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The right way to view self-publishing

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

  1. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    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.
     
  2. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    I think you are right int that both myself and Chuck are saying - you owe it to your readers and your reputation to publish only books that are well written and well executed. I think where we disagree is our impressions of "self-publishing" as a whole. Chuck is much more critical and comes from a position that it is all crap and that is ruining it for everyone. I'm very much of the opinion is that there is a lot of crap, but it's existence doesn't hurt me as an author, nor does it affect readers (who will never even know that most of it exist).

    My focus is on "those doing it right." Chuvck focuses on "those doing it wrong." And I think that is where our primary differences lie.
     
  3. I've said it elsewhere, but it's relevant here too: I don't think it's particularly meaningful to say that a book is "good" or "bad." There are books I hate that have sold millions of copies, and books I love that barely saw the light of day. All that one can reasonably say is that they like or hate a book, or that a book sold well or poorly.

    You could argue that a book that sells 400,000 copies can't possibly be bad, but if I read it and hate it, what difference does it make whether I think it's good or bad? The author's doing okay.
     
    Mythopoet likes this.
  4. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Thanks for this reminder. I tend to be very opinionated and very passionate and so I often get caught up in my own fervor. But I agree with everything you've said here. I'm not very good at exemplifying it, I have to struggle against my own brand of self-importance all the time. So thanks for reminding me that it's always better to be a creative force than a destructive force.
     
  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Benjamin,

    I've said this before, too:

    It's meaningful to the author.

    To be clear, I'm not talking about books that are hugely successful; I'm talking about books that someone sends to my blog, books that they've self-published and are now trying to market, books that are so bad that they are unreadable.

    Some on this forum would, as far as I can tell, say that I should only do one of two things in response to that submission:

    1. Praise the author for the few things he may have done right - "Great job! One of your paragraphs on the first page didn't have any typos or grammatical errors!"
    2. Ignore the submission.

    As Kevin and Michael agree, that book is not going to be successful. Maybe somewhere in the world, there will be a person or two who stumble across it, buy it, and somehow make it through the entire thing without barfing, but, in general, readers are going to take one look at it and click to the next book. The book certainly isn't going to get recommendations from book bloggers or reviewers.

    If I choose either of the responses above, I am doing absolutely nothing to help that author. Nothing! He's going to have a book that fails in the marketplace, and he's not going to know why it fails.

    What happens if, instead, I tell him, "Look dude, this book is horrible. Just in the first page, I encountered these problems..."?

    In a lot of cases, the author will completely ignore my comments, deciding that his work is beyond reproach and the issues are all on me. Fine. At least, I tried.

    In some cases though, and I have encountered these, the author used my comments and recommendations as a springboard to try to improve his writing.

    I've said this a million times: what helped me become the writer I am today is that other writers took the time and effort, and cared enough, to tell me how to make my writing better. I will continue to try and return that tremendous help by passing along what I've learned to others, and a big part of that assistance is telling them that their current writing is bad.
     
  6. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Michael,

    What about the, admittedly anecdotal, evidence that Chuck put forth in his article?

    He tells the story of a reader who, upon discovering all the discounted books available, started buying them. Soon, that reader realized that the quality of all these stories was dreadful and stopped buying anything priced below what traditional publishers charge.

    He tells another story of a book blogger whose experiences with poor writing and unprofessional behavior in dealing with self published authors led her to decide to no longer review self published books.

    You are a well-known author and aren't experiencing the same realities that people like me are in trying to break into the market. One of my major advantages as someone who is self publishing is that I can set a lower price point to attract readers to my book. A lot of readers won't even consider (and I've read many, many people espousing this viewpoint) buying a book from a debut writer at a high price point. If others are now not going to consider those at a lower price point, this hurts me and everyone else starting out. Not being able to be reviewed on a lot of blogs hurts me and everyone else starting out.

    Maybe the existence of so much crap doesn't hurt you, but those are two concrete examples of real harm that is being caused to me.

    How do you recommend those who are "doing it right" stand out from the hundreds of thousands of those doing it wrong?
     
  7. Feel free to tell Joe Author that you hated his book and the reasons why. My only point is that a lot of people try to objectively classify a book as "bad" (or "good"), which is a mug's game. History is littered with "bad" books that sold hugely (*cough*Twilight*cough*) and "good" books which never find much of an audience.

    "Twilight is bad" is a common sentiment, but it's foolhardy to claim that everyone who liked it is somehow wrong or a moron.
     
  8. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Benjamin,

    The argument of "good vs bad" books in this thread has been (in my understanding anyway and I'm one of the main contributors to the discussion) framed around books put out by self published authors.

