Self-Publish or Not – That is the Question

Just under a month ago I stumbled across Roz Morris’ blog Nail Your Novel and was taken in by her post I’ve had near misses with agents and publishers –should I self-publish? -this is what has set the following in motion!

No doubt there is a lot of speculation and talk going on about Self/Indie Publishing and the Traditional Publishing route.  Which option is better?  Which one suits you?  Can you go down both routes?  What factors should we consider when deciding?  Should we have moral obligations to society and our environment?  Which ethics should we stand by?  These are just a few questions I have heard and a few are what I have been pondering on.  I hear you ask do I have any sure answers for these.  No, but I do have some thoughts; I have read a lot of blogs and news pages (yes lots and lots!) till my brain just decided to let it all fester for a while before it exploded onto this page!  This is what I came up with (My own take on things as it stands):

There seems to be a definite divide in thought where Traditional Publishing and Self/Indie Publishing are concerned.  Both sides of the argument have valid reasons why their way is better and in most cases it is tempting to go either way.

CHOICE

I suppose the key point in the discussion that we need to consider is that from an early age it’s been etched into our minds that the best way to publish a book is via the traditional methods and vanity/self-publishing was considered a big no no.  However; the recent popularity and rise in Self/Indie Publishing has made us writers think of self/indie publishing in a different light and where some of us has embraced it with enthusiasm, others have kept their stance cautious, questioning and in turn, naturally, wondering which option is the right one for them.

Yes, it seems, choice has made us uneasy.  It’s quite ironic on the grand scheme of things; choice should be embraced; we should look at it from the perspective of how we can make it work for us; maybe I am an idealist at heart but, still I say choice is good.

MARKETING

Another point to consider is most (not all) creative types (I am extending this out to artists, actors, musicians, as well as writers etc…) are shy by nature; irony is bewildering sometimes!  We are not too keen on promoting our work; we create –that’s what we are good at; if we were good at advertising, promoting etc we would be in another line of work entirely.  So hence the reason; getting an established agent/publisher behind us seems the better way to go.  This has both its positive and negative repercussions -especially if you are a first time author; see comments as mentioned in Roz’ blog (highly recommended).

In short, the three main consensuses from the comments section seem to be as follows:

  • Publishers have access to a bigger market; so it makes sense to pursue the route the traditional way, right?
  • If you sign a contract with publishers you are not just ‘selling a book.  […You are…] selling RIGHTS’ (quote from Netta on Roz’ blog).
  • If you get signed-up you won’t get the same publicity as established authors, -in fact you will probably end up marketing your own work anyway –seems like a dud-deal; I mean if we are not confident in marketing our work then why would we want to go into it; surely that’s the Publishers job?  From what I have been reading that seems to be a big fat No!

So what do you do?

Social Networks

Yep, you know what I’m talking about: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, etc…  Writers are encouraged to network as much as possible; and we are!  So that has got me thinking…  If Publishers want us to promote our own work then why don’t we just start by self-publishing our first few books?  I mean that way we would build a fan base; become even better in our writing skills (after all, we are told we should continue to write write write –have a look at Rachelle Gardener Literary Agent’s blog Rants & Ramblings), understand the market & industry and be a bit more confident.  This is very much needed, as I am sure, many of you have witnessed that not all writers have the confidence to go it alone, so this could be a good confidence booster.

Now let’s throw caution to the wind and take a look at another blog post I have read recently: James Maxey’ guest post on Magical Words: Pouring Cold Water on the Kindle-ing; he is a Traditional & Self-published author; what he discusses is interesting to say the least and he brings about an argument which will bring a balance to both the Traditional and Self/Indie Publishing debate; yet he has expressed that he favours the Traditional route for an unpublished author.

Now where does that leave us I hear you ask; I am asking the same question.

CROSS GENRES’ 

If your novel falls under the category ‘cross genre’ then it seems unlikely that you would be considered for a publishing deal; publishers do not know where to place you, even if what you write is good!

This is really beginning to be like a fight for survival!

In a world of post-modern ideas; I find this particular narrowness inexcusable.  We are constantly encouraged to experiment and go beyond the norm but, when we exceed ourselves and do so; we get penalised and told it is not marketable!  This is where Self/Indie-Publishing begins to take my interest; asides from the fact that I dabble in cross genre creative writing; the options self-publishing presents becomes quite enticing as there seems to be no limit to what you can publish (all within reason).

