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.