Wednesday 23 September 2009

Moving From Self-Published To Mainstream Publication

If you've self-published then you've already tested your book, as a product, on the marketplace. If it failed to sell in any great numbers, then in the eyes of a lot of publishers, you’ve proved that it doesn't have the potential to sell in sufficient quantities for them to take it on. This might well be because you, as a publisher, don't have access to the same sales and marketing clout that the bigger publishers employ, but many of those big publishers aren’t interested in that: all they see is the numbers they find on Nielsen’s sales reports. As far as they’re concerned, your book hasn't sold well and so you've shown that it's an uncommercial product.

This probably means that those publishers miss out on a few books with real potential: but as publishers have so many titles to pick and choose from, it's no wonder they tend to dismiss books so easily.


AnonCoward23 said...

I.e. self-publishing is, in the vast majority of cases, a bad deal for the self-publisher?

Dan Holloway said...

This reinforces the message of an earlier post, I believe. Self-publishing is not a fast-track to a mainstream deal. It's a different way of doing things. And will suit different books.

Jane Smith said...

That's it exactly, Dan. Most people who self-publish in order to get themselves a mainstream deal are going to be disappointed; the people who self-publish because they're convinced it's the best way for their book to be published are far more likely to be happy with the result.

And AnonCoward (thank you for giving yourself a name, at least you're not completely anonymous now and I don't think you're a coward at all), the vast majority of self-published books that I've seen have been really, truly awful; have a look at my other blog, The Self-Publishing Review, to see my opinions on a few of them. Whether or not it's a bad deal for the authors concerned I'm not sure: do they get what they wanted out of the deal? Only they can tell you. But they're unlikely to make many sales: the average number of copies of self-published books sold comes in at between 40 and 200, depending on which set of statistics you believe (search this blog for "sales statistics" and you should find supporting pieces for those numbers).

Anonymous said...

On the other hand if your book does sell well and publishers come running to cash in on that, what are they now going to offer you that you haven't already done for yourself?

Bit of an over-simplification I know, but they will surely have to work harder to appeal to you than they would have had to if you were unpublished or lightly sold. I have read of successful self-publishers turning down offers as not good enough.

Also, someone commented elsewhere that even if you sell well publishers may feel that you have exhausted the bulk of the market, leaving little for them anyway. Be interested to hear your experienced view on that, Jane.

Is the self-publisher damned if he doesn't do well, and damned if he does? I must say I am inclined to agree with Dan; I think it needs to be viewed as a different way of publishing, not a different way of attracting a publisher.

Derek said...

Amazon announced a while back that they were going to sift through self-published books to cream off the best ones to republish with marketing support:

As far as I know, they've only done one title so far, but they're now looking for a marketing manager for the program:

I wonder why more publishers aren't using this strategy. Maybe they don't have the data-mining capabilities Amazon has. Or maybe they don't realize there's money to be made by thinking outside the proverbial box.

Jane Smith said...

SleepyJohn wrote, "if your book does sell well and publishers come running to cash in on that, what are they now going to offer you that you haven't already done for yourself?"

The answer to that is easy: all those things that are so difficult for self-publishers to do, like getting nationwide sales reps touting the book into shops, proper distribution so that when a book is ordered it actually arrives; and reviews in publications that people take seriously, which do lead to more sales.

That's on top of all the high-quality, professional editing, design and production, of course.

But most of all--and this is the most important thing, I think--having a mainstream publisher take over the publishing of your book leaves you free to write your next book. Very important if you want a writing career.

Jane Smith said...

Derek, I think the fact that AmazonEncore has only found one book to publish so far out of the thousands that have been self-published is pretty telling. I do wonder how AE is going to sell through into bookshops--it's mentioned in the article, and I wonder who its sales reps are?--and what the contract is like for the writers who will be picked.

As for publishers not realising that there's money to be made: despite a popular view, publishers tend to be very astute business people who are actually very good at making money for their shareholders. Thing is, the business you describe isn't what they do: it's like suggesting that an opera singer diversifies into R&B because there are people out there who buy that sort of music too. It's a different setup, which is no less valid but it doesn't match with their current methods of business.

