Tempting Tuesday: The Rush to Self-Publish

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Okay, so maybe the stakes aren't that dire yet. I'm still in the editing phase and will be for a while. Yet decision time is slowly creeping up on me.

Self-publish or attempt to go traditional?

There's no right or wrong answer. It's all about figuring out what's best for myself. Yeah, that's the problem. What's best? Even though self-publishing and ebooks have lit a fire this year, it's hard to believe traditional publishing won't recover, albeit with adjustments. If you're lucky enough to get an agent, you've got someone to deal with the legal mumbo-jumbo, and a great source for marketing ideas. Yes, newly signed authors with publishing contracts still have to do most of their marketing themselves, but an agent - at least a good agent - will lead them in the right direction.

But they also take a chunk of money. I've read stories about new writers making very little their first years. And when you see the numbers midlist self-publishing authors are putting out, and you wonder why in the hell you're even considering traditional. Why should I give up all that money to pay someone else?

Because that someone else can help me get my foot in the door and a contract gives me the seal of approval from the New York biggies.

But what if, no matter how many good reviews or support from the agent, the book tanks? Then what?

Some, like the awesome Kait Nolan, went the self-publishing route and signed an agent through that success. That idea is very appealing, but there's the whole money up front thing that I struggle with. No way would I self-publish without paying a professional cover artist and editor. And that would probably cost between $2000-$3000. That's a lot for a stay at home mom.

Roz Morris at Nail Your Novel had a great post on this recently, called Self-Publish First, Seek Agent for Second? She thinks it's a good plan if you have a book ready.

And who do you trust as an editor? How do you find one that will charge you a fair rate and do a stellar job?

I don't know the answers yet. I'm still waffling on what route to take, although I'm leaning strongly toward querying first. I think the experience will be valuable, regardless of what happens. It's just a matter of whether I want to invest the time and money in the wait.

In short, my head spins every time I think of this. So much information coming out almost daily makes it hard to find the answer. Laura Pauling is doing a series of Wednesday posts about the subject, and she features a lot of great links.


Kelly Hashway said...

I chose to query agents first, and now my agent has my novel out on submission. She doesn't represent picture books though and since I write for children of all ages, I have to submit my picture books on my own. It's tough doing that. I'm so glad I don't have to submit my middle grade and young adult books on my own. I'd recommend trying to find an agent first.

Stacy said...

Thanks for posting. I really appreciate your insight, and congrats to you!

Anonymous said...

That is a good question. Indie publishing has opened alot of doors for writers, but it also means they do it all themself. I would suggest going the agent route first, submit for a couple of years and keep writing your next book, the go indie. Bob Mayer writes alot about it, you might want to check out his site or tweets.

Stacy said...

Exactly. Doing it all myself is really intimidating, which is why I'm leaning toward the agent route. I really don't want to wait two years to bring money in, but I don't want to make the wrong decision, either.

Brynne said...

I'm with you, Stacy. Its s tough call. It seems to me that we as writers already have a pretty good connection with our hearts/imaginations and when I read your post, I think I hear that your heart has already made up its mind. Maybe thats the way we all need to decide? With what feels right in our hearts...each, individually. Eager to hear how it all goes, sweet Mama:) You are gonna do great no matter which route you chose.

Stacy said...

Thanks so much. Yes, deep down I know I should try traditional. I've just got to get over the idea of making more money quickly with self publishing.

Martha Rodriguez said...

Stacy, I went back and forth as you do in your post but, in my case, as Kelly Hashway's above, I wrote a children's picture book. Since many agents won't represent children's picture book authors, I decided to try the self-publishing route. I was extremely lucky that my son agreed to illustrate the book for me and that a printing house in my town had great prices for small quantities and great quality. So, I released the book in June (2011) and I'm trying to get attention as best I can. We've had some interest on the local level and we're on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc. I'm doing everything from home and actually enjoying all the hard work!

Sara Slack said...

In the interest of disclosure, I first of all need to say that I work for a Publishing House.

That out of the way, I completely understand where you're coming from in terms of this problem. The main issue I have found, is that new authors are always very attempted by advances. $5,000 may seem like a lot of money, but most publishing houses won't take the time to help you develop your skills as an author. Both in terms of building your social platform, understanding the industry or even going through book edits with you.

Realistically, it's about what time you have to dedicate, the 'start up costs' of going it alone, as well as knowing enough about the industry to know when you're getting a good deal (or not). There are a few quality indie publishers out there, but they're difficult to find at the best of times. (I'm doing my best to not turn this into a pitch for Inspired Quill, which I'm sure you can imagine is rather difficult!)

If you'd like some objective pointers regarding your options, feel free to throw me an email and we can get a dialogue going.

All the best;
~Sara Slack, from Inspired Quill

Debra said...

Stacy, I’m with you girl. Right here in the same boat. It’s always a pleasure knowing someone else facing the same dilemma :) Your thoughts on this subject make me feel right at home. I’ve heard both sides, each with pros and cons. A decade or so ago an agent was a must. No publisher would look your way without an agent as mediator. Self-publishing held the vanity press stigma. I’m still weighing all angles myself, so I truly appreciate this post!
~ Debra

Lyn Midnight said...

