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Thread: Thoughts on Self Publishing?

  1. #21
    Senior Member Digital_Fey's Avatar
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    I'm kind of torn in two over the whole e-book debate. On the one hand, e-publishing is easy and relatively cheap to do, meaning that any twopenny novelist can now put their work in the public domain and charge money for it. And consequently the online market is flooded with books of wildly varying standards, making it that much harder for the discerning reader to find a good book. Also, as a writer I personally would be embarrassed to have my ebook listed on amazon next to self-published vampire erotica - but that's just me :-P

    On the other hand, if the manuscript is really well done and the author is willing to market themselves extensively, then self-publishing in ebook format might be more viable than sending your story to publisher after publisher.

    Bottom line, I guess the overall success of the venture depends on many things.

  2. #22
    Senior Member Ophiucha's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by srg View Post
    I'm going to bow out of the thread because it seems that everyone against self-publishing is ignoring the e-publishing route. The only reason self-publishing is a viable option right now is because of e-publishing. You don't have to have a physical book to self-publish. The only reason self-publishing authors are successful is because they DON'T have to shell out a ton of money to publish their book.

    They can sell it as an e-book and not have to sell a large number of copies just to break even.
    You still need cover art. You still need marketing. You should still have an editor. These things add up BIG TIME. Yes, it costs less to actually sell the book, because you don't need to cover printing costs, but it can still cost you several THOUSAND dollars, and you could get a 100% return on each book sold and still need to sell - what? - a few hundred, if not thousand depending on how cheap you sell it for (and let's be honest, if you're not a big name author through a big name company, you're not selling it for much more than $5 a pop) to break even, let alone profit.

  3. #23
    Moderator Ravana's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by srg View Post
    I'm going to bow out of the thread because it seems that everyone against self-publishing is ignoring the e-publishing route.
    I didn't ignore it at all—you're ignoring all the reasons against it. My post was specifically addressed to e-publishing. Every reason that applies to self-publishing print copies through vanity presses applies to e-publishing as well… many of them more so. You're missing the point about the benefits of print publication—that it will have a (hopefully) eye-catching cover, that it will be distributed to bookstores and libraries, that it will be advertised to whatever extent the publisher feels needful to ensure they make back their investment, that as part of promoting the book the publisher may well pay expenses for you to travel to events to increase your exposure—it's astounding how many people will buy a copy of a book they would otherwise have ignored just because you're there to sign it—you get none of this when you e-publish. And you pay for none of these when you're accepted by a book publisher: all those expenses are their problem at that point. Nor do you get the publisher's accumulated experience on how to handle all these things: you'll have to figure them out for yourself.

    These aren't just costs associated with print self-publication: these are also things you lose by not going to print publication. How many authors do you think get discovered by being seen on the "new arrivals" shelf at public libraries—where prospective future buyers can check them out for free, and where a single copy can reach multiple readers? Why do you think publishers are willing to send authors on book-signing tours—encourage them, possibly even require them as part of the contract? You can't autograph a Kindle e-text. (You can scribble on the thing itself… like that's gonna be worth anything.)

    And that's ignoring the fact that, from any decent publisher, you'll get an advance against royalties—typically $3-5k, though this will vary widely: unknown authors may get less, established ones will get much more—which is yours to keep, no matter how well your book sells. If your book sells enough copies that the accumulating royalties exceed your advance, then you get more money… but you never have to return what they've already sent: it's a purchase, not a loan.

    Or, I suppose, you could just upload your book, do none of those things, and hope. Well.…

    Will you be able to instantly make millions on your eBook after reading these magical pages? Well, if you allow yourself to believe that there is anything under the sun no-mater-how-many-pages long (aside from a will or a trust fund in your name) that will instantly make you millions – please skip this book and consult the nearest mental health professional immediately.
    Care to guess what that's from? No? It's from a guide on Smashword on how to publish e-books. (Well, from the description of the guide: I wasn't about to pay to download it.…) Or, from Smashword's own FAQ:

    Although some Smashwords authors sell books at Smashwords within minutes or hours of publishing with us, some Smashwords authors never sell a single book. There are multiple potential reasons, but based on our experience the primary reason is lack of marketing on the part of the author. Since Smashwords is a self-service platform, and we don't charge you anything to publish or distribute at Smashwords. It's your responsibility as the author or publisher to get out there and generate demand for your book.
    Okay, that's never. NEVER. Sell. One. SINGLE. Book.

