Yes, I solicit hugs. Sue me. This is LA Times best-selling author Stephen Jay Schwartz and me at the Romantic Times Convention in Los Angeles 2011.
On Wednesday’s blog, Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books, there was some really cool discussion about self-publishing–why it was horrible, would bring the doom and destruction the Mayans foretold, or even why it was the greatest invention since Pop Rocks. Today I am going to be a tad controversial and share my thoughts and opinions about the developments in our industry and why I, personally, want to hug the self-published author.
Originally, I loathed self-publishing and was even highly suspicious of indie publishing. I had all the same fears as many other people.
Great Scott! We already have a hard time getting people to read, and now we will flood the market with crappy books?
How will anyone find the good books?
It is going to mean nothing to say we are a published author when the market is filled with wanna-be-hack-poseurs!
I had pretty good reason for my feelings, since I hadn’t had the best experience with self-published authors. I had one writer in my critique group whose writing was so bad it should have been banned by the Geneva Convention. Not only did he “publish,” but then happily invited the entire group to his book signing at Barnes & Noble…after he’d tortured us with his
brain vomit novel for a year.
Not long after that, I had another doozy of an experience.
Hubby and I were waddling through a Barnes & Noble (All right. I was the one waddling. I was very pregnant at the time). On my way to get a cup of tea, I spotted an older man sitting as a card table with stacks of books. Now, being in my profession, I could spot a self-published author who’d somehow scored a book-signing a mile away, and knew better than to make eye contact. But then again, my husband is a far kinder person than me.
I am still really stoked that he hasn’t yet figured out that I married WAY better than he did.
Anyway, Hubby decides to be nice and go talk to the older gentleman who had at least eight different books for sale, even though we’d already had a discussion about talking to the self-pubbed authors. We had at least a half a dozen $30 poorly written books at home that no one was ever going to read. I hated reading crap, and hated being gouged for a fancy hard-cover edition of crap even more.
I groaned, eyeing the Starbucks that adjoined the store. But I let Hubby talk to the author as I politely thumbed through a “novel” that wouldn’t have survived one minute in my critique group. All was fine until I noticed he had a book about how to be a super successful published author.
Thumbing through, I saw page after page of advice that was more likely to get an aspiring writer tarred and feathered than published. Advice like “be distinctive with your query, like sending it in a pizza box or on scented paper.”
It got real ugly from there and I don’t think I am allowed in that Barnes & Noble anymore.
See, I tolerated that he wanted to publish and even mildly admired his gusto. But, when it came to making $25 a copy to give writers really bad, tragic advice? I was done.
I am very protective of baby writers….and we can probably just blame pregnancy hormones. I behave much better now. Hubby took me for clicker training at Petsmart.
So why did I take the time to share those stories with you?
Because they are Cousin Ray-Ray stories. Everyone has a horror story, but horror stories are not necessarily the norm and certainly are no reason to jump to conclusions. Also…
Just because something starts off ugly doesn’t mean it cannot transform.
For instance, it was possible to shop on the Internet back in the 90s. Now, you took your identity in your own hands doing it. We didn’t have good security measures and people, being naive, didn’t know what to look for when it came to plunking their personal information into a fill-box.
Now? Because people continued shopping on the Internet? Totally different experience. Why? Well, better filters from companies and a savvier customer who doesn’t just tell anyone her Social Security number.
Why Self Published Authors are Awesome
Oooh. I know some of you just cringed a little. Hear me out.
Five years ago I told anyone who would listen that publishing would go the way of the music industry. The traditional gatekeepers would lose their monoply and more power would flow to the artists. I predicted that the only thing that needed to happen for the walls to fall, was for an e-reader to become simple to use and affordable.
Ironically, I went to a writing conference in April of 2009. An agent on the panel declared that e-books were statistically insignificant and always would be. They would be the new audio book.
Yeah, I struck him off my query list. Clearly, he had no vision.
Then, three weeks later the first iPad released and proved my predictions correct. The e-book market exploded. Then came the Nook and y’all know they rest.
So why should we all hug a self-published author?
Because people who self-published, especially in the beginning, were what are called “early adopters.” Early adopters are those brave enough to buy the first VCRs, to be the first to buy stuff off a web site, the first to explore what it means to upload their manuscript as an e-book or print POD.
Think of it this way. If we hadn’t had people willing to look ridiculous clunking around in a steam-powered horseless carriage, we’d still be saddling up a horse to go to the store.
Monopolies Stifle Innovation
I am not picking on traditional publishing. But here’s the thing. When a company holds a monopoly on any industry, there is no impetus to change, become more efficient, or look for new ways to please a consumer. This is why entrepreneurs are good for all markets. They bring healthy competition that forces creativity, innovation and efficiency.
Monopolies are not fertile ground for the early adoption behavior that fuels the big industry changes.
Traditional publishers don’t generally have the luxury of being early adopters. Are they evil and thinking of ways to make writers lose hair? No. They have a lot of people depending on them, so they are less likely to take risks.
Yet, we need explorers and risk-takers to create the ripple that becomes the tidal wave of change. This is why we all need to thank a self-published author. They laid the ground for the “new norm.” They pressed and pushed until e-books and POD BECAME relevant and competitive and this made traditional publishing rethink its business approach.
Almost all writers of today and the future will consider e-books to be a huge part of their royalty portfolio.
