DEFYING GRAVITY: Self-Publishing
Thanks, B.E. for asking me to weigh in on a subject that’s hot right now—self-publishing. What does that have to do with gravity and defying the same? A lot actually. Self-publishing has become so easy, anyone can do it. But just because anyone can doesn’t mean they should. I remember when I first participated in National Novel Writing Month. People dashed off their 50K/60K/90K novels, printed them out and started submitting. In December, a massive wail accompanied by much gnashing of teeth went up from the publishing world. Agents and editors cringed and wondered if they could take the whole month off.
Why? Because NONE of those books were ready for submission much less publication. In the almost ten years since, wannabe authors completely bypass the traditional route and throw their work out there. As a result, for most of those ten years, self-publishing was tainted. Only junk was self-published. And I’m being polite to label it junk. I’d hazard that at least 95% of it was absolute crappola.
That perception is slowly starting to change. New York Times best-selling authors are starting to self-publish—Courtney Milan, Allison Brennan, Debra Webb, Jennifer Lyon and many more. Still other talented authors are finding self-publishing as a route to enter the world of traditional publishing. They self-published first, hit big, and then New York came courting.
Do you have the entrepreneurial spirit? Have you studied and perfected your craft? Do you have a support system of editors and cover artists, of beta readers and proofreaders, friends with chocolate and strong shoulders? Do you have absolute faith in your ability to tell a compelling story? Do you believe you are up to the challenge?
If you can’t answer yes to those questions, then self-publishing probably isn’t a good fit for you. You are basically going into business for yourself. You can nickel and dime your way but at some point, you’ll need some cash outlay if you don’t happen to have editors and artists in your family and friends circles. Even beyond the business of self-publishing—the fine-tuning, the marketing, the production of a saleable book—you have to believe in yourself and have faith that your writing is up to the scrutiny. If you think it’s tough sending out queries, just wait until you hover over the sale pages waiting to see if your “baby” bombs. If you think rejection from a potential agent or editor hurts, just wait until those reviews start coming in—the ones from strangers who don’t worry about your feelings. This is when friends and chocolate comes in handy.
THE WRITE STUFF
B.E. asked me why I decided to self-publish. I’m traditionally—if with a small press—published and I have a manuscript under consideration at a major publishing house. I’m not one of those who thinks traditional is bad. It’s not, especially if that’s what makes you comfortable. Me? I’m something of a control freak. And I don’t always write to “spec.” I can. I have. But it’s not really the way I write. I LIKE the idea of having control, of not “fitting” my voice and my stories to the constraints of an editor or a marketing department. I describe myself as a cross-genre storyteller. My paranormals have mystery and suspense along with the romance. My suspense novels have a touch of the supernatural and a helping of romance. My action/adventure thrillers have a big ol’ pile of paranormal and sex—at least as far as the men are concerned. The women? They recognize a good Happy Ever After when they read one!
In addition to the genre-bending I do, I also use a “cinematic POV.” There are those who call it head-hopping. Me? When I read, I want to know what every character in the scene is thinking. I have no desire to have actions and thoughts filtered through an observing character. It’s the way I write and I’ve fought with more than a few editors over the tendency. The freelance editor I use understands that this style is part of my voice and my brand and even though it drives her nuts, she works for me. And that’s pretty much the bottom line. I’m the boss. I have all the responsibility but I also get all the benefits.
Writing fanfic will not get you a six-figure advance, E.L. James notwithstanding. Trust me when I say that was a fluke.
You won’t get rich self-publishing unless you write erotic romance and even then it needs to be WELL-WRITTEN erotic romance and nothing is guaranteed. You have a 50-50 chance of flopping.
Keep meticulous records or the IRS will eat you for lunch and there’s nothing sexy about an audit!
Don’t get your hopes up. Go into it with the idea that you could fail. Any sale then becomes a win and you’ve got nowhere to go but up.
Don’t publish anything that isn’t the very best you can produce. Your name is going to be associated with that title forever—for better or worse.
Do be a professional.
If you aren’t comfortable flying without a safety net, then self-publishing probably isn’t for you. If you need external deadlines, you might be better served by traveling the traditional route. If you’ve had a couple of rejections without any interest and figure it’s time to self-publish, wait. Keep submitting. Keep polishing. There’s a reason you aren’t getting asked for partials or fulls. Yes, you might be submitting in all the wrong places but it also might be because your work isn’t quite ready for prime time. Make sure it is before you take this step.
Get educated. There are forums out there. The Self-Publishing forum on RWA (if you are a member) is full of information and helpful people. Savvy Writers is another blog with good info. There are Yahoo loops.
And finally, did I mention this is a business? There’s no room for ego and all the room in the world for hard work. You need a business plan. You need to know your stuff. But at the very bottom of it all? You need to believe you can live your dreams and that you can defy gravity and fly!
Now go watch this video and get all inspired and stuff! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g4ekwTd6Ig
With a rampant imagination aided and abetted by a Muse who runs with scissors, Silver James loves to share the stories created in that vast cosmic void pretending to be her mind. Over the course of her lifetime, she's been a military officer's wife, mother, state appellate court marshal, airport rescue firefighter and forensic fire photographer, crime analyst, and technical crime scene investigator. Retired from the “real world” now, she lives in Oklahoma and spends her days at the computer with her two Newfoundland dogs, and the cat who rules them all, writing tales of mystery, mayhem, and magic. Oh, and a little romance.