It sounds like you're on your way to make a very life-changing decision. Good for you, Stacy! I also think it's best to try querying and then see what happens. And by the way, I love your attitude about self-publishing, getting it all perfect and polished first. No matter what, you'll do great. :)

Laura Pauling said...

It's good you're thinking about and doing research. That's the best thing you can do. One blog talked about being ready to self publish or not. If this is your first manuscript? You're probably not ready. Or do you have 2,3 or maybe 5 under your belt. It's a different decision for everyone and there isn't a right or wrong way.

and thanks for the link!

Anonymous said...

Yep, I feel your pain, Stacy, I truely do. I have decided to try to land an agent first, and am getting started on that this fall. But, I'm not ruling out self publishing, if there's no takers after 40 or 50 tries.

Belinda Pollard said...

Hi Stacy, I have been sorting through these same issues regarding my own novel WIP. I found a post by Bob Mayer really helped my thinking. You can see the one I mean at http://writeitforward.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/if-i-were-an-unpublished-author-would-i-self-publish/

The take-home message and thought-starter for me was, don't self-publish until you've got three books written. That way they generate a kind of critical mass on Amazon et al, and help you build a readership.

I've been thinking I might do the hard yards agent/publishing house wise on this first novel. I think it might be a good discipline for me as the feedback will help me refine that first novel and get a sense of its marketability, even if I don't get a publisher out of it. And while I'm doing that I'm going to write hard on the second novel, and then the third, so that whichever way I eventually publish, I've got a body of work to draw on.

Time will tell if I actually do it this way, of course. ;-)

Stacy said...

Your thinking is in line with mine (at least when I don't think about making money). I think the experience of querying is at least worth a try. And the idea of not self-publishing until you have three books written makes a lot of sense. Patience is the key, I guess. Thanks for stopping by!

Good to know I'm not the only one. I'm leaning your way as well. I think it's worth a shot, and if I don't go that way, I'll always wonder.

Stacy said...

Hi! This is my first polished MS. I have another one, but it really requires a total rewrite, so I'm not counting it. I never thought about having more than one book ready before thinking about self-publishing, but it makes sense.

You're welcome. Thanks for the comment:)

Stacy said...

Thanks for letting me know I'm not the only one. It's an incredibly important decision, and one we can only make for ourselves. Weeding through the facts is the hardest.

Thanks so much! Guess I'm a perfectionist, but self-publishing still has that stigma attached, so editing is key.

Stacy said...

Congrats to you on publishing, and very cool your son was able to illustrate. That's got to make a big difference in the pocketbook. Good for you for digging in and doing the hard work. Please keep us posted on your work!

Stacy said...

Thank you for the full disclosure. The advance is very tempting, but so are the numbers I hear being thrown around for self-publishing. That said, some of things things you mentioned are exactly why I'm balking: the start-up and my inadequate knowledge of the industry. I will be emailing you. Thanks so much!

Martha Rodriguez said...

Thanks Stacy. I'll keep you posted on our book and I'll definitely be back to see how you are fairing as well.

Annie Boreson said...

Stacy, it truly is the trillion dollar question, isn't it? A part of me wants a book on the shelf. I know an ebook should make me do the same cartwheels, but I guess I've waited my whole life to hold a copy in my hands. Maybe that is wrong, but I can't help it.

Stacy S. Jensen said...

Oh. Sending happy thoughts your way. I think the idea of having several manuscripts in the hopper before you self-publish is a good idea, because ... you can work the traditional query in process as you write the other one. I think the self-publish numbers are tempting. I mean there are some regular folks making more than the $5k advance, but there are a lot of folks just selling 200 copies and not really knowing where to go from there. As I venture more into purchasing ebooks, I know I'll get very selective. I expect folks to edit their work properly. I don't want to buy a "draft." I still expect a finished book. (On the cost, I've asked this several times and most people swear you can get the cover and formatting done for around $200. On the BookEnds agency blog on Monday, they talked about their epublishing service. The comments are interesting, because a lot of people threw out names of services to use for low-cost self-publishing services. I think it's worth the read for that alone.)

The East Coaster said...

I know what you mean. As someone said above, I think it helps to have other books in the hopper, ready to go.

For me, I'm querying one to publishers, another to agents, and a novella and YA that I intend to self publish to kindle. These four books have very different audiences and one I know will require the backing of a house. The others will do just fine of their own. So much of the decision, I think, rests on the genre and how that particular audience gets the books.

On the other hand, if I just had one finished/polished manusitting around, I would probably query that. While it went though the motions of finding and agent, finding a house and finding a print date, I would work on something else...maybe even a short novella...to try self publishing on.

By the way, on the cost of book covers, I've seen some brilliant one (that you can own full out, no one else will have) for $150 and less by start up artists.

Whichever route you go, there are options and that's the beauty of it.

(Glad I found you on the nets! Subscribing!)

Stacy said...

