Wednesday, 26 October 2011

State of flux - where we are now

I draw your attention to this excellent overview of the changing situation in publishing vs self-publishing. Libby Fischer Hellmann has used both avenues, and therefore knows of what she speaks. She compares how things were eighteen months ago with how things are now, listing changing pros and cons of each route to publication.

My message has always been, "Whatever you do, do it with eyes wide open" and that blog post will really help clarify things, I believe. It also has links to other useful posts.

I think she speaks great sense and I like her calm analysis.

To remind you of my own position:
  • As you know, I have been published many times (around 90) by trade publishers - publishers whose role is to take all the financial risk (apart from my considerable time) of production and distribution and invest in the editing, copy-editing, proof-reading and marketing of my books.
  • However, a) most trade publishers now invest far less in all of those roles for most authors, including me b) published authors are expected to do more and more for less and less return and c) some books are eminently suitable for self-published, at least by clued-up authors.
  • Therefore, as you know, I am also doing some self-publishing, under Crabbit Publishing. I have so far published Tweet Right, am about to republish Mondays are Red (details very soon!) and then will publish my in-progress ebook on how to write a great synopsis.
  • However, I still want to be published by trade publishers for some of my work. I think I am very well-placed to know which is the better form for each book of mine.
  • And I want to continue to share that knowledge with you and help you make the right decisions, too. Through Pen2Publication,  I am also currently helping a client who intends to self-publish a novel.
So, there you have it.

Oh and one more thing: I don't care about my sales as much as perhaps I should. I care many times more about putting out books I can be proud of. Commercially, I care very much that my books sell enough to keep a decent publisher happy - because otherwise I won't stay published - but riches? You can stick them.



M Louise Kelly said...

Thanks for pointing me over to Libby's blog - though i'm now agitated and will need a head-clearing walk before i start writing (I really MUST avoid blogs before writing!!!!).

My question though (and i posed it to her blog too): Two years ago i'd have said that to start out by self-publishing might have created another hurdle between me and getting a trad publisher. Now i'm not sure. Is there any wisdom emerging on this? I'd not self-pub unless i got some independent confirmation and help that it wasn't all error filled and generally wonky, but given that i'd only be doing it if agents and publishers had rejected it i'd be putting something out there that hadn't got the gold standard mark of approval. And i want a career. I want to see my books on shelves etc., but i mainly want a career (even if it is a low paid one and might need supplementing with a bit of shelf stacking at Scotmid (scottish version of Walmart-ish ;-) ).

What's the feeling out there?

JO said...

I agree, there has to be room for both.

And I agree that we should 'work with our eyes open.'

But I also think that self-published writers have a particular responsibility to ensure that their book is the best it can possibly be - to pay for editorial help etc. Just because we can self-publish everything we write doesn't mean we should - much of it is eel vomit (your term, Nicola). Self-publishing should not be self-indulgence.

And yes, I also agree that sales are not the point. Writing work that somehow touches other people - even only one person - makes it all worthwhile.

Dan Holloway said...

aargh, blogger seems to have eaten my comment. I was asking your thoughts, in the light of recent high-profile hooha, about the mix of self- and traditional publishing. In particular, whether you had tales from the publisher's side, and any advice. My assumption was that the best advice is talk everything through with your agent and publisher in advance, but I was wondering, as more and more people look at a more portfiolio approach to their writing, if you had publishers' anecdotes - whetehr they will grudgingly accept authors doing this if the titles are not in competition, or whether some activel ebcourage it because it raises an author's profile, or whether even some want an author to do it a certain way - to put links to their trad published books in the introduction to the self-pubslished one, for example?

Laura Mary said...

It's amazing (and a little scary!) how quickly views and opinions shift and change. Over the past few months I have been trying to clue myself up as to what to expect in the publishing world, and it's been a real eye opened.
One decision I have absolutely shelved for the time being though is the great 'to self publish or not to self publish' debate.
Because as it stands my novel will not be fit for anyone’s viewing for a good few months yet, and certainly not ready for publishing for much longer.
And who knows which way the wind will be blowing by then!

Excellent advice to keep a foot in both camps I think.

Katalin Havasi said...

Thanks, Nicola, for the eye-opening post.

A few words about money in e-publishing:

Libby writes in her blog, 'I was a consistent Amazon best-seller for a couple of books, which were priced at 99 cents. Then I got greedy and raised the prices to $2.99. My sales tanked, and I'm still trying to recover.'

99 cents works for iTunes. That seems to be an amount customers are willing to pay. Above that they think twice.

In our computer age a new trend emerged: 'If I can't get it free, I don't want it.' 99 cents still looks next to nothing in most people's eyes.

Bottomline: be generous.

What do you guys think? Is there truth in this?

Laura Mary said...

Katalin I have to agree with you there - I am guilty of falling for the '99p is as good as free' way of thinking. Try charging me £1.49 on iTunes and i'll seriously reconsider...
It's silly when you stop and think about it, but I find there is often a lot of truth in silliness.

Dan Holloway said...

