Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Great Publishing Debate

Shhh! Listen. Can you hear that? That slight buzzing noise? It sounds like millions of authors all across the world debating over the values and opportunities of the different publishing markets. Voices murmuring, keyboards clicking, cell-phones ringing… and the occasional outraged cry.

Well, at least I can hear it. But you should be aware of it too. Especially if you are a writer who is looking to get your book, novella, or short story published sometime in the future.

And what is this debate about?

It's about self publishing versus traditional publishing, and it's causing some major controversy.
Lately, as I've been browsing the web and different blogs on publishing and authors, I've noticed a rise in authors who believe that self publishing has changed over the last decade into a viable, money-making scheme that authors can take advantage of to get out, sell their books, and keep doing what they love over and over again while having total control of the outcome. Plus, some of these authors are making serious money, selling thousands of books a month and reaching best selling lists on Amazon while keeping 70% of their books' income. Their numbers are absolutely daunting. Now, tell me this doesn't sound appealing, because to me, it sounds like the ultimate publishing deal of a lifetime! But it comes with limitations. Of course it does. And those limitations can be quite the doosies.

For one thing, anything "publishing" or "marketing" related calls for money, and with self publishing, that money will be coming out of your pocket. I mean, you'll probably want to hire an editor who can get your book up to par with as few typos or misspelled words as possible. And you'll need cover art, right? And that means you have to hire an artist (unless you are in the fortunate position of being a fairly good artist yourself, in which case you can do the cover art for your own book). And what about stepping out there and shoving your book in the public's eye… trying to make people notice you? That can take money too. After all, you'll probably want a few adds in the paper and local magazines, and you'll probably want to send out a few review copies of the book – which in physical form can cost up to $15 a copy depending on your prices and which POD company you go through (typically, Lulu is said to have slightly higher price ranges when compared to Createspace). Then, if you feel that you can't be your own publicist, you'll probably need to hire one, which of course costs more money; you can't expect them to work for free unless you are really, really close friends with them or related to them somehow.

Because publishing is a business, all of these pros and cons must be taken into account. And if you become the publisher by self publishing your own book, then you are the one who is going to have to consider them. Otherwise your book will never get known.

With traditional publishing you will have to consider a marketing strategy as well… although the price for publication won't necessarily be coming out of your pocket and you probably won't be working on marketing your book alone. The publisher who decides to print you will, of course, want the books to sell well so that he can get paid and make money from the efforts he put forward to publish your book. You will also want to be in on this marketing strategy so that you, too, can get paid. Because of the publishers want and need for success, he/she/they will work towards pushing your book into the public's eye, even if your own selling and marketing strategies fail. And if the publisher succeeds in this, you are likely to gain a following, and your following is likely to grow. Plus you'll have a traditional publisher's name on your book, which can be important when trying to sell your books through the major retailers. By self publishing, all of this will have to be done by you, and if you fail then it is unlikely your book will get known or that your following will be very large. (So if you decide to self publish, it is a very good idea to make sure you don't fail. :D)

However, Publishing companies are known for giving authors somewhere around 10% of their books' income – maybe a little more for e-books – which is not a whole lot at all, and when compared with the whopping 70% total income likely to be made by succeeding in self publishing (even after paying off your publicist, editor, and artist), that meager 10% looks really frail. Also, with traditional publishing there is a whole process to go through, usually involving queries and agents, and rejections, and more querying, and editors, and more rejections, and then a waiting list before your book is actually looked at and accepted by a publisher, in which case it usually goes on to another waiting list and doesn't come out in print anywhere from one to two years later, (at least that's how it is if you are going for one of the Big Six companies). By self publishing, you don't have to wait forever to see your book in print; your book can get out there right away… but you'll have to work on marketing it practically by yourself.

And then you have E-publishing… which can be done by yourself or through an e-publishing company, and in which the market has been seriously growing since the release of e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook. I personally do not think e-books will ever take over the paper book market, and my outlook is that this e-reader fad is just that… a fad that's popularity will eventually pass, even if the e-reader market never completely dissipates… sort of like beanie babies. However, one cannot deny the fact that within the last few years, e-books have become a major competitor in the publishing market. An author can self-publish an e-book without so much hassle as with POD, and still have the book available through POD companies should readers want a physical copy. And you would still get your 70% income from e-books as well as whatever physical versions sold… if you decide to publish your e-book by yourself, that is.

However, you would still need a marketing strategy, still need cover art for marketing's sake, and still probably need at least an editor, if you don't think you also need a publicist. And to me, while offering e-books feels like a good idea alongside physical versions, I am not one who personally enjoys reading from a computer screen as much as I enjoy flipping a page, and I know many people who feel the same way.

