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Topic: What's your opinion of self-publishing? (warning: a bit of a rant)

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Subject: What's your opinion of self-publishing? (warning: a bit of a rant)
Date Posted: 4/29/2007 2:28 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2006
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I never used to have a bias against self-published authors, however lately it's really starting to tick me off.

Just today the local bookstore talked with me about coming in for a signing, and they grouped me with a bunch of self-published authors--which means they won't be promoting me by name.  That's really not of any use to me because those who buy my books won't know I'm there.   Also, they said since the others bring their own books, could I do that too?  Well, I never do that.  When I do a signing it's as a courtesy.  I don't need to actually "sell" my books because that's already done for me through distributors, bookstores, etc...unlike the self-published who actually need a venue for publicity and sales.

This is now the second time that this has happend to me locally.  Last year the guy setting up a signing event for local writers in our area didn't even know the difference between self-published and professional writers!  There was this 80-something year old lady with a book she had just had printed about her life that he was having in along with the other writers.  Not that I have anything against someone having a book about their life or whatever printed up, but it's just not the same thing as those of us who do this for a living.

I don't want to sound like I have my nose in the air or anything, but do you think people really understand the difference?  As someone who does this professionally, it's starting to bug me.  I work really hard to find a publisher, go through all the editing and censors, etc....all the contract negotiations, etc., etc., etc....and I guess I'm starting to resent being grouped with those who just whip out a checkbook and have their book printed.

Having said that, I know it's really hard to get published, and I also know that there are those who are self-published that probably work even harder than me (as they have to promote and sell themselves).  However, there are also A LOT of self-published people who call themselves authors just as I do when all they've done is have their book printed and stacked in their garage.

Ok, I'm done carrying-on now.  What do you think?

Date Posted: 4/29/2007 3:53 PM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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Ive always had a bias against self publishing because I have always had the impression that you have to do it alllllll yourself. With a small memoir type thing (like the 80 yo lady) that would seem to be the way to go but a book like mine which is a complete work of fiction and a popular genre would fair much better imo with a larger publishing co.

I also have a fear of being picked up by a publishing co and losing my FNAPW (first north american printing rights) which for what I have read are a major money generator for writers.

Do you have an agent?

Date Posted: 4/29/2007 4:09 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2006
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I've have always acted as my own agent Chris.   I could never choke down the idea of giving 15% (or probably even more now) to someone to do the same thing I can do myself. 

After one of my books was on the bestseller list however, I did for a short time seek an agent--and couldn't get one...leading me to realize the saying "it's harder to get an agent than it is to find a publisher" was really true.  After all, if I, having had a bestselling book couldn't get an agent, how much chance does someone just starting out?  It was my impression that since my first book was the bestselling one, the agents didn't want to take a chance on what they thought might be a "one hit wonder", but overall I didn't get much feedback so I'm not sure.  Maybe now that I have several books I'd have more luck--but by this point I wonder, again, why would I want to go that route?  Maybe I could have done better with my contracts, but I really don't think so, and with the type of writing I do, I feel I can market myself almost as well as an agent could.  The only benefit to me would be to save me time on the business end of things.  For all the writing I do, if I look at it overall, I probably only spend about 40% of my time actually writing.  The rest is on finding markets for my work, negotiating terms, and marketing.  I'm such a control freak though, I probably wouldn't be that happy with an agent anyway.

As far as your concerns about "rights" goes, you could always have a copyright attorney look over the contract for you when the time came.  I would guess agents have attorneys do that for them anyway...so again, why have an agent?  There are a lot of books about contact law too, and those really have helped me in the past.  You just have to go over everything clause by clause and be extremely careful and nit-picky about the terminology.  A lot of times, the big publishing houses aren't going to give you much choice anyway with a new author.

Are you seeking an agent Chris?

Date Posted: 4/29/2007 6:01 PM ET
Member Since: 4/8/2006
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I have read about some people self-publishing and doing all of their own publicity and doing well. I don't think that this happens very often, but it's possible.

