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Self-Publishing, Part Whatever

While I was at the Durand Fantasy Expo on Saturday, I ended up talking to several other authors and publishing folks about self-publishing and print-on-demand.  Here are a few of my thoughts from the drive home.

1. Dear self-published authors: As a writer, I am not your target audience.  I can’t count the number of times authors, mostly (but not always) self-published or PoD, have tried to hard-sell their books to me.  Just don’t.

2. Self-publishing seems to work pretty well for comics and graphic novels.  This is something I’ve noticed over the past year or two.  Maybe it’s just me, but a lot of the self-pubbed/PoD comics I’ve seen are just plain good.  A while back, Jane Irwin gave me copies of Vogelein: Clockwork Faerie and Vogelein: Old Ghosts.  They were well-done, and I enjoyed the stories.

A lot of web comics seem to go the same route, using small PoD printers or self-publishing, and producing very nice products.  It makes me wonder what we on the prose side of things could learn from the comics folks.

3. Self-publishing takes a lot of time and work.  My very first book, a mainstream novel called Goldfish Dreams, recently reached the end of its contract with Fictionwise.  I’d really like to put the book out there on Kindle and maybe in a few other places.  Thus far, I’ve done absolutely nothing on this project.  I only have so many hours, and I also have to write my next book.  It makes me wonder — if I was fully responsible for the entire publication process, how much longer would it take to release each new book?

4. People will believe anything that protects their egos.  “New York editors don’t want good stories, and won’t take new authors.  You’re better off without an editor, because they’ll destroy your unique vision.  Self-publishing is better, because publishers only pay 6-12% royalties.”

There are times when self-publishing can work.  However, many of these claims are total crap … but they’re crap that protect the ego, and thus people choose to believe and defend ‘em.

5. I’m outnumbered.  There were a handful of other authors there on Saturday.  As far as I know, I was the only “traditionally” published one there.  A lot of people kept checking out my books and saying things like, “So I have to go to your web site to get these, right?”  Um … sure, you can go through my web site.  Or you can walk into most any bookstore in the country and pluck one of my books off the shelves.

I don’t know what to think about this.  I know the technology has gotten better and more available, and this is going to mean a lot more authors taking advantage of that technology.  But it was an odd feeling.

#

Please note that I’m not bashing self-publishing.  As I said in #3, I’m planning to use it myself.

Anyway, questions and comments and discussion are welcome, as always.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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( 88 comments — Leave a comment )
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kmarkhoover
Sep. 7th, 2010 07:05 pm (UTC)
4. People will believe anything that protects their egos.

This. And, yeah, we're getting outnumbered fast. Real fast.

strangelycute
Sep. 7th, 2010 08:37 pm (UTC)
Web Comics are a lot of work in and of themselves. (I'm from www.friday-knights.net, in case you don't remember. ^_^;) We go to conventions like authors, and other to promote our comic, but we don't really expect a return on them. The web comic people I've met that make a good return or even live off their comic work -very very- hard around the clock (it seems to me) at it and live pretty meagerly. It's a lifestyle choice in that regard, I think. Do you want to be a starving artist, or at least probably be a starving artist? With the internet everyone might make it big, but chances are it won't be you.

I love my art, but I know right now it isn't a top priority. I'm going to a convention this weekend, but that will be the last until my nursing classes are done and over because I know where my bread will most likely be buttered in the future. I need to learn the science stuff, and do the taking care of people thing because hour for hour it will pay me more. It will also free me to use good tools and spend quality time with my art in the future. (not to mention it is a pretty fulfilling way to spend my time by itself.)

Web comics are a convenient way to tell stories and share art without a middle man. I think using print on demand in this regard is an extension of that freedom. People at conventions have asked us if we have books... and we have considered printing them with a local printer or a print on demand company. Those are really our only options, because the intense amount of work published authors go through sending their stuff to editors and going through the channels you have to go through isn't what we want to do right now. Plus- it's already self-published on the web. It's a different animal than a book. It is already out there.

I think it might be easier for an artist to see the truth and =not= protect their ego when it is a comic. I look at my work and I KNOW it isn't any great masterpiece. I don't expect any real publisher would want to publish it. I was surprised as hell anyone wanted a book of it. I was surprised as hell to get fan art, and continue to be surprised to see people at anime conventions and such wearing shirts I designed. It's not something I can be self deluded about, I know there's much better out there. I'm just glad some subset of geek gets as much enjoyment as I do out of it.
jongibbs
Sep. 7th, 2010 08:44 pm (UTC)
Like you, I've nothing against self-publishing in principal, but it's not for me.

Mind you, I can see the sense in self-publishing a traditionaly published book which has since gone out of contract, because the hard work of editing, editing, editing and er, editing has already been done.

sixteenbynine
Sep. 7th, 2010 09:04 pm (UTC)
The comics folks were in fact my precise model for my own self-publishing work.

