Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Self Publishing: I Wanna Know

Yesterday there was a link circulating around the pub-peeps Twitter-verse (along with commentary ranging from outrage to profanity) to an offer from Publish America.


The link took you to a buy page: pay $49 and Publish America (my fingers burn to type it) will show your book to J.K. Rowling and "ask her what she thinks."

To me, this just sounds insane. Completely implausible. But I empathize with writers, and I sort of see how PA gets people. The suggestion that something might get an author published is a powerful thing.

I know this, too, because I see so many queries that start out "I self-published with _____ but the experience was not what I expected (or) I am disappointed (or) they totally jerked me around." And my heart goes out to these people! Because often that project is shot--without serious sales numbers (5K+) an agent will have a very difficult time leveraging a self-pubbed book for print sale.

So I want to ask you guys. What offers entice you/your compatriots to pay the $49, to sign a contract without representation? Is it resentment toward the Publishing Establishment? Snazzily worded pitches from the self-pub companies? What value do you see in the self-publishing world, in having to do it all on your own??

Further, what do you want to know from the Publishing Establishment? Does it make sense that agents cite such a high number of sales before a self-pubbed project is valuable for the traditional publishing world?

My instinct is that there was a lot of "Eff the Man" talk about a year ago. The sad stories I'm seeing in my inbox now are the result of the early adopters of self-publishing getting burned; the backlash. I feel now that there's a more cautious view of self-publishing: that it's a dangerous, potentially career-harming move if not done correctly, with a lot of back-end work. But then I still get emails asking what the point of an agent is...so I dunno.


  1. From what I've heard from a lot of previous PA authors (over on the AW forums) is that when they started out, they had a book and that was it. They had no knowledge of how the publishing industry worked. No idea how to approach publishers, let alone agents. Some of these authors subbed directly to pubs and were rejected, because a.) their craft wasn't up to speed, b.) they had no idea how to write a query letter or what one was, or c.) they were reaching out to places who didn't accept unnagented submissions anyway.

    So when PA emailed them to say, "We want to give your book the chance it deserves! Just sell us your soul for the next 7 years..." Sadly, so many of them jumped at the chance.

    (The fact that PA patrols their forums, too, and deletes anything that isn't positive commentary about PA, doesn't make it any easier on newbies.)

    As for other self-publishing routes...I'm not sure as much about those, but I'm guessing it's like you said. Backlash of a surge of self-publishing when it was still getting big.


  2. Don't people Google before they just assume they know how publishing works? It may sound heartless, but agents in particular work very hard to ensure they are transparent and online.

  3. There are so many misinformation sites out there. Unless you know enough to wade through the crap, Google's not much help. A quick search for "publish my book" turns up both PA and AuthorHouse in the top results.

    People who use PA don't know better. They prey on the hopeful and uninformed. What sounds ludicrous to you and me (getting feedback from J.K. Rowling...snerk) isn't ridiculous to people who know nothing about the industry. A lot of people think publishing is one big happy family, where editors and agents and published authors all attend happy hour together.

    I think this is the same for most vanity "pay-to-play" publishers. And I think it's important to make a distinction between vanity publishing and e-publishing.

    E-publishing offers freedom, independence, and a guaranteed product. Yes, it's a gamble. Most people lose. But those who win, win big. At least, that's the party line :)

  4. I honestly have no idea, considering when you google "Publish America" the first things that pop up are "Publish America SCAM"... Another thing I've heard the ex-PA authors say is they assumed people complaining about PA online were just ex-PA authors, disgruntled from not selling enough copies. I...yeah. I don't know. It's unfortunate, but I think people need to learn to do their research.

    There are so many good small presses out there, not quite self-publishing but obviously not a big6, either. I wish some of these authors would aim for them. I LOVE my pub.


  5. PA and other scammers know what to say to reel in the unwary. In one of my crit groups, there was a poor guy that had signed up with a vanity press, to the tune of over $2,000.

    He'd found the ad in a Christian magazine, and they billed themselves as a Christian publisher (although if you looked them up, they had ads slanted to all sorts of publications like sports, erotica, pets, etc) and he decided that meant they were legit.

    He also paid for their editing service, and they actually introduced more errors than his draft version contained. He spotted it right away, but didn't want to make waves because he was so grateful they'd "accepted" and "published" his book. And once he figured out he'd been had, his level of shame prevented him from standing up for himself.

    It was really sad. But we did have another member who self-published a niche title and took it to trade shows and conventions and did well enough. She went into it with a more realistic expectation, however.

  6. People who jump at what a place like PA "offers" are unlikely to have done their homework re either traditional publishing or self-publishing.

  7. It's so terrible!! I feel so bad for these authors that get scammed.

    An author should not feel beholden to the publisher or agent; we're all in a partnership together. Authors, just as the other parties, should be respectful and have reasonable expectations, but they bring a lot to the table and should recognize that!

  8. It is an unfortunate reality that many people do not know their Google Fu. For every person who diligently researches the publishing industry, there are about 10 more looking for a fast way in.

    Many, many people get drawn in by schemes that promise quick results. What's worse is when schemes like this get spread from naive writer to naive writer ("I heard about this place you can publish through; it's called Publish America!"). Stuff like that just breaks my heart.

  9. I frequently mention in conversation that I write fantasy. I can count on one hand how many people have not assumed that I'd have to pay to get published—and that's including folks who write stories, themselves.

    I suspect it's because of how vanity presses advertise. Folks see those advertisements and assume that's how publishing works at large. Why use Google when they "already know"?

    I was fortunate. When I finished my first novel as a teenager, I called a local press to see what they accepted (Christian non-fiction). The lady there took the time (I think it was half an hour) to give me the run-down of how publishing worked. After that, I knew what I was researching for.