    So much for "free" publication. As with most cases where the word "free" appears, you get what you pay for. And to move beyond that point, you move from "free" to "break even"—and how many books will you need to sell to reach that point? Even at 85% royalty? Which you only get if your distribution remains limited to Smashwords: you want it on Amazon.com and similar services? You're down to 59.5%; go through Lulu—which gives a 70% royalty—and it's 56% once you get to the distributors. And in all cases, you have to remain within certain price ranges in order to get this; go above or below them, and your royalty plunges. So, okay, let's assume you're selling your e-book at $2.99—the bottom end of the range, in order to get more people to take a chance on an unknown; assume you want to make it available through e-book distributors, not just the website you created it on: best case scenario you're making $1.78. Since I don't know which expenses you were willing to soak up, I don't know how many copies you'll need to sell in order to make it back: you'll have to do the math on that one.

    I do know how many copies you'll need to sell to equal a measly $1k advance from a publisher: 562. Multiply upward for larger advances. And remember that in the case where you're receiving an advance, your own costs were zero… add in however many copies you need to make up the difference of your actual expenses.

    And that still is ignoring my initial point: do you want to be taken seriously?

    Here's the deal-breaker for me: since anybody can get their works "published" in e-book format, a whacking huge and ever-increasing number of frustrated authors will use this route… and as e-books proliferate, the chances of any single book, your book, getting noticed will diminish. Within a couple more years, the e-book market will be so flooded with drivel that it probably won't be profitable for anyone who isn't already established: the costs of getting your book noticed will exceed your returns. So if you don't care about money, go right ahead. But if you don't care about money, you're just as well off popping down to FedEx Office and running off the ten or twenty copies you expect to be able to unload on family and friends. Or putting it up on a webpage where it can be accessed for free—if all you're looking for is "exposure." You'll probably gain a greater "following," faster, than you will by selling e-books.

    So what are your goals? If you want to make money, if you want exposure, if you want to someday make a living off your writing, if you want to be viewed by history as an "author"—no, e-books won't do it, any more than any other form of self-publishing will. If you want to have your ego stroked by "being in print" (which you won't be, but leave that aside)… knock yourself out.

    I'll take the obscurity of trying and failing to be published over the obscurity of being one of endless thousands of failures indulging their own vanities any day, thank you. I'm going to stick with doing it the hard way.
    Last edited by Ravana; 3-28-11 at 6:05 PM.
    I have taken all knowledge to be my province. Tariff rates and immigration policies forthcoming.

  4. #24
    Leadership Kelise's Avatar
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    There's also the issue of most people always having so many books they're yet to read, that they can get from most bookstores, libraries, etc This makes you a lot less likely to find an eBook that's self published. Even less willing to try it.

    Personally... I just don't have time to try anyone I've never heard of. Joining forums like these give me so many new authors to try. Each author has a few books, or many, to get through. These books promise quality and a huge following. I'm going to spend my money on those, before I spend it on an ebook... and then my personal distaste of only being able to have the eBook. I prefer the book version. Sometimes I'll buy both, if I'm travelling or too ill to hold a 1,000 page book (RSI and/or Ross River is awful) but generally... if I have to pay, and only get an eBook version, I'd rather not.

    Then there's the thing were eBooks are so easy to distribute freely online on those illegal download sites.

