1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

The right way to view self-publishing

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Steerpike, Jan 27, 2014.

  1. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    628
    224
    43
    Hybrid works well for me ;-) I do think that it doesn't have to be one or the other. But here's the thing. Hybrid is only good for a very small % of people - because they have to do two really hard things.

    1. Be able to get a traditional contract

    2. Be able to successfully self-publish

    If you consider that #1 is small let's say 1% and #2 is equally small - again 1%. The number of people that fall in BOTH sets is probably something south of 0.5%.
     
  2. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    628
    224
    43
    Hear, hear. I totally agree. And in some respects I think Chuck is a bit from this school. Yes, he self-publishes - but I don't think he does particularly well at it. He's not working at building his self-publishing revenue to the same extent that he does his traditional. I think for him it is a bit of a "sideline."

    That, combined with the fact that I think he really does see most self-publishing as stuff that is low-quality and wasn't adequately polished makes him focus on the wrong end of the equation. Sure we can all find a lot of crap in self-publishing -but so what? No one is buying those books and they sink into oblivion What I think is more important is to highlight the people who are "doing it right" - of which there are many - because it is their examples that should be followed.
     
  3. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    628
    224
    43
    Just wanted to thank you for the amazing compliment. To me, my writing is the same whether it ultimately reaches the reader via traditional or self-publishing. The determining factor is usually related to contract terms or how "mainstream" a piece is. Having the flexibility to do either really is a nice position to be in.
     
    BWFoster78 likes this.
  4. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    628
    224
    43
    Indeed. This is the thing that I see as the biggest hurdle. It takes a lot of self-awareness to make such a determination. My first published book was lucky 13. Of those 12 previous novels - 8 were never intended to be published as they were the novels I used to practice the craft and find my voice. The other four they are not "ready for prime time" (or they would be out there). But I now have enough experience to know what is wrong with them and what I have to do to fix them.

    Most authors have no idea at what level their writing is. There is a lot of subjectivity in such a determination. I can make such a determination - but there is no way of saying that my opinion is "right." There are going to be things that I say are "good enough" that fail miserably, and other things that I thought were "off the mark" which could go on to sell well.

    I have been doing a "First Five Pages" where I try to give authors a basic idea of where they fall. Most of the submissions I get are far from where they need to be. For those interested in submitting...here is a link for details.
     
    BWFoster78 and Chilari like this.
  5. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    628
    224
    43
    Whether you self or traditionally publish your responsibility for marketing remains about the same. If you have a good sized advanced your publisher will do some as well, but you think of that as gravy and not rely on just that.

    I have a few sources for you:

    * A sub I have on reddit Pay particular attention to posts on the sidebar such as "An Author's Guide to Self-promotion.

    * posts I write for Amazing Stories]
     
  6. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    628
    224
    43
    The problem is a book can have all those things and still not meet a minimum requirement . Hence the "polishing a turd" mentality. Just because someone does multiple drafts, passes it through other readers and puts a tremendous amount of effort into it doesn't mean it can't still fall below the mark.

    But herein lies the rub - ALL judging of art (books) is subjective. Period. An objective statement is one that can't be disputed. The size of the book, it's weight, how many words it contains. These are objective criteria that can be measured and unless someone denies reality they have to agree with the conclusion that book a is 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" and weighs 1.3 lbs.

    Cormac McCarthy has won the Pulitzer prize for a book that contains sentences such as: "Bedrock this." and "Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before." Both of which I hate. But given his commercial and critical success - who am I to judge?

    I had a respected reviewer that declared my book as "pretty close to the worst book ever published" and was so upset with my publisher for putting it out that they thought their nose should be rubbed in excrement. And yet, it has been nominated for an Audie, the series has sold more than 460,000 copies, and is still one of the top rated fantasy books two years after it's release.

    My point is its easy for an individual to come up with a set of criteria by which THEY will judge books...and yes these will be subjective. The problem is when you try to extend that beyond the individual and search for the unattainable "objective" criteria of which you speak.
     
  7. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    628
    224
    43
    I don't thinks this is true. When people see a $0.99 book (Even one with a good cover and good blurb) they are going to think it is self-published - unless it has a title or name they have heard of in the past (in which case they figure the publisher has it on temporary sale.

