Subscribe to my monthly newsletter and get the following ebooks free: Things Slip Through,
Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, and Devourer of Souls

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Self-Publishing Go-Go 'Round....

So, I've been saving this post for a later date, but Mike Duran's post and the comments on it have got the brain juices flowing, so I think I'll share my final (sorta) thoughts on the rise self-publishing.  Now first, a few qualifiers:

1. everyone has their own goals and publishing path

2. self-publishing doesn't automatically mean bad writing, anymore

3. the market is rapidly changing, many of the old "rules of publishing" are rapidly evolving, and the future of writing and publishing is very uncertain

4. this is MY opinion, why self-publishing is a BAD IDEA for ME, right now....but I think  there are lots of young writers out there in the same position as me getting sold a line by folks who have platforms that WE DON'T, resources WE DON'T, and people need to be very careful what they do, because now, more than ever in the world of publishing: THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES.  Whether or not you pursue self or traditional publishing.  That having been said...

So, the crux of Mike Duran's post today is about a critique partner of his who waited nearly ten years in the pursuit of traditional publishing, before her trilogy was finally picked up by Tyndale, a traditional Christian publisher. Mike uses this scenario to discuss the matter of writers who have shown patience in seeking publication, wondering if perhaps that today, with the advent of digital self-publishing and the rise of Amazon, writers are far less patient than they used to be, to their detriment.

I'm not going to take issue with or analyze the responses to Mike's blog. A lot of the comments agree with him.  Some merely express that traditional publishing is only one of many routes available, it all depends on a writers' personal journey, what they want to get out of writing (which is very true).  Others disagree.

The problem, of course, is multifold:

1. the market is in turmoil.  No one can predict what will happen in publishing over the next few years, so it's hard to come up with definitive answers to prove or disprove

2. a lot has come to light lately about publishers treating authors badly (the Leisure Fiction/Dorchester Publishing fiasco being only one example), so a "tear down the gates" mentality is definitely simmering, for good reasons

3. self-publishing HAS become much, much easier, quicker, and cheaper.  And we here in America generally like things easier, quicker, and cheaper (and notice, I didn't say GOOD self-publishing. Just self-publishing)

And here's the one that gets under my skin the most:

4. several authors with built in audiences - which, I'm assuming, they built through traditional publishing - turning around and telling all us new writers that if we don't self-publish RIGHT NOW, we're all short-sighted, missing out, foolish for not earning all the instant cash they're earning.  

Anyway, I can't tell you what I think is RIGHT or WRONG in self-publishing.  I can only share my take, and what I plan to do, assume there are lots of writers out there in my position, who may or may not take something away from me sharing my ideas.

Now, first: I've taken some time to peruse some self-published works, most notably by Robert Swartwood and Dan Keohane.  Both works that I read - Man of Wax and Margret's Ark - were top-notch.  So much so,  I have two more self-published works by both these authors sitting in my TBR pile, and will continue to buy more from them.  Haven't read them yet, but I think Glen Krisch and Richard Wright's will probably be top-notch also.  

Now, with these new-fangled self-publishing times, technically, there's nothing stopping me from publishing my novel soon as I'm finished with it, and joining these guys in the ranks.... except I'm NOT in their ranks, yet.  And here's why:

1. I haven't done my time yet:  these guys have been around for awhile.  And yes, maybe if self-publishing had been cheaper ten years ago, they might not have waited so long to publish.  But these guys have been knocking on their respective doors in publishing for a LONG TIME. I've just begun to knock.   How can I possibly know if traditional publishing is really for me if I don't TRY it first?

Almost a year ago, Norman Partridge posted a blog along these lines  - though he was also talking about micro-small presses - and he asked a very simple question that set me back on my heels: Have you really tried (traditional publishing)? And these guys HAVE. I haven't.

2. They've amassed a body of work that I HAVEN'T: And during all this time, these guys - I'm assuming - have been writing and re-writing several drafts of different novels, not only doing their best to get them out there - through agents and such - but also rewriting those novels, polishing them, in pursuit of excellence.  

So, they've actually gotten several novels under their belt. I'm still writing my first, while a half-finished second languishes in a box.  What do I have to self-publish that's been drafted and redrafted, cut, edited, vetted, and critiqued?  What do I have that's made all the rounds? Nothing.

3.  Jumping off number 2, these guys have street cred: they've done enough in the field, and have written quality enough work to get blurbed by some of the best in the business.  I'm nowhere near there, yet.  And maybe that's not necessary to self-publish.  But I can tell you, most self-published books I'd never buy.  But I risked it on Dan's work because I'm familiar with his short work, and he's got good "street cred" because of that. And, because I'd read his first, traditionally published novel.  And, Robert's novel was blurbed by F. Paul Wilson.

I have very little "street cred".  What's going to make my work stand out? NOTHING.

4. Finally...I CAN'T AFFORD IT.  Traditional publishing is actually a much better choice for me - and, I'm assuming, a lot of other writers like me - because to self-publishing the RIGHT way, not only does it take the same time and patience and re-writing that any fiction takes, it takes MONEY and investment.  

I can't speak from experience, but from this: as a self-published book, Man of Wax was put together nicely.  Very nice cover and graphic design, it had clearly been edited, the layout and font and all that wasn't inferior to a traditionally published novel in any way.  Same thing for Margret's Ark.

And that takes MONEY.  For Adobe Invision, to commission cover art, to pay for layout and design, to pay an editor, then pay the fees to publish it on Amazon, buy the ISBN....and yes, it's an investment, that a person like me has NO GUARANTEE of ever seeing a return on.  Maybe I'll be one of these "overnight" sales successes that gush all over Facebook about themselves.

Most likely, I'll earn NEXT TO NOTHING.  And, I'll have to pay all that over again for the next book, with the same risks.

And you know what? I'm willing to bet there's plenty of writers out there in the same position as I am.  Which makes traditional publishing - and all the headaches involved - far more worth the effort in the end. Either way, if I'm not guaranteed a success, I'll pick the option that won't cost me money. Right now, being published by Shroud, Cemetery Dance, Apex, Samhain, Angry Robot, Abbaddon Books, Medallion Press FAR outweighs self-publishing, for that fact (and many, many others), alone.


Also, too, I'm kinda getting sick of this refrain: "Oh, the BIG SIX will never let you in, and they're heading for a  downfall, baby...."

Blah, blah.  The Big Six aren't the only options for traditional publishing. There are tons of midlist houses out there, and yeah, many of them are owned by the Bix Six, and there's big and mean old Ingram Distribution as well....but this constant refrain always strikes me as lots of complaining.  It's like the guys back when I played basketball who either wanted to start and be the leading scorer, or nothing at all.   Instead of sitting the bench or being the sixth man or a role player, they'd take their ball, go home, and play pick-up on the court behind Wal-mart.

Because they didn't want to do their time. Wait their turn.  And yeah, this is a little snarky, hence the above warning.  But I just can't shake a feeling of annoyance at those arguments.  Someone like Robert Swartwood? He did his time. Made the rounds with all the publishers, worked his ass off, and AFTER that decided self-publishing was his route. AFTER doing his time.

And I guess all these complaints about these evil New York houses and their abusive editors don't wash with me (and yeah, I have next to no experience in that area, so I really wouldn't know).  Maybe I got lucky, but my interactions with an editor at HarperCollins were friendly, professional, and very helpful.  

Even though her boss turned down my pitch because the "sales team didn't get it", no hard feelings.  In fact, the story wouldn't be where it is today without her pushing and prodding me in different directions.  But, as soon as it looked like we didn't have any further to go together, did I cry "foul", grab my ball, go home and self-publish? NO. 

And again, maybe I've got to get screwed over a few more times.  Who knows.  But I'm one of those old fashioned folks who believe that getting told "No" is sometimes very, very important...and always for a reason.   

Anyway, rant done.  That's why for me - and, I'm willing to bet, for lots of other writers like me, out there - self-publishing just isn't the great deal lots of people are making it out to be... 


  1. I've found traditional small indie presses, like Splashdown Books, Marcher Lord Press, Port Yonder Press, Desert Breeze, and Written World Communication, just to name a few, a great middle ground for those who feel shut out of traditional press because of the "name" factor. These small presses are still difficult to get into, so you've really got to shine, but they don't really care about your name. They're looking for good authors. This avenue has low overhead and higher royalty rates and it builds "street cred" toward landing a big 6 contracts. No need for agents either, usually. It's definitely not self-publishing or vanity publishing, so I think indie publishers may actually be a large part of publishing reform. My two cents, anyway.


  2. Great post. I did go the way of self publishing and while I don't regret it, I'm also not sold on the alleged total nefarious evils of the Big 6. Yes, I have self published and will continue to do so. But I will also continue to submit work through traditional routes.

