If you self-publish your work, do you risk anything? Will publishers consider you damaged goods?
Andrew posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Thank you for all the great information provided on your site! I’ve recently signed up to receive your emails.
I have one quick question that has come to mind while reading your “The Future of Publishing” article.
My question is this: As a amateur writer with a book self-published on Lulu.com, do you think it is valuable to use this self-publishing site to begin to get my name out there, or would paper publishers potentially look down on the fact that I’ve self-published and already reaped sales?
Thanks for your answer!
Randy sez: The publishing industry is changing rapidly. The correct answer to this question three years ago would have been, “No, self-publishing almost always won’t help you in your venture to get published — unless you’re one of those very rare few who manage to sell a few thousand copies of your self-published book.”
Even a year ago, most authors, agents, and editors would have felt this way.
But a funny thing happened in the last year or so. A lot of self-published authors started doing extremely well on Amazon with their e-books.
If you want to see the honor roll of authors who’ve managed to do Xtremely well, I’ll refer you to Joe Konrath’s blog, where he’s been interviewing them practically daily.
Joe himself earned $42,000 in January from his self-publishing efforts. You read that right. Those aren’t yen Joe earned. Not lira. Not pesos. Those were dollars.
It’s easy to blow off Joe’s success as the result of his “platform.” After all, he’s got a very widely read blog and he published a number of books in the past with New York publishers. Joe’s got a name. He’s an established writer. So way too many people say, “Sure, yeah, Joe’s easy to market, because he’s Joe. I’m not Joe. I’ve never been published. I have no blog. So I can’t sell near as many copies as Joe.”
The problem with that is that it’s nonsense. Several of the folks Joe has interviewed lately are writers who haven’t been published by traditional publishers — or writers who just didn’t fare well with traditional publishers, even though they did get a book or few out. Some of these good people are selling better than Joe.
And there’s the case of Amanda Hocking, 26 years old, never published by a traditional publisher, who sold about 100,000 copies of her books in December. Way more than Joe did.
You might believe that Amanda benefitted from the Christmas shoppers in December, that there’s no way she could repeat those kind of numbers in the dead month of January.
Heh, heh. Amanda sold about 450,000 copies in January.
The moral of the story here is that all the rules changed sometime in the last year or so. If you want to self-publish, you can make an amazing success of it — if your stuff is good. If it’s not good, then that’s a problem and you aren’t going to sell thousands of copies, but that’s always been true.
What has changed is that authors can now make an end-run around the “gatekeepers” — the marketing people who decide what will sell and what won’t. Increasingly, readers are becoming the new gatekeepers. That’s the way it should be. The market should decide what sells and what doesn’t.
This is not to put down those marketing folks. In the past, they were necessary because publishing was an expensive venture to get into. A mistake could be enormously expensive.
With e-books, that is no longer the case. No need for a big production run, a big laydown on launch day, and big returns if the book doesn’t sell. Returns for e-books are almost non-existent. Shelf space is unlimited, so there’s no reason for a bookseller to return unsold copies, so the only returns are those from disgruntled customers who bought a book they didn’t want.
But the need for gatekeepers is fizzling. Soon there will be no need at all.
So no worries, Andrew. Market that book. If it catches fire, it’s all good. If it doesn’t, it’ll be lost in the flood. You can always withdraw the book, or rewrite it, or write something else.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
Judy Croome says
Thanks for your answer to Andrew’s question! I’ve just made the decision to leap into self-publishing and am excited and nervous about it. If my book is good, it’ll sell. If it’s awful, it won’t. That’s a lot simpler to understand than the range of rejections I’ve had from traditional publishers which have ranged from “it’s a genius piece of work, but I don’t know here to sell it” to “burn this, it should never see the light of day!”. By self-publishing the market will decide the true worth of my book and that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Judy (South Africa)
Gene Lempp says
If you are interested in platform, Kristen Lamb has an excellent blog (and book) that explain and educate on the process. Also, Bob Mayer of Who Dares Wins publishing has a vast array of articles that deal with the changes in the publishing industry, especially self-publishing and indie publishing. I found both of these excellent writers through Randy and the great site he runs here! Networking is the key. Carpe Diem.
Donald James Parker says
Spot on, Randy! As our culture is approaching a simulation of life in A Brave New World, the world of publishing has already arrived at brand new world status.
Thanks for the excellent answer, Randy.
After following this site I can see that self-publishing online looks to be prosperous. We’re very fortunate to live in a time where there are no “elite” gatekeepers choosing what they think is best, but instead an audience of readers who will choose what they want.
I’m glad that this question led to an answer that might inspire others like Judy to dive in and start self-publishing. The sooner you get your name out there, the better.
Of course when you self-publish online, you’ll have to become the marketer and network to get people interested in book(s).
Christophe Desmecht says
Don’t forget. Thanks to platforms such as the Amazon Kindle or the iPad, reading e-books is no longer a cumbersome thing you have to do sitting at your computer. You can now carry your e-books around with you wherever you go. An enormous amount of people now find them even more practical than regular books, because they can fit several (up to hundreds) of books on one single portable device.
These platforms, I think, have done wonders for e-book business…
ML Eqatin says
There’s an awful lot of competition out there for the reader’s time, let alone their $$. One of the biggest problems with self-publishing is other self-published works. When I self-published 4 years ago. very few readers looked at it prejudicially (although the industry did.) Now it’s the readers who raise an eyebrow, because they’ve read ten or more self-published works, or had to read the one by Aunt Grace, that were purely awful. And as the tide of awful rises, the credibility gets harder.
It’s going to get tougher and tougher to rise above the stigma in the eye of the jaundiced reader.
That’s an excellent point. It does seem like the “tide of crap will be rising.”
However I am optimistic, because I expect that the writers who have made writing a lifelong dedication and truly believe they have something original to say, will eventually rise above the tide.
As the tide rises, so does the dedicated writer become more internet-savvy and well-read across genres of fiction and in areas like online marketing, etc. On the way there will be lots of connections to make, and by reading and supporting the material of other writers, we can grow knowledgeable and strong in our attempts to market and improve our work.
And if after all THAT we don’t make more than a small handful of sales, at least we tried.
I’d be very surprised, though, if all that work did not produce some monetary benefit. Money isn’t the issue anyway, though. The real satisfaction I (and I expect many others) get from writing, is feeling of having communicated something very special. The very act of writing something down and clarifying it is cathartic; it sheds a new light on past struggles and past events.
In the end, for me, it’s mostly about the attempt to give a unique opinion on life to the world. If other people like it too, that’s just a plus.
A nice discussion here. I love that more and more people are taking the risk of self-publishing, but it is not for the feint of heart. It still requires that we do a lot to make it happen. I self-published my first book in 1987–almost before computers, but I was doing a lot of front of the room speaking and sold them all that way. Now I’m trying to increase my platform and having a lot of fun with it. All about connecting ideas to people.
Geoff Breitling says
In my opinion, the bottom line is packaging a quality product. How you package your work to the old guard or the self-publishing world is key. Having a platform helps, but as Randy mentioned the quality of the work determines staying power. The opportunity is there, but you are well served to be a savvy marketer of a quality product.
Sheila Deeth says
I can’t help wondering if it’s still all based on who you know. Yes, some people have done incredibly well self-publishing. But lots and lots of people haven’t. Amazon’s a pretty huge haystack, and even the best of self-published books can still be a very small, very invisible needle.