    Now...take a self-published author that is making his/her book indistinguishable - and I think they will assume it is traditional. Mitchell Hogan's Crucible of Souls comes to mind. He debuted it at $7.99 and it has an AMAZING cover. He sold 10,000 books in just over a month not because it was self-published, but because people didn't know it was - or so my theory goes.


    On this point I couldn't agree more. And it is these very visible self-published books that people do indeed "give a try" and are usually "pleasantly surprised." They do know they are buying self, but there are enough sales and reviews to put them past their risk threshold. A good case in point - Anthony Ryan's Blood Song.

    Once more I agree 100%

    I wish this were true. Not because I want publishers to be hurt, but because it would force change in the industry. The truth is there are still more "good books" that they have to turn away that losing a title here and there to self-publishing really doesn't sting. There are plenty of writers waiting in the wings to sign any bad contract put before them and as long as this is the case they won't change their ways. I think it will start to shift...but it will be a slow one.


    Very true, and I'm seeing a new trend. Now that the DOJ case is over, Amazon can sell books below cost and have done so. For instance some of Brandon Sanderson's top sellers were priced at $1.99 around the holidays. This is REALLY good news for Brandon and his publisher as they are being paid their full fee and sales spiral even higher because they are such a good deal. But in the long term...will that end up devaluing books so that ALL books must be sub $2 to sell? I'm afraid that might be a possibility.

    I don't think they are uncomfortable, as I said their supply of good books to publish is greater than the slots they have to fill. But they are at least starting to realize that there is more competition than just "the other publishers" self is now viable and they will lose people to it. Yeah, that means losing an author here or there, but for the most part there are plenty of othes to fill the void.
     
  8. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    2,057
    634
    113
    I understand what you mean. What I intended to convey was that, as a first step to improving the average quality of self-published books, no book should have been published if it doesn't meet a minimum standard of written English - which can be judged objectively, or at least far more objectively than someone saying "I didn't like this" about an otherwise well-receieved book. The criteria I'm looking at here are things like spelling, grammar, proofreading. A book that has an average of 30 typos and spelling errors per 100 pages isn't good enough, whatever the quality of the storytelling and characters, because it is distracting and it is an easy way to determine whether the book has been thoroughly proofread and copyedited or not.

    At the same time, you're right - expecting these more objective standards is still, in some cases, polishing a turd. However, expecting those kinds of standards does at least mean that the mediocre are also polished - often not the case in what I've seen. It brings it up a little. At the same time, expecting such standards as a reader enables quick judgement of books, because generally the better polished books are also better written (though this isn't always the case). Finally, telling those in possession of a turd of a manuscript that it doesn't meet those quality standards might lead to them not merely polishing it, but rather getting an outside opinion - like a proofreader - and coming to the realisation that other elements of the book beyond written English are also in need of improvement. One would hope that anyone hired to proofread something that is also poorly written in terms of plot, characters and storytelling would suggest to the author that more than proofreading is required. Even if most don't, even if only 1% of proofreaders do this, that's still 1% of sub-par authors who hear what they need to hear about their books, and so some improvement is made.

    As I say - it constitutes a first step, taking out the very dregs and raising the lower threshold a little. I don't claim it constitutes a solution to quality problems in self-publishing, but it does go some way to enabling improvement in a generally unobjectionable manner (after all, what writer would claim that clear language without errors isn't necessary?)
     
  9. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    628
    224
    43
    If we look at the total pool of all books - yes you are absolutely right - because the self-publishing's set includes those that would be weeded out. But to me, that set means nothing as those "bad books" will fade into obscurity.

    Instead lets look at the subset of books that I consider "good" and by "good" I mean will sell at significant numbers (10,000+), be highly reviewed (at least 4/5), and generally recommend by readers to their friends and family.

