1. Syn Opsis
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    Syn Opsis Member

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    eBooks vs Printed Books, Self Publishing

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Syn Opsis, Dec 4, 2009.

    First novel...

    After a bit of research, the impression I get is that agents will have nothing to do with first-time novelists, and the best bet is to pitch a publisher directly. To me, this sounds like David knocking on Goliath's door. Slim chance.

    Alternately, two sites have caught my interest: Amazon.com has a CreateSpace program that will take your manuscript and make it into a book, also a program to convert to Kindle, their ebook format. In either case, printed or ebook, it's relatively inexpensive and they have packages available for press releases and marketing schemes. The second is Lulu which offers similar services. And, I assume there are more.

    I realize there is no rejection with these services, every author's work is accepted, so the book pool may be somewhat mixed. Without a pro editor to help round a story into it's best form, there are bound to be some shaky examples.

    My question to the forum is: Has anyone gone either of these self-publishing routes? What was your experience? Would you recommend one?

    Thanks for any info you wish to share.

    j

    P.S. Forgive me if this subject has be raised recently, I didn't see it listed. If so, please link me to the relative discussion. Thank you.
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Have a chat with NaCl. He is a staunch advocate of self publication. He has taken the argument to it's pinnacle in that he himself is his own publication company.
     
  3. Syn Opsis
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    Syn Opsis Member

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    Where might I find this wizard?
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...definitely not true!... most [if not all] agents welcome queries from new writers, though there may be times when some put a hold on accepting new ones... how else would they get new clients?...

    ...and many publishers will not accept queries from unagented novelists, so you'd be wise to try to get an agent, rather than go it on your own...

    ...as for self-publishing fiction, it's not the best route to take, since it won't make you a 'published author' in the eyes of the literary world and won't make you much, if any money... can cost quite a bit, in fact, even if the venue doesn't charge up-front fees, since you'll have to buy your own books from them at the unrealistically high price they set for what are usually inferior pb's, in order to be able to sell them... and few will buy a book by an unknown, at that higher-than-normal price...

    ...you also have to be prepared to do all your own promotion, marketing and distribution, which takes know-how, time and money... yes, some have done it and made a modest profit at it, but they're the very rare exceptions, not the rule...

    non-fiction being self-published can make sense, if one has an already established market base, due to one's business/professional standing...
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, he'd be te first to tell you what an expensive and time-consuming route self-publishing is. Furthermore, it doesn't give you any increased credibility with publishers for subsequent works.
     
  6. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Syn Opsis,

    As Mammamaia indicated, it is not impossible to get representation by an agent. Neither is it impossible to get picked up by a publisher without going through an agent.

    My first novel (a SF Novel's 1st three chapters + synopsis) made it out of the slush pile at Tor for a full read. It was passed on. It is now at Baen Books (up from the slush pile) and on the executive editor's desk there awaiting a decision. But, this process takes a very very long time.

    My second novel (Flank Hawk) was accepted by a small publisher. It too took a while, as the proposal had also made it out of the slush pile a couple times before being accepted.

    In addition, NaCl did not go the route of Create Space via Amazon or Lulu for self publishing. He had an offset print run. He can explain more, but it takes cash up front and it also takes a lot of marketing, knowhow and time to make a go with self publishing. If you could get established through Lightning Source as a publisher, you would do much better, as although Lulu is fairly simple and straightforward, it is difficult (if not impossible) to compete pricewise with even small independent press publishers (let alone major publishers) as far as price goes.

    Flank Hawk, for example is a 290 page trade paperback (9x6 inches). It retails for $12.99. That is less expensive than many smaller publishers, and competitive (if not better than some) trade paperbacks offered by major publishers such as St. Martin's Press and Banatam/Dell. My novel is discounted (for example) at Barnes and Noble online and Amazon.com at 28% off cover price while a lot of major publishers are discounted at 32%
    Examples:
    Flank Hawk (Published by Gryphonwood Press).
    Shadowfae (published by St. Martin's Press--Griffin imprint)
    The Book of Bright Ideas (Published by Bantam--Delta Imprint)
    Loose Cannons and Other Weapons of Mass Political Destruction (self Published through Lulu)

    Note: I have seen Loose Cannons discounted for 2% as well as up to 10% for short times on rare occasions. But as you can tell, the retail price for it is well above the others listed.