How did this happen?
Self-published authors 1) couldn’t make it past the gatekeepers 2) didn’t want to mess with the gatekeepers. These two factors made them motivated, bold and willing to look dumb.
The deal is, there was an obstacle and self-published writers dared to find away around it or, if need be, through it.
My favorite saying?
Aut viam in veniam aut faciam.
I will find a way or make one. ~Hannibal
Self-Publishing Serves the Consumer
Make no mistake, I am well aware that there is a tidal wave of crap out there, but we will discuss this another time.
Many authors had good or even excellent writing…that simply could not get a traditional break.The reason for a barrier wasn’t always because the writing was bad. There are many reasons books get turned away.
Maybe the book didn’t fit cleanly into a genre and the agent couldn’t sell it. Maybe a sci-fi author now wanted to write a romance and the publisher wanted more sci-fi books. Maybe the publisher already had three werewolf books slated for the year. Here are books that would have been shelved, that now can get to readers who can then fall in love.
Self-Publishing and Indie Publishing Gave New Life to Dead Books
Maybe an author had a wonderful backlist that was now out of print and the publisher no longer wanted them. NYTBSA Bob Mayer is an excellent example. He had scads of titles that had hit the NYTBS list and even the USA Today List, but they were out of print and the publisher was done.
What about all the hours of hard work? Bob’s books were awesome, but now they’d been retired to some book nursing home when they still had a lot of life left. They could find new readers to love them, but if Bob had just given in, they would have faded away and been forgotten.
Bob, thankfully was a Green Beret and “give up” is not in his vocabulary. Not only did Bob not wave the white flag, he started he own publishing company, Who Dares Wins Publishing. You can check out his amazing books here.
Maybe a writer had an AWESOME book, but no one in traditional publishing could help. It happens. It happened with a book about how writers could use social media to build a platform, but traditional publishing was too slow to get the book to market before the content would be obsolete ;).
Thus the book was dead until indie press gave it life, and we now have the #1 best-selling We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. Traditional marketing could not help me, but Bob’s company Who Dares Wins Publishing could. How many writers have benefitted from a book that might have just died in a slush pile?
Self-Publishing Brings New & Fresh Variety
There are times when it makes no sense to query traditional publishing. For instance, if a writer happens to write poetry, short stories or even screenplays. Traditional publishing will almost never publish those non-traditional works. Ah, but talk to Chuck Wendig if you would like to enjoy some of this unconventional literary fare.
Is it because people don’t want to read short stories or is it more because the publisher can’t sell enough poetry books (unless the poet is Jewel) to make it a good investment for them and the author?
The same thing happened in the music industry. People thought the world would end because any band could get their chance at the spotlight. Music-lovers would be overwhelmed with crap since they didn’t have Empire Records telling people what to like.
People bought more music than ever before. Since they were no longer forced to buy an entire LP, they were more inclined to listen to NEW kinds of music now that they could get songs for 99 cents (Thanks to Steve Jobs). The current generation has a very broad palette and dynamic tastes. How were they able to sort through all the choices, sift the treasures from the garbage? The same way people will sort the literary treasures from the garbage.
Good content. Positive word of mouth.
I think people are reading more and more and this is exploding in exponential proportions. Writers should be doing a big fat happy dance. With e-readers and smart phones, people read more than they ever have in human history. They are also far more likely to explore new genres, new authors, and sample new content.
But without the tenacity of the self-published (or indie) author, would we even have the e-reader? Would we have had it as soon? Would we have millions of people willing to read all kinds of genres? Or would we still be limited to paper books and griping that people don’t read anymore?
So back to the beginning of my story. Sure, those two self-published authors made me want to slam my head in a door. But now? In retrospect? Both of them invested hard work, money and time into exploring new ways to get their product to the consumer. They dared to be different.
The self-published author had nothing to lose, so he was more willing to test out, try and invest time and money into unconventional methods….methods that we now commonly enjoy.
I cannot tell you the joy I now have for reading now that I have a Nook. I have read more books and more genres than ever before. My husband downloads almost a book a week. Before e-books, he never read. My mom uses a Nook because she can make the font large enough to make reading enjoyable.
We enjoy these new luxuries because entrepreneurs dared to think outside the box and would not back down from getting their chance to shine. Some of them failed, but they failed why daring greatly…so I thank them. We all should thank them, no matter what kind of writer you aspire to be, traditional, indie or self-published.
So what do you think? Do you think of self-publishing a little differently? Do you think I am the devil’s handmaiden? Agree? Disagree? What are your thoughts?
I LOVE hearing from you guys!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of December, 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 December I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
I also 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 the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!
Thanks for the mention. The chokepoint is no longer distribution but it is discoverability.
Totally agree! We will talk more about this next week :D. Happy to mention you!
‘Maybe the book didn’t fit cleanly into a genre and the agent couldn’t sell it.’
I think this was my motivation to SP. The responses from my queries were that it was good, but the agent didn’t feel they could sell it. I wasn’t upset or angry, sometimes that’s just the way it is. I decided since they couldn’t find a market for my novel, I’d make my own. 😀
I had the same issue Darke Conteur. My book was praised by free-lance editors but they all agreed that it would be a hard sell to houses b/c it doesn’t neatly fit a genre. So I didn’t even try to get agented, went straight to self-pub. And I’m loving it.
