Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Self-Publishing: Getting Bigger Each Day

It was only a matter of time.  First came the internet boom with easy and fast access available to people around the world. Then the influx of e-books eclipsed their paper cousins sitting on bookstore and library shelves.  In only a few short years, e-book sales have surged ahead while bookstores have been left behind, forced to push sales of e-readers and garner more web presence and online availability.  With the e-book revolution has also come another option for aspiring writers:  self-publishing.

Self-publishing is not new, but it has become more innovative in the 21st century.  In the early part of the 2000's, self-publishing still seemed more about ego than anything else, given that self-publishing was dictated by price constraints and printing companies.  However, internet sites like Lulu and Smashwords eventually cropped up to help writers more easily put their words to print in the hopes that their stories would be exposed to more people beyond family and friends.  E-readers like the Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader have also led to self-published titles being more readily available through e-book format and able to be purchased by more consumers for prices ranging anywhere from 99 cents to $4.99.  

Self-publishing must be becoming a new small phenomenon all its own if even major bookstores are getting on the bandwagon. Something must be going right with the formula (especially since many of the e-books in the Amazon Kindle Top 100 Bestselling, updated hourly, are often self-published works). Sales may never rival those of books backed by large publishing houses, but they're still sales that many online booksellers would love to have.

It's also easy for me to see why self-publishing is a plausible route for many writers.  After all, literary agents get hundreds of queries each week -- and, even then, agent representation does not guarantee a publishing deal.  Even after a contract is signed, novels take time -- anywhere from a year to upwards of three years -- to be published.  As a writer myself (and quite the pessimist, might I add), I sometimes muse about what I'll do if I query and query agent after agent only to have no bites to my line.  (Granted, I am far from the querying stage -- but I procrastinate by thinking about the doomsday scenario that may await me in the future.) I'm not an idiot.  I've taken into consideration that self-publishing may be the only route by which I can get published before I die.  I'm sure all writers have considered it at some point even if they push it away as soon as the thought comes into their heads.  Self-publishing is an option, if nothing else.

Of course, self-publishing can sometimes lead to greater things with a bit of luck and hard work. Eragon by Christopher Paolini started its life as a self-published novel that caught an editor's eye by chance; this year, the series's fourth book, Inheritance, will reach store shelves.  Self-publishing phenomenon Amanda Hocking published nine novels and sold over a million copies, many of which were e-books; just last month it was announced that Hocking had scored a four-book deal with St. Martin's Press after a bidding war among many of the major publishing houses.

Like or dislike their books, you have to give self-published authors credit:  they finish their novels and get them out into the world in whatever ways they can.  They deserve respect for that much, at least, whether or not their works ever reach critical acclaim.

They're writing and telling their stories, not letting rejections from agents or fears of criticism get in their ways -- and shouldn't that be how all of us writers should be at our deepest cores?  It's definitely something to think about during those dark times of writerhood.

(All of the links I provided are just a small fragment of the resources available out there for those looking into self-publishing. For more information on self-publishing and all it encompasses, the blog Kindle Writers is definitely worth a look because the posts offer the pros and cons of self-publishing, the state of the self-publishing market itself, and even advice towards those looking into self-publishing. The internet is full of information; you just have to dig a little and find what applies to you, your craft, and your goals.)


  1. I wonder, though, if it isn't better to have an agent to help you out with the marketing and promotion and whatnot. It is useful, especially if you're hoping to avoid meltdowns like that one with Jaqueline Howell. Now that was an amusig read.

  2. Thanks for sharing ;) A few days ago I was talking with my best friend about how INDIE books are getting a very good response for readers on Amazon.

  3. I think it depends on what you're looking to achieve as a writer. Most people who go into self-publishing likely are just trying to get their stories out there because (a) agents and/or editors have rejected their stories or (b) they feel most comfortable with marketing their books in their own ways. While I agree having an agent is the best option, not every writer is going to gain agent representation; that's just a fact of life.

