A positive perspective on self-publishing

This video is dedicated three people: first, to Kira Blaco and Naomi Hamilton, who are excited about the idea of self-publishing a novel, and to Will Hadcroft, who has recently taken the bull by the horns and done it. There is every reason to be excited, and I hope a little of my enthusiasm rubs off on you …

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17 thoughts on “A positive perspective on self-publishing

  1. Kira Blaco says:

    Here’s some little known information my mother told me (who is incidentally a big fan of John Grisham). John Grisham’s first book “A Time to Kill” was self published. He could not get any agent to even look at it. Being a lawyer and having a lot of money he paid to have it self published. When he found an agent for his second book “The Firm” they asked to have a look at his first book again and re-released it through a major publishing house. Needless to say both books were hits and he became an overnight sensation.

  2. Mark says:

    I think it’s important not to tar all agents and editors with the same brush. It’s certainly true that every major publisher exists purely to make money for its parent company, but I think the real literary gems that do emerge justify the sheer amount of commercial dross they put out.

    The editorial process exists to ensure some degree of quality control. While there are numerous self-published books that are far superior to traditionally published books, the consumer isn’t taking as much of a risk with a randomly selected title from Harper Perennial than they would with a randomly selected title from a self-published author. Most self-published books are rarely edited — or even pass a pair of eyes that don’t belong to the author — before they’re unleashed upon the world. This doesn’t do the author any favours in the long run. While it might be quite liberating to want to “stick it to the man” and ignore an editor’s input, most of the self-published books I see on the shelves of Barnes & Noble (where I work) are riddled with typos, grammatical oddities, typesetting errors and inconsistencies. True, these occasionally creep into traditionally published books, but nowhere near the level of the average self-published book.

    Having said all that, the ability to self-publish one’s writing — especially in this day and age — is one of the most important freedoms a writer has. I think the internet has gone a long way to legitimatising the self-publishing craft. It’s not unusual, in this day and age, for most traditionally published books to be rooted in blogs or other web-based writing. An established internet writer could just as easily find his audience through self-publishing as he could through traditional publishing and no one would think any less of him.

    As the traditional publishers cater for increasingly more commercial markets, it’s down to the independent publishers and self-published writers to provide readers with more unique, innovative, experimental and eclectic works. We’re not too far away from a time when the difference between traditional publishers and independent publishers will be non-existent (or, at the very least, irrelevant).

    While I still prefer to go down the traditional publishing route for my fiction (mainly because it’s the easiest way I can think of to reach a large audience), my non-fiction projects may very well go down the self-publishing route. My current blog project is pretty much a warm-up for a book about retro gaming from a UK perspective. It’s such a niche market that self-publishing will probably be the most effective way to reach my intended audience.

    Oh, I did find it interesting that you mentioned vampire fiction in your example. I don’t know what it’s like in the UK these days, but here in the States it’s almost as if EVERY other book being published these days is vampire-related — especially where the teen/young adult market is concerned! We have Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga to blame for that (although what little I read of Twilight came off as a poor man’s Buffy/Angel episode).

  3. Yeah! Go for it…
    I do agree with Mark and I know that you think the same, Darryl, you just didn’t say so – self-publishing is a good thing if you have combed your work and made it perfect in terms of spelling, grammar and style. Of course there are many arguments about style, but it is universally true that a first draft will not be any good and that’s why it wouldn’t get anywhere in terms of traditional publishing (unless you happened to be the Apostle John & co., but can you imagine what might have come out of it if those guys had bothered to edit properly??). Sadly, self-publishing opens the door for any old scribbler to publish first-draft material that gives the industry a bad name. What you say heartens me – that it doesn’t matter – if only it were true. There are still so many people who look down their noses at us. But things are changing and we can look forward to better days, thank goodness.
    Where did you get this video blog idea, btw?

  4. Darryl Sloan says:

    “Sadly, self-publishing opens the door for any old scribbler to publish first-draft material that gives the industry a bad name. What heartens me – that is doesn’t matter – if only that were true.”

    Well, 1,500 sales says that it’s true. 🙂

    I maintain that it doesn’t matter that there are a zillion awful books in print. I know how hard it is to make a single sale, therefore I know how irrelevant that ocean of bad books is to the marketplace. They don’t sell, so that makes them harmless. They haven’t bitten anybody except the occasional impulse buyer. I’ve heard statistics that say the average self-published book sells less than 100 copies. Hardly anything for the publishing industry to get worked up about.

    So I say, don’t criticise the self-publishing print-on-demand technology. It’s serving a good purpose for those of us who put the time and effort into writing books that get great reviews, make sales, and satisfy readers.

