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!