    What's sad is that Howell's meltdown reflected badly on other self-published authors. Many blogs (and mainstream readers) are already more likely to steer clear of something 'self-published' because they feel the quality is lower, and it certainly doesn't help if self-published authors are seen as neurotic, paranoid, or just plain flat-out trollish when it comes to reviews. (Of course, 'neurotic, paranoid, or trollish' can apply to some authors from major publishing houses too. Why else would there be so much controversy over whether authors should respond to reviews, good and bad, or not?)

    As for me, I just want to read (and hopefully write) good books. It doesn't matter to me about the publishing status so long as I am reading something I feel is worth my time and effort. When a book catches my eye, I expect to be entertained and/or enlightened in some way -- and, if self-published authors can do that for me or any other reader, then all the more power to them. (I just hope they have good critique partners and beta readers since they will need them to make a book that will hopefully shine instead of fade into obscurity!)

  4. Indie and self-publishing are two different things.

  5. Amazon definitely has been the one leading the way towards writers becoming self-published. Indie e-books are some of the top-selling books for the Amazon Kindle (most likely because they are cheap compared to the higher-priced e-books offered by major publishing houses), and that in and of itself gives some notoriety to self-publishing as a whole.

    Also, when you have stories like Amanda Hocking's (where she supposedly made a million dollars through e-book sales), then of course there's going to have an increase of interest in the idea of self-publishing.

  6. This post was worth reading. I actually didn't know a lot of this stuff and I may end up needing this information someday. (You never know.)

  7. I often forget this too. Indie means a book that is published by a small publishing house, correct? Oddly enough, recently the words 'indie' and 'self-publishing' have become almost interchangeable. Either way, both indie and self-published titles are obscure in their own ways.

  8. Lulu is actually a bit useful when you want to have your manuscript made into a bound book so that you can read and edit it away from a computer and without the confusion of hundreds of loose pages. I know that some authors (such as Maggie Stiefvater) do this by selecting the 'private' option (meaning that the bound copy will not be available to other users for sale), and it's rather cheap too (six dollars the last I heard).

    Also, I'm definitely an advocate for knowing all your options, especially in an industry as volatile as publishing. :)

  9. Well, yes and no. There are a couple of definitions of "indie" out there. One is a publishing house that is not part of a media conglomerate (so, for example, Kensington/Zebra/Brava, which is a pretty big publisher). The other defines "indie" as a publisher with fewer than $X in sales (usually either $20 or $50 million).

    Also, the Christopher Paolini "self-publishing" story is a bit of a myth. His parents owned an indie publishing company and they published his book. It's a slight but significant difference. His parents had publishing contacts and know-how and an existing infrastructure for marketing and distribution, which most self-published authors do not.

  10. It seems inevitable that the publishing industry is only going to suffer in the age of the internet and information. When we're so accustomed to receiving everything straight away, the inevitably slow & traditional process of getting a book published seems longer than ever before. And when you get right down to it, writers want to be read, so if self-publishing an eBook is the best and easiest way to do that, it makes a loooot of sense.

  11. Ah, thank you for explaining! It's nice to know what the differences are!

    Yes, I was aware that Paolini's parents owned an indie publishing company, but I remember reading how he didn't sell many copies even though he traveled across the country promoting the book. It seemed that things flourished for him once he gained a contract from a large publishing house. Technically, though, I suppose he would have been considered an 'indie author' more so than a self-published author.

  12. A lot of indie publishers are very touchy about the terms used willy-nilly, as you might imagine. A small publisher who invests a lot of time, energy, and budget in acquiring, editing, and marketing its titles is understandably leery of being considered "interchangeable" with a self-publisher, who may or may not have professional editing, cover design, typesetting, etc., etc.

  13. I get as annoyed as anyone with people self publishing and calling it "indie," but, at the same time, I don't see why they shouldn't. Bands put out self-released albums and call them "indie" all the time. The trouble is that it's hard to distinguish from people self-releasing a really good book for whatever reason from the people who are just publishing their thousand page first drafts of some preachy, unreadable gobbledygook where it turns out that the planet was Earth all along and the main characters are Adam and Eve.

