Reconsidering Self-Publishing

I have been reading an article on authors making a living by self-publishing. And, I have to say, it’s making me rethink my reluctance to self-publish my Acceptance trilogy.

Until 2010 Amanda Hocking was just writing as a hobby. She wrote 17 novels in her spare time until April 2010 when she decided to self publish her books to the Kindle store. By early 2011 she had parlayed those books into $2 million in sales, and was averaging selling 9,000 units per day. The subjects of her books range from zombies, to vampires to fantasy worlds. Not long after hitting the Kindle Million Club, she signed on for a 4 book deal with St. Martin’s Press, earning a $2 Million advance, something completely unheard of for self published authors. Some of her stories have also been optioned to film.

Michael’s road to publishing is a varied and exciting one. He is a fantasy writer who, like Amanda Hocking, can’t stop writing even if it means there is no market to publish. When Michael finished his series Riyria there were six books in total. He was met with resistance from agents and publishers, and felt his only way out was self-publishing. Even though it carried a big stigma at the time, Michael and his wife formed their own publishing house, Ridan Publishing. They published the eBooks for Michael’s series and priced them at $4.95, which is high compared to other successful eBooks. After the release of the fifth book, things began to take off and the Sullivans approached major publishers again. This time they were offered a large advance by Orbit, Hachette’s fantasy imprint. Michael’s titles have been switched over to Orbit and he now has major distribution, and by October 2011 he was selling 10,000 units/month.

As a publishing agent said, the publishing industry acts as a filter. That applies both to the fact that they keep genuinely bad things from being published, but they also filter a good writer’s work through editors and make it as clean as possible (although I was less than impressed with Philippa Gregory’s editors/publishers recently). I find the latter idea very appealing, because nothing bugs me like an obvious typo caught after something’s already been printed. Never mind that I’m currently cleaning up Acceptance for the second or third time (that’s only grammatical edits; that doesn’t count several more content edits); I will miss stuff. And I know, when I read anything–independent or traditionally published–those errors stand out like a sore thumb.

But at the same time, I can be something of a control-freak when it comes to things I’ve created, and I’m very much there when it comes to my Acceptance trilogy. Which doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t accept constructive criticism–I just had a friend read and review my second book in the series, and based on her comments, and my husband’s, I’m planning a pretty major edit–but, ultimately, I want to call the shots when it comes to my characters and my plot. I don’t want someone to say, “This is great, but we want you to make this major change before we publish.” When you’re dealing with a series of books that have already been plotted and are in various stages of writing, you can’t make serious plot changes without blowing them all up.

Self-publishing also relieves me of word quotas. My Acceptance pre-readers all wanted the first book to be longer, although I couldn’t do that due to the fact that traditional publishers don’t seem to want to touch a new author who writes anything over 110,000 words. At this stage I would not be willing to go back and add more to it–I do have it the way I want it now–but it does relieve the pressure on future books. I think word quotas are a good thing–some people go on too long (some people would say my blog posts go on too long)–but I need and want more flexibility than I’ve been seeing out of traditional publishers.

I also like the idea of retaining rights over my work, so if I want to release the copyright before my death and make it free for everyone (something I plan to do), I can do that.

When I say “self-publish,” I mean both print and e-book format. While short stories don’t work in print (not unless you make an anthology), I have made proof copies of two of my Acceptance novels and The Flames of Prague. CreateSpace (a division of Amazon) makes it easy to have print books. The drawbacks are that they set the cost of the book (due to printing costs, obviously), and that I make a fraction of the printed price (a dollar or less per $15.95 book–although I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the return I’d get with a traditional publisher too).

As soon as the book exists on CreateSpace, it’s available on Amazon. My e-book options are completely independent, and I can choose to also publish my e-book only on Amazon, or I can take it through Smashwords and have it not only on Amazon, but in many other places as well. The major drawback with Smashwords is that their formatting standards are more onerous (in my opinion) than just publishing to the Kindle, simply because they have to translate the book to multiple formats, so the book’s formatting has to comply with many different platforms, not just one.

I’m still experimenting with self-publishing with my short stories, but I’m going to give more thought, now, to self-publishing my books.

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2 comments on “Reconsidering Self-Publishing

  1. Wallace says:

    It sounds like a good idea to at least try some self published works. You already have your short story on Amazon and the first ten parts of your Vampire serial on Smashwords, it only seems natural to try it with a novel. Aren’t you writing a Romance novel for just this purpose? If you put it on Smashwords and it sells fairly well, then there’s obviously a market for your works.

    I would think the two examples you mentioned above are the bigest of exceptions, but there are thousands of writers putting works on Amazon and Smashwords and certainly some of them are making some money. Maybe not enough to give up the day job, but maybe enough to at least afford a nice vacation once a year or buy a better car. After all, it can’t hurt and you’ll never know if you can till you try.

    • keripeardon says:

      Becoming a successful author is rather like becoming a successful NFL player. It takes a lot of hard work, natural talent, force of will, and some luck.

      There are a lot of people who are self-publishing now, and I’ve read some independent stuff. It’s not all crap (actually, I’ve read published books which were worse than the self-published stuff I’ve read so far), but it’s not necessarily written well. In other words, the story is good, but there are typos, and grammatical errors, and confusing POV switches, and other things that would just benefit from a some reader feedback and proofreading prior to going to publishing. It needs that filter that I mentioned.

      I have the feeling that the people who do well self-publishing are one, consistent. You can’t be a full-time author unless you’re writing a lot and can keep the flow pretty steady. And two, they’re probably very clean in their writing. As I was saying in the post, the more errors you have, the worse your reputation as a writer.

      I practically have OCD when it comes to proofing my stuff, and I’ve had people (like you) pre-reading and proofing for me, so I feel like I’m capable of publishing a reasonably polished piece of work. I think if I can publish several such pieces of work, I might have some measure of success. I would not scoff at the $3,500 a month one lady was bringing in monthly, pre-tax. That’s about twice what I’m making now, so it wouldn’t suck at all. And she considered that moderately, mid-level successful. I can handle being middling. Hell, not everyone in the NFL is Peyton Manning.

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