Sunday, November 14, 2010
Self-publishing and bad advice
Self-publishing has its place. Some writers, like J. A. Konrath, have enough of a readership that they don’t need a publisher’s marketing or distribution channels, some writers have niches to tap and some just want to print and sell a few dozen copies of their books. There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing per se.
But it is not right for everyone. And when I see any writer being urged to do it, without thought for genre or sales or what that writer wants to accomplish eventually… well, I have to say something. Or write a blog post.
Henry Hutton, the person giving this terrible advice was one of the founding members of Lulu and now owns “a self-publishing agency” called Publish and Sell Enterprises, so he has a vested interest in getting writers to self-publish. And this is what he has to say…
What advice would you give to authors considering self-publishing?
Do it, and don’t wait. You’re only harming yourself if you do.
Supplies are limited, call now!
Talk about pressure. Working to improve your craft and trying for commercial publication is actually hurting you. Who knew?
I’ve seen too many authors that have waited years to garner a publishing deal, without success.
And I’ve seen too many authors who rushed their early efforts and learning experiences into print through self- or vanity publishing. Or who had manuscripts with real commercial potential, but wasted this and couldn’t get a publisher to accept a reprint.
Saying that people wait years for a publishing deal is like claiming that people wait years for a medical degree. That’s rather the point. I don’t want a doctor who graduated after six months.
By self-publishing, authors - especially first-time authors - will better understand the process and challenges of publishing.
How so? Does self-publishing teach them to write query letters or synopses or back cover copy? Does it teach them to self-edit? What about cover art? How do they go from uploading a book to Lulu to learning about marketing and distribution and returns?
Self-publishing to learn about commercial publishing makes no sense. Wouldn’t it be easier to research the “process and challenges of publishing” without trading one’s rights away for it?
They’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, and actually become better positioned - through the self-publishing success - to get picked up by a traditional publisher.
Assuming they have a success. The odds are heavily against them.
And if they don’t succeed, why would the commercial publisher (“traditional publisher” is a term usually used by vanity presses pretending to be otherwise) be interested?
Or, alternatively, they’ll find their niche and remain as a self-publisher to maintain control over their book and income. It can be a win-win, but you won’t know if you don’t try.
Or, alternatively, they’ll spend a great deal of time and effort trying to achieve sales outside their pocket market, only to run up against all the barriers – professional reviewers don’t touch self-published books, distributors won’t take them, stores won’t carry them, etc. And then at the end, they won’t have a career in writing. They’ll have one book which sold an average of 75 to 100 copies, and broke even if they were lucky.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I can do without that kind of “control”.
Thousands of people are self-publishing every day.
If thousands of lemmings were leaping into the ocean, would that make it a good idea?
And if we’re going by what thousands of people do, well, thousands of people query agents too.
Their book is being purchased, it’s being read, and the author is receiving feedback. Yes, sometimes the feedback is negative, and sometimes the book wasn’t as good as it should have been. If that’s the case, it’s better to have a small self-publishing failure (that you can quickly recover from) than a failure with a traditional publisher. That’s almost impossible to recover from.
Where to start?
Firstly, what is a “small” self-publishing failure? One where you only lose a few hundred dollars buying your own books and self-promoting, or one where you can’t get any publisher to accept reprint rights? Only writers can tell how quickly they’ll recover from these.
Secondly, when commercially published books flop, writers don’t say, “Now I shall hang up my quill and never write again, because it is almost impossible to recover from this debacle.” They submit the next manuscript under a pen name. And they get to keep the advance anyway. I’m sure it’s “almost impossible” to recover from getting thousands of dollars that you can keep even if a book flops.
Finally, I don’t like scare tactics, and this particular answer of Mr Hutton’s had them from beginning to end. It’s one thing to promote your own company’s products and services, but it’s another thing to misinform or try to alarm people into buying them.
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