Reasons to Self-Publish – Part IV

March 12, 2013

get writing

This is the last installment of my Reasons to Self-Publish series.This series is based on a comment left on our blog that laid out all the reasons to self-publish, with which I heartily disagreed. There are good reasons to consider self-publishing one’s book, but the points brought up in this series aren’t a part of that discussion, and I want to explain why.

Self-publishing offers me control of all my content, cover, rights, and better royalties. In addition, I can offer it sooner than the several years many books take to get into print.

This is true. But do you really want that responsibility? There are gazillions of poorly done self-pubbed books because the authors didn’t know what they were doing. If you’re going to compete against publishers who do this for a living, then you won’t get away with inferior cover art, writing, editing, or no promotion/marketing plan.

Any author who has visions of sales MUST first realize they are a business person, and that means that you want it right – not fast. You may get the book out to market sooner, but if it’s an inferior product, your better royalties aren’t going to amount to the price of a Big Mac.

And cover art? Yes, you do have control over this, but oh dearie me, this is slicey dicey stuff that shouldn’t be left in the fingers of the neophyte. I don’t care what anyone tries to tell you, but everyone – and I mean everyone – judges a book by its cover. Sure, liking or disliking a cover is subjective, but I think everyone agrees that poorly done clip art is like bug spray. Do yourself a favor and hire a good cover artist who can capture the essence of your book.

The days are mostly gone for the writer who wants to sit on a desert island, writing their tomes while sucking down pineapple drinks laced with rum. Writing is a business, which means that you have to be conversant in the entire process – from writing, to production, to distribution, to market and promotion, to sales. If you don’t know, then how will you know when someone is doing a good or crappy job?

Yes, a book can get out to market sooner if you self-publish, but the reason it takes time for a commercial press to put out a book is because of the time they spend on production and promotion. Review copies need to go out to reviewers and media four months before the book comes out. Catalogs need to be in sales people’s hands six months before a book comes out. This is done to make the movers and shakers aware of your book before it ever comes out. Building a ground swell takes time.

Getting it out fast doesn’t equal sales. Working smart equals sales.

The Cinderella Story

I’d be remiss if I failed to talk about the newest Big Deal self publisher, Hugh Howey and his his book Wool. The Wall Street Journal has a wonderful article covering this new millionaire self-publisher. I’m thrilled for him because he did it on his terms and hit the big time. When stories like this come out, I know this will cement the resolve of many, many writers out there to self-pub their works.

After all, where else can you put out a book and sit back to watch the $$ roll in? But like everything else in life, this is the exception, not the rule. It has to do with being the right story at the right time, in the right circumstances. And since it’s the exception, I recommend keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground, nose to the grindstone, and taking control of your destiny – which begins by understanding the industry, knowing how to write, knowing your competition, and treating your writing like a business. And never, never, never blame anyone else for your lack of success.

As I’ve said before, there are lots of reasons to self-publish, but it’s a decision based on reality, and the author does a huge amount of planning in order to capitalize on their hard work and research. If you’re in it to win it, then assume the position and go get ’em.


Reasons to Self-Publish – Part III

March 11, 2013

against me

This is Part III of my Reasons to Self Publish series. This series is based on a comment left on one of my blog posts as to the poster’s reasons to self publish, which I felt warranted discussion. There are all sorts of reasons to self publish, but I don’t feel these are a viable argument to that discussion.

The printing industry is the gatekeeper of content

Vanity and POD publishers were very good at creating the illusion of elitism in order to attract authors. They also excelled at telling authors they “deserve” to be published. This was their “We’re folksy and nice, and you’ll love working with us because we’re giving you what you deserve.” It’s a lovely idea, but it’s little more than sleight of hand because they failed to reveal they couldn’t get books out to market and into readers’ hands nor do they market or promote. The byproduct of this is that they unwittingly created an entitlement culture that believes they’re owed a publishing contract because they put cyber pen to cyber paper, and if they’re rejected, it’s not due to lack of a publishable book.

My fertile imagination conjures up images of secret meetings of all the publishers in smoke-filled backrooms, drinking Bourbon while conspiring to censor what gets published, and the penalty for breaking The Double-Secret Probation Code is a midnight visit from the goon squad who will blow up your company and steal errant rescue beagles.

Come on, publishing is a business, just like selling shoes or margarita mix, and they keep their doors open by selling books that appeal to a lot of readers. This allows them to stay in business. The logical “duh” moment is that they need to have a quality product, which means the best of the best are what’s on their radar.