Having said that, you might like to take a look at HarperCollins' Authonomy, which is probably going to do exactly that. Sort of. It's had a few teething problems, and I wonder if it's not actually working as it was expected to, but it continues and grows.

catdownunder said...

I had to read a self-published book last night - I know the author. It was - dreadful. Now I have to work out a diplomatic way of saying that.
I have also been reading and, on request, criticising the autobiography of a severely disabled man. It is not great literature. He knows that but he has actually had the courage to take on the ideas and suggestions of his two readers on board. The result is going to be a book that can be read with interest by his intended audience and perhaps others as well.
If self-publishers did as he had done there would (a) be less self-published and (b) the quality would rise. Yes?

notusuallyanon said...

Ahem. This blog post suggests self publishing will soon be a prerequisite for aspiring authors? What do you all think of that??

I know what I think...

Daniel Blythe said...

Doesn't that particular author have "form" in promoting herself and her work as "Indie" published?

I don't see how being self-published can be a "necessary part of platform". And "platform" is more about non-fiction anyway.

If the writing's good, it's good. If the writing's rubbish, it's rubbish. If a publisher likes something, they will like it in MS form. If they don't, the fact that it's already been self-published isn't suddenly going to make them think, "You know what? This author can't write for toffee, but she's sold 500 copies all by herself. We'll give this a go."

Anonymous said...

Jane, as usual, you beat me to the punch. I blogged about this issue today as well, going into a bit more detail and the I see things from my side of the desk.

Anonymous said...

notusuallyanon, I read your blog post. First off, you are not self published. You are vanity published. There is a heap of difference between the two. Self published is when your company name is on the copyright page and you control every aspect of production and publication, not CreateSpace.

You haven't made your case that self publishing - in any definition - is a power move.

Anonymous said...

'Follow my adventures in publishing as I fully leverage emerging technologies to forge a career in authorship outside the establishment.'

Sorry, Notusuallyanon, but I prefer to understand what a writer is on about when I read, and that Blog Tagline is incomprehensible.
(Not meaning to be rude, you understand, simply puzzled.)

James Talloires

Jane Smith said...

There's an awful lot of odd logic to be found in the self-publishing world, which insists that when people like me point out how dismal the sales of most self-published books are, or how awful the books themselves often are, all we're doing is revealling how stick-in-the-mud we mainstream types are, or how closed we are to new ways of thinking.

I don't want to self-publish my novels, because I honestly don't think it's the best route for me or for them. I don't think self-publishing is inherently bad: just that it's often a bad choice for a lot of writers. So long as people know exactly what they're getting into, that's fine.

What I do object to is all the misinformation that's put out in support of self-publication. If I'm told one more time that Grisham, Woolf, Twain and Shakespeare self-published therefore it HAS to be OK I think I might start frothing at the mouth (because, for those of you who haven't been reading this blog since its beginning, either they didn't, or that's how people got published in their day, or they made a horrible mess of it).

Jane Smith said...

(By the way, notusuallyanon, I don't think that the change which Hamilton suggests is coming any time soon, or that it'll come in the way that she predicts. Change is coming, for sure: it's ALWAYS coming. But not like that.)

notusuallyanaon said...

James/Behlerblog just to be clear - I'm not Aprill Hamilton!

I thought her blog post might interest you all given the subject of Jane's post. Part of the reason I flagged it up is because I actually hoped people with a bit of clout would go over and REFUTE what AH is saying.

(I'm notusuallyanon just for today for a particular reason. I usually post here under my real name.)

Derek said...

Thing is, the business you describe isn't what they do.

That reminds me of music companies in the 90s who defined themselves only as CD companies because "the internet isn't what we do."

If I were a publisher, I'd be a lot more impressed by someone who'd sold 5,000 copies out of the trunk of their car than by a promising but untested manuscript.

Jane Smith said...

You misunderstand me, Derek. My point wasn't to bolster up mainstream publishing's supposedly failing, old-fashioned approach, or to refuse to look forward into new possibilities.

The business that you describe is very cynical and passive on the publisher's side: all they have to do is sit back, wait for a few of the self-published books to rise to the top, grab the rights to them and slap them into their schedule.

The way publishers work right now is they look for authors with promise, and books they think they can improve, and sell well; and then they position them in the marketplace and sell them. It's an active approach to a far more risky business, but it's possibly one which is much more likely to bring more quirky books to the attention of the readers out there.