    Some would say, if I've interpreted them correctly, that it isn't possible to differentiate a good book from a bad book. Others would say, again if I've interpreted them correctly, that it is somehow wrong on a moral or ethical level to call out someone for writing a bad book.

    I disagree with both those viewpoints.

    I think that it is possible to say that a given self published book is good or bad, and I think there's more moral imperative to say so than there is to remain silent.
     
  9. It isn't useful to label a book "good" or "bad" because those terms mean different things to different people in the same conversation. Some people say "bad" and mean "I read the whole thing and hated it, but it's fine if you like it," some people mean "I read it and hated it and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong and/or stupid," some people mean "it doesn't meet basic grammatical/spelling requirements and that stopped me from reading any further so I have no knowledge of or opinion about the storytelling/characterization," some people mean "it's competently written but the way the author treats the main character pissed me off", etc. That's why I try to avoid saying a book is "good" or "bad." Nobody agrees on what those terms mean, and they all just end up talking past each other, mainly because they don't even realize they're not using consistent terminology. It's better just to be more specific.

    Even terms like "poorly written," which sound more subjective, are often used to mean either "doesn't meet basic grammatical requirements" or "I don't like the writing style" (I have a friend who hates the Harry Potter books because she doesn't like Rowling's prose style, but she loves the world/story/characters–but no one can seriously argue that the HP books have significant misspellings or grammatical errors) or any number of other things.

    I vehemently disagree with that position. If you hate a book, you're perfectly justified in saying why. ("Calling someone out" can mean various things, though; publicly shaming them in a blog post is different than sending them a polite email explaining why you disliked it.)
     
  10. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Benjamin,

    I can understand where you are coming from. It's the ultimate frustration to have a debate with someone and discover after much arguing that the primary issue is that you haven't defined terms.

    For the record, my message to such authors is typically along the lines of, "I feel your writing isn't yet ready to be published. I suggest working on this, this, and this and then seeking feedback on Scribophile."
     
  11. That sounds reasonable to me. I'd probably phrase it a little differently (either "I think you should change X, Y, and Z before you publish it" which is more subjective than "isn't ready to be published", or "I'd change X, Y, and Z before I published this").
     
  12. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    Well I have a very simple solution for this. Don't price at $0.99 and $2.99!! Seriously, When I was self-published my books were $4.95 - $6.95 and I had no problem selling them (I had some months at 10,000 - 12,000 sales a month). Part of being indistinguishable is a recognition that your IP has value and if you produce a solid product you should charge a reasonable price for it.

    Giving a bit of a discount is fine...but I think a $0.99 and $2.99 (unless it is being done for a VERY limited time period as a promotion) as the "going price" is a bad idea. In April, I'm returning to self-publishing (well actually hybrid as the print book and the audio book are put out by standard traditional publishers). I'm listing the ebook for $7.99 and provide it for a 15% discount at $6.49 if bought directly from me. I think the book is (a) worth that price and (b) won't see push back from readers.

    Bottom line...I think self-publishers put themselves in a ghetto of their own making. They need to have the courage to price higher. Another great example is Mitchell Hogan who released his Crucible of the Soul at $7.99 and sold more than 10,000 copies in a really reasonable amount of time. I would venture to think that most readers didn't even know they were getting something self published.

    And he gives the solution to that - treat bloggers with ultimate respect, as they are deserving of it. When I send out review requests I present myself extremely professionally...and always have, even when I was a nobody. For some tips on what that means...here are some resources.

    * Dos and Don'ts of Getting your books reviews
    * How to get you book reviewed
    * Marketing 101: Reviews

    There are many review sites...and yes some of them don't accept self-published, but there are even some who specialize in that. When I was self-published many peopled didn't know it because I was under an imprint created by my wife. So I could try to submit to sites that said "no self-publish" because there was an imprint on the spine. But...I never did. Because when push comes to shove I didn't have to pass any gate to get my wife to put out my books. And you know what? As reviews of my books starting coming out I got those same sites ASKING for review copies, and more than a few of them that purchased the books on their own.

    I hear this a lot...that the situation is different for me...and it is. But we all start out in the same spot. I had ZERO following when I started out. No twiter, no facebook, no readers. I built my audience - sometimes one at a time. But I had a good product and once I got some people to take a look, they evangelized and brought in other readers. If anything it is easier now then when I started as it wasn't a viable choice - so everyone there was in the camp of being there because the had no other option. Now authors are self-publishing because there in many ways it is the better choice (for those who can produce a quality product and love having control). I'm not saying it's for everyone, but I do know more self-published authors earning a living wage then I do traditionally published ones.