It is a shame that this being unnoticed by publishers –or rather, they are turning a blind eye as they prefer to play it safe and go down the well-known sensible option that brings the needed dollar-signs to the forefront!  I know; money makes the world go around!  Regardless; I really believe publishers need to open their eyes and consider the sales achieved by authors of cross genre novels.  The book (e-book) buying public surely is not getting it wrong!

QUALITY

There are a lot of arguments/criticisms taking place where it is stated that the quality of self-published e-books are below average –I have witnessed many myself so, I whole heartedly support this viewpoint.

There is nothing more disheartening than being swept away by an engrossing book and then right in the middle of the action something stops you in your tracks; something does not read right; grammatically it sounds odd; where do I stop to breathe?  Is that word spelt incorrectly?

How did the author get away with that?  I am certain you all know what I am talking about.

It is a huge shame –let me say that again- it is a HUGE shame partly because it ruins the reading experience and more so, it has the potential to gain negative comments and then your fan base may start to dwindle.  I am certain that this is something authors do not want to encounter.  Therefore, having your novel professionally edited is a must in my eyes.  By all means you can get your friends, families and critique groups to give you pointers; this can be for grammar correction; character flaw detection; continuity flaws in plots, etc…  However, I firmly believe the final draft should be professionally edited –it is far better to send out your novel with a piece of mind.

Patience is a virtue; think of it this way: it’s taken you months/years to complete your novel; already you are very patient when compared to others who work in other vocations therefore, I am certain you can wait a few more weeks/month to get a professional editor on board in order to make sure your novel is perfect to the standard you are happy with, before it is sent out into the unknown.  Wouldn’t it be nice to start off on the right foot; not having the option of looking back and saying if only I had taken the time to edit my work properly…  I surely do not want to be an author who is regarded with poor grammatical errors and extremely flawed plots/characters and non-existent continuity etc…

ACCESSIBILITY vs THE ENVIRONMENT FACTOR

On a positive note, e-book publishing is great in terms of accessibility.  Authors could possibly reach out to the whole world if they wanted to (of course this is where your marketing and business skills come in handy).  Think of all those millions if not billions of people out there…

Here’s another flipside; e-publishing is eco-friendly, so you get brownie points for not harming the environment; you could counter argue this with the following: in an ever increasing world of technology and radiation emitted from electronic items we use regularly; how safe are the devices we access to read the e-books with?  I know, this will no doubt veer off onto a tangent, and well, it really won’t serve a point to this discussion, so we can leave this here for now.

THE SMELLOF BOOKS vs GLARING SCREENS

I realise that Self/Indie-Published authors can also have their books published in physical format as well as e-book format; from what I have looked into, the preference format currently seems to be in the e-book form.  With this in mind a thought crossed my mind…

Who loves the smell of books?  Who loves the feel of the pages; the minimum strain on the eyes?  I know; I love the idea of e-publishing and e-books but I am also beginning to feel sick at the thought of looking into another screen to read my favourite book, when all I want to do is rest my eyes from the glaring screen!

Is it not enough to be staring at the screen all day; writing/typing/reading/surfing, etc…?  Does this also have to fall into our time-out moments?  I am sure I am not the only one thinking this and this makes me wonder if our moral values and ethics should also be a deciding factor on which publishing route to take?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Whilst you think about the above I wanted to quote James Maxey again from his post on Pouring Cold Water on the Kindle-ing:

‘Looking at my sales data on Kindle is pleasant. On days when I’ve really sold a lot, I’d even describe the experience as euphoric. But gazing at my own bookshelf, with all the various editions of my novels and anthologies I’ve been in, is a much, much deeper satisfaction. Don’t throw away your shot at this. The wait is worth it’.

Then have a wander over here too: Matt Kelland’s blog Matt’s Musings.  Both are food for thought.

Finally!

GATEKEEPERS

There has been talk and suggestions that gatekeepers are needed; I personally have not decided if that is wise or not, I’d like to think customer reviews and ratings would be suffice; word of mouth seems to be a viable option. What do you think?

Extra reading:  Here’s a link to a post on Publishing Myths by Elizabeth S. Craig –which I stumbled across via Matt’s Musings.