    I just honestly don't think there's a market for people willing to pay just for an eBook just yet.
    ·Katharine
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  5. #25
    Senior Member Ophiucha's Avatar
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    I agree, starconstant. The only real chance that I will read an independently published author's work - or, hell, even just unknown traditionally published authors - is if it is free, or if I know them personally (and like them). I have bought cheap copies of works by close friends on online forums such as this one (I know I'd buy Ravana's book, and probably Phil the Drill's), and I'll skim anything if it is free. But when it comes to spending a dime, frankly, there are still so many time-honored classics and books with dedicated fanbases that I haven't read. And I have read a lot of books. But, let's be honest, I am more likely to pick up the new China Miéville book (an author I know I love) or a Tamora Pierce book (an author I've never read, but have heard great things about) than a book that you paid to have published and, given the common attitude, probably didn't pay for much else (like the ever necessary editing).
    Last edited by Ophiucha; 3-29-11 at 3:31 AM.

  6. #26
    Moderator Ravana's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiucha View Post
    I know I'd buy Ravana's book
    Thank you. Damn, guess that means I ought to get off (on?) my bum and finish one.

    Just in case it hasn't come through clearly enough: anyone still thinking self-publishing is a good route to go should check out the link starconstant posted in "The list of what we shouldn't do" thread… and observe how great is the contempt expressed by those inside the industry for those who self-publish. I wasn't joking—nor exaggerating—when I suggested that if you do self-publish, you'd do well to conceal that fact if you want to get into print at some later date.
    I have taken all knowledge to be my province. Tariff rates and immigration policies forthcoming.

  7. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by starconstant View Post
    I just honestly don't think there's a market for people willing to pay just for an eBook just yet.
    Wow. I don't have any stats to back me up, but there are many people that will say exactly the opposite of this. eBooks are the future of publishing - it's sort of a not-so-wild west right now, but ebooks are really really popular. I used to be in the mindset of, "I prefer the physical copy - I could never read an ebook". But technology is so much better now, and is getting even better. Sure I'd still love the physical thing, but I would much rather have a ton of books on an e-reader. However, this is a different debate.

    @Ravana Sorry - I understand what you're saying about the benefits of print-publishing through one of the Big Publishing Houses. But I can't take what you're saying seriously when you say that no one takes any ebook author seriously. I don't think that it costs nearly as much as you think to put out a decent e-publication. I will concede that someone who puts money into an ebook will do better than someone who does it all for free, and that there are also times when they will have the same results (read: no sales).

    I just think that the opinion that self-publishing is not a viable method of publishing AT ALL (and to be honest, that's what I'm getting out of all this, that those opposed to self-publishing think that it is doomed to failure from the get-go) is silly.

    I'm not trying to say that everybody should self-publish and forget about a proper publishing house. If that is your goal, then you should pursue it. But if you have the entrepreneural spirit to self-publish and work your butt off to get your book out there, there ARE people who will give your work a chance even if they haven't read your name in the NY Times.

    I think that this is an issue a lot of people struggle with, because indeed self-publishing used to mean lower quality 95% of the time. It's not the case anymore, especially where the e-publishing world is concerned.

    Oh, and as for piracy of ebooks; I don't think that is as big an issue for the publishing industry as it was for the music industry. I don't have the link, but there's a video interview of Neil Gaiman basically saying he is OK with "piracy", because he views it sort of as lending - like a library. In short: how do you discover your favourite authors? Friends lend you a book, or you borrow it from the library. And then you go out and buy more books by that author. Gaiman sees giving away free ebooks as the same sort of thing. Worth a look if you can find it - it's certainly an interesting opinion.

    Final note: I am also a big supporter of Creative Commons. Self-publishing sort of goes hand-in-hand with that and that's why I am a big fan of it. I know, or at least right now I believe, that I wouldn't be able to sell my stories to a publisher; but why does that mean I shouldn't try offering something online? I probably won't spend big dollars promoting it, so that means I won't get a lot of sales. But that's the thing about self-publishing: you need to have realistic expectations going into the game. You can't do zero work making it look good and think you're going to be an international best-seller overnight.