Jane Smith said...

Notusuallyanon, I realised you weren't April Hamilton and I suspected that might have been your intention.

Daniel Blythe has already ventured into that particular lion-pit but right now I've got a bit too much going on in my own life to follow him there: and even if I did, I doubt that she'd do anything but argue with me. There's a sad lack of logic in her posts, and although I'd love to see that particular one refuted I don't think it would help at all, and I don't think anyone who was convinced of her wisdom would take any notice of me if I tried. Trust me: I've been there and done that too many times to feel there's any point in trying again.

Marian Perera said...

I checked out the link to April Hamilton's blog, but she presents Christopher Paolini as a self-publishing success story. His first book was published by his parents' company, which had already published three other books. Hardly the typical self-published writer.

Hamilton also says, "And guess what? If you’re blogging or making your writing available for download in ebook or podcast formats you're already self-publishing."

Well, yes. There's nothing inherently wrong about self-publishing if it serves your goals. But my goal for my blog is not the same as my goal for my manuscripts. That's why the one is going to be handled very, very differently from the other.

Jim MacKrell said...

I believe "The Shack" proves that a few self published aren't "truly awful"

Jane Smith said...

Jim, I agree--there are some very good self-published books out there (although having read The Shack, I'm not sure I'd call it "very good", but there you go!). But we can't use books like The Shack as an example of what's likely to happen to the average self-published author, as its success has been exceptional.

When a decent percentage of self-published books have real success, then I'll agree that self-publishing can be a good route into print for writers. But so long as the success of books like The Shack is an exception, rather than the norm, then I'll continue to be wary of it--and for good reason.

Dan Gregory said...

Hi, I’m not a regular poster I’m afraid, more of a lurker, but this topic is one of great interest to me.I apologise in advance if this is a little long winded.

I’m an aspiring writer. I have been working on my novel for some time now. In my quest to become a published author I have researched the submission procss tirelessly, carefully crafting letters to agents in the hope of finding representation.

Sadly, I am still an aspiring author, having received a healthy number of rejection letters. Not all of these rejections have been standard and I have received some encouragement but little comment on the actual quality of my work. I appreciate this is just not an option for a busy agent but it unfortunately leaves me in the dark as to whether or not my novel is publishable, or even any good.

I was just beginning to entertain the notion that I might never get my story heard when I was fortunate (or unfortunate?) enough to get my novel into the now infamous YouWriteOn new writers initiative. After a few trials and tribulations my novel now exists in printed form and is available to buy on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Waterstones online stores. I paid forty pounds for a distribution fee but beyond that it has cost me nothing else.

My question is this : Does this make me self-published? By following this path have I tarred myself with the self-publishing brush? Will an agent now look at my submission with a tainted view? I have done everything in my power to get my work noticed. I’ve designed a website, created a blog, sent it out for reviews but I’m now really concerned that I should stop focusing on marketing my ‘self-published’ novel and re-focus on the traditional route to publication. Any advice would be greatly received.(sorry this is such a wory post!)

Jane Smith said...

Dan, sit down and take a deep breath. I'll not mince my words here, as it won't help you. I'd rather be straight.

The YouWriteOn publishing scheme is vanity publishing, not self-publishing: it can't be self-publishing, as the author has no control over the ISBN, stock, accounting etc; and as the publishers (YWO) made most of their money from the authors rather than from selling books to the reading public, it has to be vanity.

My advice to you would be to write a new and better book, and concentrate your efforts on selling that. You might find a publisher willing to overlook the fact that first rights to your first book are now gone: but as you'd already tried to sell it with little success before going with YWO, it could be that you'd not sell it now regardless of the first rights issue.

Incidentally, how many copies of your YWO book have sold? How many of those did you sell? And what did you end up earning from those sales? What percentage of cover price did the royalty end up at? I'd be interested, if you wouldn't mind sharing, because of all the hype which surrounded the scheme.

Dan Gregory said...

