Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office, CA
Metaphorically speaking, it used to be that a hopeful author had to stand in line, hat in hand, to try to get an agent. Then the agent would take his manuscript out to editor after editor, hoping to catch someone’s interest. It was a frustrating, protracted, gut-wrenching process. But guess what? Forget agents. Forget editors. Forget publishers. There’s no more waiting. A writer can pen the last sentence of his book and within hours have it available as an ebook and on its way to being a print-on-demand paperback as well.
Who needs the middle man? Let’s go direct to the reader!I know you’ve heard that battle cry lately. It’s understandable since the frustration level of the writer-hopeful has been at an all-time high. The process is enough to kill the smallest spark of creativity. Cutting through the rejection, delay and discouragement is tempting indeed, but I want to to explore what we give up when we do it all ourselves.
What’s wrong with DIY (do it yourself)? Isn’t self-sufficiency satisfying? It is to me. I can sew–in fact, as a textile student in college I took every class all the way through tailoring. I’d be rusty and it would take me time to get up to speed, but I could probably create a passable wardrobe for my entire family. I can also cook. Who needs to ever go out to eat? I can also clean house. I love to garden, and I could do all the yard work. I paint and sculpt as well. I could make all my own gifts. I have a number of kilns–I could even create my own dinnerware. I know how to can and preserve food. I can quilt. I can cut hair and groom the dog. I paint. I write. I. . . well you get the picture.
What would happen if I did all those things? I wouldn’t have time to do what I am called to do. Yes, I would enjoy doing them, but the truth is, my clothes wouldn’t hold a candle to professionally designed clothes because I don’t have time to keep up with textiles and trends. I’d miss the fun of eating out and discovering the magic of gifted chefs who’ve spent a lifetime honing their craft. I could clean my own house and do my own garden, but the people who do that for me free me up to do the things only I can do. I’d have a lot of fun making gifts and even designing dishes, but how I love discovering the art of others.
When we use professionals, we get the benefit of specialists. The quality of the product or service more than makes up for giving up control. It’s the same with publishing.
The DIY publishing model requires the author to be the writer, the editor, the copy editor, the cover designer, the jacket copy writer, the interior designer, the ebook publisher, the print liaison, the sales team, the marketing department, etc. The author can subcontract some or all of those tasks, but the coordination and all the final decisions fall squarely on the shoulders of an amateur. And though you can find people to do all these tasks, the finest practitioners are employed by or contracted by the traditional publishers.
Many a DIY published author will say that he chose the self-publishing route because he couldn’t get a traditional publisher or an agent interested in his book. There’s nothing more frustrating than when the gatekeepers seem to be keeping the doors stubbornly closed, but you have to ask why. It is true that the market is competitive–perhaps more now than ever before–but a great book is going to find a home in traditional publishing given time and effort. Too many self-pubbed books or DIY ebooks are substandard. Had the author not jumped the gun in his eagerness to make it available, the book could have been reworked and rewritten until it was great, not just passable. We all benefit from a good editor.
DIY authors will often cite financial reasons for self-pubbing. They ask why give away 75% of the cover price of a book to a traditional publisher when I can do it myself and keep 70%? Of this I am sure: The traditional publisher is worth every penny. Yes, some of the early pioneers in DIY ebook publishing made some serious money–we’re going to talk about that later this week–but as the market matures this is going to be the rare exception. Having a book available is the easy part. Driving buyers to that book and making sales is the real challenge. I see hundreds of royalty statements and, for the most part, publishers are doing a fine job of this. We hear anecdotal success stories from DIY authors, but there’s way too much hyperbole.
Is the traditional publisher obsolete? Janet Ann Collins commented on yesterday’s blog and said it better than I could: “My grandfather told me when movies were invented people predicted the end of live theater. When TV came out lots of folks said movies would die out. Neither of those things happened. . . There may have been more changes in the last thirty years than historically usually happened in a century, but we’ll find ways of adapting.”
Some books were made to be self-pubbed, and those are the ones that succeed. But for the most part, I’ll take the expertise of a traditional publisher any day. I like having a team of experts behind me.
I’ve just quickly scratched the surface here so let’s continue the conversation in the comment section. Tell me what you think. Challenge me. Tell us your own story.