Crossroads Road

Confessions of a Self-Publishing Snob

A few weeks after turning in the second draft of my novel, I was driving to work and my phone rang.  It was my agent, in New York.  Finally.  I’d been waiting for his call, rather impatiently, for a couple of weeks.  I wanted his verdict on the latest version.  Would he be asking for further revisions, or was he happy with it?  I was desperate for good news.

“Hullo, this is Jeff,” I said into the phone, and things went downhill from there.

Oh, he was friendly, and there was a brief beating around the bush period, but eventually the bad news was delivered.  The agency felt that the book couldn’t be sold in “the current climate,” and were opting not to show it to publishers.  This, after they’d put me through months of rewrites, and positive feedback.  I felt like mashing the accelerator to the floor, whipping the wheel violently to the right, and letting the chips fall where they may.

I was given a speech about the weak economy, and how publishers are being super-selective in what they’re buying, and a comic novel by a first-timer is an uphill battle, even during the best of times…  He said that if they offered the book now, it would almost certainly be rejected, and thus rendered “dead forever.”

Fantastic.  Dead and forever are a couple of my all-time favorite words.

I went to work with cartoon blue jays flying around my head, and throughout the evening I emailed a couple of friends with the bad news.  And one of them got all defiant, and told me I should just self-publish the thing.  “Screw them!” he e-hollered.

And that comment, undoubtedly meant to inspire, plunged me into a dark two-hour funk.  Self-publish?  Is that what it had come to?  Was that really my only option at this point?  Self-publishing, I believed, is the dodgy domain of hacks, mental patients, and old men obsessed with genealogy and/or wars.  Now me, too?

I wrote it off, and contacted another agent with whom I’d exchanged a few emails.  She agreed to take a look at the novel, and came back with almost the exact same assessment.  The book is a lot of fun, and it’s possible that she could have sold it five years ago, but not today.  Grrr…

I sighed, and joked that it looked like self-publishing was going to be my future.  And she cautioned me not to dismiss it so quickly.  Technology has changed everything, she said, and if it’s done the right way, a person can enjoy a lot of success via the various print-on-demand services.

It requires an attention to detail up front, I was told, and a lot of marketing once the book is available.  But the marketing part is necessary, even if your book is being published by Random House.  So, it’s not like the old days, when it was just circling-like-sharks vanity presses preying on the desperation of frustrated “writers.”

Print-on-demand, and e-readers like the Kindle, make self-publishing an attractive option, she said.  Royalties are high, there’s no inventory to maintain, and success stories are noticed by traditional publishers, possibly greasing the skids for some future project.

Interesting.  It felt like she was trying to talk me into it.

Since that conversation I’ve read maybe a million words on the subject, and have decided to publish my novel via Amazon’s CreateSpace, the Kindle store, NookBooks, etc.  I’m hoping to have it available by spring.  We’ll DEFINITELY be talking more about it in the future.

And I’d like to get your opinions on self-publishing in general.  Are you like me, and kinda look down your nose at it?  I’m starting to come around, obviously, but it was out of the question three months ago.  I believed most self-published novels looked like this one.  And I’m sorry, but I don’t really want to be lumped-in with such works.

I now realize there are plenty of success stories out there.  Some folks have leveraged their Kindle store activity into contracts with traditional New York publishers, and there doesn’t seem to be as big a stigma as in the past.  Almost like computer dating…  When it first started, people (like me) believed those sites were populated by nothing but desperate losers, serial killers, and morbidly obese people who have to use a wiping-wand.  Now it seems to be the default destination for normal well-adjusted folks seeking relationships.

Also, it’s not really called self-publishing anymore.  It’s now indie publishing, and that’s much cooler.  Right?  Like indie music, and independent film, and that sort of thing.  Yeah, I’m totally behind the re-branding of it all.  Indie publishing is something I’m prepared to embrace.

Of course, the quality will have to be there, and here’s a funny article about why the stigma might not die easily.

So, what are your thoughts on the subject?  Please tell us about it in the comments.

