Monday, October 25, 2010

Is it Ever Time to Self Publish? A NovelMatters Roundtable Discussion

Last week we talked about the steps involved in finding an agent and a publisher, and the truth about how long it can take to become a published author. Latayne meticulously listed the basic steps in the process of seeing a manuscript through to publication. Even those of us fortunate enough to have an agent and perhaps even the interest of a publishing house, the list can overwhelm. I asked myself countless times, "Will it really ever happen?" as I waited years for a contract to be offered. When at last I did receive that contract I felt like I had finally broken through to "the other side." But there's no guarantee that once you're contracted, you'll remain contracted.
So why bother? If the chances are so remote, if the wait is so incredibly long, why bother? Because we write to be read. That's the long and the short of it. In light of that reality, is self publication a viable option, and if so, when might we rightly choose that path to get our books into circulation?
Yes, self publication is a viable option, but not for every writer and not for every book. In 2004, I ultimately chose self publication for A Heavenly Christmas in Hometown. After spending a couple of years seeking a publisher for my Christmas novella it became apparent I wasn't going to find a publisher for a specialty book without a NAME and a publishing HISTORY. So I chose to self publish. I market to churches and Christian high schools the full-length play I wrote from the book in hopes of creating a platform from which to sell it. While it's slow going I continue to persevere.
But a word of caution. More than once I've started reading a book, and within a few pages checked to see who the publisher was. I was willing to bet it was a self-published book, because it was obviously in need of an editor. Spelling and punctuation errors, as well as poor sentence structure were dead giveaways. So if you're considering self publication, invest in an editorial service in order to put the best face possible on your book.
And speaking of platforms, if you consider self publication a speaking platform is a must. Let's hear what the other authors of NovelMatters have to say on the subject.

I'll have to say that I'm learning just how big a difference a speaking platform makes for a self-published book. Recently I was the speaker at a two-day seminar in Texas. Not only did the church sponsoring the event buy a copy of The Hinge of Your History: The Phases of Faith for every single one of the 150 women at the seminar, I sold about 60 other books to individuals.

I can guarantee that those people wouldn't have all bought books under any other circumstance. And now I'm getting repeat orders for books, and other invitations to speak. Word of mouth is great -- but the spoken word in such a setting, I'm convinced, can be even more powerful. I am grateful to God for such a wonderful opportunity, and it's inspired me to begin collating endorsements from this time and previous ones so that I can make a special page on my web site just devoted to topics on which I speak.

Latayne is so right. Her audiences are in her charming presence for a reason, a very specific reason that matches the content of her books. I speak at least once a month on topics related to fiction and art and faith, but my audiences are mixed. Some are fiction-lovers, some not. And the fiction lovers divide themselves in genre camps, and so it takes hard selling to get a mystery reader to pick up (and pay for!) a contemporary women's fiction book sans mystery. I sell books in these venues, no doubt about it, but not at the rate Latayne is speaking about.

And so, I'm wondering how I would get the word out that my story is Pulitzer material? I have a small following who might buy one of my self-published books, but is it worth the investment, especially in these tough economic times? In short, I don't know. I'm moving on to the next project and hoping like crazy a publisher picks up Goodness & Mercy. If things are looking bleak once I finish my new project...Oh. Sorry. I forgot myself. Jesus highly disapproves of worrying about tomorrow. Instead, I'll try to get a whole lot smarter about self-publishing.
Have any of you gone the self-publishing route? If so, was it for fiction or non-fiction, and how successful was it? If not, under what circumstances would you consider it?


Nicole said...

The most difficult part of self-publishing is marketing the book, especially fiction. But then when is marketing fiction easy for even the pros? However, royalty publishers' distribution tops most self-publishers' venues.

I've self-published two novels. I would self-publish all my remaining novels if I could afford it. Why? Because with the right custom-publisher, it's a hands-on, editor-present, publicity-available process. Yes, with a good one it can be expensive. But the involvement in cover design, trim size, templates, etc., it's an amazing experience and twice as fast with an equitable final product design-wise. Also because I write longer novels since those are the kind I like to read.

Simon & Schuster via Atria just released the bestselling author Vince Flynn's new American Assassin. Great prequel, but it had to be his first draft. It was filled with copy-editing errors of all kinds. An embarrassment production-wise.

I've seen other royalty published novels from CBA with a lot of errors, covers which don't match their stories, and some very questionable writing. Royalty publishing requires more marketing from their authors now. And even their professional marketers haven't figured out how to market fiction for new or less well-known authors.

Royalty publishing is validation for many writers, and I understand why, but it no longer holds that golden place for me. Yes, I'd love to be picked up, but only because of the distribution possibilities. It's very difficult to successfully sell a self-published novel, quality or not.

Thanks for "listening".

