Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Self-Publishing: Future Prerequisite

Until recently, if you were self-published virtually any agent or book editor worth her salt didn’t want to hear about it. Many of them would want nothing to do with you at all, as if your self-published status might rub their own cachet off or something. But given the tenor and content of the sessions at this year’s Writers Digest Business of Getting Published Conference, I predict it won’t be long before agents and editors will routinely respond to queries by asking what you’ve self-published, and how it’s doing. That’s right, and you heard it here first:
I predict that within 5 years, self-publishing will no longer be an option, but a prerequisite for unknown, aspiring authors hoping to land a mainstream publishing deal. It’s the logical, inevitable next step in author platform.

At the conference, the prevailing message was that authors, both aspiring and already published, need to be getting themselves and their work out there in front of the reading public at every opportunity. And guess what? If you’re blogging or making your writing available for download in ebook or podcast formats you're already self-publishing. As for those who aren’t doing these things for fear of intellectual property theft, in numerous sessions attendees were reminded of Tim O’Reilly’s now legendary quote: that for anyone trying to build an audience, “Obscurity is a greater threat than piracy.”

Seth Harwood and Scott Sigler, both of whom broke through to mainstream success after building an audience for their podcasts, advised conference attendees that the best way to get publishers to sit up and take notice is to demonstrate your ability to build an audience and move your material on your own. Social media guru Chris Brogan said the easiest way to get a book deal is not to need one---because you’ve already established your own platform and have your own audience---, and proposed that rather than follow established roads, aspiring authors should go where there are no roads and create their own. Writers Digest Publisher and Editorial Director Jane Friedman reminded us that here in the 21st century there are no longer any rules in publishing, and reiterated the notion that for aspiring authors, platform comes before the book deal. Be The Media author David Mathison hammered away at the importance of connecting with your readership directly. Booksquare’s Kassia Krozser urged authors to push out into every available channel to enable readers to find them, and as for The Writer Mama Christina Katz, the title of her most recent book is Get Known Before The Book Deal ('nuff said!).

So, how do you intend to enable readers to find you, or build an audience, or connect with readers directly, or get known before the book deal if you’re not publishing or podcasting any of your work? You can’t just tell your site or blog visitors your writing is great, they should trust you on that, and then expect to hold their interest with what amounts to a lengthy series of hang-in-there-I-swear-when-the-book-comes-out-you’ll-love-it messages.

As we all already know, a manuscript’s content is only one piece---an increasingly small piece, unfortunately---of the decision-making puzzle when it comes to convincing a publisher to make an offer. When the editors, marketing wonks and other decision makers get together to consider which manuscripts to acquire, Risk is the name of the elephant in the room and mitigating risk is the key to a sale. When you approach an agent or editor with a quality manuscript, you may convince them you can write but you’re doing nothing to reduce their fears about the eventual book’s performance in the marketplace. If you can approach those same people with a book that’s already in the marketplace and already has a fan base, you’ve already answered the question of how the book will perform post-publication. You’ve reduced their antacid intake by half and given them some very good reasons to invest in you and your book.

Don’t let anyone tell you self-publishing is a desperation move. It’s a power move.


Anonymous said...

Really Liked this article... Really Really liked it. That's what someone like me wants to hear, gives me hope...

Sulci Collective said...

It's so logical it's frightening. Yet online communities with self-publishing links such as YouWrite On, all despairingly believe they will sell 75 copies to friends, family and fellow YWOers only.

Of course if we don't push and promote ourselves and prove we can shift product, sorry books, then why should corporations risk money on us?

The means of production have been thrown open to virtually all. But the cream will still rise to the top. Whether the curdle is down to the quality of the writing, or the efficacy of the self-hype is almost irrelevant. Those that can't won't.

Thank you for your revelation.

Daniel Blythe said...

"If you can approach those same people with a book that’s already in the marketplace and already has a fan base, you’ve already answered the question of how the book will perform post-publication."

Yes, you've answered the question so they no longer need to ask it. And if the answer is, say, "2000 copies", which would be pretty damn impressive for a self-published book, what on earth would possess a publisher to invest any more in it?

If they like it, they will want a manuscript.

April L. Hamilton said...

Thanks, feather and Sulci.

DanielB - I am personally acquainted with numerous authors who landed mainstream deals for their self-published books on the strength of those books' performance in the marketplace.

I also know from personal experience that publishers as well known and respected as Kensington, Sourcebooks, Penguin, Harper Collins and Simon and Schuster are entirely open to considering self-published books.

Even agents are now on board with the new paradigm, as evidenced by uber-agent Alan Rinzler's recent talk at a conference where he said that 5% of self-published titles are being picked up by mainstream publishers, and if you've got a self-published book with an established audience, he is definitely interested in looking at it.

Daniel Blythe said...

Aren't you published by CreateSpace? That's not self-publishing.

