Self-Publishing–The "American Idol" of the Publishing World

All right. And now for something completely different. Self-publishing. I have stayed away from this topic, namely because, while I am an expert on building a platform for a self-published author, I am not even close to being an expert on self-publishing, itself. But I can offer my opinion, then you guys can add $2.50 to my advice and get a venti coffee from Starbucks.

I didn’t self-publish. I did, however, go through the brand new indie publisher, Who Dares Wins Publishing. Why? I had an agent, but I also happened to write about one of the hottest topics to land in our laps since the invention of marshmallow fluff….social media. I wanted to publish my technology book while it was still relevant, and traditional publishing just moved too slowly. Indie publishing could put my book out there…fast. The POD option also made it to where, as the technology changed, it was easy to update the book to keep pace. Also, WDW Pub has insanely high standards, so I knew my work would only be listed with other quality material.

Could I have self-published? Sure. I even had agents tell me to self-publish first to build my platform. Why didn’t I?

Um…I’m lazy?

Seriously. I didn’t self-publish because I wanted to be able to focus on what I do well…blogging and writing. I don’t want to have to design my own cover, learn how to format and upload and do Pay Pal and genetic splicing and all that other crap I don’t understand nor want to understand. WDW Pub has talented people who are paid to do that for me. And they promote and send me royalty checks that have gotten bigger every quarter.

Thus, since I never have self-published, nor have I traditionally published, it might be easy to glean why I am hesitant to put forth an opinion. But, I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails asking for my opinion, so here you go. Take it for what it is.

In my opinion, self-publishing is the American Idol of the publishing world. Thousands and thousands of hopefuls and a small handful of real chart-topping talent. Just like the real world, only there are no gatekeepers to keep the talentless hacks from publicly embarrassing themselves.

In the beginning, American Idol caught a lot of flack. There was a genuine concern about removing traditional gatekeepers from the music industry and–GASP–leaving it to the fans. Um, who did they think bought the records?

But I digress…

There was a genuine worry that American Idol could devolve into a popularity contest and that real talent might get overlooked due to a stampeding hoard of tone-deaf fans. I mean, the insanity! Let the FANS vote for their favorite artist? What’s next? Democracy?

I might be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think the guy in fat guy in spandex with the pink boa who sounds like a cat got caught in a screen door has yet to make it past the first round of eliminations. And maybe some less-than-talented people make it past the initial auditions, but, overall, I would have to say that the general music-loving public has, so far, picked some amazing artists.

Back to self-publishing. If we are willing to gut through the initial American Idol stand in line for three days, then we get our shot. What is the literary equivalent? If we are willing to fork out the cash, time, or effort to self-publish, we get our shot to be heard. Period. That is all self-publishing is. After that, it boils down to the story and prior preparation. The readers will judge the talent.

In American Idol, you have the raging hacks, the undiscovered diamonds…and then everyone in between. Same with self-publishing.

The Deluded Divas

American Idol is flypaper for people with far more ego than talent. They believe they have a “natural gift,” which is code for, “I’m too talented (self-deluded) to take singing lessons or be bothered by things like voice classes or learning to read music.”

They belt off some bad Whitney Houston song in a voice that makes every dog in a 10 mile radius start bleeding from the ears. And, when one of the judges suggests voice coaching, they go nuts, flouncing out to their entourage (closest loser friends) waiting outside the door.

“Because all their friends say they have a great voice, and that Simon just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Yeah. You’ll show him…or not.

Writing has the same Deluded Divas. Critique groups always have at least one. This is the guy who reads every week, no matter what. Why? Because short of taking hostages, this is the only way anyone is going to listen to his novel.

Rather than learning the craft, this type of writer frequently talks non-stop about the junk NY is putting out there, so he is going to just bust past all the gatekeepers who don’t know a real best-seller when they see one. That and he gets 100% royalty rate that he can reinvest into producing the crappy film based off his crappy book…which he is also writing and producing with his cousin who’s attending film school at the local junior college.

The Undiscovered Diamond

What is the whole point of shows like American Idol? Finding real talent. The vocalist who might not have ever been noticed if she’d gone the traditional route to landing a record deal. 

The Susan Boyle. The Fantasia. THAT one, the one with the voice of an angel.

If you have watched more than a handful of episodes of American Idol, then you have likely seen this happen. The shy kid with the guitar who starts singing and you just know this kid is going to go all the way…and you rooted for him when he was a nobody.

Same in self-published writing. But, like the shy kid with the guitar? This chart-topping (best-selling) writer is equally rare….like most undiscovered diamonds. Duh. If they were as common as brown puppies, they wouldn’t be diamonds.

It is not a regular thing for a self-published author to suddenly shoot up the best-seller lists. Not saying it can’t happen, but it sure isn’t as probable as the Deluded Divas would like to believe.

Even when traditionally published, a writer’s odds of hitting the NY Times best-seller list is about the same as being hit by lightning. As the market stands, the odds of our self-published book with no prior platform hitting the NYT best-seller list is about the same is being hit by lightning and mauled by a polar bear and brown bear at the same time. Not saying it can’t happen, but, um…yeah.

Everyone In Between

Between the Deluded Divas and the Undiscovered Diamonds, there rests everyone else. Maybe they are new, need more time to grow, develop, learn, train, mature. On American Idol, I have seen vocalists audition, and it was clear to see they had the makings of a great singer…but they needed more time, a mentor, a coach.

I have also seen many writers who fall into this category. Are they bad writers? No. Are they green? Maybe in need of refining? Yes.

Do all of us have the talent to make be the next Dan Brown? No. But there are a lot of successful authors out there who do very well, even if they aren’t a household name. They sell enough books to live comfortably and do what they love every day. For many of us, that would be enough. Would we like to be the next Stephen King or Nora Roberts? Sure. But we wouldn’t consider our lives as failures if we simply could sell enough books to write full-time.