I don't have a high opinion of paying to publish your own books. However, I may change my mind after I try to get published. 

I could dip my dog's paw in ink, let him create his masterpiece, then pay to have a bunch of copies printed up. Sure, he would have a book with his name on it, but I don't think that he should then be grouped with professional writers at an event. 

Then again, I have read about bestsellers that were rejected numerous times before finally being published. What if some of the great novels were self-published? Would they be less than great due to the process that got them 
into the hands of readers? Maybe it's just snobbery to look down on self-published work.


Date Posted: 4/29/2007 10:17 PM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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Im rewriting my book now but that shouldnt take too long. When its finished and edited I will start shopping agents. From the research that I have done a major publishing co. is always going to be able to market a book better than I can. They have the money for advertisement, printing, etc. I dont. And because of that I need an agent. No publishing co. that I have found (with the exception of one that I will get to in a bit) will take an unrepresented ms. Since I cant even get a foot in the door without an agent I will need one. You do devotional/psychology right? That is vastly different from my genre which is paranormal fiction. I guess though that like Leah I have a bit of a snobbish view of self publishing because the self published books Ive seen are not major sellers. They arent marketed well because the author doesnt have the resource to market them.

Since the paranormal genre is growing in popularity Tor is now taking unrepresented ms for that genre and I will mail to them but an agent has contacts that I dont. Its not just the legal aspect but that is a major selling point for me. So I feel that I need an agent. I talked with Lori Handeland (popular paranormal writer) on her message boards and in emails and she told me that agents are very important in the fiction market. I dont think its still there but I will see if I can find where we were talking about agents.

Date Posted: 5/2/2007 11:56 AM ET
Member Since: 10/24/2005
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If you're just doing signing as a courtesy, and you don't like being lumped in with self-published authors, then why not stop doing them.  I don't really think that looking at signings as a "courtesy" is the best approach, but if you don't think you're getting anything out of them and your publisher doesn't mind why not just stop doing them?


Date Posted: 5/2/2007 12:27 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2006
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Anthony--I didn't do the last two because of that.  The point of the signings is to be available to those who are interested in my books--to give them the chance to come in and speak with me, etc...(which doesn't happen if my name isn't advertised ahead of time).  Another purpose is to help out the local bookstores who sell my book (kind-of a way to thank them for stocking it), because it draws more people into the stores.  Lastly, it's to meet new people who might be interested in my work--but I've found that usually that's a very small percentage compared to those who come because they know I'm there--so unless it's a big gathering where lots of people are coming through, that reason isn't all that significant.

Most of the time, from my experience, singings aren't of much use to a small-time writer like me.  Maybe for the big name writers it's useful as publicity for a new book, but for someone like me I don't think it makes that much difference economically.  That's why I consider them more of a "courtesy".  I've found that publicity for me is far better on tv, radio and newspapers (which I've done a lot of as well).  I get a lot more feedback from those venues and reach more people with less time.

Date Posted: 5/4/2007 6:51 PM ET
Member Since: 1/31/2007
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Lynn, for me, that's a rather difficult question to answer as it's a two-fold situation.

First, it's hard to lump every self-published author into the same pile. Some people use self-publishing for control reasons (I know one self-published author who just doesn't trust anyone but herself to do her publicity, etc.) but have wonderful novels (books, pamplets, what have you) and there are others who just want to be able to say "yes, I'm an author", when in reality, what they wrote was utter rubbish.

But, at the same time, there are professionally published authors that could be argued did not earn that the title of author and/or writer. There's more red-tape professionally and many times, the duds get weeded out very early (saving us, the readers, from having to deal with eye sores) but still, just because you've had something professionally done doesn't make it golden. Just like self-publishing doesn't automatically make you an author.

The second issue stems from the prospective of a writer/reader...

I fully understand your frustration. You've done yours. You've dealt with the red-tape. You've jumped through the hoops. You should be recognized as a professional author whose gone through the professional channels to get your name and work out there. You shouldn't have to be lumped with someone who may or may not have put any effort into their own work because honestly, these days, they could have printed up their grocery list, had it printed, and called it their masterpiece.