    Even then, I had several in-person friends who wrote, which encouraged me to learn more so I could share my discoveries with them.

  10. Don't people typically try to go through major pubs first? Nearly all of them have "Submissions" links that mention you should get a lit agent.

  11. I don't think places like PA are getting their claws into the type of writers who would try a major pub first. PA gets the folks who know just enough to realize that publishing is hard, and not much else. That's why the idea of paying "a little money" for a guaranteed acceptance seems logical and desirable.

  12. I'm amused that people email you asking why they need an agent. But then, I'm not the one who has to wade through those emails :-)

  13. It would break your heart to see the number of seniors who think they are going to supplement their fixed income with the sale of their book. That's why I feel a particular animosity toward PublishAmerica, for the hurt and disappointment and financial hardship they cause with their SCAM.
    So sue me, PA, if I'm telling a lie. I've seen them from the inside, and they make me sick.

  14. My guess would be a combination of failure to sell the book, ignorance, and laziness.

    The first is a result of getting an agent being f'in hard. Most first-timers don't know how to write a query letter. There are books and agent blogs to give them advice on that, but past some general standards, they all disagree on the finer points (list the wordcount or keep it need-to-know, do a brief intro paragraph or jump right into the pitch, etc. ) And a lot of agents either give a "pocket veto" (implied rejection via lack of response) or a form rejection. This is their right, of course, but it means the author never gets an idea of what he's doing wrong with either the query or the book.

    The second is the idea that most newbies have no idea how the publishing industry works. They may look at a setup like this and have it seem perfectly reasonable to them. A big problem of this is lack of networking skills: they don't know how to meet the right people.

    The third is reluctance to do the work and/or wait the year between where a contract is signed and when your book is on the shelves. Which, in this economy, is somewhat more understandable than it would be otherwise. A lot of people got into writing because they can't find or hold a day job, and the need to eat eventually overruled the need for respectability. But there are also a lot of people who are just furstrated and/or tired of all the red tape. A shortcut looks very tempting.

    IME, "sticking it to the man" is a less common reason than you think. There is, however, a school of thought that says the man doesn't know what he's doing. This surges once every few years when some book is released that is commercially successful but hated by critics. I won't name names, but ask around the net and you'll find some prominent cases...


  15. It doesn't surprise me at all that this "opportunity" was a complete fabrication, confirmed by Ms Rowling's spokesperson this week: http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/jk-rowling-spokesman-publishers-claim-of-getting-an-audience-with-her-false/2011/08/16/gIQAXsQEJJ_story.html

    On one hand, I have very little sympathy for people who are lured in by these kinds of claims, because the tools are certainly there to educate yourself. I have a feeling many PA clients are too motivated by the thought of sales and not motivated enough to do the hard work it takes to learn about the business--why would anyone think publishing, like anything else, would be easy? At the same time--their tactics are dirty, and target those who may not have the tools or experience or tech savvy to learn the truth, like senior citizens (CatSlave--thinking about seniors reaching for their dream of publication but not knowing about these scams really upsets me, too!). It makes me mad that a company would deliberately prey on people's ignorance. Moral of the story, and it's a simple lesson, but a good one--if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  16. About twenty years ago I wrote my first manuscript at the age of twenty (dating myself). I did the research and discovered what agents were correct for my work, etc. I then spent the next two years plastering the wall of my basement office with rejection letters (yes, they actually sent letters back then and not the snazzy little postcards they send nowadays).

    This year when I finally felt that I had matured enough as a writer to try it again, I wrote my novels with local (rural Southern Iowa) settings and decided to use my own skills in marketing to sell them. I researched and ultimately went with Create Space & Amazon. The print on demand costs were low, the product quality was good, and the start-up costs were nil.

    I did not do it to snub the industry. On the contrary, I would have loved to have had an agent in New York and a publicist and a major publisher for distribution, but I only had so much time to work with before I would whither and die without financial returns. In short, I just didn't have the leisure to go through the process and collect rejection post cards for two years.

    My first novel was released in the spring of 2011 and has done dismally in online sales. However...by establishing a network of small, local businesses to sell my books AND holding regular book signings and readings in places where most authors would never venture, I have carved out a sustainable niche.

    My definition of a "sustainable niche" is...one where I can generate just enough sales to keep myself from starving long enough to lock myself in a room for another couple of months and write the next one. It isn't exactly rags to riches, but I figure if you can write AND earn just barely enough to write some more, then you are doing pretty good in this business.

    I have been contacted by other publishing groups like the ones you are talking about and it is very sad that people fall for them. What is worse in my eyes are the large number of local "publishers" who have popped up as of late, who only publish the same way that I do via Create Space and then keep a good portion of the sales for themselves for doing what takes me about an hour in formatting for Kindle and the book itself.

    The downside is that my largest reader demographic appears to be women between the ages of 55 and 80 who love my dramatic fiction. It's great because they buy five copies at a time to send to all of their friends and relatives across the country, but it's bad because they don't create ANY web hype or post reviews anywhere.

    If I have a regret about self publishing, it would be that my first book is popular beyond my intended local market and people send me emails from across the country telling me how much they loved it. This makes me think that I probably sold its' potential too short by self-publishing. But the reality is that if I had went the traditional route, I'd be living under a bridge by now and NO ONE would have read my work by now at all.

  17. Lack of research and impatience.

    At a recent conference, I heard an attendee say "This agent thing is a lot of work. I think I'll self-publish instead." Wow, she has no idea.

  18. Try getting a real good Publishing Company to publish the work for you.