Saturday, September 25, 2010

Self Publishing: Are You Insane?

Well, in all likelihood, yes, but you already knew that.  Let's put that aside and talk self publishing.

So, why would anyone want to do this?  I mean, beyond getting to skip the agent hunt part?

To start with it's easier now to self publish than it ever has been, and more and more writers who can actually write are taking this route.  Secondly, if you self publish you maintain complete control over your book.  Thirdly, you maintain complete rights (assuming you do a good job picking your self publishing route) to your work.  Fourthly, the royalties are much, much better.

Sounds great, right?  I mean who doesn't want complete control, complete rights, and better royalties?

So here's the downside:  You have to design the whole book.  You have to hire an editor.  You have to produce your own website, your own cover art, you own marketing plan.  You have to do all the things the publishing company would do for you, without the deep pockets and contacts of a publishing company, and often with the deck stacked against you because most people won't review, let alone stock, books that weren't published by a traditional publisher. 

So, once again, why do it this way?  I don't know what your rationale is, but I can tell you mine.  I'm in this for the long game.  This is book one of many books to come, at least two sequels are planned and being worked on, as well as a fourth unrelated novella.  The average traditionally published book has six weeks to make a splash before it hits the remainder shelf.  (Note for those of you going the traditional route: make sure your agent has your contract set up so that if your book goes out of print the rights go back to you.  You do not want that six weeks to end, have your book go out of print, and be left with nothing.)  I want the time to let my books build an audience.  It'd be lovely if it goes out and catches fire, but it's not likely.  Even with a publishing company behind you, you're looking at an average of 3000 sales.  I think, given enough time, I can do better than that, and I want the time.

Also, I want my rights.  Especially in the fantasy world, the author can come up with something lovely, and then TSR (to name a now defunct example) goes and hires a bunch of other people to write further adventures featuring the same characters. The publisher can do this because they own your characters, you don't.  And, while I will personally be exquisitely pleased if I ever see Sylvianna on the list of books at, I do not want to see my publisher decide he can make good money by selling off my characters to other writers.   

Lastly, check out what successful writers actually do.  Most of them are doing a ton of marketing on their own.  They have a blog, a twitter feed, they do readings, signings, conferences, etc...  They are already constantly building their own brand.  I can do a lot of that on my own.  I don't need a publishing house to blog, or twitter, or network.  And, lucky for me, the bits I do need a publishing house for is becoming less and less important.

What I mean by that is that in the next ten to fifteen years paper books are going to continue to make up less and less of the actual book trade.  Eventually there will be a point where paper books located in a physical store will make up a very small percentage of the literary market.  Going to physical book store will be much less about shopping for books, and more about hooking up your Nook while getting a coffee and flirting with the other customers.  The truth of the matter is that the likelihood of you getting your self published book into Barnes and Noble is pretty much zero.  The need to have the book in Barnes and Noble is what is becoming less and less of an issue.

The second issue of the value of a publisher is something I'm personally working on trying to defeat, and I hope more and more of you will join me as well.  People learn about books from book reviewers.  Many book reviewers will not take self published books.  Amazon's ranking system, Goodreads, Facebook, the blogverse, are also making this less important, but for the time being a New York Times review is worth quite a bit more than all of your buddies writing a review for you on Amazon and putting you on their Goodreads list.  However, the time being is not eternal, and I can envision a future where buying books is much less centralized.  I hope to take advantage of it.

But, beyond everything else, you own your rights when you self publish, which means, if at some future point, you decide you want to go the traditional route, you still can.  Trying to do it the other way around is a much messier process.

So, for me self publishing is a no lose proposition.  If my book lingers on Amazon selling seven copies, I can then go and take it off of Amazon, and start on the agent hunt.  If my marketing takes off, and everyone buys copies, then I've got complete control and a better royalty at the end of the day.

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