Self-publishing? e-book? huh?

If you’re like me — trying to polish a work you hope, some day, some how, hordes (or at least a respectable handful) of people will read in a finished form — you’ve given some thought to self-publishing, either on paper or digitally. Yes? No? Maybe?

I urge you to read this front page (!) article, ‘Vanity’ Press Goes Digital, in today’s Wall Street Journal. Here are the first couple of sentences just to get you started:

Writer Karen McQuestion spent nearly a decade trying without success to persuade a New York publisher to print one of her books. In July, the 49-year-old mother of three decided to publish it herself, online.

Eleven months later, Ms. McQuestion has sold 36,000 e-books through Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle e-bookstore and has a film option with a Hollywood producer. In August, Amazon will publish a paperback version of her first novel, “A Scattered Life,” about a friendship triangle among three women in small-town Wisconsin.

Pique your interest?  The article is definitely worth reading, no matter how you feel about e-books.  I personally love the feel of paper and turning the pages of a well-loved book, underlining my favorite passages.  But let’s face it:  there’s something pretty cool about the instant gratification of absolutely needing to read A Certain Book RIGHT NOW and being able to download a weightless copy.

And admit it.  It sure would be nice to have 36,000 readers, whether they’re hauling around stone tablets, papyrus, or a Kindle.

J.A. Konrath, a novelist whose blog A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing is crammed with practical information from the trenches, not an ivory tower, is quoted extensively in the article. His May 30 blog post, Steal This Ebook, starts a 30 day experiment to spread some of his published writing freely across the electronic ozone layer. Many of his books are already available, for free download, from his website.

Do these free downloads help or hurt sales of his books? That’s what he hopes to find out. The post and comments are provocative, evocative, and well worth reading. I particularly like this quote: “As a wise man once said, writers should fear obscurity, not piracy.”

So read the WSJ article and check out Joe Konrath’s blog.

Thoughts?

22 comments to Self-publishing? e-book? huh?

  • I’d like to see a “scientific” study of this. Yes, certainly, there are success stories, but how many hundreds (thousands?) of debut authors publish their novels as ebooks and sell only 6 copies … to friends and family?

    You have to ask the right questions. What kind of platform did Ms. McKitchen have? How was she able to successfully market her novel?

    I am not famous (or infamous), I don’t belong to any business, social, or religious group that would feel compelled to by my book, and there’s no hot “tie in” to my novel. And though I’d dearly love to skip this agony of agent searching, I seriously doubt my book would sell 36,000 copies as an e-book, even though I believe it’s worthy of that and more.

    • Natasha

      I don’t know the answers. I do suspect that there are lots of folks ‘selling’ 6 copies of their ebooks to friends and family, but to me, 36,000 is a decent run for a newbie with an ebook.

  • 36,000 is peanuts, and that’s probably why she never made it into paper publishing. That would be a loss for any traditional publisher.

    The problem, as Linda says, is that without shelf presence in a bookstore, you have to go out and look harder for readers. And if you don’t already have a good, solid following or a way to get your book in front of people, you’re behind before you start. It doesn’t matter how good or bad your book is – if no-one sees it, then you can’t sell it.

    Looking through the reviews on Goodreads, it seems like it’s a “nice” book. Good enough to not be horrible, but not good enough to stand out. Which is, unfortunately, where most of us will end up. So if she’s managed to find her own version of success this way, then good for her.

  • Talk of publishing stresses me out. Presently, I choose to write blog posts and enjoy the handful of readers who stop in, read, perhaps leave a comment and go off to continue on with their lives as I do with mine.

    Self publishing is tempting but then you’re stuck with self promoting as well. Ugh!

    I wish you the best with any choices you make.

  • Natasha

    Thanks. I need to write something worth promoting first. heh heh.

  • Interesting. In my critique class, there are two authors: one by self-publshing and one by traditional. The traditional one had her book featured on Oprah and on the major bookstore shelves. The self-published one pushes his book wherever he goes…online, vacations, classes, etc. They compared notes, and it turns out they both made about the same amount of money (self-published guy made about $10/book where traditional woman made about $2/book).

