This Business of Writing

Why I Will Self-Publish – Probably.

In General Information, Marketing Your Book, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on April 7, 2010 at 7:04 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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I’m about to finalize my decision as to how I am will sell my emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.” With that in mind, I must soon decide if I am to self-publish and endure all that entails or face the gauntlet of the publishing industry and all the rest that comes with that. (We have not chosen an easy industry, have we folks?

I see advantages with either scenario and I also see drawbacks with both. However, the more educated I become on the subject, the more it seems it is in my best interest is to go it alone. Here’s my train of thought. Please so advise if you disagree. I am open to an honest discussion on the matter.

Agents:

I like the idea of an agent who represents me and feel I have the capability to find a quality agent. That part doesn’t concern me. I really don’t like the process of how they choose the writers they represent. No, I agree with the query process. After all, even writers need a resume. What tweaks my cheeks is their query restrictions. One minor, unintended error that has nothing to do with the quality of your writing, and you’re only opportunity to have them read your resume is lost. Don’t get me wrong, they have to do this. I understand and even agree. I just don’t like it. I also consider how once I find the proper agent for me, will I be the proper author for them? The odds are quite limited. Why hang my future on such low odds when I have other options? However, the real rub? After I’m through with the exhaustive experience of agenting, then I have to deal with the pub houses.

Publishing Houses:

Publishing houses do ease, though not guarantee, entry into the brick and mortars, which are the premier distribution channel for the writing industry – for now. However, distribution is their only remaining asset of any real worth and with the explosion of technology, I see their grip on distribution slip with each day that passes. In fact, I believe the Internet is about to leave them in the dust and take over their monopoly with distribution. Amazon, a technology company, even affects their sales model. That’s not a sign that instills confidence in me relative to their strength or ever their stability within the writing world.

Another major issue I have with pub houses is they’ll hire some salesman who MAY give my book a ten second pitch. If he wants to. Honestly? I want that salesman to answer to me, not some conglomerate who sees me not as a customer but as a product. Again, I understand and have no solution for them, I just don’t like the system.

Further, there’s almost no chance for an advance, which means I work on commission – a commission based not on my productivity but some unknown salesman’s capability. Now, I’ve worked on commission before and made a bunch of money doing it. But I either held the salesman’s position or the salesman worked directly for me. Under their arrangement, I’ll most likely never even meet this person, let alone develop a relationship with him. And yet, my career hinges on his efforts. It’s a scary thought to someone like me who has always pulled up his own boots.

The pub houses will not assist with marketing, so that effort and expense lies with me regardless.

The pub houses sometimes offer editing services, but even that benefit is dying. Plus, I can purchase that service on the open market and have a say in whom I hire. They do have book cover design services and that’s nice, but I give up all control over how they present what, in the final analysis, is my work. Further, I can purchase that service on the outside at a reasonable price and maintain total control.

Something else of which I do not approve? The publishing industry is absolutely subjective and good novels are lost all the time to this limiting aspect. Again, I do understand and it can be no other way, but that also dilutes my potential to a great degree. Again, I could lose not on my abilities, but on a stranger’s tastes or even their emotions of the moment.

This whole process just does not send that proverbial tingle up my leg.

So as I see it, to work with a major pub house, I give up a huge portion of my potential profits in exchange for little more than a diminished distribution system based primarily upon old technology? Hum…

Self-Publishing:

I do have one advantage most writers do not. I’ve owned and operated my own businesses since the days of paper boys with bicycles. I’m experienced with going it alone and I’m comfortable with the idea. I will admit this aspect of who I am influences me a great deal.

The major drawback to self-publishing? All the issues rest with me. I don’t worry too much as I’ve been a business decision maker my entire adult life, so making these kind of judgments are sort of par for the course.

Cost. It’s a big issue. However, it won’t break the bank, so it’s not too large of an issue. Besides, my wife is on board, so the real hurdle is already crossed.

Marketing. This is a major issue with those who self-publish and beyond the well-written novel itself, it’s the meat and potatoes of success. However, I’ve been self-employed and marketing since I my tenth birthday. Though the cost of it is a consideration, the Internet has supplanted much of that cost. I can work up copy, build web sites, use social networking and all the rest. I’ve even got contacts.

Product: I do believe I’ve got my breakout novel in hand and am convinced my novel will sell with correct marketing. It’s a great story and the narrative is well written and well edited. In fact, I dare say it’s better than most books the pub houses crank out. I know… I know… we all feel that way about our babies, but I’ve written two stinkers, so I’ve got somewhat of a handle on good vs. bad. This one is good.

Publishers: I’m not too worried about that. I’m good enough at research and I’ll find a good print shop with benefits, which is really all they are. I used to own a wholesale print shop, so I have a feel for what to look for.

Editing: I’ve got a relationship with an excellent editor who is reasonably priced and brutally honest with me. Besides, I’ve grown into a pretty good editor myself over the years.

Book Cover Design: Graphic artists are everywhere and some are even reasonably priced. Besides, I’ve got some great ideas and I’d like to see them fleshed out.

