This gave me chills. It’s too important a message not to pass on.
Via Michelle Malkin.
Two more excellent questions from reader and commenter Michelle (a.k.a., The Barenaked Critic):
What makes [self-publishing] so fulfilling for you, personally? Would you ever want to go the traditional route with a future book?
The answer to the first question has bearing on the answer to the second, so let’s start there. In my post about the pros and cons of self-publishing, I talked about how my personality and skill-set are both well-suited to self publishing, and how my almost pathological fear and hatred of the traditional publishing submission process (in particular, writing query and cover letters) helped to drive me into the welcoming arms of indie publishing. Just the fact of getting to have my work read without having to put myself through that whole rigmarole is pretty fulfilling in and of itself. But that’s not a complete answer.
The whole truth is that I come from a fan-fiction background that completely spoiled me. I became addicted to the instant feedback nature of fanfic. I jokingly referred to myself as a praise-whore, but that’s exactly what I was. Having people read stories written by me and then tell me how touched or moved they were by it was a cause for pure elation. When I decided to hang up my fanficcer hat and concentrate on writing original fiction, the single most difficult challenge I had to overcome was getting used to the solitary nature of it, of playing everything close to the vest and not getting to know what anybody thinks of your work until it’s finished, and not getting to know what strangers think until it’s published; and at the time, when commercial publishing was still the only really viable way to go, whether or not strangers would ever be able to read my work was pretty much out of my hands.
I tried to get around this and get my instant-feedback fix without technically self-pubbing by serializing my novels in locked Livejournal posts, but it just wasn’t the same. The rise of e-book and POD technology and the growing mainstream acceptance of indie publishing changed all of that. Of course, I still have to exercise discipline and not just blog every chapter hoping for instant feedback as I go; I still have to deal with the isolation of the writing and editing phase, which, I will tell you, is HARD. But no longer is it up to agents and editors in New York whether people outside of my friends and family will have the opportunity to read my stories and tell me what they think. My stories are out there, being read and enjoyed, and whenever a new review pops up, or somebody e-mails me or contacts me through my blog or Facebook to tell me how much they enjoyed my book, it’s back to pure elation. The giddy feeling that I get when just one person tells me that they loved my book makes it all worth it, even if my royalty earnings never add up to more than the occasional pizza allowance.
As for whether I would ever go the traditional route, the short answer is, sure. I think there’s plenty of room for both, and a lot of writers are getting more savvy about combining the two, using indie publishing to build a platform that will make them more attractive to traditional agents and editors. This path is proving successful for more and more people.
My goal is not to attain the “prestige” of getting published “for real” by a traditional big time publisher. My goal, ultimately, is to get my books in front of as many eyeballs belonging to the types of people who enjoy the types of books that I write as possible. If there is ever a point where traditional publishing is the best way for me to do that, then I will absolutely pursue that route. If somehow, by the grace of God, I achieve Hocking-like success and have agents and editors approaching me with a giant book deal? Uh, yeah, I’mma certainly consider it. But even then, I think it will depend on a lot of factors, including what the traditional publishing market looks like at the time, and whether it makes the best business sense to give up some of the rights to my own work.
But all of that is down the road a ways, if it’s on my road at all. For now, I’m still a beginner at this, and my focus is on just turning out the best books that I can as fast as I can and building up my catalog. I’ve set a five-year goal for myself, which I’ll expand upon in a later post, to be earning enough from writing and indie pubbing in 5 years to be able to retire my web design business and write and publish full time. So if I’m not there in five years, or anywhere close to it, I’ll re-evaluate this path that I’ve chosen as well as the state of the publishing industry as a whole, and go from there. But for now and the foreseeable future, I only have plans to self-publish.
In my previous post about getting over the stigma of self-publishing, commenter Michelle (a.k.a. The Barenaked Critic) asked me several good questions, one of which was to elucidate on the pros and cons of self-publishing. I think I pretty well covered the pros in my previous post: you avoid the sometimes years-long process of trying to get through the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, which often ends in rejection, often for perfectly good books that simply aren’t seen as marketable by those in charge; depending on the channels you choose to sell your book and what kind of fees they charge for the service, you get to keep anywhere from 75 to 100 percent of the royalties instead of having to give ten to 20 percent each to your agent and publisher; you never have to worry about earning out your advance, having your books remaindered, or seeing them disappear from the shelves after your publisher’s print run has run its course and they’ve moved on to other things; you have the satisfaction of having your work out there, being read and enjoyed and slowly but steadily building up your fan base; and last but absolutely not least, you have total control over your writing career.
Lest all of that sound too good to be true, there is a down side which prevents it from being right for everybody. Self-publishing takes a lot of work. You either have to learn how to be your own story editor, line editor, print formatter, cover designer and marketing and publicity agent, or you have to come up with the money to pay for those services out of your own pocket. I think self-publishing is such a good fit for me personally in no small part because I already brought to the table training and experience as both a copy editor and a graphic designer, and also a strong rapport with some trusted beta readers who are excellent at catching mistakes that I miss. To be honest, if I wasn’t confident in my own editing abilities, or in my ability to produce a professional-looking, eye-catching book cover, I probably wouldn’t have chosen this path, because there’s just no room in our budget currently for hiring out those tasks.
Another thing I bring to the table is writing experience. Restless Spirits is the first novel I published, but it is FAR from being the first novel I’ve written. Between finished trunk novels, half-finished attempts at novels, short stories, and several volumes of novel-length fan fiction, I more than put in my 10,000 hours before I reached a point where I thought my writing could stand up the kind of scrutiny under which my decision to self publish would place it. I’m not some starry-eyed young ingenue who thinks every word she puts on the page is the equivalent of candied rainbow unicorn toots and that the world just needs to wake up and smell her brilliance. I was 38 when I published my first book, and tired of and deeply discouraged by the current sorry state of traditional publishing.
I should make another confession here: I have made attempts to publish via the traditional route, but honestly, not that many. I’m impatient, I have a pathological fear of having to write cover and query letters, and I’m so prone to procrastination when it comes to submitting my work that usually I move onto another project before I ever get around to it and then it never gets done. Which is not to say that it has never gotten done — I have a nice, thick binder full of rejection letters that run the gamut from polite form letters to encouraging hand-written notes. I just hate the submission process and I, personally, would rather put in a hundred hours on editing and formatting and marketing my own work than sit down for two hours to try to craft a decent query letter and then drive myself completely insane while I wait several months for a response. In short, it should be noted that my personality is simply better suited to self-publishing.
But back on point; probably the biggest con to self-publishing, the one I see cited most often by successful traditionally published authors such as John Scalzi as the main reason why they don’t jump ship and go the indie route so they can rake in more money, is that you are completely on your own when it comes to marketing and publicity. There is no big publisher publicity machine to back you up. Although, from what I’ve read from midlist authors, these days the publicity machine is really only there for the established bestsellers, and even then, traditionally published authors are being expected to put in more and more time and work to market their own books. Just as the size of the typical new author advance has greatly diminished over the last few years, so has the amount of support a newly published author can expect from their publisher on the marketing front.
But make no mistake. Marketing your own books takes a lot of work, and it’s something you have to stay on top of if you want it to keep selling, especially in the early stages when you don’t yet have a fan-base who can be counted on to buy your next book.
Self-publishing takes a lot of self-discipline, and it also takes a lot of patience. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and the focus is on long-tail success, which might take years to achieve. It’s definitely not a path that’s suitable to everybody. But if you think it might be the right path for you, then I suggest the following blogs, which are practically required reading for anyone who’s even considering becoming self-published: