Thursday, March 22, 2012

Is Self-Publishing the Way to Go?

In 2009, I pitched at a Love is Murder Mystery Conference, and learned it would take about two years to see my manuscript in print, if it were accepted.

Well, for some reason, I wasn't getting any younger. Because of that, when my author friend, Austin S. Camacho, suggested self-publishing, I figured I didn't have too much to lose. I took the leap and self-published my romantic suspense, Killer Career, in print through Lightning Source and also electronically via Amazon and Smashwords.

Before the publication plateau had been reached, Austin got many panicky emails from me, but he answered my questions in good stride. I found the process heady, yet scary. I had decisions to make on cover art, back cover blurbs, book size, font size, and all kinds of other details. Also, there were the setup fees, catalog fees, software, and ISBN numbers to buy, plus hiring and paying for an editor. Still, I finished all this in much less time than it would have taken if I'd waited around for a traditional publisher.

When I released Killer Career, I still detected reservations against that route from such quarters as J.A. Konrath, and countless others.

Then somehow, miracle of miracles, the tides turned. Joe and many who'd before decided traditional publishing was the best way to go, took another look at self-publishing and decided to try it. Not only that, they made good money by doing so.

By the time I'd released my latest paranormal romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, toward the end of December, 2011, on Amazon and Smashwords, self-publishing had come into its own. Countless new authors were trying it, along with traditionally published ones with forgotten backlists they wanted to resurrect.

Although I owned a Kindle and used it 99.9 per cent of the time to read books, I knew there were still many other readers who still enjoyed holding actual printed books in their hands. Since CreateSpace through Amazon offered free setup for print, plus an expanded distribution network for only $25.00, and a free ISBN number, I couldn't resist their bargain. I set up my thriller through them in print, making it available online through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other venues.

Not only that, I requested and received the rights back for my two backlist books, Two Wrongs, and Girl of My Dreams, which before had been published through a small publisher and were languishing in limbo. I put them up on Amazon and Smashwords, the result being they received second life.

My heading asks the question: Is Self-Publishing the Way to Go? For me it is, but it may not be for everybody. What about you?
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Morgan is a past president ofChicago-North RWA, belongs to MWMWA, Sisters In Crime and EPIC. She's now working on a sequel to Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, which will be Book Two of the Always Young Trilogy.Find Morgan on Facebook:
Facebook.com/Morgan.Mandel
Twitter: Twitter.com/MorganMandel
Excerpts & buy links for her four books are at: MorgansBookLinks.Blogspot.com/

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31 comments :

  1. Nice post! Yes, it turned out to be the way for me to go, too. When my first novel got an agent but didn't sell to the big 6, I decided to publish it myself - that was 5 years ago. Its life span was short until the explosion of digital publishing and now it's my best seller. I published my next book with a small publisher and I can't wait to get the rights back because I can do so much for it than they can. By this time, I realized my independent personality - I'd been a freelance technical writer for years - was totally suited for self-publishing and I self-published my third novel. I have at least 2 more in the works and can't wait to publish them. Exciting times!

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  2. Thanks for an interesting post and best of luck for all your other sp projects. I went the sp route after some agent rejections. I was not all that happy with the publisher I chose - I didn't know a thing about the DIY route. I have learned valuable lessons and finally hooked up with a e-book publisher who has done great things. I still can't DIY it myself but once you get outside help the rewards do come in.

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  3. I've just self-pubbed my first book and have the paperback coming out soon. It has it's nerve-wracking days when the book doesn't move, but other days when it's quite popular. I'll be doing it again for my next novel.
    Wagging Tales

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  4. I was very pleased to read this post. I have been chewing on this one for a while.

    You gave a place to start and some of what to expect...Thank you.

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  5. I read Morgan's post and Kathy Holmes' comment with interest. I have now finished my agent's requested revisions, and by next week she will send my first book out to the first round of editors. I'm letting myself get excited because climbing to this step has been a long time coming, and I want to take in the view, but I'm all too aware of what a rickety step I'm standing on!

    I realize I could end up in the same situation as Kathy, or with an editor who would leave and orphan the book, or with a publisher who would drop my second book, etc. There is no "foot in the door" that allows you to slip through and close it safely behind you, it would seem! Peril at every step. So while I dearly hope to be traditionally published—as I believe in division of labor and specialties, and am no specialist in many of Morgan's listed categories—if a writer ultimately want to be read, s/he is smart to think about all this.

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  6. Thanks for sharing your experience and being honest. EBook sales keep rising and it's foolish for authors to ignore that, especially if they write in popular genres.