And mind you, the publishing business is based on speculation. Publishers pour out tens of thousands of dollars before they ever realize any remuneration – and they have only their best educated guess as to whether that book will actually sell well enough to keep the lights on. So to suggest that publishers are the gatekeepers of content doesn’t hold water. The big question is, “Will it sell?”

There are as many topics of books as there are readers who will buy them, and I dismiss the notion that anyone consciously censors a subject. They have to consider whether the subject matter will end up in a lawsuit, or is so inflammatory that they’ll have to recall the book. But “gatekeep” reading material for kicks and giggles? Nope.

I’ve always compared this “publishers are gatekeepers” comment to sour grapes. Reminds me of the complaint that every editor has heard at least once in their career,  “You didn’t publish me because you’re against me.”

Perhaps it would be more illuminating if the author looked within. If you’re busy blaming the publishing industry for your lack of success, then you can become stuck in the excuse and stab about for an easy fix that may not be the best fit for you – ergo “They’re against me, so I’ll self-publish.” This is not an Us Against You business. It’s about carefully choosing the best option for your book and your personality.

Now, does that mean great books aren’t published and really crappy ones are? Sure.  But it comes down to a matter of taste. Look at 50 Shades. I’ve seen tons of people complain the whole series sucks stale Twinkie cream. If that’s so, then how do we explain its huge sales? Believe me, there is no conspiracy. There are simply far more writers than there are publishers, and publishers have the pick of the litter.

Being published by a traditional printing house has no correlation to value, truth, or facts – they keep us in the dark.

I’m not even sure what this means, and I would hand over my collection of bloody red pens if someone could provide proof of this. This eludes back to that grand publishing conspiracy, and that’s plain laughable. What Random House won’t publish, for whatever reason, may find a home at Sourcebooks. What doesn’t fit in at Sourcebooks may find a perfect home at Behler.

Publishing is about competition, and we’re all looking to make an impact in our little corner of the reading world, to touch lives, to make a difference, to entertain. This is a game of numbers.

I’ve had queries come to me that the big guys passed on because those particular books didn’t fit in with their lineup. They have far more mouths to feed than I do, and not all books are going to sell 50,000 units. Does that make them any less important? Not in my humble opinion. I can keep the rescue beagles in designer doggeh chewies with fewer sales because my needs aren’t as grand. That doesn’t mean I won’t pull out the stops to sell 50K units, but the reality is that the book simply isn’t a 50K selling book.

That’s the beauty of the independent trade publisher. They do well with fewer sales, which means more books are being published…not less. They can be more apt to take a chance on a dicey topic because a thousand sales is still a win in their column, whereas those sales would be dismal to a Big Gun.

Here’s Some Free Advice

The bestest gift to a writer can give herself is realizing publishing is a business, and she is a businesswoman. Successful business people don’t waste time playing the blame game. They look at their writing as a business. They don’t blame others as to why they aren’t succeeding, but rather, they attend to ways that will ensure their success.

Anyone can be a whine and give up to play the blame game. But where will that get you? Anyone can be mediocre. Is that what you aspire to?

The ones who succeed look in the mirror and ask, “Am I doing everything I can to enhance my changes for winning? If not, what more do I need to do? To learn?” This is far healthier than believing conspiracies lurk around every corner in an effort to shut you out.

How about your own career? What were some of the tricks you used to help your writing, your querying, your book, and your success?


Reasons to Self Publish – Part II

March 6, 2013

beagle all alone

This is Part II of a three-part series about a comment left on one of my blog posts that gave all the reasons why self-publishing is a better choice than going with a commercial trade press. As I’ve always maintained, there are some great possibilities with self-publishing provided you know what you’re up against and know what you’re doing.

I feel these reasons aren’t a compelling argument:

Publishers would turn down my book because it’s very controversial.

Here’s a newsflash: Publishers adore controversy because it’s very good for news and gets people talking. What publishers do shy away from are subjects they fear won’t sell. They get their lead from what they see in the media because they will look to that same media when their book comes out.

If we see people talking about Alzheimers, then it’s a good bet that Early Onset Alzheimers will be a natural because it affects younger people. This is why Jan’s Story is such a huge hit.

However, if a book discusses the agony of ingrown toenails, then publishers would pass on it because it’s not a big deal, nor is it in the news.

But what about those in between topics? That’s where things can get frustrating.

