A question for Pete about Self Publishing

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Ageism in Publishing

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Jun 25, 2017
@AgentPete : Last night, while we were talking, I brought up the subject of self publishing. Having been, quite frankly, thoroughly exhausted, by my attempts to get published, I am slowly starting to cave to those around me. Several people have made comment that it would be easier, and indeed these days, equally viable, to self publish some of my work rather than jump through the hoops of the publishing industry.
You, however, were clearly not swayed by this argument and I sense you have something to say on the subject. Could you maybe explain your thoughts on this a little? I'd be very interested to hear them.
Unless you have a clear plan and route to market, self-pub is similar to vanity pub, except you don’t feel so ripped-off afterwards :)

In other words, it’s a business - and you have to approach it in a business-like way. Now if your readership is well-defined and quite easy to reach, it’s certainly an option. If not, then it’s highly unlikely anything much will happen.

I could go on, but it’s the sort of topic that lends itself to a Village Hall meetup...
I decided to go the self-pub route this year, and I agree with @AgentPete. Unless you're going to go at it from a marketing/business perspective, it's not for you. Or unless you really don't care, and just want to have a book to give to your friends and family. I made the decision to do it, because that's exactly how I view my writing--as a business--I can't justify writing full-time unless I'm seriously trying to make a go at paying the bills with it. And I didn't see a path to this until I decided to merge my old business (educational outreach) with the new (writing). Doesn't mean I don't keep my eyes open for the perfect opportunity for a traditional publishing contract--there are a couple of publishers I keep my eye on--but self-pub puts me in the driver's seat, which suits my 'business model' if you will. Am I paying the bills yet? Nope. Not even close. But I'm at least not waiting around for someone else to decide the fate of my books. Do I enjoy marketing? Hell, no. It sucks. But that's the price I pay for getting my books out on my schedule.
Thanks for the replies, guys. You have merely stated what I already knew/feared. Having published two novels through the Amazon Kindle Program, I know all too well how limited they are if you cannot get the book in front of those who might care. And building a market or audience for your work from the comfort of your laptop is an almost impossible task.
Thing is, self publishing, whatever form it may take (not KDP again, in my case) is looking to be the only option.
The crapshoot that is the publishing industry is just too much to bare, I'm afraid. The math involved, the odds that are stacked against you are astronomical. Having a great idea and talent are just meaningless these days. Having a book that is completed and ready to go is equally as hollow. Simple fact is, that even if I were sat on the most perfectly written, immaculately edited, wonderfully readable blockbuster of tomorrow, the chances of it ending up in front of the right agent, at the right time, when they are in the right mood and of that agent having a suitable spot in their portfolio is so small as to be close to nil. The print industry is - and I apologise to @AgentPete for this - far too timid, only willing to stick even the smallest of pinkies in water on the safest of books.

This is not bitterness speaking, but rather sadness. I am willing to jump through any hoops necessary to get my work published, but the truth is that no one wants to help you (Again, sorry, Pete). I can read all the books in the world, in and around the field I am writing in, but I cannot guess what will tickle the fancy of a publisher. Until @AgentPete started these wonderful interactive submission sessions, I simply had no idea what I was doing "wrong", and even now I have grasped that, I am still destined to have no luck. That the industry is so intolerant and frankly derisive of any submissions that do not meet its "standards" but are so utterly unwilling to actually tell anyone what those standards are just baffles me. Its a giant guessing game, the cost of which is the patience and mental health of writers. I understand why the industry functions as it does - publishers cannot nurse everyone towards the standard they require - but that in no way alleviates the frustration.

Anyway, I've had my moan; I'll get back my box now.:rolleyes:
I understand your sadness, Howard. In 2013-2014, I self-published 44 titles, including short stories, novellas, poetry and collections of song lyrics. I didn't expect much to happen, despite thousands of hours of work in creating and editing these pieces, for I sensed how difficult it is to get known in any creative art. Just seeing that 100 other writers had uploaded their work onto Smashwords in the two minutes it took for my novella to be processed for acceptance, showed how crowded a field I was entering.

My ebooks are still on Smashwords and Amazon, and to be honest I don't know what worth they have to me as an author. By that, I don't mean financial, more that they may serve as a calling card in some way I can't predict. For one thing, collectively they've been downloaded 11,000 times by I don't know how many readers. I made them all free at Christmas 2015, intending to attract interest to my name to launch my first Cornish Detective novel. I'm very glad that I changed my mind about doing so, for it would have sunk without trace, as I'd done virtually no marketing. I have no way of knowing if any of those readers will recall my name. I look upon my free offer as similar to merchandisers giving away food samples in supermarket aisles—do the customers remember which brand of cheese they just ate? Probably not....