But, to play devil's advocate, the majority of readers do not know the difference between self published and professional, or, if they do, they just don't care. Frustrating, yes, but if they like what they're reading enough to go to a signing, they're not going to care if the author is self-published or not.

Not only that but courtesy or not, small time author or not, a signing is a way to get publicity for your work. It gets your name and your work noticed and out there. Yeah, you may only get one new reader out of every three book signings but you're still reaching one more person than you would have before. Which may or may not matter to you but it's still a possibility.

As for the venue that the manager (or whom ever) asked you to bring your own books...I wouldn't have agreed to that. As you said, you're doing a courtesy, a favor (if you will) for the store, why not use that as a chance to explain the difference between a self-published author and professional author to him/her. It may get them thinking and say 'hey, maybe we need to note the difference'...then again, maybe not. You never know until you try.

And I've probably strayed from your question so I'll stop my rambling there. *g* Good luck with your writing!

Date Posted: 5/4/2007 8:01 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2006
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You made some very good, and clear, points Heather.  Thanks for your thoughts on the subject.

You mentioned that I could have used the opportunity to explain the difference between professional and self-published when the recent request for a signing came up.  I didn't get into it with this person, but the previous time it happened, I did try to explain it.  It was a guy who was organizing  a group of writers for a women's conference.  It was one of the strangest conversations I've had.  No matter how I explained it, he just didn't get it.  Finally I pointed to the planner he had in front of him and told him that he could write a check, send that to the "publisher" and he'd have a bunch of books stacked in his garage in a couple months.  "There you go", I told him, "now you're an author".  He still didn't get it--although he did seem a bit perplexed (which I took as a good sign that perhaps later, as he thought about, it would sink in).  I guess that experience led me to not try to explain it again to someone else.

You're right, of course, that doing a signing is worthwhile from the standpoint of getting even one new reader.  However, as someone who is short of time already (as we all are with family and occupational obligations), I have to pick and choose what will give me the most benefit for the time spent.

Thanks again for your thoughts everyone.  I find that this is becoming an increasing source of frustration for me.  It was good to "rant" for a bit, and hear other's thoughts as well.

Date Posted: 5/6/2007 8:17 PM ET
Member Since: 12/12/2005
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I think self-publishing is great for people who already have built-in audiences, such as established speakers. They can avoid all the publishing red tape and probably earn a much higher percentage on sales than if they went the traditional publishing route. However, I am frustrated by writers who think they can self-publish without even using spell check, much less a professional editor. It really surprises me to learn that any bookseller would put a professional in the same group as someone who is self-published. Talk about apples and oranges! You should definitely not be promoted in the same group as one who is self-published!


Last Edited on: 5/6/07 8:42 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 5/8/2007 1:09 PM ET
Member Since: 6/30/2005
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I'm going to keep this really simple.

For me, self publishing is along the same lines as independent filmmakers creating no-budget shorts or videos. You could have the opinion that the idea or product isn't worth the time if a major production company isn't willing to pump millions of dollars into it, OR you can have the opinion that sometimes people want or need to share their craft with others without becoming part of the vast machinery of the industry.

Date Posted: 5/8/2007 11:26 PM ET
Member Since: 7/2/2006
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After one of my books was on the bestseller list however, I did for a short time seek an agent--and couldn't get one...leading me to realize the saying "it's harder to get an agent than it is to find a publisher" was really true.  After all, if I, having had a bestselling book couldn't get an agent, how much chance does someone just starting out?  It was my impression that since my first book was the bestselling one, the agents didn't want to take a chance on what they thought might be a "one hit wonder", but overall I didn't get much feedback so I'm not sure.

 

I don't mean to veer OT here but  the curiosity is killing me. I'm surprised  you didn't get much feedback from agents if you had one bestseller under your belt. You're talking about a national bestseller? From a name publisher? Was it fiction or a specialized non-fiction work?
Date Posted: 5/9/2007 1:03 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2006
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It was a national bestseller, but in Christian stores (called the CBA list).  It's a big deal in the Christian market, but it's not the same as being on the New York Times list or something.