For example, a lovely woman in my Penn Writers group told me agents and editors weren’t all that enthusiastic about elder abuse, which surprised me. Sure, it’s a tough subject, but so is addiction, cheating, and AIDs, yet there are a ton of those books out there. Elder abuse should be a part of our national discussion because it’s a sick, twisted aberration of our society, and we need to bring it out into the open as well. And agents are afraid to touch it? Hmm.

So yes, there are topics that seem to scare people, but to say that someone won’t touch your book because of its controversial nature is unfair. It boils down to the topic and an author’s platform.

With nonfiction, controversial subjects really need a strong author platform because it’s the only way a reader will take you seriously. If you claim to have proof that the medical community is hiding cancer cures, then you not only need a rocking amount of proof, but a platform to back it up. This is a large part of why I reject works…lack of proof, and lack of author platform. I adore something provocative, but the author has to be bullet-proof.

And it’s not just nonfiction. Years ago, an editor friend of mine read a manuscript (fantasy) whose main characters were gay. It was a good book, and she was prepared to take it to her submissions committee for their gay imprint. The author refused to allow it to be considered for that imprint, insisting that the book should be marketed as mainstream fantasy. My friend didn’t believe it would sell well to a mainstream crowd.

The author was livid and accused my friend of being afraid to publish a controversial story to a mainstream audience. It was a ridiculous argument because it’s about marketing to the audience who will embrace the book. It’s like me trying to market PULSE OF MY HEART (a gorgeous love story about an amazing Heart Couple) to an Alzheimer’s readership. Epic fail.

Making blanket statements that publishers shy away from controversy holds zero water because there is always a solid reason for it. If you hear this from an editor and decide to self-pub, then you need to be doubly aware of the uphill road facing you in terms of making sales should you decide to self-pub.

The publisher refused to print the “real” facts of my book.

Editors don’t obfuscate the facts an author has written without good reason. For example, if an author’s book about the power of positive thinking has a section that states a coffee enema guarantees your mood will improve could lead an editor to balk.  Does this make the editor horrible and the author unfairly treated, or is there no quantitative proof that this advice is valid?

Before an editor removes content, she discusses the problem with the author, so there are no surprises. It’s provocative to make blanket statements about publishers refusing to print the “real” facts because it makes no sense. And if a publisher does refuse to print the “real” facts, then the author needs to appreciate the uphill battle they face in going it alone, where they don’t have support or a literary barometer.

Have you felt victimized by a publisher or agent whom you felt didn’t want your book because it was too controversial, or refused to print what you feel are the real facts? If so, do you feel it was an arbitrary decision, or did they point out the problems with your story?


Reasons to Self-Publish Part I

March 5, 2013

beagle back yard

The other day, a new comment appeared on an old post of mine, and I thought it provocative enough that I’d address the issues brought up in that comment. The issue was about self-publishing and her reasons for considering it.Thing is, there are plenty of reasons that self-pubbing could be an appropriate choice…these aren’t those reasons and shouldn’t be any factor to your decision.

Here is the first of a three part series.

I do not need to go through countless rejections

I’m the first to agree that rejection stinks. I know authors hate seeing them as much as editors hate writing them. But deciding you want to self pub because you want to circumvent the whole rejection process is like your mother telling you all your life that you’re a fabulous singer when, in fact, you can’t even carry a tune.

Rejection is the great equalizer, and it carries all kinds of meanings. It could be that your book is too similar to something the editor is already publishing. It could be that you’re writing in a crowded category like addiction, cancer, vamp romance, YA dystopian. It could be that you write well, but your story needs better organization. And it could be that literary creation isn’t your strong suit.

If you deny yourself the experience of being rejected, you’ll never know how you measure up. Rejection isn’t always a matter of “you’re not good enough, and even if it is, does that mean it’s a good idea to put out yet another inferior book that has little chance of seeing the light of day? The adage of “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” has some merit, and rejection can be a barometer of talent.

Additionally, if you’re trying to save yourself some heartache, then you may want to remember that your book reviews could be extremely painful. The message here is if you’re going to stick your toe into the water, then you must be prepared to get wet. There is nothing painless about publishing, no matter what option you use.

The first authors in this country paid the printer to print their books as Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain. No one questions their writings.

I’ve heard this bandied about for years and strikes me as a non-argument because publishing isn’t the same as it was back in Ben’s and Mark’s time. It’s my understanding this is one of those great publishy myths generated to justify using a publishing option that may not be to your best advantage.