Some of us might even make it through all three tiers.

I know I began as a Deluded Diva. I thought my first novel was perfect and that those agents didn’t know what they were talking about. Part of me is thankful that self-publishing was not as accessible back then. This book I though was perfect is the same book I joke about being banned by the Geneva Convention as torture.

I’ll tell you where the bomb is, just not another chapter of that booook!

I was new and unskilled and had more ego than sense. After the gatekeepers popped me on the snoot a few times, I started realizing maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. I joined a critique group, took a job as a line-editor, and read every craft book I could find.

Right now, I’m idling in the Everyone In Between, hoping I am that Undiscovered Diamond. But you know what? Maybe I’m not. Maybe I am a nice opal or an emerald. Maybe I am a diamond. Time and hard work will tell.

So what about self-publishing? Basically, it boils down to Deluded Divas, Undiscovered Diamonds…and then Everyone In Between. Self-publishing is your audition. It’s your shot to show the reader what you’ve got.

Maybe you are a deluded hack who should be banned from accessing Microsoft Word. That will become clear eventually when you sell 10 copies of your novel and one is to your dog, who ran in front of a car the next day after he “bought” your book. If your writing sucks, it will become painfully clear in the sales numbers soon enough.

But, even then, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Maybe sales figures will be enough to sober you up and help you understand that your craft needs work. Write, write again. It ain’t over until you give up. You might have to work extra hard to clean up your reputation, but that’s why there are gatekeepers in traditional publishing. They tried to warn you that your vampire-mystery-chik-lit-historical-memoir was not a winner. Agents and editors aren’t out to get us…really. They are there to help keep us from making fools of ourselves.

But, agents and editors aren’t God, either. Maybe you have an excellent book that is professional and not riddled with typos. Maybe you are the Susan Boyle or Fantasia or LeeDeWyze…the Undiscovered Diamond. Again, the sales figures don’t lie.

Likely, you are like the rest of us who are Everyone In Between and hoping to one day be discovered. Any way you go, best of luck and I hope my blogs help you reach your dreams faster than you dreamed possible.

So what do you guys think? Are you a fan of self-publishing or do you think it is a sign of the coming apocalypse? And the angel opened the fifth seal, and out of the cup of wrath poured many bad vampire books to torment the unfaithful. Are you in between? Undecided? I love hearing from you.

And, to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention WANA in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel.

Happy writing!

Until next time…

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home


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  1. You’re analogy is a good one, but there are some differences. Even in American Idol there are judges to keep out the complete losers. Whereas in self-publishing it’s a completely open playing field. The genius writer is on the same playing field as the dunce. And if someone reads the dunce’s work first, they may be turned off from reading self-published works at all. The state of being self-published is a tarnish that even the good writers out there have to overcome.

    1. Yeah, I thought of that, but I bet the ones that Simon and the gang boot wouldn’t get past the voting audience either. And self-publishing does have a stigma, but I think if you write a good book and have a good platform, it is one that can be overcome. If people are writing good reviews and saying they like your book, I think the stigma falls away quicker than it used to. But, you make a good point that choosing to self-publish comes with an automatic hurdle. I think that as more good work comes out of the self-publishing arena, that we will see opinions change.

    2. You forget something, in self-publishing the READER is the judge. Amazon’s review system and “People who purchased this purchased…” are the judges and the gatekeepers you are looking for.

      The books that aren’t worth reading disappear and don’t get recommended by Amazon’s software and end up with 10 sales and one 1-star review.

  2. Well obviously I’m a fan of self-publishing, as I’ve done it. A traditional publishing schedule and system simply would not fit into my life right now. I’m juggling 2 Evil Day jobs, working 60 hours a week and fitting writing in somewhere in between. But I still manage to put out a quality product. In a little under a year (I released my first novella, Forsaken By Shadow, in March 2010 and my second, Devil’s Eye, in December 2010), I’ve sold more than 4,000 ebooks. 1,000 of those were in the month of January. It’s not Joe Konrath or Amanda Hocking or Zoe Winters numbers, but it’s a respectable beginning and the growth is a sign that I’ve done something right to build my platform (um, people, buy Kristen’s book; woman knows her shiznit). My latest release Devil’s Eye has been number 1 on the Hot New Releases in Bargain Books (because, yeah, it’s 99 cents) for a month now.

    Is self publishing more work? Sure. But people DO NOT make the mistake of thinking you must or even SHOULD to everything yourself. Yes, you really ought to learn to format properly. But if you can’t edit well and aren’t friends with fellow grammar nazis who will trade manuscripts with you for same, then you HIRE AN EDITOR. There are oodles of professional freelance ones out there. And for the LOVE OF GOD, step AWAY from the graphics design program unless you do graphic design professionally. The single number one thing that most self-published authors SHOULD NOT DO is design their own cover art. People absolutely judge books by their covers and if you don’t have a professional one, you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb or the red-headed stepchild of the publishing world where even readers are gonna go “oh…it’s one of THOSE books…look at that crappy cover…the story has to be crap too.” My first cover was designed for $50 by a graphic design student. I was quite happy with it. After that I moved on to the fabulousness that is Robin Ludwig ( Robin is fantastic and awesome and GETS IT when you tell her your story. And she’s quite reasonable, price wise.

    Does self-publishing cost something? Sure. But you don’t have to pay through the nose. Expenses for my first novella were exactly $150 out of pocket for the cost of copyright, stock photo images for the cover, and actual cover design.. I’ve made more than 12x that and have been able to use profits to fund every other writing expense. I have not had to pay an editor. I AM one of those freelance editors for hire (not that I have time right now) and I’m friends with others. We trade each other to make sure that what we put out is professional, both edited and formatted. I’ve done all the promo, formatting, etc. myself because I am a DIY kinda gal and don’t see the point in paying someone to do something that I find easy (if a PITA).

