As publishing becomes increasingly like the music industry, should you self-pub to kick-start your career?
I’ve had an interesting question from Stacy Green. ‘An online writing friend is going to self-publish a novel to build an audience, and then submit a second book to agents. What do you think’
The writing industry has become like the music industry. Writers are starting their careers not by genuflecting at the desk of an agent or a publisher, but by getting out on blogs and websites, gathering like-minded folks on Twitter and Facebook. Effectively we’re gigging.
With Kindle books so cheap and so instantly available, it makes sense to have a book to prove ourselves with as well.
But should you self-publish a novel while you’re building your audience?
Is it spoiling your chances of a proper deal?
Six months ago I’d have said it was. But a few trailblazers have changed the world. Crucially, they have proved to the sceptics that self-publishing isn’t for slushpile losers. Traditionally published authors who retained their e-rights are putting their backlists on Kindle, showing that ‘proper’ authors self-publish too. Some agents are thinking of doing it for them. Some authors are ditching their publishers and going it alone, or bringing out their more off-piste work themselves. And there’s that Kindle millionaire Ms Hocking. Yes, she’s in a minority but a lot of people took notice.
If you self-publish a novel, is it written off?
Agents warn that if you self-publish a book you won’t get a deal on it, ever. However, a few self-published authors have had offers for foreign rights. Again, they are in the minority, but it does happen.
For the vast majority, though, no publisher will touch the novel that’s been self-published.
That might not matter. Traditional publishing deals hardly pay very much these days so your earnings might not be much different if you keep all the rights for yourself. If you secure a deal for your second book, that will expose you to a wider spread of readers. If they like you, they will probably seek out your first book and won’t care where it came from. And so your first novel will not be sacrificed into a void.
But why shouldn’t Stacy’s friend approach traditional publishers?
Last night I was talking to a former agent and publisher who told me about the soul-destroying business of acquisitions meetings. He and his fellow editors would be passionately championing a book but just one veto from the marketing department could reject it.
The major publishers, he said, will only take potential best-sellers. Market is what speaks to publishers now, even more than merit.
Of course, new smaller publishers are stepping in to take their place, but they only publish a handful of titles a year. You might wait for ever. All the more reason to get out and gig your book.
Before you do…
Here comes the nagging. As everyone says ad nauseum (including me), make sure your book does you credit. Don’t toss a novel off so you’ve got something to get started with. Don’t put a book out because you don’t dare query with it, or you suspect an editor would tell you there were flaws. Edit and polish as slowly and carefully as you would for a formal query. Get a professional opinion and treat it like a job.
Authors who have blazed a trail this year have demonstrated that self-published writers are capable of policing themselves. Because of this we all have a better chance than ever before of building a career this way. But only if we all set our standards high.
Thank you, Hoong Wei Long for the photo.
To Stacy’s friend I say: good plan. If you have a book ready to gig, go for it.
What would you say?
#1 by Stacy Green on June 10, 2011 - 10:31 am
HI Roz! Thanks so much for answering this question! It’s a very interesting one, and your thinking makes perfect sense. My friend actually has two or three books semi-ready, so she’s in a very good position.
I’m just finishing my WIP, so I’ve got a while to go yet. Long round of edits before me, but I’m glad to know her plan has merit. I keep telling myself I will query for at least six months, and I’m going to stick to that. I’ll have the book edited and make sure it’s a strong as possible. But I’m not kidding myself about landing an agent or even getting it sold. If I do end up self publishing it, I’ll have another book well on it’s way to completion and have something to show agents.
Of course it all comes down to writing a strong book and marketing yourself. I’m plugging away at that every day. One worry I have about self-publishing is the personal cost. Quality is so key, so there will be the expense of an editor and graphic artist.
Do you think self-publishing is a better option for new authors than a small publisher whose focus isn’t solely on the next bestseller?
#2 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 11:02 am
Go Stacy! And another good question. And I’ve started typing a reply that deserves to be another post all of its own!
#3 by Stacy Green on June 10, 2011 - 11:22 am
LOL! I’m on a roll with the questions. I have a lot of them:)
#4 by Stacy Green on June 10, 2011 - 8:27 pm
So Roz, you told me a while ago I should still go for an agent for at least six months. Given all the changes in the industry, do you still feel the same?
#5 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 11:16 pm
The agent question is six of one, half a dozen of the other. Agents are quite oversubscribed. It may take a while to get one. You may decide – hopefully because you’ve had professional feedback – that self-publishing might be better for your career in the long term. Or you may decide to keep plugging at representation. Certainly if you can get representation it will do you no harm.
But I do believe that if you self-publish, you will not be able to sell that book to a publisher afterwards unless the circumstances are exceptional.