Sorry, but you don't make a convincing case. Name me two or three of these "numerous authors who landed mainstream deals for their self-published books on the strength of those books' performance in the marketplace", who I may have heard of or at least can google and look at.

You just do not need to self-publish to get picked up by a publisher if your writing is good enough. It doesn't make any difference. What's the evidence for the 5%?

(I am a published author by the way - with Virgin, Penguin, Hamish Hamilton, Allison & Busby and others.)

April L. Hamilton said...

DanielB -
Createspace is a POD publishing service, it is absolutely self-publishing. Go to www.createspace.com if you doubt me.

As for the two or three authors you've requested, I can name far more than that but for a start, try these links. They're all authors/books that began as self-published (or self-broadcast, in the case of podcasting authors Sigler, Harwood and Lenahan) and went on to be picked up by *major* publishers.




Sulci Collective said...

It doesn't have to be the self-pub book that agents are interested in now does it? If agents see you've generated a fanbase, they may just as likely come to you saying okay what's the next one you've got lined up.

And that has got to have as much chance or more, of landing you an agent than cold calling with submissions through their letterbox and straight into a slushpile for their intern to sift through.

By any means necessary.

Welshcake said...

Hi April

"...uber-agent Alan Rinzler's recent talk at a conference where he said that 5% of self-published titles are being picked up by mainstream publishers..."

I'd like to know where this 5% figure comes from? Alan Rinzler's blog mentions it here:


where it is attributed to "Lulu insiders".

Also, the figure is slightly meaningless unless we know how it breaks down - how many of those books were novels rather than non-fiction? Not many, I bet.

I'm simply not convinced self publishing is the way to go for the majority of authors.

April L. Hamilton said...

Sulci -
No, you don't have to have an actual book. Plenty of authors have crossed over to a book deal based on a popular blog.

Welshcake -
If you want verification on Rinzler's 5% figure, you'll have to ask *him*.

Self-pub may not be right for *all* authors or *all* books, but as I recently posted to a similar discussion happening over on Editor Unleashed:
I think the mainstream path is getting narrower and more difficult to enter every day. Unless you’ve got a book with *very* broad appeal, the majors don’t want it—and their definition of ‘very broad’ is on the order of tens of thousands of copies expected to sell. However, there are lots of mid-sized and smaller presses that already serve niche audiences (e.g. Chelsea Green in the eco-awareness space), and if your book is a fit for such a press then it absolutely makes sense to try and partner with them. It also makes sense to sign with a press that shares your vision and passion for the book and truly *will* act as an equal partner in promotion; this definition generally applies to smaller, indie presses, but it can apply to a larger publisher if you’ve already built a large audience or have a lot of buzz surrounding yourself or your book.

Really, it all comes down to this: what are your goals, and can working with a mainstream publisher help you to reach those goals and reach them more quickly or easily than you could on your own? This isn’t as straightforward a question as it first seems, given that author advances are down (to nonexistent) and authors are now responsible for the lion’s share of their own promotion regardless of who published them—with the exception of ‘name’ authors and specific books the publisher has decided to give a big push. Distribution to brick-and-mortar stores is getting less and less critical all the time, now that Amazon is the #1 bookseller in the world and mainstream publication is no longer any guarantee of seeing your book on the shelf at your local Borders or Barnes and Noble.

The author goals of old (six-figure advances, glamorous book tours, talk-show circuits, seeing your book on the shelf at your local store) are no longer even possible for the majority of authors who sign with mainstream presses. So aspiring authors need to adjust their expectations, and proceed accordingly.

I think nonfiction is an easier sell, both to publishers and the public, and genre fiction is an easier sell than general or literary fiction. And there’s lots of general and literary fiction that may not have broad enough appeal to look like tens of thousands of copies sold to a publisher, but is still worthy of being read and enjoyed by a more modest readership. Of course, the author of *any* type of book who’s built a big following and can demonstrate it to a publisher is going to have a pretty good shot at getting a deal and that’s why platform is so critical.

But for everyone else, going back to the indie analogy, it’s sort of like the difference between U2 and Phish. U2’s appeal is broad, whereas Phish plays to a much smaller, but very dedicated audience. Both bands are successful, just in different ways and to different degrees.

Here's a link if you'd like to read the article & full comment thread on Editor Unleashed:

Sulci Collective said...

Sorry, I think I sowed a bit of confusion. I was responding to the notion that publishers won't touch a self-published book on the assumption it's probably made all its sales without a further large outlay on a marketing push. I merely feel that if you self-publish and the industry see that you have a fanbase, then an agent might come calling and asking to see what else you have written with maybe the idea of hooking that up to a publisher.

That's my purpose in self-publishing my first. I've got 3 others completed and ready to go, plus a fourth in progress.

April L. Hamilton said...