Hi Jane,
Thank you for your straight talk. I see what you are saying about this being vanity publishing as opposed to self-publishing. You also make an interesting, if not worrying point about first rights. When I sent my novel in to YWO their contract stated I could terminate my publishing contract with them should I find an agent/publisher. I assumed this meant I would have no issues if a mainstream publisher did show an interest in the book. As soon as I’d submitted my novel I had pangs of doubt about the scheme and they have remained with me. That said, when I did eventually receive my book I was pleased with the finished product and thought I’d make the most of it and use it a means of getting the work out there in the hope it might benefit me in the push to get an agent. I guess I’ve been a little naive about this.

Regarding how much I’ve made, well, I have no idea because YWO don’t send me this information until October. Hopefully, it will be something but I suspect it will be a small amount since I have only really been pushing sales of my book in the last few months. As far as I know YWO have done nothing in promoting or selling the book, it’s all been up to me. All in all it’s been a bit of a shambles and I wish I’d been less hasty and persisted with the traditional submission process, especially in light of what you have just told me. I genuinely believe I have a great story to tell but I fear now I may have scuppered its chances.

Jane Smith said...

Dan, I wish you'd read my blog a year ago, before you submitted your work: I blogged about the YWO scheme a few times when it was first announced. I discussed the vanity publishing aspects of the scheme, as did other bloggers; and I discussed the first rights issue.

There can only ever be one first time, for all sorts of things--first rights included. They can't be returned once they've been used up, no matter what you were told by YWO.

Have you bought many copies to sell on? And do you know if YWO ever fulfilled its obligations to the Legal Deposit scheme? Because the last time I checked, it hadn't.

Dan Gregory said...

Jane, I too wish I’d read your blog. I did read a few posts here and there about the YWO issue but I think I was more concerned about getting answers as to the whereabouts of my book. Unfortunately I was so relieved to find out it had actually been published that I neglected to consider the ramifications of the deal, a massive oversight on my behalf.

Luckily, I have only bought three copies of the novel for myself for promotional purposes, the rest I have sold by word of mouth or through my website. As far as the Legal Deposit issue I have no idea if they have submitted a copy to the British Library, YWO are insanely difficult to get answers from, but I suspect they haven’t.
Gosh, what a sorry state of affairs.

JFBookman said...

Jane, Dan, Interesting (if sad) thread regarding rights.

My advice to you would be to write a new and better book, and concentrate your efforts on selling that.

Dan, although it may seem daunting now, this advice is as good as you are going to get.

But here's something optimistic to help that bitter pill go down a little easier. About a month ago Ang Lee opened his new film, "Taking Woodstock," do you remember it? Told through the eyes of Eliot Tiber, a charming story based on a book Eliot wrote with Tom Monte and sold to Square One Publishers.

Few people know however that Eliot published this book in a different form in the 1990s under the title "Knock on Woodstock" but there were major problems with the person backing what was essentially a self-publishing project and Eliot through no fault of his own lost rights and particularly first rights.

I know this story because I designed
and published the original.

So, you can come back from this. If the story "needs to be told" think how much better it will be the second time around.

Best of luck.

Jane Smith said...

Dan, I hope you don't think I was telling you off by pointing out that I'd blogged about YWO before: on rereading my comment it's possible that you could take it that way and it's not what I meant at all. My point was that I had all these concerns right from the start, but no matter what questions were asked of the people behind YWO, they were never addressed.

I did attempt to address my concerns over on the YWO message-board as my emails weren't answered, but my comments there were deleted, ridiculed and edited: if I remember rightly, the excuse YWO gave for editing them was that I'd posted misleading information by describing the difference between a publisher having distribution and a book having an ISBN (YWO claimed that the latter equated to the former, which just isn't true).

Anyway. I veer off-topic, once again. Yes, I was worried; no, you weren't to blame for believing what you were told; and yes, just about all of my worries about the YWO scheme have been well-founded.

JFB is correct: some self-published books do go on to great success; but it's very rare. You could concentrate on reselling the YWO book if you wanted: but I think you'd be wiser to go and write that new and better book because you'll be a better writer now, and will stand more of a chance of getting yourself a solid commercial deal.

Dan Gregory said...

