Business

To self-publish or not to be?

Good tidings!

If you are an avid reader of this blog (and if you’re not, you should be, because my words are full of much beauty and wisdom), you will know that I have criticized e-books for their high prices, and predicted that they won’t become very popular until those prices go way down. However, I realized earlier this week that Amazon allows writers to self-publish their books on the Kindle (and other e-readers that can interface with Kindle books). It seems to me that if a writer were to price his self-published books nice and cheaply, at $1 or $2, he actually has a great opportunity to get some sales. Probably not nearly as many as he might get if he got professionally published and his book sat on physical book store shelves, but I think he’d have a much greater chance of making any money at all (since getting published in the first place is quite difficult).

So I’m quite tempted to try this out. I reckon my first novel, if I can finish it, would take years to try to convince a traditional publisher to publish it, and who knows if it’d ever get published or not? So I might just skip that step and go straight to self-publishing. There are already some print-on-demand services that allow writers to self-publish their work for free, such as Lulu and Amazon’s CreateSpace (I think it’s called), but print-on-demand books don’t attract a huge audience in and of themselves because they end up costing slightly more than regular books. With paperless e-books, readers can now try out new writers for $1 or $2 (or in some cases for free), so the risk is much lower. So I’d really like to try self-publishing on Amazon for the Kindle, and pricing my book at $1 or $2. It might allow me to get some reviews and make a little money. Most importantly, though: it would give people an easy and convenient way to access and read my work. Which is why any writer wants their work published in the first place, isn’t it? So that other people can experience it?

Of course, there’s one huge disadvantage with this self-publishing system, which is also it’s biggest advantage: anyone can do it. There’s a TON of competition, so you still might not attract any readers or make any money. But at least the opportunity is there, and to me it looks worth taking.

That said, time is of the essence here. Everyday, other writers are finishing their novels before me, and putting them up for sale. The longer it takes me to finish my novel, the more competition it will have.

I don’t want to rush, of course, that would obviously make the quality of the work suffer. But, as a commenter suggested a few posts back, I’ll have to at least try being more disciplined, and set some deadlines for myself. I won’t keep to them too strictly, since Animation Mentor is coming along, and I’ll be dedicating most of my time to that (the chance of Animation Mentor helping me find a full-time job afterwards is much greater than the prospect of being a full-time author, obviously). However, here are my suggested deadlines to myself to help myself make progress and self-publish a novel as soon as I can without sacrificing quality:

Firstly, I’d like to have the entire novel completed by Friday, September 10, 2010. (That is the day I’ll be seeing The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King at Wolftrap with a live orchestra playing the score. It will be amazing. I might be crying at the end. And if I can have my first novel finished by that time, it will be even more amazing.)

Here are the novel-writing steps I decided upon earlier (again, just a guide, not an overly strict plan), now with suggested completion dates by them:

1) Clear beginning and clear ending, with character motivations and plans figured out (almost finished now) Due Monday, June 7, 2010
2) List of important scenes (this is the step I usually stop at and just start writing, but not this time, I hope) Due Monday, June 14, 2010
3) Details of how each scene begins and ends, adding connecting scenes when necessary Due with step 4
4) Purpose of each scene – make sure each scene is important and accomplishes something plot-wise and theme wise (not just one or the other (but plot-wise is more important)) Step 3 and 4 due Monday, June 21, 2010
5) Details of all scenes – details on what exactly happens between each scene’s beginning and end, including dialog (like writing each scene into a little screenplay) Due Monday, August 2, 2010

Complete rough draft due Friday, September 10, 2010

Complete final draft due Thursday, November 25, 2010 (Thanksgiving, and my birthday! Yay!)

And then it should be up on Amazon’s Kindle marketplace in no time! Yay!

OK, this probably won’t work at all; I’m bound to fail with lack of self-discipline, discover things take a lot more time than planned (especially since Animation Mentor will become my main focus), lose interest, etc., but it will be worth a try.

I think I finally have an outline for an ending though, so I need to start plotting, working backwards from the end, and forwards from the beginning. It will be fun! Especially with my new Piccadilly notebooks!

23 days left until Animation Mentor begins!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Philosophy

Why In Fact Publishing Will Not Go Away Anytime Soon: A Play in One Act

CHARACTERS:

ELTON P. STRAÜMANN, a modern-thinking man with exciting ideas
SEAN, a humble wannabe writer

Act I

SCENE OPENS ON STRAÜMANN and SEAN, standing.

STRAÜMANN: Do you want to buy this self-published book?

SEAN: No.

STRAÜMANN: Obama is awesome.

