Before I start this essay I want to make something very clear – this is not a post to bash epublishers. They do a good job most of the time and the majority of their writers are very happy with the service they receive (although there are a few issues about which the authors have expressed dissatisfaction and those include: reversion of rights, timely and accurate royalty payments, as well as the percentage of royalties paid). To further complicate the relationship between publishers and their authors, when a few publishers went belly-up over the past couple of years due to financial problems and/or piss-poor management this gave epublishers in general a black eye, as it took a long time for the authors to become disentangled from their contracts and get their rights back.
Partly as a result of these unsettling times there is a new player in town in the world of digital or electronic publishing and it’s self-publishing. “Doin’ it for themselves” or self-publishing is not new, except it was called vanity publishing decades ago because famous people who couldn’t get their books published wanted to see their names on the cover of a book (many of them had to have their stories ghost written because they couldn’t write worth a damn). The other difference is that those were print books, not electronic. In this digital age, for the longest while it used to be that the only way to get an ebook published was to submit a manuscript to an epublisher who would either accept or reject it, and writers had no recourse if their manuscripts were rejected other than to shop them around to different publishers to see if there were any takers. Now the pendulum has swung in another direction by giving control of their stories to authors. For those authors who want to try publishing, in addition to writing, going indie may be their best option as some of them may feel that the extra work is worth not having to share the profits with a publisher. Anyone with a computer, whether or not s/he has any writing talent, can be a published author through the magic of digital publishing which seems to have taken hold of the publishing world in a big way.
Is this a good or a bad thing? Only time will tell.
Sometime ago when I saw how many self published books were being sent to this site for review I was initially concerned about the quality of the product in terms of story content and editing. Then I read some of the books and realized that the majority of them were edited at least as well as most of the books released by epublishers – if not better. The stories ran the gamut of “should never have seen the light of day” to “wonderful”, which was on par with what was being released by traditional epublishers. The one constant was that the majority of these books were professionally put together – from the cover art to the editing and the formatting. So I decided that this site would review self published books because there was no reason not to, as long as the quality of the product remained constant and did not deteriorate. Now that there are so many more authors trying out digital publishing I’ll have to wait and see if there is any negative impact on the books.
Selfishly, one reason I wanted to write this post was because I figured that authors doin’ it for themselves was here to stay, but that there was a huge issue in terms of potential indie authors easily sourcing the necessary resources in one place, and as someone who loves gay romance I wanted the best product possible for my money. My thinking was that accessing credible information as well as professional resources would improve the quality of these stories; therefore I decided to do my own research and give our authors the benefit of that research. The best part? They don’t have to pay for my services. 🙂
When Jay Bell learned I was writing this post he offered to share his first experience in the dark and murky world of self publishing so that other authors would benefit from it and not be taken unaware. If you’re an author who is contemplating publishing your own books there’s lots to learn from Jay.
Here’s his story
An embarrassing disaster: That pretty much sums up my first book release. I live in a far away land called Germany (far away from the USA 😀 ), and it’s not always easy for the postal service to reach me, so I didn’t get to hold my debut book until a week after its release. I opened the big ol’ box, expecting to be moved to tears. The cover looked good, graced by my husband’s art. Then I opened the book, feeling a little perturbed by the huge margins and tiny font. Regardless, I started to read. And I stumbled. Something had gone terribly wrong. Random spaces had been inserted into many of the words:
Humid nig ht air danced acr oss the rippling green wa ters of the lag oon, bringing with it the sm ells of su mmer and the sou nds of night.
Being the calm, well-adjusted person I am, I flipped the fuck out. All I could think of were the people who had spent money on this absolute mess. For once, being a nobody in the writing world had its advantages, since it’s not like thousands of copies had been sold. Only those nearest and dearest to me were buying the book, and honestly, that felt even worse. Never one for despair, I set about finding a way to fix the problem. Due to the time difference between countries, while I was freaking out my publisher was snug in her bed. I sent tons of emails. I might have tried calling. Then I started messing with the files to figure out what went wrong and where. I found the problem, but didn’t have any authority with the printing press to implement the solution. Despite my increasing heart palpitations, I had to wait until my publisher woke up and had returned from her day job. Even then I’d lost confidence that she could handle fixing the problem. I felt helpless. What was supposed to be one of the most magical milestones in my career was anything but. As I said, an embarrassing disaster.
Despite this problem and many more, the folks behind the first and only publishing house I worked with were kind, likeable people. They gave me a chance when no one else would and did the same for many other authors. Regardless, I suspected I could probably do a better job on my own. I made a half-hearted effort to get my second book, Something Like Summer, published. When there were no takers, I leapt at the excuse to strike out on my own. I taught myself InDesign to give my books a professional layout. I delved into the HTML of my ebooks to get the formatting just right. I wined and dined my husband into providing a book cover that continues to get its own fan mail. I hired professional editors, did a million rewrites, found test readers, and ordered a slew of prototypes before I dared to push that publish button. I did everything I felt a good publisher would do, and my efforts and hard work were rewarded. Happy ending? Well, sort of.
“That’s why I don’t read self-published books!” Comments like these are disturbingly common. People trash a book they don’t enjoy—nothing unusual or wrong about that—but if it’s an indie release, someone inevitably replies with a comment that generalizes all self-published books as sloppy, thrown-together garbage. Naturally I find this a little irritating. There are good publishers, and as I experienced, there are bad publishers. Likewise, there are indie authors who do their best to release a product that is professional in appearance. Then there are indie authors who run spell-check, upload the book, and call it a day. As readers, we judge publishing houses on an individual basis. Indie authors—one person publishing houses—deserve the same treatment.
Haters gonna hate, so I try not to let negativity get to me, but it is discouraging to see review sites that won’t accept self-published books. I don’t understand this. A publishing house is by no means a guarantee of quality. These days, anyone can buy a domain name, use a template to create a web site, fill out paperwork, and call themselves a publisher. I considered doing so when I first started out, but it seemed dishonest. I knew I wouldn’t be publishing any books aside from my own, and didn’t want to pretend to be a company when I’m just some guy. A guy who works nights and weekends sometimes, who constantly updates his back catalog whenever a problem is discovered, and who gets really tired of worrying about everything being the best it can be but can’t sleep otherwise. I care about my books more than anyone, more than any publisher would—no matter how awesome they might be. I’m not perfect and my books aren’t perfect, but I pour my heart into every project I work on. If that’s a good reason not to read or review a book, then to each his/her own.
The cool thing I’ve discovered over the last seven book releases, is how many people simply don’t care. They look at a cover and blurb, and that’s what determines if they’re along for the ride or not. Most readers simply want a good story, and unless you give them reason to wonder about the company or individual doing the publishing, they might not ever know that it’s just some guy who really needs to get those dishes done before feeding the cats.
To continue, here are a few items that might interest you ……..
I think you will find this excellent article by Hugh Howey titled Self Publishing is the future – and great for writers, published in April in Salon magazine very informative and revealing. Hugh is an indie science fiction author whose self published series Wool sold in the hundreds of thousands in North America alone and it is now optioned to 20th Century Fox:
Many authors have contemplated self publishing and a few of them have actually dipped their toes in these waters, going by the responses to my post on author royalties. The authors who emailed me as well as those who commented on the post complained about the amount of upfront work involved in being both publisher and writer, so I’m going to give them a little help by providing links to a few more articles and a list of resources, which should be enough to get them started and reduce some of the upfront labour. You guys can thank me later. 😀
The most popular way to self-publish currently is through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing which pays 70% royalties plus or minus a few percentage points, but I would strongly recommend that authors read the fine print on the contract carefully before they commit so that there are no unpleasant surprises. For example, Amazon wants to keep the prices of self published digital books below $10 so it pays only 35% royalties if the book is priced above $9.99 – see enclosed article by Tom Whitehead in the London Telegraph. In addition, Amazon does not encourage rock bottom pricing and consequently does not pay 70% royalties on books priced under $2.99 – it pays 35%. Authors should also note that while they do not have to grant foreign rights to Amazon, if they do, those rights must be exclusive in order to receive the 70% royalty. Otherwise, again they’re knocked down to 35%.
Amazon is not the only game in town. There are other self-publishing services available such as Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! which is now re-branded as Nook Press. Here’s a link to the information about Nook Press and what it offers authors in royalty payments.