Hi Jane and Joel,
Thank you both for your comments and advice. Sorry for my silence, I went to drown my sorrows in moonshine! I didn’t really, my internet was down, but I have certainly given a lot of thought to what you have both said. Jane, I certainly didn’t take any of your advice as a telling off, everything you said was of great interest, I just wish I’d trusted my initial instincts about the YWO initiative. But there we go, you live and learn.
Fortunately, I have already begun a new novel, which I’m really excited by so I think I shall divert all my energies into making that a cracker. Who knows, maybe this could be my avenue into publication and then I may be able to return to the Etherwheel at a later stage. Like JFB said, second time round is often better.
Thank you both once again for your honesty and advice. I shall certainly be paying much more attention to this blog in the future!

Anonymous said...


Reading your comments gives me no hope at all of becoming published within your standards, but somehow I've managed anyway.
Fortunately, I was able to publish my first through a vanity publisher, and my second was picked up by the old Putnam Penguin after just a few rejections.
Honestly, do you find it difficult to crush the hopes and dreams of aspiring writers, or is this something that just comes naturally to you?

It's as if there's a class system and heartless wannabe czars such as yourself are in charge of the world.

And no, you don't have to publish this as it's nothing more than a quick criticism from me to you.

And yeah, you've mentioned my name on this page before. No hard feelings, but please stop telling your readers they're going to fail.
That's really shitty.

Jane Smith said...

Once again, someone comes along and calls me names under cover of their own anonymity.

That takes a lot of something, but I don't think integrity or courage come into the mix.

And if you think that this blog exists to discourage writers, you've got hold of the wrong end of the stick, my friend.

catdownunder said...

Dear Anonymous
Jane's blog is a great help to those of us who are genuinely interested in grooming our pages so they are free of loose cat hair and making sure they are in the correct order, free of tuna paw prints. I may never get anything published - my one submission was far from well groomed (although I am told it will be read) but Jane's wise words mean I can do better next time.
It takes time and effort to write a blog and Jane's blog takes more time than most.
Thankyou Jane!

JFBookman said...

What I do object to is all the misinformation that's put out in support of self-publication.

Well said, Jane, I'm completely with you there. Self publishing is difficult enough, for all the reasons you've outlined. But starting a business (because that's what you're doing when you self publish) with your head in the clouds and stars in your eyes isn't going to help anyone.

I would put most at fault the people pushing this misinformation, taking people's money, and leaving them with what is often rubbish. And I say this as a self-published author myself, and as someone who has helped many solid self-publishers launch their books over the years. Even though it's possible to push your Word file into Lulu and be a "published author" by the end of the day, people who are serious about self-publishing know they have to create a product that's the equal in content and style to the books they'll be competing against.

And (anonymous) I think Jane does an outstanding service by cutting through all that hype to tell people how it really is. That's invaluable!

April L. Hamilton said...

Don't you just hate it when people take things you've said out of context, perhaps not bothering to read the full article before criticizing it?

When I wrote that self-pub will soon be a prerequisite for aspiring authors, I said right in the article that blogging or podcasting your work count as self-publishing. Jane, you are self-published. Any respondents here who have blogs: you are self-published, too. Posting flash fiction is self-publishing. So is posting excerpts of your work online. There are many steps along the self-pub ladder that come before releasing actual print or digital books.

I believe what I wrote is no longer a prediction, but a fact now that any publisher or lit agent worth their salt is trumpeting the criticality of author platform---which, by the way, is critical for *all* authors, not just nonfiction authors. If you don't believe me, ask such agents as Nathan Bradford or Rachelle Gardner, or try Jane Friedman over at Writers Digest, or perhaps 'The Writermama' Christina Katz. The whole point of platform is building an audience and readership long before seeking to land a book deal or sell a published book. How can one possibly do that *without* sharing some of one's writing with the general public? And apart from live readings, how is it possible to share one's writing with the general public *without* self-publishing in some form or other?

Speaking from personal experience...I'm working with Writers Digest on publication of a revised and updated edition of my book, The Indie Author Guide. In our talks, the very first questions they had for me were all about platform and my audience built to date. What websites do I have, and how much traffic do they get? How many pageviews, how many unique visitors? Do I have a blog, and if so, how often do I post? I imagine that if my answers to those questions had been that I do not have any websites and I don't blog, or that I do have sites and a blog but they don't get much traffic, the negotiations would've either come to a screeching halt or else would've put Writers Digest firmly in the power position.