#6 by Stacy Green on June 10, 2011 - 11:39 pm
That’s the thing. I know it will take a while, and on the one hand, it gives me time to write a second book. But on the other, what if it’s a total waste of time? And yet I still think there’s value in the process.
It’s just hard to decide if self-publishing would be better for long term career, although it’s looking more and more like it would, especially in the suspense/thriller genre.
Thanks so much for answering my questions!
#7 by Sarah Ketley on June 10, 2011 - 10:36 am
I’m planning on self publishing a few before i try for an agent. While i would love to think i can create a “Harry Potter” famous book the first time round, i am being modest. I hope that by the time i write something decent that i can have a couple of self published with a good following to back me up. THEN hopefully when i get the “deal of the century” (Yes said with sarcasm) My other books might continue to creep up in sales.
That is my plan.
It is interesting to hear your thoughts/knowledge on how once you have self-published that no publisher will touch it. That is sad, but not unexpected…
thanks for the GREAT post
#8 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 10:53 am
Hi Sarah! That sounds like a good plan.
But I don’t think you have to view a self-pubbed book as a sacrificed book. If it’s on Amazon, people will still be able to find it in your main body of work. Your portfolio doesn’t belong to a publisher, indeed whatever you sell to a publisher isn’t the book itself, it is the right to distribute and profit from it in certain stated ways. You don’t need a publisher to validate you – especially in this climate when what they value is not necessarily what readers value. The validation you absolutely do need is that of readers…
Sorry, tub-thumping… Thanks for the provocative reply.
#9 by Sarah Ketley on June 10, 2011 - 11:25 am
Thanks for your reply!
That’s it at the end of the day “just write the best book you can”!
Anyway i better dash, i’m off to night duty now.
Have a good day and thanks again
#10 by Jeremy Varner on June 10, 2011 - 11:30 am
Totally agree with this. As a friend of mine said not long ago during a review (http://bit.ly/mueHdI) of my first self-published novel (http://bit.ly/mMV5V1) there’s a major swelling of the self publishing industry and the most important thing we can do is make sure we’re not releasing “shovelware” (his word of choice).
While everyone likes to point out Ms. Hocking’s success I think the real impact is that the digital publishing field really does make it more like the music industry as you pointed out. It allows a greater variety that was otherwise lacking (especially in the last few decades where publishers have been driven more by trends than personal taste). It’s a great moment for authors who would have been ignored in the past to show that they still have something to contribute. But you’re entirely right, no one should just rest on their laurels and assume that they don’t have to do the work when they release. If anything, someone who self publishes needs to be more diligent because there wont be the safety-net of editors to rescue them from themselves.
One thing that I think really needs to be pointed out is that the difference in “exposure” is quickly shifting. Amazon recently reported that their sales of books on the kindle has passed their sales of traditional books. This is just one market but, considering all of the major bookstore chains are attaching themselves to eReaders, this may be the dominant force in the future. I know a lot of people decry the impact this is having on printed books but MP3s haven’t stopped the production of CDs and eBooks wont stop the production of paper books.
As a recent Kindle commercial pointed out to me today, “you just don’t get the satisfaction of folding down the corner”.
-Jeremy Varner, Author of “Shards of Glass” (“not shovelware”, lol)
#11 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 11:36 am
‘Shovelware’… love that word!
And you’re not the only writer who says that we must be even diligent about quality. Amen. And best of luck with Shards of Glass.
#12 by Jeremy Varner on June 10, 2011 - 11:51 am
Yes, Shovelware is a great word that spawned out of software development communities. It’s so apt too:
“Shovelware is content taken from any source and put on the Web as fast as possible with little regard for appearance and usability.”
If that doesn’t describe what’s inevitably to come now that stories like Hocking have come to light, I don’t know what does.
Thanks for the good wishes and keep up the good work. The community needs more insights like these.
#13 by Kelly McClymer on June 10, 2011 - 11:35 am
Yes! I agree with the logic here. I would, however, argue that the book genre matters, too. If you feel you have a fresh take on a hot genre (dark, angsty teen vamps), you probably may want to take 6 months to query for a trad publishing deal. If you have a quiet book, the kind that are getting shoved aside by the high concept angsty books right now, but that teens and librarians and teachers and parents love…Kindle may be the best path.
As an author putting out my backlist, I have to add — be prepared to promote. You need to do this in trad publishing, too, but it feels much more personal when you e-publish.
#14 by Stacy Green on June 10, 2011 - 11:49 am
Genre is a really good point. My genre is psychological thriller which are always popular, but they aren’t the hot topic right now, either.
#15 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 11:55 am
Excellent point, Kelly. If your genre is one of the hot ones, the traditional route is definitely worth pursuing. Indeed, your time has come.
And you’re so right about promotion.