    If we take this subset of books, then it's really a crap shoot which will do better. Traditional publishing doesn't focus on "quality" they focus on what will sell. So many books that might be "outside the box" may be passed over. Some publishing houses devote amazingly small resources to editing and the little they do is rushed and miss things. Whereas a self-published author may be more diligent about the editor selection. I've made no secret that I HATE the cover of The Rose and the Thorn done by my big-five publisher and many have said that my self-published covers are better than they did. Personally, I'm 99.9% sure I can ALWAYS produce a higher quality book myself then traditional and that is really saying something as my traditional publisher is at the top of their game and does EXTREMELY high quality work. The difference is that I only have my books to worry about and my publisher is stretching limited resources across multiple authors an dozens of titles each calendar cycle. But, doing that takes A LOT of work, so I often opt to sign the rights and have them do that so I can get more writing done. I know the book will still be professional and will sell well because they know what they are doing and more often then not will score highly on all the packaging factors.
     
  10. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    628
    224
    43
    Assuming a 250 word per page that's 30/25000 = .0012 or .12%. That's pretty damn good. Especially considering there are literally thousands of ways to mess up on a single page. Wrong word, typo, comma missing, period instead of comma, missing a quotation mark, capitalization error, noun verb disagreement, excessive words that should have been cut, wrong tense, missing word. So it's not 250 possible mistakes per page it's more like 2500 possible errors so now your 30 errors per 100 pages is .00012. Most people can't maintain that type of error rate.

    I've been published traditionally by one of the best publishers in the business and I can open any of my books and find some form of error fairly quickly even after multiple edit passes and extensive proofing. The difference...when a typo occurs in traditional books, readers don't freak out. It's kinda of a "oh look there - they missed that." Heck I found several dozen errors in Harry Potter and that had a huge editing budget! But self-publishing has to be twice as good to get half the credit so a typo in it is held up as "proof of poor quality." There is definitely a double standard being applied.


    At the same time, you're right - expecting these more objective standards is still, in some cases, polishing a turd. However, expecting those kinds of standards does at least mean that the mediocre are also polished - often not the case in what I've seen. It brings it up a little. At the same time, expecting such standards as a reader enables quick judgement of books, because generally the better polished books are also better written (though this isn't always the case). Finally, telling those in possession of a turd of a manuscript that it doesn't meet those quality standards might lead to them not merely polishing it, but rather getting an outside opinion - like a proofreader - and coming to the realisation that other elements of the book beyond written English are also in need of improvement. One would hope that anyone hired to proofread something that is also poorly written in terms of plot, characters and storytelling would suggest to the author that more than proofreading is required. Even if most don't, even if only 1% of proofreaders do this, that's still 1% of sub-par authors who hear what they need to hear about their books, and so some improvement is made.

    As I say - it constitutes a first step, taking out the very dregs and raising the lower threshold a little. I don't claim it constitutes a solution to quality problems in self-publishing, but it does go some way to enabling improvement in a generally unobjectionable manner (after all, what writer would claim that clear language without errors isn't necessary?)[/QUOTE]
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2014
  11. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    2,057
    634
    113
    You don't think 30 typos in 100 pages is unacceptable? Most books I read don't have one error (and believe me, I notice). There was a Pratchett book I spotted one in once, and when I was reading a pre-publication review copy of Emperor of Thorns I caught three or four errors, one of which the editor had not since caught. And that's a 400-odd page book. Traditionaly publishers don't have an error rate so high as 30 per 100 pages. They don't even have an error rate as high as 1 per 100 pages. A book that's got that many errors quite simply hasn't had enough polish, hasn't been checked by enough eyes, to be indistinguishable from a traditionally published book.

    I agree that there's a double standard - confirmation bias where a typo is seen in self-publishing means that typo is seen as evidence of poor quality where is wouldn't be in a traditionally published book. But that only applies when you've got errors in the single digits per book, not when you have a dozen or more per chapter.

    Besides, precisely because of that confirmation bias self-publishers need to hold themselves to a very high standard indeed. Self-publishers can't be content with publishing a book full of errors, just because it's "only" an error incidence on 0.0012 or whatever. What's wrong with saying "no, 0.0012 isn't good enough, I want it to be 0.nothing"?
     
  12. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    1,943
    938
    113
    I've got a couple of hardcover Discworld books that are rife with missing quotation marks, a particularly annoying type of error since it often forces one to go back and figure out where the dialogue actually ended. The first ebook my husband bought for his iPad was a traditionally published book that had ridiculously bad formatting. Almost (almost, because readers aren't stupid) made it unreadable.