    Anyway, your mileage may vary. The important thing is that you educate yourself about the process and be sure to call in the pros (i.e. cover artists, editors, etc.) when you need them.
    And please, PLEASE don’t use your friends or family as your cover artist because then if your cover sucks, none of us have the guts to tell you and damage that relationship.

    1. LOL…see. This is why I have not offered an opinion. I KNEW I wasn’t an expert. Thanks for giving the information though. I know there are readers of this blog that will benefit tremendously. You rock and I am hoping you see much future success. 😀

      1. Wow! Duly noted.

  3. Oh and linky linky to blog mention:

  4. You know, I have a very bad experience of self-published writers. I went to a few conferences given by publishers and writers and they all flocked forward, asking them questions filled with jealousy and frustration.Most self-published novels I’ve read are cruelly unpolished manuscripts. Maybe even first drafts.

    I mean…yeah, there might be diamonds, but publishing is a rough crowd. You have to stay smart, alert…and most of all, you have to want it really bad. Wanting to see your story in print is something, but wanting to be a meaningful writer is another.

  5. Agents reject 99.5% of what comes across their desk. 99.5% of people who self-publish will die quiet deaths out their on Kindle, Nook, etc. Why? Mostly because they can’t write well. More importantly, they aren’t willing to learn to right well. When I taught for Writers Digest I would have 700-1000 students at a time. I can count on one hand over the year the number of students who actually CHANGED something. Most writers want validation. I recommend the lottery. The odds are the same and there’s a lot less work. I just had my latest WIP torn apart by another published author I respect. I thought it was ready to go in to my agent. Not. The amount of hard work I’m going to have to do on rewrite is daunting. But I have to do it if I want to be a real writer.
    Speaking of changing, at Who Dares Wins Publishing we did our research and realized we were doing something wrong: charging too much for our fiction. We’re in the process of slashing prices by 50%, to $2.99 for fiction, starting with my bestselling Atlantis series. Do I think the books were worth $5.99? Sure. But it’s a reality of building a base that you have to price accordingly. This has only been in effect one day and we already see increased sales. You want more readers, not more profit per reader. Duh. I’m a little slow sometimes, but when I’m wrong, I change.

    1. “when I’m wrong, I change.” And that, Bob, is the mark of a good businessman in general, and a good author.

    2. Thanks for your comment. It’s both daunting and comforting to know it’s not just us noobs who get our WIP’s shredded. All the best.

    3. That’s what’s good about you. You know when to change course and don’t get stuck.

    4. Understanding we need to change, and actually changing are two different things. For two years I’ve know what I need to change about my writing and just this past month I’ve actually started doing the work. I needed more than a light bulb to go off. I need to find and develop new ways of doing things. Still working at it, but it’s getting better.

      1. For me it isn’t knowing I need to change as much as it is discovering HOW to change. It’s like being stuck in a puzzle and I can’t see the way out. That’s why I read. Read your blogs, Bob’s blogs, read and listen and learn and hope for the “Ah-ha!” It’s a journey for sure.

  6. Hey, Kristen, I really enjoyed this post. I have to say that…it was a lot more positive than I thought it would be. I can’t really say much that Kait didn’t say already. I’ve never written a query letter or sent a manuscript to a slush pile. There are lots of reasons for choosing self-publishing, and moving forward with that is a big decision. You know that since publishing in August I’m over 10,000 sales. I blogged about that this week, about how that was the number I wanted to hit by the end of the first year, the number that was going to mean success to me. I don’t know where that puts me in the analogy, but I feel like I’ve at least made it through the auditions. Yes, it was a lot of work, a lot of learning, but looking at the potential drawbacks and headaches of traditional publishing, to me it’s just a series of trade-offs that balance at the end of the day. I’ve found it very rewarding, as even putting gas in my car I’m thinking: I’m paying for this gas with money that I’ve earned, all out there on my own. Probably had I traditionally published and found any measure of success, I would feel at least an equal sense of achievement, but I didn’t, so there it is. Anyway, as always, thanks for your book and your blog, and how they helped me achieve my goals.

  7. My reasons to pursue self-publishing were less about me thinking I was so super awesome and more about wanting to do it myself. I like to know how things work and once I found out I could learn to be both author and publisher, I was hooked.

    This is opening a small business to me, something I’ve always wanted to have. Despite the time suck, I’ve really enjoyed meeting so many fantastic authors and learning from them while I work on my own book. Definitely not for everyone, but for those that last the marathon, I think it’s well worth it.

  8. My sides still hurt from laughing so hard over the Princess Leia photo. 🙂 I know that self-publishing isn’t right for me (for a lot of the reasons you list here), but I think that those who self-publish have made the brick-and-mortar publishers take notice: “Be afraid! Be very afraid!”

    The one problem I see is that the multitude of self-publishers out there could make it hard to find that rough diamond. Think about how many hours and days it takes American Idol judges to listen to all the people who’ve lined up. But they’re getting paid to do that (doesn’t hurt their celebrity status, either). A prospective reader isn’t going to go through so much trial and error. So how would he/she go about finding the gem among the wanna-bees?

    Have a great weekend,

    P.S. – Thanks, Kristen, for running the contest. (Ooh, ooh! Pick me, pick me! :))

    1. This is an argument I see a lot out there about self-published work. If everybody does it, how will anybody find the good stuff? Well there’s a lot of crap on TV, the internet, and everywhere else, but nobody seems to have a problem locating the stuff they want to watch, read, etc. The crap will stay at the bottom. Read the reviews and ratings on Amazon, on Goodreads, and you’ll see that readers are more than happy to tell you what kind of experience they had with the book. If it’s good, they want to let you know. If it’s crap, they’re doubly likely to want to let you know. The dreck isn’t going to miraculously rise up out of the muck to even get on most shoppers’ radars.

