The decision to self-publish

Well, today is the official release date of my book, Down a Lost Road.  As of this moment, it is undergoing the publishing process at Kindle, and is in queue at Smashwords…and the proof copy of my paperback is on its way to me.  So, all that being the case, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to talk about self-publishing.

Now, I know there are writers and laymen out there who probably hear the phrases “self-publish” or “indie author” and crinkle their noses up in disgust.  How do I know that?  My nose has a line across the bridge from all the crinkling it used to do at the very same phrases.  I was a very pompous stickler for the “real” publishing process.  And my thoughts on those who stoop to self-publish ran along these lines:

Self-publishing is cheating.  Obviously no self-published book could ever withstand the scrutiny of a real professional.  Obviously every self-published book failed to gain attention in the “real” publishing world because they are all #@$!.  Obviously the author was lazy.  Or they aren’t “serious” writers.  Self-publishing is for losers.

So…why the change of heart?

Several reasons.

  • I actually met some self-published writers, and read some of their work.  And realized that these people do have a clue.  They write well.  Sometimes astonishingly well.  So why didn’t New York seem to get it?  Maybe because that revered guild of publishers isn’t infallible.  I know, right?
  • David Farland.  After taking an amazing workshop with him last August, I signed up for his Daily Kick email newsletters.  A-mazing.  I respect and admire that man so much, as a writer and a mentor, that when he sent out a series of newsletters talking about the current state of the publishing world, I really took it to heart.
  • I started thinking about the internet…the e-revolution that’s been taking place in recent years.  I don’t know if my decision would have been a wise one several years or a decade ago, but now?  I just started thinking about all the indie musicians, artists, craftsmen, etc. who have enjoyed substantial success by blazing their own trail.  Cutting out the middle man.  Going straight to their target audience.  So why can’t writers do the same?

The truth is that things, and times, are changing.  The internet makes it possible for people to reach a wide audience without having to physically travel anywhere.  Used to be, if a person wanted to start up a store devoted to llama collectibles, they’d probably be able to keep their doors open a few weeks.  Maybe.  But with the internet?  Yes, dear friends.  It can happen.  And such a store can probably enjoy some comfortable success because it isn’t restricted by geography.

But more than that, there seems to be a fundamental problem with the “old way” of doing things.  For one thing, look at what recently happened to Borders.  I think a major factor in their downfall was their failure to get on the e-book reader bandwagon.  Like it or not, the e-book market is skyrocketing.  And this is a problem when many existing publishing contracts are severely detrimental to the author in terms of e-book rights.  A lot of authors just aren’t willing to take that kind of blow — and rightly, considering, as mentioned, the current climb of e-book sales.

Plus, the actual job of getting through the slush pile and onto an editor/agent’s desk is a monumental task of epic proportions.  Even if you spend the time and money to get in front of these people in person, there’s never any guarantee that anything will come of it.  You’d think that with the hurdles as high as they are, the books published by publishing companies would all be of the highest caliber, and the ones rejected or ignored would be tripe.  But we all know that’s not the case.

And here’s a news flash:  The economy right now?  It’s not doing so well.  And that plays a role in the indie publishing decision in two ways.

1) Readers.  They, like the rest of us, have tighter budgets for things like entertainment.  They can’t shell out $18 for a book the way they might have some time ago.  A $1-3 e-book?  Different story.  Kind of like what happened with iTunes, eMusic and the like.   People might not have wanted to risk $16 on a CD they might or might not enjoy, but one or two songs at $.99 a pop?  Why not?

2) Writers.  Let’s be honest — the way writers get royalties via the traditional route is just about as pathetic as you can imagine.  I think I remember reading somewhere that an author can make more on a $2.00 ebook, self-published, than they’d make off a traditionally published $12 paperback.  What’s more, they get their payments promptly.  Sad to say, if you think about the whole traditional publication process, it might well be two years at least before you make any money — *if* you make any money beyond your advance.  It takes at least a year for a publishing house to release a book.  So, however long it takes you to track down a willing editor/publisher/agent, you can add a year to that before your book ever hits the shelves (for the space of about a week or two, after which it will be shuffled off for the next new release).  We writers are suffering the bad economy too.  The prospect of waiting and working for that long without any tangible reward is a bit off-putting.

Now, I’m not going to go into all the gory details, but if you want some more thoughts about it, I recommend Amanda Hocking’s awesome blog post about Indie v. Traditional publishing.  That’s one young lady who has enjoyed incredible success with self-publishing.

So basically what it comes down to is this:

  1. Traditional publishing is an imperfect system…but it may be the best path for some writers.  It’s not for me.  Takes too long, contracts are too limiting (or demanding), and pays too little.  If you’re not what XYZ Publisher thinks is going to sell big, they’re not going to do squat for you.
  2. Self-publishing may lead to a number of poorly-written, poorly-edited, poorly-produced books getting released.  So what?  The market can take care of itself.  Self-pub can also lead to some best-sellers getting released, which may not have gotten the attention of XYZ Pub otherwise.
  3. There are few risks to self-publishing, especially with the rise of the e-book format.  I’m not a huge fan of e-books, as far as reading them (I’m a tactile kind of person.  I love the feel of books, holding them and flipping pages), but other people are.  And they’re the ones who are going to be buying, not me.
  4. Writers — unless they already are, or are expected to be, best-sellers — would have to do their own marketing and publicity anyway.  Why not take control of it from the beginning?  The whole world is out there, waiting to discover you.  If your book is good enough, readers will find it.

Well, those are just some thoughts.  I wish anyone success who might be considering the self-publishing route.  It’s not a stigma any more.  It’s not a mark of shame, or a sign of defeat, or the emblem of mediocrity.  It’s just the next stage.  You decide how successful you want to be.  Then, just get out there and do it.

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About J. Leigh

Author, photographer, awesome ninja. I only kill people in stories. View all posts by J. Leigh

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