June 3, 2013

How do traditionally published authors complete the sentence: “Self publishing is…”? Their answers might surprise you

By Guest Blogger Paul Goat Allen

I thought it would be interesting to ask a bunch of established authors — writers who have found some semblance of commercial and/or critical success through traditional publishing — to finish this simple open-ended statement “Self publishing is…” to see if there were any prevailing responses or attitudes.

Would these writers respond with disdain, ridicule, or pity, or would there be some level of acceptance?

Although the responses were varied, collectively they offered profound insight and enlightenment into the future of self publishing.

Several authors pointed out the obvious difficulties and hardships involved in self publishing:

Nicole Peeler: “Self publishing is a lot of work.”

Adam Connell: “Self publishing is writing your book, editing it alone, formatting it by yourself for outlets such as Nook and Kindle and Smashwords—whose guidelines all vary—and then acquiring quality cover art. After this comes the marketing and promoting of your novel by exploiting social media with half of your spare time, spending the other half in the mostly fruitless endeavor of scrabbling for review attention. All the while competing with 60,000 or so other authors who are using the same tools with the same enthusiasm. This is what self publishing is.”

Jennifer Pelland: “Self publishing is very difficult to do well.”

Richard Kadrey: “Self publishing is the literary equivalent of riding a Conestoga wagon into the West in the 1840s. You’re heading into largely uncharted territory where you might find a place to settle down. Or you might strike it rich. Or you might disappear without a trace, only to be stumbled upon years later, bones by the side of the road. Like those early travelers West, I admire self publishers’ gumption and fortitude. They’re carving out a road for others to follow. Frankly, I don’t know if I could do it. There are so many obstacles in the way. So many dead ends. I wish them well and I hope they find the mother lode.”

David Nickle: “I think that people who self publish take a great risk with their careers. For years, I thought they did so recklessly. But I’ve watched too many good, business-savvy writers do very well for themselves—and their books—by hiring editors, publicists, and cutting a deal with Amazon to dismiss self publishing as a viable option. With all that said: nothing beats working with a good, nurturing publisher who handles everything from copy editing to cover art to publicity. But it is, like the song says, nice work if you can get it. And there are a lot of good books that don’t quite fit the needs of the publishing houses that still have an audience out there.”

Other authors — like Rhiannon Frater, who has found success through both traditionally published and self-published works — see self publishing as an increasingly advantageous option:

Rhiannon Frater: “Self publishing is liberating.

“For a very long time writers were dependent on publishing houses to deliver their stories into the hands of readers. I’ve had editors tell me that perfectly good stories are rejected because they just won’t sell in large enough numbers. They’re too niche. Oftentimes, those manuscripts eventually were tucked away in trunks, drawers, or closets never to be seen again. Now those perfectly good stories can reach their audience through self publishing. One of my manuscripts was rejected because it was too similar in theme to another book my publisher was releasing. I self published the novel to rave reviews, accolades, and brisk sales. In another age, it would have been dumped into a drawer and forgotten.

“Self publishing is freedom.”

Adam Pepper: “Self publishing, when coupled with digital technology and the power of the Internet, is the great democratizer of our literary culture. For better or worse, it’s become very easy to publish a book and have access to a mass audience. This has been a boon to writers trying to maximize their earning potential. It also presents great opportunities for creative minds working outside the corporate culture. Although most of the success stories thus far have been accessible fiction (thrillers, romance and mysteries), it’s only a matter of time for something really brilliant to come through.”

Jessica Meigs: “I think self publishing is definitely becoming a viable career path for many writers. I am glad to see that, in many instances, it is beginning to lose its stigma and become more accepted as an alternative or an in-addition-to for traditional publication.”

Samantha Mary Beiko: “Self publishing is the next inevitable step in the book publishing industry as we know it. A lot of traditionalists tend to scoff at it, but when the economy forces big houses to limit their acquisitions around Big Selling Authors, and technology continues to give independent authors the means to penetrate the market on their own, what did you think would happen?”

Carrie Clevenger: “Self publishing is a viable option, provided it receives the same amount of care, polish, and editing as a traditional route. It is also a great way to release previously-published works or short story collections.”