Thanks for commenting. Our thinking is pretty similar. I expect a finished book as well. It's good to know you can get the cover and formatting done for less. Hopefully the quality is strong. I'll definitely check out the BookEnds blog as well. Thanks!

East Coaster
Yep, having books in the hopper is a good idea. Of course that makes me want to bust my butt and get more done, lol.

Kudos to you for having four books ready to go. My genre is suspense/thriller, so it could probably do all right on its own, but I do think querying is the way to go.

Thanks for the info on the book costs. I'll keep that in mind. Do you happen to have any links or names?

Thanks for the comment and subscription!

Juliana said...

Hi Stacy =)

I'm on the same boat as you (and so many others). I go back and forth between indie and trad many times a day! Plus, I also heard about authors who are very happy with small presses, like Carina and Samhain ... accordingly to them, they are making a living and a very good one. And, with small presses, you don't need an agent ... and yet, you have someone behind you, helping with marketing and such.

Now, as to indie.
I know editors who charge around $300-$600 to line-edit and/or copy-edit a MS. And I know cover artist who charge around $100-$400 per cover. And they are all reputable and very good on their jobs.
I've been wondering about creating a page on my website with the links to all these people ... perhaps I should. I'll let you know if I do.

One more thing about indie: have more than 1 or 2 books ready when you start down this route. Readers of indie authors expect speed and quantity (and quality of course).
My plan, if I go with indie, is to have 4 books completely ready (edited by professionals and all) before releasing them. The first 4 will be released one per month. For example, first in Nov, second in Dec, third in Jan, fourth in Feb ... meantime, I'll be writing and editing the next ones.

That said, with all the plan ready to be executed, I still think of trad publishing, but I think it's more because of status, because my book would go through a screening and, if chosen, I would know it's really not crap (I know it's not, but that comes up in my mind sometimes) ... If I think about the money I would get and the time it takes to publish a book, I quickly discard this idea.

In conclusion of this long comment (sorry!), I think it's like you said in your post: there is no right or wrong. You have to find out what is best for you, what works for you. And, one way of finding out which one is best for you is trying them all.


Anonymous said...

I've read this discussion with interest. Everybody has something good to say and good insight to share. I'm glad you posted this topic, Stacy.

The East Coaster said...

Online: Try seejanetwork.com or do a search for book covers on deviantart.com (the last is heavy on the fantasy and scifi). To find other genres, you'd need to create an account to access their forums. Then scroll down to employment (job?) offers and look for people doing commissioned covers. You'll find a range of talents from 1s to 10s.

Another thing I've done was to contact the art/graphic design department at a local university. Final year and grad students need things to build portfolios and will happily pick up the work.

Most of the sites I've seen/used for ready-to-go stuff are for chicklit and paranormal, but if you want those links, just let me know.

Leslie Rose said...

Times they are a changin'. I think educating ourselves as authors about the pros and cons of self-publishing is where the responsibility lies at present. It is very mind blowing.

Piper Bayard said...

As I finish up my novel, I'm watching this indie/traditional debate closely and see pros and cons on each side. Fortunately, Kristen Lamb is my editor, and she kicks ass. Mine. Thanks for your blog.

Stacy said...

I completely understand. Holding that copy in your hands is big deal. Although like Laura Pauling's post today said, it's not happening as much even with traditional publishing.

I would love it if you created a page with those links, and I think a lot of others would, too. I know there are editors and artists out there that don't charge as much, but figuring out whether or not they're reputable is the trick

A small press is definitely an option for the reasons you listed. When I query, I'll probably query agents and small presses. I've been taking Angela James' self-editing class, and I really like her. Would love to work with Carina.

Agree on the having several books, which means I've got a ways to go, regardless. Thanks for posting, and please let me know if you do post those links!

Stacy said...

Absolutely. Times are changing every day, it seems. Educating ourselves is definitely the key to figuring it all out.

Thanks for stopping by! Kristen's your editor? I didn't realize she offered editing services. That's very cool. I was lucky enough to have her look at the first 5 pages of my book and her help made a huge difference.

Thanks so much! I didn't realize it would get this kind of response, but I'm grateful. You guys have been a big help:)

Sonia G Medeiros said...

I'm struggling with this decision too. I'm not at the submissions stage but I still want to know what to do when I get there. I've been leaning towards self-pubbing because of all the benefits. There's the profit, but it's mostly the control of pricing, timing, etc. It's a lot of work, but it can be worth it. On the other hand, I always wanted to go trad before I heard about all this indie stuff. I'm considering writing a few short story/flash fiction anthologies for self-publishing. Those will give me an idea of how the process works for me as I'm finishing my MIP.

My ideal would be a small publisher that offered most of the benefits of self-pubbing (some control of pricing and timing plus good royalties) with the benefits of trad pubbing (editing, cover art, etc).

Stacy said...

Hi Sonia!
Self-pubbing definitely has a lot of benefits which is why I'm still not 100% traditional. I think writing a few short stories/flash fiction anthologies would be a really good idea. I just have a hard time writing more than one thing at once.

I'm like you, a small publisher would be a really good option. I will definitely query those. Thanks for stopping by!

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