Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What About Self Publishing?

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

On one of my loops there has been for some time a very spirited discussion about self-publishing – some correspondents are very outspoken that it should just ‘go away and let real publishing take over again.’ Some admit to being confused or uninformed. Some – including me – are quite vocal that self pubbing is not only here to stay, but that it should be. Because I feel so strongly about this, I have taken my response to this somewhat contentious thread and put it here.

For all those who think that ‘self publishing should just go away and let real publishing take over again’ I ask... Why? Self publishing IS real publishing, with the added benefits of freedom and due rewards for the writer. It gets the story from the writer's mind into the reader's hand, and that's the rock-bottom basis of publishing. For centuries writers have been treated as at best the red-headed-stepchildren of the publishing industry, at worst nothing more than a necessary evil. While there are the mega-bestsellers who receive fantastic amounts, the majority of writers are paid least and last, which is egregiously illogical as without them the publishing industry would not exist. Trad publishers are notorious for keeping authors in the dark about sales figures and give them little or no input into covers, marketing (when any marketing is done at all) and basically tell writers "Give us the books we will accept, allow us to shape them, take what we give you without any questions and go away."

Self publishing has changed all that. The author is now in charge and is finally getting paid in proportion to their contribution. It's more work for them, but the rewards are worth it. Is there dreck in self-publishing? Of course. Freedom is always messy, but that's no reason to condemn a new process when there are so many benefits. Self-publishing is the essence of freedom - let the market, ie the reader, decide what they want.

If self pubbing were not good for the writer, why would so many trad pubbed writers be switching? They want commensurate rewards for their work. They want control. They want to know what is happening and be able to try new things. In return, every real writer I know puts more care into their self pubbed books than most traditional publishers. Check a trad pubbed book (especially one of the Big 5) against a professional writer's self pubbed one. I’ll bet you there are more mistakes - typo, formatting, etc. - in the trad pubbed. The professional self pubbing writers I know hire editors, formatters and artists, many of whom have quit the big houses and gone into freelancing. They too want to make more money. And what is wrong with that?

Should everyone self publish? Obviously not. But - ! Every writer should have the freedom to choose whether they want to self publish or not.

Self pubbing is also good for the reader. Self pubbing gives readers the freedom to choose what kind of books they want. Niche publishing flourishes with self pubbing. Specialized stories or cross-genre books, each pulling too small an audience to interest the big boys are now available. Readers can now choose the specific type of stories they want to read and not be forced to choose from just what is profitable for the trad publishers or acceptable to their gatekeepers. The reader is now in control, just as is the writer.

It's too late to put things back the way they were, even if the trad houses were suddenly to wise up and do everything right. The genie is out of the bottle. If Amazon - the 600 lb gorilla of self-publishing - were to decide to stop putting out books for self pubbed authors or to change their payment schedules some other profit-minded entrepreneur would step in.

And what about the dreck, the garbage books? There have always been garbage books, even under the big trad pubbing umbrella. Yes, there are more now, but that will pass. Millions of people have always thought they could write a book better than the one they're reading, and a very few of them were right. Many try and most never even finish their manuscript. Of those who do many go right on to publication, ready or not. In the old days pre-self pubbing, these tyros were mainly caught by the gatekeepers. They either quit writing or learned to write well - and to conform to the Procrustean bed of the trad pubbers. Now they can string together as many words as they like, call it a book, put it out and then be shocked when it doesn't bring them instant success and fortune. Then they either quit writing or buckle down and learn to write.

Is the system perfect? No, of course not. No system ever is, but with the option of self pubbing, the new gatekeepers are the writers and the readers themselves. And that's the way it should be.


Sofie Couch said...

Yeah, Janis! Thanks for your post. Self-publishing has been my friend and I am so glad that we are finally seeing very good writers coming to light where once their lights were being snuffed out (or uncompensated). You rock!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Okay, I don't self-publish but I do see the benefits to many frustrated writers who would otherwise go unpublished. Previously, only a limited few would have the privilege. Self-pubbing is democratic. As fewer traditional publishers now exist, an opportunity has arrived to fill the vacuum. Print pubs are going under while digital pubs increase. It means less money for writers in general, but at least their work is getting out there. That in itself provides satisfaction.