    There's a lot about all this that makes me fairly uncomfortable, but I can see a lot of plus sides to it, too. I'm afraid that one of my current projects doesn't really fit into the current market in the slightest, but there's a chance it could find a niche online that it wouldn't find in stores. It's nice to know that option is there without me having to dump a lot of money into it up front. I've already done it with a couple of nonfiction projects. We're a long way from the day when an author who's never been published the traditional way is going to have an easy time being taken seriously as an "author" by the public and critics at large; that day may not come at all, as long as publishers and stores stay in business. But I know a lot of authors who believe the day is coming when we'll all just be working for ourselves.

  14. I don't know, I feel so-so about self-publishing, to be honest. After reading so many poorly written and edited books released by major publishers, I can't even imagine the quality of something that never even went through editing process. Plus my experience with self-published works has been rather unpleasant. Those books I had a misfortune to read were rejected by the industry for a good reason IMO.

    Actually, I am surprised that self-published work even find audience. I have never in my life read anything because it was cheap.

  15. Yes, I agree about editing on self-published works (it's often very dodgy), but I try to scope out self-published books in the hope that I will find a gem. If a writer is really good with the aspects of narrative and characterization, then I like to think that will shine through even in an under-edited work.

    I think e-readers are shifting the industry quite a bit. What with people relying on internet communication and reliance, the 'can't wait and got to have it now' mentality is furthered, and people who want books are likely forgoing trips to the library or bookstore and just getting e-books sent straight to their devices. Price, of course, plays a factor in all of this, and even books seem to be going the route of 'cheaper is better' even if the quality isn't quite there.

  16. True. It would definitely be hard to compare self-released music to self-published books since, beyond the difference in forms of media, it's easier to find self-released indie music than quality self-published books (that's just my experience).

    I think, in your instance, you have to decide what's best for your work. It's risky to try and sell a book that will not market well enough to a publishing house's standards, so I can understand the dilemma. In an ideal world and economy, I would say, "Try to sell it anyway. You never know what will hit at the right moment in the publishing market," but I know that's too optimistic for me to say.

    It's strange. I always fall back on the thought that, "Okay, once I have an agent, this will all seem easier," but that's not true. The marketing itself may seem easier then since the book will not be just my own but almost a collaboration of ideas and opinions (taking into account agent, editor, and teams for a book's design and marketing), but what it all boils down to, for me, is the writing and the storytelling. In the YA market today, everything seems to be geared towards fast sells with pretty covers and easily digestible stories -- almost like the fast food of the book market. In this world today, we forget that it really should be about us, the writers, and the stories we want to tell.

    Maybe we all would be best off working for ourselves because then we wouldn't forget our core ideals so easily.

  17. One of the important things to remeber about self publishing is that not everyone who self published will reach the heights of Hocking or Poalini, they are the exeption, rather than the rule.

    one of the problems with self publishing is that there is no limit to what you can publish, there is no one there to say stop and unless you pay for it, there is no editor but yourself or some very kind family/friend.

    there is also the problem of thousands of self published authors, if you picked ten, and they were all terrible books with numerous problems, most people would assume that all self published work is terrible.
    the same is not true from books that have been traditionally published, if you go in a bookstore, you can flick through the book, you can decide yes or no, if you get one bad book you won't be put off because there is already the perception that fiction that has gone the traditional route has some merit and the one bad book was simply you not enjoying the style, story or one that slipped through the net.

    Reversely, traditional publishing could easily become very insular, why take a risk when we know this will bank x amount of money with limited amount of publicity.

    if someone does choose to self publish they have a monumental task depending on wat they want to achieve, they need ot do very little if they want a personal copy or just copies for family and friends, but if they want to make a real go of it, there is a lot of work that needs to be done, promotion and advertising alone could potentionally cost thousands, money that may never be recovered and with most people, they don't have a reserve of money wehre they can just publish another book and try again, or chalk it up as a loss and go onto the next author.

    but as the kindle becomes more prevelant, it will make it so much easier for authors to reach audiences and make a larger profit than they may have made with traditional publishing.