Many of the traditionally published authors I talk to say their time is swallowed up by talks, tours, signings etc – most of which are arranged by outside contacts. Although I’ve been published traditionally, my books were ghosted for other people and I didn’t have to promote them. When I self-published Nail Your Novel there was no one to build contacts for me so I promoted it through the ones I made myself. It’s never been anything but personal. I hadn’t ever thought about the difference but I rather like it.
#16 by Glynis Smy on June 10, 2011 - 11:41 am
Interesting post. I am reading more and more emails from writer friends who are telling me they are going to s/p. Some are published and others are first-timers. I am torn. My dream of an agent still gnaws away inside, but the e-book and s/p availability is drawing me closer each day.
#17 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 7:58 pm
Glynis, you’ve got to do what feels right for you. Getting an agent for the first book still matters to a lot of people, and your book might be the kind that is commercial. But if it’s more unusual and will need a following to sell to, you might be better self-publishing first.
#18 by Zelah on June 10, 2011 - 12:07 pm
The more I read about the current marketplace, the more I feel that self-publishing is for me.
I’m fortunate in that I’m not left or right brained, I’m somewhere in-between. A creative arty sort who loves logic problems, sudoko & when working in an office, enjoys doing expenses or a monthly bank reconcilliation. Thus I relish the thought of learning new skills such as book design & doing the business side of things myself.
If all you want to do is create then I can see the argument for still going the traditional route. However, for me, the more I read, the more I wonder if I’d even want to go the traditional route (unless Amazon came knocking with one of their fairer Contracts). At the moment it sounds as if agents and publishers are running scared and the latest Contracts ask you to pretty much sell your soul. http://www.kristinekathrynrusch.com/ has some great articles mentioning some of the truly scary clauses slipping in to Contracts these days, such as signing over a percentage to an agent ‘in perpetuity’ and agreeing with a publisher that you will work on no other work.
I can see the argument for traditional publishing if you’re writing in an area that doesn’t really have as much of an online market, such as children’s fiction, especially young children. However, times are changing and there is talk of educational establishments (admittedly higher level ones) giving students e-readers instead of having them cart heavy text books around. So the market is gradually expanding.
Also, although every author likes to think that their first book will be the subject of a major bidding war and they’ll get a million pound advance – realistically, the odds on a sizeable lottery win are probably higher! I’ve done some reading and apparently, for fantasy, I’d probably be looking at an advance of around £2,000, maybe £4,000 if I were lucky. In all probablility that would get me the very basic level of publicity push from the publishers, it would be shelved after six months unless people managed to discover it in that time despite the lack of publicity & under the current Contract land-grab going on, they’d probably still hang on to my rights for as long as they possibly could, even if they weren’t doing anything with them.
I’m confident that I will be able to write and self-publish something that would eventually make me (and my son) more than £2,000 over the lifetime of the copywrite, given that I need never take it out of print unless I wish to.
So, with the change in climate, I’ve gone from aspiring to finding an agent and publisher and hoping that they’d want me, to a position where they’d have to offer me what I considered to be a good and a fair (and value for money!) deal for me to sign up with them. As a first time author, I just don’t see that they’d offer me a deal that I’d be willing to take. However, the market is changing and traditional publishing is going to have to change with it. Possibly in another few years the deals on offer will again be appealing, so I rule nothing out. At the moment though, it sounds as if traditional publishing is in danger of drowning amidst the changes and is at risk of taking aspiring authors down with it.
#19 by Zelah on June 10, 2011 - 12:14 pm
N.B. – I will of course get my work copy-edited first since I am aware that spelling and grammar are not my strong points!
#20 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 8:09 pm
H, middle-brained Zelah!
Some excellent points here. And I think a lot of people have been changing their minds this year.
Those contract clauses you speak of sound worrying, especially the publisher ones. But an agent normally gets a percentage, in perpetuity, of any work they sell for you. And you’re getting more than they are.
#21 by Zelah on June 10, 2011 - 8:28 pm
This is the post I was thinking of: http://kriswrites.com/2011/06/01/the-business-rusch-agents-surviving-the-transition-part-3/
It’s about agents getting writers to agree that the agency has the right in perpetuity to negotiate deals on their behalf for any of their work, even if they fire the agent, the agreement states that they can broker a deal for the author’s work.
#22 by rozmorris on June 11, 2011 - 12:10 am
Yep, those are nasty. Just went and reread my agency agreements. No such horrors.
Those are good sites you’ve found!
#23 by Zelah on June 11, 2011 - 12:37 am
Glad yours are OK. 🙂
I forget where I found Kristine Rusch’s site originally. I know I heard about it because I was reading the comments on a blog post somewhere and someone mentioned her along with her husband – http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/ (who has some good stuff more along the lines of how to go about the business side of self-publishing).
Where that comment was though I have long since forgotten! It could well have been here or via something someone on here linked!