Kristen, I always love your posts because they make me feel so much better about myself as a self-published author.
At the moment, I love self-publishing because my first (and at the moment, only) book is a novella. I seriously doubt that a publishing company would publish something so short by an unknown writter. Also, I strongly suspect that what I want to write about isn’t really going to jive with mainstream culture. The fact remains, it is going to jive with a fairly decent sized corner of the culture.
So, thank you for writing this and for making writters like me believe in themselves :).
Same for me too.
That’s a very good post, Kristen, and I offer myself to all for a hug!
You’ve touched on a lot of salient points. I know my stuff is good, life is too short to wait around and indie publishing gives me a route to readers. Exposure (and keeping on writing instead of compulsive social media activity) is my challenge.
I liked this post. I might add that its quite possible that a self-published author is simply one whose stuff is good enough to get picked up by the Big Six, and will – or may – get picked up by the Big Six, but the author doesn’t want their book languishing on their hard drive for the months and months and years that it can take a TradPub to get the damn book on the shelf.
I reckon that means that the self-pub folks can also be thanked for making the industry move FASTER, and making the TradPub folks have to think on their feet a little better.
Of course, the self-pub author is not necessarily any lesser just because they didn’t have to pass a gatekeeper, and I think it would be unfair of us to assume that they are, without at least giving them a chance or checking reviews.
I will also say that self-pub itself can be not just an alternative route, but rather, THE route to get to the gatekeepers of TradPub.
And there are plenty of excellent authors publishing themselves who simply haven’t bothered with the trad route because they just can’t be bothered jumping through the hoops, or they know that their stuff is so different that the trad publishers won’t look at it; my new YA project is exactly that because it’s something between a novella and a collection of short stories.
I love the different stuff that’s available now. People like Jonathon Gould, who writes the most crazy beautiful work that no trad publisher would consider.
Thank you for the great (and hilarious!) blog post. It took me awhile to realize that the possibility of NOT seeing my book in an actual brick-and-mortar store was not the end of the world. Plus, they’ll pry my well-used Kindle out of my cold, dead fingers. It took me about an hour to make the adjustment.
I look forward to reading your books!
I began my author career by self-publishing because I felt for others to invest in me I had to invest in myself FIRST. I’m deeply proud of these roots because they have empowered me to take responsibility for my career. I’ve also learnt that, for me, the more people I invite into my team the more successful I will become.
I’m one of those self-pub authors you speak of; I read your book earlier this year, always follow your posts, and occasionally poke my head in to comment. And you’re right, it’s the early adopters are the ones pushing transformation along. I had my foot halfway through the traditional pub door when I looked at where things were headed and decided to take a risk and go it alone. It was the right choice for me.
Over the last year, my book did very well. Well enough, in fact, to catch the notice of Amazon’s new Thomas & Mercer imprint, and with that came an offer that included the best of both worlds – the control and royalties of an independent author and the support of Amazon’s editing, marketing and promotional muscle. I’ll admit, over the last six months I’ve done zero marketing on my own – my full focus has been on working with the editorial and marketing teams over there, prepping my first book and its sequel for their spring (re)launch.
It’s been a wild ride, but one that never would have happened if not for some even earlier adopters making me realizing there was a new frontier opening up. It will be interesting to see where things continue to evolve in this new publishing landscape.
A year ago, I wouldn’t have even considered self-publishing. But after I took my book through Holly Lisle’s How to Review Your Novel and uncovered some long-standing problems that I had never been able to identify before, it forced me to look at it. At first, I really couldn’t quite reconcile with it, and then it grew on me over about six months while I doing the final draft of my book, Miasma. It was at the point where I realized that the book was only going to be in the 50K-60K range (40K-50K too short for the genre) that I started to shift toward it. I made a list of the pros and cons and ended up with the following reasons:
1. My writing is too different. The publishers all want different but the same. I couldn’t be the same no matter how hard I tried. Do I spend a year of shopping a book around, only to be told that the agents couldn’t sell it or get it into a publishing house only to have a marketing department reject it? Or do I get a book out there that I think there’s a huge untapped market for that the publishers are extremely slow to recognize?
2. I have a bad history with word count. I always write well under the minimums for genres, and it’s an utter nightmare trying to add significantly to a story. Do I spend a year battling through upwordage and risk wrecking the story or do I let it go to my natural word count? If I go to my natural word count, I might be able to produce 3 books in a year instead of 1 book in 3 years.
3. I can’t outline. I’ve tried, and it’s simply not possible. But publishers require outlines. Since I can’t produce one, or if I did, it would not resemble the final product, I would likely end up writing everything on spec. That means if I’m too different (point #1), the publisher won’t want the story I just wrote and I couldn’t do anything else with it because of the contract.
But I know I lose some things by going indie. I don’t have access to a publishing house editor or a copy editor, and proofreader. I’m going to have to pay an editor, and I’m debating about the proofreader.
What’s resulted from this is that right now I’m sitting on the finished book. I haven’t really started thinking about editing it yet. If I’d been submitting it, I’d have already finished the editing and be planning where to send it. Instead, especially after all the problems I had, I’m willing to sit on it for a while and see if there’s anything else I can learn that will help it. Possibly, I may write the first draft of the next book first to see what I learn and can apply back. Because it isn’t about rushing to Smashwords to get something out there now, now, now. It’s more of what’s going to make this a book people are going to want to buy. My 5 year goal is to sell a million copies.
