More About Self-Publishing

So many choices, so many options, so many decisions. It makes your brain cramp, doesn’t it? And you thought once you wrote the book, you were done. Silly writer.

Now that your Work of Genius is complete, it’s time to find it a home, and in all actuality, you should be thinking about this stuff BEFORE your work is complete. What choice is right for you? Good question, and it depends on your ultimate goal and what you intend for your business. Remember, I told you writing was a business, and if you want to be successful at this writing thing, you’d do well to keep that in mind as you progress in the Maze That is Now Modern Publishing.

Personally, I have been agonizing over the decision of what to do with my material for months. Let’s face it, once you’ve finished your project (or projectS), the submission process to traditional publishers is like staring down a black abyss. Do you get an agent or try to submit without one? What about those thrice-damned queries, or the dreaded synopsis? How long will your book dangle in time, waiting on word from an agent, editor, or publisher while you chew your fingernails down to the bloody tissue? How long can you wait before you start seeing some kind of financial return on months of work? What happens when the rejections start coming in and you’re ready to take a face-plant off a high cliff?

And say you decide to bypass all that hoopla and publish yourself. What are you looking at then? You’re looking at conquering several learning curves, unless you are extremely blessed and have friends that can help you handle technical requirements such as formatting, book covers, and a professional edit of your material. You’ll have to figure out how to format for different venues such as CreateSpace, Amazon, Kindle, Nook and several hundred more you may be unfamiliar with at this time. You’ll have to think about marketing strategies and pimping and hoping like hell someone other than people related to you by blood will buy your product.

This is my take on the matter, and I will admit I have been heavily influenced by following Dean Wesley Smith. One recent post in particular has caught my attention — with some excellent advice about harnessing both traditional publishing and self-publishing. It doesn’t have to be an “either/or” situation, and actually, it looks like it is detrimental to look at it that way.

The reason Dean’s approach appeals to me is because it is very similar to the freelancer’s business model for non-fiction. For instance, I have preached forever about filling your basket and creating passive income streams. The same philosophy applies to fiction — what a concept! Once you realize that, several things click into place.

So, here are my thoughts — and remember, I’m a struggling writer just like you. I’m trying to find the best way to make this career a success, just like you. I have questions, concerns, nightmares, and doubts just like you. I am confused, excited, overwhelmed…just like you. These are some of the questions I’m asking myself.

1. Is being published by a traditional publisher what I’m looking for? For so many years, mostly because there were few other options for me, I dreamed about being picked up by a Big House and then I’d be successful. However, that’s no guarantee my book won’t end up in the bin at the local dollar store even if I was successful in landing a contract and no guarantee I’d make decent money. Stories like the success of Peter V. Brett, wherein he scored not only a contract for three books and is swiftly taking over the universe, but had his material optioned for movie rights, are like finding the Holy Grail.

2. Speaking of contracts, I’ve heard so many horror stories about stinking contracts that screw a writer over it makes me wonder if I’m better off going the maverick route.

3. How much effort am I willing to expend in publishing myself? I’m not worried about the “stigma”, because I honestly don’t give a rat’s ass about that as long as I can become established as a Writer of Excellent Stories and make money doing it. But, I’m not getting any younger and my brain cells actually start SMOKING at the thought of yet another (or dozen) learning curve to add to my repertoire.

4. Where do I start? Do I serialize it on the web, publish on demand, publish electronically, or say screw this and send the manuscript to an agent and sacrifice a chicken and start working on Book II while I wait and wait and wait?

Oye.

So, my poppets, that’s where I’m at. I wish I had definitive answers to offer, but sadly, I’m fighting the hamsters nightly, just like you. My mind is literally a-whirl with the possibilities, the angles, and the plethora of options available. I’m looking hard at success stories, failures (because you can learn as much by contemplating what is NOT working as by what IS working) and taking notes. I’m helping writers I believe in as much as I can, picking the brain cells of those who know much more than I do, and at some point, will make the jump.

Which way I’ll jump is open-ended at this juncture of my career.

What do you think?

