The E Debate

I’ve been researching and listening to lots of debate recently with regard to the argument that self publishing would never be the preferred route to go, if given the choice of a traditional publishing deal. It seems the more and more I hear, the curiouser and curiouser the debate becomes.

Let’s face it – if any of us unpublished writers were truly given that choice today, right now, this morning, we would more than likely grab the publishing house, the editor and the future relationship that they bring. We would grab it firmly by the cojones, take it back home, cuddle it under our duvet and never let it out of our sight. We would announce to the world that we are in bed with Harper Collins, Orion, whoever... We would break out the bubbly that's been chilling for years, waiting for our overnight success, and we'd find it hard to wipe the smile from our face. Or would we?

Because it does seem that more and more people are actually making the other choice. Yes, choice. The choice thing has been quite a shocker to me. What? Proper writers really want to do this? I, like many, have always seen the self publishing option as a last resort. The stigma attached to it, I believed, would only ever see me as someone who had to publish their own novel. However, now, having looked into it, discussed it, raped and plundered the world wide web for information, read some really informative books on the subject , I now believe, that just like has happened in the music business with digital downloads, the tide is possibly turning in the publishing industry.

I’ve found several successful writers and by that, I mean writers of good books, who have found success by making the choice to self- publish. I’m not just talking about the John Lockes of this world or the Amanda Hockings - though their experience is uplifting – I mean people who walk and talk in our world, people we know out there in the blogosphere. (Hi Talli, Mel, Catherine)

So why? Why are people choosing the route? And what will happen to the industry if the trend continues? My worry is that the digital world will be overrun with books of questionable writing and this IS a problem. During my own research, I downloaded some books that had never seen a proper edit, had fairly dodgy covers and honestly, I could not read past page three or four. However, I’ve also downloaded some fabulous reads and believe that good writing will win out. Readers are a discerning lot and very capable of finding books that interest them, whether that be via a traditional method by browsing through a bookstore, or choosing an ebook. (Plus, the Amazon ability to ‘try before you buy’ often allows you to download that first few pages, which does stop a few buying errors.)

It’s clear that if you are contemplating self publishing, the worst thing to do is to consider it a last resort, and just upload those old manuscripts you have lying around. Instead, consider yourself an entrepreneur, launching a new business that has to work. You have a product you love and have faith in (your manuscript). You believe that the world should share in it. If so, treat it as you would if you’d invented a new wheel. Make sure the R&D (Research and Development) are thorough (i.e. make sure the ms is the very best it can be). Push it through the highest of standard checks (i.e. hire an editor, proof reader), make sure that the packaging will whet the buyer’s appetite (i.e. make sure the cover is one that someone would want to pick up on the 3 for 2 table in Waterstones.)

What are the downsides? Well, apart from the still existing stigma I mentioned above, there is the lack of an agent (though not always) and a publishing house.Those authors traditionally published claim both are vital. Also, there’s no advance, but the much higher royalty scheme should help compensate. Besides, from what I understand advances are not what they used to be, as industry margins come under increasing pressure. As a self published author, you won’t make it to that 3 for 2 section either. High street stores will not stock self published books. You also have to become your own self publicist and a good one at that, but again, I feel that this has changed in traditional publishing and many authors have to do this anyway.

Upsides? More control over your product (though not necessarily a good thing unless you really know what you’re doing). Instant publication i.e. once you’ve written that very best book it can be, had it edited, designed a cover – it takes hours, a few days at most before its out there in the world. So, little or no lag time... Better royalties, assuming of course you’ve done it right and are making sales.

So, bet you’re dying to know. Have I convinced myself? What I do know is that when I started to think about self publishing as an option for me, I didn’t have a clue what a minefield it is and indeed, how much work would be involved. Part of me was thinking ‘Why not just stick it up on Amazon and see what happens?’ WRONG!

Wrong, wrong, wrong at every level.

Either way? If Harper Collins phone and I head to the duvet smiling, or I decide to use Kindle Direct Publishing as a future route, my own new wheel still has a few kinks in it - I still have some work to do on that manuscript...


JO said...

This is interesting - at last we are almost reaching the tipping point (long past in music) where self-published work is as respectable as anything produced by the big publishing houses.

But, while self-publishing opens glorious doors that are kept firmly closed by mainstream publishers, I think we also need to recognise that to do it well involved a huge amount of hard work - and it's not free. we must pay for and editor, proof-read, and good cover. Do not underestimate the hassle of marketing. But it does bring with it an enormous feeling of achievement.

Roderic Vincent said...

Fascinating post, Fi. Until now I've thought of self-publishing as a very poor alternative. I wonder how far your tipping point can tip. As more people download books rather than go to bookshops, will the publisher become invisible and the stigma disappear too?

Fionnuala said...

Hi Jo,
Thanks for commenting. I think self publishing still has a way to go before it commands similar respectability. The only way its going to happen is that if people have something that is first and foremost well written and then they do the work... But times, they are a-changin'
Or are they? C'mon people - this is a DEBATE!

Sandra Davies said...

My several first self-publishing (and never intended to be anything other than self-gratifying) showed up the gaps in my experience and editing. Six books down the line I am proceeding with infinitely more caution AND expecting to do more in the way of getting external assistance. Even of using an Amazon-linked site rather than Blurb. I want (need?) to do my own covers. I recognise too that I am beginning to think it not unreasonable to ask for more than a token payment.
That you think the tipping point approaches (possibly) is ... encouraging.

