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Self-Publishing. Think Before You Speak.

October 27, 2010

A warning right off the bat: This is a bit of a rant, brought on by the post over on Squeaky Books and the comments following it. While I do understand that there is plenty of badly written self-published work out there, I certainly don’t think traditional publishing puts out pristine work either. That said, read on for a bit of self-pub opinions from me. (It was only a matter of time, right? XD)

Self-Pub. Think Before You Speak.
(or Please Share Only Your Well-Researched Opinions)

Non-writers, readers, and non-self-published writers telling self-published writers what they’re allowed to self-publish and how. This? This does not make any sense to me. There are those out there that give the basic argument of ‘Unless it’s about model trains or family histories, it shouldn’t be self-published.’ They’re also fond of, ‘Self-publishing for fiction is only appropriate if your work is very, very niche.’ Of course, that is often coupled with, ‘If you were rejected by a traditional publisher, you aren’t good enough to be published, so don’t self-publish’ and the obvious ‘Some people are lucky and end up with a traditional publishing contract and agent, but it’s rare.’

There are a few assumptions going around: Unless it’s non-fiction or to be shared only with friends and family, you should never self-publish, every self-published author’s goal is to eventually be picked up by a traditional publisher, and that they’re self-publishing because they already sent out queries and were denied.

On all three counts, I hit the giant buzzer to set off flashing red lights and sirens. This is coming from people who aren’t even self-published. That would be like me going into NASA and telling them what they can and cannot do with their space equipment and how. They wouldn’t care that I have a degree in Kinesiology, because I obviously didn’t have any training in what they do and cannot be considered an authority in their field. In short, I’d be laughed at and promptly removed by security.

That’s what I feel like doing when people who don’t know what they’re talking about take it upon themselves to rail against self-publishing when they’ve never truly researched the different opportunities out there, including their own ‘safe haven’ of traditional publishing. They elevate traditional publishing onto this pedestal as if it’s this flawless standard to which all else must aspire. If that were the truth, then they would be right to tell us all that we’re only self-publishing because we’re the proverbial jealous, spurned lovers looking for vengeance. There’s only one problem…

Traditional publishers have one goal: to profit from your writing.

When they look at manuscripts and end up rejecting them, it’s for one reason: ‘We don’t know how to profit from this’.

Even if it’s ‘We don’t know how to market this to make a profit’, it’s still all about the bottom line. Publishers are not going around trying to do the world a favor and provide them with the best-written material out there no matter the subject matter. They just aren’t. They’re looking to make money, and why wouldn’t they? When authors are clamoring to get their publishing contract and hand off 80-90% of their royalties on future sales beyond their advances, it’s an excellent business to be in, don’t you think? Get as many authors buying into your system as you can, and you make a mint off of royalties that you haven’t actually earned at all, because only a small portion of your profit actually goes to paying editors, cover artists, and marketing.

We’ve just gotten used to it. Kids who want to grow up to be writers are raised with that notion that they must dream of being signed to a certain house that specializes in their genre of interest. But is that really the best thing for everyone to automatically think of when faced with the choices of self-publishing, vanity publishing, e-press publishing, and traditional publishing?

I would argue that it is not. I’ll admit that I’m quite pro-self-publishing, but that doesn’t mean I’m anti-traditional-publishing. First and foremost, I just want people to know their options, to have realistic expectations and research their publishers, be they traditional or e-press oriented. Writers who want to be published one way or another should learn everything they can about the process and what they can expect from each option before they make an educated decision about the road they take. What I’m saying here is that unwavering faith in traditional publishing as the end-all be-all of publishing is misplaced because most people don’t even fully understand what traditional publishers do, much less how they compare to self-publishing.

What’s the profit for me to be traditionally published? Most publishers have so many books they’re putting out that you’re lucky if you get a quality editor to begin with. A lot of companies are even hiring out for editing now, and maybe it’s not everyone’s thought process, but it’s what’s happening. Many e-presses have sub-par editing as well because the presses themselves don’t bank that much money, so they can’t afford to pay out $500 or more per novel-length release. They would quickly go broke. From an editing standpoint, there is little reason to choose one path over another unless you have your heart set on top-of-the-line editing, which you can only guarantee while self-publishing (you can take a gamble on a publisher, but not guarantee it).