#24 by Allan Wallace on June 10, 2011 - 2:41 pm
I think someone should do the best they can do on a first book; and then self-publish it as an educational venture.
The ease of correcting an eReader edition and a POD is a blessing not to be foregone.
Most first time indie authors will not have a massive first day release, but will start with dribbles and drabs of purchases. We don’t need huge initial releases, we aren’t limited to a few months on the shelves. One of the founders of Google once said something like, “We don’t care if you you find us today, we’re new. We’ll be better tomorrow.”
Put up your best effort. Listen to your heart and readers — adapt. Give yourself a head start. You have the year or two your project would languish in a dark publisher’s pipeline to improve your work. In the full light of exposure to sunlight correct and polish.
The costs of failure have never been less. Opportunities to fail forward have never been greater. No matter how successful you are, there are billions that have not yet read your stories.
“There is no backlist on the internet.” – Allan R. Wallace
#25 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 7:56 pm
That’s an interesting perspective, Allan, but you can’t recall a bad version of your novel, or erase the reader’s memory of it. Readers might put up with amateur standards on blogs, as blogging is a casual medium, but I don’t think they will in a published book. Especially if they’ve paid for it.
#26 by Wendy Dewar Hughes on June 10, 2011 - 3:08 pm
Thank-you for your unbiased assessment of the current publishing situation. It seems to me that if you don’t want to leave your career in the hands of others, with no more chance of success than winning the lottery, then authors have to self-publish to have any control of their lives and work.
I particularly appreciate your comment about self-published writers being capable of policing themselves. Anyone with a career plan will know that excellence in his or her work is a prerequisite.
As for flooding the world with bad writing, which I have heard a lot about of late, let me suggest this: There is good art and bad art created and offered for sale to the public. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there seems to be a market for all kinds of work whether I deem it to be “good” art or not. If there is no market for what a writer or artist creates, it won’t take long for them to figure out that something needs to change.
#27 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 7:53 pm
Interesting assessment of the quality problem, Wendy. I have sometimes wondered myself how worried we should be about ‘slushpile’ writing. Readers are not likely to hit ‘buy’ unless there are reviews that look trustworthy. They’re not likely to find a book in the first place without knowing something about the author.
In that case, why the fuss? Because it’s a pity seeing people waste a novel idea and possibly damage their reputation. Especially if they are self-publishing in the hope of building a following.
#28 by Victoria Mixon on June 10, 2011 - 3:34 pm
If you want to use self-publishing to get the attention of American publishers, pony up the fee and enter your book for the IBPA’s Benjamin Franklin Awards. Publishers make offers on the winners every year.
#29 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 7:47 pm
Interesting, Victoria. I had a quick look at the site, curious to see what the fee is, but couldn’t find it.
#30 by Victoria Mixon on June 10, 2011 - 10:09 pm
I can’t remember. I think you have to be a member. We joined IBPA for a year and sent The Art & Craft of Fiction to London with them, but I never got around to submitting it to any of the awards.
I’ve heard from a variety of industry professionals on both sides of the publishing curtain that publishers do take those awards quite seriously these days. It makes sense, now they’ve starved their acquisitions staffs down to dog-fights with marketing and are therefore desperate for some kind of screening process to do their market research for them.
#31 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 11:24 pm
‘Now they’ve starved their acquisitions staff down to dogfights with marketing…’ yep. The industry really is in trouble. I wonder where else they will start looking to see who is owrth picking up?
Didn’t Publishers Weekly have a ‘best-of’ self-published list? Trouble is, they charged a cheeky $150 for inclusion, and that didn’t guarantee any more than a line in a directory. They said they might read submissions and even highlight a few, but there was no guarantee. I think if you’re going to charge that kind of money you at least have to read the book – otherwise what is the customer getting?
#32 by Victoria Mixon on June 11, 2011 - 12:34 am
I think I did see that go by on Publishers Weekly. Once. They’re an industry mouthpiece, not a news organization. They also ran an article on the closing of an exclusive New York restaurant. Because, of course, everyone in the entire publishing world is deeply concerned over where rich New Yorkers eat.
#33 by rozmorris on June 12, 2011 - 6:59 pm
Better than telling us where they have colonic irrigation. Apart from in the colon. Perhaps, if it’s for writers, it’s in the semi-colon.
#34 by The Writing Runner on June 10, 2011 - 4:14 pm
I don’t think this point can be said often enough or loud enough:
“make sure your book does you credit”
I’ve read SO much self-published material that was obviously never edited or even proofread. Just because New York doesn’t “get you” doesn’t mean you’re a misunderstood genius. Sometimes you really did just write something that shouldn’t be published, especially if it’s a first novel. Make sure what you’re sending out to agent/publishers OR self-publishing really is a good book first so you’re not embarrassed down the road!
#35 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 7:45 pm
Definitely. And those with first novels are the least likely to know – because they don’t yet know they don’t know!