Marissa St James said...

I'm looking at the many options of self-publishing while working on a trilogy. Some of my other work still goes to an e-pub. Gives me the best opportunities of both worlds.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Good post. I've done both, but must admist I do much better having publishers for my two series. I think what people need to do iw find out what works best for them.

Vamp Writer said...

Agree totally...I wonder how many stories that would have become an "essential" were turned down by a Publishing House because they didn't fit the mold of what they published. As in FREEDOM OF SPEECH, some won't like what is said and will try to block the message or quiet the messenger! The Indie Revolution permits FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION in unique, if sometimes troubling, works from those with a different vision. Perhaps their writing style and technical skills don't meet "required standards" but there have been imperfect works released from the big publishing houses that became best sellers. There are too many people with great stories we never read just because an "editor" told them it was "unworthy of publication."

Kathleen Kaska said...

Having options is always good. The published industry was in need of change. I agree that there are still problems, but at the same time, it is exciting to see new developments.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I've had ten publishers over the years, including a current one, Poisoned Pen Press, but when I decided to self publish my out-of-print books, I've never looked back.

Renee Reynolds said...

It's an old cliche, but people tend to belittle what they fear, resent, covet, or just plain don't understand. Like you mentioned, the market/readers will separate the wheat from the chaff in publishing, no matter the form (trad or self). I think in the last two years the gap has narrowed between the quality produced by the two groups; ironically, it's self-publishing that's improving and big publishing whose quality is diminishing. And if that doesn't speak to the priorities of the traditional publishing houses verses the DIYers, I don't know what else could. I am a proud and staunch defender of DIYers, but I prefer to call myself an Independent or Indie rather than self-pubber: what I do is so much more than publishing myself. Everything about my novels - from start to finish - is controlled by me. I do the research and writing. I contract out the proofing, editing, critiquing, and cover art. I format, upload, and market my novels. I am independent.

Cindy Sample said...

My publisher closed suddenly 20 months ago shortly before the third book in my series was due to be published. I felt I had no choice but to get the books back on the market so I hired my own team. I personally think my cover artist, editors, and formatter are superior to what my publisher provided. Plus I've sold over 50,000 books (no giveaways) in 18 months compared to a few thousand in 36 months. I love indie publishing!

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Good article. Too bad not all trad published authors can understand the viability of self-publishing today and how it's changed. Old attitudes still exist, and it's also harder for indie authors to garner speaking engagements and panel assignments at conferences.

Terry Odell said...

I moved into the indie market when my publisher remaindered my first book. This was right around the time Smashwords had come into being and Amazon had opened the KDP process. Konrath was touting the "make a fortune with 99 cent books" although it helped to be JA Konrath. However, as I expanded my indie titles, got rights back, I started making actual money. It's hard work, but much more satisfying. If you've already got a 'name' like Cindy, it's easier to find an audience, and if you expect overnight success, you'll be disappointed, but I'm happy for the choices.

Maggie Toussaint said...

I'm a hybrid publisher - some books go out through small press houses, some go out through my imprint. A friend of mine, who is making serious money indie pubbing, put it to me quite bluntly. You have to choose whether you want the status of being in libraries or you want to make money. I'm on the fence and straddling both worlds right now. I admire those with the gumption to say I'm only going to indie pub. Power to the Authors!

jinx schwartz said...

Been both published by a small publisher and then I jumped onto the Amazon KDP train almost 3 years ago, and between Amazon and BookBub, I am doing quite well, thank you. I doubt I would even entertain a publishing offer now, because I love the freedom of controlling my career.
That said, managing your own PR is hard work, but when it starts to pay off, it is a good thing!

art said...

Interesting post and great food for thought. I have to admit, I'm on the fence right now. I have much admiration, though for the writers who really know how to write and decide to go indie.

Marja said...

I had two publishers and decided I was better off self-pubbing. I've never regretted it for a moment. Like you said, this process isn't for everyone, but it's sure made me happy. Excellent post!

Marja McGraw

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