Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Publishing - A Basic Primer - Part Two

by Janis Patterson


Happy New Year! Hope your year is starting well and that all things are good with you.

As promised, this column is going to talk about the newest iterations of publishing - Self and Hybrid.

Self publishing has been around for centuries. Some of the very earliest novelists - such as Fielding and Richardson - Self published, but that was a very different time and a different business model. In the last century Self publishing was pretty much limited to Vanity publishing - see last month’s column - but thanks to the technological revolution Self publishing has become its own respectable and sometimes very profitable industry.

Ebooks have changed the face of publishing. No longer do writers need the heavy hand of a Trad publisher to shape and validate their work, nor do they have to put up with the Trad’s domination of the distribution system. Someone can write a book and put it up by themselves on several electronic vendor platforms. Easy-peasy! That is not to say, however, that they should.

A Self publisher is exactly that - a publisher, and he should take on the duties of a publisher - all the duties. Get a good editor and cover artist and, if putting books out to a lot of vendors, a formatter. And yes, you will have to pay them money, because professionalism and quality are not free. 

Ah, you say, didn’t I tell you that money should always flow TO the author, not FROM the author? It’s still true - but when you are publishing your book you are the Publisher You, not the Author You. Publisher You is responsible for everything, from getting a very good editor to make Author You’s book the best it can be (and no one should ever put out a book without having an editor look at it!) to getting a cover artist to getting a skilled formatter to uploading to the vendors to doing the publicity necessary to get the book in front of the public. Now there are those who are talented enough - or have friends/family who are - to do the covers and formatting and publicity themselves. Most of us are not. Don’t rely on a friend or relative to do your editing, though; get a professional.

Publisher You also has to take charge of the niggling but oh-so-important details of publishing - do you need an ISBN? Should you copyright through the government? Do you go exclusive with Amazon/KU or do you go wide? Should you put out a paper version as well as an ebook? And those are just the beginning of the decisions you need to make. Are you going to use your name or a pseudonym? Do you/should you have a website? What kind and how much publicity should you do? Do you hire a publicist? And the list goes on...

I will admit that I am a great fan of Self publishing; it takes you out of the unholy circus of rewrites and endless edits to tailor your story to the (occasionally unreasonable) demands of traditional agents and publishers and all too often leaves you with a product that has only a passing resemblance to your original work. You also make a great deal more money per individual sale than with Trad publishing. The downside is that whatever is done has to be done by you - or at least, by someone you hire. All the responsibility for quality and opportunities for success and failure resides squarely on your shoulders. 

People beginning in the Self pub market now are so fortunate - there are books and groups and FB pages and eloops centered on the Self pub industry from which the novice can learn just about everything necessary. When I first Self pubbed in 2013 I couldn’t find any of them; there may have been some, but I couldn’t find them, so in my usual heedless fashion I jumped in feet first and forged on. Yes, I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned. And some of my ‘mistakes’ turned out to be blessings in disguise. Some turned out to be... not. Still, I am glad I went ahead.

Above I said ‘opportunities for success and failure’ because there is always what Mary Roberts Rinehart called the Blind Villain - chance. You can do everything just right - writing, editing, covers, publicity - yet still there is the possibility that your book will just lie there like a dead flounder while other books, not as good in any or all ways, will take off to the stratosphere. Just do the best you can and accept the chance of this outcome, because there are some things in this world that are uncontrollable. It’s sad but very true, and must be accepted. The only answer I know is to keep going on and write more good books. 

Most of Self pubbing is relatively simple - mechanical and very picky, but still basically simple once you understand and accept the principles. I believe that anyone who really wants to do it can master the production end. And probably the publicity end, too, though that is my personal bête noir.

You see, with every other aspect of Self pubbing, each task is finite - writing, editing, formatting, cover selection - but publicity is ongoing. Sometimes I wonder how some writers manage to do all the publicity they do and still have time to write, let alone have a life. Yes, some do employ Virtual Assistants or Public Relations companies, but the affordable ones are so booked they have waiting lists of potential clients and others are so expensive they are out of reach of anyone but the highest of best sellers.

Not long ago I looked into a PR company to boost the sales (embarrassingly small) of my favorite book, perhaps the best book I’ve ever written. Not only was the basic campaign eye-wateringly high, but it cost more for one month than that book had earned in the past year! Needless to say, it was beyond my means and I politely declined. That said, I am blessed that my newly-retired, science-oriented husband has stepped in and taken over my publicity, learning the job as he goes. It is an interesting journey!
So - if anyone is looking for a ready-made niche, a true bird’s-nest-on-the-ground, may I suggest starting an AFFORDABLE publicity firm for writers. They will have potential clients lined up out the metaphoric door.

Ooops! I have made a mistake - something you get used to when you Self pub. Last month and even above I said I would cover Self pubbing and Hybrid pubbing in this post. Well, this post has gone on much too long, so I will save Hybrid for next month. Hope your New Year is starting out well, and 2021 is the best year ever for all of us! 


authorlindathorne said...

I wish traditional publishing was smoother. If I ever get to the point of publishing my next book, I may have to consider self-publishing. I like the security of a publisher - someone else to help with my book cover, editing, etc., but I find other authors jumping ship and dropping publishers to go out on their own. Publishing companies are hurting. Many are extremely slow. It's a hard business and not always lucrative. Interesting post.

Maris said...

Good overview of what I consider absolutely necessary if a writer is going to self-publish (editor, cover artist, formatting, and publicity). I've re-published as ebooks, some of my traditionally published books, but recently I decided to become the "publisher" of my last book in a series. Even though I know/knew all of the steps necessary, it has been a longer process than I expected. Fingers crossed all goes well for me...and for you.

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

Definitely happy I went the self-publishing route for many reasons. One is, when I do promotion I can check and see if it's working.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Good stuff, Janis. I am a hybrid and works out good for me. said...

At first, I had doubts about indie publishing. Then my contracts with traditional and small press publishers expired. My books were out of print so I tried self-publishing. I wish I had done so sooner. Thanks for your interesting blog.

Morgan Mandel said...

This time around I'm going to split this book between Amazon and Smashwords to reach a larger market. That means I won't be doing the Kindle Publishing Select and making it exclusive to Amazon for 3 months. I can always change that if it doesn't work out. One problem with self-publishing is making decisions. Is the book really ready? Is the cover really good? At some point, I find I just have to let go and publish the book and see what happens.