    Three months ago, I might not have agreed with everything you said here. But as of late, the CHOOSE SIDES NOW OR PERISH argument is getting pretty tired.

  3. Keven, you make an important distinction, one made a few weeks ago here by Nicole Cushing, I think: INDIE publishing and SELF publishing (though that's independent) are two different animals. All those publishers I mentioned, with I think the exception of Angry Robot (they're a subsidiary or something of one of the Big Six, I believe - though they seem pretty autonomous) are essentially INDIE publishers. They have editors, gate keepers, proofreaders. Calling self-publishing INDIE publishing is misleading.

    Thanks, Barry. Again, to each their own. But this argument is one that needs to be evened out with some cold, hard facts, I think.

  4. Yeah, I don't care at all for some of the current rhetoric going around that you're stupid if you don't self-publish. I think what every writer should do, at least, is be open-minded and look at both sides first and then make an educated decision. A lot of writers get in the argument that one is better than the other, when really that isn't true at all. What each writer has to do is just do what feels right for them.

    Now, to be clear, it's still possible for a writer with no track record to sell a book to a major publisher. It may be much harder than ever before, sure, but it's still possible. Pretty much every novel I've self-published was given a "no" from major publishers, but it wasn't because they were bad books. In the end, it almost always came down to basically the marketability of that specific title. In fact, years and years ago with my first agent, a senior editor at Doubleday called saying she LOVED my thriller MAN OF WAX ... but just didn't feel it was right for Doubleday. So there you go.

    Anyway, Kevin, I think you're being smart about this, so good luck, and alway feel free to hit me up if you have any questions about whatever.

  5. I also want to throw in my two cents about the whole "indie" vs. "self-published" debate. I personally find the whole thing a tad silly. I mean, really, does it matter? To writers, obviously it does because we all have egos, but to the readers, who are really the most important factor in this whole writing/publishing game? Nope. Then again, writers like to talk in circles, so an ongoing debate like this doesn't surprise me, just as the ongoing debate of whether ebooks are "real" books or not will continue. *sigh*

  6. I actually have to respectfully disagree with you on this one, Rob, but whether that's as a writer or a reader, I'm not sure. I'd maintain as a reader, but perhaps being mixed up in this whole thing as a writer colors the issue for me....

    For me, an indie publisher represents quality control. And maybe I'm giving them entirely too much faith. Now, I've already admitted that it's possible for good work to be self-published. But I'm still of the belief that's the exception, and not the rule. Quite frankly, I only picked up your work because of the notables who don't give out their blurbs often, blurbing your work. That said something to me. If they'd been blurbed by the "usual suspects" - one or two bigger authors who are blurbing ANYTHING self-published, these days - I would've passed them right by.

    By and large, if I have a choice between an unknown self-published author with no endorsements, or endorsements by little fry writers and a book published by Medallion, Cemetery Dance, Angry Robot, Shroud....I'll pick the latter, every time. Again, maybe that's because all my interactions with editors have been positive. But I know if I a buy a book from those "Indie" publishers, they've got editors and layout design people, gatekeepers, standards of quality.It's much more likely that the books they're producing are of higher quality than the AVERAGE self-published writer (note: I don't consider your work to be average self-published work, but above-average).

    So I guess that's the difference for me. An indie publisher is a simply a small publisher that doesn't belong to the Bix 6, isn't necessarily incorporated with them, and is their own entity, while a self-publisher is one guy. I happen to think, based on that alone, there is a big difference.

    Again, just my opinion. And maybe things will change if I ever gain the self-confidence to feel I DON'T need an editor. But I'm not sure that will ever happen. I really don't want to see publishers go away, and while self-publishing may increasingly become a useful tool, I really don't want a market that's full of nothing but self-published writers (which I know is not what you're saying, at all).

    1. Fair enough. I guess what I mean is that your EVERY DAY reader doesn't really care. For those of us who are readers AND writers (as you say), we're obviously aware of the differences between "indie" and "self-published" but most readers who aren't familiar with publishing are just looking for a good book to read. Of course, they also get burned on some really crappy crap, but even major publishers publish some crappy crap ... though, of course, by no means to the same extent.

  7. "Of course, they also get burned on some really crappy crap,"

    Yep. Had a student the other day complain about the .99 ebooks she'd downloaded, that were poorly formatted, and not even edited. But we covered that in my last post.

    "..but even major publishers publish some crappy crap ...."

    Also very true. Thanks for adding to the convo, Rob!