But even if this were true, does that mean you should self-publish, too? What’s appropriate for one doesn’t make it appropriate for all. It’s like my mom used to say, “If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you follow them?” Good one, Mom. And just for the record, if it was Antonio Banderas hurling his gorgeous self overboard, I would be tempted to follow.

There have been self-pub success stories, but they are the exception, not the rule, and it rings hollow to use the argument that someone else did it.

My book is a niche book that could go mainstream.

It’s important to define what is meant by niche. Niche means to have specific appeal to a specialized group or market. So are we talking a cancer book, which is geared toward a specialized market, or are we talking ingrown toenails? One group can be extremely elusive and the other, quite large and defined.

Given this tenent, any niche book could go mainstream if enough people buy it, like it, and talk about it. That doesn’t mean yours will. The one thing I’ve noticed with self-pubbed niche books is that they are either so off the wall (ingrown toenail), or don’t say anything new, and this is because they haven’t done their market research.

For example, I remember an author who queried me many years ago with her cancer story. I urged her to do some reading of her competition (this is after she had insisted there was “no competition” for her book), and then come back and tell me she has something new to offer to this very crowded genre. Two months later, bless her heart, she wrote back and agreed that her book had nothing new to say that hadn’t already been written about many times. It broke my heart because she seemed so sad to find this out. But had she self-pubbed it, she would be no wiser, and wonder why she didn’t have any sales.

If you’re going to self-pub, KNOW YOUR COMPETITION.

The whole idea of going “mainstream” is so that your book can educate, entertain, horrify…whatever…which means you need to work three tiems as hard as the commercially published author because you’re a team of one.Conversely, the commercially published author has a team of hundreds.

Those self-pubbed books that made the big time didn’t get there on their own. Those authors worked morning, noon, and night to establish their footprint. They had a plan and spent many hours on promotion.

Having a self-pubbed niche book go mainstream – meaning being read by a wide audience – is rarely an accidental thing, so don’t count on this happening. Have any of you opted for self-publishing thinking it would be easier and gain you more remuneration?

Tomorrow’s post, Reasons to Self-Publish Part II, will cover issues of whether commercial publishers like controversial books and whether they have the chestnuts to “print the truth.”


An Author Speaks Out

July 18, 2012

Warning: This is a long sucker. Sorry!

A lovely woman and I have been exchanging opinions on publishing. Her frustrations with trade publishing came pouring out, and I felt maybe answering her here would help others who are in the same boat.

Some background;  the author has gone the DIY route and suggested that the Age of Agents and Query Letters had met its demise. I jumped in to say, “Oh, nay nay,” and explained why. I went on to say that with all the publishing choices we have today, we should be rejoicing in options rather than creating an Us vs. Them situation. Thar be room for all.

And this is where this kind woman replied, and I thank her for allowing me to take this to a more public forum:

If I were an agent, I’d be thinking of creating a sideline: Book Shepherd. For those like me who don’t want to go the trad pub route, the BS (oops!) could act as my scout, guide, manager and mentor. I admit, it’s quite difficult to be the entire vertical stack, and I’d love some help. But I don’t see paying for some of the services that are out there, for ex, a traditional publicist (lots of bucks for unprovable results), or a new-age publicist (lots of bucks for tips on how to do it all yourself, online).

Agents aren’t hard-wired to be book shepherds because they have to know every aspect of the industry in order to properly set up their clients. Most agents don’t know enough about distribution and don’t have established relationships with distributors in which to place their clients.

Some don’t always know the editing ins and outs, or cover design. Nor do they have relationships in the marketing and promotional areas. These are all tasks that publishers assume, so there’s little reason for agents to worry about it. And they don’t. If you want good help, then go directly to established book shepherds who do have all those relationships and ability. But regardless, it’s far from free. Agents do, however, have established relationships with editors. That’s where they shine.

I dream of a partner who will tell me what I need to do (i.e. what works) and then help me get it out there. For example, hook me up with (don’t just give me a list of) book clubs and speaking gigs; find me the blogs to follow that will help me expand my reach. Tell me how much time to spend networking online, and which networks are most productive for my purposes. That would be a big time saver for me, as I’m doing that all myself, now.

