Changing Perspectives: From Traditional to Self-publishing

I know I’ve been over this before. The publishing world is going through a revolution and authors are the ones who stand to benefit most. If you’re a writer you have to think about why you are publishing your work. Perhaps you just want to write and practice your art, in which case you understand that your readership may be very small and you don’t mind. Or perhaps you are hoping to make a living or supplemental income from your works. Or maybe you’re writing for your posterity and don’t intend to sell many books. And maybe you are a super talented, hard-working writer with books screaming for an audience. Whatever the reason, self-publishing is probably the best route for you. Take a look at Hugh Howey’s post on Salon about self-publishing if you don’t believe it.

Breaking into the traditional publishing crowd takes talent, hard work, and a bucket of luck, unless you’re already a celebrity and then you don’t need any of those traits. Traditional publishing houses are businesses. They are going to publish what they think will get them the most sales. This means they want well-written material (for the most part), pre-established social platforms for new authors, agented writers, and proven subject matter. I’m sure you’ve noticed that as long as a book deals in the recent trends (i.e. vampires, zombies, post-apocalypse), the writing quality does not need to be perfect. You need most of these things to be a successful self-published author, too. Only, in traditional publishing, you sell all rights to your work. You give it up for an upfront fee. So I ask you, what is the advantage of traditional publishing?

Marketing? Not necessarily. In fact, most publishing houses require new authors to orchestrate their own marketing strategies. They don’t have the money to invest in marketing for a book that may not sell more than the advance given to the writer. Publishing houses do have the advantage of selling directly to book distributors and libraries. Self-published writers can do this as well, but they have to use their own time and effort. The leveling field for this advantage is Amazon, which does not discriminate against self-published authors. Traditional publishers have to price their products higher than self-published authors because they have to cover overhead. E-books don’t cost anything to produce, which means pure profit for the self-published author and they can set their price low and sell much more than the traditional publisher.

Advances? Yes, if that’s all you hope to make from your book. Most traditionally published authors do not make more than the advance. After a while, these books go out of print, which means no more money from them. With a well-implemented marketing plan, a self-published work can bring a steady income and never go out of print unless the author chooses.

Editors? Sometimes. The truth is your work has to be nearly perfect already to get accepted to a publishing house. Some agents act as editors and some ask the writers to hire a freelance editor. Either way, writers advantage from hiring their own freelance editors.

Validation? This is a matter of opinion and subject to change. This is the topic that fuels my inner publishing conflict. I still feel that breaking into traditional publishing will somehow validate me as a writer. This idea stems from the many impatient writers who fill the self-publishing sphere with first and second drafts. I am terrified to fall into their ranks. Yet I know that my idea of validation is flawed. Much of the recent traditionally published literature lacks imagination. I’d rather be guilty of sloppy writing than mundane storytelling. Fortunately, self-publishing does not equal immature technique. The trick is to master your craft as if you were trying to make it through an editor’s slush pile and then self-publish your work and retain all rights to it.

What do you think? Is traditional or self-publishing the way to go? Have I missed something? I want to hear all the angles.

Amazon KDP Select

KDP Select and What’s In It for You

Amazon KDP SelectFellow writers, readers, and anyone else interested in the self-publishing industry: let me introduce you to a short treatise on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and its KDP Select program.

This Select service was brought to my attention by GoodReads’ Jane Friedman blog, specifically a guest post by CJ Lyons (I’d recommend reading it here).

KDP is simply Amazon’s self-publishing service (Amazon is also affiliated with CreateSpace, and probably even more who I’m not aware of), and KDP Select is a special program offered to users of KDP to promote their books.  Here’s the lowdown on what KDP Select does and its stipulations:

1. The author gives Amazon EXCLUSIVE digital rights (though none of the print rights) to his or her book for a 90-day period

2. The book is made available in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library for sharing between customers and earns a small royalty for each “borrow”

3. The author is able to offer the book in a free promotion for a total of 5 days (consecutive or not, author’s choice) during the 90-day period

To tell the truth, when I read this I thought it was really strange and sort of a bad deal for authors since their books might only be downloaded during the free days (if they used any) and/or lent out by customers for a smaller royalty.  After reading Lyons’ post, I still have a similar opinion, though I also see the benefits to KDP Select.  After reading through (almost) the entire KDP Select user terms of service, I got a fairly good idea of what the service really offered to authors.

