Self Publishing and ePublishing
Note: I am away from the blog for a few days, teaching at the CCWC and taking a couple days vacation with my family. My blogs are now posting all by themselves, isn’t that exciting? Back “live” with you on Monday. Keep sending your comments!
There were quite a few comments last week and yesterday on both sides of the self-publishing / ePublishing / POD issue. Many were upset that self-published authors go around claiming to be “published.” Others on the opposite side are incensed that agents and editors “discriminate” against self-published authors. As one commenter put it, “…the stuffy insistence that ePublishing and POD publishing is somehow not good enough. I have heard it until I am sick to death of hearing it. I find it snobbish, elitist and annoying… there are plenty of smaller companies out there who pay royalties and treat authors with professionalism and respect and the way the rest of the industry looks down its long and snide nose at them just makes me sick.”
Well, I did ask for rants.
Okay, here’s the deal. I believe self-publishing serves an important and legitimate purpose, and is the right way to go for some people. It’s a good and solid business, one that is definitely improving these days, and many people find success there. And since traditional publishing is so competitive, and it can be especially hard to place certain “niche” books with a traditional publisher, self-pub is a terrific option. I have nothing against it, and I applaud those who choose it as the right way for their own book. It just doesn’t happen to be the business I’m in.
Many of you were right in your complaint that agents and editors often won’t consider taking on a self-published book, but here’s the good news: We may consider taking on a self-published AUTHOR. The book has already been out there and publishers usually don’t want it. If the sales are low, it says “Nobody wanted it.” If the sales are high, it suggests that maybe the market has already been tapped and there’s no place left to sell the book. It’s a catch-22, so the book is less likely to get picked up, but the author is a different story. If you present a proposal worth saying “yes” to, then the answer will be yes regardless of whether you’ve self-published a book before.
As you know, in a few cases, a self-published book hits the big time with a big publisher, but that’s an exception. Recently I did in fact offer representation on a self-published book, because it had only been out a couple of months, had terrific word of mouth and phenomenal marketing, and seemed like it had huge potential. Several other agents wanted it too, and I didn’t end up representing it. This is to illustrate that when it makes good business sense, agents and publishers will jump on a self-published book. I do not “discriminate” any more than I always do as I evaluate incoming projects. I really don’t think I look down my long, snide nose. I simply try to make good business decisions.
ANYWAY, let’s get to the reasons we publishing types don’t look at self-published books as “equal” to those published by mainstream, commercial, widely-distributed, royalty-paying publishers. A couple of you have touched on part of it already, the fact that self-pubs rarely spend serious time or money on editorial excellence or professional design. In the past, most self-published books have been vastly inferior in quality—not necessarily in the quality of the idea but in the quality of the execution: the writing, editing, and design. (I realize things are changing as some ePubs are improving their editing and design. It’s about time!) Somebody commented on this blog recently that they see so many mistakes in CBA books, self-pubbed books aren’t any worse. That’s just not true. In the past, there has proven to be an enormous difference and most of us could spot a self-pubbed book a mile away.
But here’s the more important factor in why we don’t give self-pubbed books the same credence. A traditionally published author has successfully convinced dozens or even hundreds of publishing professionals that their book is a good one.
- First you have to sell the agent.
- The agent then needs to sell an editor at a publishing house.
- That editor needs to sell the rest of the editorial team.
- If they get on board, they have to sell it to the publishing committee—the publisher, the CFO, and the sales and marketing folks that will make the final decision on whether to publish your book. A very large and hard to impress group of people.
- Now the sales team has to sell your book to bookstore buyers.
In other words, a traditionally published book has the endorsement of countless book professionals, people whose entire livelihood depends on finding good, saleable books. When you show me your mainstream-published book, I immediately know, without ever stopping to think about it, that many people whose judgment I trust have given your book their stamp of approval.
Meanwhile, most self-pubs have the endorsement of… no one. You pay your money and you get published. Nobody has to declare it worthy of someone’s time and money. Nobody has examined your platform or the quality and saleability of your idea. Unlike the editorial/design aspect of self-pubs, this element doesn’t seem to be changing very much, at least not yet.
Now I know there are numerous “in betweens.” There are subsidy publishers and smaller royalty-paying publishers and many different ways of doing business. At some of those, there is a level of editing, and some have great cover design. Some even do some kind of screening and make decisions to publish certain books and not others. Make no mistake, it’s that screening process (“we will publish this, not that”) that defines the biggest difference between self-pub and traditional pub.
So the facts remain. In general and in the past, self-pubbed product has been generally inferior. And in general, self-pubbed books have not passed the rigorous and extremely challenging screening process a traditionally published book has gone through. We can hope that this keeps changing, so that self-pubbing becomes a more and more viable option for writers who want a high-quality product but don’t want to go the traditional route.
So, we are not trying to be snobbish or elitist, and I certainly hope we are not looking down our long, snide noses at those who self-publish. We simply try to make good decisions based on past experience. Hope this helps you understand my position on self-publishing.