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

Happy Friday! Well, it’s a holiday weekend, so I figured we’d have some fun. I posted this argument at the beginning of the year and it generated a lot of cool discussion. There have been a lot of changes in publishing, so I figured it would be entertaining to revisit the debate. About what?


After two #1 best-selling books (published through a small, yet awesome indie press) I feel I can safely offer my opinion, then you guys can add $2.50 to my advice and get a venti coffee from Starbucks.

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–talent that, in the traditional format, might never have been discovered. That’s the upside. The downside? There are no gatekeepers to keep the talentless hacks from assaulting the unsuspecting public with their “art.”

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–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. Things like correct punctuation, consistent POV and Aristotelian structure interfere too much with his “art.”


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 won’t happen, but it sure doesn’t happen as frequently 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.

Good books with no platform stand a slim chance. Bad books? Well, no amount of social media can help a bad book.

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 Cormac McCarthy? 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 our audition. It’s our shot to show the reader what we’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. Live and learn. Keep writing.

We should always be writing the next book. We should never stop and never ever bank our future on one book. That’s a bad business plan.

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 we 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 are there to warn us that our vampire-mystery-chik-lit-historical-memoir is 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.

If our book makes people claw out their own eyes is not so great…

The kinda good news is there are so many self-published books that, if the first book we upload is a stinker, it’s pretty unlikely so many people will notice that we must change our names and go live in a cave. This isn’t to offer permission to put out garbage, but I do feel writers have a bit more leeway here than they did even three years ago. If the book flops, just move on. Shake it off and learn and do better next time.

Write more books and keep growing. Once your writing is strong enough to really start selling, you will probably have the skills to go back and fix the problems in the earlier books. Then, you will have more books for sale for fans. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Just like the participants of American Idol. They DO have the option to check their egos at the door, go get voice lessons and try again.

If our book is actually a gem…

Agents and editors aren’t God. 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. Maybe you aren’t yet a diamond, but are clearly one in the making. Again, the sales figures don’t lie. Building a solid platform ahead of time will help make this clearer sooner.

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 September, 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 my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of September I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: GRAND PRIZE WILL BE PICKED THIS MONTH. I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced at the end of September) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.


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    • Elena Aitken on September 2, 2011 at 8:42 am
    • Reply

    Great post, Kristen and an interesting comparison!
    I too think I was a Deluded Diva a few years ago. Man, I thought that first novel was good. Then I joined a critique group. Ya, it wasn’t.
    But with their help and a whole lotta work, I got better.
    Now, I’m one of the ‘Everyone in Betweens’ Or maybe I’m an Undiscovered Diamond. 🙂
    Either way, I’m loving the self-pubbed route and that the readers get to decide. Because ultimately, like you said, the numbers don’t lie.

  1. There’s definitely an allure to self-publishing. The idea of passing the gatekeepers and keeping the royalties is really appealing. But that’s not my goal. I want the experience of querying and learning from whatever happens. If I luck out and am contracted, I realize the process is slower than self-publishing, but having the seal of approval from an agent, editor, etc. means a lot. And I’m working on another book, so my plan is to go ahead and query the finished one and see what happens. I’ll listen to whatever advice I get, and if I still haven’t been contracted when the second book is ready to go, then I’ll look into self-publishing. We’ll see what happens. I do think there are a lot of great books out there that don’t get by the gatekeepers and may not do well self-published because of lack of marketing, etc. Not everyone understands all the work involved in selling a book.

  2. Well I feel like I’m in a unique position on this particular question since my tome of a comment the first time you posted this is what landed me my agent.

    I never wrote a query.

    :braces for being pelted with vegetables:

    No seriously. It’s not like I haven’t worked. I just wasn’t planning on messing with traditional publishing. Given the demands on my time, the fact that I work multiple jobs, etc., I really didn’t see that traditional publishing was the most…shall we say, expedient means of making a living as a writer and getting OUT of one or more of those jobs. Based on my calculations and sales projections, self publishing will allow me to quit my job in 5-7 years. Which is a long darn time, but still faster than I’d probably manage it via traditional publishing as a new or, if I were lucky, midlist writer. Because via their system, I’d write a book, spend months querying it, hopefully land an agent, who then wanted revisions, which would take a while, then shop it to editors, who would themselves want revisions, which would take more months, and then it would likely be another year and a half to two years before that book hit shelves. In that same three year time-span, I could write and release somewhere from 3-8 titles myself (depending on length), continuing to build a grassroots fanbase and a platform such that people actually know who I am and REMEMBER because there’s not a year or more between releases. Plus, since I was gonna have to do all the promo and platform building myself ANYWAY, I might as well get a bigger share of the profits.

