Monday, 9 January 2017

Self-Publishing ...exchanging gate-keepers?

This is a ponder piece rather than an opinion piece.

Despite having run the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off for two years I don't have strong opinions about self-publishing other than to say that there are definitely brilliant self-published books and that being brilliant does not guarantee that they will take off.

Here's my thought.

To get a book off the ground you need either a lot of luck or a significant push. Any book needs to break the noise barrier and achieve a critical mass of readers before it can launch as far as its quality can carry it.

If you get a good deal with a large publisher they will put their weight behind you and it helps a lot. Bloggers will be interested because the publisher's name carries a cachet (an expectation of quality), and the book will be in stores. This all gives significant advantage.

But the big publishers (and the literary agents who have their attention) are the much-maligned gate-keepers. It's their opinion that keeps countless books from the public. The tastes and guesses of a handful of people are standing in the way of writers having their work tested in the crucible of public opinion. That's the theory, and it is true. It sounds elitist.

Now consider the alternative. Self-Publishing allows anyone to put a book immediately before the general public. The trouble is that so many books are put into the public eye this way that almost all of them are overlooked, and that brilliant books can flounder.

So, many self-published authors consider how they can help themselves. Many spend some dollars. They might buy a great cover. They might pay for some Facebook adverts etc. And with swift access to sales statistics I have already seen sensible scientific approaches to this where an author spends in one way, looks at the impact, spends in another, looks at the impact etc.

It seems clear that these publicity strategies will be honed and shared, with ever more bang-per-buck delivered.

But what then? Consider two authors with equally good books. Jenny A is a stock broker and Sarah B stacks shelves at Walmart. Jenny drops $10,000 into tried and tested book publicizing methods. Sarah B does not. Jenny has purchased herself a much better chance of success.

But if they approached a traditional publisher both would stand exactly the same chance. Suddenly the elitism of the big publishers is sounding egalitarian and the even playing field offered by self-publishing is sounding as if it can be tilted in favour of those with money.

Conclusion? I don't really have one. There are problems on both sides of this fence. Do you feel better thinking it was the opinions of a minority of supposed experts that kept you from success or that it was your inability or unwillingness to invest (gamble) enough in publicizing your own book? Neither sounds good.

On the plus side, it is certainly still possible to do well following either route if you have a good book and some luck!

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  1. Hi Mark!

    I don't disagree with anything you're saying, but I'd offer a different lens with which to view Jenny A and Sarah B:

    Let's say Jenny A spends ten grand, goes on to make a hundred grand in a year. Hell, give her a million. Good on her; she can pad her stock portfolio or buy shares in a civet cat coffee plantation or renovate that house in the Hamptons. Her life will not really change in any appreciable way, other than ego-wise.

    Sarah B, on the other hand, spends a hundred (hard earned) bucks on some well-placed promotion. She gets a small bump in sales, and the beginnings of an email list. Maybe she makes back some or all of her money, or even better, sees an actual return on her investment. She plows it back into her small marketing effort the next month. And she's writing all the time, making sure she's got more product for readers to buy when they do discover her. At the end of the year, maybe she's making an average of $300 a month, or even a grand, from her writing efforts.

    This is life-changing money for Sarah and her family, in a way that Jenny will never understand. $300 a month certainly was for me. And Sarah's not looking at Jenny's success and thinking how unfair it is – she's too busy working on the next thing.

    Oh, and congrats on Red Sister. Can't wait to read it!

  2. I have an opinion on this matter (no surprises there). The established indie writers (fantasy genre) such as Daniel Arenson, Michael Manning, Annie Bellet, D.K. Holmberg, K.F. Breene, and dozens of others, have stepped up their game. This was made easier by the availability of resources such as professional editing and cover art. In fact, I employ Gene Molica. He tells me that over the past few years, a good portion of his business now comes from indie.
    Many of us have agents too. I do. The gatekeepers are cluing in on the fact that there is money to be made outside the traditional world. Audio books alone, which two years ago was only 5% of my income, now earns me six figures a year. And I’m not unique. All the authors I mentioned are crushing it. And we’re getting recognition for our efforts. Jonathan Renshaw’s indie book won fantasy book of the year on for 2016. And not to be immodest, but mine was a top five finalist in 2015.
    To an indie, the gatekeeper is the reader. But those that do well are not blind to the fact that we need to put out a professional product if we intend to stay around. The sheer tonnage of unedited garbage out on Amazon would stagger a team of oxen. This is a sad, but unavoidable result of indie publishing. But as you stated, there are plenty of great writers hitting the best sellers lists on a consistent basis.
    Thank you for all the support you give indie. You’re a favorite of mine and one of the best fantasy authors active today. And I can speak for my colleagues when I say that your attitude toward indie fantasy is fantastic. And your help is appreciated more than you probably realize.

  3. Interesting. But I went with self-pub bing because of ill health. I've had a book with one publisher for over two years. They still haven't got round to looking at it. Another huge publisher has had that same book for over a year. The God-awful truth is that my writing is at least five years on and that's a problem as well. This away I'm able to write the books, get them properly edited, buy a cover and publish. Sales suck, but with my latest, a LitRPG, I've actually made my money back on it within the two weeks of it being published. Will I reach that magic million? No, but I also won't face the hell of getting 'sorry, haven't read it yet,been mega busy' for chases or worrying whether I should d write the next when the first hasn't been picked

  4. Enjoyable read, thank you Mark,

    I'm going through much of what you have described. I have a great cover, I have taken multiple loans out (which is hammering me now), and I genuinely believe in my book trilogy, but I don't seem to be getting anywhere.

    I started with a terrible vanity publisher that has taken my money and are now telling me to pay more to keep the books live or they will take them down; and they don't return my emails when I need anything from them. And I have been in touch with other self publishers who use the same printer's as they do, but the unit cost is far cheaper! I feel that I have wasted time and money when I should have stuck to the traditional route.

    On the plus side, when I have had a book signing or done any promotion myself, they have been hugely successful. Waterstones Thanet never had an author sell so many books (and it was a quiet day for them), I'm getting good reviews and feedback and I even featured in the daily express with my worked compared to Game of Thrones. So I do believe in what I have done, I just need more support than my current publisher.

    Thanks, Tom