On one hand, you’re celebrating going DIY, yet you’re frustrated about how hard it is. Successful publishing is hard. If it were easy, everyone would be a successful author, right?  And it’s far from free, which makes it difficult for you to have a partner who will give you all the advice you need in order to expand your footprint. More to the point, all the things you’re looking for are readily available on the internet. It just takes time and research on your part.

A publisher’s job is to get your book nationally distributed and market it on a national level. They don’t have the time or energy to do your job, too. Now, that said, publishers strategize with their authors in order to figure out a great promo plan that will hit up the author’s local area and support the publisher’s national efforts.

Going DIY puts all the responsibility on the author’s back, which is time consuming and expensive. The problem here is that you want all this for free and unless you’re with a good trade press, you’ll have to shell out the $$ for the help. Can’t get somthin’ fer nothin’.

You say trade publishing is a team of hundreds, but all I’ve ever heard is that we writers shouldn’t expect much help (the “unless you’re John Grisham” disclaimer). So, we’re told that we need to build our own platforms and come to the table with tons of ready buyers. If I can do that, what can a publisher offer?

The operative is “I heard.” You haven’t actually experienced this firsthand, have you? If not, then you’re depending on others’ stories to formulate an opinion. This is dicey because you’ll always find someone who will back up a preconceived notion, like “publishers won’t help you.” This is the same rhetoric that a lot of DIY groups like to pull out, and the truth is somewhere in between. A good trade press isn’t going to put all the money into paying out an advance and assuming the large production fees only to flip up their hands and say, “Sorry, we’ve done our part, you’re on your own.” They’d be out of business in months.

Publishers have to protect their investment, and they do that by marketing and promoting the book with all their might and using their sales and marketing teams.A DIY author is a team of one, so you have the burden of marketer, promoter, editor, cover designer, formatter. It’s a full time job and utterly exhausting.

Since we publish nonfiction, authors need to come with a platform that will get their books the attention needed to generate good sales. Such is the way with nonfiction. If I’m going to take a sports book, then I’m going to look for an author who has name recognition with her intended marketplace.

Fiction is different because it’s hard to have a platform for a fictional story. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t define your readership and know where to find them. It’s all a part of doing your market research and understanding where you fit within the marketplace. Your knowledge of your intended readership helps the publisher’s marketing teams come up with the best strategy for promoting your book.

I can get distribution on my own, both from online or in-person gigs; I don’t know that there’s a bricks-and-mortar outlet that matters anymore, so I don’t need a publisher for that. 

Bookstores matter a great deal. To date, this is still where most books are sold. While they sometimes drive me nuts, I would weep huge croc tears if they disappeared. It still remains the one place where an author can stand out with book signings and meeting their readers. Nothing sells a book better than when authors show their pretty faces.

Distribution is key. It’s the lifeblood of any publisher. Our distributor has gotten us so many places where I couldn’t get into on my own. They’ve tripled our sales. They pitch our titles far and wide, which gets us reviews and attention. Conversely, online distribution is a lot of white noise because everyone is competing for sales, yet you have no one representing your book and explaining why yours is so much better than another of the same genre.

Advances are minimal and profits low, sporadic and arbitrary, from the writer’s POV. Lastly, I don’t believe the publisher’s imprimatur means much anymore (if it’s just a bar to clear in order to be recognized by the NYT and reviewers, the expanded attention has to be weighed against the writer’s reduction in profits.) Am I missing anything?

Can you specify what you mean by arbitrary and sporadic advances because this doesn’t make sense to me. Are advances what they used to be? No. Nor should they be. You can’t pay out huge buckets of money, knowing full well that you’ll never make it back, and expect to stay in business. Publishing has been dealt a blow for the very reason that they paid out ridiculous advances that never came close to earning out. And guess who lost; thousands of editors, who were laid off and midlist authors who were shown the street.

So has Big Six publishing worked smart in the past? No way. And for many years, smaller trade presses were ridiculed because they didn’t pay what the big guns paid. We couldn’t because we had to act like businesses and work smarter and watching our costs. Because small trade presses are working smart, they are experiencing great growth and respect.

I think what bothers me most about this last part is that you’ve done very little research on the industry. You may have received a fair share of rejection and decided that those DIY sites are right; that we have it in for authors and suck stale Twinkie cream. However, the grass isn’t quite as green on the DIY side either, and now you’re upset and frustrated, and feel as though you have no chance for success.