    And that’s what I’ve been doing. Building said platform. And it’s the platform (and my comment on this original post) that snared Laurie McLean of Larsen-Pomada’s attention. She totally internet stalked me, checked out my social media sites (which I was doing all right thanks to following Kristen’s principles from WANA), read my work samples on my blog, went to buy my other novella available at the time, and called me to offer representation. She thought I’d be perfectly successful on my own, she just thought she could help me be bigger, faster. And she totally respected the fact that I would still want to keep one foot in the indie world, no matter what kind of contracts I may wind up with.

    As it happens, she’s starting to pitch my new YA paranormal Red (available wherever ebooks are sold! Sorry, had to get that in) to editors after Labor Day. So we’ll see how it goes!

    That’s a really long winded way of saying, yeah, I’m a fan of self publishing. 😀

  3. Great post, Kristen. Thanks. I’ve been around publishing a long, long time. I’ve been traditionally published, self-published, and everything in between. I read a great piece of advice from the wonderful editor Michael Seidman once — “every piece of well written prose eventually finds a publisher.” This kept me going for a long time when every gate keeper told me to turn back and start again — and this was long, long, long after my “Deluded Diva” stage. Mostly, I agree with what you’re saying here, but I do think the publishing world has changed to the point where there is way more supply than demand. The public has an insatiable desire for stories, so there will always be demand. But the supply side has always been regulated by the traditional publishers (for better or worse). Now it’s not. That means even self-published Diamonds can lay undiscovered for a very long time. Which still means: don’t quit your day job unless you have a trust fund while you wait. To which we now need to add: and get going on that platform now!

    1. EXACTLY….and actually we do agree. That is why the platform these days is SO vital. Even if we are a diamond, we could get lost now that EVERYONE can be published. Platform is life or death. Thanks for the awesome comment :D.

    • Miranda Hardy on September 2, 2011 at 8:59 am
    • Reply

    I love this analogy and I’ve never thought of the comparison before now. I’m still learning and perfecting my craft. When my first book hits shelves, it will be good, but I’m hoping my next one will always be a little better.

    I’m all for self publishing.

  4. I’d like to take both routes, and am blessed to have an agent who allows this. Learning a lot of “behind the scenes” things, like book title and how it affects placement on the charts, etc. Making lots of mistakes. At least with Indie Pubbing you can change things. Even price up or down. It does take away from some of the time I have to write new words, or edit, so have to budget that precious time (like limiting my blogging experience to 1/2 hour daily). I spend money on an editor so I don’t have the typos and formatting issues I’ve seen in other Indie works. Have a professional design my cover.

    At the end of the day, though the $$ aren’t there yet, I can say a lot of people bought my book. That thought alone makes me a more focused writer. I want to give them more things to enjoy. And it’s going to take as long as it takes.

  5. I’m a huge fan of self-publishing, to the extent that I will be self-publishing my debut (For The Love Of Gods – sorry, couldn’t resist) in just under two months’ time. My reasons? Well, I’m impatient. Just as Kait said above (although I didn’t work it out in anywhere near such mathematical terms), I don’t want to wait around for years while querying, revising for an agent, revising for a publisher, then waiting some more for the book to hit the shelves. I want to be out there! I want to write books and have people read them and yes, I hope I’m an Undiscovered Diamond, but I’m about 98% sure I’m Everybody In Between.

    I actually remember reading this post the first time it came out and I think at that point I had no intention of self-publishing. I was fairly set on going the traditional route and saw no problems with that. Then I started reading and reading. And reading some more. And… long story short… changed my mind. So now I’ll self-publish and we’ll see what happens. But in between now and finding out if anyone actually likes my book, I’ll be writing another book, which I will then self-publish and so on and so forth. And I can do that several times a year, without waiting for other people to tell me it’s okay.

    And to help me in my quest for success, I have my own anal-retentive attitude towards grammar and spelling and that of several friends to help me. They also say things like “Wormhole sounds too sci-fi, you need to change that.” I love them.

  6. Lady Kristen

    Ah, me. You had to get me started again, right? Actually, that’s probably more ‘not right’. Just me grabbing any excuse to blether :-P.

    There seems still to be a League Table of publishing. It sort of goes:

    MAINSTREAM PUBLISHED-on, like, real bookshelves and, like, stuff!
    GOT AN AGENT!-Yay, er, not me. Er, yay everybody-else that has an Agent. What, me? Bitter? :-).
    E-PUBLISHED-No, I didn’t self-publish. I mean, somebody actually decided I was good enough to spend resources on. And, like, these days, it’s even _better_ than being mainstream published. No, really, it is!
    SELF-PUBLISHED-Yes. I’m an author, you know. I actually have a book published. Even my cat bought one!