      1. Kait, I do think the better quality content will find it’s way to the readers who want it–as long as the writer does their job initially promoting and reaching out to the digital reader. This is the major difference I’m seeing across the board with digital publishing.

        Can you promise a digital sales increase if you’re active online? No.

        Can you virtually guarantee core readers WON’T find you if you don’t put yourself out there and share what’s driving you to write what you do and why it’s different from other books a digital reader might stumble across? I believe so.

        There’s a business side to this, a marketing and sales side, that many creative personalities aren’t comfortable with. But without a publisher or a brand backing you, you do have to make your own way, including giving digital readers the chance to “get to know” you and your work the way traditional advertising and bookstore positioning and book tours once did.

  9. Great analogy. I think what it comes down for me as a writer is that self-publishing was not something I was interested in because I wanted validation from industry professionals that what I was writing was good. That was *my* benchmark for success. So had I self-published, I wouldn’t have been satisfied–it wouldn’t have felt like achieving my dream. So I waited and kept writing books until I wrote one good enough to get the agent and book deal. That’s not saying anything against those who choose to self-publish, I think it’s just each person has their own definition of their writing dream.

    Having said that, I am a bit wary buying self-published stuff because of the factors you talked about above. I do a lot of critiquing and contest judging and there is a lot of bad writing out there. My book money is precious and I want to spend it on books that multiple other people who know what they’re doing (agents/editors/etc.) and who are not related to the author have considered good enough to get behind. It doesn’t guarantee that I’ll get a great book every time, but it raises the odd immensely. I don’t have time or energy to play Simon Cowell and weed through the sea of self-published books to find the diamonds.

    Great post!

    1. Check out Kait’s comment. It pretty much spells out the responsibility of a self-publisher.

      I think we all want to make wise purchases and like Kristen says in her book, we make those decisions in part by people who’s opinions we respect. That plus a little bit of research should pretty much shield you from buying anything you won’t enjoy. And everything has a sample. I don’t read anything new, trad or self, without checking that first.

      • Rhonda Hopkins on February 4, 2011 at 8:26 pm
      • Reply

      For the past two months, I’ve purchased nothing but self-pubbed books from Amazon. The reason I did so is basically because of the reasons you gave. I was considering self-publishing and wanted to make certain it wasn’t just hacks out there. I have been pleasantly surprised. Of course there have been those that weren’t worth the time even if they were free. But, I found a few really good authors that I’ll be reading more from. I’ve also limited my purchases to those selling for under $3.99, so not only did I not waste a lot on those I didn’t like, I was able to get a lot more than I normally would have.

      I judge 3 to 4 writing contests each year and have for about the past 5 years. You are correct. There are a lot of bad writers out there. But, I’ve also found real gems in the entries that I try to follow up on in the hopes of seeing them available to purchase.

  10. Great post. I enjoyed the analogy and it rang quite true (even if Albert had a good point about judges)
    I wondering if maybe if good authors didn’t shy from self publishing if that would help. Better quality stories would be out there for readers and the bar of standards would be raised. People would start to realize, “Hey I can’t just throw my first draft up there. I need to double check.” Am I making any sense? I’m having a hell of a time trying to figure out how to word what’s going on in my brain. I think with self publishing since there are no gatekeepers its up to the readers to find the bar and say “Hey, we won’t go below this, we want quality.” To do that the good quality authors need to be brave and pave the way.

    1. They’re out there, and their numbers are increasing. Traditional publishing has an antiquated business model that’s going to be totally scuttled by ebooks because they aren’t willing to change how they think and operate. Right now, unless your publisher is offering a six figure advance, you’re probably gonna make more self publishing if you educate yourself and do it right. It’s a smarter business decision.

      In the end, authors are their (the publishers) bread and butter and more and more of them (authors) are choosing to go it their own way either from the beginning, like me, or because they’ve been dumped or pooed upon by the powers that be for no good reason (i.e. their book didn’t earn out because the publisher put all it’s eggs into the basket of a best selling author that didn’t need it rather than promoting the new author that does; or because the house has simply closed due to said failing business practices).

      Many many many great midlist authors who’ve been traditionally published are getting their rights back and putting backlist out–and rather than go with publishers who offer them crappy terms, they’re putting their new stuff out themselves as well.

      As indie publishers continue to put out more quality products to help overcome the stigma, it’s going to be harder and harder for readers to tell the difference. Well, no, that’s not entirely true. The self published titles will be the ones that are reasonably priced in E.

    2. I actually have started to see some good writing come out of the self-published realms. Like Andrew and Kait said, there are samples and there is word of mouth. This is also why it is important to have a platform and blog. Then, people are rooting for you.

      For instance, if I self-published my thriller, I would bet that many of my readers would at least go look at my sample. My skill as a blogger would help me get past the judges (my blog-following audience). I then get my chance to show my fiction, and then it is up to my story-telling skill to convince someone to purchase a $2.99 download. My NF blog/platform gives me access to potential readers of my fiction. Word of mouth will sell me or kill me from there.

      I feel that, as social media becomes more ingrained into our world and more people are using it, talented self-pubbed writers will get noticed. But, going the self-publishing route is tough. It’s a lot of work uphill. It is not a panacea. But, it still gets you a shot at a dream and there are a lot of self-pubbed authors selling enough books to make some good cash. Like anything, it should be a calculated business decision.