Sulci -
In my experience, and based on what publishing pro acquaintances are telling me, publishers definitely *do not* assume a self-pubbed book with a respectable sales record has depleted its run. They look at it and think how much *more* the book could sell with the marketing push they can bring to bear.

And while most unknown, debut authors will *not* get a marketing push, if you've shown that just by your little old self you were able to build up a fan base that numbers in the low thousands, it's clear an investment in your book's marketing will very likely pay large dividends for a publisher and lead to a fan base that numbers in the tens of thousands.

If publishers believed a self-pubbed book's prospects are already played out, why would they have picked up the self-pubbed or self-broadcast books of all those authors to whom I linked in my response to DanielB, above?

The prospects are rosier than you may have been led to believe. =')

Sulci Collective said...

I bow to your greater experience within the industry and I kiss your hand (chastely of course) for the optimistic vision you offer. Makes a change from the doom and gloom of the naysayers that abound

Daniel Blythe said...

Money flows towards the writer. That is the golden rule. If money is flowing away from you, it ain't publishing. And there is nothing "indie" about it.

Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I don't expect the electrician or the plumber to pay me for the privilege of coming to re-wire or re-plumb my house.

Ah yes, Christopher Paolini - that well-known typical example of the self-published writer who handed his manuscript over to his uncle's publishing contacts and used his family money to plug the damn thing... Let's all do that...

Do you mean Seth Harwood? He mentions in interviews that he was improving his writing all the time he was podcasting. He was basically working towards proper publication and he has been. Good for him. But that's not the same as the original self-published work being picked up by a publisher.

I've read about Scott Sigler and his route to publishing is a lot more complex than you imply.

You see, when you look into all these stories there is always more to it.

Nicola Morgan said...

Hard to see how much more eloquent or useful I could be than DanielB. Sorry, but he's telling it how it is. We hear this "self-publishing is the future" evangelism all the time and the same old same old very very very few examples are trotted out each time. You need to go to "How Publishing Really Works" and click on the various labels about self-publishing (which is not the same as POD) and vanity publishing - those posts and the links to them tell you a much wider picture of the truth. Sure, good-self-publishing is an incredibly valid way to go for some people and some books, but very few people and very few books. (Especially few novels.)

The idea of a successful agent coming knocking because they've seen your self-pubbed book is laughable. That's not to say it's impossible, but it is to say that waiting for it to happen or even thinking about it happening is about as practical as waiting to win the lottery twice on one day. It is simply not a sensible way to go about having your book read by thousands of people.

Besides, if self-publishing is so the way to go, why should this idea of then being picked up by an agent or publisher be so attractive?

It is absolutely the case that most successful agents and publishers do not need to look at self-published books in order to find a gem - in fact it would be a pretty irrational way to spend their limited time. (And all the more so as more and more self-pubbed books appear). For a start, they will be assuming, mostly rightly, that if the book was self-published it or its author had already been knocked back by loads of agents/editors. And secondly, they have submissions landing on their doormat every day without going looking through the self-published material.

Look, I absolutely do not look down on anyone who chooses this route: it's brave and exhausting. But it's not the future for successful writing, except in a very very few cases, though a few moren in the case of non-fiction. Certainly, it's the only way for many writers to see their work in print, but it's an extraordinarily unlikely path to publishing success. Using Paolini as a paradigm is like using JKRowling as a way to encourage impoverished single mums (which she was) to make a living. It's a dreamworld.

April L. Hamilton said...

DanielB -
I noticed you didn't have a special circumstance to call out for every author I named, and as it happens, I know Seth and Scott personally and spoke with them at some length about their work at this past weekend's Writers Digest Business of Getting Published conference, at which we were all three presenters. Their presentation was all about how they both used podcasting to build readership and cross over to mainstream publishing success. So I think I can say with some confidence I'm getting my information from the horse's mouth, as they say.

Also, why do you assume that anyone who self-publishes is *not* working, or *has not* worked, on improving their writing for years leading up to that decision? There may be many who do not continue to work on craft, but that's not a function of being self-published, there are lazy writers and artists both within and without the mainstream. And there are dedicated writers on both sides, too.

Things are changing, and while self-pub isn't right for every author or every book, I will never understand why so many of those who don't choose it for themselves behave (and comment) as if they have a vested interest in the choices other authors make to self-pub. If it's not for you, that's fine. But why go around discouraging others from something with which you have no personal experience? Why go around trying to tear down the accomplishments of people who *are* succeeding with self-pub?

Something I didn't mention earlier is that I am about to make the transition from self-pubbed to mainstream-pubbed author too, with a major publisher which wants to add my IndieAuthor Guide to its 2010 list. And there are no "special circumstances" here. I just wrote my book, published it, and spent about a year spreading the word about it and giving away far more copies than I sold. I worked my author platform, began a community for indie authors and small imprints---none of which was done with an eye to landing a mainstream deal, by the way; I just wanted to help as many would-be indie authors as possible---, and before long authors and publishing pros were seeking me out.

