Thursday, November 20, 2008

A little more about self-publishing, and a little more other stuff too

In a funny coincidence, on Monday or Tuesday evening I received an Author Questionnaire in my email, from the wonderful folks at Del Rey. And, well, wow.

They are THOROUGH. There's a lot of stuff on there. While I don't actually have answers for some of it--since nobody wants to give me awards and I never went to college, and am a big old loser who doesn't belong to any professional associations or anything, which is actually quite depressing--it's a clear sign that there is a nice, big publicity dept. at Del Rey, and they're waiting to do whatever they can to promote me and my book.

You're not going to get that from a self-publisher. Not at all. Not one bit. You'll be on your own, floundering around in a very confusing world.

See, the thing is, the writing world is all about competition. Not directly--well, sort of, but I'm getting there in a minute--because all books are different. But yes, directly, because there has to be a reason for a reader to pick up your book instead of someone else's.

A professionally published book has a lot of competition. And while a publisher can and will do whatever they can to sell your book (remember, we talked about that "Publishers don't do any promo" myth a week or two ago), they can't make anyone read it. All they can do is get it into stores, send it to review publications and websites, and set up whatever signings or tours or events or whatever they can. They can get the word out, and put the book in front of readers who may be interested in it. Promoting Unholy Ghosts to, for example, elderly ladies who spend their time playing tennis and gardening is probably not the best use of promotional dollars; those ladies are not likely to be interested in a book about drugs, ghosts, and ghettos.

And my publisher knows that, which is why they will probably not be advertising the book in the AARP newsletter (I mean no disrespect here, of course, to AARP members or kick-ass grandmas who love urban fantasy; I'm sure there are some out there. I'm just saying the market is very small.)

But for that market, my book is in direct competition with books those ladies would like better. Danielle Steele or Maeve Binchy novels, for example (and I loves me some Maeve, foreals). Books about how to perfect your backswing by repotting ivy. Women's fiction with older female characters. Family sagas. Reams of non-fiction and memoirs. All of that stuff is likely to attract those grandmas before they start looking for books about junkie witches set in punk-rock ghettos. So if we decided to go for that audience, we'd have a hard slog convincing them to give me a go, with all that other stuff out there attracting their attention.

Worse than that, all the other stuff out there is right under their noses, at the bookstore or the grocery store or Wal-Mart or Sam's Club or wherever they buy their books. In bookstores I'm on an equal footing with them, because my book is there too. But if they buy their books exclusively at Publix? There's a good chance I won't be there.

And therein lies the main problem with self-publishing fiction. You cannot get into bookstores. When the rep from my publisher and/or the rep from the distributer talks to the bookstore, they talk about my book, because that's what they're paid to do. When you're self-published, you're not even going to get a meeting. You might--might--be able to get into your local bookstore, if you talk to the manager. But nationwide? Forget it. There's a very, very slim chance it will happen, but it probably won't.


Because readers aren't stupid.

This is not a reflection on you or your ability, it really isn't. You may be a wonderful writer who simply has no interest in "going corporate". As I said on onday, it's a feeling I sympathize with and understand.

But readers don't. Readers, real readers, know about books. They know what good writing is. They know who their favorite authors are, and they can probably name at least two or three of the big publishers, if not more. They know when they're looking at a book not published with one of those houses. They know, when they open the book, if it's badly written. Quite frankly, if they don't know that? They're probably not big readers to begin with, and so are even less likely to be looking for something new to read, and grabbing your book or ordering it online. (I see countless self-published or vanity-published writers out there who admit they don't read and/or don't like to read; yet they expect people to buy and read their books. Why? I don't like playing video games, so I wouldn't expect anyone to enjoy playing a game I came up with. If I don't like to do it, why do I think other people would waste their time with me?)

I know you're thinking, "But they don't have to be real readers. I want the people who only buy a couple of books a year! That's all I need." To which I say, with some sadness, "Good luck." Because those people? Are even less likely to be trolling the internet looking for new novels. They're less likely to buy a novel by someone whose name they don't recognize. We're talking about people who buy ten copies of the latest NY bestseller to give as Christmas gifts, and never walk into a bookstore the rest of the year.

Nor do most review sites want to review self-published books, for the very reason of their not having been through a "vetting" process. Good as yours might be, you have to bear the weight of all those terrible ones out there; yours will be lumped in with them. Not to mention that, while we do have issues on occasion with professionally-published writers who throw internet tantrums over poor or lukewarm or simply not stellar reviews, the incidence appeares to be much higher with self-published books; these are people who don't understand that reviews are written for readers, not as cheap or free promo for authors.

The simple fact is, in self-publishing fiction you are competing against every other novel out there. Novels published by companies the public trusts. Novels in bookstores. Novels with reviews in magazines and on websites. Novels in other stores. Novels their friends and family are talking about. Novels that people have turned into TV shows or films. It's a tough world even for writers published by the major houses; imagine if you didn't have any of that backing at all.

