Monday, May 21, 2012

Self-Publishing Myths and My Publishing Story

I've presented the material in this post several times at writer's conferences, but decided to make it more accessible by putting it on my blog.

We've all heard many negative things about self-publishing, usually spoken by people who haven't fully educated themselves on what it and Indie publishing really are. I understand why these people say what they do, and a year and a half ago, I was on their side.

Let me tell my publishing story really quickly, so you know where I'm coming from. I don't bring this up very often, and mainly because I don't feel it's other people's business. :-) But I think it's important for the purpose of this post, and several more I'll be writing later, that you know more about my history.

Once upon a time, I wrote a book and named it The Key of Kilenya. Many author friends told me, "Congrats. You've written your first book. Now go write others; this book won't ever get published. First books rarely do. And if it does, it'll sink." But I didn't give up - I polished and perfected it and learned a great deal. I re-wrote it four times, writing fifteen completely new first chapters until I found the one that worked. I uploaded The Key of Kilenya to Authonomy.com (run by HarperCollins), and it proceeded to gain support there very quickly. It went from being ranked #14,000 to #73 in two months, where a lot of books can take more than a year to move that quickly. It caught the attention of a few rather important people in the publishing community, and was read by three really huge authors who gave me great feedback. Sigh. I can't even tell you who they are without worrying about backlash.

Long story short: I turned down a contract with one of the Big Six and signed with a smaller press, where I'd have more say in content, editing, and the cover. At that time, even the thought of self-publishing disgusted me. However, after staying with that publisher for a year, I started noticing things that really frustrated me about the publishing world, and the mentality behind traditional publishing. The idea that you aren't accepted or recognized or validated as a writer until you have a publisher to back you up. The dishonesty in eBook royalties and marketing plans and promises made that are never fulfilled. Talking with author aquaintances, I found that this was very common in publishing. I discussed my options with close friends, family, and my husband, then made the choice to leave my publisher and go on my own.

As I've said over and over again: self-publishing has been the most liberating, amazing, and wonderful choice I've ever made. (Aside from a couple other life-changing events, such as marrying my husband. :-))

Some of those author acquaintances don't understand my need for freedom in this area. But I've seen how they work: they feel almost naked without a company backing them up. They don't have the confidence in themselves or their work that things won't fail without help from a publisher. They need the validation and the acceptance having a publisher brings. It's like my girlfriends in high school who were always, always in a relationship. If they didn't have a boyfriend all the time, they felt unloved or unneeded.

Publishing takes every type. I'm not here to tell all authors that doing it on their own will work for them. But I do want to open my readers' eyes to the myths that surround being an Indie author.

Myth #1: If I self-publish my book first, that will ruin all hopes for a traditional contract
Wrong. Very, very wrong. More and more publishers are looking to self-published successes to find future best sellers. Amanda Hocking, John Locke, Richard Paul Evans, and many other self-made millionaires became that way before signing publishing deals. The thing is, a publisher is not going to care if you self-published first, especially if your book made it big! You just did a ton of footwork they won't have to repeat. You're coming to them with a proven track record. And if you did it with more than one book, they'll be especially eager to take you on as a client. Authonomy.com was put together by HarperCollins as a way to see which books rose to the top, giving HarperCollins the opportunity to offer contracts to already-successful authors. (Authonomy is NOT considered self-publishing. You upload your work to receive critique and be voted on.) Publishers find authors in many different ways, including searching out successfully self-published books.

Myth #2: This eBook self-publishing thing is a fad. After a while, people will stop and will go back to traditional publishers
I've heard this said many times by fellow authors. Something I've noticed, however: a lot of them, even while repeating this myth, have a look of self-doubt on their faces. They aren't sure if this myth is true or not, but really hope it is because they're working so hard at getting the approval of publishers. They don't want that hard work to have been wasted. My answer is this: Indie publishing is in no way a fad - too many are successful at it. You can't go back on technology. Music will never again revert to cassette tapes or eight-tracks. And even CDs are no longer the method of choice for obtaining new music. EBooks aren't going anywhere, and so long as they, and the companies behind them, exist, Indie publishing will always be a popular and successful alternative to traditional publishing. Read Nathan Bransford's article, The Biggest Challenges in the New Era of Publishing, to understand what I'm talking about. It's a great article. :-)

Myth #3: No floodgates equals too much bad stuff
I feel like this argument has been beaten to death, but I keep hearing it brought up, so apparently the answer hasn't been loud enough. Bad stuff doesn't get talked about, unless it's really, really bad. Readers won't tell other people to read a book that isn't up to par - they spread the good things they find instead. Readers are the watchers now.

Myth #4: Quality will drop, badly affecting books everywhere
Again, stop beating a dead horse. :-) In order to succeed as a self-published author, you have to put up quality books. And I've read MANY traditionally published books that should never have been published. Bad stuff has always existed. People forget about it and move on to the good stuff.

