Tuesday, April 7, 2009

1999 Called: It Wants Its Attitudes About Self-Publishing Back

By now, most any writer on Twitter has heard of #queryfail and the subsequent #agentfail. For those of you reading who have no idea what I'm talking about, #queryfail was a collection of Twitter posts made by literary agents in which they variously railed, joked, complained, and talked about failed queries from writers. Writers shot back with their own Twitter stream: #agentfail, in which they mostly railed and complained about how agents fail the authors who query them.

There have been many, many postmortem articles and blog posts on the matter, and when I come across them I'll generally leave a comment noting that indie authors aren't dependent on agents at all. Following one such comment, on a Guardian UK article, I got the following response:

Could we have a reality check here?

April forgot to mention that self-published and vanity published books don't sell, don't get distributed, don't get reviewed, and don't get recognition. The writer has to take on all sorts of admin and PR duties that should be left to the publisher. It's a waste of money you almost certainly don't have, and time that could be spend reading and writing.

And here's my reply:

1999 called; it wants its attitudes about self-publishing back.

My indie books DO sell.

My indie books are distributed by
Amazon, the #1 bookseller in the world. I could also get them stocked by independent brick and mortar booksellers if I wanted to, and in fact have done so in the past, but I've found it's much harder to move those brick-and-mortar store copies than to simply keep selling online.

Anyway, IMO the brick-and-mortar chain bookstore in its current incarnation is an endangered species, and investing heavily in brick-and-mortar distribution is a waste of money for all but the biggest-selling mainstream books. To be clear, yes, I AM saying that it's a waste for MOST mainstream-published books, not just indie books. I blogged about it:
Big Chain Bookstore Death Watch.

My books get reviewed on Amazon and elsewhere, and they get recognition in the form of personal recommendations, recommendations on Twitter, blogs, and Facebook, and mentions in publications as well known as The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and The Huffington Post.

Today's indie author is a far cry from the "vanity" author of yesteryear. Today's indie author is an entrepreneur who realizes he's running a business and acts accordingly. It's actually not all that difficult nor expensive to promote yourself and your books in today's web-centric Western culture, but mainstream publishers still seem to be taking a wait-and-see attitude, as if the web may yet prove to be a temporary fad.

It's no secret that the publishing industry is dragging its feet when it comes to new technology, and given that new technologies are the best ways to reach and meet readers, authors who have signed with mainstream publishers are actually at a disadvantage when it comes to fully leveraging all that the web and related technologies have to offer. Even if a given mainstream author is willing and able to leverage those technologies himself, he's hamstrung by his publisher, who controls not only his work but his image.

Come, Max. Join us here in 2009.


RhythmHippy said...

Great article! It amazes me how arrogant the agents are let alone the big house publishing companies, especially in this day and age! They are either ignoring the success of POD and indie authors, or are just plain stupid! One more reason I am going POD rather than deal with these tools!

Michael Pastore said...

Thank you, April, for this valuable reminder! ... Your antagonist in this essay, who has no faith in independent publishing, left out a few essential notes in his reply. There was a hilarious and telling article, a few years ago, in the New York Times, about a 70+ year old author who had a big-name agent and big-name publisher. What were they doing to publicize his book? ... Nothing. Except to send him around the country -- he had to drive -- to do book signings. At one book store where he spent the afternoon, two persons showed up for his reading. One of them was his sister in law.
The old publishing model is broken, and the new model is being born. Its not always an easy road, but it is a rewarding one. Now, for everyone who writes, instead of a purgatory of heartless rejection, there is a way forward.

Michael Pastore
50 Benefits of Ebooks

George LaCas said...

Hear, hear! So many writers (and would-be writers) are sheepish apologists for the mega-conglomerate publishing industry.

Funny how the industry can't cash in on self-publishing, but what they don't seem to realize is that self-publishing is for us, not for them.

If they could, they'd have lobbyists in Washington banning Indie publishers from taking away their market share.

But it is the responsibility of the author to make sure her/his book is up to snuff.

Unknown said...

Excellent post. I think one of the reasons the publishing world is struggling is that it is deeply conservative and doesn't have the ability to adapt. I've just blogged bout this here: http://www.webvivant.com/broken-publishing.html (and linked to your post).

Fiona said...

Excellent post. My husband self-published and now gets instant rejections from agents who tell him that self-published authors don't get picked up. However, he knows several people who self-published and whose books then got picked up by Simon & Schuster, Tor and others. He remains hopeful.

patti said...

This is beside the point, and maybe you've blogged about this elsewhere, but since you commented at the Guardian:

The one that's quietly working behind the scenes with the Authors Guild to get the default Text To Speech feature disabled on the Kindle 2, thereby depriving the print-impaired of equal access to ebooks, based on ludicrous claims that the audio provided by TTS constitutes a "derivative work" or "public performance" under copyright law?

I'm have no surplus of respect or awe for the publishing industry, but to record and sell an author's work without their permission IS a copyright violation. Try it yourself sometime and see what happens.

As writers, our medium is print. What's ludicrous is the suggestion that we owe anything to the "print impaired." If someone needs an audiobook, they can buy an authorized edition or borrow one from the library. If they are legitimately impaired, they can use Books for the Blind, an organization that does not profit from the unauthorized use of writers' work.

April L. Hamilton said...

Patti -
You seem to forget, not ALL books are made available in audiobook formats, nor through Books For The Blind.

If a given book IS available in audio format, the print impaired would much prefer to buy that than have their ebook version read aloud to them by TTS. TTS does not make an audio recording of the book, as you say. It just uses word-recognition technology to enable a computerized "voice" to "read" the words aloud.

Moreover, while you and others seem to fear that this arrangement is somehow depriving authors and publishers of their rightful profits, nobody using TTS is getting a free lunch: they STILL have to buy the ebook in order to use TTS.

And while I agree with you that authors and publishers don't necessarily owe the print-impaired access to our work free of cost (which I've already explained is NOT the case with TTS), I DO feel it's foolish to purposely reduce your potential audience by making your work unavailable to entire segments of that audience.

Susan Murphy-Milano said...

Excellent article!
I have been on boths sides as a doubleday author "Defending Our Lives, getting away from domestic violence & staying safe and then as a self-published author.

I probably got lucky when Borders purchased 20,000 copies of my self published book "Moving Out Moving On when a relationship goes wrong at a no return price. From there I sold more copies then I expected.

Now I have 2 new books a traditional publishing house wants to publish it and the other I will likely publish because my market is on the internet. And a battered woman is less likely to go to a book store.

I feel the traditional way of publishing has changed and frankly I would rather take my changes in the Ebook and self publishing markets because I now the books sell. I also like the fact that I own the rights. And I know my market.