I think authors need to be put on notice: if your ms is requested and the party on the receiving end likes it, expect the next questions to be all about your author platform, of which some form of self-publishing is a necessary part.

P.S. As for the notion that a self-published book cannot cross over as a mainstream-published book without impressive sales stats, I can tell you that no one at Writers Digest ever asked how many copies of The Indie Author Guide I've sold before expressing an interest in acquiring the book. In fact, no one at WD has asked me that question to this very day, and we're already underway on the new edition. What mattered more to them was the content of the book and the 'brand' I've built---once again, author platform comes to the fore.

Jane Smith said...

April, there are a couple of things I really admire you for: you're not afraid to say what you think; and you don't post your critical comments anonymously, like some people have done here. Thank you for that.

Right, onto my reply. I did read all of your article, and there was a lot in it which I disagreed with. But as I've already written in this comment-stream I really don't have the impetus to get involved in another lengthy argument with you right now, thanks to all sorts of personal problems which I'll not bore you with here.

I'd like to repeat something I wrote earlier in this comment-stream, which I think will answer several of your points:

"I don't want to self-publish my novels, because I honestly don't think it's the best route for me or for them. I don't think self-publishing is inherently bad: just that it's often a bad choice for a lot of writers. So long as people know exactly what they're getting into, that's fine.

"What I do object to is all the misinformation that's put out in support of self-publication."

It's that misinformation that I hope to counter here, because I think it's wrong to mislead people. I'm not anti-self-publishing for the right author and the right book: just anti-self-publishing misinformation (if that makes any sense at all!).

"Platform" is far more important to the non-fiction writer than the novellist, and its importance is often overrated: the writing's the thing, and if it's good enough then an author's platform won't even be considered (although conversely a writer with really good platform will often get a bad book published--think of all those celebrity books out there).

As for your involvement with the Writers' Digest, that's great news and I'm really pleased for you: congratulations! But I do wonder why you've decided to work with them when you've been so very critical of mainstream publication over the years: it's highly possible that I've missed something here, but it does seem a little strange.

And finally, I'd like to point out that while your success is to be applauded (and I am sincere about that: you deserve it after all the efforts that you've made), you are not typical of most self-published writers. Few enjoy anything like the sales, profile or success that you have managed to achieve, and so long as those other writers are typical and you're not, then I'm going to keep on pointing that out to writers, just so that they have realistic expectations for their books.

April L. Hamilton said...

Jane, my remarks were aimed toward Daniel B & commenters who seem to be agreeing with him, not you. I should've pointed that out at the beginning of my post.

But I would like to respond to your statement that I'm not a typical self-published author. I was actually planning to blog about this, but since you asked I'll preview the ideas going into the post here...

In some respects, I am not the typical self-published author. As a former software engineer and web developer, I'm a lot more web-savvy than the average bear, and if it were otherwise I probably would not have been able to launch the site, or maintain my own author website (as opposed to paying someone else to do it). It probably also means I face little trepidation in trying out new technologies and media. Apart from those traits, however, I don't think I *am* all that different from the larger population of self-published authors.

I don't have a lot of money to spend on publishing or promotion, and I'll be the first to admit my self-published books don't sell in huge numbers. They do get very good reviews though, so I know they would sell better if I invested more time in promoting them. They're mostly just riding on word of mouth.

RE: my 'industry connections', I didn't have any (apart from the literary agent who repped my first novel; she is not at all involved with or interested in self-pub) when I set out down this indie author road. I just made sure to reach out to like-minded individuals both within and outside the publishing industry, not with a goal of making connections but because I wanted to be part of a community of similarly-disposed people. That's something *any* author (or person, for that matter) can do. As long as you are genuine, and truly put yourself out there to help and encourage others in your community, you can't help but make some friends along the way. (As you well know Jane, having even managed to win *me* over despite my stubborn streak and our differing views on so many things!)

As for the tech skills, as it turns out there are really only 5 basic skills that are crucial, and anyone with a modicum of patience, strong motivation, and an internet connection can quickly and easily master them. I wrote an article about them here:

RE: the Writers Digest deal, read on...

April L. Hamilton said...