    I don't know how Amazon.com and such online venues determine who gets discounted. And except for family and friends, the price does make a difference. There is a lot of competition out there.

    As far as ebooks, Smashwords.com is the main route my publisher (Gryphonwood) has used for ebooks. Gryphonwood prices the novels at less than $2.00. Self Publishing, Smashwords might not be a bad place to use (they have recently signed distribution agreements with Barnes and Noble and with Sony for their ebook reader and more. But again, it is fully up to the self published author to get word out there on his/her own and that is not easy--understatement if you ask me.

    The potential for the author to earn more per book is there depending on the route as compared to traditional publishing, but vastly more responsibility falls upon the writer. And while I think of it, distribution channels (other than online) via Create Space and Lulu--through like Baker and Taylor, and Ingram so you can get into bookstores or at least can be ordered is another consideration to take into account. You get that with most small independent publishers up to the big houses. With the self published route, not necessarily even if you have an ISBN.

    Okay, I kind of wrote a lot, Syn Opsis. There are other threads on this forum where NaCl has discussed self publishing as he did it (including the time, cost--including editing and cover art, process, etc.) Search them out and you will get more information to help you assess the correct route.

    If you ask me, I'd say try to get published the traditional way before going self published. And try hard, not just give up after the first rejection. Make sure your work is the best you can make it and shoot for the big boys (agents and/or publishers) first, unless there is a smaller niche market/publisher that would be a perfect fit for what you write.

    Sorry if I rambled a bit.

    Terry
     
  7. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    The only way to know for certain whether or not your writing is worth publishing yourself, is to publish something the normal way. If you simply can't get published, chances are, your writing isn't good enough, and you'd only be wasting time that should be spent on improving your craft. If you can get published, that pretty much settles the question, anyway. The only good reason to self-publish, at that point, would be if you knew you had a gold mine on your hard drive, and wanted to keep all the profits. So, for the vast majority of people who consider this route, it's a definite no and a bad idea.

    That's just my opinion.
     
  8. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    If you know what you're doing, then self-publishing can work. You have to market the book yourself, and in the vast, vast majority of cases, you will lose money.

    I am the Onseck (Honorable Secretary) of the MIT Science Fiction Library, and we periodically get requests to review books. Some of these are excellent books. But the ones that are self-published are generally poor; they were self-published because the author worked hard, came up with an okay half-bad half-good amalgam, and their friends and relatives said "Hey, this is awesome!"

    Then they wonder why Tor and Baen and the other professional publishers keep turning them down. "Wandering plot?" the poor author asks, bewildered. "Inconsistent characterization? Mary Sue characters? Obvious plot twists? Repeated, page-long character monologues explaining what just happened to the reader? Spelling and grammar errors?"

    "What are they talking about? Plainly --" deep breath "-- they just don't understand Art!"

    Then they pay someone to print several hundred copies. And they send some of these books to newspapers (the big ones will frequently turn them down) and to libraries and to relatives. They go to local bookstores -- which may or may not be interested. They start an account on Amazon, and -- if they try to make money on the deal -- start out accidently dooming themselves by selling it for a really high price.

    And then (if the book is particularly poor) you get uncomfortable reviews like this one, of "The Shadow Mouse of Everjade." Link: http://www.mit.edu/~mitsfs/reviews/Machado-ShadowMouseOfEverjade.txt In this case, the reviewer is a very nice person, and is merciful enough to not go into too much horrible detail.

    But you might get someone else who is much more, ah, snarky. And then you get this sort of thing -- fun to read, until that's your book he's eviscerating. Link: http://www.mit.edu/~mitsfs/reviews/Blackhall-StealthPlanet.txt

    The bottom line: Do your research before trying this route. If you are a previously published author -- with years of experience and at least three books or ten short stories published, so that you already have a name out there, and a reliable readership -- then you might have as much as a 1-in-10 chance of succeeding. (Making a profit, in this case.)

