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.

How do you judge a book?

I just want to take a moment to discuss how I judge a book. This took some thought because I had to analyze my own reading. When I got frustrated, I had to stop and think about exactly what made me frustrated. When I continued reading despite the frustration, I had to figure out why I was still interested.

While I performed this study for the purpose of this blog, I want to make it clear that my process described here applies to any book I read, whether traditionally published or self-published. I do not wish to lower my standards for the self-published author. So without further ado, here is my list of criteria:

  1. Is the story interesting enough to keep me reading?
    For me, this has a lot to do with the characters. If I like the characters, I can forgive the plot. To some extent, it’s true for the other way around. If the plot is really awesome, I can deal with lame characters.
  2. Do I understand the main characters’ motives?
    What I mean here is that if I can’t follow the characters’ line of thought, I get irritated. I feel like I’m seeing the author instead of the character.
  3. Is the plot compelling and consistent?
    I can deal with some plot holes if the writing and the characters are strong. However, if there are gaping canyons in the plot, nothing can save the book.
  4. Is the author’s created world believable?
    In fantasy, everything should work harmoniously. I should get an idea of how the world works within a few pages. If the author then proceeds to throw a machine gun in the middle of the feudalistic, magic-based story, I will yell at the book.
  5. Does the writing support the story, or get in the way?
    I can deal with typos, although they make me cringe. However, if the whole book feels like it’s a rough draft, I lose patience very quickly. I can’t enjoy the story if the writing continues to remind me that I’m reading. I want to get lost in story.
  6. Would I recommend this to a friend?
    While this isn’t the deciding factor for a good story, it sure is important for the book’s sales. There are a few books that I like a lot because they touched me in some way, but I hardly ever recommend them because I don’t think everyone will like them.

By this time it should be clear that I am a subjective reader. Just because I don’t like a book doesn’t necessarily mean no one will like it. I understand that, but it would not be fair to anyone if I reviewed books I didn’t like. I know that there are plenty of people out there who have completely different tastes than mine. I am not reviewing based on what I think a lot of other people might like. The moment I try to guess what will please the masses is the moment I lose credibility as a book reviewer. I would become the much despised marketing department.

The three reviewers of Self-published Gold have very different tastes, which allows us to reach varying audiences. We hope to extend our reach by recruiting more reviewers. For now, we do not want to overwhelm our readers with too many opinions.

The most important thing I want from a book is an element that resonates with me. I want it to impact my thoughts in some way. If it does that, I will give it five stars even if I feel the writing is a little clunky. Conversely, if a book meets all the criteria I listed above, I might still only give it three stars because it didn’t “wow” me in any way.

Now I want to hear your thoughts. How do you judge a book? What makes you keep reading and what makes you put a book down forever?