It's hard to decide which version of publishing is better, really. I guess it all depends on what type of person you are. For me, it feels like there is a sense of accomplishment and acceptance behind being traditionally published, even if it seems to take forever to get there. However, I wouldn't mind trying out the self publishing business, if only as a personal experiment to see if I'm cut out for the job. I also know that many publishing companies are turning down books that could be amazing best sellers, and are definitely worth their weight in paper and ink. Some of these turned-down authors have decided to self publish as a means to get their work out there despite the publishing world's view on their manuscript and whether it will sell or not; some of these authors are among the ones I mentioned earlier, who are selling thousands of books a month and making Amazon best seller lists. However, I also believe there is a thing to be said about genre and what will sell through self-publishing, and what needs a traditional name behind it in order to make it anywhere in the market. It seems like the market is absolutely saturated with paranormal romance lately, and so many new "para-romas" are being turned down. If an author has a para-roma they think will sell, self publishing would not be such a bad idea since many people in the world have learned to enjoy this type of read because of the great "Twilight" hit. As for thriller, mystery, and erotica, it seems to me that there will always be a place for self published and e-published books in these genres, since the few people I know who enjoy such things are constantly collecting such books whenever they can find them, and e-books through Amazon is a quick and cheap way to get new reads without having to leave your home.

But what about Christian Fantasy and science fiction? You know… Christian spec-fic. It is my belief that in this particular genre, the market leans more towards physical and traditionally published books. However, there are authors out there who seem to be doing well by self publishing and marketing their books by themselves, and these authors aren't afraid to tell us so. And why should they be? Why should an author be afraid to say that they self published their book, or created an indie company through which their books are published? This concept is hard for me to understand: I mean, they worked hard, their book is written, edited and published – and it's selling. And this market certainly isn't saturated yet.

My views on the Great Publishing Debate are quite mixed (as you've probably noticed). So I've decided to conduct some interviews with other people in the publishing business to see their outlook on the matters. My first guest will be Rachel Starr Thompson, author and publisher of her book series "World's Unseen". You can visit her website here: Rachel is also a freelance editor and a dancer. :D

Hopefully the interview will be up sometime around the end of the week. Untill then, however, what are your views on the publishing market? Where do you think we'll go from here, and which do you consider a better choice: self publishing or traditional publishing. Why?

Feel free to debate these issues in the comments. I'm looking forward to seeing what everybody thinks on the matter.




Jake said...

E-Books is a passing fad? Hmm...having a Kindle myself, I don't really think so. Rather, I think traditional publishing will still be there, but e-books may very well take over.

Star-Dreamer said...

Jake: I don't really know. I don't have a kindle or any e-reader, so when I read e-books I have to do it off my computer, and I don't like that very much. :p

A friend of mine showed me his kindle the other day. It really looks like an awesome device. There is some speculation in the publishing world about Amazon's access to the kindle... apparently Amazon was taking books of of customer kindles AFTER the customer had already bought the book. I wouldn't like that.

But you know, I suppose if I had an e-reader I might think differently. I wrote this post BEFORE my friend let me play with his. :D

Scott Appleton said...

A very interesting post. But let's make sure people understand the difference between self-publishing and using a Print-on-demand service (like Lulue and CreateSpace). And when a traditional publishing house takes interest in a book, there is absolutely no cost to the author. If they want money, question the nature of their offer.

DRC said...

I'm a traditionalist through and through, I'm afraid. I'm not afraid to accept ebooks and the likes, but I would prefer to see my book in print and on a shelf rather than kindle or the likes.

I'm not published yet - but have done my homework in preparation. I know it will be hard work, but think about the joyous feeling you'd get when a publisher or agent turns around and says `I love it`!

Plus, another drawback on self-publishing is the fact that if you don't do it properly first time, you've lost a lot of money and it could ruin any future writing career. It's great for some people, but for those considering, think carefully.

Galadriel said...

I actually have a sizable library of Kindle ones...sitting on my computer waiting for me to read them. I could churn out a whole essay on ebooks, but I just want to comment on what you've said here.
One of the biggest issues with self-publishing (which you may or may not have mentioned here) is that it SHOULD NOT be seen as a way to get around editing. In fact, self-published authors need to be even more critical of their work.
I look forward to these interviews.

Star-Dreamer said...

Scott: You're absolutely right. I probably should have made that clearer... this might call for a follow up post. :) I should have remembered to stick that info in this post but... *shrug*.

I can tell this is going to be a very interesting discussion.

DRC, I'm a traditionalist as well. I would much rather go through all there is to traditional publishing that try self publishing. The only reason I might try to self publish would be as a personal experiment... or something similar. I would have to get up "more guts" to do such a thing. :D

Galadriel: You're right too... I should have mentioned that as well. Editing is the most important part of writing and if a book isn't written and edited well -- whether it is self published or traditionally published -- the book won't sell.

Looks like I definitely need a follow up post. :D I'll go start working on it.