Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: New Hope, Pennsylvania
I touched on self-publishing yesterday when I talked about self-pubbed e-books but many people are still paying hundreds (thousands?) of dollars to self-publish traditional books. Let me be clear up front. There are some definite times when self-publishing is the very best course. For instance:
- When you have a very narrow subject– too narrow for a traditional publisher– and you know exactly who needs your book and how to reach those people. And, when you did your own realistic proforma profit/loss analysis, the bottom line made it worthwhile.
- When your book is an important book for your own family– say, the story of your grandparents– and it is worth the cost to keep the family history alive.
- When you have a significant speaking presence and need supporting product for your book table. And, when you did your own realistic proforma profit/loss analysis, the bottom line made it worthwhile.
We know some wonderful self-publishing companies that we’ve recommended for authors for whom self-publishing is appropriate– publishers like Winepress Publishing* or Believer’s Press*. Do you know what the tagline is for Believer’s Press? “Christian Self-publishing.” How’s that for being upfront?
How to spot the charlatans:
- As opposed to a self-publisher like Believer’s Press, too many subsidy/vanity publishers try to masquerade as traditional royalty-paying publishers. Do a survey of self-publishing websites. They are filled with hyperbole and outright lies on the part of self-publishers. You’ll see promises of books being sold through bookstores, royalties paid, etc. You see way too many subsidy or vanity publishers claiming to be traditional publishers. When a company works so hard to hide what they actually do, I’d ask myself what they are hiding.
- The shady self-publishers love to point to traditional publishers as the bad guys– as the mean people who want to keep writers from success, who are keeping them out of the inner circle.
- They actively advertise for writers– saying they are actively looking for good manuscripts.
- They quote huge sales numbers for some books but without specifics that can be cross-checked.
- They tell you they can get the books into distributors, chains and bookstores.
Here’s the problem. The number of writers trying to get published is significant. Many a writer has deep pockets and would be more than willing to pay handsomely for the privilege of holding a published book in his hands. Voila! A lucrative market with highly motivated potential consumers. Too many opportunists see it as a goldmine.
If you are determined to self publish, do the following things:
- Find a reputable subsidy publisher who is proud enough of his services that he is honest about what he does. Read the warnings on Preditors & Editors to see if that publisher is listed.
- Do your due diligence. Once you’ve picked a couple of potential publishers ask them for sample copies of books they’ve published. Also check out other books on the website. Study the covers. If you can’t recognize good cover design, ask some knowledgable friends how the book stacks up next to other books on the bookshelves of stores. Look at the interior. I saw some books from one self-publisher that had less than half-inch margins, dense type and no interior design. Trust me, if you used this publisher you’d be ashamed to even give this book away.
- Work up a business plan. Do a proforma. See exactly what it’s going to cost you. Decide if you can afford the project even if you only sell a couple hundred books (which is not unusual for self-pubbed books).
- Work up a marketing plan. Decide in advance how you can make sales happen. Be realistic. The stores are not going to stock your book. They would have to create a vendor file, track and issue purchase orders for one single title (instead of a vendor file for a publisher from whom they buy hundreds of different bestselling titles). They are simply not going to do it. You need to figure out how you can get the book in the hands of readers.
- Figure out the volume of the books you will have to buy. How many books are packed in a carton? How big are the cartons? How many cartons will you have to store? Do you have enough dry, climate-controlled storage room? When I think about the number of cars that are parked out in the weather all across America while boxes of self-pubbed books are getting damp in the garage, I shudder. (And yes, I understand that print on demand–POD– solves this problem.)
Don’t self-publish if:
- You think it will help you get a leg up with agents and publishers. We know the names and reputations of all the vanity presses, no matter what they call themselves. It doesn’t hurt, unless it makes us think the author doesn’t have the patience for this industry. But it doesn’t help because even if the author reports impressive sales there’s no way to verify those sales and no way to determine if those readers can be reached with a traditional book.
- You don’t have the money to lose. It breaks my heart when I hear that someone took a second mortgage to self-publish a book.
- You don’t have any way to sell the books beyond friends and family. I receive dozens of emails asking if I can help sell a self-published book. (Not the work of an agent.) Or if I can help find a publisher to help sell a self-published book. (Not the work of a publisher.)
