Self Publishing: Bogus or Wise?
Have Others Done It?
It used to be called the vanity press; when writers would hire a printer to run copies of their book because traditional publishing houses wouldn’t.
Many famous authors of the past used this approach.
Look them up. However, be careful. Those self-published authors may
in fact have not done it in such a way that we would call true
self-publishing. Many of their friends helped them market their work,
they had been published before and therefore recognizable, and lest we forget, they are famous for a reason — they were excellent story tellers.
We can’t be deluded into thinking that just because Dickens did it that
we can. I mean, have you read Dickens or Twain? Are you that good?
The writers at that time only had the option of using an expensive,
fee-only printing house. Even the act of printing was heavy on manual labor, time, and averse to taking the the typical risks of publishing houses.
(Don’t get me wrong, the quality of an expert printer is second-to-none and the output can be exceptional. Look at the illustration and poster art during the time of Twain. Gorgeous.) The risk was, and still is, that printers have to cover their costs, make a profit, and potentially eat their mistakes.
Books therefore had to be ordered in lots of 500, 1000 or more to make it cost effective. That’s a lot of extra bound paper to have laying around if you did not sell them. This manual process greatly limited publishing options.
The Market Will Speak the Truth
Following self-publishing is marketing and sales which is work because everything is tied to moving these big clunky items we call books. If you are an unknown writer, sales is a bigger challenge.
What many in the artistic world lose sight of is that sales and marketing is very difficult. It’s an art in itself, when done well, and does not always pay off. A salesman who closes over 60% of his customers/clients is exceptional and well worth their commission. Proven sales folks are well rewarded
and for good reason. It ain’t all lunches and golf. It’s more akin to:
multiple follow up calls to prospects, documenting your activity, dealing with “back room” mistakes, buffering your own company’s mistakes and countless hours confirming deadlines and holding folks accountable, in as polite a fashion as possible when your patience is worn thin. If you have an agent and publisher working for you, you can be assured that they earn their living.
The literary business grew as a service to publishing writers on a contingency/commission basis. Agents were and are very choosy out of necessity. The writer they champion must be profitable and risk is a major concern. (Hence the copycat nature of books; whatever is hot gets burned out. Are we done with Vampires yet?) Writers who can garner a reader base are not easy to find. Many of them think they are worth reading and paying good money for but the market tells them the truth. No writers group, teacher or guru can give you this answer. The sooner individuals enter the market the better.
Literature, especially fiction, is subjective and involves personal taste.
We as writers want to know if there are enough who like our product to warrant the effort (financially). There are journalists who try to paint a rosy picture about self-publishing and most of what they have to say is rubbish. It’s best to have the correct expectations.
The Digital Publishing Age
The up side is that there are very valid uses of self-publishing using today’s technology, which is as revolutionary as the invention of the printing press. The ability to publish an eBook on a commission basis is easy, cost effective, and requires little set up time. On demand publishing of traditional printed books is a serious technological miracle as well. So, if you’re curious to discover if anyone outside your family likes your work, then today’s self-publishing market can test that goal.
It can also be used to garner the attention of those you query in traditional channels. You can digitally alert prospective agents through your own efforts to try and sell your book. It provides them a quick sampling and a visualized marketing approach as seen on your cover. Hell, if you’re lucky they may buy a copy to read rather than plowing through a crude manuscript. It has in fact been profitable in varying degrees. Some have been very successful. The statistics from Kindle, CreateSpace and others can give you a hopeful idea about their profit potential.
The great news — the cost of using these new channels is minimal due to their tried and true commission format. Together you take risks and each of you benefit from greater sales. Here is the rub. If you don’t have interest in expanding your knowledge beyond the art of writing and into the business of it, don’t self-publish. Think of it like this: Brad Pitt is an excellent actor and like many others he reached a point where he was willing to expand into the business of the work. He began taking risks in production where a lucrative pay out was not guaranteed. He is not alone. Jon Favreau, another great example, took risks very early in his career and is now familiar with all aspects of his art and business.
But Celebrity Authors Don’t Self-Publish
Contemporary writers such as Grissom and Steven King are dabbling
in this manner. Make no mistake about it. Art is also a business!
Dickens, Twain, and Hemingway were great successes in their own lifetimes because they understood this fact and were willing to take the necessary risks. They did road tours with their own work, produced others, and found great fulfillment in doing so. I am not talking about knee-jerk risks but those that are calculated. Publishing your book is only the first step to selling it. It’s the road that lay ahead that’s the most difficult.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this and are asking “Wait, what the hell is the road that lay ahead?” You are not wrong for feeling this way. The next article to follow discusses marketing your book. As they used to say “Tune in next week!”.