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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.



Sep. 7th, 2010 02:41 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I read a lot of young adult fiction, and I have heard enough stories of of publishers rejecting YA books because the protagonist was non-white, or queer (inappropriate!!), or female in a fantasy story (boys won't read it!!) that I'd be glad to have an alternative pathway. What those limitations are changes over time, but it is very clear that not all good young adult fiction gets published, and more terrible fiction that is similar to stuff that sold well in the past gets published than interesting, novel things that may not sell well in the future. Harry Potter awesome as a reader of YA fantasy fiction, because suddenly a bunch of fantasy books came out and some of them were really good. My guess is that not all of them were written post-HP; they were just suddenly publishable.

I think part of the issue right now with self-publishing is the lack of infrastructure to find the wheat in the chafe. I mean, there are a lot of terrible published books, but I don't read them. I can buy published books on the basis of Amazon reviews (though sometimes the negative ones; if it is too complicated, uses big words and the reviewer didn't care about the characters because they were all complicated people who didn't sound familiar, I will probably enjoy it.) So far I have only read self-published books on the basis of meeting the author at a con and finding them articulate and interesting or friend's recommendations (probably because they met the author at a con). This is how I used to find books to read before Amazon. It is going to take a while for the infrastructure to catch up, and it is only going to be welcomed by the authors who aren't just in it for their ego.
Sep. 7th, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this.

Not that there aren't terrible published books, but unless I have recommendations, I like knowing that at least a few other people have signed off on a book's quality before I pick it up--and I admit that capitalism has influenced me enough that knowing said people were willing to pay money for the rights is a point in favor, too. Anyone can be nice and say "Oh, yeah, it's great," but it's a lot harder to be nice when your wallet's at stake.
Sep. 7th, 2010 04:26 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but they have to be personal recommendations. Friends, family members and alter egos have made many Amazon recommendations worthless, especially for SP work.

And yes, the fact that other people are willing to pay money for something does make it more likely that that something is good!
Sep. 7th, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
Pretty much. Hell, I only take recs from trusted sources that I know just because tastes differ so much: sad endings, naive heroines, or magic-that's-actually-aliens aren't objectively bad, but I want nothing to do with 'em.

That's one of the reasons why, much as I like LibraryThing, it can only do so much. I cannot explain to the algorithm, for instance, that I liked Sunshine because I like Robin McKinley, but vampires in general do nothing for me.

Ooh, tangent. ;)
Sep. 7th, 2010 07:36 pm (UTC)
Really? I find that the "NYT bestseller" sticker pretty much guarantees mediocrity. I suppose it depends on how typical one's tastes are.
Sep. 7th, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's true as well. I'd look to the short list for awards in the genre I like more than the Best-seller lists (most best-sellers are not exactly aimed at genius-level readers).

But at least most NYT bestsellers have been written (or edited) by someone with a passing familiarity with the English language which, sad to say, is not the case for a lot of SP work (note that I didn't say ALL, just almost all).

I've reviewed SP books that were barely grammatical, despite glowing Amazon reviews: Fresh! Brilliant! Nothing like this would ever come from a New York house!

At least the last one is something I can agree with.

The point is that I no longer have the time to read the bad stuff in the hope that I'll find a gem - and I can't trust Amazon reviewers to do it for me, because too many SP writers have been doing creative self-promotion!
Sep. 7th, 2010 05:15 pm (UTC)
I can buy published books on the basis of Amazon reviews (though sometimes the negative ones; if it is too complicated, uses big words and the reviewer didn't care about the characters because they were all complicated people who didn't sound familiar, I will probably enjoy it.)

Me too. I've gotten to the point that after a quick skim the first one or two positive reviews, I skip straight to the one-stars, because they're usually more informative. If the negative reviews are all from idiots complaining that it was too weird, too complicated, they didn't understand it, they had to think too much, etc., then I know I'll like it.
Sep. 7th, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that sounds about right. Of course, it might be that the bad review guy who didn't understand it was actually the only one who found all the plot holes!

But I see your point.


Jim C. Hines


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