Barry Eisler wrote a piece for the London Guardian a couple of days ago about the benefits of Amazon as compared to the Big 6 publishers. This and the comments that followed (well worth a read) continued the debate about exactly how powerful a force self-publishing is going to be.
Lawrence Block also wrote a compelling piece on his blog about the same topic, provoking lots of interesting stories from writers.
So where do we stand? Are we abandoning commercial publishing entirely? Is self-publishing where we're heading?
I realise this discussion has been rehashed several times on here, but I'm now seriously beginning to consider whether I should try to get agents and publishers interested (twenty-five years and still trying), or should just write the best book I can and put it on CreateSpace and Kindle.
Oh, and then take a course on Marketing Yourself for Fun and Profit ...
Barry Eisler is not self published with Amazon. He is commercially published with their publishing house. He was going to self publish until they offered him a dumptruck full of money. He was one of the keynote speakers at Crime Bake last fall, and I listened to him tell the whole story.
I feel your frustration. It took me thirteen years to get my first novel published. The small press I am with does no advertising, not even facebook, and the marketing has been up to me. Sales are not so good. I am back to looking for another publisher. I work hard at this, go to workshops and conferences, and feel as if it's all a popularity contest. Plenty of self-published books that are not as good as mine are selling thousands of copies.
I haven't got a clue about any of this.
There is another alternative: small press publishers. Here are some of the pros:
You don't need an agent! To me, that's a biggie. The big publishing houses won't even look at your work unless you have an agent and good luck finding a reputable agent if you're an unpublished novelist. Double-edged sword, in my opinion. Can't get a big publisher without an agent; can't get an agent if you're unpublished. Seriously, duh!
If a small press publisher reads your novel and wants to publish it, you've received validation not just for yourself but for your future readers. I think, when a writer self publishes, the question still remains in most people's minds: If the book is good, why won't any publisher take it?
You will be working with someone who knows the ropes.While you will have to do most of the promotion for your book yourself (if you self publish, you'll do all of it), your publisher will be there to help you avoid many of the pitfalls and to offer suggestions.
It took me a long time to get published but I finally found a small press publisher for my novel/s. It was worth the wait; I wouldn't trade him for the world!
I was once unpublished until I sold a short story to AHMM. Several stories later, I found an agent. The agent found a big-6 publisher, who did not promote. She found another big-6 publisher who did only a tiny bit of promotion. She found a small press who did no promotion. When the small press got greedy and e-publishing started, I got out. I frankly do not see a small publisher doing anything for me. And the big publishers have unrealistic royalty payments.
Now I self-publish. I frankly have no notion how to promote my books beyond sending announcements to fans whose e-mail I have. I leave the rest of the promotion up to them and to Amazon, who do a better job than my publishers did.
The rest lies in the future. Maybe things will change. I keep writing.
Self publishing is a mainstream activity by now. Larry Block is doing it, even Jackie Collins now. There's little reason not to give it a whirl IMO. If your self-pubbed book sells oodles then it'll help you find a trad publisher, if that's what you want. About the only risk is in finding an agent. Some don't like that the book is already out there in the public eye, while others don't mind at all. I think the same may be said of publishers too.
My opinion. The Big 6 and tree books are fading into the past, at least for fiction. Non-fiction may be different, I don't know. The future is murky. It comes down to where you want to put your time and energy. I've looked for agents and publishers with little payoff. My first book is on Amazon and I'm selling a few copies. Not enough. I've decided that I'll be better off to continue learning how to market it myself. This part of being a author isn't fun.
What tipped the scales for me is the ever increasing sales of Kindle, Ipad, and the others. Each one sold means a potential reader for my work. Add to that, we can reach the entire world through Amazon, iTunes, Smashwords, and all the other sources of e-books.
All of us are in the middle of figuring how the new world of writing and publishing will work. This forum is important as we hash it all out.
Thanks for all the sensible comments and advice. I've been published on Lulu.com now for about 5 years and recently switched to CreateSpace for my 2 paper-based books, and Kindle for the ebook. I'm selling about 10 copies a month and I'm actually owed money by people like Smashwords but haven't reached their threshold for payment yet.