See, I'm probably lucky in that I know full well why I do it: I want to take my product, which in its current form is (I feel) very much a niche thing, and market it directly to the people who are most likely to buy it. It's not the only thing I plan on doing; I have a couple of things under development right now that I plan to market to "conventional" publishers as well.

Two thing I learned from the comics people:

1) A professional-looking product is very hard to make and absolutely essential. You are not competing with other self-publishers; you are competing with everyone. Your stuff needs to look good.

2) Give people something to remember you by. A take-away, a sampler, a bookmark, something. But it also has to look good. You're competing, once again, with everyone else -- including your fellow self-published authors.

This year, at the con I was just at this past weekend, I had a girl selling her own comic on my left, and we traded a lot of words about the whole thing. I don't believe self-pub will replace conventional publishing, because the concept of a filter or portal is becoming *more* important, not less, and someone has to serve that role.

I know full well what I'm facing, and I'm not bothered by it. I'm more troubled by the fact that I had to scrap my current manuscript and start over because it simply did not meet my own standards when I was done with it. It's probably healthier to worry about that than to worry about, say, how the Big Boys are in trouble and will go down in flames before I can ever sell anything to them (which is complete nonsense, of course, of the self-justifying variety of #4 above ... but I hear it from a few too many people on my end as well.)

[Note: I don't say all this for Jim's sake, because I've said it to him before; it's more for the people who just came in to this conversation.]

The one thing I do have to ask Jim directly: do you say #1 because the vast majority of material you've seen from self-published authors is junk, or because you would rather they direct their marketing efforts towards readers (or better yet, editors and publishers)? Or maybe both? (Nothing says those two things have to be mutually exclusive...)
icecreamempress
Sep. 7th, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
I think that "there is a market for this work, which is known to me and which I know how to contact, but that is considered at this time to be too small to appeal to the average commercial publisher" is exactly the right reason to self-publish.

In fiction, the vast majority of self-publishing success stories are the folks who identified an underserved market and addressed it with a focused plan. E. Lynn Harris and Zane, for instance, self-published black romantic/erotic fiction at a time when the big commercial houses weren't interested; both writers hand-sold books to black community bookstores and eventually the big houses took notice.

Most of the rest of fiction's self-publishing success stories are the folks who had backgrounds in marketing or publishing themselves, and who invested a lot of time and money in putting their books over--the Paolinis, for instance, and Brunonia Barry.

But what I see a lot on the internets, and from potential clients, are folks who are all "I'm the next James Patterson/Stephen King/Danielle Steel and I have to self-publish! But I can't afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars, or hundreds and hundreds of hours of my time, on promotion." That's not going to work.
sixteenbynine
Sep. 7th, 2010 10:17 pm (UTC)
Exactly. I never believed for a second I could *replace* any existing market. I had a sub-sub-market that I felt I could address, and I'm doing that as best I can -- and in the process, learning how to create something that will have broader appeal, which I'll then market more conventionally.

I gotta say, though, dealing with fans face-to-face is exhilarating. I also know, now, that if someone else is handling the publishing end of the deal, I can continue to do that ... and in fact, spend that much more time doing precisely that!
marycatelli
Sep. 8th, 2010 12:33 am (UTC)
It's not just ego, perhaps, though ego is certainly in some (many? most?) cases. There's the problem that to the meta-writing skill to look at your writing and say, "It stinks" you need the writing skill to make it better. . . .

It's been tested in the lab, in fact: Unskilled and Unaware of It
jimhines
Sep. 8th, 2010 12:37 am (UTC)
Oh, definitely. I remember being at that stage, and being completely unable to see the difference between my own writing and the stories getting published in Realms of Fantasy and the like.

I can see it *now*, and it's painful. But ten years ago? I didn't have a clue, and it pissed me off, because I was just as good as them, darn it!
paulwoodlin
Sep. 9th, 2010 07:11 am (UTC)
Oh, dear, that link explains so, so much.
marycatelli
Sep. 9th, 2010 03:30 pm (UTC)
A distressing amount -- and it means there's no hope, because they never will have the metacognitive skills without the skills.
paulwoodlin
Sep. 9th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
I sent this link to a writer friend of mine whose been wondering why she worries more about her writing ability now that she's a published writer than when we first met as beginners. She feels better.
marycatelli
Sep. 10th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
Cool!

(Feels nice to have been useful 0:)
karen_w_newton
Sep. 10th, 2010 03:01 pm (UTC)
Self publishing has made writing into an industry in a new way. A lot of traditional publishers offer self-publishing options under different names because the vast hordes of aspiring writers represent a revenue stream they want to tap. The easier the technology gets, the more people there are who want to write and publish books. Aspiring writers, our name is beyond Legion and into Armies.
bogwitch64
Sep. 10th, 2010 05:03 pm (UTC)
(here via jongibbs)

I've found the confusion at large concerning publishing lately disheartening. My book (coming out next month!) is being traditionally published--small press! But I'm not publishing myself. I still get at least one person a day asking me which self-publisher I'm using and if I tried to sell the book "traditionally" first.

Sigh...
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