Changing tactics, I switched to querying literary agents and publishers with open submissions windows. I've made submissions to 400 in three years, not hearing back from 250, receiving form letters of rejection from 146 and a mere four replies that were personalised in any way. To be frank, the main reason that I chased a traditional publishing deal at all, was not for some deep-seated desire to see my book in a physical form on a shelf, nor for any potential cash advance on sales, but simply to get help with the marketing of my work. I suspect that a lot of authors have the same motivation.

The thing is, publishing is in a constant state of flux, not to say turmoil. These days, agents and publishers expect their clients to be actively involved in the hoopla by having a website, a blog, Twitter feed, Facebook profile, maybe some Youtube videos of you making erudite and entertaining observations about books. My attitude is, that if I'm expected to do all of that razmataz for 15% of sales (less the agent's 15%), then why not do it for myself through self-publishing and keep 100% of any profit? If I'm going to be a performing monkey, I want to keep all of the nuts!

I don't want to do any of this, for though I'm a confident and entertaining speaker, I'd rather be writing new stories than talking about old ones. The days of the reclusive author are over—just imagine what Harper Lee would be expected to do if she were launching To Kill a Mockingbird as a debut author in 2017....

The only thing that's true about publishing, for an author, is that you have to keep knocking on the door. No one is going to come calling to ask if you've got a manuscript they can read. Getting agents, publishers and readers to hear your knocking may take years. Becoming bulletproof, impervious to rejection, is an essential quality for a writer. To console yourself, just Google 'famous writers who were rejected' to see what good company you're in.

No one knows what's going to work in publishing until it does.

Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.

Jacob Riis
Try not to be discouraged, @Howard , people do get taken on by agents and publishers all the time and the slush pile does work. Keep writing and learning and places like Litopia are the best places to hone your craft. Yes there's an element of luck but I firmly believe that we make our own luck. If your book is good enough (and the market isn't saturated with similar) then it will happen. If not then maybe your next book will be the one. Keep the faith :)
@Paul Whybrow Jesus! OK, your situation rather puts mine into perspective! I have only tried to market (self publish) two novels, yet here you are with a veritable armada of work! Thank you for sharing that. It was very helpful.

@Kitty Thank you and you are right. I am just being down. Life gets the better of us at times. Having that moment.

To return to what Paul was saying, self publishing is just crazy. As an example, after my first book took off (by way of a controversial review, as detailed elsewhere in these forums) it went on to sell more than 25,000 copies! Sounds great, though I earned essentially nothing from it thanks to Amazon's rates, but the weirdest thing is what followed. After the book took off, I was inundated on email, my blog and Facebook with people begging me for the sequel. And so, I slaved away producing said book. It was massive and took nearly 5 years to complete, edit, rewrite and finally publish, but eventually, the glorious day came when I could unleash it upon my apparently ravenous and expectant readers.
It has, in 3 years, sold less than 50 copies. Book 1 still outsells it 15 to one.
Maybe you can make sense of that. I sure as hell cannot.

Anyway, thanks to both of you. Your support and empathy is welcomed.
I'm planning a Facebook launch event later this month (date to be announced) for 'Cause of All Causes' and want to set up a launch team.

If interested you'd all (I guess up to 10 authors) be welcome to join the launch team and answer questions about your own books during the event (which I will set for 2 hours with a 10 minute slot for each author; the dialogue would be through the Facebook event page).

There will be some advance promotion to include your names and three of your book titles you are happy to discuss and we'll set up a special page on my website with links to your books. This will page be permanent.

You'd need to have a Facebook profile to join in the event. Ideally, your books would need to be on Amazon and/or iTunes.

Thrillers are the main theme, but of course if you write racy sex stories then why not join in. Sex sells!

The approach seems to work for some authors but I've never tried it before. Why not give it a go?

Let me know, either here or via PM or my email james@jamesmarinero.com
The thing about self-publishing is to go into it with your eyes open. I'm primarily conventionally published, but I had a number of detective novels sitting in a virtual drawer that were never going to be published the usual way - I've self-published on Createspace/KDP and sold maybe 100 copies of each - and that's fine by me, it's 100 people enjoyed them, rather than them never seeing light of day.

The difficulty with self-pub is not doing it - it's very easy these days - it's getting enough visibility for them to take off. I've written a bit more about the self-publishing experience and some hints and tips here.
I don't really count as experienced, as I've only got four poorly-selling books self-published, but I have thought a lot about the process and have made a huge effort to learn and find self-pub resources this year. I'd be willing to oversee a self-pub back room, seed it with provocative links, etc. to get conversation rolling.
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Ageism in Publishing