Self-Publish or Perish?

March 23, 2011 at 7:30 pm (Uncategorized)

Jeff Cohen, a fellow writer, who is not a top bestselling author but, in a fair world, would be (in a fair world, so would I!), posted on Facebook: “I’ve turned down a $500,000 offer to self-publish in favor of a contract with a traditional publisher.” My first reaction was, “Ah, one of his typical off-the-wall comments written in what someone (Jeff?) refers to as ‘the native language of New Jersey: sarcasm.’”

Then I read that Barry Eisler, who is often (always?) on the bestseller lists, refused a $500,000 contract with a traditional publisher in order to self-publish. My first reactions were, in no particular order, since they were simultaneous:

1. Is he off his gourd?
2. Can he transfer the contract to me?
3. What is he drinking/inhaling/injecting?
4. I hope he lives a long, healthy life. If anything
suspicious happens to him, his agent will be the
prime suspect.
5. Is he off his gourd?

According to the interview, he was discussing with his family what he should ask for in his next contract, and his eleven-year-old daughter said, “Daddy, why don’t you self publish?” He ran the math, and came to the conclusion, “Why not?”

His exact words in the interview were: “I know it’ll seem crazy to a lot of people, but based on what’s happening in the industry, and based on the kind of experience writers like you [J A Kornrath, author, blogger, and interviewer] are having in self-publishing, I think I can do better in the long term on my own.” (You can read the full interview at http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/ebooks-and-self-publishing-dialog.html)

(In the interest of disclosing both sides of the issue, I should note that Amanda Hocking, an author who is a legend among self-published writers for her success, has been wooing traditional publishers, some of whom have reportedly offered her in excess of seven figures.)

As I shop around UNLEAVENED DEAD, and wait for a phone call or email offering me a three-figure contract, or maybe a free trip to a writers’ conference or at least a drink at the hotel bar, I wonder, “Hmm, maybe I should look into self-publishing my work.”

I have already decided that I don’t want to do e-publishing only. I have nothing against e-publishing. Both my published books are also on Kindle, and doing well there. But if I should release a book as an e-book, I would also self-publish it as a hard copy, mainly because my biggest fan base – my parents and their friends – generally don’t have e-readers, don’t want e-readers, and want me to inscribe their copy of my books. (Although my father-in-law, who doesn’t even use a computer, is thinking seriously about buying a Kindle after seeing mine.)

So I began to make a list, not so much of pros and cons, but of “on-the-one-hands” (hereafter known as OT1H) and “on-the-other-hands” (OTOH). Here are my random thoughts:

OT1H, as a self-publisher, I wouldn’t have to share any profits with an agent. OTOH, I don’t have an agent.

OT1H, as the rules are right now, I could not apply to be a full member of the Mystery Writers of America. OTOH, CHANUKAH GUILT was published by a small, independent press (now sadly defunct) that was not approved by the MWA, so I can be only an affilate member anyway.

OT1H, with a traditional publisher, I’d have a PR staff to market the book. OTOH, yeah, right.

OT1H, with a traditional publisher, even a small, independent press, defunct or not, I am able to boast with false pride, “I just got my royalty statement.” OTOH, it might be nice to earn more than a couple of dollars per quarter. (Or is it a couple of quarters per book?)

OT1H, UNLEAVENED DEAD would be published by now. (I know I finished writing it less than three months ago, but I’m the impatient type.) OTOH, I need someone to edit out my overly enthusiastic verbosity. Not to mention find the typos my parents may have missed.

OT1H, I cannot edit myself. OTOH, I hate when someone else edits me. (“You can’t cut that scene! I had too much fun writing it!” Ah, but will the reader have fun reading it? I can’t judge my own work.)

So, bottom line, there is no bottom line. I’ll give the traditional publishers and the mainstream agents a few more months before they reject the manuscript. Then I’ll revisit the issue.

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12 Comments

  1. Larriane aka Larion Wills said,

    yep, I agree. lol

  2. Dad said,

    Try your mother. She does a pretty good job editing my memoirs. She doesn’t miss a misspelled word, wrong date or contradiction. And you don’t have to pay her. On the other hand, I would do it but you can be sure that I will not find a single error unless spell check flags it.

  3. Mike Pollock said,

    Have that publisher send me that offer. I self published my book From Death’s Door to Disney World Infinity Publishing. So far I am pleased with the publisher. I only had to invest a few hundred dollars. They are print on demand. I am having success in marketing and have two national publications doing revues. The royalty checks are nice but believe me I’m not turning down a reasonable offer. By the way Simon And Schuster asked me to send them a copy of the manuscript, kept me on hold for a year and never read it.