My overall thoughts?  I love the aspect that a choice has befallen on authors and we can, if we play our cards right, have the upper hand; though we have to be wise and ensure what we embark on will give us credit and not hinder us.  On the other hand, I am inclined to try and pursue the traditional path; I am a traditionalist at heart and the idea of having a physical copy of my book in a readers hand just makes me smile.  Maybe there is an aspect of vanity to it but, when the choice is between a paper book and a glaring screen; I know which one I would chose.  Let’s see if I succeed or not; in the meantime there will be plenty of opportunities to see my writings and attempts at flash fictions etc…

If you agree/disagree/are impartial/think green is better than red and/or have things to add/discuss I’d love to hear from you –and sure, why not –you can always let me know if I am making any sense!

A word to the wise:  The above written piece was initially intended to be a comment on Roz’ blog however, due to the length and direction it took; a comment would not of contained it, so here forth you see it.  My warning to you; never underestimate what lurks within; I cannot believe what I have unleashed here…  I hope it is readable/enjoyable/digestible and loveable! 🙂

*heads off to get some much needed and deserved cup of tea*

Last note to myself:  To think a whole month of thought on Roz’s blog has brought this out –wonders never ceases to amaze me! -Thanks for the inspiration Roz!

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~ by yikici on May 9, 2011.

29 Responses to “Self-Publish or Not – That is the Question”

  1. Loved reading your thoughts on this topic… and I agree whole heartedly with virtually all of them. I feel that I am caught up with the same questions buzzing through my head and like most people out there I will probably try the traditional route until I have been rejected by virtually everyone and then turn to the self-publishing fold.

    One piece of food for thought – you can always self-publish in print and negotiate the placement of your book in local bookstores yourself (my favourite author Matthew Reilly was discovered this very way!)

    • Heya Jody, thank you for your lovely words, I’m glad I made sense to some extent and I am not alone with my thinking 🙂

      The times seem to be changing and I am begining to think the whole issue about author rights needs to be taken seriously as the publishers seems to have the upper-hand at the moment; authors are selling a lot of rights instead of just books it seems. Netta over on Roz’ blog provided this link on Authors Royalty Statements -it’s quite worrying to know what is happening out there; so it makes sense -if going down the traditional route- to seek a good lawyer to read the contracts etc… We must ensure our right are protected regardless where we are.

      In the meantime, I think the best thing is to wait and see what unfolds; but there is this; self-publishing is becoming more attainable (and I know the print options are available too -I may have to go down that route due to the genre I am working on); we just need to make sure we keep the quality at the forefront.

  2. Good question and I have no answer to it. I have thought about this a lot myself lately. I have one completed novel that may do very well in the ebook/self published market however I have another that I really want to see, hold and smell as a brand new book.

    • Heya Billie Jo, it seems there are no answers right now; just a little elusive -hopefully in time this will become a lot clearer; we just need to keep reading and researching. I’d love to hear what you decide to do with your books and what processes you go through.

  3. The debate rages on! It’s great that so many people are giving proper thought to the standards we should meet if we self-publish. Quality is everything.

    • Roz, thank you for popping by and thank you for prompting me to write the above -you are right; quality is everything; our reputations are on the line after all.

  4. That seems a pretty fair summary of the dilemma facing authors. Thanks for reading my blog too!

    • Thank you for popping by Matt; your blog is cool and I loved that article on vanity publishing!

  5. I think lots of writers are asking this very question. I don’t think I’d try write now with a middle grade but with the right YA I might – after I’ve exhausted all other routes and I feel my work is at that level! Lots to think about!

    • Indeed there are lots to think about; I guess in some odd way it’s kind of similar to what the music industry went through when ITUNE’s came into the market etc… In some ways it’s good we are not ready to publish yet; we can wait and see what comes about with all this… Patience is a virtue me thinks! 🙂

  6. I think I’m close to saying ‘nay’ to the self publishing option. I’m a perfectionist. I want many pairs of eyes to look at my work and I want it to be flawless. I know if I go it alone, mistakes will sneak their way in. That being said, I’ve looked at the market for my genre, and it’s pretty clear an independent, small publisher is the way I’ll have to go. I don’t mind that.

    • Heya Jessica thank you for stopping by… I think what you say is valid and it is clear you are using your head to make an informed chose. Just to make you think a wee bit more; I have heard that even some authors had books printed via the trad route and still had typos, gramatical errors, etc… It seems you can’t be guaranteed for perfection all the time 😦 so always trust your own judgement too.