Being willing to sit on it is really good. I see many self pubbed books that have simply been published before they’re ready. There’s nothing quite like sticking it away for 6 months while you read masses of other books, then look at your work again.
I hear you on all counts. In reading the responses to Kristen’s blog, I’m starting to feel like I’m among kindred spirits in my re-defining the publication of BY HER DAUGHTER’S HANDS.
A few years ago I would never have dreamed of being an Indie. I wanted that giant ACCEPTED stamped on my forehead by the publishing industry. Then I saw friends going Indie and having fun writing again! There is pressure in Indie publishing but it is your choice. You can write what you want, it doesn’t have to be a round peg for a round hole. Writing is fun again!
great point about having fun writing again! so true!
Along with word of mouth, the best way I’ve found to decide whether a book is worth buying or not is the sample chapters that you can download for free onto e-readers. Those chapters help level the playing field because if the writing isn’t good, whether you’re self-pubbed or traditionally pubbed, your book won’t sell. If they are good, it doesn’t matter how you published, people will buy. Yes, I have to invest the time to check out those first chapters, but I can usually tell by the second page whether it’ll make me want to poke my eyes out or not. Those chapters have helped me avoid a lot of books that were rejected for a reason and should still be in a drawer somewhere. They’ve also made me a fan of some spectacular indie writers like Kait Nolan.
You’re so right, Kristen. Those that came before and paved the way have made things a lot better in the long run for writers and readers. I have tried tons of new authors and yes there is some crap out there. But, I’ve also been amazed by some of the books that are self-published. I’ve found several new authors to read that I otherwise would never have heard of. 🙂
*hugs* I’m very happy that you self-published your We Are Not Alone and blogging books, Kristen. Much kudos. They have helped me and countless other writers to figure out how to approach our platform.
I totally agree with your points about ePublishing benefiting the readers. English books are pretty sparse where I live in but now I can access them instantly with one click. With the lower or at least slightly lower prices than those of paper books, I can buy more books than ever before. Including books from self-published authors who I have never even heard of until seeing their book in Kindle. Yay for the bigger selection. And with the middle men cut out, the writers are making decent profit too.
Wow, what great timing to read this blog post, Kristen. Yesterday, I read an excerpt from a book, “Writing for the Soul” (Jerry Jenkins) about self-publishing that says, “Don’t pay to have something published unless it is not intended for the masses. Let publishers pay you because you have become a writer people want to read.” He goes on to share his perspective in further detail and acknowledges many don’t share his view, but with 175 published books to his credit, ouch! It’s one of those things you read that hit you hard when self-publishing is the route you are considering. So this post was a great counterbalance to that view. Thank you.
Big hugs right back atcha! When an e-book costs less than half a latte, the consumer takes little risk and may just fall in love. Thank you for this enlightened post and thank you again for the wonderful course WANA1011. I loved every minute of it. It is the gift that keeps on giving. May your new year be blessed with many joys and successes.
Kristen, you continue to be my hero. It was such a joy meeting you in April, and then taking your online class. You rock, your books rock, and I am very blessed to be a part of your ever-widening circle of admirers. Hugs, and happy 2012!
This is one of my favorite blogs. I love your insight and humor. The quote you mentioned from Hannibal was the same inscription that I had engraved on my daughters iPad for Christmas, Latin and all. 🙂
Keep up the great work.
Thank you for another great post, Kristen! I applaud those who were brave enough to step up and make a change – they paved the way for the rest of us. I’m hugging the next indie author I meet.
I don’t understand the snobbery to self publishing. I have some history in the music business. Independent labels and indie artists have a mystique about them. Even if their music blows, at least they’re printing their own records, getting in the van and traveling, promoting themselves, and building reps with club owners and other bands.
I think you should hug a self published author because they haven’t been picked apart by editors looking to sell books as opposed to making literature.
Also, if my self published book happen in early next year, I expect a hug from you. Or at least a fist bump.
I do understand some of it, which was why I mentioned my horror stories. It was a really frustrating time for me. I couldn’t get an agent, couldn’t get published and yet my writing was very strong. Yet, a writer who really should have been banned from accessing Microsoft Word not only could call himself “published” but could get a book signing. Even though both my books have hit the top of the best-selling list I have yet to ever do a bookstore book signing. And I would be lying if I said it didn’t sting. All the years of doing without, braving the criticism from friends and family and yet I never have gotten to enjoy the one thing I looked forward to most. I didn’t self-publish. I went indie for obvious reasons. But, Barnes and Noble would permit book-signings from a writer with a book from Publish America (no matter how bad the quality), yet would not make room for me and my books.
It used to bother me, but now? I don’t care. I don’t need a book signing to tell me I am a real author. You guys (pleased readers) do it for me every day.
Do a POD copy (mine are through CreateSpace) and set up a signing with your local Indie Bookstore – that’s what I’m doing! The store is very supportive, and I know I’ll sell at least 50-75 copies of the book that night, which will make everyone happy. 🙂
I *do* think of self-publishing a little differently — and not because I’ve done it. I think it’s more having done it is a result of thinking differently. In the past I certainly thought of self-pubbed books as somehow ‘lesser’. But somewhere along the lines I realized, traditional publishing doesn’t always put out the very finest that writers have to offer, and sometimes they pass over the very finest for (seemingly) no other reason than it’s the wrong color for the season. I love that authors whose works aren’t bought by traditional publishers because the content stumps the marketing department have an easy, low-cost way to get their work into readers’ hands nonetheless. And when I shop for books to fill my e-reader…I’m not shopping for a publisher; I’m shopping for a story. And that’s what should count in the end, no?