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Ruminations and Meandering Thoughts on Self-Publishing

I know I’m about to open up a whole can of worms here, but this is a subject, an important subject, that affects all writers of fiction. These are just ruminations and meandering thoughts of things I’ve observed in the last couple of years since I started in the business and the art of writing for money.

First of all, you may ask what makes me so qualified to express an opinion since I don’t have a novel on the bestseller list? I don’t have an academic degree in anything, other than the PhD I have acquired in the School of Hard Knocks. I am just a working writer hack. Just who do I think I am, really?

I have been reading since I was three years old. This old brain is stuffed full of stories of every kind, and this old heart overflows with the love of the written word. Couple that with an observant nature and an insatiable thirst for learning, and although I may not be a product of formal education, I have been around the block a time or two, and have learned a bit in the process. I might not be able to diagram a sentence in the tradition of Mrs. Outhouse, my high school English teacher (and yes, that is her real name, bless her heart!) but there’s one thing I know intimately, and that is story. Plus, I have been earning a living through writing, editing, and renting my soul to the devil for years. (Not really. If that were the case I’d rent my soul for a lot more than what I’m making. Heh. But earning a living from writing and editing is true.)

What I have observed lately is the world of publishing has cracked wide open, especially in the last couple of years. We can discuss for hours the implications of this to writers, but that’s not really the point of this post. In other words, I’m not going to get into a philosophical discussion about “art” vs “business” here.

Self-publishing is not new. Consider this who’s who list of self-publishers: Mark Twain, Margaret Atwood, L. Frank Baum, Ernest Hemingway, Benjamin Franklin, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rudyard Kipling, Walt Whitman….those are but a few. However, self-publishing has never become a respected vehicle for writers, and there’s some good reasons for that. For one, there are no gatekeepers. Say what you want about traditional publishing, but they get it right more than they get it wrong (Paris Hilton aside) and that’s because there are gatekeepers. Sure, it’s a crapshoot when you pick up the latest on the shelves, but chances are the material is in decent condition.

But self-publishing books? Well, there are no gatekeepers of any kind, and the only thing you really have to go on by buying and reading material from a self-publisher are reviews, if available, or word-of-mouth, which can be unreliable. And writers who opt to self-publish run the risk of a publishing stigma that maintains if you self-publish, it has to suck. Thankfully, I see that trend starting to change, although I suspect it will be a long row to hoe.

I have mixed feelings, and I’m sure a lot of other writers do, too. The thing that many writers fail to realize is this whole clusterfark is not about art. It’s about business (I can hear the wailing already — save it. I’m not listening, because I know I’m right and in your heart of hearts, you do too). Wail all you want, but the truth is the truth. If you can’t handle it, maybe you should be doing something else. Just sayin’.

Consider these points, if you will:

1. Whether going the route of traditional publishing as opposed to self-publishing, you are going to have to take on a bigger role in self-promoting. It is now a fact of writing life. No longer will you be able to “just” write and send in your material to a publisher and have it magically appear on the book shelves with no more effort from you. It’s not going to work that way. “Write it and they will come” does not apply. Sorry. You’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and sweat some more. Self-pubbers know this — have known it forever. Traditional publishers are going to expect you to do your part to get the word out about your book. Is it fair? Don’t care. It is what it is.

2. When is self-publishing a viable option? Well, there are a few reasons I can think of. For one, it is a smart business move to put together a small volume of shorter works and self-publish to get a buzz going about your novel. If it does well, you have something besides a smokin’ story to show a prospective publisher without compromising your material. Establish an audience — you’re going to need that, anyway.

3. For two, there is some excellent fiction that just won’t find a publisher. Why? Because it is not mainstream enough — meaning, the target audience (and if you don’t know who your target audience is, you have more problems than I can help you with) is not big enough for a publisher to make any money. The novel you’ve just written about the mating habits of the tse-tse fly is not going to appeal to more than a very small and very specialized market, no matter how well-written it is. Remember, this is a business — and this is not personal, so get your panties out of a bunch.

4. With the advent of electronic reading devices and of course, the Internet, a self-publisher has a better chance of reaching a larger audience than ever before. Not to mention opportunities afforded by digital publishing (known as “weblit” to some) in which some authors have found much success due to hard work and innovative marketing ideas.