And here is where I beg to differ. You get out of it what you put into it. Whether you go DIY or accept a publishing contract, if you work hard and do your research, you’re better armed to captain your success. I’ve know a few successful DIY’ers, and I cheer their success because I know how hard they worked. I see far more unsuccessful DIY’ers because they weren’t prepared for the difficulties of being a Party of One.

Always remember that you’re competing against companies who do this for a living, which means they have established relationships with A LOT of people in all walks of the industry. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it; but you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and work harder than you ever have before. Not every book is appropriate for a publisher, so it’s fabulous that authors have other options that will get their work out to the marketplace. But it has to be for the right reasons, and the author must have their eyes wide open.

Publishing is a No Whine Zone. You either buck up and suck it up and do the necessary research, or you complain about what isn’t being done for you…which is a waste of time and talent.

Lastly, thank you so much, dear author, for allowing this discussion to take place here. It’s my intent to present authors with all the information they need so they can make informed decisions that will enhance their chances for success. Go forth and be brilliant.


Options: Knowing the Best Choice

June 22, 2012

I like options. If I don’t feel like a strawberry margarita, then I can order the beagle to mix up a peach one instead. The same can be said for publishing. Instead of one-stop shopping with commercial publishing, authors have a smorgasbord of choices in which to get their work out to readers.

Recently, I explained to an author that, while I love his writing, the story wasn’t right for us. He wrote back and said no problem; he’d probably just do it himself. Normally, this would make my throat constrict, but he’s achingly experienced and achingly talented, so I have no worries that his endeavor will be a successful one.

In short, this is an author who’s making decisions based on Knowledge, Talent, and Experience, and I adore the fact that he has options. So let’s take a look at those three elements

Knowledge

Years ago, we were car shopping after totaling our car in a horrible accident. The hubs did an amazing amount of research on the various cars he was interested in. He looked at mpg, engine performance, repair frequency. He looked closely at what professional car dudes had to say about each car. This knowledge helped him narrow down the decision. Then he went out and test drove the cars, and decided he loves the Infinity, which has been as loyal and faithful as a puppy.

It’s the same when making publishing decisions. Which option is the most appropriate for you? Obviously, most authors want the brass ring; the Big Six book deal that swells their bank accounts along with millions of adoring fans. At some point, authors need to climb down to terra firma and look at their books without the rose-colored glasses.

Rejection is the great equalizer because it forces authors to come off the mountain of High Hopes.

Case in point; an agent bud of mine has a client with a great book. She queried it out, and a trade press jumped on it and asked for pages. The problem was, the client has visions of the Mega Deal dancing in his head and wanted to wait for that Big Gun pickup. It’s a terrific book and an important book, but it’s not a blockbuster book and, therefore, wouldn’t get nearly the same kind of press, editing, and promotion that the smaller indie press could provide. That book would have been their #1 title for the season, whereas, it might be barely midlist with a Big Gun.

My agent bud was smart and explained the situation to the trade press. They agreed to wait until all the other Big Gun publishers responded. The author was shocked that not one of the Big Guns wanted his book. Because he had no knowledge of the business, his expectations were out of whack. The rejections brought him down from the mountain, and now he’s looking forward to working with that trade press. Wisely, the trade press didn’t want him until he was ready. Nothing’s worse than working with an author who feels like signing with you is a consolation prize.

That author is lucky because he has a good agent guiding him through the query landmines. He’s gonna be more than OK. But what about the unagented author? They are particularly vulnerable when it comes to rejection, so they read the articles from JA Konrath, or his supporters, and believe that if Konrath did it, hey…so can they. So they slap up their DIY e-pubbed book and await their fortunes.

Thing is, Konrath is in an entirely different reality from the unknown neophyte. He based his decisions to go DIY on his knowledge of the industry and what each option could maximize the most success. He also had an established readership when he made the jump to light speed. He knows how to promote and keep himself in the news.

Do you? If you buy a car before knowing anything about it, how do you know you won’t end up with empty pockets due to repair bills?

Talent

I’ll admit that talent is as talent does. It’s subjective, and people will buy books for all kinds of reasons. Look at Fifty Shades of Gray. It’s selling like hotcakes in spite of the general consensus that it’s poorly written. So talent comes in all shapes and sizes.

But there is a fine line separates the Shades anomaly and just plain unsellable and unmarketable drek. And this is what mostly populates the  DIY e-pub world. Authors, who have little knowledge of the industry, receive lots of rejections and decide to simply slap their book up on Amazon as an e-book…when they should be looking at their talent.