    It's a major advantage to have control over price...but just because you CAN doesn't mean you should. Price reductions are a "lazy mans way" of generating sales and don't work, and can even hurt if you have a product that is sub-standard and has few to no reviews. If you have a book that people have heard of, and you have a lot of reviews, then lowering a price is a good strategy to catapult sales - but only if done for a short time.

    And yes a lot of readers won't consider a debut writer at a high price point...so don't concentrate on sales until you have three books out (no longer debut) and not until you have a good number of reviews. (have already proven you are worth reading). When you are new and no one knows who you are - you have to make yourself known. If you make yourself known and your books still don't sell...then you probably don't have as good of a book as you thought you did. What I'm suggesting takes a lot of work. There is no "easy" way in this business. Those that release at $0.99 are looking for the "easy way." and shouldn't be surprised when it doesn't work.


    A few things.

    1. You have to ACTUALLY be doing it right...which means you have an exceptional book that is well executed. 95% of ALL books don't fall into this category. This is so incredibly hard to do and it is the first step. I personally don't think Chuck falls into the 5% when it comes to his self-published books. He doesn't really a product that when I get done reading I say, "Wow, I have to tell everyone I know about this book!"

    2. You have to be writing books that have a reasonably-sized audience. If you are writing "too niche" there won't be enough people to support you.

    3. You have to get it in front of a few people to start the word-of-mouth. Even if this means doing it by hand - one person at a time. You need to target people who talk about books - so bloggers, Amazon reviewers, and goodreads is where you should be looking.

    4. You have to produce at least 3 books. Less than that and you don't have enough content to justify spending much time doing #3. When you only have 1 or 2 books you should be writing more books.

    5. You need to rinse and repeat. You may not catch with your first book, or your first series, but if you keep at it AND are doing 1-4 one of them will eventually ignite then spread the fire to the other ones.


    I don't agree with Chuck that Amazon is a mess and impossible to find quality reads at. Anyone who says that is just not trying. All I need to do is go to any book I like and look at "customers also bought" or go to a bestselling genre list or a top-rated genre list. He seemed to gloss over why he thinks it is so hard. It in fact rewards those that do it right - and while choosing 10 random books will produce bad results - because the bad do outweigh the good - but NO ONE finds books that way. They look at things they have liked, and then search out others that are similar.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2014
    BWFoster78 likes this.
  13. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    An individual can certainly determine what is "good" and "bad" from their perspective, given what they value and how closely the book lives up to or away from those values.

    The fallacy comes when people try to project that beyond an individual and think that there can be some "universal standard" that if a book passes it is in the clear.

    There are many who discuss "objectively" bad books - and this just is a fool's game. Because all books are art and art is perceived, by it's vary nature, subjectively. Objective is something that is not in dispute...this book is 480 pages long. This book weighs 1.3 pounds. This book has 100,000 words.

    Let's look at a great example....Anthony Ryan's Blood Song. It is one of the few books that I felt so strongly about that I volunteered a blurb for. It has received thousands of positive reviews, been called out on a few "best of lists" and got a traditional deal with Ace (US) and Orbit (UK) and has sold very successfully. By all measurable standards it is a success...and I think it is a good book.

    But when I read the self-published version. There were a lot of mistakes in it. Many many more than the 30 per 100 pages that was talked about elsewhere. But you know what...I didn't care. The story was good enough for me to overlook those aspects. In a "lesser book" I might not feel similarly but for this one I was willing to give it a pass on the criteria of "expertly edited."

    As for calling a spade a spade. I have no problem with you doing so. I would prefer that such discussions were held in private person-to-person as it were. With the exception of one I've never posted a negative review. There are books I didn't like, and I can explain why, but it is always with the recognition that there are aspects about it that would work for others...it was, essentially "not my cup of tea."

    If I came across a book from an author (self or traditional) that I thought wasn't up to par, I'd explain that I'm (a) very picky and (b) give them the choice to hear my opinions or not. A strong willed person who wants to improve will say yes. For those that just can't take the heat...I give them a way out. That's what "I" do and as for what others "should" do - I don't have the right to say one way or the other.

    I will say, that I think that writing is a really hard gig - and writers should support and encourage one another and I hate seeing when we "eat our own." I see this mostly from "literary writers" who slam anything that sells well as being somehow "unworthy." It's an attitude I"m tired of seeing. It stinks of "sour grapes" and an "elitist" and attitude. I'm not saying you do this. I'm just speaking in generalities about writers reviewing writers in the larger context.
     
  14. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    Benjamin is a great and wise man - but only because we are in complete agreement.
     
  15. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Michael,

    First of all, thank you very much for your replies. I found your response to my first post above quite informative.

    As to the quoted section, it seems at odds with what else you've said. Maybe we're just not understanding one another.