I enjoyed reading your post. I’ve just started the querying process for my first novel and I know it’s going to be incredibly difficult. I am glad there is another option made possible by self-pub and indie pioneers.
Great article on a great topic!
. . . just looking for a hug [2007 self-published children’s author] and perhaps some clicker training
“Many authors had good or even excellent writing…that simply could not get a traditional break.”
That one sentence say’s it all … “could not get a traditional break.” Many WBA’s struggle every day to have their work printed. Many of them submit their manuscript to hundreds of potential agents, only to receive the dreaded letter back…”No thanks.” For the majority, self-publishing is the only way to be heard. To referred to their work as, “crappy books,” seems a bit harsh.
But as you so eloquently pointed out, “They dared to be different.” And now, many WBA’s, have found a new way to be heard. Their work may not be on par with Ernest Hemingway, now, but I bet they are struggling and writing and hoping one day to be successful.
As one of my professors once told me, “there is never a stupid question, some poorly conceived ones.” So we could say the same about books written by WBA’s. The only issue they have is finding a qualified editor to help them as they stumble forward hoping one day to be successful.
I salute you for offering your past experiences to help the WBA’s who wake up every morning, checking their e-mails numerous times waiting for your next post. I am part of that group of WBA’s.
210 submits, 210 rejections … Talk about … “beating your head against the wall.”
After I get Manny birthed, I still want to give the traditional “birth plan” a go. But I am open to alternatives. And @WayneBorean has offered to hold my cyber-hand should I decide to go indie. And it looks like there are a whole host of other people here who would agree that indie book-publishing has come a long way, baby. 😉
If holding your cyber hand means lending expertise, I can’t. But I can lend encouragement and promise to buy any e-book you publish.
I think everyone should go buy “Searching for My Wand” which is not only well written, but available on Amazon, B&N, iTunes, & Sony. Need I say it’s self published?
I simply LOVE how you present your topics and if I ever grow up, I think I want to be more like you! Excellent take on the self-publishing arena. I often wondered why people choose to go that route and for myself I have always said the traditional publishing path was the ONLY way for me…but I am beginning to think if I put all my eggs in one basket and no one WANTS my eggs then I will be eating scrambled eggs for years to come! But if I do my research well and spread my eggs around to many baskets, then I increase my chances that OTHERS will be eating my scrambled eggs for breakfast as well!
Thank you, Kristen, for being such an inspiration to writers, new and experienced!
Thanks, Kristen. Great post.
The publishing industry is changing so fast and it’s important that authors know they have a choice. And a very valid one at that.
How can a post this funny be so useful and informative at the same time? I hadn’t really thought about self-publishing, but this is the encouragement I need if I ever want to go that route. And now I’m really looking forward to reading your “Are You There Blog?” Kindle book!
I’ll always be grateful to Bob and WDWPub for giving my backlist new life. And hope for some new titles as well. *s*
Great post Kristen. My first book came out in November. I chose to give my book away for three days on Amazon and over 2000 people worldwide downloaded it. A traditional publisher would never do that. But the way I see it, with a first book from an unknown author, right now it’s just about finding an audience. I have many more books inside me (hopefully two more out in 2012). I’m working toward building a following of loyal fans/readers who enjoy my writing. And after being free for three days, my book is now sitting in the top 20 of its genre. 😀
I think self-pubbing is great for writers who aren’t afraid of risk, who have some business experience and/or desire to learn a lot more than just the writing end of it, and who have the money to hire editors and/or writer co-horts/crit group partners who will be honest with them and help them hone their craft. I think there are some writers for whom self-pubbing would not work b/c they lack one or all of these things. And I think that in the next two years, a lot of people who got into self-pubbing this year won’t be publishing anymore. The market will separate the wheat from the chaff.
I’ve read a lot of self-pubbed books this year and a significant number of them are “not ready for prime time.” But on the other hand, I discovered some amazing authors for 99 cents or $2.99 that without self-pub, I never would have discovered and that is a good thing.
As I reflect on 2011, I am very grateful for folks like Bob Mayer and J.A. Konrath, John Locke and Amanda Hocking, Barry Eisler and JoAnna Penn, and of course Kristen Lamb – trailblazers who forged an amazing path for us. 2012 is going to be amazing!
Hey Kristen! I’m slowly unburying myself from the ho ho horror of the holidays that is my retail life, and lemme tell ya, I MISSED YOU! I really appreciate the posts where you share personal stories and I can so picture you pregnant and eying up the cafe’ while you flip through this book you know is so wrong. Even your foresight of the industry and how ereaders will play a role is amazing to me. I’ve been reading lots of new year’s posts today, so I guess I’m in that retrospect zone. I admire your courage and business savvy that you give freely each day with each post. Thank you. I’m looking forward to working with you more in WWBC now that I’ll have a bit of my life back!
P.S. If anyone else in the group wants to write a book about retail, I’m their girl! I’m thinking of calling it One Coupon Short of the Cuckoo’s Nest. Thoughts? 🙂
I love the fact that you are willing to change your opinions when warranted. So many people form an opinion and never change it no matter what new information comes along.