      Thanks for the feedback! 😀

  11. I think the only thing more annoying than the Deluded Divas are the people who get sucked into their fantasy because they have printed books in their hands. You’d think we were back in the Dark Ages when most people were illiterate, and the written word was one of life’s most powerful mysteries. A seriously bad author was a friend of a friend of a teacher at my daughter’s school. He self-published, and I can tell you, Deluded Diva was written all over his work, from the 1200 pages that could have been condensed by 80% to his picture — a white boy wannabe gangsta with a motorcycle, making gang signs over the monniker “Mad Dog.” Hey. But he was published so he had to be good, right? At least that’s what the teachers told their students when they had him do a presentation and sell his books to them. All except my daughter’s teacher, who laughed when my daughter took the book back the next day because life is just too short for that.

    I wouldn’t claim to know anything about the publishing industry, but it seems that, as traditional publishing becomes increasingly difficult, there will be more good authors doing it. Thanks so much for your post. BTW, my blog today linked to yours and mentioned WANA before I read this, just because you’re awesome. 🙂

    • Patti Mallett on February 4, 2011 at 5:20 pm
    • Reply

    You are funny, you are sassy, you are smart, (and you are good looking).
    Sounds like a diamond to me.

    1. LOL…flattery will get you everywhere :D.

  12. I feel like I am below the everyone in between stage right now because my writing is just a bit too raw. It is hard to find good critique partners, as most everyone I know is afraid to be honest. They really are too soft on me. I usually hear “I really liked it” followed by silence and a few short strokes of a red pen. There isn’t a whole lot of critiquing happening, and my writing has hit a plateau from the lack of critical attention.

    If I decide to self publish, I already have a few professional editors in mind. It would be a fairly expensive proposition, but if I don’t have the confidence to make the money back, I probably shouldn’t be putting a novel out. I also know I am a little too attached to my work to give an accurate assessment on its quality.

    1. You are far more ahead of the game than you realize. You at least admit you need to learn and there’s a lot to be said for that. I would recommend taking Bob Mayer’s workshops. For $20 you get to learn from a NY Times best-selling author. And, if you attend one of his in-person workshops, he critiques, and Bob will be honest. But, he also will do more than shred you. He will tell you what needs work and where your strengths and weaknesses are. The link is at the end of this post. Best of luck, Tony. Thanks for the comment.

    2. You should also check out Crit Partner Match. Whole site devoted to helping crit partners find each other.

  13. You’re analogies are priceless! Yes, self-publishing is very much like a talent contest and you do have those three categories of people. I banned together with a group of people who wanted to self publish and we are all going through it together, publishing under one collective name. It helps tremendously because we keep each other from becoming delusional divas and I think self-published authors need that. They need that Simon Cowell to give them the kick in the pants every so often because if you can’t grow if all you hear are wonderful things about your book. I think that’s what happens to Delusional Divas – no one was there to give them a good ol’ dose of real criticism and critique.

  14. The last thing I want to do is self-publish. I don’t want to go to all the work – so I guess I’m lazy, too! Once I have a backlist to promote, then maybe that’s the way I’ll go. But first I need that backlist. As my first novel is coming out in March, I’m a step closer to that backlist, lol!

    Thanks for keeping my head clear. I do appreciate it!

      • Rhonda Hopkins on February 4, 2011 at 7:35 pm
      • Reply

      Christine… I’m no expert. Not even close. But, I’ve been reading a lot about the publishing business lately, trying to decide which route to take. One of the things I’ve learned recently is that the traditional publishers are finally catching up. Most want the e-rights as well and aren’t willing to negotiate especially with newbies. Which from what I understand a writer never gets back. I could be wrong, but it seems from what I’ve read, there basically won’t be any future backlist. Maybe someone with more knowledge and experience can chime in on this and correct me if I’m mistaken.

      Kristen…. Thank you again for a wonderful blog and timely topic.

      1. You bring up a great point. If I had to wager I would say you are correct. NY isn’t going to leave money on the table anymore now that e-books are taking off. I will be posting again on self-publishing next Friday. There is a lot of new options for new authors, and traditional publishing might not be the best fit.

  15. My last long-term boyfriend had self-published 4 books. I was very impressed by his ambition and commitment to his writing — until I read the books. Horrible poetry was his bag. Yish! I’m pretty determined not to go that route because I don’t want be in his position (being judged as awful by my significant other).

  16. Wonderful post, Kirsten.

    And terrific comments. Like most things in life, there are pros and cons to every option. Life is not one-size-fits-all. The key is to know yourself and what’s going to work best for you.

    Just trust yourself and you will know how to live. ~ Goethe

    I’m goin to link your post to an article I wrote about e-books:

    Thanks, Kirsten

    1. Oops. My niece is Kirsten. You are Kristen.

  17. Yay! Contest. 🙂 I was just planning to recommend the people I enjoy reading blogs from on my next post so you just gave me another incentive.

    Actually, I don’t want to self-publish. Not that I’m condemning self-publishers. Rather, I want to produce a book and let the editors edit it as needed. In addition, I know I’m not good with cover design so it’s better for others to do it for me. I also don’t have a lot of cash at hand. I mean, that’s another thing we should think about. How much are you willing to spend to publish your own book?

    1. Just wanted to pop in and point out that the costs for my book (print and ebook combined) which included professional cover art, copyright registration, as well as some marketing expenses, totaled less than $250, I believe. Making that back (which I did many times over) is not the point. The point is more that if one doesn’t believe in the work enough to throw two hundred dollars at it, maybe it shouldn’t be going out there (this statement is not directed at you, Marilag, it’s more a general the way I think think). I think I could have spent and equal amount in printing and postage costs trying to get it noticed and accepted by an agent and/or traditional publisher.

      I think it’s great to know what you want, and I’m not saying anything against going the traditional route. But I did want to address the idea, which I think is still out there, that self-publishing, and self-publishing well, has to be expensive. Yes, you can spend hundreds of dollars paying other people for services, but it’s not necessary.

