My wife and I got in an argument recently over something I posted on Facebook. Basically, she thought I was misleading people by mentioning that I “signed a non-exclusive distribution agreement for my new book!”
The post was entirely true. Her point was that she believed people were mislead into thinking I was offered some sort of publishing deal, with all the (arguably) included frills.
I didn’t feel the same way, to say the least.
My intent was to brag a little, sure. I was pretty pumped to get signed up with LSI (LightningSource) for their worldwide distribution and placement in Amazon. I wasn’t lying–it wasn’t a “publishing” deal, so I didn’t say that.
She asked me why I wouldn’t just say, “I just self-published my book!” instead.
I told her it was because of the stigma.Two years ago, I would have described “self-published authors” as the crazy cat ladies, creepy bearded guys that hang out in libraries and wear sweatpants too much.
There’s a predefined stereotype of the words “self-published” and the authors who engage in it.
The publishing landscape has changed drastically, but there’s still an association that landing a deal with the “Big 6” means something more or bigger or better than going another route.
There’s clearly money to be made either way. Independents like J.A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking and John Locke have proven that, but big-timers like Clive Cussler and James Patterson and J.K. Rowling are also proving that the old model still exists, and is working quite well for them.
So where do you sit?
Where do you want to associate yourself?
For me, it’s somewhere in-between, I guess.
It’s why I won’t “self-publish” a book. Yeah, sure, The Golden Crystal is being published by me. But I won’t say it’s “self-published” to the unknown masses, because it leads them to believe there’s something wrong with the book.
Maybe it’s not the best writing out there, but it’s the absolute best thing I have to offer. They won’t think it’s good enough if they knew it was self-published.
Maybe the cover isn’t going to win any awards (although I wouldn’t be surprised if it did!), but I paid a professional, trusted artist to create something visually stunning. They will suddenly find something “amateur” about it if they knew it was self-published.
Maybe there will be a couple grammatical mistakes in it, even though I’m paying big money for a high-dollar editor. They won’t be able to look past these slight errors, though, if they knew it was self-published.
See what I mean?
Two years ago, I would have had the same reaction toward the thought of self-publishing that I’ve heard others express, either blatantly or in a subtle way:
“It’s for authors who clearly couldn’t make it in the real industry.”
“It’s such low-quality–how can any of it be any good?”
“Well, sure, people are only buying those books because of the low price.”
Unfortunately, those statements aren’t entirely untrue. While the industry as a whole is shifting in a more DIY-type direction, opening doors for whole-new revenue streams and jobs, the statements above became stereotypes for a reason.
There are authors who’ve self-published because their work just isn’t cut out for a mainstream market, or it’s simply not good enough. There are authors who just don’t think past the words on the page enough to know that these days, the cover sells the product. And, unfortunately, there are authors getting read solely because their books are priced lower than the bestsellers–not because their books are better.
But I want that to change.
When I posted that status that fateful day on Facebook, there was plenty of positive response–as I’d expected. I had no idea people were taking it a different way (if they were); I just knew that if I came out and said I would be self-publishing my book, people would think something like what I wrote above.
They certainly wouldn’t just automatically think that I’d spent countless hours studying my favorite thrillers and thriller authors, outlining their stories and deconstructing them.
They wouldn’t think that I’d highlighted just about every other line of Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer.
Or that I’d literally written out–by hand–every scene, sequel, conflict, resolution, and character sketch for my book.
Or that I’d planned a detailed marketing plan, including a target market, top editors and agents in my chosen niches, and even worked out a long-term book blog tour for promotion.
But it’s not their fault, authors–it’s ours.
Given the opportunity that this decade has in store for us, it’s up to us–the creators–to change the perception the world has of self-publishers.
Since we all know that a well-written, decently-marketed, and targeted self-published book can earn just as much (at least) as a legacy-published one, it’s time to prove it.
Rather than hitting “Submit” at Amazon’s CreateSpace service, or getting a few “just to see how it comes out” copies done at Lulu, we need to finish what we’re doing.
Either way, we need to do whatever we can to show the publishing industry that there’s not just a change in the big players–there’s a drastic change in what’s expected of them.
As more and more “legacy” authors are jumping ship in favor of the self-published route, we need to be sure we’re constantly creating the competition to ensure a long-term marketplace for our art.
We need to give writers and readers alike reason to check out our little corner of the world. We need to entice readers with high-quality books, with complex characters and professional editing, finished off with a targeted cover that enhances the overall impression.
And we need to entice writers with much higher royalties, larger fan-bases, better long-term market prospects, and great business opportunities.
We’re not there yet; heck, we might not even be close.
But we’re pushing in that direction. As more and more Kindles fly off the shelves, readers will need something new to read. Their impressions of the cover art alone will start to sway their judgements into buying or passing, and the price points they see will only help solidify their decisions.
What are you doing to make sure your work will be well-received today?
What about tomorrow?
Ten years from now?
J.A. Konrath has made a living talking about how to make it as a self-published writer, and most of his rants center around the concept of having a larger platform–meaning more books available to your readers. But he also points to crappy covers, no online presence, and just plain bad writing as reasons self-published authors have had a hard time finding success.
Aren’t those all things we can change?
We don’t need a drastic shift in the market or a game-changing industry move by Amazon to take control of our cover art, writing quality, and editing, do we?
I didn’t think so.
So, at the risk of sounding like a manifesto, let’s rally up and make a power play. Let’s be writers who don’t need the publishing companies to support us. Let’s be artists who are in full control of our content, our output, our careers. Let’s be authors who care about our products more than just shipping when it’s not quite ready.
Let’s be writers.