The reason I chose to end this series by talking about self-publishing is that I find far too many people trying to slip their hands into writers’ pockets. It is so frustrating. It’s already hard enough for writers to pursue their dreams. I cringe at the opportunists trying to figure ways to get rich off those dreams.
Your turn: Has looking at the whole week of “broken things” depressed you? (I hope not. I believe forearmed is forewarned.) After reading the comments and the well-thought out discussion, I’m encouraged by the thoughtful, diligent writers who are part of our wider family. I would encourage you to hang in there. But tell us, what has helped you to trust the process regardless of its drawbacks? And if you’ve got experience with some of the things I’ve called broken, let us know your experience whether you agree with me or not.
*As reputable agents, we don’t get a kickback for recommending a self-publisher. When I mention a service, it is only because we’re familiar with them. Several self-publishing companies have come to agents seeking referrals and offering a finder’s fee of sorts. We’ve never participated.
The broken things don’t depress me like they used to.
What helps me trust the process regardless of the drawbacks are blogs such as these where knowledgable and caring professionals provide the “whys” behind the process and give it a human face. The more I learn, the better equipped I feel, the more I know I’m pursuing the right course.
The challenges of the process only make the promise of the prize that much sweeter.
Wendy, Good thoughts on an increasingly-popular subject. One other factor that might be of interest is that self-pubbed books, whether print or electronic, are not eligible for the ACFW’s Carol Award. This may not be a deal-breaker for some writers, but it could be a consideration.
I am not depressed or discouraged by this week’s blog at all. Every time I read Book and Such blogs or talk to writers on ACFW it only encourages me to learn more and write better. Thanks for all the wonderful information!
Superb way to round out the week, Wendy. Like the others, I’m not depressed either. Actually, I’m encouraged because there are people like you who are eager to help guide writers along their journey.
“You don’t have the money to lose.” This point really hit home because we’ve had authors who have paid us to promote their book, and when it didn’t translate into immediate sales, were in dire straights. One author told us if he didn’t sell books he would be homeless because he quit his job to write.
A resource I enjoyed for learning about self-publishers is Mark Levine’s “The Fine Print of Self-Publishing”. This book dissects the contracts of 45 self-publishers and rates them by how author friendly they are.
Thanks for a fabulous week of posts and to all for engaging discussions.
Well, we live in a broken world. What’s encouraging is all the folks looking at ways to try and fix what’s broken. I love how people have thrown out ideas this week for how to improve some imperfect situations. Looking at what’s broken can be depressing . . . unless you’re looking at it with a group of people like you’ve attracted this week, Wendy. It’s actually turned out to be uplifting!
I appreciate this post. I hope some of my friends who’ve asked about self-publishing read it before they jump in. (I sent them the link.)
Librarians also serve as gatekeepers for readers. We’re responsible to our taxpayers for the purchasing decisons we make. In general (please note my use of the word “general”), we cringe when self-published books cross our desks. Many of them are poorly edited and produced. Although we make exceptions for local authors, it’s difficult for self-published authors to get their books on the shelves of public libraries–especially fiction books.
From a librarian’s viewpoint, my advice to those of you considering self-publishing:
1) Go with a reputable company–such as the ones Wendy mentioned.
2) Don’t shirk on the editing phase. A professional edit is worth every dollar spent on it.
3) Include submitting your book to reviewing journals (PW, Library Journal, Booklist) as part of your marketing plan. Libraries purchase 85& of their materials from reviews.
Great series, Wendy!
Morgan L. Busse
“I believe forearmed is forewarned.”
I totally agree. So thanks for giving us a heads up 🙂
I must admit that learning some of the information here this week did leave me reeling just a bit. That was before I set up a blog…now THAT left me shaking like a leaf! Seriously, I do feel that as writers and authors we need to stay abreast of the many facets of the publishing biz. To stick our heads in the sand is willfully choosing ignorance.
Thanks for the in-depth looks into the changes of the publishing world this week, Wendy. I appreciate how you all here at Books&Such take time to help us writers.
I’m not depressed by these posts, either. I’m actually even a bit more determined to persevere and continue to grow in my writing.
Thanks, Wendy, for a very informative series. Overall, I found it encouraging. It’s always good to have tools with which to analyze the options available.