      1. Thanks for clarifying. I thought it costs more than $250 (like $3000-$4000). Otherwise, I’ll keep self publishing in mind.

        I don’t intend to print and send my manuscripts by mail. That’s too much money (which is not within my grasp at the moment). E-mail is free.

      2. Yeah Marilag, don’t confuse self-publishing with VANITY publishing. There you WILL pay through the nose. And like I said way up top in my first comment…my initial outlay was only $150.

        That’s not nearly as much as I laid out applying to grad school for a degree I wound up deciding not to get (e.g. $6k–transcripts, airfare, GRE scores, application fees, etc.). By comparison, self-publishing (for the payoff) was a serious deal.

      3. Kait and Susan, you guys are enlightening. 🙂 I accept my ignorance on the subject. I’ll ask for help as I delve deeper into the subject. Thank you.

      4. Welcome to the dark side Marilag. We have brownies. 😀

    • Terrell Mims on February 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm
    • Reply

    I went from Love spell, fetal positions, a tornados surrounded by purple lightning to plotting characters with complex arcs that I forget I need to put in magic…and Lovespell

    I am definitely in between.

    • Ann Eisenstein on February 4, 2011 at 6:55 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks, Kristen, for a wonderful and timely article! I am a newbie in the field, having just self-published my first book, Hiding Carly. I appreciate any and all advice regarding self-publishing! Thanks so much! I love reading your blog! I especially like your series on “Blogging” as I am learning how to do that as well! Thanks for an opportunity to enter your contest! I would love some critique from you! Here goes to see if I can link back to your blog correctly!

  18. I don’t understand Kristen. I mean, I’m awesome. Just look at how I pull off this pink scarf with leopard spandex. I’m sure I won’t have to worry about self-publishing or anything like that once the top 5 publishing houses in New York start fighting over rights to my work. 🙂

    I found this conversation awfully useful. You’re definitely a diamond.

    1. Your next work could be, “Rocking the Spandex–How I Showed NY Publishing What For” bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha. Awww, thanks. I always appreciate your comments and just make sure you don’t wear anything that could rip too easily when they start cat-fighting over you :D.

    • Pamela Mason on February 4, 2011 at 7:25 pm
    • Reply

    I dunno Kristen…. the only BAD things I hear about self-published works are from READERS.

    I have been reading various blogs from writers fed up with the pitch/submit/revise/resub/reject/repeat cycle, & after they’ve gone the self-pub’d route, they’re able to recoup some of that expense plus put gas in their car!

    Things I’ve learned from what I’ve read online about this:
    * Writers can hop on a trend & milk it for all it’s worth. YA Paranormal Romance /Sci-Fi appear to be the strongest genres, because…
    *Younger readers are attuned to digital press, technology, and anything that separates them from older people (aka their parents). Plus, they have credit/debit cards, & it is waaaay toooo easy to ‘one click’ that purchase button.
    *Successful self-pub’d authors are the ones who have done the work, on top of learning to write a good story. They’ve got the blog well established, even created new sites (I’m registering on Crit Partner Match as soon as I leave here.) They’ve made contacts, networked, & are guests on their friends’ blogs, or at least get their books reviewed. They are savvy when it comes to knowing that quality cover art is as essential as the marketing, because that visual can make or break the sale.( EPublishers with robot cover models take note! ) And they want this to be their career, not just check off their bucket list.
    Thanks for your blog. I do not have one up yet, as I have teamed with my crit group to establish one big one, along with a great name & marketing platform. We have been working & planning it out since Jan1, but it’s not ready yet. The bar you’ve set is high!

  19. I self-published my first book because it was a Bible study for my church’s adult VBS class. Well, that and I was curious about the whole self-publishing thing. After that I was hooked. I’ll be self-publishing my second book, a short “how-to” on prayer, because it’s not the type of book traditional publishers are likely to be interested in and I like the control I have over the entire process.

    I know I still need to work on craft. That’s why I’m taking more time with my fantasy book. I’m looking at it as my USS Enterprise, so you can bet I’ll be hiring an editor and a cover designer. As for formatting the guts, I’m qualified for that myself. I used to work in a printing house, so using InDesign is a snap (plus I’m a geek who loves those DTP programs :P).

    For me self-publishing is about the control and the love of the process and less about making it to the NYT best-seller list. I just want to turn out a quality product people other than just my friends and family will enjoy.

  20. Hey Kristen,

    I will be attending the DFW Writers Conference 2011, and am very anxious to attend your class on Social Platforming! In the meantime, I will be diving straight into your blog in order to learn how to better reveal myself… on the internet, of course. Thanks for all the advice and knowledge!

    Shayne Silvers

  21. Great points, Kristen. All writers can do is learn our craft as well as we can, never be lazy, always think of the best people out there who we are competing with and aim higher.

    • Thaddeus Dombrowski on February 4, 2011 at 9:28 pm
    • Reply

    Personally, I aspire to write something that will make it through the traditional gatekeepers.

    I think it was Henry David Thoreau who said something like the following, in joking about Walden: “My library has over a thousand books, most of them written by myself.”

    I don’t want to own such a library.

  22. Kristen,

    Great post! There are many superb comments here with excellent advice for those considering the indie route. My book has been selling steadily, though based upon the glowing reviews, many of them from review blogs I had expected more. (Red Adept Reviews named my book one of her top three mysteries of 2011.) Word of mouth has been good (especially in Texas, where much of my fan mail comes from) but marketing was not my strong point and I realized I must have been overlooking something. Research led me to ‘We Are Not Alone’. I wish I’d found your blog and book much sooner! You’ve taught me the value of building a platform, social networking and branding, as well as how to use my time as effectively as possible. You are indeed a diamond.