    As for me, I don’t think I could push my book everywhere I go, like that guy does. But it fits his personality, so it works.

    • Natasha

      That’s very interesting, Kathan. Do you know WHY the self-publishing author went that route? Had he tried traditional publishing and not been picked up by a publisher? What was the traditional author’s route to getting published? How did she get on Oprah? Inquiring minds want to know. Do you think you could write a post about these two people sometime? I know I’d sure be interested in reading it and I’ll bet a lot of other folks would as well.

  • I have never considered self-publishing. I think it’s part laziness to be honest. 🙂 That was one of my listed faults, remember. I think the story Kathan told about the difference between the two published writers says a lot. He made $10 per copy but he worked his butt off for it. She made $2 but had agents and publishers do a lot of the leg work.

  • Well, we all know that poetry will never make me rich and I write it for the love of the act itself. If it makes it into a poetry magazine I’ll be tickled, if it doesn’t it will eventually end up on my blog.

    But, when it comes to my novels I’ve decided that only one will ever be self published. The one that I wrote specifically for my children. Let’s face it – I’m an introvert – the last thing I want to do is stand in front of the big top and try to sell show tickets. I’m with Kathan, I just don’t see myself doing a lot of self-promoting.

    • Natasha

      I’m under the impression that even with an agent and ultimately a publisher, a fair amount of self-promotion is expected and needed for marketing.

      • This is the problem I have with most things these days. You pay someone to provide you with a service. The average book sells for approx $10and the represented author only nets $2 of that sell. The remainder is paid to people whom are supposed to market and publish for you.

        In the past being agented meant that you paid them, they worked for you. Now it seems that in publishing, along with many other markets, you pay for a service and for that payment you are required to do a large percentage of the work yourself (more than actually authoring the piece that is). Am I the only one who sees a problem with this trend?

        It frustrates me to no end that publishers not only allow, but actually support this trend.

        Will anyone take a stand? If not, will publishing end up just like many defunked industries and services, degraded to the point of having no value. Face it, already just about anyone can write a book, quality or not, and self-publish. Digging through the shelves of any Big Box Book store to find a novel worth reading has become a tedious task for the reader. Hence what I believe is the popularity of e-books. If you pay for it and it sucks, just delete.

        Personally I don’t care to throw money away just to find out if something is trash or the next great american novel. No wonder the people of this nation find themselves buried under a mountain of debt if this is the respect they have for time honored industries and the value of their dollars.

        Rant over.

        • Trista, I think I got lost in your rant, so correct me if need be. Publishing supports the trend because they make more money. They keep the same percentage of the sales they’ve always done, but they no longer have to spend any of that for a publicist or, so it quite often seems, an editor.

          Nathan Bransford posted about this today and there’s quite a debate in his comments. The more I read, the more I think it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever see my novels in print by a big name publisher.

          Would I be thrilled with selling 36,000 copies? You bet! But if I went the self-published route, I think I’d be lucky to sell 36 copies! Though to be honest, when you set that against not being published at all, 36 doesn’t look so bad.

        • I think I also got lost in my own rant. I’ll try to come up with a clearer train of thought and get back to you on this.

  • Natasha

    Need to check out Bransford, thanks for the heads-up, Linda. There is a tremendous amount of competition for ‘traditional’ publishing, and at the same time a number of electronic venues are opening up. I think there’s room for both… I hope so, at least.

    • Talk about a conversation killer, go read my comment at Bransford’s site. It brought internet silence across the us. LOL

      • Natasha

        heh heh. You go, girl! I think you are right about the profit motive. Publishers need to make money to stay in business. And whether in publishing or real estate or insurance, any time you hear the word ‘agent’ it does mean another person with his or her hand out for $$. They may provide an essential service (or not) but somebody’s gotta pay for it.

        You want fries with that?

  • […] know I’m not the only one who’s curious about the other publishing options. Natasha recently wrote a post about this. And super agent Nathan Bransford has written about e-publishing and self-publishing […]

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