Excellent post, Silver - one I'm bookmarking for future reference. I'm so glad you give all the details - I've read so many posts where it's all sunshine and lollipops, tempting me to jump right into the self-publishing pool, but in my heart, I know I'm not ready for this. And I know I am too lazy for all the particulars (no, seriously).ReplyDelete
Good luck going forward with your self-publishing, and I have my fingers and toes crossed for that manuscript that's at a traditional publishing house. You are an inspiration :)
Janet, we're going to talk, lady. Are you ready right now? No. Will you be ready in the future? I'm betting on it. You have too much talent. That can be refined into a stellar project. The laziness? I'll just have to sic Taz on your ass. ;-)Delete
Terrific post! You've offered some great, REALISTIC advice.ReplyDelete
I actually want to stress something you said: There’s a reason you aren’t getting asked for partials or fulls. Yes, you might be submitting in all the wrong places but it also might be because your work isn’t quite ready for prime time.
I think this is sooo on the money. It's hard to tell writers who are working at their craft and it's so challenging for writers to hear it.
Thanks, JB. Flying solo the first time was hard for me. I put a lot of time and effort into the project and had the experience of working with several editors before I ever took that first dive off the platform.Delete
It is hard for writers to learn the "facts of life." When family and friends all extol their writing chops to the heavens, it's a hard fall when a professional gets hold of the MS. I never want to see the stars in their eyes get snuffed out. But...yeah. I have three words for aspiring writers: Big. Girl. Panties.
You make some excellent points and things I keep telling folks. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. And just because your friends or family like your stories, doesn't mean you can write them very well. I'm traditionally published through small presses, but I'm going to put one (ONE) free read out there to introduce my writing, and that will only be after I've had several people go over it with a fine toothed comb. Just because it's easier to publish, doesn't mean there's not work in it. It's just as much a job as getting the publishers to notice.ReplyDelete
Great post, Silver. And I so want to talk to you about being a CSI. :)
Thanks, Siobhan, and yes, you've been there. A free read can be a great marketing tool. When I get ready to release my Penumbra Papers series, I'm probably going to put a free read out there, too--one that sets up the characters and the world-building.Delete
And you have my email. :) My brain is free for the picking.
Some terrific, realistic advice here. I wouldn't consider self publishing (which I am) without the experience of having worked with publishers and editors first. With that under my belt, I'm ready to tackle a project, knowing where my problem areas lie, knowing what I have to do to make sure they don't wind up in my self-published book. You're soooo right - if you estimate your worth as a writer based on what your mom has to say about your book, you're in for a steep plunge into reality!ReplyDelete
Thanks for stopping by, Jannine! Like you, I learned a lot from publishing first. I have a terrific free-lance editor who is wise to me flaws and catches them. Just because it's self-published doesn't mean its not excellent content presented professionally--if the author is smart. And you are one smart cookie! ;)Delete
Great advice, Silver! I actually love, LOVE self publishing now, however, I appreciate all that I have learned in my years of traditional publishing. A good editor is worth every penny, and a good book is worth every single second of work that goes into it; writing, revisiting, editing--rinse and repeat until the book is as good as its going to get.ReplyDelete
I'm going to put this post on my FB page!
Aww, thanks, Jen! You are one of the reasons I decided to take the plunge. I didn't get into the topic of self-publishing to continue a series popular with readers if not the marketing department of a publisher. And I'm excited about your upcoming trilogy! Hot stuff there, lady.Delete
The risks are ours, but so are the rewards. At this point, I'm not sure I could go back to traditional publishing in a big way. The freedom of self-publishing is heady stuff. That's not to say that for certain projects I wouldn't welcome a call from the big guys. ;)
Good post! At the moment, I'm not considering self-publishing. It's just not something I really want to do--and I doubt that will change. I do, however, support other authors who have decided to do it. My Kindle is full of self-published books. It is still hit or miss though. Some self-pubs are fantastic, and some are so bad it makes my eyes water. I would also include Young Adult or New Adult as an extremely popular self-publishing trend. Many of those authors are on the NYT and USA bestseller lists, and are making 6 figures. =)ReplyDelete
Thanks, Natalie. And yes. There is still a lot of dreck out there in the "slush piles" of the self-published books. And self-publishing is definitely not for everyone. YA and NA definitely seem to be under NY's thumb so it makes sense to see those authors break out of the mold. All in all, I think the readers will be better served--so long as they take their time to winnow out the good stuff.Delete
I agree! I've found some fantastic self-pub authors =)Delete
What an excellent post, Silver. You're an inspiration. You're right, there's a lot to consider. I have this one idea that I think would do well, but I'm still not sure I want to undertake it. I'm not sure self-publishing is for me. But it's wonderful to now that there are writers out there like you willing to share their experiences and their knowledge, so if I change my mind I know where to go for information.ReplyDelete
Hi, Karyn! But...aww shucks, ma'am. Going this route is a business decision and therefore should be examined closely before deciding. I'm not an expert by any means but I've been happy with the decision. I'm a much happier writer and I'm slowly learning not to obsess over my numbers. LOLDelete
I'd like to thank Silver for dropping by today. It was a truly awesome post. And thanks also to all the commenters. All of you are what make this blog special. =o)ReplyDelete
Thanks for having me, B.E. I had a great time and I'm glad we had such a livey discussion. I'll be happy to come back whenever you wish.Delete