Having options is a slippery slope; just because you can doesn’t mean you should. If you never stop to consider your talent, then you’ll continue to write really lousy books, and I’ve seen this so many times that it hurts my heart. We’ve sadly become a people of instant gratification who believes everyone is entitled to whatever they want without having to work for it.

It’s a load of yak droppings. Without standards, how does one gauge excellence? Not everyone deserves to be published, and just because these marvelous options exist doesn’t mean everyone should run to their nearest computer to upload their very green book to Amazon Kindle. DIY e-books (and their physical counterparts – CreateSpace) have been overrun by egos rather than talent, so what constitutes talent has been diluted…hello Fifty Shades of Gray.

On the other hand, if you’re like my author friend, whose talent has been verified many times over via his commercially pubbed books and his sales, then having options for a less-commercial book is like a gift from the Great Cosmic Muffin. And this is where I salute the options we have today. Not every book is commercially viable for a trade press, but that doesn’t mean it’s not marketable. It just means that it’ll appeal to a smaller audience who will love and appreciate a great little book.

Huzzah! Long live talent.

Experience

Absent the hard lessons of experience, it’s difficult to have realistic expectations. Sure, you can research ’til the cows come home, but you haven’t actually lived it, so you still have room for out-of-sync hope.

Experience is what told my author friend that his choice of going DIY with his book was a good one. He knows where the boogie man lives and where Sweet Street is. Furthermore, he has the experience to know how to get to Sweet Street. There is no better teacher than experience. But in order to gain that experience, everyone had to start out as a newbie (opposed to noob) at some point, right?

That’s why Knowledge and Talent are your best guides. When you have those two buddies in your front pocket, you will make decisions that will enhance your writing career, not detract from it. They are the doting aunties who whisper in your ear, telling you that DIY or CreateSpace isn’t a wise choice for you. Yet. Maybe at some point down the line (like my author friend) it will be, but you aren’t yet dry behind the ears.

Take it slow. Open your ears. Fire your ego. Attend writer’s conferences. Ask lots of questions. Research. Visit good writing sites. Join a good writing group who will be kindly honest.

Knowledge, Talent, and Experience are your allies in this crazy industry. Publishing options can be a thrilling experience or a horrendous nightmare. Be sure to analyze which is your best choice.


Self Publishing: The Quest For Excellence

April 16, 2012

I was chatting with a friend of mine, and the discussion turned to self-publishing. The question “Why?” popped up a few times…not as an insult, but as a genuine curiosity. Why do people self-publish? This is an extremely touchy subject because much has been said that is less than complimentary. Understandably, it has become the third wheel of “Thou Shalt Not Discuss Politics, Religion, And Self Publishing.”

Let me just get it out there that I don’t disparage anyone who uses this option. The reasons are many, and I’m in no position to pass judgement.

HOWEVER…

I can’t help but consider the vast number of times I’ve heard people say, “If I get one more rejection, I’m going to toss my book up on Amazon and see what happens,” and this is what I’d like to ponder.

First off, why would countless rejections be the igniter to self-publishing? What do you expect to happen? That readers will come flocking to your book and peg you as the next Amanda Hocking, thus proving all those rejections wrong? It could happen, but the numbers aren’t in your favor.

In my mind, they’re not considering the most important thing at play here, and that’s the quest for excellence. The old axiom of trying harder has been replaced with the entitlement community who insist we should be given the chance that we deserve. And somewhere, excellence has taken a back seat.

I think of the current uproar over 50 Shades of Grey, and how US publishers are falling over themselves for this book, though admitting it’s a poorly written piece of drek. If it’s that bad, then why do they want it? Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I grieve over the loss of exceptionalism and the uptick of mundane writing and low expectations. And yes, it pains me that huge publishers are barking for this book because it’s plain embarrassing – especially when there are so many truly talented authors.

Rejection

Here’s the thing:  Rejection isn’t a reflection of your character or your morality, and it certainly isn’t personal. Rejection is nature’s way of saying that THIS work isn’t viable. That doesn’t mean your next book, or two books after that won’t be brilliant. Rejection is the vehicle used to filter the unqualified, mediocre, not-ready-for-prime-time. Just because I want to be a jet pilot doesn’t mean I deserve it. If I want it, then I need to do what it takes to qualify to be a jet pilot. The same thing should be said for writing.

I’ve heard this countless times: “My first book(s) were utter crap, only I didn’t see it at the time. All those rejections forced me to become a better writer.” The problem is that self publishing has short-circuited this process to a large extent, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the hows and whys self-publishing has gotten a bad rap.