  8. #28
    Leadership Kelise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by srg View Post
    Wow. I don't have any stats to back me up, but there are many people that will say exactly the opposite of this. eBooks are the future of publishing - it's sort of a not-so-wild west right now, but ebooks are really really popular. I used to be in the mindset of, "I prefer the physical copy - I could never read an ebook". But technology is so much better now, and is getting even better. Sure I'd still love the physical thing, but I would much rather have a ton of books on an e-reader. However, this is a different debate.
    Oh, sorry, I wasn't that clear - I meant that, as far as I was aware, people weren't big on searching for eBooks like they would browse through a bookstore. If they know the author then sure they'll buy the eBook - like I said, I get them myself because currently my hands just can't hold a 1,000 page book at the moment... but I doubt people will pay money for an eBook from someone they haven't heard of, through a personal site (as in, not through Borders or other online book stores you can download from).

    Which means, as it's been said - self advertising is going to be needed in truckloads.

    I wonder - because I've looked but haven't found any yet, though being in Australia it could be different - are self-published eBooks easily found on websites like Boreders, etc? I know they are on Amazon thanks to the self-publishers CreateSpace... because that could make a difference too.

    Having to buy self-published books usually through a personal site - where I've generally seen them, though I haven't gone hardcore searching so it may not mean much - could be a huge deterrent. Which would be a shame.


    Actually, now I'm rambling, but, in Australia we have the Aurealis awards, and on this years list there's a self-published book, which is creating quite a stir. She did try to get published through a main publishing house, but... read what happened: https://sites.google.com/a/andreakhost.com/the-glacier/
    On her site her self-published book looks quite nice, and ...well, her publicity is going to boom now, thanks to the nomination, so that's quite excellent
    ·Katharine
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  9. #29
    Moderator Telcontar's Avatar
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    I stipulated normal, print publishing because yes, many of the arguments do not apply in full or at all to epublishing alone. However, as pointed out above, you will still need to work to make your book successful. Getting the word out, soliciting reviews and blurbs and everything else is absolutely essential to getting any sort of sales volume.
    Blog: Rant, Ramble, and Rave | My Stuff on Amazon | My Stuff on Smashwords
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  10. #30
    Moderator Ravana's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by srg View Post
    I don't have any stats to back me up.… But I can't take what you're saying seriously when you say that no one takes any ebook author seriously. I don't think that it costs nearly as much as you think to put out a decent e-publication.
    Well, your argument would be a lot stronger if you knew how much it costs to put out a decent e-book, or if you did have the stats to back you up on e-book sales. In the absence of such information, you don't actually have an "argument," in fact: you're really just voicing unsupported opinion. I at least did a few minutes' worth of research on a couple of the better-known e-publishers to get some idea of what you do get for free, what you don't, how much it'll cost to get the things you may want that you don't get for free… as well as giving precise figures on royalties themselves. I'm not particularly interested in calculating exactly how much it would cost to assemble what I'd consider a minimally acceptable publication, since I have no interest in assembling one (and since there's no reason to believe that what I'd be willing to accept and what you'd be willing to are the same thing); crunch some numbers yourself and get back to us.

    But leave that aside for one moment. Why can't you take seriously my contention that self-publishers don't get taken seriously? Do you have any reason to believe I'm incorrect about this? Any reason at all? Because the few people I've seen who are taken seriously, who are having anything most would describe as "success," are people who are already known—they have already had print distribution, through "traditional" book publishers, magazines, etc. They did not begin by self-publishing… regardless of format. Even that is only in relation to how the reading public views them: talk to some industry insiders—editors, publishers, even published authors—before you try to tell me that my use of the word "contempt" to describe their attitude toward self-publication is incorrect.

    E-books certainly represent a large and growing segment of publishing sales; I'm not arguing otherwise. And I'm certain that their market share will continue to grow. But these sales are not coming from unknown authors who are self-publishing their work: they're coming from electronic versions of books that are or have been in print, ones that have made it through the selection process of traditional publication. Ones that receive the sponsorship and promotion of recognized, respected publishers. Ones that someone would pay for anyway—the only difference being the convenience of being able to download a copy rather than having to locate it at a bookstore or order it and pay postage on it.

    eBooks are the future of publishing
    Only in the above sense. Show me where I'm wrong in saying that the ease of e-publication will result in even more garbage, which progressively fewer people will be willing to sift through, than already exists. You can't—because it's so obvious that it ought not to require mention. At least with vanity presses, the amount of drivel put out gets limited by the author's willingness to front the money to do it; with free publication, even that restraint is removed, so it's guaranteed that the ratio of sub-par publications to those worth reading will only increase over time. E-books may be the future of publishing… but as far as self-publishing, there's an element of self-destruction inextricably intertwined: the bad will inevitably force out the good, until nobody but a few hobbyists pays any attention to it at all.