As a self publisher you're not just a writer. You have dozens of jobs, including sales. As a professionally-published writer, you have one. Writing. Yes, it takes a lot of hard work and time to get there. But it's so worth it. And really, if you're self-publishing because you don't want to do the work and/or the wait to get a NY contract, do you really think you'll have the time, patience, and persistence you need to do all those extra jobs too?

Anyway. In other news. As I mentioned early at the League, I have started a new Yahoo group. My old group was shamefully dead; I never did much with it at all. It was also a December group, whereas the new one is for Stacia's UF. So. Head on over to the new Stacia Kane Newsgroup and sign up. I really am going to do stuff with it, I promise. Excerpts, teasers, actual news--I even plan to do a semi-quarterly newsletter--all those good things. So I hope to see you there. Especially as there should be some interesting news soon, and it will go there first.


Charles Gramlich said...

And if you're a writer who still has a day job.... Well, lets just say you get to wear many hats and most of them don't fit comfortably.

writtenwyrdd said...

Good points!

laughingwolf said...

exactly, charles...

i'll be signing up to your new group

BernardL said...

Nothing like doing a book signing with a self-published book. I saw a woman sitting alone at a table with a stack of her books outside the Waldens at the Mall years back. We were Christmas shopping so we passed the Waldens a few times. I could see on her face it was a heck of a lot more fun writing the book than it was selling it. :)

Marian said...

The sad part is that for every good point you make, there'll be an argument that the self- or vanity-published new author will have (I specify "new" because once they've tried to sell their books long enough, most of them feel differently).

- They don't want to sell out to the Man and submit to big publishers

- There are negatives to being picked up by a major publisher as well; you just don't hear about those problems

- They like hand-selling their own books, one at a time, because they know the most about their book and therefore will be its best advocate and salesperson

- Their passion and positive attitude will make all the difference

And so on and so on.

December/Stacia said...

Exactly, Charles. There's a reason people in sales/marketing/promo at the big houses work full-time.

Thanks, Written and Laughingwolf! The group is really fun so far!

Oh, Bernard, that's just so sad. I'm really afraid of the idea of signings because I'm terrified no one will show up; I can't imagine doing it for a book that isn't even in stores. How awful that must feel. And the saddest part is, there are people who think that's the way it's supposed to work; they think that's what writing is all about, and it kills their enthusiasm. Shame.

Hi Marian! Thanks for the comment!
Yep, you're exactly right. They always think their book is going to be different. They always cite Paolini or the Christmas Box guy, and you can't explain to them how, frex, Paolini's parents already ran a small press, and spent over 30k and something like a year of their time doing nothing but touring bookstores and schools and doing events and stuff. Nor do they follow the logic to its obvious conclusion, which is that every successful self-published book eventually gets signed to a major house; there's a reason for that, and it's because doing it all yourself is exhausting and expensive, you know?
Like I said the other day, the selling out argument is the only one I do sort of understand; but this isn't music or something where there's already a distro system set up. It's much harder, much more convoluted and confusing.

kirsten saell said...

There's a dude in my town who recently got published, through a not-quite-vanity publisher. When he heard I was also published, he had all kinds of questions for me.

Him: How much promotion does your publisher want you to do? Me: As much or as little as I choose.

Him: Huh. How many author copies do they want you to buy? Me: I get ten for free, then I get however many I want at a 40% discount.

Him: But they'll reduce your list price if you promise to buy more copies, right? Like they said if I bought 250 copies, they'd reduce the cover price of my book from $35 to $27. Me: Hard cover? Him: Trade paperback. Me: Dude. $35 for a trade paperback?!

Him: I'd like your opinion. Would you check out my publisher's website and tell me what you think? Me: Have you signed the contract? Him: Uh, yeah. Me: I guess I could look at their site...

I haven't given him my opinion yet--what would be the point, when he's already signed? The first page of the website (all info selling their company to aspiring authors, rather than anything for booksellers, or even info on how I could purchase a book) was nothing but red flags. I think, from the look on his face when I told him how my publisher--my little, itty-bitty ebook publisher--did business, he realized he'd screwed up.

Now he's stuck with something like 250 author copies of a book and no way to sell them. He's gonna be sitting all alone at a table outside a Chapters somewhere, looking all forlorn. It really is a shame.

You have these newbs who check out all the publishers and they go for the ones that sound the most helpful. The ones that actually tell you they'll provide quality cover art and editing, and give you a handbook detailing how best to market your book, and how they have distribution here and here and here, and all that. And they just don't even realize that if the company has to tell authors how great they are, something stinks right there. They just figure it will be easier and more comfortable going with these nice people who seem so supportive. And by the time they realize it's BS, it's too freaking late.


Anonymous said...

I would just like to address the irony of the fact that you have books published with Ellora's Cave and don't seem to know the history of that publisher. EC was started as a self publishing venture. Now you reap the reward of someone else's hard work in self publishing that expanded into something more.

Also, readers don't know or care who published a book. You live in a world where nearly everybody you know knows the names of every publishing imprint in the known galaxy. That's not exactly on the radar of your average non-writing reader.