    OK. I’ll apologise in advance. Without having done it before I did the thing I should apologise for. Some of the comments might be taken as disparaging. They’re not intended that way. Especially the Self Published comment. But… every stage _apart_ from Self Publishing has some pretty near guaranteed value added extras. Some add value for the potential reader, some for the writer. Some for both.For instance, as Lady Kristen says, mainstream publishers, Agents and e-Publishers all put their writers through edit-hell. With, like, editors. Self -published writing may not have been there. And why not?

    Because it costs the earth. Or at least the Western Hemisphere. OK – maybe just North Carolina :-P.

    I’m sure everybody here knows this. But just to prove I can use a search engine with the worst of them, the Editorial Freelancers Association ( publishes guideline rates for editing. I’ll save you the trouble of going there. For Developmental Editing? Think $3,500 for 100 pages.

    Self publishing is simple. It just isn’t necessarily easy :-).

    The other reality is, however, that those Gatekeepers have new orders these days. E-publishing in general and the growing cost of shelf space mean that Publishers and Agents alike are looking for much less risk in the mainstream markets. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, just business. But it makes the gate harder to pass.

    Self-publishing has a gate that, in my poor wit and view, is as hard to pass as the writer makes it. It’s just that there’s nothing to _force_ them to make it hard. To make them hire an editor. A good cover designer. And… um… someone to help them stand out from all the others doing the self same thing. To give them some ideas on that whole ‘publicity and marketing’ thing. The ‘platform’ thing. Because, like Lady Kristen and Donald Maass both say, even good books don’t on their own sell books. You need that ‘word of mouth’ thing. All the good reviews, the book trailers, the personal appearances in the world don’t beat one person madly running round the office telling their friends about this amazing book they heard about or read.

    I seem to have missed off e-publishing companies. There’s a reason for that. I might be considered prejudiced :-P. ‘A Comedy of Terrors’ comes out from… Nope. Stop there, Smith. This is Lady Kristen’s place, not your place to shamelessly self-advertise :-P. That’s what your own place is for (blushes). But e-publishers do at least have a level of gate-keeping. They do generally put their authors through edit-hell. They do often provide covers.

    There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing. But there’s a heck of a lot of ways of _making_ something wrong with it. The writer who self-publishes tends to think of themselves as a writer. They should also be thinking of themselves as a Publisher.

    Ah, well. My two… looks up… er, rather more than the two cents I intended. I’ll shut up now. No, really! I will!

  7. I think these same ideas could apply to YouTube directors. I’ve seen plenty of deluded divas and undiscovered diamonds there too. What helps the diamonds make partner status? Good content and a loyal fan base, just like with writers.

    Good Stuff! Happy Friday To You! 🙂

  8. Terrific post, Kristen! And what a fantastic parallel… I see self publishing as a valuable option for many, but not all, writers. As you said, if your book is a “stinker,” realizing it in hindsight, after it’s available to the entire world, is not a good thing.

    Before I signed with the fab agent I feel blessed to have, I viewed self-publishing as a the best worse-case-scenario — for me. I believed in my novel, worked my tooshie off writing it, revising it and having it critiqued by professionals before I sent it out to agents. We can get impatient and click a few buttons and WHOOPS! Prematurely self-published.

    Now if I already had my huge platform and primo marketing skills in tact long ago, I might have considered self-publishing as a top choice. Hard to say… But I do believe that having an agent AND building up our own fan base and platform is the best of both worlds. My agent deals with the number-stuff (which I try to understand, but…), has connections I don’t and specializes in the selling and promoting of books. I say ‘hooray for teams!’ (Whether they include agents or not…)

  9. I think self-publishing lets a lot of deluded divas have their moment in the sun, but it doesn’t matter what the outlet is — the content has to be good.

  10. Another great blog! I have a friend who works for a publishing company (she sells their books to the stores) and when I asked her advice she said that for new authors it was smart to start with self-publishing and platform building. She told me that they like to see you can create a following before taking the risk of signing you. This is why I love your blogs and books so much; they have been a Godsend to help me know how to actually do all the stuff she suggested. Thanks for all your help!

  11. I love the American Idol analogy. Home Owners Associations would be a fair comparison, too. The CCR’s can be ridiculous, the implementation can border on martial law but nobody wants to live next to the neighbors who don’t mow their lawn or paint their house.
    The upside to publishing is that most bad writers eventually give up. You can’t say the same for bad neighbors.

