

      1. I agree Netta, yes it is probably overlooked by new writers -the legal aspect of most things tend to be missed by people in general; maybe thats because of the rose-tinted glasses we wear when we are excited etc.. Contracts are important and every clause should be read carefully just as you have said -I personally think -if you are going to sign something you’d be smart to understand it inside and out or else the repercussions could be far more than you envisage.

        Thank you for the sound advice; it has certainly opened up my eyes.

  24. Another blog post that inclines me towards self-publishing is this one: scary stuff for those with ebooks through conventional publishers (at least, ones in the US, not sure what the UK ones are like)!

    I’m not looking at pursuing publication for another four or five (or even six) years at least (I want to wait until my son is old enough to understand why mummy is so busy, without being emotionally scarred for life. I figure it will save me on therapy bills for him…) 😉

    At the moment the plan is to get at least half a dozen books up to publishable standard and to go the self-published route unless conventional publishing changes a lot in the meantime. I really like the idea of having the freedom to go where the story needs to go rather than where I need to go to fit in to a pre-determined genre slot. Also, one of my novels has a play within it that I’d love to release separately for charity & I don’t know if a conventional publisher would allow that, since some of the play happens within the text of the novel.

    That said, if I write any children’s fiction (which I also have ideas about) then I would rather go the traditional route with that.

    So, I haven’t ruled out either way but I am definitely leaning towards the freedom of self-publishing at the moment. If I do self-publish I’ll be making sure it’s been well edited, well laid out and that I have professional looking covers though!

    I’ve always wanted to run my own business and the idea of self publishing excites me since it’s a way to do something I love for a living yet still play at being a business type as well. 🙂

  25. @yikici – I’m not the only one to get told that, pertinent to this thread, f/f doesn’t sell (and this from digital publishers as well so, to all in this discussion, don’t think that they’re the automatic saviours of The Different). But I’ve also been told by readers and other authors that it DOES sell! Talk about mixed messages! In any case, I’m continuing on the self-pub path and shall be publishing f/f space opera romance “War Games” in August. We’ll see what comes out in the mix.

  26. Kaz & Yikici:

    You ladies might hook up with Michelle Muto. Her book “The Book of Lost Souls” is also a bit “off market” and she decided to self-publish with satisfactory results. I congratulated her on reaching #5 in her category at Amazon, and this was her reply:

    “That book @ #5 (now at #4) was at an agency for 18 months. TIme lost. Never again.”

    You can connect with her here:

    She’s really nice.

  27. I read today that the literary uber-agent Ed Victor is starting his own imprint. He’ll publish out-of-print works by his clients, on ebook and POD. What I want to know is, why do these authors need him to do that? They have their audience already established and we know how easy it is to set up an ebook and a POD edition. What kind of deal is he offering?

    It’s not that I’m against agents becoming publishers – on the contrary, I think it’s eminently sensible as they are far more adventurous in the clients they want to push into the market. They will do far more good for the literary artform than mainstream publishers are doing. But what I’d really like to see them do is publish new writers.


  28. Thanks for the rec, James. Am following up now. 🙂

    Roz, re your comment about Ed Victor. As many before me have said, self-pubbing is really for entrepreneurs, a role that may not be comfortable (nor desirable) for everybody. Victor may have clients who really just want to write, and hang the other stuff. But I agree that taking on new writers in this way would also be good.

  29. @Kaz, that is a true point; I guess in this current climate it is normal to have mixed messages -those f/f books that are not selling could be authors that are not really working the marketing as effectively as other authors who are more successful or maybe it’s because the story is not good?

    @James thank you for the recommendation, I am going to have a wander over there now 🙂

    @Roz, I agree with what Kaz says; I think not all authors are business-minded; most -I believe are even apprehensive into going down that whole route by themselves. Ed Victor obviously has clocked up on this and is trying to get in on the act etc as you rightly mentioned. It would be great if they did take on new writers; in the future they might; but I think he is probably playing it safe at the moment. This does not mean that in the future we may see developments involving new writers -we can hope right?

    (I should have pu all my comments on one comment box! Didn’t cross my mind till now -oooops!)

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