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  7. It can be harrowing to self-publish, but you have the reward of being your own boss, but don't get carried away. Carefully take your editor's advice into consideration. If all of it's not what you had in mind, then see how best to coordinate your efforts.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://facebook.com/morgan.mandel

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  8. I'm still on the undecided fence! Have had two books published by a small publisher since June 2011, but have taken another book to an 'indie publisher' who does all that my first publisher did, but in about a third of the time. Am waiting to see how it goes. Not sure I could cope with all the 'techie' aspects of sp, though. I prefer someone else to look after that side of things!

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  9. Great post. I also felt the need to take some control of my career and self publish. I loved my paranormal stories with no kick-butt characters or "powers".

    I also loved my 40 year old virgin, so not considered New York material.
    I am still submitting to publishers, but am ready to put up more books soon.

    (I am visiting with Morgan today and posting at my group blog http://www.pinkfuzzyslipperwriters.blogspot.com.

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  10. This was a nice compliment to Terry Odell's post the other day and does reinforce some of the best reasons to go indie. Like some of the others who have left comments, I am not fully on the indie route. I still have hardcover books with a traditional publisher, and some e-books with smaller independents, then my own self-pubbed books.

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  11. My first book is coming out with a small press in November, and I chose to go that route because I wanted a good editor and the experience without having to pay out of pocket. I still have a lot to learn. But I'm seriously considering self pubbing with my next book. The cost is my main issue. To do it right, meaning a good editor and cover artist, aren't we talking a couple of thousand dollars? And how much does it cost to print copies?

    Thanks,
    Stacy

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  12. Morgan, You're such a trailblazer! Indie is here to stay, and anyone who doesn't get that needs to wake up. Is it for everyone? Probably not, but then skinny jeans aren't for everyone either.

    If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, like to have control over your project, and are willing to market like a house-afire, you're a sure thing in the indie world.

    I have an indie book, and I'm with a few small presses. I haven't taken the plunge and put a brand new book out there, but I'm doing the dance with my backlist. Thinking of heading there with the new stuff too. It's a brave new world.

    Maggie

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  13. I'm onboard with the self-pub/indie mentality, but it comes at a cost. Editing, cover design, and interior layout must meet or exceed industry standards to compete in the burgeoning marketplace. Intended audience must be considered. How well can you sell your book? Do you belong to organizations that will help you promote it? Is your website up? Do you tweet? What is your advertising strategy? Etc., etc., etc.

    I've edited a book and am starting on a second one for a lady who's an artist as well as a writer. This gives her an edge in the "art" departments that most of us don't have. Yet we all have the responsibility to readers and to fellow writers to do it right - or don't do it at all.

    The shoddy reputation of vanity-published books grew out of the poor quality of so many of them. While that is slowly changing, a huge percentage of books coming out of that general system still fall far short on the quality scale.

    Having said all that, I will still independently publish. It would have to be an extraordinary offer from a traditional house to even tweak my interest. Even then, I probably wouldn't do it. Age could be a factor here - I'm not putting traditional publishing down. It's just not for me.

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  14. If I waited any longer for a traditional publishing opportunity, I would've been looking for query responses through rheumy eyes and a dementia-riden brain ... it was clearly time to take action and go indie.

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  15. Some great questions here. It's important to consider time and energy, because it does take time away from your writing. My first and only book (so far) is with a very small publisher I like a lot. I do know some writers who teach and self-publish the books they use in their classes. Whatever you do, however, do not say anywhere public that you don't need the validation of a publisher or agent, or that you don't have time for 'the gatekeepers.' It looks and sounds like sour grapes, IMO, and we don't want that, do we?

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  16. Self-Publishing may not be for those who are happy with their publishers and don't want to expend the time, energy and upfront costs to self-pub.

    That said, if you are with a publisher, and your backlist is out of contract, it's a good sideline for keeping those books alive.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

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  17. I'm another who has switched horses and moved predominantly into the indie market. I have 2 titles left with traditional print publishers, and I hold the e-rights to those books. Their stipulation is that I can't exercise those rights until the book has been in print for a year ... and I'm counting the days until I can release the digital versions.

    I've just tried a "new" program and have made my newest book available to "Nook First." This means that I give them exclusive rights to the book for 30 days, and (be still my heart) THEY do massive promotion. As I write this, it's been on sale for 3 days and has broken into the top 100 Nook Books overall.

    Needless to say, I'm all for going indie!

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  18. Great post! This is a topic I've been struggling with of late and I found your take very helpful. Thank you.

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  19. I think we should try it all! So keep that in mind when you sign a contract. As far as making money at this game, I see authors who are making a living when they self-publish. I don't think that's as likely even with a really good traditional publisher.