There's room for lots of us to succeed, and many roads to choose from. =')

April L. Hamilton said...

All I can say is, you were clearly not at the O'Reilly Tools of Change conference this past February, or at the Writers Digest Business of Getting Published conference this past weekend, at which publishing luminaries acknowledged and cheered on the shifting paradigms in trade publishing.

Again, self-pub isn't right for every author or every book, and I agree with you that novels are the toughest sell regardless of how you hope to publish. But I've already written so much on the subject of when and why self-pub can be the right choice, I'm pretty much done with justifying it as a viable and smart option for many authors. Look up my articles on Teleread, Publetariat and here if you really want to know my full rationale.

RE: why go mainstream at all if self-pub is so great, the fact is that most authors who self-pub do so as a means of proving themselves and their work worthy of a mainstream contract. Most will not land a contract, but that's true of the group that's following the traditional path, too. I did not self-pub in order to attract mainstream attention, it just happened.

Obviously, there's nothing I can say or do to convince people like you and DanielB of the truth of what I'm saying, so I will not waste any more time trying. Let's just agree to disagree, and time will tell whether or not self-pub becomes a well-trodden path to authorial success.

RE: How Publishing Really Works, I must say I'm not a fan. "Jane" writes all kinds of things about publishing which she presents as the gospel truth, drawn directly from her many years of experience in trade publishing, yet it seems to me she hasn't been employed in trade publishing for a very long time and her information is dated. I'm also troubled by her unwillingness to share any of her credentials, or even post under her real name, as I do. Given that anyone can claim anything online, I tend to take anything posted by an anonymous username with a shaker full of salt.

April L. Hamilton said...

Nicola -
Neglected to mention...

Reject the Paolini case out of hand if you like, but what about the crossover successes of Sigler, Harwood, Morrison, Lenahan, and myself?

And what about the self-publishing hall of fame? It's filled with HUGE success stories from authors far less renowned than Paolini:


(Click on the alphabetic links at the left-hand side of the page to view details on the authors and their books)

Daniel Blythe said...

"Also, why do you assume that anyone who self-publishes is *not* working, or *has not* worked, on improving their writing for years leading up to that decision?"

I don't. You miss my point *spectacularly*, for which you probably deserve some kind of award. We are all improving, all the time. My point is that Mr Harwood's podcasting was neither here nor there - he got to the point of being an author who was good enough to be properly published. He just happened to share his "working" along the way. That was his decision.

Also, Jane Smith uses her real name. So that particular slur won't do any good, I'm afraid.

April L. Hamilton said...

DanielB -
It wasn't a slur. If she posts under her real name, why is it that when anyone asks her to list her credentials and provide her real name, she neither denies posting under an alias nor provides any information about her professional experience (e.g., for which publishing house(s) she worked and when, what her title(s) was/were)? She may very well be all that she claims, I'm just asking for some evidence. And given the anonymous, somewhat Wild West environment of the internet, I don't think that's rude or unreasonable.

Anyway, that's a little off-topic here. I just wanted to respond to Nicola's suggestion to my audience that they should read that blog, since I do not endorse it.

Again, if you don't want to self-publish, don't. I'm not trying to convince the staunch anti-self-pub crowd to reverse their stance, because I know they never will. As for those who may be leaning toward the anti-self-pub camp, but are still open-minded enough to consider the possibility...

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that only 1/2 of 1% of all aspiring authors who self-publish will eventually earn enough on their writing to quit their day jobs, whether that means crossing over to a mainstream deal or remaining indie. That hypothetical figure sounds pretty much on par with the odds of an aspiring author who goes the traditional route achieving the same goal. The anti-self-pub camp likes to trot out the old argument that those few who succeed in self-pub are exceptional cases, but they neglect to mention the fact that aspiring authors who land a mainstream contract the old fashioned way are just as exceptional: no matter how you approach reaching commercial success as an author, the odds are slim and the *vast* majority will fail. At least as an indie author, I'm in total control of the process and no one but me gets to decide when my career in authorship is over.

I say it's a *good* thing that there's more than one way to go. Options are good, in my opinion and experience.

Daniel Blythe said...

Well, I have met Jane Smith, but it's not for me to speak for her. As I see it, her blog does a valuable job - reviewing self-published books by the standards against which they should be judged. Like her, I see a good few self-published novels. And like her, I have yet to find one which is anywhere near publishable standard.

Don't misunderstand me - I don't have a problem with anybody self-publishing if that's the way they think they need to go. It can be useful for things like autobiographies, local history, etc.

(My father wrote a fascinating history of the church clock in our village. He wasn't under any illusions that many more people than the 1500-strong population of our two linked parishes would be interested, or that he'd do much more than break even on it. So he had a local printer do a print-run of a couple of thousand, sold most of them, and made a tiny profit which he donated to the church. Textbook self-publishing scenario.)

