I want to direct you to an excellent post on Kim Strickland’s (@acitymom) website. In a nutshell Kim examines the review practices of Publishers Weekly. They have a service where self-published authors can submit their books to them for $149 to get them “listed” in a supplement to its regular magazine. Then they pick those few self-published books that have “merits” to review, but needless to say that very few of these books survive this review process. I only have two things to add to Kim’s great post.The first is that for $149 you can buy promotion time in some of the major book blogs and/or coordinate this with a KDP Select free giveaway of your book. This seems to me more cost-effective and more sensible than risking that your book be torn to shreds by people who have a very strict idea of what constitutes a worthwhile story.The second is that if an author is publishing by the traditional route, that if fine with me. But once an author has self-published, it perplexes me why said author would pay good money to have a chance, no matter how improbable, to obtain the approval of one of the bastions of the traditional publishing establishment. The whole point of self-publishing is to circumvent the old order. You have stepped over the line, you are in the new frontier, and you are taking your book directly to the readers! Why go back groveling for the approval of the old establishment?
Jonny Geller (Twitter handle: @jonnygeller) the literary agent & MD of Curtis Brown books decided he would share a few of what he calls "publishing euphemisms" which he tweeted recently under the #publishingeuphemisms hashtag. Very soon other people piled on, and what emerged is a glimpse of what goes on behind the doors of publishing houses. What is said is in quotes, and what it really means or what they think it means is after the "=" sign:
"This is too British for the American market" = I have no idea what this is about
"There is such excitement in-house" = my assistant loved it.
"All our focus is on the paperback"= the hardback tanked.
"Multi-layered" = too many characters.
"Extraordinary breadth" = too many scenes.
"Epic" = too long.
"Desperate to buy it but marketing/sales just couldn't see it"= why did you send me this?
"Well-researched" (for fiction) = maybe try writing nonfiction
"Sadly we are publishing a similar book to this next spring"= it too has a beginning, middle and end.
"I enjoyed the book so much, i finished it, even though I shan't be making an offer"= I read the first & last chapter.
"This novel is too commercial for our list"= I could have written it.
"This is too literary for our list" = it's boring.
"Though, at times, an exhilarating read, I found the tone of the novel to be uneven" = hysterical nonsense.
"The novel never quite reached the huge potential of its promise" = your pitch letter was better than the book.
"The manuscript is nearly finished" = I'm up to chapter 3.
"I don't quite love it enough" = I fell asleep reading it!
"A compulsive read" = I've got insomnia.
"I just don't love the book ENOUGH" = I hate it.
"Genre-busting" = Unmarketable but another editor pissed me off recently so I'll recommend it to them.
"My muse" = the poor sod I plagiarized.
"You should hear back from us in January" = of 2015.
"I didn't feel enough empathy w/ characters." = I suspect author may be nut job.
"Laugh-out-loud funny" = it might just make you smile, once.
"You might consider reworking the opening section" = you spelt your name wrong.
"You have a unique world view" = you are totally bonkers and probably the next Unabomber.
"It's not one for us.'" = I'm glad to get this pile of old tosh off my desk.
"The author is highly promotable" = the author is smoking hot.
"Just a couple of tiny changes needed." = I'm about to send you 27 pages of edits.
"It's a new classic." = same as an old classic but the names are changed and it probably has vampires.
"I couldn't put it down!" = the printer used cheap glue on the spine.
"We're expecting the trade paperback to do better" = uh oh start thinking about writing the next under a pseudonym.
"We have a very strong online campaign for your title" = we're using all the inhouse blogs/newsletters but not spending $.
"Complex thriller" = even the editor had trouble following the plot but you love the author don’t you?
"Literary-commercial cross-over" = has a plot but not too many adverbs.
