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In Defense of Self Publishing


vwl

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The publishing world is changing. The big houses are becoming like dinosaurs. Fewer newspapers have book review sections, and the snooty, academic world of "literature" has shrunken, displaced by the explosion of other routes to publication. At the same time, mainstream publishers no longer have the resources to assign editors to nurture authors -- much falls on the author to provide a manuscript that's pretty much ready to publish. At that point, the dividing line between self-published and New-York-publisher published becomes pretty indistinct.

James Scott Bell has written extensively about these phenomena. On the one hand, he points out the relative ease of getting into print (or Kindle) these days. On the other hand, he warns sternly against putting out substandard material, or rushing something into publication that isn't ready.

In my own experience, the self-publishing and big-house publishing worlds are converging, in that the self-published stuff is getting better and the traditionally published stuff is getting sloppier. It's all a byproduct of the economics.

R

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All of this is very true. But I must point out that the self-published novel is, even after being packaged very creatively in most cases, still only a collection of bound pages, left to languish in obscurity if the author doesn't have the financial means to promote his/her work. I know this to be fact, because my self-published book has languished for three years on the shelves of Amazon. I was just able to muster the funds to accomplish a very simple publishing package. I'm sure that if I'd had the financial where-with-all, I could have gotten a professional cover done, which might have increased the visual appeal somewhat. Unfortunately, book promotion is, by and large, an expensive undertaking, especially when you have no liquid assets that you can turn to anything other than food, insurance, and gas. My story of Haywood's Journey collects a lot of dust on those Amazon shelves, selling only one eBook version every couple of months. Not much of a supplimentary income, I must say. LOL.

I do not, for one moment, regret the effort in self-publishing. Yes, it's a vanity thing to some degree. But it would be very nice if it could also be a financial thing as well. The funny thing is that I make as much royalty from the sale of an inexpensive eBook version as I would from the sale of the paperback....LOL....go figure.

Frankly, that's the only real advantage I see to traditional publishing, the promotion. Otherwise, if the author is dedicated enough to find good people to help with the editing, willing to be honest in their assessment, the result of a self-published book can be top quality. For instance, I recently read the self-published memoir of a journalist, a man who'd lived through WWII and all those subsequent conflicts. I found it a fascinating read, and I typically don't care for memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies. My point, though, is that because the author was able to turn a phrase and maintain a sense of continuity...and because he had available to him a good editor, in the form of a relative with enough interest in the project to see it done well, what was turned out was quality material that most, unfortunately, will never see.

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There are two science fiction titles that are exceptions to typical Kindle book results:

Wool by Hugh Howey (a novella and five novels):

Self-published and self-promoted as a Kindle title. Made popular by positive reviews (10,798 Amazon USA) and word of mouth.

#132 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Hard Science Fiction
#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Post-Apocalyptic
#4 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Hard Science Fiction

In 2012, Howey signed a deal with Simon and Schuster to distribute Wool to book retailers across the US and Canada.

The deal allowed Howey to continue to sell the book online exclusively. He notably turned down seven figure offers

in favor of a mid-six figure sum, in return for maintaining e-book rights. He has also signed publishing contracts with

Random House Century UK for UK distribution of both his Wool and Sand series, published as novels of the same names.

The Martian by Andy Weir (a stand-alone novel):

Originally published as a free serial on his website, some readers requested he make it available on Kindle. Self-published

and self-promoted it was offered for 99 cents. For a short time it was available as a free Kindle title (that's how I got my copy);

now it's $7.99 (Amazon USA).

The novel made it to the Kindle bestsellers list largely by positive reviews (16,391 Amazon USA) and word of mouth.

#8 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Science Fiction
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Space Exploration
#1 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Hard Science Fiction

Picked up by Crown Publishing. Hard cover and paperback books published by Random House.

The Wall Street Journal called the novel "the best pure sci-fi novel in years."

Made into a film starring Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain to be released October 2, 2015.

Colin :icon_geek:

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Mr. levy has made two important points for me.

The first one was not to be so quick to judge a story on grammar, spelling and structure problems, but to look a little deeper.

The second is that big publishing is going through a crisis similar to what is happening to music and retail record distribution.

The risks in the book market causes them to only want to gamble on a sure thing that will have the broadest appeal. The film industry is undergoing much the same crisis and look how crappy Hollywood offerings have been lately. Add to that, many publishers will not even read new offerings and go so far as to say, "Don't even send them."

This site and a number of others are devoted to writers and readers is an indication that, for better or worse, many people want to write and even without financial reward, are driven to do so.

Corporate heads presiding over the mass market will say that artists will not create if there is no monetary gain.. I don't believe that.

Writers and artist will move towards a profit making model rising up out of the new media if they can but a good writer is not going to say, "There's no money in it so I'm just not going to write.. I would expect that the same would be true for a gifted musician.

However, the corporate head will not be at his desk.