Having that book make the list has been a big help to me, and it has become a series of books (of which I'm now finishing my sixth).  It's still selling very well.

Date Posted: 5/9/2007 8:37 PM ET
Member Since: 7/2/2006
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I'm familiar with the CBA. That's quite an accomplishment.

 

The publishing business is certaily strange about the agents though. Have you  done any searching via agentquery.com ? It's been some time since I've checked that site but they should still  have a search feature where you can sort agents by subject, keywords etc. That might give you some new leads if you decide to look into representation again..

Date Posted: 5/12/2007 9:20 AM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2006
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Thanks Barb.  Once I finish the book I'm under contract for at present, I may check into that. 

After my unsuccessful search for an agent some years ago, I didn't try again.  I guess after negotiating contracts on my own several times, and having more than enough work to keep me busy, I just let it slide.  I do think however, that I should probably try again to find representation--although I wonder if it's really as important in the Christian market. 

Date Posted: 5/12/2007 12:59 PM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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I believe that when you search in agentquery it will give you examples of who that agent represents. You could get an idea of any authors similar to you who have agents and if they fair better than you ie sell better.

If that didnt make sense don't blame me its the allergy meds.

Date Posted: 6/4/2007 5:21 AM ET
Member Since: 2/28/2007
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I don't agree that authors who are self-published are not "professionals."

There are some pretty successful people who got started by self-publishing.  I'm pretty sure that Vince Flynn's first book was self-published. After he tried to sell his first thriller to a publisher and was rejected, he found a group of investors in the Twin Cities who backed his book - which became a big hit and then was bought by a mainstream publisher.

Then there are "The Lutheran Ladies," Suzann Nelson and Janet Letnes Martin, who have sucessfully self-published a series of humorous books about growing up in the Dakotas and Minnesota in the 50s and 60s. A musical comedy, "Church Basement Ladies," based on their books is currently on tour with shows in Nashville and Minneapolis. They work very hard and are very good at personal appearances; they are also in high demand as speakers.

 

Date Posted: 6/9/2007 10:35 PM ET
Member Since: 3/1/2006
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I don't know much about self-publishing, but I was considering looking into it at one time. Now I'm not so sure. I do know that my local chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America) group does a little self-publishing, but we give all the money we make from the book to the literacy foundation.

 

Anyone care to share with me the subject of self-publishing? I'm not going to do it, but I would like to learn about it from someone who knows.

 

And someone here (sorry I'm too lazy to scrol back up) mentioned a copyright attorney? Does anyone know one of those I might contact to pick their brain? I've been thinking about copyrights and rights a lot lately, but people I ask about it simply tell me it would be better if I just contact a person in the field. However, I know no one in the field, or any lawyers for hat matter.

 

Anyway, good luck to anyone out there,

Natalie

Date Posted: 6/10/2007 7:42 PM ET
Member Since: 10/11/2005
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Self-publishing is increasing among published authors. There are many writers with clique audiences who are choosing to go the self-publishing route, if only to see more financial returns than an independent publisher can offer.

I have a feature on my blog where authors create and discuss a playlist that relates in some way to their book. For the series I get many solicitations of books of every genre. My only prerequisite is that I enjoy the book (and admittedly, my standarsd are relatively high). One self-published book has made the cut (of over 50 self-published volumes sent my way), and I proudly posted the author's essay.

The internet and the new directions of PR are changing publishing just like they have changed music. It is easier than ever to make a living outside traditional media venues.