CURTAIN FALLS

John Scalzi wrote a longer version on his blog that goes into a bit more detail on the subject, but really I think it just comes down to marketing, and the whole business of that.  A catchy professional-looking cover is part of marketing.  Potential readers have to expect that your book will be well-edited.  And having bookstore shelf-space is pretty huge.

Scalzi seems to miss one thing (which is not to say he doesn’t believe it; I just didn’t notice him mentioning it): a self-published book is NOT automatically worse than a professionally published one.

That said, from my few observations, self-published books definitely TEND to be of lower quality.  The few self-published books I’ve looked at have been so unspeakably awful that I’ve lost most faith in them.  I’m not very likely to buy one.  Ever.  At least if things stay as they are in terms of quality.  See this older post.

That said, I do think there are unpublished writers out there somewhere who’s works of fiction I would enjoy immensely; I do not believe publishers and editors are the almighty gods of determining what writing is good and bad.  I am that god.

So what self-publishers really need if they want to prove Scalzi wrong (though the character Scalzi created would never be so adept) is to 1) actually polish their writing (I think editors are a huge help, but not the end all be all, and certainly NOT the reason publishing will not die soon) and 2) market better.  Now, how exactly one “markets better” is a huge subject, and not one that I claim to have much of a clue about.  However, starting a Twitter following campaign is probably not the way to go.  If you are dumb enough to market like that, then of course your writing must be garbage.  (As in many arts, it’s a lot easier to recognize what not to do.)

It would be nice if there was a way for self-published books that aren’t garbage to get noticed more easily.  I’m sure there are some people out there working on this problem, perhaps through blogs or sites that review self-published stuff, or at least track sales.  And there’s the whole book-podcasting thing.

But can self-publishers ever market with the power of the big publishers?  I don’t see how, unless they just overwhelm the market with quality content, which I can’t see happening.  The big publishers have the money to market.  If your self-published book does well and a publisher becomes interested in your material, you’d have to be a complete idiot to refuse… and though you’d benefit from that, you’re also making them stronger.  Not that that’s bad.

All this talk kind of makes me want to be a publisher… but I can’t really afford such a gamble right now.

The only other thing that remains to be seen is the effect of book piracy.  When publishers aren’t making money, will that even the playing field?  Will there be enough pirates to do that?  How popular will ebook readers become?  I still think ebook readers and ebooks are a bit of a rip-off, so I don’t see myself switching any time soon.  I can’t predict the future very well (I thought the iPhone sounded like a dumb idea… (so does the iPad for that matter…) but I was right about blu-rays winning the high-def format war) but if a lot people think like me, ebooks and ebook readers will either have to become drastically cheaper, or remain about as popular as they are now, which doesn’t seem very (though enough that publishers are continuing to pursue it).  But… who can know?

A rather lengthy aside: if ebooks do become much more popular, I have a very very tough time believing publishers and distributors wouldn’t have to change their business models drastically.  If I were a published author, and the publisher and distributor were no longer dealing with a bunch of physical inventory, then their roles would be completely different.  I’m not even sure why I should need the distributor at all if all they’re doing is hosting digital files, besides to make my book easier to find.  But shelf space becomes infinite.  And certainly the publisher shouldn’t need as much $$$$ if they don’t have to deal with paper.  Look at this recent fight between Macmillan and Amazon regarding ebook prices.  Macmillan wants to charge $15 for some ebooks?  What morons out there are buying ebooks for that price?  (I shudder to think.)  I have to side with Amazon on the issue… but even $9.99 is too much… what in the world are publishers thinking?! I guess they just don’t how to work this business yet and are trying to be safe… and rip people off while they can… (Or are they trying to counter ebook piracy losses early on?  And punish the legitimate buyers?  Nah…)

Another aside, as I browse Scalzi’s blog… Scalzi wrote about the Amazon vs. Macmillan and wrote a post about supporting authors.  I guess I might seem cold-hearted, but… NO.  Ever hear the phrase “don’t quit your day job”?  Yeah, well… Not that I think stealing is the way to go, but when I buy a book, it’s a trade for my benefit, not the author’s.  If you [authors] want more $$$$, maybe find a way to cut out the middle men with all this new technology?  Oh, but no, you don’t want that… well don’t go whining about financial troubles to me then.  (Not that Scalzi is really whining, I’m just being dramatic.)  If Amazon’s move was against authors (as Scalzi seems to claim), it was also for readers.  So are the authors against readers?! What do authors think about Macmillan’s pricing?  If they think $15 for an ebook is OK, then I’m not sure I want to read their books because they obviously don’t mind being published by a company who would like to rip-off customers.  Thanks!  Don’t ask us, the audience, to do something about it.  You do something about it.  You’re the ones getting paid.

