Are You a Do-It-Yourself Type?
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about self-publishing. My thoughts have been evolving – things are changing fast and sometimes our thinking has to change, too. Seems like these days, lots of people are into D-I-Y, and that includes the book world.
My latest (but still subject to change) opinion is this:
Self publishing is becoming an increasingly attractive and viable alternative to the typical commercial (royalty-paying, print-based) book deal.
As I’ve mentioned before, I believe this applies much more to non-fiction than fiction, because non-fiction often is targeted to a niche audience to whom the author can effectively promote from their personal platform. Self-published fiction is a much more difficult sell, since there usually isn’t an accompanying platform.
Here are some factors that have influenced my current position on self-publishing:
1. The haystack is growing. The number of people wanting to publish books seems to be getting larger all the time. Yet the traditional publishing industry is shrinking. Agents and editors are still always looking for that “needle in a haystack” but the haystack keeps getting bigger. Editor Alan Rinzler said in his Writers Digest webinar last week that publishers accept about 1 to 2% of the proposals that come in the door – and that includes everything submitted by agents. So after you’ve beaten the odds to get an agent, you have more odds to beat to get a the publisher. The reality of a growing haystack is that more authors will be turned away from traditional publishing, so it could serve you well to consider the viability of self-pub from the start.
2. Some self-pubbed books get traditional book deals. I’ve heard various estimates in the industry but it seems this happens with about 1% to 5% of self-pubbed books. If you can sell 5,000 to 10,000 copies and demonstrate that your market is still far from tapped, you might have a shot at getting a traditional book deal with it.
3. You can move quickly. In this age where ideas become irrelevant almost as fast as someone can write them down, you may not want to deal with the delays and layers involved in traditional publishing. As Seth Godin said in his Galley Cat interview, “I can’t abide the long wait, the filters, the big push at launch, the nudging to get people to go to a store…” Godin says he is moving to electronic publishing only. If you agree with his perspective, you may want to consider it too, but keep in mind that he has a gigantic platform. (I’ll be interested to see if Godin stays “finished” with traditional print publishing.)
4. You have to do the marketing either way. The amount of marketing publishers require of the author is one of the biggest and most talked-about changes in publishing over the last five years. It makes sense – the entire paradigm of book marketing is shifting. But if you are an author with a large enough platform to impress a publisher, consider whether or not you need a publisher. If you have not only the platform but the time and ability to produce your book and the means with which to sell it to large numbers of people, there may not be any downside to going it alone.
Caveat: The most important words in this paragraph are “the means with which to sell it to large numbers of people.” That’s a game changer. If you don’t have it, you won’t be able to sell your self-pubbed book.
So what am I saying here? I’m still a huge advocate and fan of the publishing industry, and will continue to focus my efforts in getting authors published the traditional way. But I’m also encouraging those of you who are entrepreneurial-minded to give the self-pub route serious thought. Assess the pros and cons for your own situation, and explore the options.
One final piece of advice: Don’t go the self-pub route out of a reactionary anger at the “system” or a way to circumvent all those arrogant agents who are trying to keep you down. Keep your emotions out of it, and make a business decision.
Q4U: Is the changing publishing landscape making you think differently about your own options?
P.S. A couple of notes: First, as an agent, my job is not to help people get self-published but to assist them in getting books traditionally published. So anything I say about self-publishing comes from that perspective. Second, for purposes of this discussion, by “self publishing” I am including the entire spectrum from fully self-produced e-books to POD to going through a vanity house.
(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent