Baby Steps, Or, Self-Pub Considerations

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I’m considering some self-publishing.

The items in the minus column are overwhelming: investing in editing and copyediting, not to mention the cost of decent cover art, distribution and retail channels and their final effects on price etc. The time investment versus the likely return. Saturating whatever market slice I have and the likely effects on my other books, which means my other income.

The pluses: making a few niche fans happy (Squirrel!Terror, anyone?) and maybe diversifying (writing advice culled from blog posts from the old, hacked site, dear God, that’s a lot of work and I am not sure I can do it without feeling like a hypocrite because I HATE HATE HATE Books On Writing, considering most of them useless…) or maybe bringing out that Beauty and the Beast retelling that I love so much but that can’t find a home elsewhere (even though I should probably accept that it’s just not a book meant for publication)…

See? Even the pluses have minuses.

Yes, there’s a huge boom going on in self-publishing nowadays. The predictable end result is that everyone in the world can read slush piles now, and pay for the privilege to boot. Sure, there’s good self-publishing (those who have learned their craft and their lessons, and pay for quality control) out there, but the vast majority of it is an unedited mass and it shows. The proportion of decent quality to crud is just the same as it’s ever been, the numbers are just bigger. Sort of like that guy in high school who always seemed to get lucky (boy was like a rabbit, believe me) who a few of my guy friends envied until we figured out over a fifth of Stoli one night that he didn’t get a higher percentage than the rest of us, he just propositioned everything that moved, so it only looked like he had some super-duper Get Laid Secret. The numbers were just…bigger. (This lesson is adaptable to trad publishing, but that’s–say it with me–another blog post.)

Self-publishing works in certain situations, not so much in others. There’s those who successfully bucked the odds (they are long odds, and there have to be a few winners to keep the rest of the chumps playing) and those who already had a platform with a built-in audience (BoingBoing, anyone?) and those who use self-publishing as an adjunct to traditional publishing or basically as an experiment. There are those who can afford to throw money into the hole a self-pubbed title can become, and occasionally they make it big too. There are also those who have made a minor industry out of telling people that they can self-pub and have monstrous success too if they just listen to So-and-So’s Thoughts On The Matter And Become One Of So-and-So’s Faithful Army of Trolls.

Not pointing any fingers, you understand.

There’s also idiots like Yours Truly who undertake a self-pub project thinking there will be little to no interest, but that it will be fun and might be useful for other writers/fans. (Yep. I did that.) To say I was unprepared is an understatement, but it was a nice experiment.

The end result is, I am not certain which type of self-pub (if any) will end up working for me. I’m asking publishing friends and professionals their opinions, reading what’s worked for other people, so on and so forth. It may end up being far too much trouble to pursue, even though I really would like to have a Squirrel!Neo paper book.

Which gets me to the whole point, dear Readers: what considerations am I missing? What pluses or minuses have I forgotten?

*sits back to listen*

photo by: Chalky Lives
  • Co-op publishing has been a godsend for me – BookView Cafe shares skills and experience, so there’s always someone who can do that, or knows how NOT to do that, and we lean on each other (and then share the promotional duties across the board).

    The one thing I highly recommend, be it co-op or for-hire work, is that you let other people handle some of the persnickety details (copyediting, formatting, cover design) because otherwise you will exhaust yourself trying to chase all your tails. Not to mention that things writers don’t always have in our wheelhouse (cover design, especially) are just as important in the self-pub world as they are in trad publishing: first impressions still sell.

    /steps off soapbox, heads for the bar

  • Phyllis Lamken

    C.E. Murphy has done some writing projects through kickstarter. Her fans prepay for her projects. More than one author had their series cancelled by the publisher. Fans will pay to read more books from a series. My only pet peeve is a novella rather than a novel. I prefer print to ebooks, but I will get an ebook if it is the only format available. I am waiting for a favorite author to publish a new book in a cancelled series. And I will pay paperback prices for an ebook. I like the series.

  • readerdiane

    Are you trying a new genre or trying to attract a new audience?
    I will plunk down $2.99 much easier for a new to me author than $9.99. I have quite a few of those books on my wish list to watch for the price to fall. I buy too many books to pay that much for one.

    You’re not a new author, and you know your writing style. I would think that self-publishing would be great for you. Just my 2 cents.

  • People vastly overestimate, IMO, the expenses and effort involved in self-publishing. It can be whatever you want it to be. Personally, I am the epitome of the casual hobbyist writer. I wrote a book because it was fun. I never made any effort to find a traditional publisher or agent. I self-published it because it was easier for people to read the Kindle version than to read a lengthy Word document and/or the online version on fictionpress and I knew there were about 20 people who would buy it.

    I know I shouldn’t admit this, but I will anyway — I spent no money on anything. I got as many people as possible to beta-read, but I self-edited (I know, BAD, BAD, BAD me. Whatever.*) I formatted it myself as simply as possible–two styles in Word, nothing fancy. I made my own cover using Powerpoint and a public domain photo. I priced it at $3.50 (now $3.99) and told the people I knew that they should buy me a cup of coffee. (I was in grad school, no income, it was Christmas, I have a fondness for Starbucks gingerbread lattes, it all made sense to me.) That was a year ago.

    Going on, I have no platform. I have made no effort to get a platform, because that sort of seems like work. No advertising, no blog tours, none of those things that require effort. I have maybe twenty Facebook friends on my author name, and less than 200 Twitter followers, which is fine, because I barely use either of those things anyway. I think my blog has two followers.

    I wrote another book and a short story, did basically the same things, although I spent $20 on stock photos for the covers.