But it is not a necessary, or even desirable, step to take if you want to be published by a major house. Your "platform" is neither here nor there. Talk to editors and agents in the UK and they all say it - it's about the writing. They don't necessarily care who you are or how many flipping podcasts you have made.

I don't claim these things aren't OK for getting people to hear you *before* you are published, while you are still getting good - but that's a totally separate issue. Fifteen years ago I had four unpublished novels under the bed, written between the ages of 17 and 22. They were all flawed in one way or another and, I can see now with the benefit of my experience, not of publishable standard. Had I been writing them now, I might well have chosen to share parts of them on a blog, a website, a podcast... None of that would actually make any difference to the fact that I wasn't good enough to be published until I had written my fifth, much better, novel.

While you are self-publishing, you are not an "indie" author. You are not the Arctic Monkeys to the big houses' Coldplay. You are someone paying to have their own work printed (or recorded) and distributed. I'm sure that's lovely for you, but it isn't a "career in writing".

April L. Hamilton said...

DanielB -
I can't speak to what's going on in the UK, but here in the US it's all about author platform, and it's publishers, not authors, who are putting that message out there. At TOC this year, a senior editor told me that there's now an unwritten rule in their acquisitions process that stipulates the following:

They will not seriously consider a manuscript from an unknown, debut author unless that author can demonstrate an online following numbering in the thousands.

Also, I don't want to embarrass you, but you might want to Google me a bit before you say I don't have a career in authorship. ;')

Daniel Blythe said...

I don't want to embarrass *you*, but on Amazon.com you have two novels and two non-fiction books, all self-published. What exactly is your point?

A website and/or blog is very *useful*. I have one. It is not a pre-requisite for getting published. Do a little more research before attaching any importance to one off-the-cuff remark by one editor.

April L. Hamilton said...

DanielB -
For me to list all my activities and credentials here would feel very uncomfortable because it's too much like bragging, and it's info that's all readily available online, on my author website, in my profile here and elsewhere. Links to all that stuff are available right here on this blog (see upper section of right-hand column), and the people who come to this blog and my various sites to get help and information---as opposed to merely baiting me---already know my story, and that's good enough for me.

April L. Hamilton said...

You could also just read through the About Me block lower down in the right-hand column.

Daniel Blythe said...

I've not come here to bait you, I've come here to attempt to counter your misinformation. What does the "About Me" column tell me that I don't already know? You are not published and have no inside knowledge of publishing, and nothing you say stands up. You have paid to have four books printed. That's all.

Sulci Collective said...

I don't really want to come between you in your er heated debate, but Indie Author's comment reproduced below encapsulates exactly me experience:

The anti-self-pub camp likes to trot out the old argument that those few who succeed in self-pub are exceptional cases, but they neglect to mention the fact that aspiring authors who land a mainstream contract the old fashioned way are just as exceptional: no matter how you approach reaching commercial success as an author, the odds are slim and the *vast* majority will fail. At least as an indie author, I'm in total control of the process and no one but me gets to decide when my career in authorship is over.

I got fed up cold calling via SAE's and slushpiles. So I'm throwing everything I've got at self-pub under my own auspices. If it doesn't lead to anything, well then I'll have to reconsider whether to keep at this writing lark (not that the unconscious really yields one any choice in the matter as it keeps one awake at night by throwing an image into the mix you never thought of before).

I am not a fan of either JK or Dan B, but I accord their hype and loyal following. Well now it behooves me to generate my own modest version and in the current economic climate I couldn't expect an agent or a corporation to risk any effort and investment in an unknown such as me.

April L. Hamilton said...

Aside from everything else I've done as an indie author, I already told you one of my books is being picked up by a major press, which is a mark of legitimacy to *you*, but only matters to me because it means the book will reach a wider audience and help more aspiring authors pursue their goals.

Clearly, you have no respect for me or what I'm trying to accomplish here, and that's your right. But there's no point in our continuing this discussion. You'd be better served visiting a blog dedicated to the traditional path.

Jane Smith said...

Just to say for the record: my name really IS Jane Smith, and I've always made that clear.

I've ghost-written a good few books (I think there are about 17 in print at the moment but haven't checked recently if any rights have reverted), and so can't claim them as my own: if I did, that would be a clear breach of contract and I'm not prepared to risk a very expensive lawsuit in order prove to "April" (!) who I really am. But my name is out there, on the internet, if you want to Google me.

I don't list the publishers I've worked for on my blog or my profile any more, as when I did I ended up with an inbox full of submissions, which I could do nothing with. So I took that information down: but for the record, I've edited for Chronicle Books, HarperCollins, Exbury, HarperSanFrancisco, and a good few others.

As for my current occupation, I do occasional reading work for a couple of agents, which I won't name here because it's not appropriate; and I do some freelance editing work for a few non-fiction publishsers. I keep it to a minimum as I've got my own work to do now, but I like to keep my hand in. And I write for the UK press, too, which pays my bills very nicely.