Debs Riccio said...

I'm feeling the fear and doing it anyway - I think my scary old age has something to do with it!
This here: is a fascinating read and ended with me going all "YEEE-HAAAA!"

Fionnuala said...

Hi Rod,my husband made a point last night and he even had a fancy word for it that I've forgotten, but it was all about the fact that almost every industry nowadays is effectively 'cutting out the middle man'. Crap, wish I could remember that fancy word... Leave it with me!

Roderic Vincent said...

Yes, there are several strata of middle men when it comes to novels. And some editorial consultancies have been trying to insert themselves as yet another layer.

Is there a trip adviser for self published novels? Or does amazon reviewing do the job? I love the way I can check out hotels before I book.

Fionnuala said...

Trip advisor for novels, lol. Amazon review does the job (1-5 star options and readers of ebooks do post a lot of reviews) though there may be a gap in the market there...I'm aware that there's a lot of book review sites/blogs but don't think they're that willing to look at self published options. Anyone else out there know of any?

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Really great post, Fi - made me think. Seems to me that the only crucial thing that's missing from the self-publishing model is that of validation. People are more likely to pick up/buy a book which they know has been chosen by the publishing industry because there's a reasonable chance that that book will have been 'vetted' - and that something about it stood out as excellent, or marketable. Without that filter, we the readers would have to kiss a lot of frogs in order to find the prince (prints?!). But I think this marks the move towards democratisation in the publishing industry, just as the web has democratised so many areas of life. Perhaps this is an invitation to us to become more personally critical and to rely more on our own judgement than being spoonfed by those 'in the know'.

Neil said...

I think there are two separate markets developing - self-published ebooks seem to be the natural place to go for readers who want cheap, easy reading, and aren't too fussed about editorial standards. So, effectively, pulp writing has moved from the rack at the station kiosk to kindle. This kind of fairly disposable writing has always been around and had its share of the market, and why not, if thats what people want?
But for well produced, well-edited books of quality writing the traditonal houses are always going to be a better bet.
And as a writer, I want to write, I don't want the worry of sorting out and paying editors, proof readers, illustrators, promoters, distributors - I want these experts to come along and pay me good money up front for the privilege of taking all this work off my hands.

Talli Roland said...

Great post, and thank you for the shout-out!

I am an author who has chosen to leave traditional publishing and go out on my own. There are pluses and minuses to both models, and being traditionally published first has enabled me to see this very clearly. As JO says in the first comment, there is a lot of very hard work involved in self-publishing, although the element of control is great.

I don't think it needs to be a one or the other scenario, though. In the States, traditional authors are doing both. I hope that happens on this side of the Atlantic, too.

Fionnuala said...

Talli, Thanks for dropping by. Interesting point re the difference between here and the US and the fact the authors do both over there without any stigma attached...

Unknown said...

Fionnuala, the word you're looking for is disintermediation, I think.

I'm a new author who has chosen to self-publish rather than seek traditional publication. And I'm one of the breed who are sinking money into editing and cover design in order to give the reader an experience as close as possible to that of reading a traditionally published book. Better, in fact, because here in the States trad pubs are handling e-book presentation rather poorly at times.

Yes, there are cons. I would love to be able to work with publishing industry professionals and benefit from their experience. But this consideration is outweighed by the thought of being able to produce the book I want to produce, package and price it the way I want, and be free of the pressure to sell ten thousand copies right out of the starting blocks or risk being dumped by my publisher. And I get to keep full ownership of the books I write and decide their future.

And as more and more good self-published writing becomes available, the signs are there that the reviewers and the media are beginning to take notice. I'm waiting for the day where a writer of literary fiction--notoriously hard to get published--brings out a masterpiece without even bothering to submit to an agent.

After all, wasn't that the way things used to be? Didn't Virginia Woolf find freedom to write the way she wanted through self-publishing? Didn't Dickens send what were essentially first drafts for serialization in journals? Yes, a good agent or editor is a boon, but it's really rather patronizing of the publishing industry to assume that all writers need their hands held.

Bill O'Hanlon said...

I have about 30 traditionally published books with big NYC publishing houses such as W.W. Norton, HarperCollins, Penguin, John Wiley and Sons, Pearson, etc. and have had agents.

I do both these days; self-publishing (e-publishing on Smashwords and Kindle; print publishing on CreateSpace) and traditional print publishing.

There are pros and cons with both paths. I am leaning toward the self-publishing route these days, for the long-term profits and always staying published.

But there are benefits to the traditional path; one of which is foreign rights sales. I have done a bit of that with one of my self-published books, but it is hard to do and track.

Money up front is another.

They also got me on Oprah with my book Do One Thing Different. I highly doubt my self-published books would have gotten through that door.

Hazel_Myope said...

I always find dicussions like this intrsting. Part of what I produce erotica and in that genre the tipping poing has definately been and gone. Maybe 18 of the top 20 erotic books on Amazon UK are self published and there only seems to be one publisher, the xcite range of books, that is really doing well. They've done it by cornering the three for a tenner anthologies and the beautiful, well crafted neash with their secret library books.

I can definately see the reast of the publishing world heading that way.