Monday, June 4, 2012

The case for self publishing.

I hear many people say, "I've always wanted to write a book." It seems to happen every time I mention the fact that I'm an author.
It's an urge that many people share but up to now it's not been strong enough to encourage the same individuals to write a cookbook, short story or novel. After all, when you've done it, put the effort into the writing and finally possess a finished manuscript, who will read it?
Having a reader is important. Most (if not all) writers possess a yearn to be read that transcends earning money or making a living at writing. Although I can't speak for all writers, that's been my experience.
To be read, you need to publish the work, get it in front of an audience. In the past there were only two ways to do that, seek a traditional publisher or publish it yourself.
Established publishers could distribute the book to a wide audience because they controlled the distribution sources. If you self-published, the burden was on you. Many people who tried it beggared themselves using unscrupulous vanity publishers, and the negative connotation along with the miniscule number of successes discouraged the practice.
But then the internet grew to maturity. Web publishers offered an alternative to the traditional route, giving people who wanted to try writing, a path to a huge audience. At first, traditional publishers ignored the web-publishers, treating them like annoying insects that would eventually fly away or could easily be crushed.
Now the web-publishers have become more like a pack of hungry prowling wolves. If traditional publishers can't or won't change, the pack may select them for their next meal.
Writers who seek the traditional route to publishing success are frequently lonely and confused. Almost a hundred percent of their tentative efforts to seek traditional publication will be met with form letters, if they receive a reply at all. They'll flounder around in the dark with absolutely no knowledge as to why they were rejected.
Traditional publishers hold their cards close to their chest and frequently the hand they hold is a pair of deuces. The writer may be rejected, not for the quality of the writing, but for economic reasons that the would-be author doesn't understand and which may not hold validity.
Nevertheless an impersonal form letter provides no enlightenment at all.
So we'll suppose that some of the replies from agents and publishers have resulted in more than the typical rejection. Perhaps they've seen something in the writing that triggered a personal reply and encouraged by the response, the would-be author continues to send out queries. (This could consume a significant fraction of the writer's life.)
Of a sudden, bam! The author gets an offer from an agent or publisher and with trembling hands stroking the keys on the computer keyboard, he or she responds. After all, success is just around the corner, isn't it?
Not so fast, prospective author, now come the hurdles. You're racing toward the finish line but you're not there yet.
Is the offer legitimate? Is the agent or publisher set to help you become an author, or are they just out to rob your wallet? There are more scam artists out to fleece wannabe authors than there are legitimate agents and publishers.
Let's assume you've done your homework, and verified that the offer is real. If you're like most people it may have been the only offer you've had, so you decide to take it.
If you're not careful and you don't understand the in and outs of contracts, you may just be selling your life away. When you sell a book you give up your right to it. Once it's sold, unless you're really adept at contract negotiations, you own it no longer. It's your baby and you've just peddled it to the only bidder. You've sold your soul to a devil you don't know and can't understand.
Okay, you've signed the contract and turned your fate over to the agent or publisher. Everything has worked out, and now the only obstacle remaining is to get it to the bookstores.
Be prepared to wait, in fact, be prepared to wait a long time. In the case of an agent, it may take a long time to find a publisher and the agent may request substantial changes to the manuscript to make it salable. If you've contracted directly with the publisher, you'll need to satisfy the editor, approve the book cover (assuming you negotiated that in your contract), pour though the proof copy and make corrections. It's time consuming.
Finally, a year later, your book is in the bookstores, and then it's time for the readers to vote with their dollars.
Maybe it's a best seller or maybe it's a mid-list, or maybe it doesn't earn enough to repay the advance (the most likely outcome, assuming you got an advance).
To complete the above process may consume five to ten years of your life.
You could have learned all that in a couple of months if you'd self-published it and could have earned substantially more in royalties than agents or the traditional publishers offer.
To understand why the writing is accepted or scorned, the writer needs to be read. Maybe it's the fact that the work is bad, or just maybe it will strike a chord with readers. Either way, you've learned something, because readers don't hesitate to pan bad writing or reward good writing, a fact I've learned from experience. The question is, how do you get read, because in the final case, it's the readers that matter, not an agent or publisher.
Is self publishing easy? No, but it's not as daunting as you might think, and I guarantee it's easier and faster than seeking an agent or traditional publisher. If you're competent or can become accomplished in a few areas, including editing, cover design and formatting, you won't have to spend one red cent to become self-published. If you're not, there are hundreds of people who can help and the costs are more than reasonable.
There are many free options to get your work in front of an audience like Smashwords, Feedbooks (free books only!), Pubit! (Barnes and Nobel), Lulu (print on demand) and AmazonKDP to name a few.
Feedbooks, Pubit!, Lulu and Amazon limit your exposure to their sites or a couple others, while Smashwords distributes to multiple book sellers.
(Don't be caught by crooks who want to charge a lot of money to publish your work. If you're asked to spend in total more than the mid three figures, including editing, cover design and formatting, you're likely being ripped off.)
In the end you need to be recognized and reach readers. Self-publishing can accomplish that, it can give you an idea of whether or not your work is appealing to the readers.
If there's an expressed interest in this subject. I'll post future articles on formatting, cover design, pricing, and the overall strategies you can use to get your work self-published.