    So, you have the picture, right? As I said, I am the *epitome* of the casual hobbyist writer.
    But between the two books, I sold over 100 copies every month, which adds up to kind of a lot of coffee. I made nearly $10K on them last year. At the moment, on Amazon UK, my first book is #48 on the Kindle > Fiction > Fantasy > Contemporary list, and #78 on the Books > Fantasy > Contemporary list. (I did a giveaway last week, because a book blog that I follow reviewed it, much to my surprise.)

    I hope that doesn’t sound like bragging because I’m not saying it as a show-off, ooh, look how good I did thing, but more to say, you can relax about it. You can just treat self-publishing as a fun way to be weird and share your weird stuff with the world. And maybe people will read it and maybe they won’t. But you honestly don’t have to buy into the whole
    “work like crazy, everything must be perfect, spend money and hire professionals for everything” mindset. Or at least I didn’t, and so far, it’s been fine. I’m not one of those crazy success stories–well, or maybe I am someone who has successfully bucked the odds. But it sure feels like the odds were in my favor, because I definitely didn’t beat the them by working really hard and/or spending lots of money, which is how most people do it.

    You probably need to consider how your traditional publisher and/or agent will respond and whether it might damage your position with them (ie, will they be reluctant to spend promotional dollars/energy on you if they think you’re going to jump entirely into self-publishing?) and maybe use a pen name, but my books are at least evidence that you can approach it with a relaxed attitude and still get something out of it. Good luck! And if you have questions, I’m happy to answer any that I can.

    *I should probably note that I’m a former editor, and I used to work for an imprint that focused on graphic design books. I sort of had a head start when it came to creating my own covers and doing my own editing. And I don’t actually recommend not using an editor–editors are wonderful and great and ever so helpful. I’m just saying they’re a little more optional than most people insist.

  • Mara

    Personally, I really enjoy your books–I would pay for books you’ve self-published, and have read Smoke. (I personally don’t think that it was your best work, but it was far from the worst book I’ve ever read.) I am by no means an expert, but let me just ask you one thing: Did you edit Selene, or did you pay for someone else to edit it for you? If you did, then I don’t think you’ll have to worry about fees for editors.
    You’re a very good writer. You’re creative and experienced. And as a previous commenter has pointed out, you might pay next to nothing for self-publishing AND get a solid income from it.

  • Traci

    I’m not a writer so can’t comment on the practicalities or otherwise of self-publishing. Though I do know a lot of writers and all of what you say here sounds very familiar.

    However, Beauty and the Beast is my favourite story. You are one of my favourite writers. I know this isn’t a democracy, but I’ll pretend it is for now and vote loudly for that at least making it out to the light of day (or at least the electrons of my Kindle!)

  • martianmoncrab

    I just had a friend ask me if you were going to write a sequel to the were-wolverine story, and my response was “if they pay her for it”, so it would be nice if you could write that little orphan story here and there and self pub it, you are very exacting in your writing, and I know you have good beta readers.

    Because we always want to know what happens next in your books.. evil woman that you are.

  • Shae

    Due to the fact SquirrelTerror! is not in your usual genre of writing for your publisher, I would hope He/She/Them won’t feel threatened by you going out of house &/or pocket to publish these amazing stories.

    I have purchased alot of short story compilations over the years. Some from a variety of authors some by single authors. Never once regretted any of those purchases.

    I would suggest to you to wander over to Charles de Lint’s website. He has self published in paper and might have some advice for you. Charles is mostly a short story writer so again may have some info you can in time work into having the Neo book published.

    In the meantime I am going to think and perhaps in the mail in a couple of months you will find a couple of drawings/paintings of what I see everytime I read the stories.

  • Denisetwin

    I very much enjoy my favorite authors that publish their “different” style book self-pub! I already know they are good writers and it’s easy to buy their self-pub’d books based on that. I read an article on this by Sarah Hoyt that made a lot of sense. Maybe it will make sense to you too. She is a mid-list author of sci-fi and fantasy. I like her published books, I buy her self-pub’d books.
    http://accordingtohoyt.com/2012/12/09/making-money-from-indie-publishing-a-guide-for-the-hopeful-the-optimistic-and-the-doomed/

  • I think self-publishing would be a great option for fun/weird projects that you’d like to do anyway, or ones that you’ve already done but can’t find a market. And I don’t believe you need to spend a fortune on making it top quality. I’m sure you have talented fans with time on their hands who would be happy to help you out on the cheap — not to mention people who would do the work at a discount just to have a big name author for their resume/portfolio.

    I’m not the best designer in the world, but I’ve always wanted to do some book covers. If you decide to do a self-pub, feel free to check my portfolio and message me on Twitter (I’m Tembrooke) or email me if you feel comfortable considering me for the work. I can’t do it for free, but I’d do it cheaply. (Also, I do have other examples I can show you that are more creative — I realize my web work doesn’t give you a great idea of what I could do with a book cover.) But no pressure — just throwing it out there as an option for you if you want it. 🙂

  • Elizabeth L

    I cannot contribute to the professional discussion, but as a fan I can say I want to read the Beauty and the Beast story! Favorite fairy tale retold by my favorite contemporary author? Kickass. I would do Kickstarter or buy it in ebook form. And it would make my day.

  • Alice

    As a non US based reader availibility and accessibility of the books spring to mind first. Will paper books be available for purchase online? Shipping will also create an extra expense. If it’s in ebook format will it be available overseas? I assume there wont be ‘licensing’ issues if it’s self published but I find there is a discrepency with what some e-retailers show as available.

    As a fan, I will read anything you publish. Will Selene ever be available in ebook form?

  • Katherine C.

    Late to the party, and my two cents isn’t really helpful to you as I have no box to stand on in the self-pub advice department, but I’d buy pretty much anything you write no matter where it’s found (especially, say, Steelflower — I know you’ve written about how this is a no, but that was partly because of the self-pub thing if I remember correctly).