    I can foresee e-publication as a (not necessarily "the") wave of the future in this way: eventually, major publishers will begin to accept and distribute works that they make available primarily, possibly even exclusively, electronically. It would, after all, save them considerable amounts of money to publish this way. But that doesn't change any of the other arguments: you'll still need to submit your text to the publisher, and it will still need to meet that publisher's criteria for quality and marketability. Which is not self-publishing. These e-books will receive the promotion necessary to ensure commercial viability, just as print books do now; they will be the ones that readers will be willing to search for, from databases limited to texts accepted by recognized imprints—or which at least make certain that those texts pop up ahead of other, less "reputable" results. I would in fact foresee people searching specifically for a recognized imprint, something you can do now: I just searched Amazon.com for "Tor Books," and got 13,606 results. Of course, many of these are duplicates, but still… why would I want to wade through all the hits I'd get by searching on "fantasy" when I can look through a list that extensive with the reasonable assurance that whatever I find has passed muster with a publisher I do respect?

    I can foresee new, online-only "imprints" arising, but they'll only be successful to the extent that they emulate traditional presses: that they are selective, not open, as regards the texts they publish. (This, in fact, is probably a major business opportunity, if you can get it set up right now: in a couple years, those niches will be filled.)

    Final note: I am also a big supporter of Creative Commons. Self-publishing sort of goes hand-in-hand with that and that's why I am a big fan of it.
    I like CC too… but that has nothing to do with self-publishing going "hand-in-hand" with it. All CC does is provide a licensing format for people who want to make their work more widely and readily available; in many cases, this is done by authors whose books are out of print, or who want to make shorter works available beyond their original scope of publication (in magazines, professional journals, newspapers, etc.), or who want to make available to their reading base stories that are not commercially viable in the first place. But you know what CC isn't? It isn't a publisher. It does not have a searchable database of everything that has received a CC license. Getting a CC license has nothing to do with publishing, "self" or otherwise: you can get a license for something you never make publicly available; conversely, getting a CC license does not alone make a thing available—you still have to put it up on the internet somewhere. Somewhere else. And unless that's a webpage you own and maintain, you'll probably need to get additional licenses from wherever you do decide to distribute your material. I've downloaded stories—including one complete novel—from a couple of my favorite authors, who made them available through CC licenses… and their own webpages. The key words there are "my favorite authors": I not only was already familiar with them, I was willing to go in search of their works. (And all those were free downloads: they aren't making one red cent off them. Are actually losing money, in that they need to maintain the websites. Though I would have been more than willing to pay for the stories. The novel falls into the "not commercially viable" category mentioned above: it was based on the show Firefly, and the author was well aware that the odds of its success in print were minimal… as well as being aware of a factor I mentioned elsewhere, that derivative works are rarely considered to the credit of the writer. This way, he could get a story he'd already written into circulation for anybody who cared enough about his work, or the show, to track such things down… in a format that would be viewed as a pastime of a hobbyist rather than an attempt at a "serious" publication. Probably dodged a lot of other licensing and copyright considerations as well.)

    Yes, there will probably be one or two authors who find success starting out self-publishing e-books. But you know what? They'll be the ones who would have been successful anyway, had they gone the traditional route. And I promise you they will find it difficult to transition from e-publishing to print (or to e-publishing through a major imprint, to remove that potential objection), should they ever decide to go that route… more difficult than they would have had they never self-published in the first place.
    I have taken all knowledge to be my province. Tariff rates and immigration policies forthcoming.

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