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Author Topic: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.  (Read 17481 times)

Offline Doctor_Chill

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Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« on: August 04, 2015, 08:09:02 PM »
Not my views on the matter, but Marc (Overlord) put up an interesting article today on the main website. It lays out a few points on why, as the title suggests, he wouldn't generally recommend going the self-publishing route. Not a lot of discussion on the article, so I was curious as to what our intrepid band of self-published gurus thought on the matter.
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Offline JMack

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Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #1 on: August 04, 2015, 08:42:15 PM »
About to self-pub my dad's book of musings on the meaning of life. (Of course, I've been "about" to do that for some months now.)

I could personally see doing it once, as a hobby thing, to feel good about my work.
But I get it. Editors/curators and all the rest still matter.
And this is true for many reasons, including that most of the self-pubbed I've tried is not so great.

Interesting thought though:
> If you could publish an episode once a month for which 1,000 folks will spend $5, you've actually got something going. (I read this in a book recommended elsewhere on the Forum.)
> This is a very different approach to fire-and-forget self-pubbing of novels.

But anyway, I'm unpublished in either sense; so I'll let someone with real experienced take the microphone.
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #2 on: August 04, 2015, 09:00:04 PM »
Couldn't agree with Marc more. I don't think there's really anything else to be said about it!  :P
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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #3 on: August 04, 2015, 10:01:59 PM »
I tend to feel that self-publishing is a bit jumping the gun. People who don't want to go through the work and criticism and improvement that 'all that' (i.e. trying to be published properly) brings.
Like people who want to go on the X-Factor and that kind of programs without really knowing the ins and outs of music; just because some (and I stress *some*) can carry a tune, it doesn't mean they're prepared to be professional singers.
Similarly, just because some can write a few things, doesn't mean they're prepared to be professional authors.

I don't know, maybe I'm just being unreasonable :-\ I've seen how difficult and frustrating it is for writers, previously-main-house-published writers, to get a new contract. Each book is a mountain to climb. And in a way I understand why some are tempted to 'jump the gun'.
Does it make it right? I don't know.
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Offline tebakutis

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Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #4 on: August 04, 2015, 10:30:13 PM »
I actually wrote a whole blog series about this very topic (after I got the rights back to my first book, which was published through a small press, I self-pubbed it and have been pleased with the results) which, ultimately, involved comparing the publishing industry to the videogame industry (my day job).

People self-pub in videogames all the time. We call them "indie" games (one recent example - Minecraft). Even if you make a really good indie game, it is very, very hard to stand out or get noticed, at least relative to a game published by a big publisher (EA, Blizzard, etc). You must do all promotion yourself, you're lumped in with tons of poor quality titles (try getting on Steam and see how that goes), and even then it's often luck (such as a random editor on Kotaku playing your game and writing about it) that determines if you get any traction.

Simply put, while you can self-publish a game, it is ALWAYS better to get a big publisher - despite the huge difficulty in doing so - because you start so much further ahead of the pack. Take all I just said and substitute "book" for "game" and you've got the basics of self-pub vs traditional publishing.

The biggest difference between the videogame industry and publishing industry is that the game industry celebrates indie game publishing, and sees it as a positive, whereas it is still the opposite with the book industry - regardless of the quality of the final product. So that's another caution against self-pubbing a book.

That said, whenever I see someone say "never self-publish" I have the same reaction when people say "never traditionally publish" (which, believe it or not, I have heard from self-pub authors who are doing extremely well). Both options have pluses and minuses. You, as an author, simply need to understand them.

As one final note, at a panel I was on at ConCarolinas this year, one panelist made a very good point. The other thing to remember is that to self-publish "right", you must become a publisher, essentially. This means you must hire an editor, must pay for quality art, and (if you don't know layout) pay for someone to layout your book. Yes, this costs lots of money, but if you don't do this, it's no different from releasing a glitchy, crash-ridden Android game. No one will buy it. So yet another advantage of traditional publishing is they pay these expenses.

Offline Rostum

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #5 on: August 04, 2015, 10:34:12 PM »
I read and enjoyed Marcs views on it and have to agree. I feel it takes away the quality control element, Not in the least wishing to suggest everything self published is dross. I have read any number of books picked up by publishers after they were put on the web or were self published, but the quality range is controlled when professionals are involved there simply are no quality controls with self pub. Personally I would not have the self assurance to do so or have any expectation of my work being enjoyed.