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Interesting to note, 'The Martian' by Andy Weir was originally self published, but after a bit of success, the rights were then bought.

The film will probably struggle as much of the book is a log of what the Martian does, and his thoughts. I do rather like the way he thinks too. Any character that says, "Hell yes, I'm a botanist, fear my botany powers" is always going to be interesting at the very least.

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Interesting to note, 'The Martian' by Andy Weir was originally self published, but after a bit of success, the rights were then bought.

The film will probably struggle as much of the book is a log of what the Martian does, and his thoughts. I do rather like the way he thinks too. Any character that says, "Hell yes, I'm a botanist, fear my botany powers" is always going to be interesting at the very least.

When I was a kid, the Nick at Night cable channel showed reruns of an old TV show called MacGyver. He would get out of problems by using whatever he could find and creating clever tools that always worked. The Martian reminded me of MacGyver when I read it.

Colin :icon_geek:

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From authorearnings.com:

When we first started analyzing Kindle sales in February 2014, traditionally-published authors were taking home nearly 60% of the ebook royalties earned in the largest bookstore in the world.

Not anymore.

Today, traditionally-published authors are barely earning 40% of all Kindle ebook royalties paid, while self-published indie authors and those published by Amazon’s imprints are taking home almost 60%.

From an author-earnings perspective, in 18 short months, the US ebook market has flipped upside down.

But change in publishing isn’t limited to the ebook market.

Last month, a self-published indie PRINT children’s book — a trade paperback — was one of the Top five print bestsellers in the US for over two weeks, selling over 29,000 print copies in its first week and hitting #6 on USA Today’s combined Best Seller List. (An oddly-timed rule change that same week by the New York Times Best Seller List kept it from appearing on the NYT List.)

But the exciting news for indie print books doesn’t end there. Walmart will very shortly be carrying a self-published book on its store shelves: Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Redemption.

Both pieces of news disprove the outdated notion that a traditional publishing contract is necessary if an author wants to achieve chart-topping PRINT sales, or to see their print book sold on Walmart shelves.

Old print distribution barriers are starting to crumble, just as they already have for digital.

We can’t help but wonder what the next 18 months will bring.

The only thing that we’re certain of is that the publishing industry is far from stabilizing. From here forward, the rapid pace of change will only accelerate.

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Seeing the Arts Mechanical site and the websites that are linked in the article about self-publishing is something new for me and very eye-opening! The sales and revenue statistics are particularly interesting. What I didn't see (though it might be available) is author revenue for the publisher and self-published sites.

One thing that seems strange is that self-published stories with an ISBN number are a small minority. I wonder why.

Thanks for great reference, vwl. I've bookmarked the links. BTW, you might have missed this link in the Arts Mechanical blog. It's absolutely frightening!

Colin :icon_geek:

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One thing that seems strange is that self-published stories with an ISBN number are a small minority. I wonder why.

One reason is the cost of getting an ISBN number in many cases. If you want to get an ISBN number in your own right in the UK you are looking at an initial layout of £144. That gives you a publisher prefix and ten numbers, it is then £342 for each block of 100 numbers that you take. For most self-publishers that is too much of an upfront outlay.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Self-publishing is a boon for authors that don't want to face the trials with agents and publishers, my father is the perfect example of this.

Many publishers are unapproachable and have such a limited scope of acceptance for the tiny section of the book world they cover. Most won't respond to a solo author unless approached by an agent. What remains is self-publishing where at least the control and image of the work remains in the hands of the author.

My father has been published by several mainstream press outfits, but much of that was in years past. Just last year he completed a memoir and sent it around with little or no response. He is 96 years old and rejection is frustrating at any age but he knew this was going to be his last effort so I had to do something.

The book covers his school years through college where he graduated and then was taken into the Army during WWII. After being wounded twice he returned to school and received his Masters in Journalism. Thus began a 35 year career in the news business which led him to become a Bureau Chief in Washington, D.C., where he had been covering the White House through 5 presidential administrations.

The book ended up being 217 pages in an oversize font because he wanted it to be available for the sight impaired. But one publisher after another wrote back and said the book was great but they weren't interested. I knew I had to quell his growing disappointment so I had the book self-published.

We'd had prior experience with the iUniverse group who did pretty well with his historical anthology some years back but they were expensive and I didn't want to jump through all the hoops they threw at us last time, or maybe I should say they threw at me. I am the proof reader, editor, and layout designer for his work, so this time I was going to do it my way.

CreateSpace is the self-publishing arm of Amazon and they provide all the services I needed. I designed the cover, front and back, provided the liner notes and after several months of back and forth trading ideas we came up with something that looks damn good....and didn't cost an arm and a leg.

The service provided an ISBN number, copyright registration, and several dozen free samples of the book to pass out to friends and family. My father is happy...and isn't that all that matters? I would use the service again and might just do that.

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