Monday, March 14, 2011

The New Paradigm in Publishing

Used to be, only idiots self-published. I know I was against it. Vehemently against it. The only people who self-published were delusional, furtive little creatures, the kind who show up at writer's conferences with their scrawled and dog-eared manuscripts clutched in their sweaty paws, wanting someone, anyone to tell them, "You're a genius!"

When that unlikely event failed to occur, there was always the vanity presses, waiting like snake-oil salesmen in the backs of their shabby carnival wagons, doling out self-labeled bottles of misplaced self-esteem. It was a step up from hermits cranking out mimeographed pages in their parent's basement and forcing them onto hapless passers-by, but not by much. Every once in a while there was a success story like Robert James Waller, proving that it could be done. Why, one minute he was a failed writer and the next minute Clint Eastwood was speaking his words on the big screen! Ah, but that ignored the thousands of dollars and hours and miles Waller had to put in before he sold his first book. And even then, you have to factor in luck. Luck had a lot to do with it.

Well, the days of investing your life's savings in a crate of books, packing them in the rumble seat of your jalopy and heading out on a whistlestop tour of the byways are over. Way over.

Now, it costs you next to nothing. You don't have to quit your day job or save up sick days. You can do it all from the comfort of your home for pennies. And most importantly, it no longer matters if you self-publish. The leper colonies have shut down and self-published people can walk out among decent society without having to disguise themselves.

Ah, I've made it sound so effortless, so tantalizing! Why, I can just publish my masterpiece and readers will intuitively find me and realize my magnificent work! Er, no.

There are still two unavoidable facts that hold true and will always hold true. One, your work has to be good, and I mean good enough pass the same muster as a book from a big publisher. I've been looking and north of 80% of self-published fiction is a hot mess. That's a non-scientific number, but it's not far off and bound to only increase as writers realize the possibilities and throw their overripe bait out into the water. Underdeveloped writers are going to stop working to get better, and hopeless writers are going to be able to publish unreadable dreck. You see, the problem with removing the gatekeepers of quality is you've leveled the playing field to a point where it's going to be flooded with people who have no idea what they're doing. On the up side, if you're good and smart and tenacious and work your butt off doing what you need to do, you have a good chance of doing at least as well as you would do with a traditional publisher, perhaps even better.

Fact number two has to do with working your butt off. If you bypass a traditional publisher, you still have to do everything a traditional publisher does. Your private publishing staff must include: beta readers, a copy editor, a proofreader, a cover designer/illustrator, a typesetter, a marketing strategist, a publicist, an IT expert/web designer, and a business manager. If you lack in any of those departments, you're apt to fail.

Now, if you're lucky and clever, you yourself may be able to fill many of those roles. You may have friends, acquaintances, and family that can fill some of those roles. Chances are, you'll have to hire some independent contractors or barter services to fill some of those roles. The truth is, you're likely at first to spend way more time marketing yourself than you do writing. And, boy, you better be a good writer to start off with, and willing to learn from your mistakes.

So, no, it's not easy, not by a far shot. But the publishing business is changing and I can't think of anything more exciting than that.

(Coming soon:  the myths of self-publishing versus legacy publishing.)


  1. I have half of those. I think we've discussed that I'm doing passably on the entire proofreading section of the process. What I also have are many artist friends. I'm betting that for online publishing two of the most important things needed will be a good 'cover' and ad copy. First impressions. I know darned well who I'd want to do the covers for my books, and thank The Golden Calf Carolyn thinks my writing is the bee's knees. Even I can probably afford the deal she'd cut me.

    ...incidentally, you seem to like my ad copy. It really is just emotion-hooking writing. You know I'm always at your service if you somehow think you can't do it yourself.

  2. In going through the comments on various Kindle ebooks, the two most common complaints in the customer reviews are about proofreading/editing mistakes and bad covers/blurbs. By far. It's amazing.

    And don't think I won't take you up on ad copy.

  3. Yep. Sweet Dreams needs another round of proofreading - quite badly, in my opinion - but it's not like I can't do it and it only takes about a week. Wild Children is the book I'd want to see in physical print for the sake of love, but if you think we can make this ereader thing work I'm interested in trying it with Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Teeth. And I think you can tell at a glance that is the cover artist for me.

    I have no business sense. At all. None. I know this about myself. I need friends who can even tell me what my options are, but anything seems better than spinning my wheels at the moment.

    I DO know how to grab people's emotions, and a good image and a description with lots of what Lucy calls 'hooks' do that. I was not joking about the ad copy. When you want some, send me an email, let me read whatever I'm describing, and tell me how long the description's supposed to be.

  4. Actually, on further research, it's perfectly easy (and I'm using easy as a relative term here) to simultaneously publish to Kindle, Nook, the iPad and iPhones and various other readers, and to publish POD "trade" paperbacks. What I'm saying is that once you've got your manuscript finalized and a cover done, you can publish to all formats, including paperback. The only stumbling blocks are formatting (or typesetting, more precisely) and designing the cover. That's where the expertise/possible cost comes in, i.e, finding someone to format in PDF and paying a good artist. To physically do it costs nothing beyond spending the cover price of one book, which acts as a proof/galley. I had thought about waiting on paperback publishing, but after this weekend's intensive research, I'm going to put out paperbacks to go with each e-edition. (now it's just all the blasted rewrites/proofreading.)

    I'm toying with blogging the steps as I do this, one, because it increases my clarity, and, two, other people might find it illuminating. But in addition, I'm at your service advice/information-wise. My best friend (who is a fantastic writer and who is embarking on this with me) suggested a co-op of writers/designers/artists, so consider yourself co-opted.

  5. PLEASE consider me co-opted. I am at your service if you are at mine.

    ...I guess I should start that proofread of Sweet Dreams. At least I'm between chapters on Parthenogenesis and have the attention to do it! Heck, if you take a look and think Carolyn's style would suit others besides me, I bet she'd be delighted to have regular cover art customers. I know Dana would in a hot second, but she's the queen of adorable, and my books are not adorable!

  6. Ooh, also this is a very viable model for works of different lengths, i.e. short story collections of different sizes or novellas. Size ceases to matter very much except for the fact that, as in the real world, longer works cost more (for the readers to buy a paperback, and a percentage less in royalties to pay for electronic delivery). But short work promoted well do sell. Finally a home for the poor abandoned novella! I know you have good short works, but I don't know how many. I'm going to keep plugging away at the short stories in my spare time (haha)and plan on publishing a collection when I'm happy with it, if for no other reason than to have them collected together in a physical book for myself and friends. I really don't care how much it sells.

  7. Hmmm. My short stories are all on the internet for free already - the ones that I didn't lose in the hard drive crash. But going forward that could be useful. I might be able to pursue and actually publish The Doll House!

  8. By the way, I'm noticing something here. If you have other friends in on this, we need some way to communicate. The comments section of your personal blog may be inefficient.

  9. Hey Keri and Bowlingballhead,
    I was just thinking the same thing, that we should "emeet". Keri knows this, but I'm the aforementioned friend (AKA Susan), with whom Keri has been commiserating, I mean writing, for over a dozen years.
    I'm excited about the small press foray for the series we write together, for Keri's horror, and for my mainstream works. And I do think that an autonomous collective (to quote Holy Grail) would be a nice way for a lot of artists of all stripes to get noticed...and hopefully support each other on the way to something great.
    Nice to meet you, B, and I look forward to sharing more info as we all learn how to do this.