Distribution. Now here’s the other of the three big issues which also included cost and marketing. Again, I’ll forgo the brick and mortars for the Internet any day. The B & M’s are a dying breed and the Internet allows me to get my marketing message into almost every home in the English-speaking world. I’ll have a worldwide market, which includes their customers. So again, marketing is the secret to distribution. By the way, have you noticed the B & M’s now sell the very products that will either kill their business model or force them to become something other than a book store? “Here’s yer sign.”

Profit potential? I’ve worked up a business plan and feel I’m actually ahead with self-publishing. Especially when you consider the digital end of things. I’ll not have the overhead the pub houses do so my business plan gives me an huge edge when I keep all the profits rather than some small percentage. I retired from the business of coaching other businesspeople and did so for many years. I have confidence in my plan.

So, that’s my way of thinking on this important writing decision. I challenge you to show me where I’m wrong.

In the mean time, how ‘bout some referrals to self-pub houses that have impressed you?

Thanks for your help.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


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  1. I self-published my first children’s book last year with Booklocker.com. And my next book will out in about 6 weeks. Everything you said in your post is right on which is the reason I self-published and will continue to do so.

  2. My books with some beta readers right now. When I get it back, one last editing pass and then I will self-publish. For much the same reasons you stated. Although I don’t use the term self-publish, it’s indie publish.

    A publisher will put my book in a B&M for a few weeks, or a few months if I’m lucky. If it doesn’t sell, my book is out, and I’ll struggle to sell my next one.

    When I publish, my book goes out for as long as I want it to, forever if I want it to. I can do my own marketing and build up slowly.

    “One thing that having an agent, publisher, and traditionally published book did for me was to provide me with cachet. That cachet led to many newspaper and magazine interviews, some radio, a local TV thing, and requests from major magazines for a couple of articles.”

    With non-fiction you can adapt chapters in to articles and submit them to e-zines with links at the end to buy your book. You can guest blog. You can post answers to relevant questions in forums and take part in reader discussions. You can submit press releases to print magazines and TV companies. At least 1 self published author has ended up on TV.

    The only thing I see a publisher offering me is translating my book into other languages, and selling abroad. Even then, that’s something I can do on my own.

    For e-book publishing I intend to go with Smashwords.

    For POD my sights are set on Lightning Source, but you have to be aware that there are conditions to its use.

    Also, I’ve set up a forum for indie authors. It’s really new, so there’s only 2 of us so far, but it will hopefully grow into a very big resource, especially when I publish. You can find it here… http://www.runboard.com/btheguildofindependentauthors

    Good luck with your book

  3. Nice, well thought out post. If you started with a novel comparably well-write, know your natural audience and the first removed batch of potential readers after that natural audience, come up with a reasonable plan for marketing, and execute the marketing plan accordingly and with flexibility, you stand a better chance than most.

    Consider, too, that the design and production end of things should bring you a cover that attracts potential readers into picking up your book and make promises (so to speak) about what the reader will find inside, both in terms of what you write about and how it willl look.

    The interior pages should keep the covers promise, presenting the writing in a way that is both easy on the reader’s eyes and just generally interesting enough to help the reader commit to turning the page whenever it’s time. It should not be so “wonderfully unique and creative” that it distracts from continued reading, however.

    That all said, good luck and have a blast with it!

  4. These days there are so many options if you choose to self-publish, especially online that make sense (disclosure, I work for TheBookPatch.com). Here are some thoughts/tips:

    1) Print on demand/one-copy minimum allows you (or your customers) to only order what you need/want so you don’t have to have storage facilities, high cost overhead

    2) Look for publishers who have a cumulative pricing model (the more you order, the more your price goes down)

    3) Look for publishers who give you the most return (e.g. take no royalties). Plug: At thebookpatch, we TAKE ZERO royalties if you can believe that, we just charge for printing. Then again we were created by an author who understands giving aways royalties sucks.

    4) Look for publishers who have their OWN online stores that you can link to and that accept payment forms. This keep the IT hassle away from you.

    Just a few things to think about. Good luck.

    Brent
    http://www.thebookpatch.com
    @thebookpatch

  5. Hey Patrick, I enjoyed your thoughtful post as you wondered out loud about the prospects of self-publishing. I thought I’d pass along this post, in case you hadn’t seen it, which has a different point of view.

    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2009/06/should-you-self-publish.html

    Meanwhile, although I haven’t been published in fiction, I have in non-fiction. I was lucky enough to find a great agent and get a couple of great editors at a couple of super publishing houses. Although self-publishing wasn’t particularly a great option when I wrote my two non-fiction books, I’m not sure I’d go that route, even in hindsight.

    One thing that having an agent, publisher, and traditionally published book did for me was to provide me with cachet. That cachet led to many newspaper and magazine interviews, some radio, a local TV thing, and requests from major magazines for a couple of articles. The web site that I built to accompany the books has turned into quite a platform and also a source of modest income. I’m fairly sure that most of the success that I’ve had after publication has come from the fact that I was traditionally published.

    Whether or not that would hold true for a work of fiction–I have no idea really, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it might.