I was one of those early pioneers with e-books back when the Rocket Reader was first introduced 20-some years ago. After I signed with a small publisher who had visions of what is happening today starting way back then, I was a bit disillusioned when sales simply did not happen. I also discovered that this publisher was not discriminatory in what was accepted so books varied considerably in quality.
Quality from indie authors can still be an issue, and indie authors really need to work with professional editors to turn out well-crafted books.
I met someone on KindleBoards a couple of weeks ago that is very much like the older gentleman you described in your post. His book was uninteresting, his cover was amateurish, and he knew nothing about how to promote his book, and was not computer-literate or tech-savvy in the least. But this does not describe most of the self-pubbed indie authors I have met.
Most indie authors I have met spent years making the query rounds and have hundreds of rejection letters to show for it. They have now decided to learn how to do it themselves and are doing well at it, especially those who continued to write during the query years and have a backlist they are putting out in rapid succession.
With my first book, I used a small press. It wasn’t very successful, but I learned a lot. As I decided to learn how to self-pub for my second book, SHE HAD NO CHOICE, I immersed myself in books, such as your WE ARE NOT ALONE, and others, along with this blog, JA Konrath’s blog, and thewritersguidetoepublishing.com blog where I have learned an enormous amount.
As I am growing as an author and a self-publisher, I am moving forward with a new release in February and another novel planned for summer 2012. Life is exciting as I learn something new every day and continue to write every day.
I really appreciated your post today, Kristen. You are someone who continues to help me on my publishing journey. *hugs*
When you first began to soften your stance on self-publishing, I thought, “My BFF is going crazy.” Thanks for going crazy. You’ve changed my opinion 180 degrees. I intend to e-pub a non-fiction in 2012 – possibly two of them. Then maybe I’ll get back to novels.
Great post! In essence what you point out is that self-published authors are pioneers, but alas, one possible definition of a pioneer is a person with a bunch of arrows sticking out of his back. The vast majority of self-published authors are stuck in low sales limbo and this is due mostly to lack of visibility rather than readers not liking their work.
What great timing. I just blogged about my decision to publish with Book Country, and your piece hit my wife’s email. This is a business that is turning the publishing world upside down. That’s why the big houses like Penguin are jumping in. I doubt there is a major house out there that’s not considering buying or creating a partnership publisher. Kristen, please view my blog comments at http://www.theheartofanovelist.blogspot.com. Tomorrow I’m going to put up a link to your site.
Clicker training? I love it! LOL Seriously, I’ve been considering e-pub or self-pub more and more since I have been querying agents with my own novel.
As usual, good job, Kristen!
By the way, shortly after I attended your presentation at the DFW Writers Conference, I started blogging (March 13 or so). When you get a minute, swing by my blog (left in my previous comment).
Great Post, Kristen and thanks for the hug. As a reader, I wish there was a site that listed indie books based on quality as determined by writers who know what they’re talking about. Though I’ve read some really awesome indie & self pubbed books, I just had a bad run with some self pubbed stuff. I liked the cover & idea, read some good reviews and still end up cursing about the terrible writing. There are some sites around but they’re based on a certain number of reader reviews and I’ve discovered that non writers can miss the fact that a book is so badly written that I personally can’t read it.
Any writers out there willing to work together on making something like this?
Loved the post. Self publishing looks like a preferable option. If a writer can get one reader and have them pass the buzz along a book could find an audience. I keep it in mind as I press on. I only hope that if I go that route I’ll be able to find a reputable house and not get stroked by some fly-by-night outfit. Thanks.
There’s no doubt about a sea change in the writing market. And I think the trad publishers are being slow to adapt to it. I also agree, completely, that trad marketing does not sell books – and I think that few publishers have really understood that. Still, the quality issue rankles; I’ve read a lot of stuff self-published on the web, and a lot of it is excruciatingly badly phrased, expressed and structured.
The one thing about trad publishing – as I think you mentioned in the last post – is the quality control it provides. Frustrating though that is for the aspirants.
The question then is how to get that control over self-publishing. Ultimately, what we call ‘market forces’ might enter the calculation – people just won’t buy stuff that’s awful. But really the onus is on the author, if they want to self-publish, to also make sure it’s good. That means doing the hard yards, throwing away stuff that doesn’t work, starting again – and practising. Then getting a professional editor to look over it. And so on. Basically, it has to be run like a professional business – which does, as I think you’ve said, carry with it an avalanche of work which is well beyond the act of actually writing the thing. I’d also support a site as suggested a couple of comments back by Tahlia. Good idea.
Ironically, the publishing business has hit sufficiently hard times now that even they seem to be succumbing at times to the ‘vanity blues’.. The magazine I review for passed me a book just released by one of the major publishing houses (I won’t name it), a corporate-style history. The costing was underwritten by the organisation being written about, which had its effect on the production quality – very high indeed. However, the actual writing was not. It was excruciating. A big fat fail at Writing 101 level. The publishers had not pulled their usual prerogative with contracted/freelance authors of having the sub-standard material re-written, though in point of fact I know some of the editors personally and I KNOW they have standards which this text simply couldn’t have met. Extraordinary.But, I think, a sign of the times.