In fact, I’d argue that there’s nothing a big press does that I can’t do myself… with perhaps the sole exception of warehousing. And even that isn’t completely true, because you could go and rent a climate controlled storage space. Distribution can be contracted, printers can be contracted, cover artists and editors can be contracted, and I can have ultimate control over my work as an author if I’m willing to take on the responsibility and head-aches involved in holding the reins myself.

The only thing we self-publishers can’t duplicate ourselves is name clout. That’s what it comes down to. Those who seek traditional publishing contracts want to be associated with the name of that publisher. That’s great and all, but it’s just a name. In the end, that name means nothing.

It also seems to be a forgotten fact that most, if not all, the e-presses that are widely known these days were started up by people who wanted to first and foremost publish themselves and their friends. They began as self-publishing ventures, and I bet if you traced back the lineage of most traditional publishers, you would find the exact same thing: someone who thought it a keen idea to publish either what they had in their heads or the heads of people who agreed with them on certain issues. Many people these days have a way of trying to ignore the roots of publishing, because if publishers began as self-publishing ventures, then what’s the problem with them now?

There isn’t a problem with it. It’s that simple. Why are people so afraid of that? Is it really so earth-shattering to realize that publishers are in it for the money they can make off your writing? Is it really so surprising that they have nothing to offer that you couldn’t go out and find yourself if you had a mind to?

I mean, really, if you aren’t obsessed with being one of thousands associated with a name like Samhain or Harper-Collins, then you can completely cut out the middle man and get the editing, cover art, and typesetting done yourself. Then you control the quality of those elements instead of trusting someone else. Either way, you could pay for the same quality that they would give you, do your own marketing like you would with a traditional publisher in the first place, and get 100% of your royalties instead of cutting up your profit pie by giving huge pieces to the publisher (from 60% at an e-press to 94% with certain traditional publishers) and your agent (10% to 15%, perhaps 20% if new trends are an indication).

Advances are great. I won’t knock them completely, but you still have to pay the publisher back with your royalties. An advance is just an advance, a chunk of money you get all at once instead of over the course of a year or two or however long it takes to earn it from initial book sales. At best, you’re looking at taking home 40% of your royalties at an e-press without an agent. At worst, you’re looking at a mere 5.4% at a traditional press with a cut going to your agent.

Just a hypothetical money word-problem here, but if you sell 100 books at $7.99, not counting the third-party vendors taking a cut, the difference in the types of publishing are very clear in how much money you’ll actually take home:

Self-publishing = $799.00
E-publisher w/out agent = $319.60
Traditional publisher + agent = $43.15

Keep in mind that self-publishing doesn’t deal with the BS of returns either. You could ‘sell’ 100 copies through your traditional publisher, but half of them could be returns that you have to pay back later. You never know how your book is going to truly sell because everything is pre-sold in bulk with the possibility of return. In self-publishing, you know exactly how many you’ve sold because you’re the one in charge.

Why is it so bad for self-publishers to see a flawed system and make some money off their own work? How is that a bad thing? Even those who knock self-publishing will turn around and complain about how little authors get paid for their stories and how writers can’t make a living off their hard work. Well… pick your poison.

I just want people who aren’t involved in self-publishing to do their research before they make so many assumptions. It doesn’t make you look smart; it just makes you look like you didn’t do your research… at least to those of us who have researched all we can about the publishing industry.

It’s just tiring to see the same misguided opinions about self-publishing be repeated over and over.

End of rant. *chuckles*

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2010 12:15 pm

    Hear hear! Lovely post. I was one who ranted against self-publishing for years. Now I’m doing it.

    • October 28, 2010 2:55 pm

      Thanks for the compliment, Jayden! I just felt so provoked by reading the same old, ‘I just realized I have no idea what I’m talking about with self-publishing, so what do all of YOU think?’ approach to finding out about self-pub.

      There’s nothing wrong with asking your friends about self-publishing to learn a little bit more and get their personal impressions, but those are so often biased one way or the other that you get very little fact out of it all. I just wish that people who are honestly curious would examine the whole process and look at both traditional publishing and self-publishing.

      I think all that a lot of self-pub authors want is for non-self-pub authors to do the same amount of research we typically do. A lot of people are scared to look deeper at the traditional publishers, though, for fear of seeing just how badly a lot of mid-list authors are screwed by the process that’s in place. I just want all writers to make a reasonable amount of money for all the time they put into their work, and that’s not a bad thing at all. ^_-

      Thanks again for the comment, though! I’m sorry if I just talked your ear off. XD
      ~K. Piet

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