Musings on Self-Publishing
Posted on April 20, 2013
It’s no secret that the publishing world is in the midst of an upheaval. There are large publishing houses merging, there are people successfully self-publishing, and there are literary agents getting hybrid deals that bridge between the two worlds. Every day, we can go searching for new information and something else will be reported.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I have no preference to either way of doing it. I’ve done a lot of research on both tracks. There’s a message board for writers that I participate in frequently that is geared more towards self-publishing. I’ve attended writing conferences that were geared more towards traditional publishing. I’ve pitched to an agent. I wrote a query letter. I’ve worked as an assistant to a successfully self-published author. To me, there’s no clear path except the one that helps a writer reach his/her goals.
What baffles me is that the traditional publishing world doesn’t work hard to offer a path to publishing that truly bridges between self-publishing and trade publishing – one that takes the best of what Amazon does for authors and melds it with what authors want from publishing houses. So far, any attempts at that have been woefully bad, like Random House’s (or Random Penguin’s?) Hydra Print that was eviscerated by John Scalzi for its terms for authors.
Another thing that baffles me is the amount of huge passion that self-published authors defend the path they take. I guess it’s from being kicked around by a lot of press and being treated as an unwanted guest at the publishing table. I’ve told people that I worked for a self-published author, and it is true that I got a few raised eyebrows and a feeling of being dismissed. Many of the reading public don’t equate both publishing paths the same. But I get surprised with how vehement the two sides can get with each other. To me, defensiveness does nothing to find ways to make change. It’s just making a fortress to defend a territory that may be doing well now while the world around shifts and moves. I’m more interested in seeing how the two can push each other to change things without authors being the ones taking all the hits.
One of the major complaints I’ve heard is that self-published books aren’t vetted, so the quality of the books can’t be as high as traditionally published ones. What vetting means is that the author’s work has gone through several different phases of getting it ready for public consumption. Someone in the trade, be it agent or editor, had to look over the work to decide if it’s something they can sell. Then it goes through an editing phase to get it in the best shape. Someone has an artist create a cover with back cover blurb and other PR stuff. There’s so much more involved, but it goes through a long process before it is released. A lot of readers trust that system and find it hard to trust a self-published book because they presuppose it that it’s only gone through the one channel of the writer.
For me, what this translates to is that if I self-publish, I have to vet my own work like a publishing house. So the bigger lesson to me is that when I self-publish (and I probably am going to with some of my adult WIP’s), I will do my job as an author to get the piece ready to go through the process, and then act like a publisher. I will find beta readers to read through it as if it were part of a slush pile to tell me what they liked and didn’t like to try and get it to where it could exist at the very top of the pile. Then as the author, I can go back and make changes with the notes and suggestions. After that, I will need to find at least one great editor to do a line edit of the whole. I’ve already got a great one lined up in Cheryl of Ink Slinger Editorial Services.
Some self-published authors have more than one editor go through their work and then take the suggestions made by both to come up with a more solid copy of the manuscript. I will definitely be finding another editor to do a final proofreading to catch the “oops” before getting it ready.
So the bigger lesson to me is that when I self-publish, I will do my job as an author to get the piece ready to go through the process, and then act like a publisher.
It helps that I’ve worked as an editor and have an eye, but as the author I can’t trust myself not to be too close to the work. I’m willing to go back as many times to work on the manuscript until it’s ready. This is where trust of people you work with in the process is crucial. I trust that Cheryl has my back and a great eye for the genre in which I write. I know that she won’t let me put anything out until it’s ready. Acting as a responsible publisher, I don’t want to release any book that isn’t ready.
Putting the publisher’s hat back on, I would want to find a good artist to create my cover. There are so many things to consider for the art such as how it will look as an e-book listing versus how it will look as a print-on-demand book cover. Since I’m not at this point yet, I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about it, but I have bookmarked several artists that authors from the message board that I frequent use. There are some outstanding book covers there, and they have not gone unnoticed by me.
One thing to note is that PR gets handled by the author whether or not they are traditionally or self-published. Facebook, blog tours, and other ways to get word out about a book’s release rests with the author to spend the time. Many people handle it differently, and the amount of advice out there varies dramatically. No one really knows how to catch that enigmatic luck that does hit for some authors to gain a wide readership. But I do know that a writer has to be prepared to handle the challenge of getting his/her book seen and bought once it’s out there.
There are many things I’m glossing over because I’ll discuss them as I encounter them once I’m through the main writing part and enter the publishing process. There are many advantages to self-publish a work and let the readers be the ones to decide if it’s good rather than let it sit on a slush pile somewhere. But there are also advantages to pursuing traditional publishing, especially if a major goal of the author is to get the book onto bookstore’s shelves, something that is a larger battle for the self-published. I’m encouraged to see more authors getting the hybrid deal like Hugh Howey who keeps his digital printing rights but got a contract for physical book publishing only. It’s new and different, and shows that change is happening right now.
Like I said, I am intending to self-publish my adult WIP, so I’m very aware that it’s a business adventure. Having learned a lot from running an editing business last year, I feel more prepared to enter into the fray with this. I have no absolute path yet, but I like the challenge it presents to me in order to succeed. In the meantime, I am appreciating the time now to just write and enjoy that journey prior to taking on the business side of the venture.