    I remember reading about how Amanda Hocking's books had pretty poor editing, but readers still bought them and enjoyed them in droves. The editing just didn't matter as much as the story.

    And this is why I believe that ultimately it should ALWAYS be the readers who decide. If the readers think the editing is too poor or if the story just isn't good enough to overlook the errors, then they won't buy it. The book won't succeed. But if the story is good and readers are willing to overlook the errors because they're enjoying the story then there is no reason the book shouldn't succeed. The story is paramount.

    But that's the whole point of self-publishing, authors holding themselves accountable and no one else in a position of authority or control over them where their work is concerned. No one else has the right to hold me or any other writer to their own standards. No one gets to draw a line in the sand and say "The books on this side of the line are good and the books on the other side are bad." Most inexperienced writers seem to want to do just that. They want a clear cut standard to judge their work by because that makes things a lot easier. But eventually they have to accept that fact that no such thing exists.

    The readers decide. With their wallets. End of story.
     
  13. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    6,008
    1,660
    213
    BWFoster78 likes this.
  14. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    931
    113
    Phil,

    Chuck's points are exactly what I've been trying to say. Wish I had stated them as effectively, though maybe not a colorfully, as he did.

    Thanks for posting this.

    Brian
     
  15. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Normally, I dig Chuck's posts. But this one seemed to be especially laced with bitterness. Just what I picked up, could be I'm sensitive today. I disagree with segregating self-published works. I don't see how his proposals (or rants) add anything positive to the equation. I promised myself that I would stay out of these conversations but I want to learn more about self-publishing so I give in to reading these threads. Michael Sullivan & Kevin McLaughlin's posts are so inspiring and educational. I want to personally thank them for putting their best intentions forward when sharing their views on this subject. Its refreshing.
     
  16. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    931
    113
    I interpreted Michael and Chuck to, fundamentally, have a similar viewpoint: to succeed as a self-published author, you need to work really hard on your craft before publishing and put out something that is professional quality.

    Do you disagree with that sentiment or the way it was stated by Chuck? Or, do you disagree that both Michael and Chuck stated, essentially, that?

    I don't think Michael wants you to self publish if your writing isn't ready, and I don't think Chuck wants to discourage you from self publishing if your writing is ready. And, I think that everyone agrees that it can be difficult to determine whether your writing is or isn't ready.
     
  17. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Yes, I believe in my work being of professional quality before I submit publish. I don't think that self-published works should be segregated in the way that Chuck Wendig mentioned in his article for my own reasons. I don't wish to add on to anything negative so I'll stop here. But I appreciate when other authors state their viewpoints in a polite and helpful fashion. Instead of focusing on the negative, do so on the positive.

    Focusing on the negative isn't getting anyone anywhere. But I have a different take on it and all our viewpoints vary. I think being negative accentuates the problem and gives a bad image where it isn't needed.

    I follow one Indie author in particular on Twitter and her blog. She's doing very well for herself and I like to think that she teaches me the proper way to do things. I never read anything negative from her. She shares her experiences about the industry and does it in an effective way. That's what I appreciate and that's all I meant from my comment above.
     
    Mythopoet likes this.
  18. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    931
    113
    Chesterama,

    I think you may have misread his point. The way I interpreted the post, he's not advocating for those changes. Instead, he's saying that those changes (segregation of self published authors) are possible natural consequences if things don't change. He's not saying, "I want these things to happen." He's saying, "If self published authors don't change what they're doing, these negative consequences are going to occur."

    He's trying to stop those consequences from occurring by drawing attention to them.

    I get that you don't like seeing the negative pointed out.

    It seems to me that, if you're trying to convince someone to change their behavior, you have two choices - tell them what can go wrong if they keep doing what they're doing or tell them all the positive things that can happen after the change is made. (Actually, an obvious third choice is probably best - tell them both the good and the bad.)

    I happen to think that both approaches are valid, but I accept that you disagree.

    Hopefully, however, you understand that Chuck is trying to help self publishers even if you disagree with his methods.
     