    So, I just wanted to toss that into the mix. I agree with much of what you say in your post, emphatically so, but I’d hate to see you miss out on this aspect of being traditionally published. It’s not a subject that I see discussed all that much and it surely wasn’t something I expected when I wrote those books.

    • Terisa,

      Thanks so much for your comment and insight. You bring up a point I missed entirely and it does make me rethink my position.

      I’ll read your article and, if you don’t mind, maybe even put your thoughts into a post on my blog.

      Again, many thanks.

      Patrick

  6. One thing I don’t see in your list of pros-and-cons is the “use success in self publishing to land a traditional publisher” strategy. If you’re able to put out a quality book, and do the leg-work necessary to sell, say, 5000 copies of it, publishers will be much more open to the idea of representing your book. You can say to them: I sold a ton of these in my city, doing my own author events and so forth, but that’s not scaleable. You guys can take this book national. There are a lot more cities out there than I can cover myself.

    Anyway, just a thought.

    Still, being a big fan of irony, I can’t help but notice the homonym error in this sentence:

    > One minor, unintended error that has nothing to do with the quality of your writing, and you’re only opportunity to have them read your resume is lost.

    It is frustrating, but the premise of the sentence is wrong. One minor unintended error in your query really does have something to do with the quality of your writing.

    Consider: the slushpile is HUGE. Mind bogglingly vast. Yet, we all know that there’s good stuff in it. We hope our own stuff is in that small fraction. The vastness of the slushpile basically guarantees that, once in a while, you’ll find a manuscript that is basically perfect from the get-go.

    If you were an agent, wouldn’t you be looking for those? If you spot an obvious typo in a query letter, what odds would you estimate that the manuscript is one of those ready-made (or nearly ready-made) gems? If you spot “you’re” instead of “your” in the query, you have to ask yourself “what are the chances that this is an abberation that does not predict the quality of the manuscript?”

    Writing well, writing at the level where a major publishing house would be willing to make a six-figure bet in terms of production, distribution and marketing on your book, is a game of subtlties. The smallest things in a novel can have wide-ranging, unintended effects on how a reader will perceive the characters, the story, and so forth.

    If the query letter doesn’t show evidence of the attentiveness to detail that this game of subtlties requires, chances are the book isn’t one of those gems.

    Obviously, sometimes that’s not true. We’ve all heard the stories about how such-and-such bestselling classic was rejected thirty or fifty or however many times before the author found a publisher. But most of the time it is.

    The slushpile is huge. For an agent, it’s a numbers game. They have to play the odds or else they’ll get crushed under submissions that, sure as Sunday, turn out to be as flawed as their queries suggested they would be.

    I do think you’re a bit pessimistic about the chances of finding a good match with an agent:

    > I also consider how once I find the proper agent for me, will I be the proper author for them? The odds are quite limited.

    The thing is, it’s a reciprocal relationship. The proper agent for you, by definition, is someone for whom you’re the proper author. If you’re listening with your heart to your interactions with the agent, you’ll know if it’s someone you can do business with. Obviously, you have to listen with your head, too, but don’t ignore your heart.

    Don’t ignore the vibe you get from their responses to your e-mails, from the tone of their voice when you call them. That soft data is just as important to your ability to form an effective publishing team with that person as the hard data about the connections they have in the industry, their years of experience, other authors they represent, et cetera.

    The whole query process is so stressful, it’s understandable that authors jump at the chance to work with the first agent who shows any interest. But I think authors need to be as critical about saying yes to the agent as the agent is in saying yes to the writer.

    • Jason, thanks so much for your comment. I like the way you think, my man.

      With that said, here’s my continued thoughts:

      One thing I don’t see in your list of pros-and-cons is the “use success in self publishing to land a traditional publisher” strategy.

      True and good point, J. However, it’s one idea which I’d considered and discarded. If I’ve produced a marketable product and developed a successful marketing program, why would I bother with the additional
      headaches required to step into their industry? “If it ain’t broken,” as the saying goes, “don’t fix it.”

      The slushpile is huge. For an agent, it’s a numbers game. They have to play the odds or else they’ll get crushed under submissions that, sure as Sunday, turn out to be as flawed as their queries suggested they would be.

      Point well taken. Pub houses are in business to make money and should they pick up an author, their investment can be substantial. However, I do not think my decisions should be based upon my business issues, not those they face. Further, in the article I mentioned I had no recommendations as to how one might “fix” this system. The entire process from top to bottom is imperfect and much talent will be lost in the shuffle. That’s all there is to it. I simply don’t find much comfort in having my writing career based on someone else’s perception of perfection / near-perfection. The true judge of quality is The Market and I am willing to stand before it.

      The thing is, it’s, [the agenting process], a reciprocal relationship.

      Again, J., your point is on-spot. The “perfect” again is a difficult animal to cage and once they are brought to the ground, by way of soft and hard data, then other stars must also fall into alignment. Not only personality, but experience, genre, timing, etc., etc., etc. It’s a daunting process that takes many, many months. I can have my book on the market in the time it takes to find this guy. Nothing against agents at any level. I’d just rather play the odds. And the best odds are created by oneself.

      Thanks so much for taking your time to comment, Jason. It’s this back and forth that makes the world an interesting place.

      Patrick

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