RE: the Writers Digest deal, it was never my intention to get a mainstream deal for The Indie Author Guide when I wrote it, but it has *always* been my goal to get the book to the widest possible audience of indie authors and would-be indie authors. Since 1) WD's imprint is highly targeted to authors, 2) WD can reach authors all over the world with their publications, websites, conferences and other events, and 3) WD is a name trusted by myself and authors everywhere, it was a good fit.

I can also count on WD to be just as invested in promoting the book as I already am, and while I don't expect them to pay for book tours or full-page ads in major magazines, I do expect them to promote the book through their own outlets and those outlets are all aimed squarely at authors - my target demo. Finally, WD and parent company F+W Media really believe in self-publishing every bit as much as I do, and that kind of support from a publisher is invaluable.

If I'd been approached by a bigger, but less specialized publisher (say, Harper or Penguin), I would've turned them down because I'd have expected my book to get lost in the shuffle of all their other, bigger-name projects. I don't think such a publisher would do more for my book than I'm already doing.

That's the ultimate question in choosing between self-pub and mainstream, or deciding whether to cross over from one to the other: can and will a publisher do more to help you reach your target audience than you are already capable of doing on your own? If the answer is *no*, the only reason to sign with a mainstream publisher is to feed your ego. And remember - I don't consider brick-and-mortar store presence all that critical to a book's success, so if that's all you're getting from a publisher I don't think it's a sensible move.

Even if a given author disagrees with me on that point, they surely realize that having the book in stores doesn't matter all that much if nobody but your own friends and family know it's there. And it's no secret that most trade publishers don't invest much in promoting books from previously unknown, debut authors. So most newly-signed authors are left to drive their own sales, and that leaves them no better off than if they'd self-published.

Oh sure, you can argue that having a major imprint name to throw around carries a certain amount of cachet, but only with other authors, booksellers and publishing people. You never hear a typical reader outside the industry saying something like, "Have you read that new Simon & Schuster release?" or "I can't wait to check out Putnam's 2010 list!" So to me, that's just an ego-feeder, it's not going to drive a lot of consumer sales.

Jane Smith said...

April, you disappoint me. I was expecting a bit of a barney and here you are, being all reasonable. This is NOT what I expect from you!

Thanks for clearing that up. And I just wish more people realised that your success isn't typical: I've had so very many emails and letters from writers who have self-published and have gone on to be disappointed by their lack of sales (often due, I'm afraid, to a lack of understanding of the process and a pretty poor book). I wish there were more realistic, honest information out there so that writers understood what they were likely to achieve (or not) before they started. It would save a lot of upset and a lot of money.

I'll look at your article later, and no doubt will wade in and argue with you again. Enjoy this brief respite.

April L. Hamilton said...

Jane said:
"I just wish more people realised that your success isn't typical: I've had so very many emails and letters from writers who have self-published and have gone on to be disappointed by their lack of sales (often due, I'm afraid, to a lack of understanding of the process and a pretty poor book)."

But Jane, the point I was trying to make was that while my success may not be typical, I don't think there's anything terribly special or unusual about me which led to success. I firmly believe that if a given self-pubbed author 1) has a quality book, 2) is willing to put in the necessary effort to build community and promote both himself and the book, and 3) has mastered the 5 basic author platform skills (using web forms such as this comment form, creating digital images, using a graphics editor program, uploading files to a web server using the typical Browse + Upload button combo, and outputting your work in pdf format), there's no reason that author can't achieve the same level of success as I have.

I know it's typical for people to talk about self-pub success stories by framing them as exceptions to the rule, and maybe it's true in many cases. In my case, my message from Day 1 has been that if *I* can do it, anyone can do it. I stand by that message.

Jane Smith said...

I agree, April: if people have a good enough book, and are good enough at promoting it, then of course they're going to do well.

Sadly, though, very few people manage to write a book which is even readable; and even if they do, their selling and promoting skills often aren't up to the job. It seems easy to you because you're obviously good at it, much like my son thinks it's easy to kick a football into the goalmouth: he's good at it but for me, it's impossible. The difference is that I KNOW I'm not good at football, while a lot of writers who self-publish don't realise they're not very good at writing or promotion, and they're the ones who end up getting hurt.

(I ambled off the track a little there, but I hope my meaning is clear. I really do need a cup of tea now.)