Offline m3mnoch

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #6 on: August 04, 2015, 11:02:52 PM »
If you could publish an episode once a month for which 1,000 folks will spend $5, you've actually got something going. (I read this in a book recommended elsewhere on the Forum.)

that's the 1000 true fans thing from kevin kelly, originally about music.
http://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans/

also, i find the analogy from tebakutis with indie games interesting.  (this is where i shamelessly link to one near and dear to my heart: https://game.grigoristones.com)  i can't really put my finger on the difference between the two.  it feels like there's a bunch of possible stuff that enables fresh-out-of-the-gate indie games, but not indie novels. 

for example, a video game bakes down into more tangible artifacts -- screenshots, gameplay videos, etc. -- that are easier to make a yes/no decision about.  they're much harder to make, so more rare. (more rare compared to books -- don't get me wrong, there's still a metric ass-load of indie games out there)  indie games also have a large penchant towards free for a full experience.  indie games can tickle the instant gratification bone by getting to the 'good parts' much faster.

so, yeah, like tebakutis, my day job is making video games, and that analogy is fascinating.

as to which side of the self-pub fence i sit on, it comes down to the advice i always give 'kids' trying to break into games. it is simply "make and ship something of quality because everything starts there".  it feels like there are many, many ways to ensure your writing is of high quality (like our badass writing groups) other than sending it to random agents and hoping they look at it and give you quality feedback.

it's not like you're going to get a high-quality critique from any of these super-busy agents, right?  the inference that 'you must send your work to an agent to get better' doesn't make sense to me.  sure, it can be looked at as a quality gate, but you're still on your own to get that quality up to par.

Offline tebakutis

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Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #7 on: August 05, 2015, 02:07:07 AM »
Quote
I have read any number of books picked up by publishers after they were put on the web or were self published, but the quality range is controlled when professionals are involved there simply are no quality controls with self pub.

Heh. Sorry. Bit of a post incoming!

This is one of the misconceptions I wish I'd know about self-publishing three years ago, when I finally published my first book through a (very) small press. It's not that "there are no quality controls" and it's not that there are no "professionals" involved. It's that a vast majority of self-pubbed authors choose to ignore quality entirely, and choose *not* to involve professionals. It's a subtle difference, but important. People who believe the former dismiss all self-published books, even the high quality titles by great authors.

It's the same with indie games. Indie games can be very high quality, but the developers must choose to make them so. If you play an indie game and it's awesome, you can bet the developer tested the hell out of it and iterated constantly. If it's terrible, they spent a weekend coding it and uploaded it to the Android store.

As mentioned, traditional publishing is *almost* always a better option. You pay nothing and actually get paid money. You must still market, but you're way ahead of everything but other traditionally published titles. The only problem (and why self-publishing is so popular) is there are almost no slots available at traditional publishers for new talent right now, even with great books. They're simply full (just like game publishers). If you haven't been published already, even the best book you've ever written will get turned down. Repeatedly.

So, if you decide to self-pub? Understanding that you will be buried in a sea of low quality titles and have to be a real pro at marketing to succeed? Then *you* are responsible for quality control (because if you release a poor quality book, no one who reads it will ever touch your work again). As the panelist I mentioned suggest, you are becoming the publisher. This means you must act like one.

To self-pub a book "properly" (this assumes you are aware of how incredibly difficult it will be to market, and that it will be very hard to get anyone to review it) I'd recommend a process like this.

1) Finish your book, then set it aside for a month.

2) Read it again, find all the place it doesn't work and is slow, and fix those.

3) Find at least four dependable and honest advance readers who either read what you write (don't send your fantasy book to a mystery reader) and/or authors about your same level (hello, writer's group!) Make sure they give you honest feedback (they will discover many problems).

4) Rewrite your book and implement all the great feedback you've received.

5) Repeat step 3 with your second draft.

6) Repeat step 4 with your second draft.

7) If the second group of advance readers says "Hey, this is actually pretty good" you might actually be close to having something publishable! Now, go hire a professional editor (if you aren't sure they're professional, ask for a list of other authors/books they have edited and make your decision based off those). Yes, a professional will cost money. The average rate is around $0.02 per word, so for a 120,000 word book, that's $2400. Yes, self-publishing (the right way) is expensive (just as with indie games).

8 ) Guess what. Your book still has a ton of problems. That's where your editor earns their money, because they have the experience and see those problems. Take most of their advice. Rewrite your book again.

9) Your book might actually be ready now. Are you an artist? No? Then contract and pay a cover artist. This will run from $400-$1500 (average) depending on the quality of the art. Self-publishing (right?) is expensive.