@Katalin, Laura - I know Nicola has blogged about price before. It's a really contentious issue, and people need to think hard before leaping in, especially first time round. There is a lot of strong feeling from various directions - some will tell you you're bonkers if you ask for anything more than $0.99. Others will say you're devaluing the whole of cultural history if you charge less than $2.99 or $4.99. And it can get quite acrimonious (I could tell some hair-raising stories but won't out of courtesy), so listen to all sides, do some research, make sure you read blogs by people who are dogmatic on both sides of the argument, and go in, as Nicola says, with your eyes open

Nicola Morgan said...

Louise - it depends. It depends on: whether you've maintained your professional attitude, whether you've avoided bad-mouthing trade publishing, whether you've written a great book, whether it has been sufficiently successful, and basically how well and for what reasons you self-published.

You say "if agents and publishers had rejected it i'd be putting something out there that hadn't got the gold standard mark of approval" - not necessarily. If they'd rejected it because the market wasn't big enough, that's a good reason for you to s-publish and no reason to feel rejected as such. Follow Catherine Ryan Howard's attitude.

Jo - I agree with all that but need to take issue with this bit: "... I also agree that sales are not the point. Writing work that somehow touches other people - even only one person - makes it all worthwhile." Thing is, it might make it feel worthwhile but it cannot be a route to publication, because we need *enough* sales to satisfy a publisher. So, for me, sales *are* important but just not purely as volume, as long as there are "enough".

Dan - I know the hoohah to which you refer and I found it so extraordinary that I feel there must have been something else to it. Other than that, I see no reason why a publisher should object to a writer doing a mixture, as long as the books were not in competition, which is already the case: for example, I've written two books on the young/teenage/learning brain for Walker Books. If I had another brain title I wished to do for another publisher, if it would be in compeition Walker would have a right to stop me. Our contracts say that. But when it's not in direct competition and doesn't include the same material, I can't see a problem. Publishers do not own us - though they do have certain rights. That's why I found that story so strange. And you're right: a sensible publisher should welcome an author increasing profile through other writing, whether s-pubbed or other. I easily got permission from Snowbooks to include an extract of WTBP in my s-pubbed Tweet Right. And when i come to do the synopsis book I fully expect the same permission to be granted - the books will help each other.

Laura Mary - "my novel will not be fit for anyone’s viewing for a good few months yet, and certainly not ready for publishing for much longer" - good for you! keep working!

Katalin and Laura Mary - I won't buy books for 99p (unless a temporary promotion) because it makes me thinnk it's likely to be rubbish. Price IS important, I agree, but I'll stick to something more respectable. Purely my personal view, but one I know is widely shared. (Though so is the "Keep it really cheap" view). Dan's assessment is right - including it's a thorny issue. But at least with s-pubbing we can set our own price and make our own mistakes. I like that.

Katalin - Libby's story of how her sales tanked when she put the price up to 2.99 is interesting and not uncommon. But I'd rather have a few sales at 2.99, of people who really wanted to buy the book, than many more at .99, of people who might not even read it. That's another sense in which I'm not fixated on sales.

David Griffin said...

Interesting post, Nicola. Is it down to which "fish lake" I want to be in, I think to myself? I'd prefer to be with the traditional publishing model, with the benefit of promotion by the publisher as well as much more possibly of reviews in well-regarded media. At least that way a writer has more chance to catch people's eye, "competing" with millions of other traditionally published authors, rather than with the tens of millions self-published authors, where the vast majority of writers get lost in the teeming masses.

For me, it's all about being read – and I've said it before – I've a real thirst for readers and I know that goes for almost all writers, self-published or professionally published. I understand totally your comment, Nicola: "…but riches? You can stick them"; I'm certain you mean in the way that you write to enjoy writing, and wanting to give enjoyment (and information/education) to your readers, which is the primary goal; any money made, decent or not, is always secondary.

My reasoning is that if a professional writer such as yourself, Nicola, have been traditionally published and have established more than just a "foot in the door" then self-publishing is another arrow for your bow. And providing that your publishers' interests aren't compromised, it can only surely help strengthen your platform.

But for those of us who aren't professionally published, especially those who wish to make writing a serious career (or at least, taking off rose-tinted glasses, those who wish to make writing a career in tandem with another career/creative pursuits) I really believe that to self-publish isn't the way to go unless or until all professional publishing possibilities have been exhausted.

I know that for the last 4 or 5 years, I'm like a race horse clattering in circles in the start gate, waiting for just one publisher to open it; there'd be no stopping me then, writing-wise; I'd devote even more of my creative energies to my first love of creative novel writing. But eventually I might realise that no professional publisher wants to open my gate...

Then and only then should self-publishing be considered for the unpublished, in my opinion; when you can safely say: "I've tried, tried and tried to be professionally published but now all doors have been knocked on and none opened"; only then should an unpublished author admit defeat and self-publish.

David Griffin said...

Hi Nicola, reading my comment above again, it's sounding a bit arrogant to me now and assumes too much of other unpublished writers' thoughts. I've come to those conclusions recently so they were a bit "hot in the mind"; I should have been more careful in my wording to explain they were decisions for me only, and I have no right to speak for others; I'm sure there are many unpublished writers who consider self-publishing their first and a viable option and I wish them all the luck in the world.

M Louise Kelly said...

Dan, i read your comments as 'your decision' rather than 'the only sane decision' so suspect others will have too.
And thanks Nicola, i'll keep the 'write like a professional , present like a professional, act like a professional' mantra in mind if i go down the inde route and keep my fingers crossed.