And thanks for reading!  I’m planning to add a few interviews soon, with some interesting folks.

So, please stay tuned.

24 Comments

  1. Ed says:

    Great piece! Also, first.

  2. W.A. Kuemmel says:

    Yeah, I shared your disdain for self-publishing, but I really do think the business is changing. I think what would scare me about the whole affair would be the lack of marketing support. I’ll certainly give your book a read, even if it is just as an e-book.

  3. Jeff says:

    It won’t be “just” an e-book, it’ll also be available as a trade paperback with a kick-ass Evil Twin cover, as well. April, I’m hoping…

  4. Kim says:

    Indie publishing. I like that. Great post here! I leave knowing more than I knew when I got here.

  5. lakrfool says:

    Wow…this is a very timely piece for me today. I found out earlier today about the death of a very good friend of mine, a talented artist that passed way before his time.

    John was an incredibly colorful person that rode through the peaks & valleys of life being true to himself, & working at the profession he loved. The link goes to a slideshow of a tiny fraction of his artwork, but amazing stuff nonetheless.

    We had many, many long conversations over the years, & he was always encouraging me to either come out to LA for a visit. Or send him my still-yet-to-be-made-voiceover-demo-CD so he could shop it around for me, as he was very well connected with the shops in the industry always looking for voice talent.

    People have always asked me if I worked in radio, or told me that I should…evidently my voice has a natural resonance for that sort of thing. And making a demo was something that I always intended to do, my little closet cash-it-in nest egg that I could always fall back on, but never have.

    Now, along with losing a great friend, I feel as though an artery has been severed to realize one of my somewhat fantastic, yet plausibly realistic life scenarios. At 43, waiting for the proper connection, the ideal opportunity, or the perfect time to fall in my lap is nothing short of naive & foolish.

    Maybe tlosing this friend is the slap in the face I need to get off of my ever-increasing ass & get in the game…create my own connections, opportunities & times to realize some fulfillment in a creative endeavor of my choosing.

    So yeah Jeff, I’m 100% behind any/all forms of re-branding, recycling, or re-invention that gets us closer to achieving the goals we have set for ourselves, & realizing some success as a result. There is too little time to wait.

  6. OhReally says:

    I just look at all the amazing music being put out these days with out recording contracts. They are self-published technically. I don’t see anything wrong with being able to make a few dollars off something you love doing!

  7. Mike Berry says:

    It takes a lot of attention to the details (good cover, scrupulous copyediting, etc.), but it’s more and more possible to make an impact with a self-published/indie book. As someone with an established audience and singular style, Jeff is well-positioned to do a good job of it.

    That said, I’ve been reviewing books for 25+ years, and I haven’t felt compelled to cover an e-book yet. Maybe that will soon change. (Of course, I write for a newspaper, and who know how much longer they’ll be around?)

  8. SeanInSac says:

    Go for it Jeff. I have a number of books self published by local authors. Although most of them do fall under the classification of old men interested in local history. The books are excellent, great writing on material that may not be of nation wide multi-million dollar interest, but that myself and others who live and/or grown up in the NorCal NorNevada area find interesting. What’s great is that I have met most of the authors when I bought the book and independant local book stores and festivals. They are all signed by the author and I cherish them more than the barnes and noble 50% off Steven King books I’ve picked up over the years.

  9. Doug says:

    Glad to hear there will be a paperback version available. I probably would like an e-reader, but not ready to spend the money.

  10. Jeff says:

    The paperback will be available through Amazon only, but I’m going to try to make the e-book version available at all the big stores (Kindle, nook, Sony Reader, Apple iBooks, etc.). So, it won’t be hard to find.

  11. Ed says:

    I’m glad to hear that Evil Twin is doing the cover. The header for TheWVSR is a very good piece of work.