10) You now you have a decent book and a good cover. Do you know how to layout a book in Word so that it is compatible with Amazon Createspace POD, Amazon Kindle E-Books, and other retailers? No? Hire someone to do it (more money) or learn to do it yourself (it's really not that hard).

11) Now read your book one last time to catch any remaining typos or errors, and enlist whoever you can to do so as well. Use Amazon's preview to see how the print layout looks. Use a program like Calibre to convert your e-book file to MOBI and load it on your own Amazon Kindle to see how it looks.

12) Everything look good? Everything read well? You're finally ready to publish a quality book!*

*Everything you just did is pretty much what the traditional publishers do. Except you paid to do it, rather than being paid while they do it.


In the self-pubbed books you've probably sampled, here's the process the author probably followed.

1) Write your novel.

2) Publish your novel.

*This* is really the thing I wish someone had sat down and told me about self-publishing years ago. There is no mystical barrier to quality that somehow can't be overcome. Self-publishing is simply time consuming and expensive, and you will almost always lose money on it (but maybe start building an audience so you can become profitable by your third or fourth book). If you're a really good marketer and have a great book, maybe even sooner. Or you might never get it back at all.

If all this sounds discouraging, then good! Keep trying for a traditional publisher or a small press (an actual one that pays for everything - not one that requires you buy their services). If you think you can hack it on your own, however, and you know you can market, and you do things right, it's possible to self-publish a great book and succeed (I know a number of authors who have done so). They just had to work a hell of a lot harder.

As with an indie game, quality is quality. How it was published doesn't matter.

Offline Overlord

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #8 on: August 05, 2015, 08:40:19 AM »
Thanks for putting this up :-)

A few things people missed/ignored over Twitter:

1. The Tweet I initially sent out was labelled why I don't recommend self publishing your 'FIRST' novel. My point was that essentially that is like playing your first football match for Manchester United. You may one day be a good enough football player to wear a Manchester United shirt at Old Trafford, but it won't be your first ever match. My recommendation was, essentially, when you choose to submit to an Agent and they say 'this is not good enough to publish' and then you turn around and say 'Fine! I'm publishing on the Kindle!' you are just wasting time that you could be writing your next novel. There are obviously exceptions. I bet we can all research an author or two who has published their first novel on Amazon and made millions, but, if you are serious about being a writer, is that the best tactic? Probably not.

2. I did say there are exceptions. Some people genuinely do want to Self Publish. I'm not sure why, but I have spoken to a few people who have never submitted to an agent. There are others who are good writers and will be missed by agents because their work is A) too niche B) of an era gone by C) too far ahead of the market. In these cases there could well be demand for the work and self publishing may make sense, but I do think it is a pretty big gamble. Sanderson is a good example of an author who probably could have Self Published and become rich doing it, but ended up rich Traditionally Publishing anyway... Gollancz said it well: "There are no Ronaldos playing pub football".
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Offline Rostum

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2015, 11:05:47 AM »
Quote
It's not that "there are no quality controls" and it's not that there are no "professionals" involved. It's that a vast majority of self-pubbed authors choose to ignore quality entirely, and choose *not* to involve professionals

Yes you are correct and make the point eloquently. There is control but only where it is self imposed.

Offline tebakutis

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Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #10 on: August 05, 2015, 10:03:10 PM »
Quote
1. The Tweet I initially sent out was labelled why I don't recommend self publishing your 'FIRST' novel. My point was that essentially that is like playing your first football match for Manchester United. You may one day be a good enough football player to wear a Manchester United shirt at Old Trafford, but it won't be your first ever match. My recommendation was, essentially, when you choose to submit to an Agent and they say 'this is not good enough to publish' and then you turn around and say 'Fine! I'm publishing on the Kindle!' you are just wasting time that you could be writing your next novel. There are obviously exceptions. I bet we can all research an author or two who has published their first novel on Amazon and made millions, but, if you are serious about being a writer, is that the best tactic? Probably not.

That's a really good point to make, and I do agree with you in almost all cases. My first novel was terrible (and so were my second and third :P) None will ever be published and rightly so. I do think that it is possible to self-publish for your first novel if you already have lots of writing experience (extensive work with a writer's group, real editors have actually purchased your short fiction, etc) but *only* if you get plenty of feedback, hire and editor, and do it right. So your warning about not simply dropping your first book on Amazon is totally valid.

Also, I do know a couple of now self-published authors (they either started with traditional press but only hit midlist, or started out strong enough to gain an audience) who often get knocked by folks simply because they aren't with a big press, regardless of the fact that their books are actually really good. So it's probably a bit of a trigger issue for me, which is why I wrote such a long post! Heh.