Based on my research, here’s the pros and cons of each stipulation of KDP Select:

1. KDP Select 90 days of exclusivity:

PROS: if you aren’t trying to distribute anywhere else, Amazon’s Kindle is a great platform to start on

CONS: you’re stuck with Kindle, so no Kobo, no Nook, no nothing! You also wouldn’t be allowed to provide excerpts/chapters on your blog or website because that would also be a breach of contract

2. Kindle Owner’s Lending Library

PROS: great for word-of-mouth marketing, and you do get paid for it

CONS: people who might buy your book borrow it instead, and the payout for lending is dependent on the total amount of books that are lent within a particular month–the more books borrowed overall (even if they have nothing to do with your book or genre), the less money you make

3. Free-Promotion Days (5 total)

PROS: you have total control of when those 5 days occur within your 90-day contract with KDP Select and you can run them concurrently, separately, or not at all.  If you do, it’s a good way to introduce people to the first in a series and garner good reviews to encourage purchase of later installations

CONS: anytime a book is offered for free, its intrinsic value also declines, and you may encourage sentiment for the rest of your books to be offered for free as well

Overall, there are some definite advantages to KDP Select, however, I believe it takes a very specific situation for an author to derive great benefit from it.  Why not simply use KDP’s regular publishing services?  What potential can you see in KDP Select?  I can’t claim a perfect understanding of how to sell ebooks, so I’d love to hear what you think!

Writers Should Stick Together like Velcro: Why You Need an Editing Group

facepalm-writer

Yes, it feels like this sometimes.

Most humans are naturally wired to avoid pain and stressful experiences. I say most humans because writers are human, but they’re different: they do not avoid pain.

Writers compose a curious part of the human population.  They’re prone to share the precious artistry of their souls and ask for constructive criticism in hopes of getting better.  As a writer myself, I went this route early in my career and found that the helpful advice I hoped to receive felt more like a literary slap in the face. In one of my first experiences, I tried to smile and jot down notes as a friend proceeded to (as I saw it at the time) rip my heart out and stomp on it.

“How could you do this to me?” I wanted to say. “Isn’t this one of the best things you’ve ever read??”

combo-editing

Writing groups are tough love but totally worth it, I promise!

This experience only temporarily gave the boot to my dreams, however, because I was–and still am–determined to become a great writer (as you might also, or at least a great reader!). Understandably, I was upset with my friend (as well as delusional about the quality of my story), but upon later reflection her words became more clear and helpful than she may have ever intended. I got the feedback I needed to honestly assess my writing.

As my astute colleague Doc so aptly put it, writers who want to self-publish need to work on their craft. The best way to do this is by getting honest feedback. The best way to get honest as well as informed feedback is by utilizing the time of fellow writers. This is because fellow writers have most likely taken classes, had similar experiences, and read helpful books on writing. You just don’t have the time to take every class on novel composition, character development, and literature that’s out there, and neither do you have time to read everything by Anne Lamott, Stephen King, and Robert McKee. You also don’t have time to make all the mistakes novice writers make. Let someone else bump you ahead on the learning curve–believe me, it’ll save you a ton of time and heartache!

If someone is a “serious” writer, they must endure constructive slapping on a regular basis. This is because good writers want to improve their writing and not just get empty praise (though a compelling case can be made for the necessity of praise, no matter how undeserved–I know I need it now and then!). Decide today to find at least one other person who wants greatness as much as you do, because we writers need to stick together.

Note: I’ve credited writers for their helpfulness, and I think it’s also fair to point out the extreme benefits of beta-readers within your editing group.  That, however, is a topic for another time.