Two particularly revealing responses came from two very well known paranormal fantasy novelists, Jaye Wells, author of the bestselling saga featuring half vampire/half mage heroine Sabina Kane (published by Orbit); and Marcus Pelegrimas, whose Skinners saga (published by HarperCollins) brilliantly blends horror with urban fantasy. Both are part of a growing category known as “hybrid authors,” writers whose portfolios include both traditionally and self-published works.

Jaye Wells: “Self publishing is a great opportunity for authors to diversify and experiment. On June 6, I’ll be publishing a novella called Meridian Six, which will hopefully be the first in a series of novellas set in this new dystopian world. I decided to self publish it because I wanted the freedom to work on these stories outside my traditional deadlines. I’ve also recently published two light paranormal romances under the name Kate Eden for the same reason. I enjoy the structure and support traditional publishing offers, but it’s nice to have the ability to experiment and control scheduling with indie, as well.

“I guess this makes me one of those hybrid authors we keep hearing about. My experience so far has been positive, but it’s definitely by no means easy. Being an author, regardless of the medium or format in which you share your stories, is not a get-rich-quick scheme and it’s not for anyone who’s afraid of hard work.”

Marcus Pelegrimas: “Self publishing is something that used to be a sore spot with professional writers — kind of a shortcut taken by those who hadn’t paid their dues by submitting, being rejected (more than a few times) and sticking at it for years if necessary until something happens. That whole process I mentioned earlier wasn’t just some kind of hazing. It helped forge writers into better writers and skipping to the end avoided that. Kind of like a garage band with a home-mixed demo tape expecting to get a Grammy at their first show. That’s not to say every self published person was perceived this way. I’d say it’s the fault of some very loud people who insisted on sitting next to the pros at signings while chatting themselves up with their friends. Once again, the annoying few ruins it for the rest.

“But that’s changed recently and never more so than it has in the last couple of years! Not only has self publishing changed, but the big-time publishing has as well. Due to a struggling economy, the big publishers (like most other big businesses) have to be much more careful. That means the non-NYT bestsellers are having a much tougher time of it. Publishing houses want to find new talent, but also want a guaranteed profit margin. That amounts to a lot of stuff getting passed over that would have been published years ago. What this means for self publishing is simple.

“Now, self publishing is a viable way for all writers to get their stuff out there and be read by hundreds, thousands, or even millions of readers. Some series that publishers simply wouldn’t know what to do with are available, along with books that writers can write just because they’ve always wanted to. My first self-published effort was a retro/futuristic/hard boiled detective story that I thought would be cool but knew a publisher wouldn’t be able to categorize. I’m also able to put stuff out there like the next installments of series that are no longer being offered through the big companies (like Skinners and The Man From Boot Hill). The danger here is that a lot of garbage can still clog up the pipes, which brings me back to the whole ‘paying your dues’ thing. But, let’s be honest, there is still plenty of trash to sift through on the shelves of surviving bookstores that the big publishers absolutely love. Fortunately, like most everything else on the Internet, the good stuff will find an audience and the bad stuff fades away.”

But perhaps Jeff Salyards, author of the epic fantasy “Scourge of the Betrayer” (Night Shade Books) said it best:

Jeff Salyards: “Self publishing is a perfectly viable way to get your work into readers’ hands. While it used to be only associated with vanity publishing, and disparaged for lacking quality or being somehow inferior for having dodged the traditional gatekeepers in the publishing world, that perception has obviously changed quite a bit. Personally, I love seeing Kickstarter campaigns or self-pubbed books getting traction and accolades. What bothers me is when folks form camps and rigidly insist it has to be one approach or the other, and zealously decry anyone who does it differently. There’s plenty of room for both.”

Self publishing is obviously a lot of different things to a lot of people, as evidenced by the aforementioned quotes. Where some see almost certain failure, others see hope and freedom. One thing is certain though: the perception is radically changing, in large part because the publishing landscape is radically changing.

If someone asked me to finish the statement “Self publishing is…” I would keep it simple.

It is the future.

How do you finished the sentence “Self publishing is….?” Let us know in the comment area below.

Paul Goat Allen has been reviewing books full-time for almost 20 years. In addition to BlueInk Review, his work has appeared with BarnesandNoble.com, The Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and more. Readers of this blog are offered a $75 discount on a BlueInk review by using the discount code D7G2. (This in no way guarantees a review by Allen.)

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