  7. I actually published a similar post yesterday! I too, was taken in by the debate on Roz’s blog, and this is definitely a big decision to make. I truly believe (for me) the best route to go is to at least TRY the traditional process, simply for the learning experience, and then self-publish. I do think the idea of self-publishing and building a fanbase is definitely important. But as we all know, it’s tough to make our marketing words stand out in a sea of tweets, etc.

    • I totally agree Stacy; this is a very tough decision to make and tweets can go amiss when trying to market your work -it’s a full-time job!

      Everyday I am undecided -it’s good I am not ready to publish yet; but I may experiement with self-publishing a novella-type book and see how it fairs. I will leave my bigger projects for the trad route; though the whole rights issue does concern me; I’d have to ensure a good lawyer/legal person is at hand; selling rights is a worring thought.

      I’ve just checked out your post too -you have a good arguement going there; Roz definately needs athanks for the inspiration! 🙂

      • I just responded at my blog:) I do see the benefit of self-publishing a shorter story to help build an audience, but you’ve got to be willing to make the time commitment to put your main story on the backburner as well as write a novella. But that strategy does have a lot of benefits!

      • Very true -though I have a few projects on the go at the moment; whilst I am thinking how to develop one story I write another and so on; it gives me breaks and helps me look at my main work with a refreshed mind so its not stagnating. Though I know this technique does not always work for others… I just have a different approach to the way I work…

      • If your approach works, keep it. I’ve thought about doing that, because I’ve come up with an idea for a second book that I’m really excited about and have outlined, but I’m not sure I could do both at once. More power to you!

      • Thank you for the positivity; I look at the other works like flash fiction pieces; when you think of it like that it may help you work on both projects simultaneously… I’d love to hear how you get on with that -if you tried that is…

      • I’m getting close to finishing my WIP (I hope). So I’m contemplating working on the second book while I edit, because I’ve got part of the plot worked out, and I’m really excited about it.

        Will let you know!

      • Oh excellent! Sounds like you will have lots of fun during the editing process!! I love it when stories and plots just jump up at you and all you need to do is write and not think too hard about it! Exciting stuff!

        I look forward to hearing from you 🙂

  8. I view self-publishing on Kindle for a previously unpublished author as one big agent’s in-box. The difference is the author can promote and also readers decide, but the failure rate is the same: 99.9%. In 2006 there were 1.2 million titles available. 950,000 sold less than 99 copies. Nothing’s changed.

    On the flip side, having over 40 backlist titles, I love the new world of publishing. I think it’s a gold mine for midlist authors who have established series they own the rights to. Remember, we paid our dues. Now we get to do what traditional publishers could care less about: promote backlist. My numbers this month on Kindle and Nook are stunning me. Being a writer I’m paranoid and think it will all stop tomorrow, but why should it? On track for 10,000 US sold, 3,000 UK on Kindle, and no idea on Nook since it just blew off the doors three days ago when Area 51 was loaded and featured in science fiction and now is #120 overall on Nook. No way a traditional publisher could do that. In fact, Random House gave me the rights to Area 51 book without a blink. Their loss, my retirement money.

    OH yeah. Sold 3 ebooks on Kindle DE.

    • It is very interesting to know that nothing has changed since 2006. No decline and no increase. It’s these finer details that needs to be discussed and compared.

      I have a little project I am working on with a friend; I am thinking maybe we could test this out and see how it fairs; possibly even write a post on it -if and when we publish the project. Food for thought me thinks. I digress!

      You seemed to be doing a smashing job with your sales and gaining your rights to your book is excellent! Good luck with the continued sales, would love to hear how you progess.

    • Bob,

      There’s more than one way to look at this. I think that the biggest problem that everyone faces is that most of the current publishers won’t exist within five years. The economics of self publishing make traditional publishing no longer profitable.

      So like it or not, you are going to have to adjust to self publishing.

      As to those who assume that publishers edit books, and make sure they are perfect, go talk to Diane Duane. She can tell you some horror stories. Or if you have an Ouija Board call on Phil Farmer and ask him what happened in the fifth book of the World of Tiers series, where a huge error got past Phil, past his agent, past his editors at Ace Books, and to the best of my knowledge has NEVER been fixed in later editions.

      If the publishers can’t get the editing right, why do we need them?