  12. Honestly, I don’t know if I would trust my own opinion on my writing…which is why anyone who decides to self-pub really needs a critique group/partner and an editor (or, at least, this is what I would need). It takes me months to be able to look at stuff and say, either, it’s all crap or, oh, it’s opay, and I see how I can make this better.

    So, while I am a fan of possibilities — such as self-pubbing, I also know I’m not there yet. But I am building my platform.

  13. Love the analogy- and I agree there are a lot of Diva’s out there, which worries me because I plan to self pub- my YA is way bigger then current standards, and I’m a bit of a control freak 🙂
    I have read books from in-between authors in self-pub, small indie pub, and traditional pub- at least I thought they were in-betweens. The books that are sweet, and good, and you bother to read to the end, but you don’t by as gifts for Christmas because everyone MUST READ THIS BOOK.
    I have a critique group and an editor so I’m hoping to hit the in-between range or higher (as is everyone) but as long as my ego and I aren’t having pity party with the Diva’s I’ll be happy.

  14. Fantastic analogy. I totally agree.

    I was sad to self-publish at first. I thought it was a sign of failure. Now, I don’t know if I would do it any other way! I love the control that I have over my product and that I can write books for my particular audience that the publishers don’t think is big enough.

    I’m not selling great numbers, but I’m not selling terribly either. I’ve had so many people write to me to tell me how much my book means to them and how important it is. That feels amazing.

    I have been reading other self-published authors (as I want to support and help them) and I’ve found a lot of really terrible writing. A lot of okay but dull writing. It’s sad and discouraging. I hope my book isn’t like that, I start worrying that it is! (But I’ll always do better on the next one). On the other hand, every once in a while I find a really excellent book and hope is restored.

  15. Good post, Kristen. I’ve been asking this same question lately. All the answers I hear seem to be pointing me to e-publishing while looking for an agent. You know me, and you’ve read the first chapter of my book. Do you think this is a route I should consider?

  16. Hilarious imagery and truthful. An excellent combination.

    While traditional publishing may offer easier stability (and I emphasize easier here) the future seems to be heading for self/indie publishing. I think the reason for this (and there have been many discussions of this on Bob Mayer’s site) is due to the fact that the traditional publishers have been slow, nay, reticent, to upgrade their approach to how authors are managed. It is not so easy to offer someone a low percentage deal when we can all clearly see that a better one exists.

    It is like offering a starving man a single bean when a Free Burger and Fries stand is right behind him.

    The day will probably come when this shifts once more, but until then, indie publishing holds more long term promise. Unless, of course, we happen to be one those rare and elusive diamonds.

  17. Hummm… Well, I used to read every week, but I don’t have any spandex (shoves down overflowing trash can and slams lid shut). Nope, none.

  18. I wanted to go the traditional publishing route (still would if the opportunity presented itself), but after query after query, I just didn’t want my book sitting in a dark corner of my hard drive. I wrote it so people could read it. However, I think the querying process is a great thing to learn and experience, even if you end up self-publishing. The stuff you have to learn about formatting, synopses, pitching, etc. do apply when you’re uploading an e-book or writing your book blurb.

    • Joy Dent on September 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm
    • Reply

    Very insightful. Thanks for reposting!:)

  19. Fantastic post! Love the analogy to Idol! Thanks!

  20. I’m another one in that squishy middle (hey, not THAT way! I’m doing my aerobics, harrumph). It’s interesting too that the American Idol or America’s Got Talent wannabes may have glorious singing chops but get chastised for “song choice.”

    Wannabe authors can have that same issue. Toss your self-pub’d work into the same pool with the “diamonds” and they’re sure to out-shine you just as trying to out-Whitney on her own song could get your cookies tossed off the show. So an advantage to Indie publishing is that you won’t have somebody tell you NOT to publish in a particular genre or get a “decline” because they’ve already bought 3-dozen vampire-esque stories. You get to choose your path.

    And you must choose wisely. Be the best YOU, and not a faded imitation of the latest hot topic. It used to be a “hot trend” was gone by the time your masterpiece got pub’d 18 months later…but you can do an “insta-pub” with Indie choice. I’m also grateful that none of my under-the-bed-burn-this-book-NOW attempts won’t be seen. Today’s authors risk more these days, I think, in terms of burning bridges.

