More Self-publishing Kerfluffle

Big news! Okay, interesting news at least was passed around on the internets yesterday when it came to light that Barry Eisler was forgoing a $500,000 deal and turning to self-publishing. He and J.A. Konrath had a great conversation (long one) about this and e-publishing in general, http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/ebooks-and-self-publishing-dialog.html. It’s certainly worth the read. On the other side of the fence, we have Amanda Hocking, who looks like she may be turning her huge ebook success into a million dollar legacy publishing deal. Doese this all change anything? Well, no, not really. It’s just another example of how much in flux the publishing industry is right now.

I’ve spoken before about self-publishing, how it’s not right for me, at least at this point in time, and how I think new writers should look long and hard at what it takes to do it all on their own and have a decent shot at success. I commented on Konrath’s post, stating that I’m willing to make the tradeoff between basically paying the publisher to handle a lot of the non-writing elements that I either don’t want to or don’t have the skill to do. Someone replied that you could easily get some of these things done for $1000.  Do I have this lying around my house or even sitting in my bank to spend on such things? Well, no. I don’t. And I’m in no position to spend that amount of money anytime soon, which by the way, I think is a lowball figure. Eisler commented that he spent $600 on cover and formatting. I imagine the vast majority of writers can’t afford this kind of layout.

The point is, most writers need a decent editor and copy editor to go through their manuscript if they want a decent product. These are skill sets different than crafting a story. You won’t get a novel edited and copy-edited for under $1000.  I bring up all of these money issues because self-publishing is a business. You are going into business for yourself to sell a product. Starting up a business is an investment, an investment of time, effort, and money. As a writer, you are trading off the potential for higher returns by going into business with a partner who has skills and resources that you don’t. You develop the product, and the publisher refines it and gets it to market. Yes, you can do this yourself. You can be your own boss and hire out the various aspects of production needed. You can also do it all yourself, but the simple fact of the matter is, most writers don’t have the skills to pull this off and put a worthwhile product out there.

Are there advantages to self-publishing? Of course. The potential for greater returns is a huge draw. You get more money per sale when you self-publish. You better, because you need it in order to cover the initial investment. With a legacy publisher, the investment risk is theirs. If the book doesn’t sell, they lose money, not you. You don’t have to pay an advance back (however big or small). If your self-pubbed book doesn’t sell well, the loss is all on you. If you have the ability and willingness to take the risk, more power to you. Go for it.

To my mind, I don’t believe the chances of success are any greater with self-publishing.  The vast majority of self-pubbed authors out there will not sell well, and will lose any money the put up front. Paying for a great cover and editing services certainly gives you a better chance, but it’s still small. Great products fail all of the time, and this is certainly true in publishing. Many books do not earn out their advance. My point is, while their is certainly a lot of hoopla over self-publishing now, and it is certainly getting easier to do, and the chances of success are better than the miniscule one writers had just a couple of years ago, it’s still slim.

As I stated before, I’m willing to take the tradeoff with the legacy publisher. I’m willing to take a smaller slice of the pie in order to have skilled people working with me that I don’t have to pay for. I’m in no position to go into business for myself. Perhaps someday I will be and it will make sense to do so, but not now, and I still feel that is the case for the majority of writers out there. Just be careful about jumping on the bandwagon or riding the wave of the future. Chances are you will still crash and burn.

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One response to “More Self-publishing Kerfluffle

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head. Traditional publishing is only partly about print and distribution. There’s a world of difference between a manuscript and a book. Someone needs to fund the services to get it from MS to sale-ready. Even if an author can afford to do that herself, that doesn’t mean the author is capable. Editing, art, all the packaging work is a very different skill. An author may be able to tell when it’s done badly, but that doesn’t mean the author knows how to find the right person to do it.

    It’s like building a house. You need plumbers, electricians, painters, finish carpenters, roofers. If you’re building for yourself and you need those services, you need to find those people yourself. A general contractor works with those people dozens of times. Who can put a better team together? For now, and particularly for newer authors, it’s likely to be traditional publishers.

    I’m very excited about indie publishing. A sea change is under way in publishing, and indie plus digital are driving forces. Ultimately, authors need to decide how they want to get the help a manuscript needs (editing, art, packaging, marketing), what it’s worth, and who fronts the cost. Questions about freedom, timing and all the rest are either secondar or can be lumped in with cost.