    If you're entirely new, and your books aren't being picked up by a professional publisher (and you've tried many professional publishers), the message is clear: you are not yet writing "good" books. They may have good, even excellent, bits; they may make your kids happy, seen through rose-tinted glasses. But there is something that can be improved upon.

    The solution to being a merely adequate writer who wants to be good? Write. Keep writing. Keep sending your stuff out. Keep improving. Then, next month or next year, you'll make it.

    For the likely 1-in-10, beating-the-odds success story, see this guy: Francis Hamit. (Link: http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/author/hamit/) He knows his stuff, he knows his audience and the market. He has done a heck of a lot of research, and has paid a professional cover artist to help give his book an edge. And in my opinion, this is precisely what you need to have a good chance of succeeding as a self-published author.
     
  9. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Self-publishing has little to do with writing. It is business...the business of marketing, distribution and accounting. Along with a lot of money to start a publishing company, my conclusion reflects hundreds of hours spent laying out the book, negotiating print contracts, establishing distribution arrangements, marketing the book, attending distributor book fares, making contacts with professional "reviewers", hiring (and firing) an editor...the list of "business" activities is immense.

    Did I make any money? Yes. I barely beat my break-even point for hard costs...but I have NO return on my investment of time. The most important lesson I learned is that a writer should NOT self-publish unless a very clear and accessible niche market exists. It is not good enough to define a "market" in broad terms like "sci-fi fans", "action adventure fans" or "romance novel fans." How do you access those general markets? If you write a book about Christian values, you can send advertisements to churches and Christian groups that might have a natural interest in your story. Same thing if you write a book about travel trailer camping...there are lots of organizations that feature such camping. But, targeted access to readers of a general genre is far more difficult.

    I happen to enjoy business, so I am in the process of re-defining my publishing company to market ONLY to clearly defined reader groups. The traditional distribution system (Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, etc.) takes 55% of the face value of every book leaving very small margins for the author and publishing company. That distribution system margin (55%) is too great and the industry is struggling against low-cost alternatives like e-books, so I plan to use direct-marketing advertising with large "donations" as fundraisers for select markets. For example, we have a pancake cookbook that will be out soon. It will sell for around $12 each. But, instead of giving up $7 to a book broker/brick'n mortar store, we will send books to soccer clubs and little leagues to be sold at their annual pancake breakfasts as a fundraisers. They get to keep 50% of the $12 for every book sold. Since I have a target market and have eliminated the traditional distribution system, I can offer this most generous benefit while doubling my company's profit per book...which I plan to split with the author. Since there are virtually thousands of organizations that use annual pancake breakfasts to raise money, I have a huge and clearly defined market for this book.

    As you can see, self-publishing is much more about business than writing. Do you have business, accounting, marketing, advertising and industry knowledge? How bout contacts with credible reviewers and free press like industry announcements? Can you afford to drop $5,000 or more for a decent first print run (1000 copies or more is the only way to get the per book production cost down low enough so you can sell books at a profit through the traditional distribution system)?
     
  10. Syn Opsis
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    Syn Opsis Member

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    Thank you all. It has been a very informative discussion, and somewhat surprisingly, all the responses have unanimously fallen to one side. An education, valuable and real-world based - to me, the best possible kind of advice. This board is a valuable resource. I see now I have but one way to proceed.

    It does, however, make one wonder how Amazon's CreateSpace, Lulu and others stay in business with such a clear-cut disadvantage?
     
  11. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Syn Opsis,

    I cannot speak to Create Space fully as far as its options etc.

    As far as Lulu, if you're looking to get something printed, maybe poems or family stories or something like that that you'd want to share with a small group of people, it is a pretty reasonable thing. It's not very difficult, straight forward to set up and the front end payout isn't all that expensive. But for self-publishing with an eye toward selling more than a few dozen copies and making a resonable return on the investment (time, money, etc.) it's not such a great route. So they offer a service, make some money on volume of customers as opposed to volume customers sell.