Now I've stated my credentials I'd like to counter April's opinion of me with my opinion of her. It seems only fair.

My main objection to many of April's articles is that they contain a lot of rhetoric and fallacy about publishing, which annoys me. She often makes sweeping statements about the various failures of mainstream publishing which when you look at them closely, from an informed viewpoint, are ill-informed and factually incorrect. And (based on a heated exchange we shared on one of my blogs) she doesn't understand how to differentiate a verifiable, unbiased source from a hole in the ground.

However: April seems to really knows her stuff when it comes to self-publishing, and is insightful and creative in her approach to it. As a result I often read her posts and comments: I cringe a bit when I come to the parts where she talks about mainstream publishing and gets it wrong: but then I bet she does the same with me when I discuss self-publishing.

I would love to see April drop all that rhetoric and hostility, and concentrate instead on educatiing people--including professional writers like Nicola Morgan and DanielB, both of whom make their livings at writing--about self-publishing, because if she did that I think she'd be absolutely unstoppable.

And yes, April, just in case it isn't clear, I have just been hard on you but it's wrapped up in a great big compliment, which I hope will be the part you focus on here. Tough love, and all that.

Nicola Morgan said...

Sulci Collective said: "aspiring authors who land a mainstream contract the old fashioned way are just as exceptional: no matter how you approach reaching commercial success as an author, the odds are slim and the *vast* majority will fail". Absolutely right and a very good point. The next point about control, though, is a vexed issue. Yes, if you can do it properly and well, you are in control - but even at best (and I'm guessing you are in that category, because I've seen your blog) exercising that control is so time-consuming and would stop me from doing what I want to do: write. I have wonderful control by working with my publishers - though i do know I'm very lucky. And I know I pay for that through earning less, but in the end I don't mind because a % of quite a lot is better than a % of very little.

Thing is (and this is what indie authors should be jumping up and down about) the quality of most self-published work is awful. It drags the rest of you down. Of course, some published work is awful too and of course everyone would have a different view of what is awful, we all know that.

I do think that people going down the self-publishing route are far too often unaware of the ins and outs, the odds, the reasons to do it and the reasons not to. People going down the publishing route are too - which is what my own blog tries to deal with. I admit that I'm wedded to the "mainstream" (whatever we call it) route, and I believe that I have logical and knowledgeable reasons for being so. I don't diss people who go down the other route but I despair at some of the horrors that I see - far too many of them.

I think knowledgable and good indie authors should stand up much more for the quality of their work instead of being defensive about the process. There's a lot of hostility on both sides, and much of it would be better swept away. It should be all about the writing, not the process of getting it there.

And Jane Smith really is Jane Smith! I don't know why anyone should think otherwise.

Belatedly read Jane's comment - completely agree there's a lot I/we can learn about s-publishing from April and I asbolutely don't claim to know anything expert about it. All I know is that I see many terrible submissions to mainstream publshers and agents, and many terrible self-published books, and there's too little difference. I want to see good self-published books because I admire anyone who goes down that route with the right attitude, expertise and writing talent.

Thing is, as with any book, we have to want to read it enough to pay for it: and there's the difficulty we all face equally.

Sulci Collective said...

That's very nice of you to quote me Nicola, but I was actually quoting April's analysis of the similarity of odds for success, between mainstream submissions and some sort of viral success of self-publishing.

In the end, I just got fed up of submitting cold to publishers/agents and getting no feedback other than a form letter (nor do I expect them to devote any time to do anything more than that, it makes no business sense). I'll do it myself once and once only and give it my best shot. Will it lead to anything? It's in the lap of the gods, my ability to write and my ability to promote.

Watch this space.

Nicola Morgan said...

Ah, got a bit confused about who said what!

I had 21 years of being rejected by "mainstream" publishers but I don't regret waiting and I'm incredibly glad none of the things I was trying to get published did get published. because I was wrong - they were nowhere near as good as I thought they were. The difficulty for all unpubbed writers is getting an objective view - self-pubbing will give you valuable feedback, though all selp-published authors absolutely do need to realise various negative aspects of that feedback and how it *can* actually make it harder in the future. But if your writing is good enough and enough people like it enough to choose to buy it, that won't be a problem. Good luck!

Sulci Collective said...

If you count my playwriting rejection slips, I think I'm up to 25 years now. They're may be a title in that somewhere...

"A Quarter Century of Solicitation" or some such...

I guess I'm in for the long haul

April L. Hamilton said...

OK Jane, I'll take your word for it that what you're saying about your work here is true. (I *have* Googled, but Jane Smith is a pretty common name and the hits are too numerous to plow through)

I still think your information about the way publishing really works is dated, and having corresponded with a number of UK publishing people, I know the situation in Europe is different than it is here in the US. I think DanielB's comments here speak to that - the emphasis on author platform and author responsibility for promotion in Europe are nowhere near what they are here, for example. But as the US trade publishing industry goes, so goes the world of trade publishing. I'm not saying I think the US system is better, just the most dominant.