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  20. This is an excellent post--very detailed so writers can really understand what they're getting into. In the late 1990s I started a literary press/journal with a friend, found the editor, proofreaders, printers, designers, etc., and loved every minute of it. But most of the writers I met were amazed that I could do this. How did I learn? No one gets that question anymore because publishing has become so accessible and easy to do on your own. It's still work, and the product requires close attention all the way, but it makes possible things no one could do ten years ago.

    Right now I like my traditional publisher but have put up my backlist from another publisher. I have a couple of books that probably won't get picked up and I plan to publish those myself as eBooks. Watching the market grow and develop over the last couple of years has been amazing--and challenging. Self-publishing isn't something anyone can ignore anymore.

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  21. I like what Susan said: Self-publishing isn't something anyone can ignore anymore.

    Very true!

    Morgan Mandel
    http://facebook.com/morgan.mandel

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  22. I went indie because my Japan WWII memoir was so niche and I was a new author. Lightning Source. Never looked back. These days I'd go CreateSpace with my own ISBN. Indie isn't for everyone as it is a lot of learning, a lot of work, $ out of pocket. Also, you have to market. A lot! But then every author has to these days anyway. Good luck to all the rebels out there!

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  23. Wait time for agents and publishers aside, I don't think any emerging author stands a chance if they don't have control over the pricing of their book. And the only way to control the price is to self publish. With a zillion promotions offering Kindle books free, or for 99 cents, we have to have the flexibility that allows us to be competitive in a market that's becoming more competitive by the day.

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  24. Very true. Publishing is a very competitive market these days, and it pays to be in control of your books.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://facebook.com/morgan.mandel

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  25. Great post, Morgan. I've toyed with the idea of self-publishing. I haven't done it mainly because my children's books would require illustrations. My other reservation is how a potential agent would see my decision. I haven't discounted the idea entirely, but I can't seem to say yes to it either.

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  26. A very timely post. I just self-published my novel a few weeks ago with Create Space, Amazon, etc. It has been a scary and fulfilling journey if that's possible. The process requires a lot of work but in the end; holding my novel in my hands was worth all the 18 hour days. I have found that I must learn to wear many hats (writer, artist, publisher, promotion, etc) but I really love the freedom I have as an Indie author.

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  27. Your experience is excellent to draw from, Morgan, and the comments are fascinating, too.

    I waited 11 years--or rather, I kept banging my head against walls for 11 years--until my eighth novel sold last May. I am very, very happy with the way things turned out. I couldn't be with a more brilliant editor, and all the people I've encountered at my publisher so far seem to be spectacular--it's inspiring to be surrounded by so many experts who are all putting their heads together over my book.

    At the same time, I know that a hefty dose of luck was involved in my winding up here, and also that it's not the right path for everyone. As several commenters noted, time is a huge factor. My book won't be out for 19 months after it was acquired. Plus, there are those 11 years. They weren't wasted--I was learning my craft and the business--but I sure wasn't being read.

    One thing I worry about with indie publishing is that it can be such a quick fix that some of the benefits of the long slog will be eliminated. We really do get better when people are saying 'no' to our work (presuming we listen). Some of the revisions I went through--even post-sale--were painful enough that I can't imagine taking them on if I hadn't had to. And then my book would be--less than it could be.

    But I do think indie publishing is a great route for people whose work is there and who love having their hands in different parts of the pie. And I certainly like reading many of these books that might still be sitting in the query pile otherwise!

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  28. I saw the writing on the wall for my small press publisher and got the rights back to my three books a year ago. I republished them with CreateSpace with covers I really like (as opposed to what some marketing person liked) and they have been selling well on Kindle and other e-readers. The folks at CreateSpace are fabulous to work with and the royalties just appear every month. Meanwhile the small press has gone under owing me several years of royalties. I am doing mynfourth book with CreateSpace right now.

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  29. It's fascinating to read the varied experiences from the commenters here. What I take from reading them is that it's a good thing authors now have the choice to self-publish or go the traditional route, whether it be with a famous or small publisher.
    Freedom is a good thing!

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

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  30. This post has been very helpful to me. My mom is looking into self publishing a book and she doesn't really know what to do or not to do. This book was just a hobby of hers. She has been working on it for about 3 years now. It's a children's book about a little boy that wants to play in the yard but its raining. When he goes out back he finds all these creatures like a lady bug and a bird that talk to him and teach him a little bit about how the rain helps them. Does this sound like a book to be published? If so, should she go paperback? How do you get it published electronically or on Kindle? Any advice will help. Thanks for the great blog.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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