There are no shortcuts in publishing

Few wake up one day and decide to become a bestselling author. Writing is hard work and takes years to perfect the craft, often by writing manuscript after manuscript – that end up under the bed.  If this is your first manuscript and 5,984 agents and editors have rejected it, do you believe your luck will change when you put it up with Amazon or Smashwords? It’s gotten to the point where anyone – and I do mean ANYONE – can call themselves a “published author,” so the words have lost their importance. If anyone can do something, then it’s no longer special.

Because we want to shortcut the process, our standards for excellence have been diluted. I see this when I read manuscripts that are filled with spelling errors, POV shifts that would make the beagle dizzy, horrendous pacing, and/or weak plotting. I wonder if this is the very best people can do. Instead of learning the art and craft and love of writing, they take those poor, dismal manuscripts and slap them up on Amazon for .99. Bada bing bada boom…I be an author.

Gatekeepers

I’ve heard all the rhetoric – publishers are the snobby gatekeepers who keep authors in their place by rejecting them. It’s a straw man argument borne of a minority who basically wants entrance into an exclusive club without having to meet the same tough standards. Publishers are gatekeepers to the extent that they employ standards of excellence in their books that a large marketplace wants to read. (And yes, I’m aware of the inconsistency of that statement, considering 50 Shades of Grey)

It’s not snobbery, but solvency. No matter what we read in the trade magazines and blogs, commercial publishing remains the gold standard because their success hinges on selling lots of books – and commercial publishers still sell the most books and make the most money. (Which is why U$ publisher$ want 50 Shade$ of Grey)

That doesn’t mean self-publishing is the antithesis. There are a lot of great reasons to self-pub, but it should be for the right reasons. Lack of excellence shouldn’t be one of them.

Intent

So what is your intent for self-publishing – or deciding on any publishing option? Whatever the reason, it should be a logical choice other than, “No commercial publisher or agent will accept me.”

Rejected:  Have you been rejected by everyone in the industry? If so, ask yourself what you hope to gain by self-pubbing. Do you believe all those rejections are wrong, and you have a diamond? If so, what makes you believe this? Who has quantified that logic? Would this not be a good time to reflect on the quality of your writing? After all, if everyone tells the beagle she’s sober, she takes great umbrage and rectifies the situation. Shouldn’t you?

A Stepping Stone:  I’ve talked with many writers who believe self-pubbing their book would give them a publishing credit and a step up toward a solid publishing deal. It isn’t and it doesn’t. Unless your book sold a ton, it won’t be given the time of day.

OP:  Are you an out-of-print author whose rights have reverted? Self-pubbing makes great sense because it keeps your books in the marketplace and makes your readers jump for joy.

Niche:  Did you write a book that has a small, niche readership? A commercial publisher may not be able to sell your book about whistling belly button tricks, but it may be a huge boon to those whose aim is to be the life of the party.

Ego:  Is it important to consider yourself a “published author”? I know that sounds simplistic because that’s every writer’s ultimate goal, but does that desire usurp your quest for excellence? Are you the one who says, “I just want to get my book out there and see what happens.” What does this mean? Sure, there are the Cinderella stories, but the majority of “what happens” is nothing. Maybe you’ll sell 25 copies of your e-book.

Stagnation

What worries me about the Ego Author is that they don’t grow as writers. By self publishing, they have relieved themselves of the rejection process and continue to pump e-books out with the same below-average writing. The result is that they short-circuit the importance of confronting their suckosity.

I don’t understand this. Ever seen a stagnant pond? It’s got all that green goo cover the top so that nothing grows. For the Ego Author, self-publishing could be the green goo of their literary advancement.

Shouldn’t our quest for excellence be hard-wired in our DNA? Doesn’t the idea of working hard sweeten the result of grabbing the brass ring? The hard truth is this:  Just because you love to write doesn’t mean that it’s any good and deserves to be published. If you truly love writing, then doesn’t that take precedence over the outcome? If your end goal is to be published, no matter what, then you’re missing the entire journey of excellent writing, which is delicious.

It’s not my intent to open up a fatwa between Published vs Self Published and screech about who’s better because that’s not the point. I merely want to put out there that the quest for excellence shouldn’t be a casualty of publishing…no matter the publishing option.

Don’t be afraid to strive for excellence because there are no shortcuts.


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