Kobo’s Writing Life is another alternative to Amazon. I have linked this site so that authors can find out their royalty structure and how to use the services to get their books published.
Another excellent resource for self published books is Smashwords which claims to be the largest indie ebook distributor, with over 200,000 titles published by over 55,000 authors. Smashwords returns 85% of net to authors and distributes books to Barnes & Noble, Apple iBookstore, Sony, Kobo etc.
As many of you may know, one of my pet peeves in the romance genre is the lack of excellent editing in these books. Authors have argued with me that there are as many editing errors in print fiction as there are in ebooks however, generally it has been my experience that the error rate is much higher in epublishing. Part of the reason for this probably has to do with the considerable investment in editing resources by the major print publishing houses; It could also have to do with the short time frame between when a manuscript is submitted to an epublisher and its release (Samhain may be the only epublisher with an extended time-frame from submission to publication).
Last year David Vinjamuri wrote a really great article for Forbes magazine called Publishing is Broken : We’re drowning in Indie Books and That’s a Good Thing in which he lauded the trend of self-publishing over traditional publishing. I agree with a lot of his points in this article but with the current popularity of self-publishing and the lack of excellent editing resources to go around, I’m wondering how this will all play out with more and more authors going this route, especially if a large number of them opt to self publish when their current contracts expire in the next year or two. Whether or not the editing resource problem will be exacerbated by self-publishing, again only time will tell. Readers love inexpensive books (a lot of self-published books start at $2.99 compared to $4.99 or $5.99 from regular epublishers), but if indie authors don’t invest in professional editing resources readers may throw these books back. To be successful, a self published author has to get everything right out of the gate or there may not be a second chance. As we all know, readers are very fickle.
12 years ago Karen L. Oberst wrote an article about self-publishing in which she offered up advice to the wannabe writer on how to make it in this field. Here’s a link to her post and as you can see, the list is endless if you want to do it right.
My last link is to Joel Friedlander’s site, The Book Designer, which is excellent. The information on the site is totally up to date with the changing standards and methods in the industry. The author who recommended this site to me (Jordan Castillo Price) said you should pay particular attention to the “Start Here” section in the left sidebar. Mr. Friedlander has a free booklet on his site called 10 Things you need to know about Self Publishing which has lots of valuable information and links to Editors’ Associations in the the US and Canada. If you’re serious about self-publishing I would urge you to download the booklet and read it from cover to cover (it’s only 25 pages).
I think authors have more than enough information in this post and the attached list of resources recommended by their peers to get started. For those of you who have already self published a few books, this additional information may confirm what you already know.
If authors decide to go the indie route, it is important for them to understand that they can’t do it all themselves because they don’t possess most of the required technical knowledge or expertise. Epublishers hire outside resources because they don’t have in-house expertise and an author undertaking this job herself or himself has to be just as smart. While the story is very important it is also extremely important to release a professional product overall, which means authors must outsource most, if not all of the “publishing” jobs. Please don’t attempt to design your cover art unless you have the necessary technical skills. The same comment goes for the critical job of editing – always hire a qualified professional, and proofreading is not editing. Some of you may be like Jay and are fluent in HTML so you can probably do your own formatting, however, unless you’re an expert I would strongly recommend that you outsource this job. The cost is minimal and proper formatting can make a huge difference in the finished product. I know all of this seems like a lot of work and upfront financial investment, but if you’re serious about going down this road authors, people who purchase your books deserve the best product you can give them. Typically only the first book will be as labour intensive because everything is new, but this will pay off because you will be able to breeze through subsequent books as, for the most part, you will be reusing the same (or similar) resources. The only new element will be the manuscript for your latest literary work of art. 😀
Thanks to Jay Bell who rocks on every level. Also my sincere thanks to Josh Lanyon who gave me some valuable advice, as an experienced indie author, on the first cut of this document (I know when I should seek outside help). 🙂 Thanks also to the authors who helped with the list of technical resources: Jordan Castillo Price, Josh Lanyon, Val Kovalin, Josephine Myles, Kaje Harper, Aria Grace, Ava March and K.C. Beaumont. Aunt Lynn, as always thanks for the formatting help. My apologies in advance if I forgot someone.