    In my opinion, they're a much better option than going to a vanity press.

    Terry
     
  12. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Coupla thoughts (mostly in keeping with what others have advised). I think about it this way. As a consumer, I will not knowingly purchase a self-published book unless it's by an author I know personally (or at least virtually) in some way. NaCl is sharp and thoughtful and could easily be one of 'em. And though I haven't yet read his work--just his posts--I'm certain his experience is well worth giving a very serious listen. Personally, I have more often than not been disappointed in self-published works that I did not realize were self-published (till after the fact) and discovered upon reading these books that there was good reason why they weren't (and wouldn't be) picked up by royalty publishers. Even for many I've purposely read, I have more often been underwhelmed than impressed. So your characterization of self-published works as being "somewhat mixed" is, in my view, a good-sized understatement.

    It is simply easier for a consumer to find the kind and quality of reading material he seeks among the works that have been screened--with whatever "unfairnesses" are built into the system--through the kind of rigorous hierarchy the royalty publishing world relies on. All this colors my perspective substantially as a consumer (as well as a writer) in terms of turning loose of my limited resources--both in cash and in time.

    On the upside (for the author) in today's world, it's hard for a consumer to know whether a given press is vanity or otherwise. Try researching it sometime, and you'll see that many consumers just won't know the difference. Even for LuLu and others we do know of, it's certain there'll be some gems in the mix. And there are plenty of consumers who either don't know that it makes any difference anyway or who (mostly other writers) purposely search out their own favorite "unknowns" from among the self-published. Personally, I don't have enough years left in my life to read all the stuff I want to read that's been filtered through the traditional selection process, so I won't be wasting a lot of that time focused on reading stuff that has lesser odds of being exceptional. As a writer, I also wouldn't expect many publishers or editors to be hunting among the self-published work for quality writing (it's just too time-consuming; and discovering someone fabulous and new is still more easily and efficiently done in the old-fashioned way--through submissions and, for novels, agented ones).

    I don't think you're correct in assuming that agents won't give the time of day to first-time novelists. Nothing would please an agent more than holding in his hands the exquisite manuscript of a newly discovered, compelling author. But it is perfectly true that those are among the very vast few of those whose manuscripts they actually read. It's merely a matter of economy that the chance of finding one of these gems in their own burgeoning slushpile far exceeds the chance of finding them in the enormous sea of self-published authors. Maybe that'll change over time, but I don't think it's tipped the odds yet in a significant way.

    Bottom line is you must have your own objectives squarely in mind--what it is you alone want to accomplish. You're doing yourself a service by investigating the experiences others have had. And if you believe it'll serve you well, then go for it.
     
  13. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why is that surprising? There is a never ending list of hopeful/desperate wannabe writers who will pay the nominal costs to produce a "book" with their name on it. Do these people ever see a profit? Of course not. But, vanity has a long history in the publishing industry of coaxing dollars out of people who just want to see their finished product, regardless of its quality or marketability. To tell you the truth, I have no problem with that. If such an "accomplishment" makes someone's day a little brighter, then that's great. The problem arises when wannabe writers are seduced into spending money by unreasonable expectations of financial success, expectations fueled by a few rare success stories tirelessly referenced by Vanity or POD publishers.

    The new e-book "publishers" operate on the "throw em at the wall" theory. If they throw enough crap at a wall, eventually some will stick. In other words, it cost them almost nothing to "produce" a digital book and every aspiring author has a few friends and relatives who will buy it. That means, every digital book has potential to earn a few bucks. If an e-book publisher makes a tiny profit (say $20) for each book they "publish", then the key to financial success is to get thousands of such books into the digital system every year. Hence, their low standards...and if one or two of the books sell a few thousand copies, there's big profit, even at $2 per e-book.

    So, if you understand that self-publishing is mostly an ego-adventure, then enjoy it. But, if you are seeking profit or professional recognition, then follow the traditional grind through dozens of query letters and a couple years of persistence.
     

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