    In the post that I liked so much above, you said this:

    To me, this is saying that it is possible to judge, on some objective level, whether a book falls into the 5% or not. That is all I'm trying to say, that it's not all that hard, if you're trying to judge a book objectively, to say, "Yes, this book is good enough to fall in the 5%." It's ridiculously easy, by comparison, to be able to say, "Look, your book doesn't even fall in the top 50%."

    And I agree 100% with you that "mistakes" don't matter at all if the book is good, which is what makes it so hard to define what a good book is. I keep saying, "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."

    I agree with you here as well. For the most part, these exchanges take place over email. If the remarks are public, I try to tone them down quite a bit.

    I went back and forth on the negative reviews. At the moment, I pretty much don't publish a review if I can't give it at least 2-stars, and all my reviews are in the form of: I liked these things about the book AND I didn't like these things about the book.

    Though I haven't encountered this, I can understand your concern. Everyone I've dealt with that has criticized me, I've really felt that their ultimate goal was to help me improve my writing. I think that the standard we should all stive for: ultimately are you trying to help the other person? I try to behave as I want others to behave to me. If there's an issue with my writing, I want it pointed out so that I can fix it and learn from fixing it.

    EDIT: BTW, I referenced some of your advice on my latest blog post and linked to your site. Here's the link: http://www.brianwfoster.com/ill-be-your-gatekeeper/
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2014
  16. stephenspower

    stephenspower Inkling

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    Wait, what? Every book will have a couple of mistakes in it, but 5 or 10 is embarrassing and 30/100 pages is outlandishly shoddy. Chilari is right.
     
  17. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    The problem is that Michael, I think, included "writing" mistakes in those errors and Chilari, as far as I can tell, only intended obvious typos and grammar/punctuation issues in her number.

    I hate it when one side is saying, "Man, I love oranges." and the other is saying, "No, apples suck."
     
  18. I'm going to have that tattooed on my sternum.
     
  19. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Better yet, use it as a book endorsement on a back cover!
     
  20. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    You are welcome...I'm enjoying the exchange.

    Oh, sorry...I should have elaborated. I forget that there are things I say so often that I take them as a given and forget that I may not have mentioned them here.

    As I said, various people are going to have different (and subjective) terms of what a "good book is." When I'm speaking about an author who is building a writing career that can support themselves financially what I mean by "good" is one that a reader enjoys so much that they recommend it to others. That is VERY hard to do. Think about your own reading and how many books you've read over the years. How many have you talked about and recommended to others? Probably a very small % of the total. But a big component to getting to that point is getting someone to read it in the first place and that means a "professional execution" -- an attractive cover, compelling marketing blurb, well designed layout (because the person is going to sample or flip through the book) and an opening that captivates...as they aren't going to read the whole thing when sampling. That's a lot of criteria to hit simultaneously hit out of the ballpark - which increases the difficulty level exponentially.

    Under this criteria...Twilight and Dan Brown are "good books." I'm not speaking about the quality of their writing. But another "objective" criteria is sales...and there is no disputing the sales numbers of these books are substantial. I know it offends some people's artistic sensibility to say such things...but the fact is no matter what we as writers might think of the quality of the craft, there is no denying that they told a story that resonated in some way with enough people that it became successful. If the goal is to "earn" a living wage you MUST write a book that people will recommend to others. This may be because it is a "thrilling page turner." It may be because it provides some amazing insight into the nature of one's soul. Or it may be because it is on a particularly "hot subject."


    No, I can't agree. There is no way to "objectively judge the top 5%. Trying to determine which book will "catch fire" and be in that top 5% is not easy. If it were, then there would never be a book that bombs coming out from the big-five. I do agree that saying, "In my opinion your book is not ready for prime-time." And in fact I give that unhappy news to aspiring authors often. I'm not saying you can't do that (again based on your personal bias), but you could also be completely wrong, just as I'm sure that certain books that some authors would deem "unworthy" went on to sell millions.

    Well I always think mistakes "matter," but also feel people will be more than happy to overlook a typo for a compelling story. But your statement proves my point. Based on your individual subjective criteria you can divide the books into "good" and "bad."

    I think it is important to provide some "sugar" with the "medicine" and appreciate that you find what you think is good. I really like the way Bookworm Blues does her reviews. She definitely doesn't like everything she reads, but she tempers her negative criticism by mentioning that just because something didn't work for her, doesn't mean that it won't be enjoyed by others.

    It's a good attitude, and one that will serve you well in your career. Just don't fall into the trap of projecting your feelings to others. It "should" be how all authors feel. But there are many who do not. For some people it just won't help, and in some it can even hurt. Knowing which you are dealing with is the rub.

    Thanks I'll check it out.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2014
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