Tuesday, 3 April 2012

E-Pub or Hang On For a Traditional Publisher?

Alison Morton has written a blogpost about the dilemma facing her and many other writers: at what point do you give up on the traditional route of agent/publisher, and go for self-publishing?

There are some people who will always want to go the traditional route. There are some people who will plunge straight into self-publishing. Often, both these groups can be disparaging or dismissive about the other choice of direction.

I think the polarisation is unfortunate and not particularly helpful. Every writer will make choices dependent on their personality, their opportunities, their wallet, the free time available to them. What suits me may not suit you - and if we were all the same, what a boring world it would be.

I think each writer should instead ask themselves what really matters to them...

Prestige or validation:
You need a traditional publisher, preferably one of the Big 6. This may change in the future, but right now it's true. Having said that, your friends and family probably won't know any different, but you will in your heart and this is about what matters to you not them.

If you go into writing with the sole aim of making money then you are deluding yourself. There is a very small percentage of writers who make more than the national average wage, but writing is not the route to riches unless you are incredibly lucky. JK Rowling and Joe Konrath are exceptions, not the rule.

There are some self-publishers who are making serious money, easily as much as they would from going the traditional route. However, they are not in the majority and most self publishers consider themselves successful if they earn more than a few thousand. A traditional publishing deal will almost certainly be for more than a few thousand, and an agent should be able to sell other rights. But until you get a deal you're going to get nothing...

Getting the book 'out there':
Self-publishing without a doubt. You can be up and running via Kindle or Smashwords in a very short time. Print on demand (eg Lulu.com) means you can hold your book in your hot little mitts even if it's the only copy that ever gets printed.

Again, self-publishing is the way. You have very little control in the traditional route. This way you get to choose the design, how it's marketed and promoted, what price it sells at - everything is up to you. You get none of this with the traditional route.

Writing time:
Self publishing means you have to do a lot of stuff in front of a computer screen that isn't about writing your book and, in the tradition of 'you don't get something for nothing', you have to do a lot more than you originally bargained for. Editing. Cover design. Typesetting. Book design. Admin. This leaves less time for writing.

With the traditional route all the technical and production aspects are taken care of, and a lot of the promotion (though writers are expected to do a lot of promotion themselves).

Personally I know that I'd quite like to have a go at e-publishing one book maybe, but I don't have the interest/patience to do much more than that. I certainly don't want to run a small publishing business. But that's my choice. No reason why it should be yours.

PS Sorry this is late - I completely forgot. Oops.


Pauline Barclay said...

A very interesting article and all I can relate to having self publsihed 3 books. Thanks Sarah.

docstar said...

Disappointed you speak of e-pub as if it were self-pub. You should know better.

Susan May said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan May said...

I review books for a US magazine Recently, I have reviewed several books self-published and also published through small independant publishers. All of these books had been through freelance editors and copy editors (the self-published books) and I presume also the independant publisherbooks.
I was dismayed with these books. The quality was below average as far as pacing and characterisation and general storyline. Whilst I have read many books from the Big publishers that were not fantastic, I have not read books that clearly needed editing as desperately as these.
In my opinion and, my opinion being that of a reader and a reviewer, these books were not ready for publication.
The new world of easy epublishing has created a huge amount of these independant publishers and I think it is difficult for an author desperate to have their book published to turn away from them. However,I would suggest, after to investigate very carefully an independant publisher's stable of writers.
I would first read several books by their authors looking at the quality of editing and promotion they offer, before I signed a deal.
The goal of a writer should be to produce the best work that they can and I think if you publish before your work is ready, no matter how satisfying it becomes a disservice to yourself and to the industry.
I am to the point now, where I will not review a book unless it comes from one of the big guys because I a reader before I am a reviewer. And to read book after book and not enjoy them is a very demotivating thing.
My suggestion is to really do your homework with your move into publishing. Thanks for a great article.

Anonymous said...

You do a brilliant job providing all of us with free information and help.

Take no notice of negative comments

Thanks so much,

Sarah Duncan said...

Pauline - thanks. Did you find that you got from self publishing what mattered to you?

Docstar - Self publishing may include epublishing, print on demand, traditional litho printing etc. It's not the format that counts, it's the fact that the writer acts as publisher and is in charge of all decisions (plus paying for anything required eg editing up front).

If you sign with a publisher who is not yourself then you are not self publishing, you have a publisher. They may be a print only publisher, an e only publisher or publish in both print format and electronically.

The important distinction is between self publishing and publishing. It is not the means by which the text is presented to the reader.

Susan - I have seen several press releases from new publishers which appear to offer terms not too far from the old vanity publishers. Even when people are setting up publishing houses with the best possible intentions there is still no guarantee of quality - your advice to check out their previous books is spot on. Thank you for a really helpful and informative comment.

docstar said...

"Self publishing may include epublishing"

Of course. Any publisher - self, indie, or trade - can have both print or epubs. But to use "epub" as if it were the same as "self-pub" - which is what you did in your title - is misleading to many newbies. And you are discussing self-publishing, are you not?

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

Thanks for this enlightenment, Sarah. I lose sleep over this beastly question. I almost went the Kindle route, but decided my work wasn't ready, and held back. I'm glad I did hold off, for reasons too long to post here, but the nitty gritty is that a writer needs that professional green light, really, to be confident about putting out a quality product.
E-pub is best used for authors who want to give their back list a boost, or publish new editions, or beef up their promotion, but I think for debut authors it can be full of pitfalls. You are spot on, as usual.

Philip C James said...

Sarah's title is spot on because I suspect most people faced with the dilemma of which road to travel are thinking of self-publishing as e-publishing.

