Self-Publishing: My HONEST Take

Whenever I think about self-publishing, I can’t help but think about how Elloras Cave and Aspen Mountain Press (among other epubs) got started.  Now, I might have some of the details wrong, but in essence, both owners started out as a self-pubs because they couldn’t catch a break in NY .  So, they started their own publishing companies.  Years later, both are still in business, Elloras Cave doing better because it has been around longer.  Either way, anyone who has ever signed on with these two publishers, is one degree of separation from a self-published author.

Egads!  Separate yourselves now!  Don’t even look at them.  Indie/self published authors are the pit of the publishing industry.  They wallow in scum because they haven’t had their work vetted by an independent source like an editor.  No way am I even acknowledging their existence.

That was the attitude for a while and in some ways is still alive today.  That was–and I’m ashamed to admit it–my attitude two years ago.  I had the prejudice because I had read some self-published stuff back then and it was like reading a first draft.  In my mind, self-publishing definitely lived up to its horrible reputation.

Everything has changed and so has my attitude.  Not only is it easier–cheaper–than ever to self-publish a book with sites like Smashwords and Amazon’s Create Space, but writers have also gotten smarter.  Well…some of them.  They’re taking their writing careers seriously by hiring someone to professionally design their covers and edit their work.  Even if they can’t afford an editor, but do a so-so job, authors are also pricing their books at $2.99 or less, thanks to the advice from JA Konrath’s blog.  For $2.99, I’m not so shallow that I can’t live with a few mistakes.  All I ask is that they aren’t so prevalent that they take me out of the story.

Now, I’m not saying that self-publishing is a way to get rich, nor should that be your reason for doing it.  You have to love writing.  If you don’t, it’ll show.  Readers are not stupid.  That’s why those who take indie/self-publishing seriously stand a better chance with succeeding in this business.  Also, they never lose sight of it being a business as much as it is a love for storytelling.

Indie/self-publishing is harder because there isn’t a safety net readily available.  You have to create one by hiring the right people to do things like cover art and editing and even that’s not a guarantee that you’ll do well.  The only way to truly measure how you’re doing is by your readership.  If you write great stories, then your readers will follow you regardless of how you’re published.

Oh, and did I mention how supportive indie authors are?  They know they’re fighting an uphill battle, which is why they’re doing it together.  Case in point: Zoe Winters just put out a book based on her experiences as an indie author called Becoming an Indie Author.  She could’ve kept the information to herself, but she decided to share it.  Again, JA Konrath’s blog is loaded with information.  While you’re at it, read Dean Wesley Smith’s blog, too.  I make it a point to read about the indie process because I want as much information as possible before I commit to it.

Yes, you read that right.  Smashwords was my final tipping point because they made it so easy to go from manuscript to novel.  That works for me because it’s more of a chance that my work will end up in the hands of readers.  Plus, I firmly believe that they are the key to success.  Not the publishing company you’re with.  And no, I’m not saying that because I need to justify why I’m not NY pubbed yet.  I’m saying that because I still want to be. Being with NY is a great way to promote an author’s other works that might never get into the hands of readers.   That’s not to say they’re bad, but rather, they don’t fit someone else’s mold.

One of two things are going to happen in 2011.  Either I’m going to self-publish Half Breed when the rights revert back or I’m putting up my paranormal YA on Smashwords.  I love my young adult and have a cool idea for a complete story arc.  I’d like to see it published and get paid for it, even if it amounts to lunch money.  But before that happens, I want to make sure everything I put out is vetted through either an editor or a beta reader.  Speaking of which, I’m on the prowl for one or the other.  Let me know if you know of someone who’s available.  😉

Oh, and here’s something that make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and dance.  LA Banks is self-publishing the first book in a new YA series based on her NY Times bestselling Vampire Huntress books.  I feel sorry for the publisher(s) who didn’t court this series. 

Be honest.  How do you feel about indie/self-publishing?  Do you think it’s time has come?  What do you think the future holds?

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21 thoughts on “Self-Publishing: My HONEST Take

  1. Waving madly about the beta reader! But I warn you, I need a beta reader, too, as soon as I’m done with my next revision, which will be in a week or two.

    Lori Brighton just self-published her YA, The Mind Readers, a couple weeks ago. I’m reading it now, and it’s really good.

    • *squeeeeeeeee wildly* I’ll definitely be in touch, hon. 😉

      I hit up Lori’s website and there it is! I had no idea she self-published a YA, and by the looks of it, it sounds fantastic. Just when I thought I had finished my Smashwords shopping (Dead People and some other short story by this chic named Edie Ramer among other things), you had to mention her book. Now, I’ve gotta go back. Sheesh! 😀

  2. Okay, you have got to be kidding me. The publishers are going to let LA Banks, New York Times best selling author of the 12 book VHL series publish her book? She already has an established readership. Man I wish I had some green, I’d publish it! I’m waving like Edie, if you need a beta reader.

    • Hey babe!! Oh, and I’ll be in touch with you, too. 😉

      Yes, I kid you not. L. A. Banks. She has a readership that landed her NY Times and even had a mini-conference dedicated to the 13th book of her Vampire Huntress series. People would give their right arm to be in an anthology with her name on it. Can you imagine the amount of money she’s going to make on that thing? I certainly can. I had to reread the part on JA Konrath’s blog when he broke the story. Scroll toward the bottom, right here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/12/ebooks-sales-slowing-yes-and-no.html

  3. When I read about LA Banks my first words was YAY and good for her. And since I love the VHL series I am planning on getting my copy once it comes into print.

    Publishing is such a weird business. Personally I don’t see anything wrong with self publishing. There are a lot of authors who are doing it and well.
    Hiring the editors, cover artists and so on to put out the best book they can. That is what it is all about. Not to mention creative control. Like any business you do you have to plan it. Execute it well and strive for a high bar. Readers are savvy enough to know what they want.

    As for Beta reader I’m willing.

    • I’m with you. Though I’m behind her VH series, I don’t care. I’m still getting her YA.

      Like any business you do you have to plan it. Execute it well and strive for a high bar. Readers are savvy enough to know what they want.

      Exactly. If you go indie, you have to treat it like a business and not like a money-making opportunity. The money will come, when authors take the time and opportunity to put out the best product they can. Readers will know and appreciate it too.

      Oh, and we’ll be in touch. 😉

  4. There is far, far more than a single degree of separation between independent publishers and self-pubbed books, IMO. Content editing, copy editing, cover art, ISBN costs, web presence, marketing, formatting, etc. That’s really just the tip of the iceberg.

    I still read lots of self-pubbed books. I have my fave self-pubbed authors, and I’ve found several authors for EC via Smashwords in particular. 🙂 Without question, the biggest issue for me in regards to self-pubbed work is lack of content editing. Many authors don’t consider the fact that spell- and grammar-checking are just the tip of the iceberg.

    Kelli Collins
    Editor-in-Chief
    Ellora’s Cave

    • Hey Kelli! I’m flattered to meet and EC editor here, let alone the Editor-in-Chief. 😉

      There is far, far more than a single degree of separation between independent publishers and self-pubbed books, IMO.

      I agree. Indie pubs do everything that you listed and more to make sure they put out the best book possible. I believe that’s why some of them have stood the test of time. But I’ve also met self-pubbed authors on conference panels who are so serious about their work that they go through the same rigors that independant pubs do to make sure their novel gets the best shot possible. In essence, they treat their self-publishing venture as serious as a indie treats theirs. Like a business. When I decide to self-publish, I plan to do the same.

      Without question, the biggest issue for me in regards to self-pubbed work is lack of content editing.

      I am so with you on that. This is why I had such a prejudice against self-publishing. I know I’m not perfect when it comes to grammar, but even I know the difference between their, there, and they’re. That’s why I want someone who does more than just checks for plotting, characterization, pacing, etc. I need someone(s) whose editing skills include content, too.

      And before I forget, I think it’s awesome that you found EC authors through Smashwords. 🙂 I bet you made their days, months, and years when you approached them. If you don’t mind me asking, who are they so I can be on the lookout for their work?

      • I have three authors writing something for me; I’ll share their names if/when they post (and if/when they’re contracted!). 🙂 Two have used different pens, and so far don’t plan to connect their different names. A bit of a shame, because their self-pubbed work could see a boost in sales (and vice versa) if people knew they were the same author. But I dig it; it’s a personal choice everyone has to make.

        So that leaves the only one I can actually tell you about. Lol! Cora Zane. The first Smashwords book I picked up was My Zombie Ex-Boyfriend, and I thought it was really funny. I wanted a much longer story; it wasn’t as fleshed out as I’d have liked (pardon the pub *groan*), but I certainly saw the potential.

        I find authors everywhere. If someone friends or follows me on Twitter, FB, etc., I check out their site if they have one, read their blogs, download free reads. And oddly, authors are really surprised by that. 🙂

        • I find authors everywhere. If someone friends or follows me on Twitter, FB, etc., I check out their site if they have one, read their blogs, download free reads. And oddly, authors are really surprised by that.

          LOL! I’m never surprisd by things like that because I do the same thing. Not only am I a writer, but I’m also a reader. If someone friends me or follows me, then I go to their website to check out what they’re doing. Even though I’m in no position to offer them a contract, I’m always on the hunt for a good book.