Michael K. Reynolds
I was caught in the undertow of a productive, but out-of-control week. So I’m here to visit the rodeo well all the horses have left for home and the hay’s back in the barn. Just wanted to echo the comments of the many who commended you on another blessed week of Blogging.
When I travel, I don’t just want to know my destination. I want a detailed map of the roads leading to that destination. Yes, there may be unexpected detours, but I try to have a plan as to how to handle those interruptions.
When I realized my first short story could easily become a full-length novel, I started reading everything I could get my hands on about writing novels and publishing. I started on this journey with my eyes wide open. Yes, there are distractions like the allure of self-publishing just to be “in print.” But I consult my navigational system – successful writers who have stayed the course – and adjust accordingly.
Thank you for this series. It has helped affirm my resolve to reach my destination using the preferred roads. And to enjoy the ride along the way!
Just now caught up on this week’s posts, Wendy. Such good information!
I think it’s easy to get discouraged by the changes in the publishing industry, but I have to believe that the truly good writers – those who know their craft and who have the grit to hang with it for the long haul – will sell books. The free market has a perfect inborn system to filter out the “fluff”.
It reminds me of a holiday movie I watched about a toymaker who made cheap toys, figuring they could make more profit. But kids figured out that their toys broke after one use. Pretty soon they weren’t buying those toys anymore.
The same is true for readers. As they read a “broken” book, they’ll notice the author or the publisher and make a mental note to avoid them in the future. I think that’s one of the many reasons for my decision to pursue traditional publication. In addition to the distribution channels I don’t have on my own, the longstanding publishers provide familiarity for their readers.
Thanks for the great posts! I gave you all a shout-out on my blog a couple weeks ago. Said you always have good info and have been on a roll lately. Keep it rolling! 🙂
PW, Booklist, and Kirkus don’t review self-published books, and Library Journal reviews them only rarely. However, Kirkus and PW have special programs in which self-published authors can submit their books for review for a fee. Kirkus Discoveries guarantees a review (not necessarily a positive review), which it publishes online, independently from Kirkus Reviews. PW Select will consider a self-published book for review for a smaller listing-and-processing fee. Again, this is separate from PW, and only self-pubbed books “deemed worthy” are selected for review.
Great information. I just don’t believe in self-publishing. I my very first book with my name on it has just come out, and it felt very good to say, “Yeah, with a real publishing company.”
Thank you, Wendy. I was the discouraged, depressed commenter from yesterday. Today’s post was very helpful. (actually I think I’m a day behind on reading the post) It gave me some points to take into consideration, which I would never have been able to come up with by myself. I appreciate all the helpful information and that you take the time to listen and respond to everyone who comments.
Lyn, thank you for the correction and clarification re book review journals and self-published books. Check Midwest Book Review. They review self-published books and some libraries use their reviews.
I am pro-traditional publish. I considered self-pub briefly, but realized how foolish it would be to do this and chose instead to do the hard road of working my way up.
A friend of mine however self published because she’s more interested in reaching people with the message of her journal. It has the potential to help many people. She’s an amazing person.
I agree with said sentiments in your blog.
When I made the decision to e-self-publish my books, the depression I’ve felt about the publishing process totally lifted. For practice I e-self-published a short story through Kindle. I have a non-fiction book ready to go, once the editing process is complete. Then my unpublished novel will be next. Possibly I will also self-publish the book-length ones by POD. Then many more books are queued up.
My reason for this decision: There’s absolutely no downside by doing so. If I sell nothing, that’s exactly the most likely thing I’ll ever make trying for a traditional publisher. As far as a proforma, I could take a percent chance of being offered a traditional publishing contract (say 0.1%, which is probably too high) times a most likely advance for a first-time author (say $5000) minus the cost to go to more conferences (say 2 more needed) at $1000 per conference. Asume no further royalties, since most booked don’t earn out. That would give me a negative number. So I would have to sell zero self-published books to break even. Or, to look at it another way, to offset conference cost ($2000), I’d need to assume a 40% chance of getting a contract (at $5000 advance) or a $2,000,000 advance (at 0.1% contract chance) just to break even.
There’s a time cost, to learn the self-publishing software, the loading process, the listing process. So far I’ve called in favors to get covers designed professionally, so there’s no cost there yet; there might be for a third book. So, by avoiding conference expense, I actually come out money ahead if I sell one (that’s ONE!!!) e-book.