#36 by Tara Benwell on June 10, 2011 - 6:37 pm
I am so happy with my decision to self-publish my novel. Getting really close to traditional publishing was what pushed me over the edge. It took a lot of guts to let my agent go, but eventually, I just knew it was the right thing to do. Seth Godin and Gene Hayden (The Follow Through Factor) really helped me to my decision. Now, I’m getting email messages, tweets, and reviews from real readers! These are so much better than the forwards from editors who loved my book but couldn’t commit. On the other hand, I feel like there are so many self-published writers who are publishing books that they wrote in weeks or months instead of years (or at least sweat and tears). Maybe that’s the way publishing is heading. After all, first there were blogs and then there were status updates and tweets. Right now I’m just so happy I didn’t listen to my agent who suggested I keep waiting. Today, a friend’s mom wrote to say she saw my book in her local library. (Who cares if she’s the one who requested it!)
#37 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 7:44 pm
That’s excellent news, Tara. I’m really pleased it’s worked out for you.
I’m not surprised that your agent advised you to keep waiting. I’m not one of those bloggers who rampantly disses agents and feels they are parasites (in fact I like agents so much I’ve got 2) – but I do find there is a huge gulf between the people in traditional publishing and self-publishers.
The ideal, I think, is to be able to mix and match. In the writing careers of the future, authors will self-publish some work and get traditional deals for others.
#38 by Tara Benwell on June 10, 2011 - 8:23 pm
I didn’t even know you could have two agents! How does that work? Is it one for fiction and one for non? My agent did encourage me to consult her about future projects if I choose to try that route again. This made the decision feel a little safer, since it took a lot of effort to get one in the first place. Despite not making a deal, she’s one of the first people I thanked in my acknowledgements. In another exciting turn of events today, a local library (not mine) ordered my book after a friend requested it. My region’s library said it would need to read reviews first and that it’s pretty tough to get self-published books in the library system. So interesting…
#39 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 11:36 pm
First I had an agent for adult novels, Jane Conway-Gordon. Then the latest novel I finished – Life Form 3 – turned out to be MG/YA, plus it had an SF element which my agent Jane didn’t click with. So I suggested I find another agent to represent that, and she said yes, with her blessing. So I sent out a few queries and acquired Piers Blofeld of Sheil Land.
That’s great news about the library. Have you got some reviews you can show them? Are Amazon reviews enough?
#40 by Daniel R. Marvello on June 10, 2011 - 7:09 pm
Excellent post, Roz, and fabulous comments by your peeps.
I believe Self publishing is what will really fuel the long tail for books. Most authors are not writing the next bestseller, but they may be writing a book that a few thousand people want to read. The problem is that a few thousand isn’t enough for a big publisher: they need to expect sales in the tens or hundreds of thousands.
A few thousand may not be enough for you, the writer, either. If that’s the case, you should seriously reconsider this “writing career” thing, because the odds are low that your book will win the hearts of enough readers to go viral. Going viral is what it takes to have a bestseller, regardless of who publishes the book and regardless of how much you promote it.
I’m not too worried about the “shovelware” that inevitably enters the market. It will be ignored and go nowhere. You and I will never even run across those books, thanks to the crowdsourced vetting that is already happening.
I think it’s a good sign that you have all these writers seriously considering the issues, believing in their books, and willing to do what it takes to make their books the best they can be.
After all, here they are on an *editor’s* blog! 😉
#41 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 7:38 pm
Hi Daniel – glad you enjoyed the post.
You raise some interesting points about bestsellers. Although many of the writers may joke about Rowling in dosh, I think most of us know that income from a book is more likely to be at hobby level, at least until a substantial backlist is built up.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have a writing career, though. You can treat writing as something you will do as well as you can, and build on over years, and aim for the most professional standards possible. Then it pays you in satisfaction too.
As to your other point: yes, I am an editor. But there are other reasons I feel that quality and dedication to the artform are worth fighting for. I’m a reader, who wants a more diverse selection of books than those that are published at the moment. And I’m a writer, who wants to be able to publish books like the ones I enjoy reading.
#42 by carolyn on June 10, 2011 - 7:58 pm
If she self-publishes her first book and it does well, she’s not going to be looking for an agent.
#43 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 11:39 pm
Actually, I disagree. An agent – an agent who is a good match for you – can leverage bidding wars, get better deals and look out for crooked clauses in publisher contracts. I would think that in such a situation an agent could be very useful indeed.
#44 by Laura Pauling on June 10, 2011 - 10:19 pm
I say if you go about it the right way, then it can be a good thing. As in do the research and be ready! Great post. I love how things how changing.
#45 by rozmorris on June 10, 2011 - 11:39 pm
Thanks, Laura. It’s a very exciting time.