    • shawn on September 2, 2011 at 1:45 pm
    • Reply

    My .02,

    Though self publishing can get your book to the masses faster, what it can not grant writers is that little something that the Traditionals can. And that is market penetration. The caveat here is the size of the platform you build, but 99% percent of folks either won’t or can’t build a platform large enough to compete with a lower list traditional. People can’t buy your book if they don’t know you exist. So platform, platform, platform….

  21. Great post, Shaman…me and my spandex are now off to polish those stories. Here’s to the squishy middle..or was it the stretch-marked center? Either or *hums happily*

    • don Bueltmann on September 2, 2011 at 3:32 pm
    • Reply

    This the first time I have responded to a blog. I hope it’s not too long.

    I’m a proponent of self-publishing for these reasons.
    At my age I don’t have time to wait for my books to crawl through the bureaucracy of the publishing process.

    It keeps my mind active. Since I started self-publishing I have set up a company, learned how to create a webpage, how to use layout and photo software, and how to create ebooks. There were many times when I said, “now I know why writers write and then turn their works over to the experts.”

    Then why, did I choose to go through all of this mental torture? I’m too cheap to pay for editing and layout. Having said that, let me add “self publishing is not cheap”. My last book which is at the printer right now has cost me about $2000 in prep fees and $2.46 a book for 100 copies.

    I have self-published three books, have I been successful? How to measure success? My second book was a children’s religious book and I could not replace the smile on children’s faces or congratulations from friends and once-strangers who have purchased my books. This book won an Indie award for Excellence, imagine that—me—an award for excellence.

    Have I recovered my expenses, I did on my second book. After gaining all of the knowledge that Kristen will impart to me through “We Are Not Alone” and “Are You There Blog, It’s Me Writer” I hope to increase my social skills.

  22. I am a fan of both. I am a fan of writers having options. And I think a Deluded Diva is different than being a beginner and not understanding revision. 🙂

  23. Yeah, you could sell me on that. My critique/push back would be, “try the traditional method first.” In most of your comparisons, you speak of people whom traditional labels never recognized. This implies they attempted it (though this certainly isn’t always the case).

    Often traditional publishing refines, hones and makes those people better. Even with the E.E. Cummings example I used in my own post today, I truly believe those who rejected him helped him grow.

    I think we all need the reformation of rejection.

  24. I have Susan Boyle’s eyebrows (although not her voice) so there is some hope for me.

    Definitely in the ‘deluded diva’ camp for my first few book. But I think writers – hell, artists of any stripe – need to have a healthy chunk of delusion to persist in the face of criticism. There is absolutely no way you can produce something everyone likes. Slimmer odds than the polar bear/brown bear/lightning match up. (I don’t know where you received your maths degree – how exactly /do/ you calculate those odds?) If we didn’t have the ability to frequently and repeatedly tell ourselves that yes we *are* good we’d quit.

    Those idol diamonds in the rough – they needed help too. They needed coaching, support, confidence shoring and guidance. I keep telling myself that the more outside help I get, the better I’ll be. We don’t need editor’s as gatekeepers if we’re truly honest with ourselves.

    But then again, William Hung thought he had it, too.

    Oh, I hope I’m not the William Hung of self-published authors…

  25. I freaking did it again

    *editors* NOT *editor’s*

    My right ring finger insists on hitting that damned apostrophe.

  26. I follow Joe Konrath (a/k/a JA Konrath for anyone who has been living under a rock.) The guy has sold a ton of books and self-pubbed most of them. Now Joe’s stance on traditional publishing is pretty harsh, and he is proof that hard work, a lot of books and a following can make you a successful writer without the horribly long process of landing an agent (which seems to be a crap shoot) waiting for the story to be picked up by a publisher and so on… plus he believes, actually, he has proof that writers get paid more that way. They do – more per book – but your books have to sell!

    I don’t see Traditional Publishing going away entirely. I just made the whopper of a decision to self-pub. It wasn’t an easy one and it has been one that I’ve chewed on for two years before I decided what I wanted to do. There are risks.

    Another great post, a great debatable topic. I think if you’re going to self-pub then you need to be sure you know how to market yourself, otherwise, you’re wasting your time.

    1. You have to remember with Joe Konrath, he was traditionally published first — and before his book came out made a name for himself with other writers. Great web-site, lots of articles for Writers’ Digest — he always had a web presence. He worked very hard at his platform before he sulf pubbed.

      He is kind of like a self-pubbed god to me — but it certainly was with a ton of hard work.

  27. A great way to send sparks out there … thanks, Kristen. Bought your second book last night for my PC Kindle and on my blog-vacation I will read and learn. Hopefully, I’ll continue to read and learn when I return to the blog posts. I fall into the traditional camp, yet I can also see the value for many writers going it alone. Perphas the combo several people mentioned will become another way to have your cake and eat.