I felt the same way about indie publishing and spent years gathering rejections from the Big Six. I was told by an agent three months ago romantic suspense was a dead genre and they couldn’t sell it, no matter how well written it was. As an experiment, I dusted off a couple of manuscripts and put them on Amazon, B&N and Smashwords. My first month garnered a very healthy four figure royalty check and one of my books still ranks in the top fifty of its genre on Amazon. I priced one at 99 cents and the other at $3.99. Everyone sneered when I priced the first book at 99 cents but I’m laughing all the way to the bank. Not bad for a “dead” genre. I earned in one month what some debut authors earn on a traditional advance, and we all know most first books never see a royalty check. I have 5 star reviews for both titles which feels really good. Would I like to break into traditional publishing? You bet. But since publishers are increasingly reticent about taking risks on debut authors, its up to us to prove we have what it takes. Generating buzz as an indie pubbed author is a good start.
I thoroughly enjoyed your blog post! These are very exciting times for both writers and readers. Almost every day for the past month, I’ve been searching Amazon for self-published books that have received great professional reviews and won awards, and I’ve found a large number of incredible books.
I also self-published on Amazon and recently signed up most of my titles with their KDP Select program. I’m delighted with the results. One of my novels, THE FISHERMAN’S SON, was previously published by indie press. Bestselling author Piers Anthony read it and sent me a wonderful review quote for it. It’s received many positive reviews from professional reviewers, and I’ve been interviewed about THE FISHERMAN’S SON on radio shows across the United States and in Canada. Now, KDP Select has breathed new life into the sales of this novel and the next two books in its trilogy. After signing THE FISHERMAN’S SON up with KDP Select this week, it was downloaded 1,300 times during a one-day free promotion and 118 copies have been purchased since the free promotion ended three days ago. I feel that’s a good start. 🙂
Kristen, I love how you cut straight to the heart of the matter, and speak the truth with humor!
Since I bought my Kindle in August, I have been on a reading bender. I have come across some fabulous stuff in genres I would never have ordinarily read. I’m having a great time immersing myself in reading other indie work, and finding a lot of it to be much better than I expected.
Interestingly, I recently bought a Kindle version of a traditionally published bestseller that I have been wanting to read. I paid over $12.00 for it, and was highly annoyed at the awful formatting. I’ll put up with typos and formatting issues in an indie eBook if it’s priced at $2.99 or less. I don’t want to stumble over formatting for “full priced” books that have been “professionally” produced.
I think I’ll stick to the indie stuff that’s free or cheap.
As a self-published author, I not only like the wide distribution of e-book publishing, and the fact that the books never go out of print. I also like the fact that eBooks are not as horrible for the environment as traditional publishing. POD is certainly preferable to printing scads of books that end up either in the trash or in the poor author’s garage, but e-books are even better!
I agree that there’s crap published by a lot of indie authors, but I’ve read stuff I thought was crap that was published by the Big Six. Buying books has always been a crap shoot. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. But, there’s always the thrill of the hunt for the next “blow-me-away” story. That’s even more exciting on the internet where the possibilities are so endless.
Kristen – I bow to you, your blog-highness. I LOVE your blog. LOVE LOVE LOVE it! And I loved this post. Having just made the decision to go the Indie-route, I totally enjoyed your walk down memory lane about self-pubbing. I had all those same feelings that you described, which of course made my decision to go Indie even more difficult. For a long time I waffled and wrestled with the idea, unable to get beyond what I had known to be true about self-pubbed authors in the past. But the success of several Indie’s in my local writing group has really helped me change my tune. And I agree… publishing is going the way of music. The rest of us better get on board!
Thanks for the wealth of info you are! Getting ready to tweet this awesome blog post!
Great post, Kristen! I have another reason to thank the maverick indie authors and e-book authors. The successful ones are experts at marketing their books and getting people to read them, and I, as a traditionally published author, have benefited from their expertise.
As a newbie author among many at my publisher, the bulk of the promo falls on my shoulders. I don’t have a PR/publicity person assigned to me who takes care of this, telling me what I need to do and when I need to do it. Either I do it myself, or it doesn’t happen. They’ve been great about supporting me, but I’ve been the one driving my own promo-bus. They hop on when they can.
Many successful traditionally published authors built up their reader base in the non-digital age and the promo they do (or that their publishers do for them) may or may not apply to me. (I’m pretty sure that even if Nora Roberts didn’t have a website, people would still read her books.)
So when I see what indie authors are doing promo-wise, I get a lot of great ideas.
Thank you, indie authors!
Cousin Ray Ray: DEAD!
Thanks for your beautiful words! I am self-publishing because I’ve been writing romance books for many, many years, only because the stories want to be put down. I have many friends and family members who have read my books, and love them, and encourage me to get hem published. Then last year I found CreateSpace and went to town! I have 15 finished novels now self-published, on Amazon.com and Kindle. I’m learning how to self-promote now, though indie, a yahoo group. I’m loving the people there!
Thanks for the great article. I was one of those who turned her nose up at the idea of self-publishing in the beginning. It felt like selling out. But then friends took the plunge and were seeing great success, and they were writers I really respected, so I decided to follow their lead. I was tired of the whole traditional publishing racket anyway. I’d sold one book and wasn’t seeing much from it, I’d been sent round and round by editors, doing rewrites and edits, only to have the senior editors turn the book down. I’d had enough.