  4. Jenny Milchman said,

    1) This was very funny
    2) The best post I’ve read on this subject, and it wasn’t the Barry/Joe hour/interview, was a very balanced piece saying that both self-pubbing and traditional, paying markets are viable options and it depends on the book, the time, and the writer’s goals
    3) This was very funny
    4) Good luck!

  5. CARL BROOKINS said,

    There’s nothing wrong with publishing in paper. In fact, modern technology makes it possible to get printed and bound softcover (trade paper) editions self-published often referred to as Print on Demand (POD) that are completely professional. And you can get them in really small amounts from responsible printers. The question however, is not publish or perish.

    The real question is what is your purpose? Is this a career decision (As it is for Konrath and Eisler)
    or is this a hobby? If you intend to make writing a career, you need to take a business-like approach to all the decisions you make. And, in the process, why not consider both epublishing and the traditional path? There are advantages and problems with both.

  6. Hallie Ephron said,

    Oh, Ilene… I’m rooting for you to snag a great agent and then sell to a ‘real’ publisher and then, lord willing and the creek don’t rise, CASH ROYALTY CHECKS. Many of them. From my mouth to you-know-who’s ear, right? As someone who loves her publisher, adores her agent, and has the great good fortune to be well published, all I can think is those numbers Eisler cranked must be very compelling.

  7. Karyne Corum said,

    I loved it. I think you gotta see whats truly going on in the publishing world before you say “I’d never…”. Self-publishing used to be called vanity press, I believe, because you’d have to be incredibly vain to think anyone would want to read your work. Now, I feel it’s more about recognizing, with some help with good critiques and editing, your own self-worth and talent, without the elusive socially acceptable label from Big Publishing.

  8. Lesley A. Diehl said,

    Hey, I walked down the hall past Barry last year at the Sleuthfest conference, so I think I have an in with him. Maybe with my great pull I could get him to transfer the contract to me and I’d share it with you. Of course, I would.

    Such a funny article and so true.

  9. Dory Stewart said,

    Ilene,
    Nice to be able to mention ‘self pub’ without fear of review, LOL.

    It’s a subject that needs to be addressed, especially in the wake of all the media hype surrounding it.

    When you do decide to ‘re-visit’ the issue, here are some points you may wish to ponder:

    Name recognition is the single most sales generator.
    Patterson, King, and Roberts could dump their publishers, agents tomorrow and probably do quite well. (even when they produce an occassional ‘under par’ tome.

    The person(s) they CAN’T dump are their copy ed, content/developmental eds. SOMEONE needs to be on board to ‘literally’ kick butt when it comes time to call an MS a ‘finished work’. Period. Folks I stated above are all to familiar with that fact.

    Successful mid-list folks could probably make a few more bucks if their end product is of consistent quality. And they have a decent following.

    Now, The NOVICE. . . ah, hmmm….well, you could take a stab at it….IF you have a large family, tons of friends – all with a lot of money….

    Three key elements: EDITING, EDITING, EDITING

    The down sides are: A contract with a traditonal pub makes you feel validated…and YOU WILL DO as the editor tells you, or don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out. If you’re difficult to get along with, news travels fast in the pub industry – about as fast as imprint change eds.

    Going Self pub, you PAY and it isn’t cheap. How do you know if you’ve got someone who knows what the market will accept.
    A good editor is a voracious reader and doesn’t pull punches when it comes to vetting your MS.

    And you don’t have an ed hovering over your work; someone you feel you have to please.

    There are no letters of rejection. For MY $$ those letters help hone a writer’s craft. It’s one of the tools that help writers to toughen up, and learn patience and humility.

    It’s easy to self-pub a lesser quality MS…..Your name’s on it for perpetuity if it’s good OR bad….Either way, it will follow you.

    Should you make a decision to self-pub the first thing to do is learn the different kinds of editors! Find a good one and trust them.
    Wish you luck, and hope I’ve given you some thoughts to consider.

  10. Susan Oleksiw said,

    LOL, LOL, LOL
    If we all self-publish, what will happen to the New York Times best seller list?

  11. Marja McGraw said,

    You got my attention by starting off with Jeff Cohen’s name. I thoroughly enjoy his books. And you kept my attention with your humor. OT1H, you made some good points. OTOH, you made more good points. Wonderful article!

  12. Stephen Brayton said,

    I remembe the words of Jeffrey Deaver at the last conference i attended. This is a business. You create a product. You have to create a prodcut people want. if you’re writing for yourself, write a journal, publish a self promoting blog. If your’e writing for others, you have to give them what they want. Businesses are in the business of making a profit. If you don’t make a profit, you go out of business. Think about what you want, what you’re giving, and it still comes down to what is best for you.

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