I want to state first of all I am not a sour puss. I like humor, and I like dark humor even better. I can understand that people under stress make up their own inside jokes. In fact I was surprised the following old standby was not included: "You manuscript is both good and original" = the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good. But I want to say the following: From my perspective these people hold the hopes and dreams of thousands of authors in their hands. I recognize they are burdened with the impossible job of judging whether the many manuscripts that pass through their hands are good enough for publishing, and I sympathize with them; really. However, whether they think about it this way or not, their job is to squash the majority of these hopes and dreams. We will never know how many talented authors who deserved to be published were denied entrance through these gates and whatever became of them. So if you think about it this way it's not funny anymore. But I understand. It's a business; only a few make the grade. And it's a tough job; somebody's got to do it. Fine, I get it. And until recently if you wanted to publish you had to go through this gauntlet and your book would have probably provided more fodder for some of these inside jokes.However, now all that has changed. With self-publishing and the e-book revolution we can bypass these gates, these gatekeepers, and these jokes. We can take our work directly to the readers and let them decide whether our work meets their expectations. Finally: Why did the self-published book cross the road? Because it was too original and subtle for the side of the road it was on. Now, that's funny! : ^ D ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
Michele's post may be restricted to the particular case of an Indie store event coordinator/marketer, but she makes some broad generalizations that I wish to address. Self-published books are a market. In every market you find good items and bad ones, you just have to sort through them. How do you decide which one is good? In the old days an editor would decide that. This seems to be the frame of mind that Michele has. I think this is why she is so judgmental when she says most self-published books suck. In the new model the editor is no longer the gatekeeper, it is the reader who makes this decision. This leads to the question of how to distinguish between a book that does not sell because it is considered "bad" by readers, and a book that does not sell because it is not visible to enough readers. I have just self-published a book of short stories, The Sun Zebra, and it is not selling as well as I would like. The writers that I admire and respect who have read the stories tell me they liked them, and they have read the book to other people that don't even know me, and those people like the stories, too. I have made a great effort to correct aspects of the plot and grammar in the stories. Like many other writers, I know my book may not be perfect, but it doesn't "suck". The problem I (and many other writers) have is marketing. If only we could make our books more visible, I am willing to bet that more people would be willing to buy and read them. And if they do, they would find they like them. I am sorry that Michelle had such a bad experience but she can hardly fault self-published writers from trying their best to promote their books. After all, it's a jungle out there. Pushy? Rude? Self-absorbed? Maybe, but don't we have a saying that "The squeaky wheel gets the grease?" If you don't love your book, if you are not willing to push it and cross all those hurdles, who will? I believe in good manners, and respect towards others, but sometimes "nice" becomes synonymous with "ignorable", and that is bad for marketing. To Michelle and her bookstore I have two pieces of advice. The first advice is: Set filters. State, for example, that you will not even consider taking a look at a book unless it has gathered so many 5 star reviews from other authors, or sold so many copies, or unless the author has a mailing list of so many people, or a blog with so many hits, or a presence in social media with so many followers, etc. This will reduce the flood of self-published authors knocking at your doors and will only let through those willing to work hard to market their books and find an audience. The second advice: Stop thinking in terms of whether the story is good enough for editors to read and start thinking in terms of whether it will be the sort of story that normal people would like to read. Normal people don't have a tenth of the grammar and writing skills of editors. What is important for an editor may not be important for a normal person. The grammar, the formatting, the cover, and even the plotline and characters can be changed to make them better, but what is paramount is the story itself and how it speaks to readers. That is the soul of the book, without it the book is nothing and no editor can improve upon it regardless of whether the book is self-published or not.I want to thank everyone who left a comment on this controversial thread.Phanto
I recently read this on the comment thread of an article about reasons not to self-publish and I thought I would share it with you here. It was by a person called "Michelle". ***
I work as an event coordinator/marketer for an independent bookstore that has been inundated in recent years with self-published authors looking for shelf space and store events for their books. We get – and I am not exaggerating – between 400 and 500 requests a year from self-published authors asking us to stock and promote their book. On a slow week, we get 5-10 requests; on a busy week we’ll get 20.
If you ask most indie bookstore event coordinators about self-published authors, you will probably see some combination of eye-rolling, teeth grinding, or derisive laughter. Self-published authors are the bane of our existence. There are so, SO many would-be self-published authors that would do well to read this piece, and read it thoroughly. And then second-guess their decision to self-publish. But I know they won’t.
Why do I loathe (most) self-published authors? Here’s why. And I’m saying all this so maybe – MAYBE – there’s a self-published author out there who will read this and then understand what they are up against when it comes to marketing their self-published book through their friendly neighborhood indie bookstore.
1. Their books suck. There is no other way to say this. Bad writing, bad grammar, bad spelling, bad plot/character development, bad subject matter, etc. Don’t even get me started on do-it-yourself cover art. The book is bad. It’s bad. That’s why it couldn’t get published by a traditional publisher. But you can’t tell the self-published author of this monstrosity that their book is substandard and unsellable. Because they would act like you’ve just told them their brand-new firstborn child is ugly. Hey, I get it. You put a lot of work into this thing, and you ended up with an ugly baby. But that doesn’t change the baby’s looks, or the book’s ability to sell.
2. 90% of self-published authors are rude, pushy, completely self-absorbed, and relentless. This is my BOOK! It’s my MASTERPIECE. How dare you say it is not worthy of being stocked in your store, unless I pay for consignment?? How dare you, to not jump up and down and beg me to do an event for this book – even though I am not really from around here, I have no friends, and the book has only a very narrow niche appeal since it’s about my past life experience as a 16th century vampire with a skin condition?? Some of them don’t even bother to pitch the book themselves, but hire some poor hapless “freelance literary agent” to do it for them. Then relentlessly prod the “agent” to get them an event. THE BOOK SUCKS. IT’S NOT HAPPENING.