    Note: JA Konrath discovered he could stop traversing the globe in search of sales and self-pub’d his backlist before he began doing all his books himself. Like Bob Mayer’s who also proclaims the treasures to behold when self-publishing, he had time, experience and a readership.

    Using your analogy with American Idol … Susan Boyle and Fantasia where not tone deaf and Studdard who won the second year has faded into oblivion. Any foot in the door can be a “starting” place and nothing more. I cringe in November thinking how many hopefuls will actually believe it’s possible to push out X-number of words, get their brother-in-law to do a cover and become the next diamond discovered in the rough … while the truth is … most will remain rough.

    Loved this post and enjoyed the variety of comments. Have a great w/e and keep it coming. All of us, published however or not, have a great deal to learn and I begin to see you are a good teacher 🙂

  28. No delusions here. I’m a worker bee. I’m not afraid to revise. I’m not afraid to fail. I just want to put out the best thing I can possibly produce. Thank you 145,694 times for your support. Truly, you are my Obi Wan Kenobi — you know, without the beard.

  29. What I would like is the writerly equivalent of American Idol or America’s Got Talent. Talk about instant platform building and sorting the divas from the diamonds.

  30. There are narrow regions in the Arctic where the habitats of polar and brown bears intersect, so it IS possible to be mauled by a polar bear and a brown bear at the same time. Although rare, thunderstorms also occur north of the Arctic Circle, so it is technically possible to be struck by lighting while a brown bear is gnawing on one leg and a white bear is chewing on the other.

    See? There’s hope for us In Betweeners…….

    • Christine Grote on September 3, 2011 at 6:20 am
    • Reply

    Good post, Kristen. I tried using your “tweet” button at the bottom. Haven’t done that before. Hope it worked out okay.

    • Ruth Nestvold on September 3, 2011 at 2:38 pm
    • Reply

    Very encouraging post, Kristen, thanks. I’ve been traditionally published, over 40 short stories and novellas to a variety of science fiction and fantasy markets. Despite that track record, however, I haven’t had much luck on my novels. Only one has been traditionally published, and that in translation (German, Dutch and Italian). It’s sold about 10,000 copies in German alone and has gotten a number of very good reviews.. But editors and agents in the US didn’t want to see “another Arthurian fantasy.”

    Now that I have the rights to the English original back, I intend to publish it myself as an ebook. It seems clear to me from my German numbers that the gatekeepers weren’t rejecting the novel because it’s crap, but rather because it was something they didn’t see a market for right now. I don’t know how it’s going to go yet or how much I’ll like the brave new world. I’m still testing the waters and have brought out no more than a handful of reprints of my short stories on Smashwords. It will be interesting to see how it goes once I get one of my novels out.

  31. Brilliant analogy, Kristen!

  32. Love your “American Idol” analogy!

    I have my own analogy, when I think of the publishing business. During my active-duty days, I was an Air Force Forward Air Controller (FAC). Basically a liaison between the Army and the Air Force to coordinate and direct air strikes. This experience gives me an affinity and appreciation for what agents/gatekeepers do. They are our liaisons with “eyes on the ground” of the publishing industry. Their expertise can help maximize the efforts of us writers at getting our book–or better yet, books–published.

    However, just like every air strike doesn’t require a FAC, because of the nature of the target, not every book requires an agent and therefore, may be self published.

    It all depends on what a writer’s “target” is, and what he, or she, is willing to do to achieve their objective.

  33. I love the way you take sound advice and put it in a Princess Leia costume. LOL. It’s interesting to think about our writing as if we’re already in a competition. I hadn’t done that, not really. You’ve made me think about what kind of competitor I want to be, and who I am now, which gives me the space necessary to grow. I realize I’m in the practice stages, but because of you, I’ve met some amazing coaches that have guided and supported me and my work. You and your squadron of writer monkeys are the greatest people ever!!! And yes, that sentence did need three exclamation points.

    • ericmosley on September 4, 2011 at 8:43 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Kristen. I’m new to your blog. Found your latest book via Bob Mayer. Bought it. It’s taken me over 50 years (slow learner) to figure out what I write about in my book, I don’t have the time left to figure out for myself what you put in yours. Thank you!! Also, I don’t write fiction (yet), and you advertise your drawing prize as being a critique of a novel. My to be self-published self-help book is being professionally edited. Think you could make an exception to your “novel” policy if I win?