    1. Okay. Make that one more fan from Texas :D. I am happy you got a lot out of the book, and that is a subject that we will discuss in the upcoming weeks. Social media gives an author far more choices on which career path to take. We are no longer at the mercy of the agents to get our book out for sale. Not to say agents are bad guys, but we do have more control over our future and finding a publishing path that is a good fit. My book is a good example. This is one of the hottest topics since the Industrial Revolution, and traditional publishing wouldn’t touch my book. Why? Because the time it would have taken to get it to print, the book would have been dead before it hit the shelves. Indie publishing has allowed me to become a best-selling author….and help a lot of writers that would have been SOL had I just insisted that I be traditionally published.

  23. Cool post Kristin. Whenever the American Idol/Self Pub comparison comes up I always point to this article on the Dunning-Kruger effect. For those of you who are interested in psychology it’s really interesting.

    Basically, it means that some people, who have only had exposure to a small audience (like friends & family), will have an overinflated opinion of their abilities, and the people who really are experts in a field may underestimate the level of their knowledge. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know… you know?

    PS. Your link has been on my blog for a while under ‘Writing & Publishing Goodness’ 😉

  24. Fabulous post, Kristen. I always avoid making any commentary about self-publishing because it’s not something I know that much about except for knowing it was never the path I intended to pursue. I think your analogy is excellent — so many “traditionally published” authors get freaked out that sub-par self-pubbed stuff will taint the whole pool for ALL writers in ALL forums, but I think we have to trust the public enough to distinguish good from bad and let the cream rise to the top one way or another.


  25. Woot.

    That’s all I really have to say. Nothing useful to add to the discussion. Too tired. It’s Friday night. My brain hurts.



    Nicely done.

    — c.

    1. Wow! Now I know I have hit the big time, when Tawna Fenske AND Chuck Wendig comment on my blog…on the same day! I’m not worthy. Thanks, Guys! 😀

  26. Lovely post, I really wanna enter your contest but sadly I am still in the paliminary research stages of my book! I am not sure I have ever read a self-published booked but the above comments have scared me a little from that section.

    I have a question though, How does one tell if they really are an “Everyone in between” or just bad at writing? I have seen a few people with intresting but wild plots and horrible grammer however they put in the time to learn their craft. Would people like these just lack talent or Guidence?

  27. Kristen,
    I think your post is extremely well written, and I heartily agree with the spirit of it, but after noodling things over, I don’t think self-publishing is analogous with American Idol. Actually, I think the traditional agent slash gatekeeper system mirrors the American Idol process way more.

    When an author queries, it’s like a first audition in front of the level one judges. Those who stink (or are tragically misunderstood, hehe) don’t get any further just as poor queries get rejected.

    When an author gets a request, then gets an offer, then gets subbed, it’s like moving up the levels. It’s akin to making the cut for later episodes of Idol. Only the most talented (or the favorites) get this far.

    When a publisher takes interest in an author and takes his or her project to acquisitions, it’s almost like one of the final episodes, in which Simon and Randy types get to argue over the merits of the book. Winners are offered a book contract much as American Idols are offered a shot at recording studio glory. After that, it’s entirely up to the audience in the real world. Either the book (or record) sells like gangbusters or it flames out. Or maybe it sells a respectable number of copies on itunes or amazon and the artist lives to record or write another day.

    My point is that American Idol uses gatekeepers (yeah, yeah, I know they use audience votes, too, but the field has already been vastly narrowed) just as the publishing industry uses gatekeepers.

    If the producers of American Idol allowed anyone to show up and perform during any given episode, and hordes of singers were allowed to storm the stage at any time, I’d agree and say AI mirrors self-publishing. But until the episodes are made itno open mic free for all, the comparison doesn’t work for me.

    And who would want to watch that version of the show, anyway? Yuck.

    Gee whiz, Kristen. Sorry for being so long winded. It just goes to show that your post is terrifically interesting and well argued. It got me thinking! Thank you for posting it!

    1. LOL…no worries. I know it isn’t a direct corrolation, but it is funny and does get us thinking. And, in fairness, most of us watching would boot the same people Simon and the gang do, so aren’t we (the audience) still being gatekeepers? I mean it’s not like we are yelling at the TV for the fat guy in the Princess Leia outfit to stay because he is raw naked (or half-naked) talent. 99% of the time, we would boot the same people they do. Same with books.

      If the reader sees a cover that looks like a 14 year old designed it and the first page has 20 typos, it won’t make it past us either. I say that the reading public will still pick good books, no matter the form of distribution. Traditional publishing, for now, holds the advantage of being a brand. In a sea of a bazillion choices, we stick to the brand names for quality issues. But that will not last. There are some darn good writers striking out on their own and opinions are changing.

      Thanks for the awesome comment. Glad I could get you thinking :D.

      1. Oh I really like that concept–that traditional publishing is a BRAND. Because it’s really really accurate. Fundamentally that’s what readers really get from the fact that book is traditionally published—an expectation that this book will not be total crap (at least from an editing and formatting standpoint)–and they have a century of reputation connected to that brand in order to support that expectation.

        It’s just going to take time and more and more talented indies developing their own brand that also provides that expectation to readers to help counterbalance the stigma. And it’s not gonna take a century. 😀

  28. Your witty updates keep me reading regularly. I chuckle with recognition at your analysis of the world of self-publishing. As a book development editor (specializing in non-fiction) I don’t see quite the same wacky kind of writers; but ego and motivation and how deep their pockets go are determining factors in this whole new ballgame of publishing.

  29. Thank you so much for the “like”! It was my first one ever! And thank you for adding a link to my blog. I really appreciate it.

    1. Start blogging with focus and you will have many more :). No problem. I always love to help out. Thanks for always taking time to comment on my blogs. It is really very much appreciated.