5. Traditional publishers have a larger distribution and more resources than self-publishers. Again, this is the truth and why being published by a big house seems like the Brass Ring. But is it right for you?

So, what’s a writer to do? Stay tuned for the next post, in which I will give you my opinion of what a writer needs to think about before choosing which way to jump.

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Going to Market

When you become involved in writing, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, the last thing you may think about is marketing. I’m a writer, you say, not a marketer. If I wanted to be involved in marketing, well then, that’s what I’d be doing. And you’re right. Up to a point.

All writers must be prepared to enter the marketing ring. No one does it alone, not even the ones with the juicy publishing contracts. Indie writers have known this for decades. Finishing a book is just the beginning. Now, you really have to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Promoting your work and interacting with people is a difficult thing to do for many writers. By nature, most of us are introspective, withdrawn, and introverted. You may feel as if promotion is similar to bragging, and no one likes a braggart. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but the fact remains if you have a quality product and you want to get it out into the world, you need to own it and promote it. To this end, here is a list of things you can do to market your book and hopefully, create a stir that will attract the People Who Pay Money for Words. Some of these things you have probably already done long ago, but if you haven’t, it’s time to get cracking.

1. You’ll need a quality website and a regular blogging schedule. Make sure you reply to the people kind enough to comment, and offer a free sample of your work or examples of the types of stories you write. Include a picture, as people love to put a face to a name.

2. Establish your identity on the major social network platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Post updates regularly. Work on getting an audience before you start pimping out your book, because social sites shouldn’t be only an outlet for that. They’re social connection sites, so friends and family are great. This is the beginning of your Army of Minions.

3. Join groups that reflect your own interests. There’s strength in numbers, and the people you meet may have other ideas that can help you get your project off the ground.

4. Trade ads with other websites. Get yourself a nice-looking badge or ad (easy to do yourself, or if you’re not competent in that direction, buy or trade services to get you one – maybe a good friend knows how to do it and can supply you or teach you) and offer to host another writer’s ad if they host yours. Make sure it contains a link to your website so when people click on it, they get what they’re looking for.

5. Do you have classmates or friends from college, writer’s workshops, or the like? Send them a friendly email and tell them about your finished novel. Wouldn’t you love to hear about one of them successfully completing their project? Of course you would! (The pins in the voodoo doll come later.)

6. Speaking of email, insert into your email a signature with a link to where people can buy your book. And since we’re speaking of signatures, include a link to your website and/or your purchasing portal in any forum signatures. Make it easy for interested people to find you.

7. Volunteer to supply potential reviewers with free copies of your book (in electronic or hard copy form) in exchange for a review on their website. Suggest a follow-up of an interview, which can be done in the form of a Q&A through email.

8. Visit the indie bookshops in your area and chat up the owner. Offer to come in for a book signing.

9. Local colleges are a great place to post fliers, with permission, of course, and you can also ask if the English department is interested in a guest lecturer on writing. Of course you’re qualified, you just published a book, didn’t you?

10. Create a book trailer and post it on YouTube. I know, I don’t know how either, but I have friends who do and I bet you do, too.

11. Run a contest on your blog with cool prizes like an autographed copy of your genius and a shiny keychain. People love shiny keychains.

12. Look into the world of podcasting. It is one of the fastest growing parts of the social media monster, and could become a major part of your marketing campaign. There are plenty of resources to teach how to podcast, why to podcast, and where to podcast.

Is marketing a lot of work? Sure is, buddy. Most of the suggestions I’ve laid out here are easy and can be done from the comfort of your own keyboard. Some of them require you to go out among people. Others may need the application of brain cells while you conquer yet another learning curve. But, this isn’t the time to whine about how difficult it is. Now is the time for you to put on your Big Girl/Boy Pants and get moving.

The question is, how bad do you want it? Did you write that book just to impress your mother? I didn’t think so. Now, get out there and do something. All it takes is for one person in the right place at the right time and things can go boom. Keeping your work of art in the dark isn’t going to do you a lot of good. Shine the light, baby, and be persistent. Be patient. Keep busy. Stay humble.

Work hard. The rest will come.

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