RE: my sweeping, and incorrect generalizations, I believe that's *your* sweeping and incorrect generalization, and it arises from a single comment I made on your blog: that most books are no longer sold in brick-and-mortar, chain stores. I brought considerable evidence to bear in supporting my assertion, but you rejected all of it for various reasons. You also said you'd bring counter evidence of your own, but never did.

I have even more evidence I can offer here now, but I know you'll find some reason to reject it or question its validity so there's no reason for you to do so. Group: let's just all assume that Jane Smith doesn't believe the figures shown in the charts on the linked page are truly applicable to the question of who sells the most books, that she believes any media sales comparison between Amazon and brick-and-mortar sellers isn't valid since Amazon sells way more non-book media than the brick-and-mortars. I say that in the end it doesn't matter whether she's right about that or not, because the brick-and-mortar chains' profits are down quarter by quarter while Amazon's continues to rise, and ultimately, the bookseller that survives, wins.

Thanks for the compliment re: knowing my stuff about self-publishing. I know we don't see eye to eye on much, and I gave you every reason to come out with both guns blazing here. It takes a magnanimous person to be so cool and objective in such circumstances, and I can definitely respect you for that.

Jane Smith said...

Damn. I had a chance to shoot April down in flames and I missed it. How stupid was that?

April, you're right, I promised to blog about bookshop sales vs online ones and I haven't yet, because to be honest it completely slipped my mind. Before I can do so I have to get permission to reproduce statistics which belong to someone else, which is why I didn't do it straight away: but I'll add it to my list of things to do. Thanks for the reminder.

I am very wary of statistics: I've seen how they can be distorted when the person reporting them has a vested interest in presenting a particular viewpoint. I don't think April's done this, please be assured of that: but the stats that she's relied on have come from potentially-biased sources, and so I am sceptical (sp?) of their reliability.

You're right, April, that the US and the UK are very different markets: but I've edited for publishers in both countries AND I've edited co-editions for the two, and know that they are more similar than they are different (if that makes any sense). There are numerous ways in which the two territories overlap, and in the end the product--the book--is pretty much the same.

Finally, to dart off on another tangent, albeit a related one, I find myself very concerned by the hostility which often exists between self- and mainstream publishing. They don't have to compete: some books and authors suit one route, others suit the other route, and if writers know enough about both routes then they can make an informed choice about which one is for them. I wish there was more honesty and openness (and less mudslinging towards the "other side") about the pros and cons of both, and hope that my blogs go part of the way to reveal the good and bad about the side of publishing that I know, WITHOUT misinforming people about the other options open to them.

There's also the problem of the numerous really dreadful books which are self-published: they reflect badly on the people who write good books and self-publish them well. While I wouldn't even suggest that people don't have the right to publish their dreadful books if they want to, I do wonder what, if anything, can be done to distinguish between the good and the bad self-published books without involving the use of some sort of literary gatekeeper--which brings us back to the problems of mainstream publishing again, doesn't it?

April L. Hamilton said...

Jane -
I have no hostility toward the mainstream, I have hostility toward people and institutions that are anti-self-pub. I've always maintained that self-pub isn't right for every author or every book, and I recognize that the majority of authors who self-pub do so specifically in order to prove themselves and their work worthy of a mainstream contract---and that's an entirely valid path.

As for your assertion that most self-pubbed books are dreadful, as I posted in the comments above, this has not been my experience. And I'm not cutting any slack for self-pubbed authors merely because they're self-pubbed. I don't want my work to be lumped in with an entire movement of substandard work, so if I believed such was the case, I'd be on my soapbox urging indie authors first and foremost to work harder on craft, editing, etc. But in my experience judging for two self-pubbed books contests this year, the percentages of excellent, so-so, and poor books was no different than what I'm seeing in the mainstream. Again, I think people who work / have worked within the industry have lost the perspective of a "mere" reader, and tend to judge self-pubbed books much more harshly than their mainstream counterparts, often on the basis of industry standards which have nothing to do with the content of the book, and which the typical reader doesn't know or care about.

Jane Smith said...

April, I've seen a good many self-published books over the last few years and of those, the majority were bad-to-awful (and I'm not referring here just to the handful that I've reviewed). Could it be that as the judge of the competition you were only given the filtered few?

Based on what I've seen, self-published books do seem to mirror the slush-pile at a commercial publishing house: lots are published too soon, when they still need editing and reworking to make them their best; others are just dull, or bad, or poorly-written; but a few--a very rare few, to be honest--are really good.