      Nice post Yikici. I would have rather that you actually came to a conclusion though. You took both sides all the way through. I still don’t know what you actually think. Of course you may not know either, in which case that’s fine 🙂

      Wayne
      http://wayneborean.ca

      • Wayne, thank you for visiting and leaving a comment; you are very observant, I deliberately did not back one side of the arguement as I am still very much undecided to which is better; the lure of the traditional way sits in the back of my mind -but that’s probably due to the first point I made above. The independence of self-publishing is very exciting and I am certain I will likely head down that route at some point due to the genre I write in however; I think it’s still early days to make a decision and conclude this arguement at this current point in time. I may have a different point to make a few weeks down the line… Watch this space! 🙂

  9. Sorry love, you’ve made one major mistake. You are assuming that publishers will still exist.

    I’m a futurist. I toss numbers, and come up with answers. My answers recently have gotten pretty scary. I give less than two years for mass market book stores to survive (specialty book stores will always be with us). Seriously. Take a look at Amazon’s recent press releases about ebook sales, and remember each one of those sales went no where near a brick and mortar book store.

    Now we get to the fun part. The best return you can get from a publisher is 25% for Ebooks. If you deal with Amazon direct, the worst return you will get is 30%, and the best return you will get is 70%.

    Considering that most publishers expect you to do all of the promotional work anyway, why would you go through a publisher? You can make more money going to Amazon direct. Sure, your up front costs are slightly higher (you have to pay for your own cover and editing), but the payout it far higher.

    The economics mean that publishers are heading the way of the Dodo too. They will last slightly longer than the brick and mortar book stores, but not much. I give them about a year. Again, the specialty publishers will survive, the mainstream publishers will die. They are no longer economically viable.

    The rest of what you talked about doesn’t matter. They are just side issues. What matters is the economics. And the economics say that the publishers are dead.

    Wayne

    • Yes, in some respects I do assume publishers will exist -purely on the fact that there will be authors who will not be business-minded enough to take on the publishing aspect of writing; with that in mind, I believe there will be demand for publishers -where there’s demand the supply will be provided (be it at a higher cost or not); there is talk that agents will likely to take on roles of publishers (where they provide a self-publishing service); that we have to wait and see.

      I also read an interview a while back (I cannot remember the source now, if I do I will get back to you); a top player in one of the major publisher’s company who has now left and is working with Microsoft; had said that publishers will still be in the industry; they will focus mainly on producing prestigious and quality books -well something to that effect. Maybe that’s what you was referring to in terms of speciality publishers?

      I have yet to look into the economic figures; I’ll let you know how I fair on with that.

      Thank you for your insight Wayne, it keeps me thinking.

      • But will the demand for a publisher provide enough of a payback to make it economically viable? I have my doubts.

        Where I can see publishers surviving is in “Shared World Anthologies” and in certain types of specialty magazines, where specialty knowledge will make the “Gatekeeper” function valuable.

        Elsewhere? Think buggy whip manufacturers.

        Wayne

  10. I used to be 100% traditional publishing. I wasn’t going to go the self-pub route, because of the stigma, the effort I’d have to put into marketing, and so on. Since going on Twitter and finding a vast, and I mean VAST, amount of information on both sides of the issue, I have ended up where I am now. Which is this:

    I would like to be traditionally published and have submitted my novel to an agent. But I intend to self-publish in the meantime in order to build a fan base and, let’s be honest, get some money coming in. It may not be masses, in fact it probably won’t be, but it will be money I have received for my writing. It will also give me a chance to see what people think of my writing and the world I have built in my books (I write fantasy).

    I’m not going to rule out the possibility of traditional publishing, but while I do believe e-publishing is most lucrative when you have already made a name for yourself and have a backlist to publish, I also think it has its uses in building a name in the first place. It’s almost six of one and half a dozen of the other, but I can say that while one book is on submission to an agent, I’m working on the next which I fully intend to self-publish. So we’ll see what happens 🙂

    • Heya Anne-Mhairi, I hear what you are saying and what you say makes a whole lot of sense. Using both methods to your advantage is the best way to go -in fact some writers have had agents approach them because of the success they have had in self-publishing -though that also makes me wonder if its not only just because they see the potential dollar signs that comes with that fanbase! I’m considering that too -as a test; just to see what happens. 🙂

      Thanks for popping by!

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