Quote
2. I did say there are exceptions. Some people genuinely do want to Self Publish. I'm not sure why, but I have spoken to a few people who have never submitted to an agent. There are others who are good writers and will be missed by agents because their work is A) too niche B) of an era gone by C) too far ahead of the market. In these cases there could well be demand for the work and self publishing may make sense, but I do think it is a pretty big gamble. Sanderson is a good example of an author who probably could have Self Published and become rich doing it, but ended up rich Traditionally Publishing anyway... Gollancz said it well: "There are no Ronaldos playing pub football".

One interesting note in that regard is I know several former traditional press authors who are now either self-publishing (as hybrids, some self-pub and some traditional press) or going all self-pub. Two authors I met at a recent con, for example, had a number of books published through traditional press years ago but took time off, and now, because of how few slots there are in traditional publishing, their agents won't even consider taking on their new books. So they've taken the audience they have and published the book themselves. That's another reason people are self-pubbing right now... they already have an audience.

Ultimately self-publishing, even when done correctly, is just really, really hard - especially if you don't have a known name. Unfortunately, it's also really hard (in some cases, all but impossible) to get into traditional publishing right now due to limited slots, regardless of how good your book might be. So that's a conundrum.

When people ask me about my experience (having now done both) I basically try to present the pros and cons of each approach and let them make a (hopefully) informed decision.

Offline tebakutis

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Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #11 on: August 05, 2015, 10:06:02 PM »
@Rostum
Quote
Yes you are correct and make the point eloquently. There is control but only where it is self imposed.

Totally understand where you are coming from, though. And you are correct in that most people who self-pub due tend to ignore quality, so it's a valid point.

Offline Overlord

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #12 on: August 07, 2015, 07:05:38 AM »
The amount of comments on the main site by authors claiming to be on $100,000 to $350,000 is just utterly ridiculous.

I've been following their links before publishing to make sure what they are saying is legit:

One guy claimed to have made $350,000 for his book. He has 1000 Twitter followers. His cover looks like it was made in 10 minutes on Photoshop.

If you were making that kind of money from Self Publishing you'd surely have decent marketing and a half decent cover?

I'm not trying to be offensive, I genuinely feel for some people Self Publishing 'can' work, but there are others (such as, in my opinion, the guy above) who delude themselves.

I can it the 'Mayweather' technique - where you tell everyone that you are successful and making lots of money in a hope others pick up your work to see what the fuss is about. This works when you can back up your claims with quality - i.e. you deserve to be making what you claim - but it hurts you when you start to believe your own hype or if you actually can't produce the goods.

I am SURE some people self publishing make good money, but I do feel they are the minority. As I've said so many times above and in comments - my point was to a FIRST TIME novelist, you would be WAY better off writing your second book after finishing your first that you would putting your first on Amazon.

If you've written 5 books, 10 books and you know they are incredible. The agent's aren't seeing what you and all your friends / beta readers see... then go for it. Maybe there is a niche that is ready and waiting for you. Maybe your writing style and content just isn't in fashion right now (in the agent's eyes), but you see and feel that they are missing the demand you feel is so obvious.
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Offline m3mnoch

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #13 on: August 07, 2015, 04:08:04 PM »
I can it the 'Mayweather' technique - where you tell everyone that you are successful and making lots of money in a hope others pick up your work to see what the fuss is about. This works when you can back up your claims with quality - i.e. you deserve to be making what you claim - but it hurts you when you start to believe your own hype or if you actually can't produce the goods.

hrm.  i missed this analogy.  seems to me that a guy with a 48-0 record has rightfully earned anything he's every claimed.  maybe you're talking about the time someone brags it up and it's justified?  conor mcgregor is probably a better, current poster boy for this.

or maybe you should rename it the "bethe correia technique".  that'd more accurately represent someone with a big mouth and little britches.

Offline m3mnoch

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #14 on: August 07, 2015, 04:12:03 PM »
If you've written 5 books, 10 books and you know they are incredible. The agent's aren't seeing what you and all your friends / beta readers see... then go for it. Maybe there is a niche that is ready and waiting for you. Maybe your writing style and content just isn't in fashion right now (in the agent's eyes), but you see and feel that they are missing the demand you feel is so obvious.

oh!  and this thought misses the joe konraths and barry eislers of the world -- those guys who are fed up with traditional publishers "screwing" them with draconian contracts.  there's a whole crowd of like-minded authors who are fleeing traditional publishing and moving to self-pub.  they're making silly, silly money and will happily tell everyone who listens about it.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/09/konraths-sales.html