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Self-publishing; Is the Stigma Disappearing? Should It?

 

            Self-publishing has always had a stigma attached. Why is this? Mostly because we were taught in school that anything published has been thoroughly checked and edited by “those who knew more than we did, specialists of some kind.” That may have been true of our textbooks, which were written and edited by specialists in their fields.

As we became adults and, at least some of us, became teachers, writers and editors, we tried our hand at publishing and found out how hard it was to attract the eyes of a publisher, let alone land a publishing contract. Some of us continued to butt our heads against that publishing wall until we were, at least, moderately successful. Some gave up, thinking it wasn’t worth the effort. The third segment saw the modern availability of publishing technology as a way to go around the traditional publishing roadblock. It afforded low cost publishing (CreateSpace and many others), free way to get public attention (Amazon—you and several million other authors) and you kept all the profit and didn’t have a garage full of inventory and shipping to handle. A sweet deal, right?

Not so fast. You are a specialist in the subject you are writing about, right? You researched the topic extensively beyond your bookshelf and the local public library, right? (No offense to public libraries here.) You had someone besides your best friend or your grandmother edit your work, right? You have a marketing and business plan, which goes beyond Amazon, right? You have a brand, right? A what?

Let’s look at these issues in the order they are listed:

  • You are a specialist in the subject about which you are writing. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in the topic about which you are writing unless you a claiming your work to be the final word on the topic. Be sure you acknowledge somewhere your limitations.
  • You researched the topic extensively beyond your bookshelf and the local public library. There is nothing wrong with using the resources you have on hand—just don’t stop there. Your local librarian will give you suggestions as to where to get more information on your topic. Beware of the internet. Use it with caution. Much information is there, unfiltered and unchecked—anybody can put anything there, whether or not it is valid.
  • You had someone besides your best friend or your grandmother edit your work. Your best friend and your grandmother are fine people and they have your best interest at heart. However, they are probably not editors and, even if they are, they are biased to see your work as better than it actually is. Choose someone, better to ask two or three people, who are experienced writers, editors or English teachers to read your work critically. You should welcome criticism—it means you are on the way to having a quality piece of work.
  • You have a marketing and business plan, which goes beyond Amazon. Amazon is great at what it does. It makes works available to anyone who can get near a computer and has a few bucks to buy a book. But that’s as far as it goes. How will anyone know your book is there, except your family and friends who have heard you talk about it every chance you get? They won’t. You are competing with at least a hundred million other titles, admittedly not all on your topic, but that won’t make your book any easier to find.

Your marketing plan will provide a roadmap for you to follow to get attention for your book and should include some or all of the following:

  1. Your website,
  2. Your blog,
  3. Your other social media sites (Facebook, twitter, Tumblr, Instagram)
  4. More traditional materials, such as bookmarks, business cards, postcards, flyers,
  5. Radio and TV spots,
  6. Other signings and speaking engagements.
  • What is this brand of which you speak? Your brand is your personae as a writer, specifically as the writer of your particular book on your particular topic. You must make yourself known by what you have written. Everything in the list immediately above works together to brand you. Acknowledge it, work with it, use it.

Does this sound like more than you are capable of doing? It may be. It is a lot of work. Even the large publishers require more promotional work from their authors than they used to. It’s a fact of life.

Now, what about the stigma? It isn’t as bad as it once was. Does that mean self-published works are better than they were at one time? Yes and no. Yes, some experienced authors are going the self-publishing route. What they learned from being associated with higher quality editing and their natural maturity as writers has paid off, for them as writers and us as readers.

Yet, in large part, one often can spot a self-published book within the first page or two. Layout is strange, sometimes disjointed with lots of white where there should be print; typos, spelling and grammatical errors appear with distracting regularity. (CreateSpace does not edit the work). Yes, you do see typos in works published by the large publishers but nowhere near as many.

There you have it, my take on self-publishing. You self-publish at your own risk. If you are hoping for the next best seller, better get a large publisher.