          Speaking of which, I need to buy Cora’s EC book now. Reading the short synopsis alone is enough to intrigue me. I definitely see why you picked her up. Oh, and I’m also adding My Zombie Ex-boyfriend to my list of buys for my next excursion to Smashwords. 😉

          Promise me you’ll let me know who the authors are if/when they contract with you guys. My curiosity is so peaked that I could foam at the mouth with glee. IMHO, any self-pubbed author whose writing is good enough to attract the attention of an editor has the goods.

  5. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it at this point. Zane got really huge after self-pubbing and I have a friend who went that route and landed a NY pub deal. So, whatever works for you is the best thing.

    Oh, and you know I’ll beta. 😉

    • Thanks, Tyhitia. 😀

      Even though I’m not a Zane fan, I wish I had read some of her self-published stuff. It would’ve been interesting to see what her writing was like back then and compare it to now.

      Good writers are those whose craft improves over time. To land a deal as a self-pubbed author says that you had the goods all along and just needed to showcase them to prove it. I admire her (and your friend) for where they’ve come from and where they’re going.

  6. I think the tipping point for me in going Indie was the waiting–waiting for someone else to make a decision about me; waiting for my life to start when I’m already closing in on the end of my third decade; waiting to be told I could “begin.” I’m not a patient person, but somehow managed to “wait” for three years before deciding I wasn’t going to play by anyone’s rules but my own, anymore.

    L.A. Banks is a great person. I sent her an email years ago and she replied with a huge amount of generosity. I had read J.A.’s blog and was sad she felt so let down when her Vampire Huntress novels are such fun reads. I’m happy she’s regaining control of her career.

    • Hey Avery! 🙂

      This is one reason why I’ve done small pubs for so long. I fell into the same line of thought that you had and I wanted some validation–anything–that I was on the right track. At the time, I never would’ve thought self-publishing. Small and e-pub were as “low” as I would go. But over the years, I’ve grown to LOVE small and epub, not just for the affirmation, but for everything they’ve taught me about the writing business. I’ve learned more being with them than I had without them. No matter where my writing career takes me, I’ll always go back to my small and epubs.

      That’s how I see self-publishing. It’s another rung in the ladder that I’m willing to take a chance on now because I’m curious about where my writing could go if it weren’t for gatekeepers. I’ve always felt that if I could reach readers without the middleman, then there was no telling where I could go with my writing. Now, I’m not saying that I’m going to sell a million copies and get rich. LOLOLOLOLOL! Yeah. And Snow White is really my sister-in-law who got swallowed by a book. No, I’m saying that even if I sold 100 copies, (MY magic number) I’d consider self-publishing a success.

      And yes, I agree. LA Banks is one of the coolest, most down-to-earth authors I’ve ever met. I’m glad she’s empowering herself through self-publishing. Yes, this is a new series, but it’s based on her NY Times bestselling series. How can she go wrong?

  7. My honest take? I’m still traditionally published–happily. I love my editors, the covers, and the support I get and have gotten. I have had healthy advances, and I get nice royalty checks. I like WRITING, not doing “all the other stuff.” That said, I will in 2011 put out backlist on Kindle myself, I think.

    But my take on it all is this . . . .

    The people who SUCCESSFULLY self-pub are indie are the SAME people who have the “goods”–however you define that. They are they SAME talented writers who could have or have been pubbed by NY. Not saying they always WERE (some chose never to pursue it, some maybe walked away from NY, some never broke through to get their shot but it didn’t mean they didn’t have “it” . . . whatever it is) . . . they have whatever “it” is. I have gone on Smashwords and read several formerly NY-pubbed authors who are now self-pubbing . . . and I’m aghast how crappy their stuff is. I am with Kelli in that regard. There are some authors/writers who may not THINK they need what editors did or do for them, but man, they need it. I DO mind more than a few typos. I don’t CARE if it’s “only” $2.99. I shouldn’t feel like I am reading amateur hour. And that said, there are writers who ARE that good who are indie–which goes back to my original thought in this paragraph–they are the SAME writers who have “it.”

    And that said . . . look at Konrath, for example. He put in his time learning his craft. After x number of books, he can, in however many weeks, craft a book that delivers what his fans want. He learned how to write a tight thriller or a horror novel. May not be my taste, for example, but he delivers the goods for his fans. Was he able to do that ten or fifteen years ago or 20 novels ago? Probably not. He’s put in his time and learned his craft. Which again goes back to my thought. It’s the SAME writers who CAN and HAVE THE ABILITY to DELIVER.

