I've been noticing the plethora of small publishing shops springing up; those that charge the author (gasp!) and those that don't, and while I do appreciate the opportunity for all and all to get published, I’m wondering if some of these firms should come with a warning? What really bothers me is those that charge the author for publishing; I have no doubt this has been hashed out before here, and I apologize if I’m beating a dead horse. I only want to say that I applaud, and also differentiate, those small publishing houses that continue to exist and give chances to those great authors the big houses ignore. It seems for the author just starting out, unless you have a serious hook, or something they think will sell, you’re doomed. I’m sure this sounds familiar…nonetheless, I’ve read many excellent books from smaller publishers that give me hope that they are still aiming for the holy grail, while perhaps some of the bigger houses have gone “Brittney Spears.”

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I agree with this. It's really important to put some skin in the game if you're going to succeed.

There are some great blogs out there, and some that really make a difference. And the lines are blurring. Major media (CNN, Time-Warner) is using blogging software to support their online publishing initiatives. These have very commercial goals, as do the Huffington Post, SEED Media, the Daily Beast, and blogs at the NYTimes, WSJ, and others. The blog format is great for short-form, highly linked content, usually news or timely commentary. Novels conjure a narrative arc that propels readers from a point of inception to a satisfying dramatic crisis and resolution with characters they care about. I don't think blogs support narratives well. Print books and some e-book forms do.

"Form follows function" proves itself yet again, I guess!
The physical book is a commercial artifact people are willing to pay for. My book's also selling in e-book form and on the Kindle, but the reality is that most people still buy physical books. To have a commercially viable title, you need a physical book. My goal was to create a commercially viable mystery series. I do blog -- in support of the book, and I run a professional blog. Those have different goals, as well. Blogging is absolutely not the same things as having a self-published commercial title. I've made decent money in the single month my book's been out. I hope it's just the beginning.
Because, speaking strictly for myself here, I need to earn SOMETHING from what I write, if I'm going to do this as a 'career.' I know it most likely will never support me in the Style To Which I'd Like To Become Accustomed, but I simply can't afford (practically or psychologically) to invest the amount of time I do in writing and not get some monetary reward for it.
...They want the ego stroke of an agent and an acceptance letter. That's pretty vain in my eyes.

And that's pretty reductive in my eyes. I want a shot at a national audience and a chance at making a decent paycheck once in a while. I want to get paid part of my share of the profits before I write the book, so I can put gutters on my house and buy the big bottle of Grey Goose. I want advice and suggestions from seasoned pros, because I want my book to be as good as I can make it. I don't want to distribute or promote the book myself--I've got better things to do with my time. I never, ever want to be that guy selling books out of the trunk of my car--if that's evidence of vanity, so be it. If all I wanted was ego strokes, I'd go back to writing poetry full-time and hanging out at art colonies.
Note, I was talking about unpublished authors waiting for years to get their work out through a "legitimate" publisher. Those I've talked with won't self-publish because it would hurt their pride too much. They want the approval of an agent and a publishing house. They actually don't care about the sales, or think they'll magically materialize. They just want to be a published novelist with an advance. Whether it earns out or not, they don't care.

Me? I prefer to get my work out to a legitimate audience, and the finances of self-publishing work. That's a commercial fiction stance, and I think these things are what matters.

I think a main point in all this is that this isn't an "either/or" situation. Self-publishing is increasingly viable from a perception and commercial point of view. The traditional route is certainly viable, but the terms are different, and it is undergoing a revolution that will not preserve its core bargains -- books on consignment, author advances not earning out, etc. There's too much debt in the system for it to hold up, and better options are emerging. Right now, a legitimate choice is to publish traditionally if you can do it quickly and in a way that makes financial sense to you. But to hold on to the premise that it's the only way is a mistake these days, I believe.
And as I said, before I published my first novel none of my considerations had anything to do with pride; in fact, they had everything to do with trying to improve the state of my bank account. I'd love to have the option of quitting my day-job, or at least taking early retirement when the time comes. Self publication my be an "increasingly viable" route to that pleasant country, but what does that mean, really, in terms of dollar return on your time? Is it viable yet, or just more viable than it used to be--which is to say, not? Everything I've read indicates that "success" in self-pub means that the few lucky authors who do really, really well end up with (drumroll please) contracts with mainstream publishers for the next two books. In other words, most people who make the decision to self publish do so because they're thwarted and have no other option: the ultimate goal is still a contract with big pub.

Not that self-pub might not, someday, be an attractive business model for some writers. If I was Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, I might look into starting my own publishing house as a way of maintaining control of my product and keeping a larger share of the profits for myself. So far, though, I'm not aware of any best-selling author who's taken that step. I suppose it's just a matter of time, as you say.
I'm still pondering the vanity thing. Jon and I are familiar with the total disdain for vanity-press published colleagues who were buying privileges for themselves in their careers. This constituted a type of dishonesty then. It's different for writers who write for the love of it, of course. Those self-published authors are looking for the satisfaction of holding The Book in their hands and showing it to friends and family. A harmless form of vanity, I think.

But there are also writers who dream of becoming best-selling authors and making millions. They pay to publish and then sell out of their trunks as many books as possible. Not every one of them is undeserving of success, but since they have almost always gone through every agent and editor with their manuscript already and been rejected, chances are good that they'd be better off doing something else.

That sort of madness has never done anything for me. Neither has holding one of my books made me feel wonderful. But the fact is that I love reviews and fan mail, so I'm clearly not immune. I don't count on making a living any time soon, but the fact that I'm not does occasionally make me bitter. I was angry when I sold my first two novels and discovered that my tax obligations were so steep that two years' work did not leave me with enough to buy a decent car. On the whole, I'd call my involvement with my books not vanity but self-respect.
I could've bought a great car with my first advance--in 1965.

There clearly is a path to commercial success through self-publishing, and this guy pretty much invented it. http://www.amazon.com/Child-Called-Childs-Courage-Survive/dp/155874...

It requires relentless self-promotion, a pretty sophisticated understanding of how best-seller lists and Amazon rankings are compiled, and enough cash-flow to keep the whole literary Ponzi scheme going until the media takes notice. It's a lot easier to get on Oprah if you can call yourself a "best-selling" author. It's also apparently likely that Pelzer made the whole thing up, though that's neither here nor there in this discussion.
Oh, I think that's very much "here." Made-up memoirs are all the rage, and who doesn't want to read about the gross abuse of a child? Some books are a tad easier to sell than others.
All good points, Jon, except I think you meant to say, "I don't want to distribute and promote the books myself -- I want professionals trained in those fields to do that."
That, too, John.
Andrew, I hear what you are saying in what you wrote, but some of us different problems with getting published in UK or USA. My first novel is in print by waterfrontbooks.net in South Africa which really doesn't make me much money because the market here is just so small (4 500 copies sold and you're concidered a best seller here) Now, what I need is a publishing deal in UK/USA, but the publishing houses there won't accept a manuscript from someone outside of the country unless it comes from an agent or with a referal from one of their current authors. The agents say it is too much trouble to represent someone from so far away, unless they are already a known writer!
I'm thinking perhaps I should e-publish but being an internet illiterate, I can't seem to find out how to do this, or who to do it with!

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