Lynn Dean said...

I self-published a state history curriculum for Christian homeschools eleven years ago and had wonderful results. I wrote Discover Texas because I was looking for a program to use with my own children and could not find one, so I knew there was a marketing niche. I suspect it's important to offer something needed and unique to a target market you're familiar with.

Initial sales were very encouraging, but it did take time to recoup my investment. As word spread, though, and I developed my platform, sales began to rise steadily. Return on investment is MUCH higher than with a royalty-paying publisher, and in the last decade I've discovered many more cost-effective ways to keep production costs lower. Another advantage of self-publishing is that you control your own marketing efforts. The work stays in publication as long as you wish, giving you time to reach new markets and find ways to serve more people (which is what marketing is really about).

Hilarey said...

I attended a writer's conference this weekend. It turned out to be more advertising than I expected, but the main sponsor was a co-publishing company.
I admit, I am holding out for a traditional publishing company--mostly for the validation. But I agree with Nicole that traditional publishing doesn't necessarily guarantee quality.
The idea of a co-publisher intrigued me. It is my understanding that they select who they will publish and invest some but expect the author also to invest (the rumor I heard was it went up to $2000.)
Does anyone else know more about co-publishing as opposed to vanity press?

Cherry Odelberg said...

I admit, "Validation," is a huge reason for finding a reputable publisher. Then, there is self-validation. I published my children's book, The Pancake Cat,through an on demand publisher just to complete what I started. It felt good. I can order a copy at any time. Friends and those who hear of the book may order from any bookstore, online, and from the publisher. I did not have money to pay for marketing or editing, but I did hire an English major to make corrections after my third read through. I have seen better product come from major publishers - and I have seen worst. You have to follow your heart and your budget.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Correction: I am not the worst, but I have seen worse:)

Jan Cline said...

I get tempted once in a while to self publish...then I look at the out of pocket cost and shrink back into my chair and get busy making myself promotable. Platform building is not for the faint of heart I am finding. But there are opportunities for those who want it badly enough. I bought some books, brushed up on my dusty speaking skills and put my fingers to the keyboard. I contacted MOPS groups, women's groups and started talking like I knew what I was doing.

Now I have several speaking engagements lined up and Ive established a Christian writers conference here in my city. I guess I have a platform :) It takes time and effort, but is well worth it.

BTW here is the website for information about the conference if anyone wants to know or help me promote it.

Steve G said...

The new avenue of self-publishing is Amazon's print-on-demand. A pastor friend went this way and is quite happy with the results. When someone orders the book (from Amazon) it is printed and shipped within 24 hours.

The financial outlay is extremely cost effective because you don't have to print 1000 or 2000 books. A book is only printed when it is sold. He figured a book cost him about 5 bucks, and they retailed (your choice) for $14.99.

All you need is an audience to buy your stuff. If someone wants a job, develop a distribution system that will get books out there and sold, taking a commission from each book. That will make you money.

If it was me? I would go one of two ways. I would take the time to master the craft (Someone said it takes around 10,000 hours to master anything), and only then have the expectation of writing a great book. That time would be spent in understanding themes and structure and etc, and writing for whomever and where ever I could to gain experience and skill. If my message was too important to wait, the only alternative I see would be to hire someone who was already a master writer. Let them write, and I would market.

Sometimes writers remind me of those old men who dabble with making things out of plywood (because they're great) and sit at a table at flea markets to sell their "works of art". As Latayne mentioned earlier, they don't want to spend the time or the effort to be all they can be, and so settle for something less. Self-publishing has its place, as long as it isn't settling for something less.

Anonymous said...

Short answer yes! I say self-publish, edit like crazy then peer edit. Use Pages -> export to ePub -> upload directly to iBooks then market, promote and get it reviewed yourself. Cut out the middlemen/women!

Latayne C Scott said...

I think that self-publishing is an increasingly-viable option for those who have at least one of these three things in place: A platform (previously published books, demonstrated success at speaking or other manifestations of a waiting audience), knowledge of an area of need that's not covered or covered well by someone else, and excellent writing skills.

It is also a great option for those of us who have the rights to out of print, previously-published books (and have a market for them.)

My experience with Amazon has been great.

Anonymous said...

The options available to authors these days, with things like print on demand, make it easier and more affordable than ever to self publish. And some of you have gone that route with some success. Latayne is so right when she talks about the need for a platform, knowledge of a specific topic, and excellent writing skills. And Steve summed it up so well: self publishing is great if it's not settling for something less.

l said...

If I self-published, I'd feel like I was cheating (although I'm not knocking the self-published people who have done their homework). I want the validation that comes with being traditionally being published, but I also want the challenge (as crazy as that sounds).

Anonymous said...

Heather, not crazy at all. I think that's how most of us feel.