    Them aside, there are countless (and I truly mean countless) who really just are not talented enough to make it–either as a truly successful indie or in NY or whatever. They have a long way to go. They are of course entitled to publish their books, but then I can publish my laundry list.

    So I am thrilled and excited to see what’s happening in publishing. But I honestly think some of the commotion is silly because in the end . . . it’s the same writers. You either have it and work your craft. Or you don’t. And those are the same rules of the game that have always been there. There’s just a new option that lets people who have “it” publish a new way, and good for them! It’s a wild ride. And the dedicated ones are going to prevail.

    • You either have it and work your craft. Or you don’t. And those are the same rules of the game that have always been there.

      So true!! That’s why I cringe when I hear some writers have only been in writing for a few months before they decide to self-publish. No. No. NO! I’ve been writing for the last ten years and I still have stuff to learn. If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t see my writing getting better with each book I put out. I can’t imagine what it’ll look like ten years from now if I stick with it. I work my craft every chance I get and hope it shows. Am I ready to self-publish? Yes, I’m willing to give it a try and see what happens. But will I jump into it? Heck, no! Any book that I put out there, will be vetted through an editor(s), beta readers, etc. And don’t get me started on collage, stock-art covers. If I can tell it’s stock art, then there had better be a FANTASTIC snippet or free first chapter before I decide to buy.

      One thing I can’t stress enough, and Konrath has already done this, is you have to take this seriously if you want the best chance possible to succeed. You have to treat your book like a business, even if you don’t invest a lot of money to put it out there. Authors HAVE to (and this is not an option if they expect to keep readers) treat their self-publishing careers with the same seriousness as a successful small pub, epub, or traditional pub has. That means taking the time (and money) to make sure they have a good book cover, the editing is on point (plot, characterization, grammar, punctuation, etc.), and a marketing plan. And that’s just for starters. For those writers who have the goods, this is a no-brainer. They are the ones who should be self-publishing.

      As for the $2.99, I don’t have a problem with someone who makes a mistake here and there if they’re selling a book that low. But that’s just me. It’s those who have books for $6.99+ that I expect perfect editing from. Sadly, I still can’t get over my favorite NYT #1 Bestselling author who had a “proobably” in her book priced at $9.99. Self-published or not, I draw the line at ANYONE’S book that’s riddled with so many errors that I need a labotomy for it to make sense. Books like that tell me the author didn’t care, so why should I? My next $2.99 can be put toward a box of Gerber cereal for my kid.

      It’s a wild ride. And the dedicated ones are going to prevail.

      Exactly. Jumping into this for the sake of jumping isn’t going to work. Anyone who has put some time (whatever that is because it may not be the ten years that it took me) to hone their craft and have the “it” factor, will ride the wave.

    • Hey Erica,

      I’m really happy to hear you say this about the “it” people have and having it however one publishes if you have it. That was pretty much how I felt about it. And unlike you I’m such a control freak I think I would have a breakdown if I didn’t have full control of stuff like cover art!

      And thanks for the shout out, Marcia!!

      • NP, Zoe.

        By the way, I just finished reading Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author. A definite recommended read for anyone who wants to go the self-publishing route. No tricks, no frills, no BS. It’s to the point and will probably save a lot of authors some time (and sanity). Thanks for publishing it. 🙂

  8. Zoe:
    I don’t generally want to be involved in all that. My brain doesn’t work that way particularly well . . .. and I have been treated well by NY. I also have had a bird’s eye view of such CRAP being self-pubbed, because people would come to me to be edited . . . I would edit and offer revision letters, and then (I swear) despite spending $$ on editing, I had writers over the years say, “I’m not going to do all this work . . . I’ll just self-publish it.” It was short-cutting inferior writing . . . and some? They were just plain nuts, LOL! But the prevalence of the Kindle now changes EVERYTHING. It offers a new playing field in a broader way (before it, there was little way to distribute and self-pubbing LIMITED writers in a negative way–I felt–depending on your goals). The delusional ones will still self-pub, but there is an “it” factor and it is FUN to see the results now.

    • Wait a sec. Authors have paid you money to give them an honest-to-goodness eval of their books and then they say something like, “I’m not going to do all this work.” WTF?? Pardon my Latin. That should be their first clue NOT to self-publish. OMG. Do you want me to beat those people with a stack of loose leaf? Let me have your honest take and you can bet I’ll take it to heart, to bed, and to hell and high waters. 🙂 If they think editing it too much work, marketing will be the death of them.

      When it comes to the “it” factor, I think the readers will be the ones to decide who’ll stay on the playing field and who won’t. And you’re so right, Erica. It’s a butt-load of fun to watch. 😀

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