But it's funny, I don't consider myself to be a published author because of course I did the publishing. I agree with J.E. - it seems to be a popularity contest. I know successful authors say that a good book will 'find its readers' - but history is littered with good writers who didn't or nearly didn't, but for happenstance or good fortune. Do I want to wait till I die before I'm discovered?
Anyway I'm currently staying in France and writing every day, halfway through my third novel and writing my blog as a way to build a profile. We'll see.
"it seems to be a popularity contest"
Of course it's a popularity contest. Books that aren't popular don't sell, and no one makes any money. The trick is to write a book that's popular AND good. The question every author has to answer for him or herself is, "Where is the balance point between my purity and my profit?" Some people can be true to themselves and still strike the public's fancy, writing the books they want to write and making money from it. (That's not an insult.)
A year ago i decided the reward to bullshit ratio wasn't in my favor regarding traditional publishing, so i went direct to Kindle and sold about 40 copies. I'm good with that. It would be nice if more sold, but not so nice I'd change my life for it.
Everyone is different.
This topic is all the buzz everywhere else in the mystery-sphere. I've been traditionally-published 4 times, twice with larger houses and the last two times with a small house (where I was quite happy). However, this small house has made it clear that they are closing their fiction line and I know I need to go elsewhere for my next book. It is the third entry in a series and I know traditional publishers (and agents) do not like to pick up series in the middle. Thus, I'm carefully monitoring these discussions and seriously interested in going the Smashwords/Kindle route. I'll experiment this summer by uploading short stories to Kindle, just to see how it works. I hope to have a book ready to pitch to agents at a conference in Spring 2013 - just to cover my bases - and if I don't get any action to my liking, I'll surely go with the self-pubbed ebook. And hey - if it takes off and a legacy publisher wants to pick it up and make an offer, I'll listen. I'm not much of an entrepreneur, but I worked very hard at promotion for my last two books and I know that whichever route I go - legacy big/small house, self-pub - I will still be responsible for the promotion.
I'm just as confused as everybody else on this subject, which is a bummer since I'm currently trying to publish my first novel. I'm currently querying literary agents, but feeling pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. From what I've read, every method of publishing has its pros and cons, and each writer has to figure out which method is going to be most suitable for his/her personality and the kind of work s/he is doing. Unfortunately, it's difficult to tell, just from reading, what those pros/cons actually ARE. There's so much sour grapes and self promotional cheerleading to wade through to get to the truth. However, from what I can glean, the pros / cons seem to stack up like this:
Big 6 / standard publishing model
Pros: national exposure, fairly big bucks if you hit the one in a million chance, creative validation
Cons: lack of creative control, agents/publishers take a big chunk of your income
Pros: complete creative control, you get to keep all the money
Cons: you spend less time writing and more time publishing, hard to make a dent in the market
The small / indie publisher route seems to fall somewhere between these two.
I have often wondered what would happen if a writer were to self-publish, and spend the 15% she would have paid an agent to hire a publicist.
Well, the 15% comes out of earnings. These build rather slowly over time for the self-published author. I guess it would depend on the publicist. Few things that attract attention nationwide are free. Advertising costs money. Big money, if it's national.
Otherwise, I think you have the pros and and cons correct. Mind you, I spend minimal time publishing/promoting. The publishing doesn't take all that much time, and the promoting is pointless. What I do have that I didn't have before is peace of mind. No more gnawing my fingernails or seething at the latest humiliating or damaging move on the part of the publishing system.
I agree. But I would say if you're going to include the "one in a million" in traditional publishing it should also be a pro in self-publishing as it has happened.
One other thing that Barry Eisler pointed out is the extra year or two of potential earning that a self-published gets in its life. It always seems to take so long for my publisher to bring out a book, at least six months after I hand it in and a couple of times to try and line up with the US publisher it took over a year. If you have to add to that another year (or more) of finding an agent and a publisher that may factor into your decision.
Ah, yes. The waiting is particularly miserable. Mind you, they want you to do the revising etc. in the shortest possible time.