Why all the indie-publishing posts, Doyce?

I’m being interviewed by another writing site in a few days (this one live, via Skype, with someone in Austrailia – it’s is SO COOL to live in the future), and they were kind enough to send me some of the questions they planned to ask, so I could get my thoughts in order. (Good plan, on their part.)

The last question on the list is a doozy: “Why are you still pursuing traditional publishing for Hidden Things when there are so many other options out there today?”

I’ll be biting my tongue not to say “masochism”.

But there’s a flipside to that question, and it goes something like this:  “You have a book that was good enough to get representation from an agent, and which you’re (slowly) bringing in line with a publisher’s desires and looking at some success with actually getting the thing published in the traditional market – getting over the threshold, really. Why are you putting so much time into learning about indie publishing?”

Like the header warns at the top of the page, I’m all about my perpetual projects and daily obsessions.  The possibilities that exist out there for authors regardless of how they want to get their work out to a reader are definitely one of my obsessions, and as such, it’s one of those things that will continue to get a lot of posting love from me on this blog.  Hopefully it’s not boring folks too much; me, I find it fascinating.

I’ve made a living of walking into completely unfamiliar new businesses every couple years, learning said business, then teaching those in the business about how to do it better — that’s how I pay the bills.  One of the things I do in those situations is question the standard operating procedures.  “It’s done this way because that’s how we do it” is an immediate red flag to me, and the more I learn about how publishing functions today, the more red-flags I see.

In the movie and music industry, the big companies started to focus only on big-money-making projects, and as a result artists that wanted to… you know… do art (or at least their own thing) went independent.  The same focus on big-money-makers has been happening within the publishing industry (thanks in part to consolidation of publishing into a half-dozen meta-imprints), but there hasn’t been the same leap to indie publishing.  Affordable tools are out there, the quality-in-production is there; authors have the ability to publish, distribute and market books without any involvement from mainstream publishers, thanks to print on demand (POD), e-book technologies, Web 2.0 and the fact that Amazon is now the #2 bookseller in North America and #1 worldwide — but the authors don’t move, because of the stigma of self-publishing.

Yes, before house-consolidations began, publishers were everywhere and there was truth to the idea that an other only self-published if they weren’t good enough to make it ‘legitimately’. This is no longer true, but the characterization of self-published authors as talentless hacks persists.

“It’s that way because it’s always been that way.”

That’s not survival behavior.  It’s not even intelligent behavior, which is puzzling, because it’s coming from intelligent people.

I post a lot on this topic right now because I’m trying to figure it out.

Caveat lector.

5 Replies to “Why all the indie-publishing posts, Doyce?”

  1. I think this is an interesting take on the whole thing. I mean, with e-book publishing being the way we are going. (I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I love books, but on the other… well… why kill trees?

    So, at some point it stands to reason… why give a publisher your money (especially when they have decided to take MORE per ebook sale now) when you can just publlish it yourself?

    I mean, I get it… the advertising, the editing, the finishing of your product… maybe we will start looking to other venues for all that then?

  2. Um Jamie…you don’t give a publisher your money.

    Here’s the thing. There is no reason not to try for traditional publishing (when I say traditional I mean you send it to them they publish it and sell it (mostly…you do more selling the smaller the publisher) it’s same for print books or ebooks) first. When you, as an artist decided to sell your work you should consider options and the avenues you want to peruse. Regardless of the rhetoric books are not going to just disappear. You have to consider not just the consuming public but the educational base, the cost of the e-readers, and frankly economics right now could send ebook sales in the gutter just as it could skyrocket them to prime time. I have a kindle ready ipod but my neighbor doesn’t. He’s gonna a book, and I’m going to buy the slightly cheaper kindle version. See what I’m saying?

    Self publishing you pay the printer and do most of the marketing yourself (Lulu for example has a distribution package.) Some are Print-on-Demand…less and less are bulk order companies.

    Further (and freer) is to create, distribute and market the ebook yourself but the work the hardest at this level.

    Each option is just that, an option. Freelancing is always an iffy business. You don’t always get paid, sometimes you have to fight for your art. You have to handle rejection even when you self publish.

    Doyce, have you done a survey of self-published authors? The most successful have a pre-established fan base to draw from: Wil Wheaton and Piers Anthony come to mind. Conversely they start as Self-pub and either work marketing magic or meet someone in the industry and move to traditional publishing never to look back.