Myth #5: Self-publishing is really just vanity publishing
Definition of Vanity Publishing: paying a publisher to print your book. When you self-publish, yes, you're dishing out money, but it's not to a publisher. You're paying editors, cover artists, and sometimes formatters, trying to put out the best book possible. Self-publishing can be considered vanity if someone puts something up without working over it or hiring an editor. They only do it because they want to say they're published. But again, who cares about those books, and who cares about those authors? Hardly anyone will read 'em.

Myth #6: Self-publishing is a last resort
More and more I'm running into people like me who left the promise of traditional publishing to pursue things on their own, knowing they'd do a better job. Does that sound like a last ditch effort? It sounds proactive, to me. :-) In the past, self-publishing really was the last option for authors who'd tried everything. But now, being an Indie author is many writers' first choice.

Myth #7: Self-publishing is a get-rich-quick scheme
If this were true, it would only attract a certain type of people. Those who get involved in pyramid companies. The truth is, self-pubbing is very hard, honest work. Even the stories of people who make millions by self-publishing sometimes skim over the fact that these are authors who've written their entire lives and who've worked their tails off to get where they are.

Myth #8: People do it because it's easier
*Choke* *Gag* *Cough* Did you say, it's easier?!?!? Psh! Whatever! Both traditional and self-publishing have ups and downs and require a lot of very, very hard work! I'd say it's easier on the emotions - I know I'm fully in charge, and if things fail, they're more likely to have failed because of me. Not because someone somewhere dropped the ball by not following through on promises or contracts. Or made blatantly wrong choices regarding book covers, marketing, genres, etc., for their clients' books. Nearly every author I've ever met eventually mentions huge mistakes their publisher has made. Read The Insider's Guide to Getting Published by John Boswell (formerly titled The Awful Truth About Publishing) to get a better idea of all the ways publishers--big and small--go wrong where authors and books are concerned. You should be familiar with these blunders, regardless of which route you choose to take, because they will affect you.

Myth #9: The Success Wave has ended. If you weren't on the train when Amanda Hocking, Karen McQuestion, Joe Konrath, Blake Crouch, Selena Kitt, etc., were, you've missed your chance
NOT. :-) The "Success Wave" has not ended. EBook and eReader sales more than double every year, and this growth won't stop for a very long time. As a matter of fact, last year, Amazon announced it sells more Kindle books than paperback and hardcover combined (free Kindle downloads not included). And that was just last year - who knows how big the margin is now. One of my favorite questions to ask at writer's conferences is this: "How many of you own and use an eReading device?" Most of the time, only ten to fifteen percent say they do. I then ask them how many of their friends and family members use eReaders. It's roughly the same percentage. But it's evident that eBooks and eReaders have a lot of room to grow, especially as more books are available only in digital format.

The point of my post: the stigma that used to go with self-publishing is fading. Honestly, readers don't care where their books come from, so long as the book is good and they get their hands on it. I didn't even know the names of publishers until 2008, when I started writing. And I was a voracious reader: finishing a book every single day during my childhood and teenage years. There are many people out there like me, who are just searching for their next favorite book.

Help them find you - upload your books and make money while (if) you search for a traditional publisher.

13 comments:

  1. I love this! Well said, Andrea. And I agree with you. The first time someone reacted to my first book with, "Oh, you Self-Published?", I decided then and there that I was NOT going to be embarrassed about it. I take pride in the fact that I took a story that I worked hard on and believed in and made its publication a reality. I think this makes me pro-active (just like you said). And, I like to think that I'm setting an example for my kids in showing them that you can't always wait for your dreams to come true; sometimes you have to MAKE them come true.

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  2. Fantastic post! Like you, I've gone indie and I couldn't be happier with my choice. More and more self-pub authors are going to be successful because of the simple fact that more and more very serious authors are jumping into indie. With both feet. :)

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  3. Stacy and Susan: I'm sooo excited to meet more Indie authors! And yeah, self-publishing is so much fun and so very worth it! We're taking on the publishing world in stride, making others realize there are so many ways to be successful!

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  4. Yay for self publishing! Great post. I love being independent and everything that comes with it. And yes, it's a lot of work but it's exhilarating!

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    1. So very exhilarating! The possibilities are endless! :-)

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  5. Really good information. I look forward to your upcoming articles.

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    1. Thanks - I'm excited to write them!

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  6. Sue sent me over. ;) Great post! I laughed comparing those who need a publisher to the girls who always have to have boyfriends. I'm certainly not one of those girls, but I do like the comfort of having a publisher behind me while I'm learning the business.

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    1. I totally understand - I was the same way! :-)

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  7. Thank you for your very informative post. It gave me a lot to think about!! I love your books and so do many other people, so you must be doing something right! ;) Keep it up!!

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    1. Aww, Sheila, thanks! You are such a wonderful woman.

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  8. Hi. I've come over through the Author's Think Tank to say hi. This is a topic of great concern to me, so I thank you for the candid information.

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