Indie publishing changed my life. I not only now have fans, I have the respect of my family as a successful author after hitting several of the best seller lists. I’ve been able to retire to write full time–something I never thought would happen. And it’s only been 5 months!. Would I ever go the traditional route again? Maybe–if they approached me and offered a huge advance and favorable contract terms. But I no longer equate success with a publishing contract. I like the control I have as an Indie author and the ability to write my stories my way, without outside interference.
Thanks Kristen, I love your posts, they inspire me to keep going till I reach my goal post.
I’ve just recently seriously started to consider Indie. I’ve queried every agent known to the NYC pub industry, with some good results, such as requested fulls and almosts. But it was never quit there.
I received wonderful comments and eventually signed with a agent, but nothing is selling. In the industry it is a hard sell. Not a impossible one, just difficult. So my eyes have turned to indie. Like in traditional publication, I’ve read good and bad books in indies. I think authors are rushing books out too fast in order to keep their names fresh. I think those authors need to slow down, take a breath, and just write a great story. Indies do have a bad reputation for poor editing and rambling stories. Time, I believe, will fix that, as sales of the successful and better authors grow. Those of us just learning will get the idea.
Fab article. Three years ago Deborah Smith of Bell Bridges books told me a manuscript I submitted to her needed to be published, even if I had to do it myself. It didn’t fit with their books, but she said it was a good book, well written, and she told other Belle Books she really liked it. I trust that woman’s judgment, since I have loved her books for years.
A year later Monique Patterson of Avon books said some of the same things. Two agents said they loved the plot and the characters and the writing, but…This year I decided to take the plunge in the deep. dark end of the pool. I’m glad I did.
I recently dipped my big toe into self publishing and it was a fantastic experience. I had planned to wait until next year and try for a traditional print deal, but something whispered, “Do it now.”
I recently read that 6 million Kindles were sold over the holidays. That’s a revolution. Will it separate the wheat from the chaff? I think so. I’ve abandoned a few free and 99 cent reads after 25 pages because they didn’t hold my interest. I’ve done the same with $30 hardbacks and been really pissed off. Who knows? But these are exciting times.
Thanks so much for this article. Yep, I have doubts and fears about all the books flooding the markets, but your words help me to see a different perspective. Thank you.
I love this post and you’re absolutely right – the early adopters, the brave souls willing to step off the “sure” path and blaze a new one – those are the ones that make it possible for the rest of us.
Today, I’m hosting an Indie Book Fair, where you can see some of the amazing talent that now swims in the Indie Publishing Pool.
This is just a little comment to tell you that I read your post and enjoyed it immensely. One of your readers took your advice literally and sent me a “hug” via Twitter with a link to your article. As a self-published author I appreciate your excellent thoughts immensely, and I agree entirely. This is why the stigmatism against self-published authors doesn’t scare me.
Thanks so much!
Indies have been celebrating the ability to make an end run around the gatekeepers for awhile now, but I think the most important and most revolutionary aspect of indie publishing is that writers can write what they want to write without having to adhere to the “rules” of traditional publishing.
The difference between writing for an agent or an editor or a publisher or “the market” and writing the story you want to tell in exactly the way you want to tell it is HUGE!
I knew my book, which I made into a trilogy, was too long for traditional publishing, but I tried anyway. In 2007 I queried over 80 agents with no result while educating myself about self-publishing. When I learned that a traditional publisher had control of the cover, the title, and could insist on changes to the book’s content (take out the lesbian stuff), I happily created my own publishing company. In the three years the books have been out, I’ve earned twice as much as I would have earned from a traditional advance, and the books are just starting to take off.
Catherine M Wilson
Shield Maiden Press
I’m so behind on this post, but I wanted to thank you for sharing. I’m in the querying process, and I’m hoping for an e-publisher, but I haven’t ruled self-publishing out. It’s definitely an option, but I’m fearful of making a mistake with it. I do think one of the keys is having a backlist or several books ready to release, which I don’t have…yet. As I hone my craft and experience querying, I’m going to learn more about self-publishing and see what happens.
Kristen–couldn’t agree with you more :), and love that Hannibal quote. The very best opportunites in any marketplace arrive during times of great change. With an entrepreneurial attitude, and great advice like yours in hand, many authors who might otherwise have given up their dream will find a way–or make one!
Great post! But then I’m biased because I’m a self pubber :P. I think there is some perception – as you made reference to – that us self pub people are somehow lazy no-talent hacks. And, deep down I think, a lot of self pubbers have internalized that kind of thinking. Or they go the other way and think the self pub route is like being able to print your own money straight off your laptop. But once it all becomes apparent that we can’t all be an Amanda Hocking or Mike Hicks, it’s easy to get discouraged and want to give up.
…but on the flip side I think self pubbers bring some of the vitriol on themselves. Like the ones who attack the traditional publishing industry, or who claim that now that we can upload anything we want there is no NEED for editors to rain on everybody’s parade and tell them their book sucks (if it does indeed suck). Trad pub or self pub…it isn’t an either or dichotomy. It’s about making the choice that’s best for YOU and the work you’ve put so much effort into creating.
I picked self pub b/c I wanted more creative control, a bigger slice of the royalties, and because I wasn’t confident I could do creative work well within the constraints of deadlines. Plus, I’m a self starter and I’d like to own my own business. I would be writing anyway, so why not see if it can’t bring in a bit of cash flow? Haha