  12. Tbonium says:

    There is nothing wrong with indie publishing. Just like there is nothing wrong with indie anything. Crap books will be crap no matter who prints and markets them, just like good books will be good no matter. I personally have had a Kindle since October and have not purchased a “real” book since. I wish more of the traditional publishers would “publish” more indie stuff at a lower price and in e-reader form to get new talent out in the market. Do we really need another King or Grisham book? Publish this book ( I have been waiting long enough) and I will buy it the day it come out!

  13. Alice in WV says:

    Glad you’re moving forward with your book, in all forms. I’ll definitely line up to get you to signy copy, at whatever book store or pub you’ll be greeting your fans.

  14. Gordion Knott says:

    I’m unsure as to the outlook for indie publishing, but one thing’s for certain: the traditional, dead-tree model of publishing is destined to be changed–perhaps radically changed–by the advent of e-books.

    E-books are still in their infancy, and Amazon gets away with charging 70% or more of the dead-tree price for its Kindle editions. This, despite huge savings on printing, shipping, and inventorying. You’d think that e-books, essentially comprised of 1s and 0s, would be almost cost-free to produce. You’d think that they’d retail for a bargain-basement price, say $5 or less, to reflect the cheap manufacturing price. Sadly, that’s not the case yet.

    But I think change is in the air, to be accelerated as more people switch from dead-tree books to Kindle editions. Tbonium wrote above that he (she?) hasn’t bought a “real” book since October. A few days ago, I forked out $14–more than the dead-tree price–for a Kindle book, simply because I prefer that format. I’m tired of shlepping heavy dead-tree books from room to room. I’m tired of the clutter on my bookshelves.

    Eventually, e-books will reach critical mass, maybe surpassing dead-tree books in sales. This will level the playing field for writers, because it will no longer be necessary to contract with a publishing company for printing and distribution. I don’t know how this will play out, as far as traditional publishers are concerned. Maybe they’ll disappear. Maybe they’ll downsize. Maybe they’ll be replaced by small offices, or home offices, of editors who will vet e-books, re-write them, and take on the task of publicizing them on the web or traditional ad venues.

    At the very least, if, as will happen sometime in the indefinite future, every book published in the US is an e-book, the long, twisty road from manuscript to published book will be shortened immensely. Essentially, at the moment you’ve typed the final period in your manuscript, you’ll have a completed e-book. All that will remain is publicizing the book, and self-starters with a little ingenuity, common sense and hustle will succeed at that.

  15. Dave's not here, man says:

    Glad you made the choice to self-publish! A friend of mine did this a few years ago:

    http://www.amazon.com/Just-Enough-Security-Information-Business/dp/141167541X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1296833098&sr=1-1

    Yeah, not an exciting read, but I think he knew the traditional publishing route would not work out for him. He was very happy with the results because he knew going into it that he was eliminating the whole waiting for a publisher to pick it up thing. Sales were actually better than he expected. But again, he went into it with the right attitude and realistic expectations.

    Can’t wait for your book!!

  16. The more I read, the more I think I want to self publish. I feel it would be the better option. Sure I’d have to fork out some money for a cover artist and find a good professional editor but self or traditional I know my story needs to shine like a diamond. Anyone who thinks they can write a first draft, throw together a cover and hit publish (or whatever you do) on Kindle is deluded. Good stories take work. Lots of work that really isn’t that difficult to do. I enjoy fixing the mistakes in my stories (most of the time there are those bad days) because in the end I know it will make it shine that much brighter.

    Yes, self publishing – whoops Indie publishing is scary because it’s brand new but that’s all the more reason to try. Be on the forefront and then tell others about your journey so they can make their own informed decision. Honestly, traditional publishing is just as scary so either way, you’re in for a ride.

  17. Jeff says:

    As you say Patricia, it’s still very new. Plus there’s a stigma attached to self-publishing that’s a holdover from the old vanity press days. That was my hang-up. But there are already some success stories and indie stars emerging, so I expect the stigma will fade with time. Regardless, I’m self-publishing my first book in spring, and I’ll be here writing about the experience. Good or bad.

