Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rethinking self-publishing

We've covered this.  Self-publishing is a good thing...for Other People.  If you're like me, you've grown up wanting to see your books published by the same folks who publish your favorite authors. You may or may not get over that; for me, the dream is still being published by Tor or Ace, but the goal (sometimes my dreams and my goals don't match) is to write for a living.  This meant accepting, first, that my work (when finally ready) might find a home in at a small press.  Eventually, I accepted that I may become an e-book writer.  Self publishing was out of the question...until now.

Some great books have been self published, but their numbers are eclipsed by the many, many crappy books self published because no agent or editor would consider them.  The list of self pubbed books that made the big time--sometimes remaining self published, but often bought by a big house--is nice and long...until you realize how many hundreds of thousands are never seen outside of the author's circle of friends and family.

And then there's the industry pressure.  I've heard/read "Agents and publishers won't even bother with your work if they've learned you've self-published" enough that it's not worth looking for links.  Even if your self-pubbed novel gets a serious readership, you're not eligible to join many of the writing associations that you may want to.  The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America association doesn't come out and say NO SELF-PUBLISHING, but they give a list of what makes you eligible and Lulu isn't on it.  Horror Writer's Association are longer and more involved, and at the end of the active membership regulations (as opposed to associate or affiliate), they let you know that any non-comic book self-published author need not apply.  And so on.

None of that matters if you just want a story "out there."  But if your goal is to quit your day job, the emergency medical fund, insider track for future publication, and other benefits are pretty damn important...

Yeah.  I can go on and on about why self-pubbing is my second to last choice.  The above doesn't even touch on marketing and other such issues.  So why rethink self-publishing at all?  My friend Julie.

I have the urge to write about how fabulous she is as a writing buddy, how smart, how dedicated to her craft...What matters more, though, is praise for her work. When I read that post, I thought, "Wow, how fabulous!  Too bad it's utterly useless!"  

The chances of an agent stopping by, reading that review, and asking for the manuscript seem ridiculous to me, regardless of my sucking at math.  IF she were putting that book out herself while her other manuscript is in agent limbo, it would be another story.  Apparently, Julie thought so, too.  She revamped her long idle site (love that logo!), added the Doc stories that are getting a following of their own, and put serious research into the details of what it would take to publish Senior Year Bites herself.

Rather than thinking of all the reasons for why she shouldn't, I immediately thought of why she should.  Critiquing selected chapters of Senior Year Bites, I was impressed by Julie's talent and skill, but I didn't love it the way that Rabid Reader does (if you didn't click the "praise for her work" link, go take a look).  

Young Adult books start with a strike against them when it comes to me, and SYB is "light" while my tastes run toward "thick" if not "heavy".  It's a totally irrational bit of personal taste that I mentioned before with published authors Anton Strout and Mark Henry.  I was randomly thinking the other day how Strout's Dead To Me has my all time favorite opening scene, though I'm not crazy about the book.  Less randomly, I just reminisced about how fabulous parts of Henry's Happy Hour of the Damned were, though I gave up on reading the whole thing early on.

These books are well loved by other people, but were I an agent deciding whether or not to rep them, Henry would have gotten an encouraging "But it's not for me" letter and Strout would have gotten a request for the full manuscript, only to have to change major elements or to move on to someone else to represent him...

Industry pros will tell you, "That's the process" and "if the story's good, it will get published."  I've swallowed that whole.  But I've also watched Julie revise and fine tune Arabian Dreams, send it out, and learn that there aren't a lot of agents interested in young adult equestrian fantasy books.  The chapters I critiqued were great, agent response reflect that, but alas...

I thought, "Send it to publishers that don't require you to go through an agent!  It would fit right in with the equestrian adult fantasy published by Luna."  Except that they don't publish YA books.  "Carina!  They seem to be looking for everything that doesn't easily fall into other categories."  Except for YA books.  

Maybe the idea should be "if the story's good, readers will read it."  I'm not advocating doing away with agents (do you know how to navigate international rights?  me neither), but in the days of social networking, more book blogs than you can shake a magic wand at, and relatively simple (so I'm told) tech to make great-looking trailers, why can't you write a good story, edit the hell out of it, and get it out to the would-be fans without:
~~~~~Shopping it to agents and waiting months between each for a "cool, but no thanks"?
~~~~~Waiting for where you fit into the schedule IF you get an agent who finds you a publisher?
~~~~~And still having to do a lot of the marketing yourself because you've just made the bottom of the mid-list?

To Julie, I say, "Go for it!"  For anyone else (maybe myself included one day), I say put in the time for researching how to do this right.  If the pros outweigh the cons, rock on with your bad self!

(Link of encouragement: Konrath ebook sales top 100K)


Angela Addams said...

I'm not ready for self-publishing but I know a few people who have gone that route and have found a lot of success and satisfaction. I say do whatever is going to make you happy. What will make me happy is getting a publisher to accept my ms via my agent. But that's not for everyone...we all have different paths toward publication in this crazy book world!

Falcata Times said...

Whilst it does work for some, theres a lot of people who go the self publishing route and really get upset when it doesn't work out. It's a difficult route to go and one that I don't envy people for.

Best of luck to your friend and research counts for a hell of a lot but personally, I think that going through an agent is probably the best route.

Anonymous said...

Times are changing on this, and I do wonder about what is to become of the tradional query til you get an agent routine. I'm still in the querying trenches - for now.

An Again said...

I'm still at the "I kinda finished that novel a long time ago...why can't I revise it?" phase. I feared I would have to go the self-pubbed route with all the calls for "female driven" stories from agents and publishers, but I've started to realize (hope?) that this is because of the company I keep: too much paranormal and new urban fantasy when I should go back to my roots and look for fantasy agents and publishers who accept modern/urban settings...

Aside from what may have been my wrongheadedness, there's a reason to consider (not necessarily jump in head first) self-publishing... When I was younger and first dreaming of writing for a living, *nobody* started spec-fic with an agent. The conventional wisdom was that you sent your work out to publishers, and if you were offered a contract, you would (but maybe not) get an agent. I was pretty shocked when, many years later, I decided to get serious and found that the rules had changed. The new trend (as opposed to the old, "they said I suck, but I'll show them!") in self-publishing might be that kind of change.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I meant to comment on this when you posted it, but I was brain dead at the time and that leaked over so I forgot.

I am scared of self-publishing... but I'm going to give it a go. I think I can make it work and I have a pretty awesome support network behind me :) Love you An.

I'm not giving up on the traditional method, Arabian Dreams is still out to an agent on a Full submission, but... time goes by and no word comes. I won't give up on the traditional method until the new one is paying the bills... which it might. What finally swayed me was knowing that everything I do to promote myself self-publishing I'd have to do anyway as a new author unless I got really lucky.

And I'll get more money if I'm successful doing it this way :)