Published in: Outdoors Unlimited August/September 2016

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When it Makes Sense to Self-publish

A writer, simply put, is one who writes. Everyone who writes on a regular basis is considered a writer whether or not they have ever been published.  An author however, is generally perceived as a writer who has been published. For some writers, it is enough that they write, publishing their work is not their goal. For most writers, however, the goal is to become a published author. The trick is being published. You have many options. Which one should you choose? Let’s look at your options:

A self publisher, is an author who gets a business license, buys the ISBN #s, hires a printing press (print shop/printer) to print the books, than sells the books themselves. The author keeps 100% of the profits, because no one pays royalties; you keep 100% of the copyright (which btw, does not cost a penny). You market the book and distribute the book yourself through local bookstores, a personal website, your blog, and on online bookstores, such as Amazon.com.

Motives for self-publishing

There are a number of reasons that writers choose to self-publish, although one of the most common is that their work is not of interest to a commercial publisher. Publishers must be confident of sales of several thousand copies to take on a book. An otherwise worthy book may not have this potential for any number of reasons:

  • Author wishes to retain complete editorial control over content,
  • Author is unknown and does not have substantial resume,
  • Popular topic but of interest only in a small geographic area or
    addresses an obscure topic in which few people are interested,
  • Content is controversial enough that publishers do not wish to be            associated with it,
  • Author wishes to obtain a larger percentage return from retail sales.

Occasionally authors choose to self-publish for reasons of control, because they want access to their customer list, or because they love the business of publishing. When working with a publisher, an author gives up a degree of editorial control, and sometimes has little input into the design of the book, its distribution, and its marketing. This has been a substantial motivator in the rise of comic book self-publishing. In the late 1970s, creators such as Dave Sim and Wendy and Richard Pini chose—in spite of offers from publishers—to publish their work themselves because they wanted to retain full ownership and control over it, and they believed they could do the job of publishing more effectively than a publisher that did not have an ownership stake in the material. This was facilitated by the development of comic book specialty shops, and the distribution network that serves them, which is more open to small- and self-publisher material than traditional bookstores have been. Numerous cartoonists have followed their example since then, and by the late 1990s, the majority of comics (in terms of titles) were self-published. They remain a small percentage of overall sales, however, with sales of a given book often falling short of 1000 copies. A similar movement took place in the music industry during the same period, coming largely out of the punk rock phenomenon, as some musicians eschewed deals with record labels and published their own recordings.

In addition to the issue of control, some authors with limited markets may also self-publish to obtain a better financial return. Authors in a specialist area may be confident of a certain number of sales but also realize that the maximum number of sales is limited, and wish to maximize their earnings. In this situation authors may risk a significant amount of their own capital to self-publish their own work. This avoids a publisher taking a significant cut of the proceeds and if also self-distributed avoids distribution fees as well. The payoff is a much larger percentage of the sale price being returned as profit.

In recent years, television writer and producer J Michael Straczynski has self published an extremely successful series of books containing his scripts for Babylon 5, his most famous television creation.

Self-publishing is the publishing of books and other media by the authors of those works, rather than by established, third-party publishers. Although it represents a small percentage of the publishing industry in terms of sales, it has been present in one form or another since the beginning of publishing and has seen an increase in activity with the advancement of publishing technology, including xerography, desktop publishing systems, print on demand, and the World Wide Web. Cultural phenomena such as the punk/DIY movement, the proliferation of media channels, and blogging have contributed to the advancement of self-publishing.

 As a general rule, self publish only if you are writing one of the following:

  • Short story anthology,
  • Book of poems,
  • Technical journal (which will only be read by a 100 or so college professors),
  • Non-fiction niche market (work on an obscure organism),
  • Local history book or local field guide,
  • A play,
  • A memoir or biography of a local ‘celebrity’,
  • Church/business/family cookbook
  • Any book or pamphlet of local interest only.

 

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