Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Question: self-publishing

What do agents you REALLY think about self-publishing? Because, based on my obsessive reading of your blog, you don’t think highly of it. But is this just how you feel, or how all agents feel? 

I think self-publishing is a terrific opportunity for writers whose work doesn't meet the demands of general trade publishing. I do not say that dismissively or imply that their work is of lesser value.

Quite the contrary.  I think self-publishing is one of the things that will save historians in the future. I've written about that before and I continue to hold that position.

Here's what I don't think self-publishing will do:

1. Serve as the farm team for trade publishing.  First, publishing doesn't need a farm team. Second, If you're self publishing you're missing the key aspects of a good farm system: practice and coaching.  If anything fan fiction will serve as the farm team for publishing, much as the pulps did in the 30s.

2. Replace the curated publishing industry.  There's a reason publishing is an industry and that's because it generally produces better books, and books more people want to read than one person working alone.  If that wasn't true, publishing would have died centuries ago.  Writers mostly don't want to design books, or write flap copy or book themselves on Jerry Springer. They want to be left alone to write. They want it so much they're willing to give up a significant portion of proceeds from the sale of their book to do so. Publishers add value to what a writer does, but a writer also pays for the benefit of not doing everything him/herself.

3. Show the publishing industry all the things people want to read that can't get past the "gatekeepers."  I know of two books that qualify for that.  Do you know any? (If so, please list in the comment column)

If anything, the mail I get shows that authors who self-published realized it's a helluva lot harder than the nostrum salespeople told 'em and they'd like to get back to the tried and true way of leaping in over the transom.

I think self-publishing is great, but I don't think it's a game changer.

All other agents should agree with me of course, but you'll have to ask them. 


Lynne Connolly said...

No doubt you'll get lots of people commenting who know a lot more than me. But for me, self publishing is a way to get my backlist up. I have a few books I've had the rights back for, and better online than on my computer.

Janet Reid said...

Lynne, that's a good point. This point was about first-time pub, not getting the backlist BACK up for sale. We help authors do that all the time too.

Jackie said...

Thank you for this, Janet. Two things stood out about your response - the first sentence, "I think self-publishing is a terrific opportunity for writers whose work doesn't meet the demands of general trade publishing."

No. Hugh Howey's phenomenal Silo series proves this wrong. If you haven't read Wool yet - I think you should. I know it's not your genre, but it is brilliantly written. I know he's just one guy, but he can't be the ONLY one..


"[publishing] produces better books, and books more people want to read than one person working alone."

We're not doing this alone. There's a huge community of knowledgeable people out here with us. Yes, I have to seek out and hire my own cover designer. Yes, I have to find my own editor(s). Yes, I have to self-promote - but I can do all of these things and still write - and many (successful) self-published authors that I've met do all of this, and still manage to write (a lot). That said, I'm still querying and seeking agents because I'm still torn about which path to take as a new writer.

This blog and QueryShark have been extremely helpful to me. (Thank you for your time and consideration.)

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I was nervous about self-publishing but I wanted to give it a try, so i put together my flash fiction collection as an ebook. The majority of the stories were previously published, so in my mind they'd already been "vetted," and I felt safer putting them out into the self publishing world.

It's been a learning experience, but a good one. I would consider doing it again, especially for another collection or maybe a novella.

Melissa said...

I had gradually warmed to self publishing over the years, but I didn't think it was for me. I'm writing mainstream fiction, and my goal is trade publishing. Then I got the idea for a series and was told that if I trade published it, and the publisher decided to end the contract, I wouldn't be able to sell additional books in the series elsewhere or to self publish them. If that's true, then I won't even consider trade publishing my series; I'll self publish under a pen name. I still think mainstream publishing is the best choice for my mainstream work.

Stoich91 said...

@Jackie - I think the phrase could be modified to "usually," i.e. what is true for 99% of the population and what is statistically probable for you/us/any writer. "Wool" may be joined by a handful of other books that took a similar path, but "usually?" No...not a common thing, compared to the thousands of traditional pub best-sellers. And self pub is a heck of an expensive resource to learn the hard way that one is not "uncommon" in that sense. :D haha

As to your second point, I think you have a point. However, being able to just WRITE, not knowing or caring whether or not anyone will read it (least of all Jerry Springer :D), for me, is all I am interested in. Some writers are just more entrepreneurially-minded, which is cool!, but again, I don't think the norm.

Thanks for the article, Madam Jaws! Interesting discussion.

Janet Reid said...

Melissa,I'm going to lift your comment for a blog question, if you don't mind, cause what you've been told/assumed, is not true. Next week on the blog (after Christmas)

LynnRodz said...

I agree, most writers want to be left alone to write, but as you well know, nowadays writers are required to do a lot more than just write. Agents and publishers require a writer to build a platform. It's important to have a website, a blog, a following on social media, etc. Many publishers expect an author to promote his/her own book and do their own book tours. So when you say that authors are "...willing to give up a significant portion of the sale of their book to do so..." many authors begin to question, where exactly are those benefits you're talking about?