Date Posted: 6/30/2007 7:16 AM ET
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My brother wrote a book that was a sort of a funny hybrid between a memoir, a business book and a partial history of the programming industry and the company he works for, and memoir, and he self-published it after he couldn't find a publisher who wanted it. I think it would have needed major changes to be easily marketable, to slant it toward either memoir or business book, and he didn't really want to do that. So he self-published it through one of the print-on-demand places (I think it was iUniverse). The book's available through Amazon (where it has about 3.5 stars and 15 reviews), and he's sold some hundreds of copies and has a small following of other programmers, many from his own company (which is large and has a certain mystique). He had wanted to get his ideas out there, and he did, so he's happy, although not substantially the richer. I had edited the book for him originally, including some light copy editing - I'm a professional copy editor [not anywhere useful for networking purposes, I'm sorry to say: I work on scientific journals] - so it came out fairly literate but less polished than a thoroughly edited book from a publisher. But then, these days, how many books, especially nonfiction, get careful editing?

Meanwhile, my brother went on to write a programming book which he sold by the more standard method of writing a sample chapter or two and sending out query letters, and which has duly been published by a regular publisher; and he's working up a query for a second one now. His demonstrated ability to write a full-length book didn't hurt with getting the contract, but I don't think it was a huge selling point. But getting his first book published, by whatever means, DID free up his energies to write the second. Plus it helped him get started writing reviews and commentaries for various industry publications, and got his name out there a bit (although this would probably only matter for certain types of nonfiction, like his).

So, my take on this is that there's definitely a useful role for self-publishing in establishing one's career, but it's limited. And it's probably best for something that you really don't think will sell a lot.

Meanwhile: the idea that a bookstore employee wouldn't have a grasp on the difference is mind-boggling! I guess in these days of blogging (etc. etc. etc.), the distinction between formal and informal publishing channels is getting increasingly fuzzy in people's minds. From my professional position, I just hope the publishing industry doesn't collapse while I'm still trying to make a living in it!

Date Posted: 8/7/2007 10:13 PM ET
Member Since: 12/21/2005
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I confess I was somewhat ignorant about the difference before stumbling across this thread--thanks everyone, for making such excellent and interesting points!

Date Posted: 8/8/2007 2:12 AM ET
Member Since: 11/29/2006
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I have to say that I'm rather offended by your post.  I'm a writer and am looking into self-publishing myself.  Just because a person chooses to self-publish, that doesn't make their work any less good than anyone elses and I don't think that people should look at those who choose that option as any less of a writer.

Date Posted: 8/8/2007 2:21 AM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2007
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I agree with those of you who are for self-publishing, as I have known people who have gone this route and furthered their writing careers from it, eventually becoming published by professional companies.  Sometimes I think that in order to get our work out there we have to consider more than one approach and self publishing is a good one, in my opinion. :)



Last Edited on: 8/8/07 2:22 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 8/8/2007 10:58 AM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2006
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I think the issue is not so much  being "for" or "against" one type of publishing or the other, but perhaps it's more an issue about the individual writers.  For instance I know a guy who simply paid to have his book "made" and now those books are literally stacked in boxes in his garage.  He hasn't done anything beyond that, but still promotes himself as an "author".  On the other hand there are the Chicken Soup guys who filled the trunk of their car and went across the nation to make their books a success.  Obviously, the Chicken Soup guys worked harder than a standard author (or at least as hard), but the guy with his books in the garage is another type of "author" alltogether. 

I'm not sure what the answer is--but I know as someone who works within the system to find a publisher and produce the quality of work demanded in this highly competitive field, it's frustrating for me to see someone else just write a check and consider himself on the same level professionally as me (whether his work is any good or not).

Date Posted: 8/8/2007 6:26 PM ET
Member Since: 11/29/2006
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That's exactly my point.  People see those who self-publish to not be on the same level professionally when in reality, most of them are.  It's an unfair assumption that all self-published writers aren't as good or as professional as those who go through regular publishing companies.  That's like saying that they guy who paints great pictures of people in the flea market isn't really an artist because his work isn't in a gallery.  When in fact that couldn't be any further from the truth.  It's just not right to say that self-published writers aren't on the same level professionally as you are.  No offense, but it seems like (by what you said) you have a rather high opinion of yourself and an extremely low opinion of other writers. 

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