Wednesday, October 17, 2012

To Self or Not To Self: That is Indeed a Question

I am definitely on the side of ambivalence.
I sold my first novel in last flickering blaze of the good old days. Publishing was a gentleman’s game. The corporation-eat-corporation feeding frenzy of the 1980s was still a few years in the future. All books were paper, of course, though there was a distinct hierarchical divide between paperback and hardback. Publicity was, for the most part, the publisher’s responsibility and editing was both expected and rigorous.
No, it wasn’t a perfect world. Beginning authors such as I – and, I expect, every author who wasn’t a certified bestseller – had little to no input into covers or design. Asking for sales numbers or distribution was unheard of. Our clout with editors was zilch. Publishers had certain niches with a definite slant to their publications, a rigid Procrustian formula.
On the other hand, most of the big publishers – and there were a lot of them in those days – maintained a slush pile to which anyone could submit. Agents were not necessary to get a book in the door; they had not yet attained the sanctified status of gatekeeper they enjoy now. Publishers looked for talent themselves.
There were, though, mavericks even then. Books that were repeatedly rejected by the big publishers had no place to go once the last submission was made. A thriving business grew up supporting vanity presses. A vanity press is one that will print just about anything if their exorbitant rates are paid. Sometimes a meager editing is included – most times not. This kind of press makes no pretense of quality – its purpose is to pander to the vanity of the writer. Some are still in business, and still – in some applications – have a purpose. If someone who is not a writer wants a nicely bound book of family history, or special recipes, or something related to their business, vanity press was and is the way to go.
Vanity press used to be considered the kiss of death for fiction. The main difference between vanity press and publishing is distribution. A publisher would get your book into bookstores across the country. A vanity press would dump however many thousand books you ordered in your garage and you would have to do whatever you wanted to do with them. And let’s face it, most vanity press fiction was so bad that legitimate retailers wanted nothing to do with it.
The internet changed all that. Distribution is now world-wide with just the click of a mouse. Self-publishing is gaining respectability – and money – in leaps and bounds. Instead of having to accept whatever the publisher says is a good cover, the self-publishing author has control. The self-publishing author has the final say over whatever editor she hires. The self-publishing author gets between 35% and 70% royalty on average, instead of the old 6-8-10% publishers used to offer. Most publishers never did do much publicity except for runaway bestselling authors. Now most do none at all. The self-publishing author is responsible for everything with no guarantee of financial return.
Of course there is still bad, unsellable fiction being sold out there on the net. There was bad fiction sold by publishers, too, though not, I believe, so much nor so truly terrible. Most self-published fiction, though, is at least pretty good. A surprising amount is spectacular, both from known and unknown authors.
So do I believe in self-publishing? Yes… and no.
In the days of the gatekeepers there was a more reliable product, but in the days of the gatekeepers there was less variety and choice. As an author, I would prefer just to write – not to have to worry about choosing editors and cover artists and (my particular bĂȘte noir) doing endless publicity. However, these days even publishing with the big six too often the majority of publicity falls squarely on the author’s shoulders, which is wrong. Writers should write. Publishers should publish and sell and distribute, which includes doing the publicity. If publishers are going to take the majority of the money from a book, they should do the majority of the work.
That said, I enjoy the control of choosing covers and writing my own backcopy. I also enjoy the much higher royalty rate. I do not like paying for editing and covers out of my pocket before any revenue at all is coming in. That, however, is the cost of freedom. Freedom has obligations and risks, and if I want to be my own boss and reap fair reward for my labors, that’s just part of it.
I self-publish. I also publish with traditional/legacy (the nomenclature is changing so quickly I can hardly keep up with it!) publishers. Say what you will, there is still a cachet to publishing with one of the big houses that self-publishing, however much more profitable, cannot give you.
At least for now. Everything changes.

Commercial : my new cozy mystery, BEADED TO DEATH, came out on October first from Carina Press. (Carina : , Amazon : ) Bead artist Lilias Ruiz returns home from a craft fair to find the body of a man she has never seen before in her living room. From there her life spins out of control as she becomes involved with drug smuggling, an FBI agent who may or may not be rogue and a 7’3” nephew on the run from an unwanted basketball scholarship. It’s a fun read.

          Janis Patterson is a seventh-generation Texan and a third-generation wordsmith who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson.
          Formerly an actress and singer, a talent agent and Supervisor of Accessioning for a bio-genetic DNA testing lab, Janis has also been editor-in-chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups as well as many other things, including an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist.
          Janis married for the first time when most of her contemporaries were becoming grandmothers. Her husband, also an Egyptophile, even proposed in a moonlit garden near the Pyramids of Giza. Janis and her husband live in Texas with an assortment of rescued furbabies.

1 comment:

Morgan Mandel said...

You have the best of both worlds, and that's what's so wonderful these days. Authors can have it all if they so choose!

Morgan Mandel