3. Self-published authors show a really appalling level of self-non-awareness. EVERY self-published author thinks they are the next Stephenie Meyer/James Patterson/That Guy on Amazon Who Sold a Million E-Books. EVERY self-published author thinks their memoir about going on a hiking trip to Alaska where nothing particularly dramatic happened is “special” and that “people will love it!” EVERY self-published author thinks they have written the new breakout bestseller, YA sensation, Great American Novel. I hear the same words from the same types of people over and over and over, about how their books are “different.” The books are never different. 50% of them have badly Photoshopped covers and are printed in Comic Sans.
You wrote a book. Congratulations. Let me make this clear. WRITING THE BOOK AND PAYING SOMEONE TO PRINT IT FOR YOU DOES NOT MAKE YOU SPECIAL. If the book is actually good – and in the several thousand requests I’ve processed, I’ve seen three or four that actually were – THAT makes you special. But please, PLEASE stop acting like paying AuthorHouse or Smashwords or any other vanity publisher a few thousand dollars entitles you to anything. It doesn’t. Not the adoration of untold legions of fans. Not the respect and admiration of your local indie bookseller. Not sales from your friends (who 80% of the time, from what I can see, end up with free copies rather than purchased ones). Not attention from local or national media. Self-publishing means that instead of the book manuscript being stuck in a drawer, there’s a 99% chance you’ll end up with boxes of unsold books in your garage. Fewer than 1% of self-published authors sell more than 150 copies of their book.
Please think about all this, self-publishing authors, before you give your credit card number to Smashwords. ***What do you think? Read my reply to this here.
I recently learned about a writer called John Kennedy Toole. He wrote a book called "A confederacy of Dunces" and tried to get it published but kept being rejected. Partly as a result of this he committed suicide. Several years later his mother had a novelist read the book who liked it so much he shepherded it into print. The book made the big time and won a Pulitzer Prize. This is a sad story, especially when you think of all those authors out there on "the grind" experiencing one rejection after another while hoping that some publisher somewhere will find their book "acceptable" for publishing. One can only guess whether within this group of writers there are some susceptible individuals that will consider taking their own lives during a bout of depression. Is there anything that can be done for them? Yes there is! Now there is a great way to get your book out to millions of readers! It's called self-publishing. Yes that's right, no need to kill yourself over being rejected by a publisher. You probably won't win any Pulitzer prizes (and what is the point of winning one if you are dead anyway) but you will certainly earn enough money to buy a realistic replica of one to hang over your fireplace, which as far as I am concerned is just as good!Please check out my first collection of short stories, The Sun Zebra.
If you are considering publishing your book on the Amazon Kindle you may want to be aware of the 9.99 Boycott. This is a movement within the community of Kindle readers that, not only refuses to buy e-books priced above $9.99, but also will assign negative tags to your books with titles such as "outrageous Kindle price", "too expensive for Kindle", "greedy publisher", or "9.99 boycott". And the more your book sells the more these tags are voted on. Some of the boycotters will go as far as leaving one star reviews on your books based solely on the price. What is the point of this? Many people find it insane (some even find it offensive) to have e-books priced the same as regular print books. E-books are much cheaper to produce than print books and, therefore, should be priced lower. Authors like Joe Konrath have argued that the sweet spot for book pricing is around $2.99. Other authors like Amanda Hocking (before she signed her deal with St Martin's Press) have gotten away with books priced higher than that, but still below that magic 9.99 number. Where did this number come from? Apparently when Amazon got started with a Kindle device that cost $400 their sales pitch was that readers could save $20 per book by buying e-books at $10 ($9.99) instead of the hard cover for $30.At first when the print publishers saw the e-book market as a source of additional revenue there was no problem. However, when it became obvious that the e-book market was growing at the expense of the print market, the $9.99 price became a point of contention with the print publishers trying to protect their paper sales. This is a fight that still goes on nowadays. But that magic "9.99" number got fixed in the psyche of Kindle readers spawning such things as the 9.99 movement.
I personally think authors can charge as much as they want for an e-book. However, I will seldom buy e-books priced above $5.99 (it goes without saying that I think that even $9.99 is too much to charge for an e-book). I will not vote for boycott tags or write a review solely based on price (although it is a factor). But I think pricing is a very important thing to consider when publishing your e-book, lest you want to incur in the wrath of the 9.99 Boycott crowd!
Please check out my first collection of short stories, The Sun Zebra.
It has been more than 7 months since author Barry Eisler fired the "shot heard around the world". This was when he walked away from a half a million dollar advance deal (for two books) from St. Martins Press because he figured out he could do better by self-publishing his books.Now that he has published his next thriller "Detachment" it is time to check out how he is doing.