  30. Kristen, as I have said numerous times before on my post, reading your blogs on writing is like taking a class on-line. And it’s free. How can you be so young and insightful of the world of writing? The road of hard knocks. Right? I’ve played with the idea of self-publishing. Haven’t made up my mind yet. There’s so much to choose from these days, it’s a little confusing on what’s the right road to take. And of course there’s always two sides to every issue. I guess it boils down to consumer (Writer) be aware.

  31. Hot topic Kristen!!!! I will RT this on Twitter for you, stat!

    Having said that, it appears that you and I took similar routes. I opted for iUniverse (Also POD publishing). A lot of people see POD publishing as self-publishing, I’ve even had people tell me that my choice was “vanity publishing”. Vanity… what a word to swallow.

    As someone who has gone down the same road… I can tell you that unlike American Idol, who has millions of people watching that can snap up and promote the talent in the show. There is a major, epic difference between traditional publishing and POD/self-publishing that I should mention.

    Whether you are a diamond, a deluted diva, or somewhere in between… no matter how good you are, you aren’t going to get lots of sales if nobody knows about your book.

    I don’t think that the number of books sold should be an accurate reflection of your writing “sucking”, but that’s just me 🙂

    If nobody knew about Harry Potter… and I mean nobody, and the books were only sold through word of mouth… would she sell millions?

    I have not sold hundreds or thousands of my book, but I believe in my craft, writing and what my book(s) have to offer. But I have had a great critic review, and lots of excellent reader reviews. That to me, is the best way to judge your writing.

    If you put it out there for all to see and you get bad reviews/lots of criticism, then you know that your writing “sucks” and you need to find a “vocal coach”, etc.

    * This post represents my $2.50, which is subject to market fluctuations, global financial crisis (what is that anyway?) and differences of opinions. Your agreement is not guaranteed.

    1. Yeah but you are selling books and the reviews are positive…so keep going and growing. I think that if people are deluded and put out crap, it will show quickly. But this is a learning process. Dust off and learn and try again. Platform is imperitive if you self-publish and I think I am going to address that on Friday, so stay tuned ;).

  32. Okay, that I took the time to read every comment here speaks volumes about your blog
    AND your reader base. Combined, I’m earning a major education here at my pace. (I’malso getting faster and better at posting from my nook, lol.)

    Kristen, you are awesome. Contest or not, I’m posting a link to you and all your warrior writer afiliates at my humble space. My only regret: not enough time to really get to all the other incredible links/articles out there. But I’m working on it. 😉

    Thanks to everyone. As per my self-pubbed thoughts: I’m learning what a viable option it seems to have become.

    Now onto Twitter Tues!

  33. Excellent analogy. Letting the fans choose means the trends that are set go according to what fans want – no more based solely on the vision of the gatekeepers.

  34. I read this last week, but I can’t help rereading it because it’s so true. 🙂

  35. Thanks Kristen, and Kait. I don’t know whether I’m a diamond or a dud, but I am on the precipice of finding out. I wrote my novel in the late 90’s, failed to find a publisher through the “I’ve got a friend at…” route, and then just gave up for a while.

    I’m good at marketing everyone else’s stuff, but for myself, I freeze. How do I find an agent? How do I find a publisher? Oh, woe is me…

    Then, I got the book to a friend at a Transmedia Development company, where it was discovered by an editor/transmedia producer who fell in love with it, so I got my first external, I-don’t-know-you-from-Adam-but-I-Love-your-book, along with notes to improve it, which I followed diligently and thankfully, leading to my latest rewrite, which she loved.

    Alas, they are a Transmedia company, not a publisher, and so my book has been languishing there for nearly a year as they try and find a publisher for it.

    Now, every day I wake up and wonder if I should self-publish, put the first chapter up on a blog, start doing what I can to get it out there… and today, I stumbled onto your blog via Jeremy Duley following me on Twitter, then going to his blog… hey, you know, this social thing may catch on?

    Okay, no need to write a novel here. Just to say thanks to you and Kait, for inching me one step closer to the precipice. Great stuff that I still need to digest, but some stones just went plunging into the abyss…

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kristen Lamb, Amy L Harden, Amy L Harden, Kathy Owen, Andi Stenger and others. Andi Stenger said: Self-Publishing–The "American Idol" of the Publishing World: […]

  2. […] Social Media–which you should all buy a copy of and read because she knows her stuff), has an awesome and hilarious post today about how Self Publishing is the America Idol of Publishing.  Go […]

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  7. […] the realm of interesting posts I’ve read this week, my favorite was Kristen Lamb’s comparison of Self Publishing With American Idol. Obviously, because I made approximately a zillion comments on it.  It’s a good and […]

  8. […] I’d also like to post up a couple of links I liked. One has been making its way around Twitter, so everyone has probably come across this already. Self-Publishing– The American Idol of the Publishing World. […]

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  10. […] last week, Kristen Lamb made a post about how Self Publishing was the American Idol of the publishing world. I made a zillion comments because it was a really GREAT discussion and I wanted to take the time to […]

  11. […] always need to watch what you say on the internet!  Kristen Lamb (of We Are Not Alone fame) did a post about self-publishing in which she called it the American Idol of Publishing.  Being not self-published herself, Kristen opened the floor to those of us with more experience, […]

  12. […] was about how I came to be one of those queryless, yet agented authors, in which I talk about the comment on Kristen Lamb’s (2/4/2011) post that got Laurie’s attention.  In a stroke of irony, Kristen reposted that post today […]

  13. […] or less wondering where to start. Me first…     As I sat up to the computer to read Kirsten Lamb’s Blog so I can learn how to blog. Me first…Again..It was distinct and I didn’t need to look […]

  14. […] Idol.  However, since then, my friend Kristen Lamb used that analogy in her fabulous post about self-publishing.  Self-publishing.  Contest entries.  Those are similar concepts, with authors presumably […]

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