    1. For NF people, I do read pages or parts of a proposal or even do a basic blog diagnostic, so you’re good :D. So happy to have you here!

  34. Kristen,

    You love our comments, and we love your posts. I’ve recently started my own series of basic lessons for writers, and when I say basic, I mean really basic. What you’ve been doing here was part of the inspiration for doing my own series. There are a lot of people who need a little bit of help, and with that little bit of help, they could develop into something special.

    I’ll admit so some selfishness. I love reading good books, and I’m hoping this will get me more good books to read.

    As to Self Publishing, I think this has to be a one on one decision. I’ve just published the first two books in my Copyright Wars series, and I self published them. There were several reasons for doing this:

    1) Tiny market for books on Canadian Copyright issues.

    2) There was an Election in the spring of 2011, Parliament sits in late September of 2011. The books had to be published by September 1, 2011 to be effective, and I managed to publish them on that date by self publishing them. If I had gone the traditional route they wouldn’t have been published for at least another six months.

    3) Volume 3 & 4 have to be published by the end of September. Again, by self publishing I can do that. Traditional publishing wouldn’t allow me to.

    4) The market is too small. In my wildest dreams I might sell 1000 copies of each book, at $0.99 each. This doesn’t include the number of copies I’ve been giving away, and I’ve been generous. Since my take home is $0.35 from Amazon, my total profit from all four books would be $1400.00. Maximum. It might be $140.00. Clearly this is not an economic action, its a political action.

    Each writer is going to have to make their own decision based on their circumstances. The decision I made for Copyright Wars was the right one. It got the books out there, and that was what I needed to do. I’m working on a couple of anthology submissions right now, and they are traditional anthology. You do whatever works.



    • Nikki on September 5, 2011 at 8:46 am
    • Reply

    My biggest concern here is a lack of attention to the promise we make to our readers. Unlike a song, which only consumes a few minutes of a persons time, a book can consume hours or days. When we ask a person to commit that kind of time to us, I believe we had damn well give them something that is worth the time they will take out of their lives to read it. It is not just about the writer. We make a promise to our readers when we put our work out there that it will be worth their time and our work should keep that promise or it should not be out there IMHO.

  35. Great post!

  36. The real problem with self-publishing is that you can have a really good book and be hopeless at platform-building. Whereas traditional publishing at least got you into a few bookstores or major review pages where you had a chance at getting noticed.

    I’m in that limbo myself now. So far, every person who has read my children’s book, “Dancing on the Inside” and been willing to comment has given positive feedback – and that includes professional editors. Your book is one of the best resources on platform building I have found, but I suspect I will have to make a huge investment of time and energy to see any results. Will I have time to write the next book if I’m spending all my time on promotion? How to simplify the process, that’s the dilemma.

    By the way, your analogy to American Idol is excellent. What wins, talent or the ability to mobilize a large platform? And do we want only a few winners and 99% losers? Wouldn’t it be better if all the good books at least gave their authors a decent return?

    1. But my book teached you to connect with people to help you build your platform. It doesn’t matter if you are no good at it, you can make friends with people who are ;).

  37. “If our book makes people claw out their own eyes is not so great…”

    Sadly, I think this is true not just in self-publishing but in trad publishing. There are some books out there lining the shelves that I just can’t fathom why… Then I have to remind myself that someone saw something in it, and there’s something out there for everyone.

    I have to admit I was a bit timid about publishing independent until I started reading Kait Nolan’s & Susan Bischoff’s blogs. I had good peer reviews & critiques, but I was afraid, deep inside, that sunshine was being blown up my wazoo for the sake of friendship.

    I took the plunge earlier this year, and debuted with a 22,000-word novella that was well received. My contemporary romances that I released this summer are doing great, too, and garnering good reviews. Most importantly, to me, the public praise of my work by people who don’t know me is evidence that my CPs and beta readers can be trusted, and I’m a bit ashamed that I doubted them at all. I’m getting fan e-mail and fan comments on my blog, and it really just rocks my world to know that I touched someone else’s in such a significant manner.

    There are some rabid-minded indie authors out there who think – and no doubt hope & pray – that traditional publishing will take a nose-dive and the Big Six will topple like the Roman Empire. Ah, first, I don’t think that will ever happen. True, I think they’ve been a bit slow to see the value in indie publishing – I mean, come on, it’s a system that self-vets authors with promise…not to mention authors that might be difficult to work with. But the Big Six wouldn’t still be around if they jumped first and looked out below second, so their caution isn’t necessarily stemming from refusing to acknowledge a most-likely permanent change in the industry. And I hope they’ll always be around; I love e-books – it’s great that I can pack a bajillionty books onto my android and always have reading material wherever I go – but if I love a book I’ve read electronically, I go out & buy the printed version, if there is one, because nothing – NOTHING – beats holding paper & ink magic in my hands.