    When you get to ebooks…without the established fan base…I can tell you what sells. Sex. Kinky vampire sex. Seriously, you want to hit the best sellers list on line…sex and vampires…sparkly pretty vampires.

    I know authors who sell do very well at it.

    Point is…it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Logston enjoyed a successful career as a fantasy author at a traditional printer and now selfpubs her books.

    Doyce…the difference though is money. Do you have the capitol for self pub…I don’t. With traditional publishing you don’t need the start up capitol…and any one telling you different is generally a scam op.

    1. I think by “give the publisher your money”, Jamie’s thinking in terms of the cut that the publisher gets that, in self-publishing, somewhat reverts to the author. Certainly, the royalties per book are quite a bit higher in self-pub than traditional.

      Michelle, you make LOTs of good points and are clearly knowledgeable about the industry.

      And yeah, sex sells. (Luckily, for me and my wife, sex has sold pretty well for us personally — we’ve coauthored a number of short-stories that have been accepted by ‘big name’ anthology publishers in traditional markets.) It’s always good to know where you have some assured income if you need it.

      As for the capitol to self pub, yeah. If I were looking at POD via CreativeSpace, it’s really a pretty insignificant output for me – and that’s assuming $500+ already invested in a good editor and a layout designer (of which I thankfully know over a dozen, thanks to being ‘in’ indie gaming).

      The trick with having a pre-existing audience online is, as Seth Godin points out, “First, Ten”.

      Find ten people who trust you/respect you/need you/listen to you…

      Those ten people need what you have to sell, or want it. And if they love it, you win. If they love it, they’ll each find you ten more people (or a hundred or a thousand or, perhaps, just three). Repeat.

      If they don’t love it, you need a new product. Start over.

      This approach changes everything, as compared to typical publishing. You don’t market to the anonymous masses. They’re not anonymous and they’re not masses. You market to people who are willing participants. The idea of a ‘launch’ and press releases and the big unveiling is wrong-headed. Instead, a gradual build turns into a swell turns into a wave.

      Three years from now, Seth says his advice will be so common as to be boring. Today, it’s almost certainly the opposite of what any given publisher is doing, and exactly what indie writers (and indie game publishers) are doing.

      You asked about a poll of independent publishers – for me, that doesn’t mean ‘writers’ as much as ‘indie game designers’, because indie gaming has been ahead of the publishing industry for awhile now, and have show that Long Tail marketing and “Find Ten” as a marketing strategy works really well.

      Frankly, if my first book sold as many copies as, say, Dogs in the Vineyard, I’d do fucking backflips.

  3. The funny thing about the first ten is you also have to find those first ten. It’s not automatically your family or your friends.

    Marketing is not only making a product someone loves, but also finding people to love it. By love it, they have to tell people and sell it themselves. You can’t force it (this is where spam goes wrong and why marketing professionals have a hard time grasping viral marketing).

    I totally agree with you that one day book publishing will go where indie gaming has. As a gal who loves her some indie gaming (need more time for it), it’s a great time to be in it.

    Thing is it’s not there yet because it doesn’t need to be. D20 glutted the market and made it difficult for indies to find publishing or shelf space…so when the buboe that is indie gaming just did itself there was a market comprised of folks that just wanted a choice. That’s my take on it. It’s just not the case yet with book publishing.

    I made myself knowledgeable about publishing at one point because I found myself suddenly teaching and encouraging writers, not just through NaNo but also through meetup. I was and am bombarded by scams, writers with self-esteem of gnats, and plenty of predators.

    IMO the best thing you can do for a good fledgling writer is tell them how the industry works then kick them out of the nest. One gal in my critique group is there and frankly needs to get her book out there as soon as possible.

    The best thing you can do for fledgling crappy writers is flog them with a willow switch because they’ll learn two important lessons. You have to want to learn to write in order to write, and a thick skin is needed for success. You can’t forget writing is ART. And to be successful in art you have either write to the market or hold out till the market comes to you (being on Oprah helps…she gets more crappy books sold than anyone).

    I actually have a degree in this crap(Writing), I say this because this is where I’m coming from (in that world ANY publishing is crap, because you should starve for your art). If someone tells you it’s too crappy to sell, it either is or you’re giving it to the wrong person…the latter being the least likely plausible senario.

    So to encapsulate: listen to your ten, but learn the wheat from chaf.

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