First of all there is one issue. Eisler did not publish his novel. He signed a deal with Amazon which published it for him throwing its marketing muscle behind it. Because of this some people are claiming that the results are not relevant to address the question of whether he is doing better by self-publishing. But the author is not bothered by this. He has made it clear that he is not an ideologue. He is interested in the best deal he can get. With a publisher like St Martins, Eisler would have ended up receiving a royalty of 17.5% whereas Amazon offers him 70%. In addition he retains control of several aspects of the process of publication of this book that are important to him. Eisler expects this difference (17.5% vs 70%), and the fact that virtual books will be on the shelf forever, to be able to make up for the half million upfront payment that was offered to him.
But how is he doing so far? At Joe Konrath's blog Eisler mentioned that "Detachment" went onto the bestseller list, and in just two weeks earned him more than he has earned from some of his previously published print books. In fact when the book was in the preorder stage, he earned more from it than from his previous digital book, "Inside Out", that was published by Ballantine. Finally, it must be pointed out that if he had signed the print deal "Detachment" would not have been published until the spring of 2012.
So, will "Detachment" and his next book eventually make up for that half million upfront payment he walked away from? We don't know yet but I suspect that Mr. Eisler is having too much fun to care!
Please check out my first collection of short stories, The Sun Zebra.
The author Kiana Davenport signed a deal with a division of Penguin Books to publish one of her novels and received an advance. Then the publisher discovered that Davenport had self-published some of her older stories on Amazon. These stories had been published before in several magazines and had even been submitted to Penguin Books which rejected them! However, in Davenport's words, they went ballistic, accusing her of betraying them with a competitor and now they are refusing to publish her novel and demanding that she return the advance. You can read her story on her blog or as part of a New York Times article.This is the sad state of mind of dinosaurs like Penguin Books. By publishing her stories Davenport, if anything, has increased interest in her publications including the projected publication of her novel. Now she has become a victim of the archaic mentality that still has a stranglehold on a substantial portion of the traditional-publishing world.
This should be a cautionary tale for authors who want to self-publish but are also considering print deals.Please check out my first collection of short stories, The Sun Zebra.
A while back I read another article decrying the poor quality of self-published books. Apparently someone who had never bought self-published books before decided to "take a look" and bought a few. The author of the article said she was "horrified" to find poor writing and formatting, typos, and even spelling mistakes. She then went on a rant about how self-published books are lowering the standards and how she will never buy self-published books again.
This happened some time ago and I did not react immediately. I can't remember who the author was and I don't know whether the article is still up on the net. But this article lingered in my mind and only recently did it resurface to annoy me. Today I will respond to it. I have only one thing to say.
It's a market! OK? It's a #%&* market!
I mean, really, when you go to your local market do you brainlessly place items in your shopping cart and buy them without taking a look at them? Then why do you think Amazon or B&N are any different? All markets have products of different quality. If you did not examine the book before buying it, if you just bought it, for example, because it had a nice cover or because it cost only $0.99, then whose fault is it if you find you didn't like it?
To avoid these problems please do these things before buying a book.
1) Check the sample pages. Do not buy the book if the sample pages look lousy.
2) Check the reviews of the book. Do not buy a book with no reviews or a bad overall review.
3) Visit the author's web-site and sample their work. If you don't like the author's writing the odds are you won't like that particular book.
In the self-published world there are no gatekeepers. No editor is going to do the thinking for you. You are the buyer and it is up to you to decide whether the book you are about to buy is good enough for you. Please follow these simple rules and spare us from yet another article about the poor quality of self-published books.
Thank you.Please check out my first collection of short stories, The Sun Zebra.
I often check Joe Konrath's blog because he is a very smart and well-informed, albeit opinionated, blogger. About a month ago he provided a list of the many authors who are successfully self-publishing making his recurring case in favor of this option. Of course with me he was preaching to the choir, but I played devil's advocate and I asked him: don't you think the available data indicates that the majority of self-published writers will not be able to quit their day jobs and live of their writing alone? This was his reply.
"That's the wrong question to ask. The question is: how many writers prior to ebooks could quit their day jobs and live off their writing alone? Answer: not many. Out of the hundreds of writers I know, less than ten percent can make it without supplementary income. If I discount bestsellers, the number is much smaller--I just happen to know a lot of bestsellers. I'd wager that more writers can make more money self-pubbing than legacy-pubbing."
Although I will not take Joe up on this wager anytime soon, I don't think this question will be resolved effectively due to the multiple variables involved in the comparison. Nevertheless, I do believe there is a fundamental asymmetry in self-publishing compared to legacy publishing that tilts the scales in favor of the self-published writer. In legacy publishing you compete with other aspiring writers for acceptance by a publisher, and if they take you, then you compete against other published writers for readers: in other words, a double hurdle. However when you self-publish the first hurdle is gone, and you are left just with the task of reaching your readers.
What do you think?