#46 by David mark brown on June 11, 2011 - 4:21 am
Great post, and great comments. I decided a year ago that I was done with query letters and the agent hunt. And the MS I was shopping then wasn’t even good enough to deserve a deal. The reality of the market just dawned on me the more I followed key bloggers. I made the decision to consider self-publishing my job and started learning what it would take to make a living doing it.
Now I’m pretty convinced it can not only be done, but it is the more feasible path for someone seeking to bring in a livable income from writing novels. I’m pushing out my first novel this summer and hopefully a second around Christmas. At this point I have no plans to ever seek a contract with a publisher or accept one even if it sought me out.
I plan on writing what I want to and enjoy writing and finding those fans out there who like reading it. So far it’s been a blast, but I’m starting to run out of box wine.
#47 by rozmorris on June 11, 2011 - 7:32 am
Good luck with that, David, But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you choose self-publishing you don’t have to forever shun the traditional route. A deal may come along that is genuinely right for you.
#48 by Daniel R. Marvello on June 11, 2011 - 5:09 pm
Absolutely! To borrow a line from John Ingram, It’s not either/or, it’s either/and. There’s no reason you can’t take a traditional publishing deal and continue to self-publish. Many authors are doing just that.
It’s just a business decision, and when the money is right, the tradeoffs are worth it.
A traditional publisher will usually contract with you to write one or more *new* books to simplify rights issues. You can continue to work on any existing self-published series you have going if you have spare time between publisher deadlines. Publishers will usually only release one book a year from you, which may leave you plenty of time to work on other projects.
#49 by Jessica M on June 11, 2011 - 8:45 pm
A well-timed post, Roz, thank you. I’ve self-published my first book and am in the process of writing a second one. My current work is in a different genre than the one I’ve self-published, and I’m planning on querying this one. You’ve given me good food for thought, and I think I’ll stick with the plan of going the tradition route for this one.
#50 by rozmorris on June 12, 2011 - 8:26 am
If you want to mix your genres it certainly might make sense to mix between self-publishing and conventional. Agents may not be keen to represent you in one of those genres but the other might be far more appealing to them.
#51 by Heather Heartless on June 12, 2011 - 12:06 am
I’ve been told by a few agents, including the one at the very top of my list, that they won’t touch non-fiction humor essays (is there any other form of non-fiction humor?) unless I have a work of fiction, preferably based on those events, to accompany it or a large platform. It’s taken me five years to finalize my book and I really, REALLY don’t want to scrap it. Is it better to bang out that novel (and risk repetition) and send them together, or should I e-pub the humor while I’m working on the other? In today’s market, I believe the first has a decent chance at selling well given the economic climate, low morale, and ADD. Sometimes I just want to pick something up for a quick laugh, be able to sit it down when I want, and return without having to catch up on anything. I just don’t know if e-pubbing works well with that genre. I’m slowly building up a pretty solid platform online, so I don’t know if I should keep working on that front and hold out for something that will catch an agent’s eye, or just send my baby out into the ether and pray for a miracle.
#52 by rozmorris on June 12, 2011 - 8:30 am
Heather, I don’t know much about that genre, but ebooks and Kindle are opening doors for types of book that don’t do so well in conventional print. Short stories and flash fiction are getting a new lease of life on the Kindle, which would suggest that essays might too. The key to success is whether you have the platform to market to (and whether the book is good, of course).
If you later sell a novel to traditional publishers and your essay book is related, the sale of the novel will only do your essay book good.
#53 by Tahlia Newland on June 12, 2011 - 1:46 am
Wether an author decides to self publish before querying or after, one thing is vital – the book has to be professionally edited before publication, otherwise you run the risk ( no matter how good you think your book is) of publishing something that is terrible and as you say, will kill your career before it starts. I’ve read too many self-published books in this category and it brings the whole industry down. If a writer cares about their career, they should be willing to pay for the professional help they need to make sure that they put out a professional product.
More ranting on this here
#54 by rozmorris on June 12, 2011 - 8:31 am
It can’t be said enough, Tahlia!
#55 by mary ann on June 12, 2011 - 2:10 pm
A few years ago I would have said don’t self publish. It’s the kiss of death for a writer. But everything is changing in the industry. As long as you have it professionally edited, it can be successful.
#56 by rozmorris on June 12, 2011 - 6:37 pm
Mary Ann, a mere six months ago I’d have said don’t self-publish fiction unless you already have a major platform!
#57 by Jonathan Moore on June 13, 2011 - 4:19 pm
Self publishing certainly seems like a more worthwhile option now (compared to the vanity publishing of a few years ago). I’ve been thinking (hence the delay) and it seems that with increased e-publishing there will be a greater reliance on review sites, and people coming to rely on reviewers to steer them. Whether this will tend towards noted reviewers/publications (like TLS or Guardian Books) or if it’ll be dominated by Amazon style average ratings, there are ways of weeding out the think-it-print-it books we’re bound to see in the wake of the 99cent success stories. Publishing houses will have the money to make sure theie books get reviewed, but there could still be self publicised books, doing the rounds, getting in magazines/on websites, that can get somewhere on merit. The difficulty will be in making sure the books that have been slaved over get seen – and reviewers etc will have a duty to their subscribers to make sure that happens.