Self-publishing has always been around but it's been hard work and not for the faint-hearted.

What we are seeing is the advent of disruptive technologies in the book publishing market in the form of the support for e-publishing. There are analogies from elsewhere of course - the powerful yet inexpensive music studio software suites that allow a 'professional' product to be approached by the diligent and detail-focused yet without the need of a professional recording studio and infrastructure, etc.

Disruptive technologies are the equivalent of the ancient Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times." Publishers, authors, readers are going to have to learn whole new ways to distinguish quality in the explosion of diverse propositions offered in the market place. Ultimately, quality will count (and that means something different of course to a literary reader as to someone in an airport lounge) no matter how it is delivered but we'll have to live through a turbulent period to get to the other side...

After all, the Big Six weren't born overnight and the new marketplace will see success, failure and consolidation before it sees maturity.

Thought-provoking post, Sarah, and I've come to agree with you. Neither 'side' should denigrate the other (it only happens I suspect because, having chosen a route, many feel the need to justify their decision, not least to themselves...)

And don't worry about the late post. I for one am only occasionally here at 06:30 in the morning waiting for it to drop into my inbox! :)

docstar said...

"Sarah's title is spot on because I suspect most people faced with the dilemma of which road to travel are thinking of self-publishing as e-publishing."

Which is precisely why people who should know better need to be precise in the terms they use.

Giles Diggle said...

An interesting post, Sarah. For me at the moment, self-publishing in eformat is about out of print back catalogue.

Regarding new work, and I have thought about it long and hard, I worry about the editing process and therefore have decided against self-publishing ebooks for just now, but I keep this under review.

I think there might be a tipping point where the printed book market becomes so contracted that it will be almost impossible to penetrate.., and then there may be no alternative.

The ebook market will also mature and much of the self-published "dross" will become more easily recognizable and will be ignored by the reading public. What role mainstream publishers play in this, I wait to see. Much depends on the profit on the profit margins I guess,

As always, the thing is to keep on writing and enjoy the process.

Lizzie Lamb said...

Another great blog post Sarah. I enjoy opening my email in tray each morning to see what you've written about. I have passed your blog details over to many of my yet-to-be-published friends (most of whom are in the RNA's NWS) and they all feel the same as I do. Many thanks and keep them coming.

Jim Murdoch said...

The one big thing you’ve missed under ‘Writing time’ is marketing and that is the killer. All the rest are one-off jobs that take a finite amount of time and, if you’re flush, you can pay people to do that stuff but marketing is far more hands on than that especially if the Internet is your primary means of spreading the word and although in theory the whole world has access to your book the reality is that you end up promoting your book to a considerably smaller group of people because we all read each other’s blogs and are friends with each other on Facebook. I belong to a couple of writer’s groups on Facebook and one has a real problem with people constantly plugging their books and I made a comment at one point to the effect that they’re only marketing to the same six hundred people most of whom are in the same position as themselves, run off their feet trying to flog their own books and with ever-growing to read piles. These are the wrong people to try and sell to. Yes, one or two might be willing to take a free copy to plug but they’re probably only doing that so that in a few weeks you’ll return the favour not that there is any guarantee of that because I have a couple of authors whose books I reviewed (twice and three times as I recall) who politely declined review copies of my latest novel.

I chose self-publishing because of health considerations. When I first started out I was quite ill and even though I’m much improved I simply don’t have the energy to do what a traditional publisher would expect from me because just because you have a traditional publisher doesn’t mean you can sit back and just be a writer, you know that; you have to get out there and meet people. I can’t cope with that besides I write literary novels and apart from Salt that probably means going for a small press who are only one step up the food chain from self-publishing anyway. I’ve thought about it but that alone gets me into enough of a panic to put me off.

I made a lengthy comment on Alison Morton’s blog but I ended it saying that what I think needs to happen is for people to drop the ‘self’ in self publishing. It’s like books by black authors or gay writers or women—why drawn attention to the fact that the book fits into a sub-class. There is writing, good, bad or indifferent. And the same goes for publishing. I’ve seen my printer’s name on traditionally published books and so the quality of the product is identical; the only difference is the quality of the writing and, let’s face it, a lot of traditionally published books are crap too. There are no guarantees in this life.

Gilli Allan said...

Another element in the
traditional versus self-publishing route, is the one I face. Having been
published, back last century, and knowing I write to a publishable standard,
I have become tired of bashing my head against brick walls 'because my books
don't fit' the mould the gatekeepers want to fill.

So I decided to self-publish TORN around this time last year.

These days I possibly/probably could now find an e-publisher for my next
book, Life Class. In many ways I'd like one. It would take some of the
promo and marketing burden off my shoulders. But I had an e-publisher,
Lysandra Press, and they folded. It took them 9 months to let me know they
were offering me a contract. Then another six before they told me they were
folding and the rights in my book, Life Class, would revert to me.

I contacted another e-publisher recently and was told there would be a yet
another two month wait at least before I am likely to hear if they are
interested in seeing the more than the first few chapters.

I am not saying that is unreasonable. It is nothing, I know, in the world of
mainstream. But my book is virtually ready to go now. I have already
wasted years. I do not want to waste any more time.

Alison Morton said...

Good heavens, Sarah! I didn't know my post (http://alison-morton.com/blog/2012/03/31/self-publishing-total-confusion-for-a-newbie-writer/) would spark such an interesting discussion.

This is a topic that resonates with many writers, both published and yet to be published writers. I do wonder if some kind of quality mark/validation process will emerge for self-published/independently published work. Just a thought.