Richard Gibson said...

I really appreciate the acknowledgement that self-publishing and traditional publishing have different, valuable, and not-necessarily-conflicting roles. When I self-published in 2011, it was pretty much just as challenging, and satisfying, as I expected. When I was traditionally published by a small press in 2012, it was also pretty much just as rewarding, including the trade-off of a much lower percentage of the price.

And as a historian, I REALLY appreciate the linked blog which I had missed. When I try to convey "the way things were" either in writing or as a tour guide, it's those things that were completely normal in 1890 or whenever, that are so difficult to research. What was it like for an 18-year-old girl traveling alone on the train from Minneapolis to Butte, Montana, in November 1890? I don't even know if train cars were heated in those days. There's too much to know!

elleyelley said...

I tried to self-publish, but I didn't have all that great of an experience. I put out a book that is a collection of stories from my life, and I put out a collection of poems. Neither one did at all well. The experience was a discouraging one. I am still writing, because it is what I love to do, but I am clueless as to how to get anything published. To me, it seems like you would have to be able to invest your own money in order to get started. That is just not possible for me. It would be a dream come true to be published.

Elissa M said...

I have an author friend who makes a comfortable living off of her self-published novels. She works hard, writes well, and hires out the work that's not her expertise (design, editing, etc.). She has been approached by agents and traditional publishers, but she prefers the control she has as a self-publisher.

That said, self-pubbing is neither easy, nor a guarantee of success (no more than traditional publishing). It is simply another way to put one's work out for general consumption.

The biggest mistake many self-published authors make is publishing before their work is truly ready. Readers don't have the patience to follow along as you learn your trade. They want a good read, and if you disappoint them, they won't try you again. The odds are, if you can't get past the "gatekeepers" in traditional publishing, your work isn't ready for popular consumption.

The Writer Librarian said...

Sorry, my inner twelve-year-old guffawed at the typo on the post's title (sans the letter L). Self-pubishing? Just too...many...jokes...I...can't...

Bill Myers said...

And here I was confused because I thought the topic was self-pubishing, whatever that is.

Jeremy Myers said...

I agree that self-publishing will never replace traditional publishing, and I completely agree that self-publishing is a great way for new and unpublished authors to get their books into print and to learn the craft of writing.

However, I think that there are lots more successful self-published authors than most are aware of.

The Shack, by William P. Young
All of Amanda Hocking's early books.
Fifty Shades of Gray!!!


I just did a search, and here are two lists of other successful self-published authors:

Self-Published Best Sellers

Best Seller Success Stories

I think the self-publishing industry is in its infancy stages, and it will become more and more common in the years ahead.

Kitty said...

Back in 2005, when self-publishing had a bad rep, a new blog called POD-dy Mouth pawed through self-published books and found a number of gems, several of which I bought through Amazon and loved. The blog explained the work and pitfalls of going it alone, but it also gave hope to a number of writers who couldn't sell their scripts to publishing houses.

For years Lee Goldberg had nothing good to say about self-publishing, claiming that if your writing is good it will sell. Then he changed his mind. I realize his phenomenal success is not the norm because he was already a successful writer when he began self-publishing. But he did legitimatize self-publishing when he made the change.

Janet Reid said...

you'd think spell czech would look at the post title, but I guess not.

Thanks for the heads up. Argh!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Jackie, Loved, loved LOVED WOOl!

Janet, my problem, and yes I will mention it here, is age. I will set aside the industries bias, because my own is what I grapple with.
Traditional takes a long time. I'm not at the stage in life where I don't buy green bananas but getting it right and going traditional may just take too long. Getting it right and doing it myself? Honestly I am just-plain-conflicted.

Eliza said...

Wow, great article on memoirs. I agree. Memoirs are enormously helpful for research because, unlike letters and journals, they're designed for strangers to read. Awhile back I did a research project on child labor in the early 1900's. I found this great memoir by a former factory girl named Harriet Hanson. Interestingly enough, she grew up to became an author, but her memoir is the only book that's remembered a century later.

Colin Smith said...

You know, when Santa wanted to write a book, his helpers offered to lend a hand. He turned them down--he didn't want to be elf published...

Sorry... couldn't resist. ;)

Kari Lynn Dell said...

What would make me choose the self-pub route? If I submitted the book in the traditional manner and got feedback from reputable agents/editors that said, "This is wonderful, you're a great writer, but I am so sorry to say I don't think we can sell this project." At that point I'd feel the quality of my work was high enough to bear scrutiny, and if I believed strongly enough in the story, it was up to me to find its audience.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Oh, yeah, and even after all that, I would still hire a damn good editor before publishing.

Wry Girl said...

I don't subscribe to gatekeeping so much, but Dawn Rae Miller comes to mind. Her 'Larkstorm' is very good, and her 'Crushed' seems to aim for the male reader which I don't see very often in romantic YA. Also, Cory Putnam Oakes' 'The Veil'. She has a traditional contract for a midgrade now; I'm not sure how her self pub success may have tied into it.