    As for the writers who won’t put in the effort, I don’t mind letting them keep on publishing to the ether, because that’s all they will ever be doing.

  5. Darryl Sloan says:

    Grace,

    As for video blogging, I took a shine to it when I started doing the psychokinesis videos. Partly I’m doing it to tap into the wider audience of the YouTube community, and partly because I’ve found that I enjoy communicating with my whole personality, rather than just my words.

  6. RJ Keller says:

    “The real judge of you as an author is not these editors, it’s your readers.”

    I am a self-published author, and you are my new hero.

  7. zoewinters says:

    In order for a self published, or even very small press book to get on the shelves at Barnes and Noble, it has to go through a review board first. A self published novel that doesn’t pass this review board simply cannot be on the Barnes and Nobles shelf. That is their policy.

    Unless your local store has for some reason taken some on consignment. And if so, that fault falls to the manager of the store.

    I have never, in my entire life, met a reader who wasn’t also a writer that cared who published the book. Readers care if a book is good. They know this a lot of the time based on recommendations and Amazon reviews. No one says to themselves: “Gee, I wonder what the latest HarperCollins title is?”

    Readers buy authors not publishers if it’s fiction, and topic not publishers if it’s nonfiction. Though sometimes “name recognition” in nonfiction counts too.

    All unknown writers are in the same boat as far as capturing reader attention whether they are published by HarperCollins, a small press, or their own imprint. The only thing a large publisher can do to combat this, is give very wide distribution, so the sheer saturation of the book might help it pick up some speed.

    However, 85% of all published novels don’t get more than $2,000 in marketing push from the publisher. Which means, they don’t have wide distribution. So without that “plum contract” from a top publisher, which most first time authors do not get, I fail to see why many people choose to chase the major pubs. This doesn’t mean it’s “wrong” per se, I just don’t “grok it.”

    In my little world, I’d rather self publish several titles and build up a platform (reader base), then see what happens from there. I don’t know that I ever want a trad publisher, but if I ever hooked one’s attention, I’d be willing to sell Mass market rights.

    When we talk about the average self published book, I think it’s important to remember that most writers know very little about the business of publishing. SOME self published writers aren’t trying to sell their work to a wider audience, but are mainly getting it out there for family and friends and to have their work in a solid bound form. (I personally think every book that means something to someone should be in a solid bound form instead of a loose manuscript. But that doesn’t mean every one should be out on the greater market.)

    If a book is JUST at lulu.com or authorhouse and not Amazon or anywhere else, one can bet that in most cases the author isn’t seeking to reach a wider audience. And when we talk about all the self published books, people tend to mean ALL the self published books.

    That’s like acting like my personal sewing project for my own personal use or for a friend, should be able to compete with something out of a department store.

    Some who self publish are serious about treating it like a business, coming as close to industry standards as possible, etc. Those people, I believe, have just as good of a shot at success as if they’d gone with a small press, or if they’d gotten an unimpressive contract with no marketing push, from a larger press.

    I mean if I’m doing all the promo for my work, I’m taking home the profits. I’m not working my tail off for 6% royalty. That’s ludicrous.

    Time after time, when people talk about the tiny little numbers of people who succeed publishing their own work, they want to talk about how rare it is for a self published book to go on to become a bestseller (well that’s rare with trad published books too), and they compare every single self published book put out there, quality be damned, against every single trad book. And that’s just apples and oranges.

    If we want to compare apples and apples, then we compare the serious self published works that took the time to get it right, to their trad published counterparts.

    Anything less is an unfair stereotype.

  8. Darryl Sloan says:

    RJ,

    Aw shucks. Thanks. 🙂 I think the line you quoted was the most important one I said in the whole video.

    Zoe,

    Thanks for taking time to write all that. I agree wholeheartedly.

  9. zoewinters says:

    Hahaha, Thanks for not beating me over the head with my own arms for typing so much!

  10. I’m certainly more interested in what my readers think than what the BBC’s Newsnight Review panel would have to say (not that they’ve said anything or even know I exist!). If I sell 50 copies of a book, and 50 youngsters come back saying, “When’s the next one coming out?” I know I’ve achieved my initial goal.

    I must have sold well over a hundred copies of “Anne Droyd and Century Lodge”, both editions combined. With my new book, “Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows”, I intend pay more attention.

    Getting someone who knows what they’re doing to edit the book is one thing, getting a high quality cover illustration is another, but selling the book is something else again. This is where most self-published authors fall down, I think. After family and friends have bought the title, it is pretty much dead.