One thing that seems to feature more frequently in the ranks of the self-published than in the slush-pile is the higher incidence of the truly crazy: conspiracy theories, rewritten histories, people who've been visited by aliens. I recognise that this is a small minority of the self-publishing business today, and I know that serious self-publihsers, like you, don't write these books or even think about them: but I am embarrassed to admit that I find myself fascinated by these books. They're so very peculiar, and are often compelling, if cringe-making reads.

(Sorry, another diversion in which I revealled far more than perhaps I should have, but there you go. I've been eating chocolate and have had far too much, and am now in sugar-heaven.)

April L. Hamilton said...

Jane -
I'd say fascinating trumps cringe-worthy (cringe-worthy on account of the uncomfortable subject matter or ideas, that is) in the consumer media markeplace. Were it not so, Chuck Palahniuk and Quentin Tarantino wouldn't have careers.

Sulci Collective said...

Does Quentin T still have a career? It's about time he does a film without a gun anywhere to be seen isn't it?

April L. Hamilton said...

Sulci Collective -

Heard of Inglorious Basterds? That's a Quentin T movie, and it's a hit both at the boxoffice and with critics. Haven't seen it myself, due to the cringe factor (I don't want to spend two hours watching a series of brutal beatings, even if it *is* Nazis on the receiving end), though I did enjoy his highly stylized Kill Bill movies and I'm a big fan of his early work (True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction).

Sulci Collective said...

The key phrase being 'early work'.

Arrested adolescence for the lad Tarrantino don'cha think?

George LaCas said...

Thanks April! This entire post is music to my ears, and I'm bookmarking it.

I won't claim to be a trailblazer in the world of self-pub/indie-pub, but I've done it. I slowly build an audience through various means including blogging, and maintaining an online presence in general.

All of which has brought me into contact with publishing professionals (editors, published authors) as well as writers who are just starting out, and who actually ask me questions.

I don't regret self-publishing for one second. It's freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and Art, all rolled into one package.

Thanks so much for all your help!


Jane Smith said...

April, I've been wondering if I should actually make this comment here as it's so wildly off-topic: feel free to delete it if you think best, as I recognise it has little to do with your blog.

My name, Jane Smith, is often received with a lot of cynicism, and a lot of people assume that it's a pseudonym. It isn't: it's my real name. It's a family thing: my father is called John Smith, his father was called Jack Smith, and so it goes on, back through the generations.

My grandfather's immediate ancestors were Romany: real, travelling Romany people. Our "Smith" is a Romany name which goes back centuries, and as a family, we've always been very proud of it.

I live a settled life now, but much of my father's side of the family still travels. And one thing that they get VERY irritated by is the idea that they call themselves Smith in order to hide their true identities. Doing so denies their culture, their integrity and their true spirit, and is a way to quickly cause trouble in the Romany families I know, and am part of in a very peripheral way. It is, in effect, a racist slur.

Now, I don't for one minute think that you were trying to upset me by suggesting that I might not really be called Jane Smith: I think you honestly doubted that I was, and that's as far as your thinking went on the matter. But I've seen you bend over backwards online to do your best to respect people of differing abilities and cultures, and thought you might want to be clued in about this. Because it's possible that one day you'll meet another Jane or John or Jack or Joan Smith, and will again wonder if that's their real name, and will end up getting into a fight that you didn't know existed.

There. That's all. As I said, this is off-topic so do please delete it if you think it's inappropriate: and again, I didn't take your comments about my name to be at all offensive, but know a lot of people who would.

Sulci Collective said...

I think folk may be looking to challenge other people's credentials when they are offered as proof of experience to back up a line of argument. They only challenge the veracity of the name when they can't pin down the proof through online searching.

As writers, what percentage of us don't write under our real names? (Score 1 for me). As online contributors, what percentage have non-photographic avatars (score another) and have the user name equivalent of a CB handle (yep, that's me again).

The internet offers everyone, but particularly writers, the chance to try out another personna. The would-be professional writer however, is looking for a consistency of identity with which to attract a following to. It's a tricky balance.

Jane Smith said...

I know--it's a difficult thing to get right. And let me add here that I have absolutely no problem with April challenging me, and asking me what makes me qualified to spout the opinions that I do: that's fine, and I almost expect it. I was just warning her, and her readers here, to be wary of calling someone out just because they have a name like mine, because doing so has the potential to stir up a whole other hornet's nest which I doubt that any of us are interested in getting involved with.

April L. Hamilton said...

Jane -
It isn't your specific name that stirs questions, your name could just as easily be something very unusual. What stirs questions is the anonymity of the internet, and the fact that you don't post links to any of the things in your cv you say are readily accessible via Google. When you Google a name like "Jane Smith," "John Miller," or anything like that, you get a *huge* number of hits because there are lots of people out there with those names. This makes it very difficult to zero in on a *specific* "Jane Smith," "John Miller," etc.

However, let me reiterate what I said before - I'll take your word for it that you've worked in the places and capacities you list here.