  19. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    628
    224
    43
    I'm saying that there are many ways to make an error, and I've NEVER read a perfect book without at least 2 - 3 errors that I see, and I don't notice them very often so if I find a few there is probably 10 times as many in there. I've passed the same book through multiple editors and I can tell you that editor #2 finds WAY more than 30 errors per 100 pages after editor #1 and we are talking about professional editors that are employed by big-five and have worked on New York Times Bestsellers. So my point is that when you have that many words, and with all the combinations of ways to make a mistake, I think it that there will always be some in there. Ask a programmer if he/she writes bug-free code? They don't we all have mistakes. The world is an imperfect place. We do the best we can. Also, people don't often agree on what is "right" I've had people report an error and it turns out they didn't understand things like the difference in punctuation between a dialog tag and and an action tag. So why they thought there was an error it was actually correct.

    There is a lot more subjectivity then you would think and one person's subjectivity is another person's "error." Take for instance commas on introductory prepositional phrases. Some editors always put a comma, some only put the comma if the phrase is "long" (4 - 5 words) some omit it if two words. Depending on who you talk to commas there can be right or wrong - some will count it as an error, some will recognize it is a stylistic mistake. Same thing with a comma before too at the end of a sentence. Some houses take it out, some leave it in, some do a bit of both. Is it a typo? Depends on who you talk to.



    My guess is there are many more than that in there - if you were to give those to a "fresh editor" the book won't come back with just 1 - 3 changes.

    I'm traditionally published, by a very large and respected publisher. And I know my book has errors in it. Some I see when I do re-reading, some are pointed out by readers. Is it 30 / 100 pages? I don't know I've never really added them up - but I still content that if 5 are found there are probably 3 or 4 times that many that are there and not being reported.


    It depends on the person and their particular threshold. I got an email once from a reader that was "outraged by the number of errors they found." I apologized and told them I would get them fixed if they would send them along. They reported 6 errors in a 320 page book - and one wasn't actually an error. For them that was outrageous - to me it was "pretty good."

    No argument there. As I said you have to be twice as good to get half the credit. It's one of the reasons I'm so picky about edits and drive my editors crazy - sometimes even pitting two editors against one another because their edits don't agree. Nothing wrong with having a "zero tolerance policy" I've just never found ANY book that has met that criteria.
     
  20. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    628
    224
    43
    I also had problem with this post. You know when someone says, "I don't mean to be insulting, but..." you know that an insult is coming your way. I kinda feel this way about Chuck. He says "I want to get it out right away that I'm an author-publisher and I support it...but now I'm going to tell you what is wrong with everyone who self-publishes and why they have to be segregated and kept away from "professionals." To say use "goose, goose, book" to pick a book at random is ridiculous. I doubt many people are "discovering books" through this. That's not how people "discover works."

    Whenever I hear people say they can't find "good" self-published books, I immediately think the don't "want" to find them. Look at the Amazon Bestingselling list and Top Rated lists in your favorite genre - you'll find A LOT of novels that you can sample and if it tickles your fancy buy it.

    Chuck is not particularly successful at self-publishing. He may produce quality work (I don't know I've never tried any of his stuff) but I don't think he operates the way I see most "professional" self-publishers act. They are much more dedicated to willing their books into existence by constant improvement. Trying a new cover, a price promotion, a different blurb. A follow-up book. They keep at it and it pays off - as you can see by their ratings. Chuck, on the other hand seems to put up something but then expects it to take off on it's own - and low and behold it doesn't. The conclusion....well if only there wasn't all this junk laying around they would find my books - so I must berate all the junk.

    I'm with Kevin, and others....books that are poorly conceived and executed fade away. Yes they are still on Amazon but with rankings of 1,000,000+ they sell one every 4 months so who cares. I don't concern myself with the "volcano of sh*t" I'm too busy writing books that my fans are clamoring for...but when I do roll out a book...I do it right. Doesn't matter whether it is self or traditional, I'm going to give it as much care in the marketing as I do in the writing, because if I don't then it will fail, and I'll have no one to blame but myself.

    On a more personal note. I'm glad that you find my posts helpful and inspiring. You are very welcome...to me it is reward enough to hear that people get something out of them.
     
Loading...

Share This Page