    My personal take on self-publishing is it’s simply another way to attract the interest of a traditional publisher, of showing them what I have to offer. “Going indie” isn’t a promise of success, and neither is being traditionally published. It’s hard work no matter which way you go,and poor sales are always a threat lurking around the corner. It’s a very speculative business; very risky. I can only imagine how refreshing it must be to stumble across one of those diamonds through internet interaction, and being able to see how the public is receiving the work and the author, before shelling out money & reputation to expand the author’s reach simply on faith – and without having to slog through an inbox full of queries day after day.

    Umm…sorry for writing a novella here. 🙂

  38. Great analogy, Kristen.

    We need to cast our net far and wide. If you’re not sure about whether your writing is ‘ready’ then enter competitions that are judged by the reader – yep, like American Idol. I only enter if the writer remains anonymous which prevents friends and family chipping in. As a writer, you receive the unvarnished truth. Publishers are using competitions to find new voices, and if anyone breaks the rules, they are disqualified. This year I’ve entered three. Two were ‘in house’ competitions of a one thousand word beginning to a story and came second. I had a best selling writer, who judged the competition telephone me from New Zealand and speak to me for two hours with great advice and told me I would be on her autobuy. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was. I finalled in another competition of a 3,000 word beginning and a 3,000 word pivotal moment. The competition ran for four months,hundreds entered and I came fifth.

    The feedback from the reading public was invaluable and pretty much said exactly what my critique partners had been saying for over a year.

    Am I ready to self publish? No. The work is not ready, even though I’m being actively encouraged to leap. When a reader pays hard earned money for my book, my dream is for her to email me and tell me I made her laugh and cry (in a good way) and that she escaped into the world I created for her. For HER, not for myself or even a publisher, my focus is on my reader and her experience. She is my number one priority at all times.

    Building my platform is a learning curve – straight up. But after six days, I have 90 followers on Twitter many of whom are readers. I’m continuing to sub to publishers by the usual channels. I’m tweaking competition entries – especially those with a world-wide readership where the readers comment. It feels like a public flogging at times and other writers tend to nit-pick, but that’s fabulous because you learn to roll with the punches and clean up any carelessness. So an elephant hide is required.

    What I do know is that publishers were slow to catch on to the changes in the market, but they’ve had their wake-up call. I’m seeing a flexibility in their thinking and they are openly asking for a writer’s presence on Twitter and Facebook. If you were a publisher, who would you choose?

    When we try anything new it takes time to work out and practice until it becomes second nature. Once we get the hang of using social media in the RIGHT way that reaches our readers, we’ll be able to write AND build our brand at the same time. Most of us are women, please forgive me here guys, we’ve always been able to multi-task!

    We can do this, seriously.

  39. Thanks Kristen,

    As one of the many in the middle, I am pleased with the self-publishing experience so far.

    I published my paperback through Create Space and my Ebook through Amazon and Smashwords in August 2011 (Thicker Than Water by Sharon K Owen) and I have been very pleased with the experience thus far.

    I attended your class at the Weatherford College Conference and purchased your book. It is now my bible for all things Social Networking.



  40. Self-publishing is where it is at. No point wasting time with query letters.

  41. Great comparison! I hadn’t thought about self-publishing in those terms, but it certainly does have many parallels. But there are also books published by traditional publishers that I wonder, How? How did this ever get past an editor? Who ever thought this was good writing?

    Good post. I enjoyed it.
    Heidi M. Thomas, author of WILLA Award-Winning Follow the dream

  42. I read a review today on Haley Whitehall’s blog of a book written by one of those Deluded Dudes (or Duds). Poor word choices, typos and no structure. I guess I knew those folks were out there, but this was in-your-face bad! I’ve worked hard on my platform, read great craft books and blogs by experts, and still feel I have more to learn. I know I have a talent for writing, but I’m still working on honing it so that when I do self-pub, it will be as perfect as I can make it, for a debut novel. It’s the first of a trilogy, so i figure by the time the 3rd book is released, I may be a pretty darn good writer. No delusions here. Thanks for the humorous analogy, Kristen.

  43. I liked the American Idol comparison. Egos do range from self-effacing to over-confident, and talents range from non-existent to brilliant. I understand how non-existent talent becomes self-published. But how does non-existent talent get traditionally published?

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