    What I’ve discovered over the last eight years is just how easy it is to write a press release, phone up the local papers, talk to local bookshop proprietors, produce posters and badges, and sell beyong my immediate friends and family. And the more I do it, the more confident I feel about doing it again.

    Thanks, Darryl, for flagging up these issues, and for dedicating a third of your film to me.

  11. jmaxon says:

    My only issue is that anyone can become self-published, and there are a lot of people who think they can write. Not to say they don’t have a good story, but when you get a large number of poorly written novels, it can lower the prestige of the service. Traditional publishers give readers the confidence that they are not getting into a hack writing story.

    That said, I totally agree that traditional publishers are too limited on what they will take. They won’t even look at you if you haven’t gotten anything published before. It’s like graduating from college only to be told you don’t have any experience, so they won’t hire you.

    Darryl, your books are excellent and much better than many traditionally published books I’ve read, but when it comes to quality and self-publishers, not everyone is up to par.

    Just my $0.02

  12. Darryl Sloan says:

    I think people feel they should be able to make an impulse-buy and know that the book they are buying is somewhere between average and brilliant, which is the sort of confidence you have with traditionally published books. Mix self-published books into the pile, and the dice rolls anywhere from abysmal to brilliant. And thus we have the understandable stigma.

    I guess, all I can say as a reader is, been there, done that, learned a valuable lesson: Don’t impulse-buy. 🙂

    I prefer to try and rub a little caveat emptor into people’s attitudes, instead of condemning the nature of self-publishing. You can usually tell whether a writer has any talent by reading the first page or two of any book. As for online purchases, if there’s no free excerpt, forget it. That’s how I operate as a reader, and it usually steers me clear of the “stinkers.”

  13. Emma Newman says:

    This is the first time I have ever commented on a blog! I stumbled across your video on YouTube about your thoughts on self-publishing and I really enjoyed it. Not only because it was nice to hear a calm, reasonable person talking about self-publishing this way, but also because of the great accent ;o)

    I am getting everything geared up for publishing my first novel, after no less than three years of lovely rejections. That may seem odd but I’ve had lots of compliments from agents and publishers, but no cigar. So it’s time to go it alone. It is also post-apocalyptic in setting, but sounds quite different to yours (which is now on my Christmas list!).

    Hmm, I’m rambling, so I’ll conclude with thanks for the video – it cheered me on in a dark moment of doubt.

  14. Darryl Sloan says:

    Thanks, Emma. I’m glad you found my video useful. Good luck with your own venture into self-publishing. It’s difficult and fraught with pitfalls, but can be well worth it.

    Hope you enjoy Chion.

    Keep in touch.

  15. Darryl, I’m fascinated by your bullish perspective on self-publishing. I’ve got to say I’m not swayed enough yet actually to give it a go.

    However, from what I can tell, you’re probably making as much money from your work as someone with a a publisher’s contract – given that most authors’ sales don’t ever pay out their advances.

    Probably the most persuasive argument you make is that it spares one the indignity of being rejected by some editorial assistant with an MFA on which the ink is still wet who’s on the lookout for the next Da Vinci Code clone.

    However, Chion is actually good (I downloaded it and took a look) so you’ve been spared the indignity of having your work roundly ignored by eBay users.

    Having said all that, I’m very pleased to see someone doing it themselves and doing all right at it.

    Graham.

  16. Darryl Sloan says:

    Hi, Graham. Thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed Chion.

    The notion that all great fiction ends up published is a fantasy. The magnificent Dune was rejected by 23 publishers before finally been accepted by a small one. Look what we would be without if Frank Herbert had decided “That’s enough” at 23. What many people hail as the greatest science fiction novel of all time would be gathering dust in a drawer somewhere.

    Who knows what gems we are without, because this very thing has happened to writers, and we no nothing about them.

    On the flipside, that also means that all self-published fiction is not rubbish by default. I, for one, am glad this avenue of publication exists.

  17. Just staying with the genre, Joe Haldeman says, in the introduction to ‘The Forever War’, that he was rejected 19 times before he got the acceptance. Orson Scott Card had a similar struggle with ‘Ender’s Game’.

    The idea that ‘all great fiction ends up published’ is unprovable either way. I’m happy to believe many good authors throw in the towel before their 23rd rejection. I’m happy to believe that many go well past 23 rejections and still don’t get published. I’ve often blogged myself about what a lottery the whole publishing business is and how maddening and frustrating it is for a writer.

    The only real issue for me is the cost vs risk equation. Do I stand more chance of minimizing my maximum loss by looking for a publisher or by doing it myself. At this moment, the equation seems weighted in favour of the publishers. Tomorrow, that might all change.

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