Saturday, March 5, 2011

Self-Publishing: In Which the Lifeless Horse Meets the Blunt Instrument

Note: this article was queued up weeks ago, long before my spontaneous Neil Peart things. I'm leaving it up because I still feel these points need to be made.

I want to issue a caveat to the authors who are on the fence about self-publishing as opposed to searching for a royalty-paying house. If you follow DIY pub king JA Konrath's blog, you'll see he offers a nice comparison of legacy publishing versus self-publishing here. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options, and if you know what you're doing you don't need to read this. Instead, why not head over to Amazon or Smashwords or Barnes and Noble and pick up your very own copy of Dead Barchetta to read, for the amazingly low price of $2.99? Lerxst will thank you.

My message today is for the unpolished newbie, that person with a story to tell yet no clue as how to present it. You are bombarded by data from all corners of the publishing spectrum. Do it yourself, keep all the money! Get an agent, let him find you the best deal! Go with a legacy publisher, they'll do all the promo work! Heh. I fell into that last trap ten years ago - that's a story for another day.

The message I bring to you is this: the second you format your work for independent publication, slap on that cover and send it out for the world to buy - IT IS FINISHED! You have popped that cherry and there is no turning back. Now, if you are confident about your book and have a marketing plan in place - the Twitter, the ads, the giveaways on Goodreads - terrific! May the wind be at your back and your enemies snarking on somebody else. If, however, at the end of two months you find two sales in the till and you decide to adopt the Bart Simpson maxim of "I wasn't good at it right away, so I quit," remember what I said about popping the cherry. You can't restore your book's virginity for a legacy/small press publisher to consider.

Who the hell am I to tell you this? I acquire books for a small press. It is written right in our guidelines that we will no longer consider reprint rights from authors who are not already published with us. This is because we cannot predict the sales potential of a work by an unknown that has been made available. Backlist works of authors in our house are easier to judge based upon the author's sales history and demand for that backlist. I would be lying if I told you that reprints we have acquired sold poorly - some have, but one of our strongest long-tail sellers is a reprint, boosted largely by that author's subsequent exposure via a larger publisher.

When you have established the career of a JA Konrath, you are more likely to find publishers willing to distribute your reprints. If you are Maynard Q. Dutchoven with one entry posted on a five-year-old blog, it's more of a challenge.

You will ask, what about people like Amanda Hocking who have done so well? I say I'm glad she did, and that if you don't acquire her good fortune you should have a back plan. In fact, you should have the plan before you do anything.

Am I saying you should not self-publish? No. I do it, and I also publish via small presses. I am saying to THINK before you do it, then think some more. Know everything about DIY vs. legacy, and chart your course. If you fail, write your next book and think some more. The one thing you don't want to do is drain a dairy cow completely, then decide two months later you should take it to market and see who is interested. Five years ago, I never heard an acquisition editor talk about how they would run prospective authors through Google before reading their submissions. Now it's the first thing they (and I) do because we want to be sure people are following our instructions. I see these "show me the CARFAX" commercials and realize how well I relate.

Also, don't lie about your book's history. The Internet is forever. If you try to pass off a book as unpublished and an editor finds it on Lulu or Smashwords or wherever - even if it's listed out of print - you can kiss your chances of publication with that house goodbye. If you're willing to lie about that, can an agent or editor trust you?

If you have self-published a work and find it's not the route for you, shop your next book. If you find success in legacy, it will trickle back to your older works. Publishers and agents will want to know your history - whether you want to disclose your DIY is up to you. I would personally research how some houses/editors would react to that.

Be honest with yourself, and with those in the industry. Above all else, don't be Bart.

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