OK, I digress…

Anyway, to sum up my point, publishers won’t go away anytime soon simply because most people who buy books buy them from professional publishers.  That’s really all it comes down to.

Now you must admit that my play is better than Scalzi’s, right?

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

Self publishing is stupid

I was reading the following article on CNN.com: More authors turn to Web and print-on-demand publishing.  The article stated:

When she was turned down by several traditional publishing houses, Genova decided to follow a different route: self-publishing via Web-based companies

Turning to the Author Solutions self-publishing brand, iUniverse, Genova published her book for $450, a cost that included an ISBN — the International Standard Book Number that uniquely identifies books — and the ability to sell on Amazon.com.

Months later, after receiving positive reviews … and a favorable review in the Boston Globe, Genova’s book was picked up by Simon & Schuster and is in its 12th week on The New York Times Bestsellers List.

There are probably a few other success stories like these, where an author self-publishes a book, then it gets really published, and the authors sells a lot more.  But I’m sure it’s rare, probably more rare than just having your manuscript accepted by a traditional publisher in the first place.

So, no, self-publishing isn’t really stupid… what can be stupid is what people might expect it to do for them.  Despite the allure of the success stories, you’re probably not going to sell very many books to strangers.  (I imagine it’s much easier to sell to friends and family, who’s interest in reading your fiction would come more from knowing you.)  You’re not going to get it picked up by a traditional publishing house.  It’s not going to get a slew of good reviews from strangers.  It’s not going to make you rich.  (In fact, even getting a book published the old-fashioned way probably won’t make you rich either.)  Don’t expect these things.  And don’t say you don’t expect them while secretly expecting them.

I think it’s wonderful that print-on-demand gives everyone the opportunity to at least try getting their rejected material out there.  It’s nice to have that back door and to not have to completely depend on some editors’ or agents’ opinions.  But it’s stupid when writers put all their eggs in one basket, when they put all their dreams in one book.  Don’t expect your first novel to get traditionally published.  Or your second.  Or your third.  While you’re trying to sell one, get started on another and just keep going.

Another thing that bothers me is how some people market themselves (like following me on Twitter).  In general, here’s what books I buy:

  • books that are already famous
  • books by already famous authors
  • books by authors I’ve read and enjoyed before
  • recommended books from people or podcasts I trust
  • books with really interesting covers and a really interesting blurb on the back (very rare!)

Books by people I know is not on the list (people I know really well should give me a copy for free).  Books by people who are following me on Twitter is not on the list.  Books by former English teachers is not on the list.  Books with extremely bad covers, as if they are drawn by middle-schoolers, which they sometimes are, only encourage me to laugh at the book and open it with the expectation that it will be stupid and worthy of mocking.

So, if you’re self-publishing, be careful marketing yourself.  I hate it when authors use adjectives to describe their own work, like “A heartwarming humurous tale of a brave knight…” or “A magnificent surprising story of a poor girl…” or “An eye-opening philosophical mind-bender that will change your religion…” STOP IT!  Just tell me what the story is about and I’ll think of my own adjectives for it.  Why in the world do some writers think that for a moment I’ll believe their self-promotional adjectives?!  Leave that to reviewers.

Don’t directly invite anyone to read your text.  Only hint at it, and let interested potential readers explore it themselves if they want to.  That way they won’t feel like they’re doing you a favor, or some social chore.  And don’t take it as a personal insult if someone you know well isn’t interested.  No one should have to be interested in your work just because you know them well.

Lastly, consider giving your story away for free online.  Podcast it and put up the text.  Then, when (or if) people get into the story and they want a physical copy to keep, they’ll pay for your self-published book.  That way they know what to expect (and, again, they won’t feel like it was forced upon them).

DO look into a pro-artist for the creating a cover; don’t just get your niece who draws with colored pencils to do it or your friend who’s done some fiddling with PhotoShop… invest in someone who can really make it catchy and professional.  Also get someone to edit it, and be sure to ask strangers for critiques; there are some services online in which you can get free critiques.  Family and friends probably won’t be as objective when reading your bad writing.  I’m guessing the biggest reason first novels are hardly ever published is because the writing just stinks; writers need practice like in any other art.  (Another reason is the subject is probably stupid… if you’re not a celebrity, no one wants to read your memoirs.  I don’t know why so many writers want to write about their lives.  Of course things that happened to you will influence your plotting and writing, but use some imagination!!)

Anyway, I probably shouldn’t be talking because I’ve never even finished writing a novel in the first place, and I certainly haven’t been published!

I think I just get tired of dippy self-promotional marketing.

Random stuff

I thought David Lubar’s Guide to Literary Fiction was hilarious.

I agree with this article on how to recognize bad writing advice.

By S P Hannifin, ago