What’s involved in getting some content to readers free (so they buy the rest once hooked on the superior, non-shovelware prose)? Is there a limit to how much you can put out free, or is it better to build your own website?
#58 by rozmorris on June 13, 2011 - 7:26 pm
So much has changed. As you say, what we now need are reliable, trustworthy reviewers for self-published work – who ideally reviewed mainstream-published books as well so that the ghettoising of self-publishers disappears.
Giving material away free is certainly a good move to whet appetites, although you don’t want to give away so much that you don’t stand a chance of getting any return. A blog is of course one of them and a blog is so simple to set up that it hardly counts as building a website. Or there’s Bookbuzzr, a widget that allows you to give away samples – see mine and Dave’s in the sidebar. Or file-sharing websites like Scribd. I think you can use Smashwords to give away free content too.
#59 by Zelah Meyer on June 13, 2011 - 9:44 pm
Yep, as Roz says – plus, my understanding is that Amazon won’t let you put up content for free but that you can put it up and also put it up on Smashwords, make it free there and Amazon will lower the price to free to match once it gets reports that it’s available cheaper elsewhere.
Haven’t tried this myself yet as I’m still in the planning stage – but it’s the advice I’ve heard. 🙂
#60 by Lindsay Buroker on June 13, 2011 - 5:51 pm
I self-published my first novel and haven’t looked back. I’d originally thought I might seek out an agent after I’d proven I could sell, but the royalties are too attractive as an indie, and I couldn’t see switching to traditional publishing now unless it was for a big deal.
Promotion is a lot of work, though, so if folks don’t see themselves doing that, then this might be a less good idea. An agent won’t be impressed if you only sold 50 copies of your first book. Just saying… 🙂
#61 by rozmorris on June 13, 2011 - 7:19 pm
Good for you, Lindsay. And yes, publicity is key. But it’s the same for any conventionally published book. Although a publisher might be able to open a few doors for you and get you heard more efficiently, you’ll do the bulk of the publicity yourself.
#62 by Bruce Hennigan on June 14, 2011 - 12:50 pm
I followed this strategy and it worked for me. I self published two books and hired a marketing firm to help me with the marketing. Both books did well. One was POD. The second was through conventional distribution with BookPros (recently declared bankruptcy). After establishing a “track record” I contacted four reputable agents referred by a fellow published author. I was accepted by Hidden Value Group. When I completed my third book in this book series, my agent negotiated a five book deal with Strang Communications to pick up both of the self published books and put out the first five books of a proposed 13 book series!
So, this process worked for me. What I have learned is the necessity of spending time and money on a good editor to make the manuscript as good as possible BEFORE you self publish. This process will cost you money and time. Notice I hired a book marketing firm and this made the difference. I learned a lot in the process and my first book (the original released POD book) has been rewritten extensively with editorial help and will be released in October as “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye”. Maybe I was lucky. I know I was blessed, but this process worked for me.
#63 by rozmorris on June 14, 2011 - 12:55 pm
Straight from the horse’s mouth – thanks, Bruce, Your story is inspiring, but as you point out you can’t go it totally alone.
I have to confess I know nothing about book marketing firms. Would you mind telling us a little more? In particular, what did it cost?
#64 by Bruce Hennigan on June 16, 2011 - 7:24 pm
I used a marketing firm called Phenix & Phenix and they were connected with the second publisher I used for self publishing. Unfortunately, they are now out of business! But, I spent $2500 on my first self published book for a two month campaign. This consisted of a two day training session on how to conduct yourself in live interviews and this was extremely helpful. I’ve listened to published authors on podcasts and it amazes me that we are so good at communicating with the written word, but when it comes time to answer questions or share about our book we fall back on the “Ums, Ahs, and Like . . .” After my training session, my marketing rep then sat down and researched about 100 different sites for me to do radio interviews, blog interviews, podcast interviews, television interviews (No, I didn’t end up on Oprah, only my local television stations), magazine interviews, and newspaper interviews. I found that blog talk radio sounds very good on paper but after speaking on a show for an hour I would discover there would be only ten listeners!
With my second book, my cost was $7500 because we went three months with a more extensive campaign. Similar in scope to that above. Now, this was in 2006 and 2008 and I think the marketing strategy has changed dramatically. Book marketing is now more tied in to the internet and social media and my current publisher has recommended against me hiring my own marketing firm. So, at the present with my book coming out in October, I’m not sure what I should do. I do know that spending hard earned cash on magazine ads did me no good whatsoever. I don’t think the ads I purchased for either book sold a single copy of each one!