  18. Michele says:

    There’s probably some basic rules to follow to gain a foothold in the eBook market: It’s got to be a good book; It’s got to have a good cover; You need a good book description; Set a good price, and; The author has to get out there and market it. It needs to be treated as a business, or else you could end up as a starving artist in a garret.

    And by good, I mean something readable and not something that could be nominated as the potential winner of the The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Mind you, I’ve read some crap books from traditional publishing houses. Made me sorry I bought them. I’ve also read some great ebooks by indie authors. Pursuing the path of indie publishing, also doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to make inroads into traditional publishing.

    I have an iPad and a Kindle, and now I can’t foresee a time when I’ll next buy a printed book. I much prefer the immediacy and simplicity of purchasing an eBook. Of exploring a wider range of authors than I would normally. The world is my bookstore now and I don’t have to wait for FedEx to deliver it.

    Just think, if you hadn’t chosen to produce an eBook and blogged about it, in all likelihood I would never have found you at my local bookstore in Australia.

    You now have a broader reach, a global reach, and if you can market it well and it’s well-written, there’ll be a few of us enjoying your writing that we never would have had the opportunity to, if you hadn’t chosen to go down this path. Remember that, if the self publishing snob tries to make an appearance again. Kick him for six.

  19. -dave says:

    I touched on it before elsewhere but I feel the Indie approach is a grassroots avenue. (Hey…”Grassroots Avenue…a publishing outlet”… e-me Jeff. Big bucks in the name alone). The fan base builds from e-books, etc. and creates leverage. I’m a fan but clueless on the how-to. That I’ll learn. But…the need for outside advice, editing, proof reading, second and third re-writes still exist “to make it shine much brighter” before hitting the publish button. You used your submittals to agents for your feedback. How does one choose an independant source to ‘fix’ my book?
    Maybe a topic for later and some input from Indie folks would help. My answer is probably out there and I just haven’t dug into that yet.
    Thanks…-d

  20. icecycle66 says:

    I imagine that there is an outrageous amount of money required to do self publishing. I don’t know why I think that, maybe it’s because it cost several hundred dollars to print and bind only about 400 booklets of 24 pages.

    Then I think, okay, I can afford to print 10,000 of my books, hell I even have room in the garage for such an absurd thing. But who do I have to talk to at Barns & Noble or Hastings, or WalMart to get my book on a rack somewhere?

    And I think that is my biggest hang up, distribution.

  21. Michele Grey says:

    Icecycle66 why would you go down the print self-pub route first? You’ve got a broader reach online and it’s less expensive to convert than it is to print. If you want to go to print, that’s fine but at least test out your market first online before investing in print. It’s not the distribution that should be your biggest hang up, it’s how you’re going to market it, whether it’s in print or online.

  22. icecycle66 says:

    I go self pub first because I don’t really know of any other route. And it provides for the most immediate result; I work at an outrageous fast pace (when i get it in my head to do something), and I don’t really have much patience for people who dilly-dally about in a working production process.

    I have even gotten with the marketing agencies that work links on Michael Savage and The Drudge Report, regarding Trueliberty.us, but for some reason they don’t even want my money. Twice I have gotten to the point that I am ready to pay for placement and marketing services (for a non-profit website), and the agencies just cut communication. So again, I go back to brute force self-production and forcing it out there.

    I don’t know if that made any sense. Enough of this rambling.

  23. Erica in Charlotte says:

    I agree with most of the other commenters here – get it published, one way or another. I don’t have a Kindle myself (I’ve always preferred actual books in hand, as opposed to digital versions) but like the ipod, it seems that digital is where it’s all headed, eventually. (And I do love my ipod – the ultimate mix tape.)

    It seems you’ve got a pretty big following on the WVSR, and I’m sure a decent handful of your new visitors come from people WE know, to whom we’ve said, “Will you PLEASE go read this guy’s update today? Trust me.”

    So hopefully, between the accessibility of digital media, and your tawdry little WVSR network, the word would get out and you could recognize a decent return on it all.

  24. Good article. Also glad the link to “this one” wasn’t to an excerpt from my book.

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