I’d be interested to see how other authors utilize marketing. Do they use marketing firms? If so, which ones are reputable? Or, is is better to follow the Pyromarketing/1000 friends model?
#65 by rozmorris on June 16, 2011 - 8:05 pm
Bruce, thank you for sharing that. Very interesting.
I’ve zero experience of marketing companies, and my only venture into paid-for advertising was Facebook ads – and even then, only because I got a free voucher. Like you with your paid-for ads, I found FB adverts didn’t sell a single copy.
I’m so green about marketing that I don’t even know what Pyromarketing/1000 friends model is… Is it anything to do with the internet marketing gurus like Mr Godin who claim that you need just 1000 core friends and you could win the US presidency?
#66 by Zelah Meyer on June 16, 2011 - 8:51 pm
Personally speaking, I never click on Facebook adverts because I don’t trust them. I’ve seen too many for obviously illegal (in the UK) products & services.
I tried complaining to Facebook (over the pink patch ads which had already been banned by the ASA) but they didn’t care, so now I ignore all their adverts.
Certainly, when I publish, I won’t be paying money to advertise my books alongside adverts saying “Cheryl Cole lost 2 stone in a month with this one wierd old tip” (When in reality, she lost it because she caught Malaria!)
If Facebook crack down on all the dodgy adverts (highly unlikely) then I might consider it. Otherwise, I’ll be staying well away!
#67 by rozmorris on June 16, 2011 - 9:16 pm
After your reply here appeared in my inbox, the very next email was a Facebook ads newsletter. As if they detect dissent…
#68 by Bruce Hennigan on June 17, 2011 - 1:28 am
Pyromarketing is a strategy used by the man who was responsible for promoting “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren. If you Google the name, you will find the website. 1000 fans is indeed based on Goden’s concept although I’ve seen several forms of it. Basically, the idea is to connect with as many of your “fans” or “followers” who then spread the word. It’s basically networking. It’s what we’re doing right now. But, how you turn that into huge book sales I’m not sure of just yet. I’m still researching it. The basis of Pyromarketing is that mass marketing, such as television ads, magazine ads, etc. don’t work for the small business or, in our case, the new author. If we were Stephen King or James Patterson, mass marketing still works. But, the idea of the 1000 friend model is supposed to work better in our age of social marketing. We’ll see!
#69 by Grace@esteemedgirls on July 3, 2011 - 4:43 pm
Thanks Roz for this post.
My book is still in the works and every time I think of a traditional publisher I cringe and I do not look at it for days, but when I think about the possibility of self-publishing I get down to the story and I am alive again. One thing I have noted with all this chorus-make sure your book is super well done or you are dead- is that people especially other writers when they read a self-published book they read it with a critical eye and any mistake big or small they throw up their arms wailing.
It is not fair.
My husband and I were reading a book written by a professor, published by a major publisher and we spotted a glaring grammatical error. And English is our second language. I looked it up thinking, well, maybe we are wrong and no, it was just an overlooked mistake and even some places conjunctions were omitted. Did I curse and swear never to buy a published book or throw that book on the wall, no.
Self-published authors get the hot part of the iron.
And I am not encouraging people to write shoddy books but it is worth noting that some traditionally published books have mistakes too.
I am working on my book, it has been a year, and I am still working. I gave it out to friends who enjoy the story so much. But I know friends can lie. I have given it to editors who have worked on the first chapters. There is one line that keeps coming back to me, keep the direct translations ( yes, I was translating directly some parts from my Luo language to bring out the heart of the story or of a saying). The problem with this is that it deviates from English and this can annoy an English teacher to no end and they can come back with scathing comments on my so called self-published book.
I may have to publish this book for me and my grand-children.
My point is this, self-publishing is the popular way to go for first timers, but be prepared for some people to shred your work to pieces while those same people would not do the same for a traditionally published book.
Yes-you must get a good editor, even editors at all cost.
#70 by rozmorris on July 4, 2011 - 8:05 pm
Grace, you raise many interesting points. You’re right that traditionally published books are not necessarily perfect, and of course they vary greatly in their standards. But most of them are produced with an extensive crew of experts. The pressure is on the self-publisher to therefore do a lot of jobs well, many of which they may not even realise they need help with (eg, if you have no eye for design, you might not know it!) That means it’s more likely that if there’s one glaring boo-boo early in a self-pubbed book, the reader is more alert to look for more. So as you say, the pressure is on to be better than those books the reader knows were produced ‘properly’.
That said, one slip shouldn’t condemn you totally, provided it’s insignificant and provided the important things are right – the book looks professional and reads professionally, in all other possible ways. Good luck with your venture!