Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Self-publishing, E-Publishing Services, and What's Best for You...

I have a friend who writes non-fiction. He's been writing non-fiction (inspirational material) for many years. He even had a few books pubbed through a vanity press about twenty years ago and it turned into one of those nightmares where he got ripped off and never sold any of his books. That used to happen often. And it wasn't an inexpensive mistake. Self-publishing used to be referred to as vanity publishing and it could cost thousands of dollars. My friend lost over four thousand in his venture, a sum of money he'll never see again. On top of that, he discovered that twenty years later the vanity publisher he paid to publish his books is now selling them at discounted prices and he's not seeing a dime. I'm sure his old books are NOT flying off the shelves. But it's the principle here that matters, not the money.

When my friend discovered the KDP program, he asked me about it and I told him I thought it was interesting and that I was looking into it myself. At the time I hadn't published any of my own fiction on Amazon and I was almost as clueless as he was. In short, my friend pulled all his older books out of storage, had them made into digital files, and he asked someone he knows to publish them on Amazon. This someone he asked knows nothing about books or publishing. He knows nothing about book covers or book marketing. Nice guy, but he knows nothing about self-publishing on Amazon. And when it comes to friends and family, I don't offer my opinions unless I'm asked. I learned that lesson years ago.

Now that my friend knows I've published a few books on Amazon through KDP, he's been asking me to look at his books. It's really too bad to get into. The covers are the basics that I guess Amazon offers, there are mistakes in the formatting, the grammar, and structure. Even the blurb has a few mistakes. So he's going to talk to Tony about it this week and see if Tony can fix things for him. I know enough to look at it and tell him what's wrong. But I don't know enough to actually sit down and fix all the problems with his books. Not to mention the fact that I'm still learning as I go and I don't feel comfortable offering detailed advice.

And that's because self-publishing is not as easy as it looks. I have an advantage because Tony knows technical things I don't. I know things about books and publishing he doesn't know. When you combine these two things it makes self-publishing a little easier. But I'll repeat myself by saying that I would have had to hire a publishing service if Tony didn't know the things he knows about HTML, conversion, and formatting.

Of course I could have spent my time learning how to do it. I've learned a lot through what we've been doing while publishing the "Chase" books and "Jonah Sweet." But that would have taken time away from what I love to do the most: write. As it is the relief I have now that "Chase of a Dream" is finally being released is too wonderful to explain in words. It means I can go back to normal again. I can spend my days writing fiction instead of worrying about tags, cover changes, fonts, and an array of other things I normally try to stay away from. As I write this post, Tony is e-mailing me about issues he's having right now as he's trying to get COAD on Kobo and iTunes. And there are always issues to deal with.

As I said, I'd rather be writing fiction. But I'm not trying to scare people away from self-publishing. You can learn how to do it, but you need to be prepared and know that it's not as simple to do if you want to do it right. If a friend says he can do it for you and that it's simple, watch out. I hired an editor and a cover artist. I have twenty years experience in publishing and seven of those years are in e-publishing. I know the basics of what it takes to get a book out, without even getting into the technical stuff the includes uploading to web sites where e-books are sold. But I still didn't feel comfortable releasing a book without a professional cover and without having it professionally edited by someone who knows what they are doing.

The good thing is that if you do want to self-publish and you don't want to deal with all the issues that come with self-publishing there are now publishing services that will do all that for you. I'm not going to link to them because I haven't worked with them personally. But I've read a great deal about them and I haven't heard any nightmare complaints...so far. I'm sure there are other authors out there who have self-pubbed successfully and would be willing to offer you advice. Look for blogs written by self-published authors that have good track records and see how they did it. I think that as more and more authors discover self-publishing we'll be seeing more and more e-publishing services offered. Tony's even hinted around that he might be interested in doing it himself. I smiled and said he was on his own in THAT department.

Another angle I've been seeing more and more are literary agents that are offering e-publishing services. I've written about this before...but that was before I'd actually self-published anything myself. I know there have been a few controversial blog posts written about this, with regard to conflict of interest and ethics. So far, I haven't seen or heard any problems with regard to literary agents who offer these e-publishing services. I also believe that as publishing changes literary agents are going to be changing as well. So I see nothing wrong with them offering e-publishing services to authors as long as they spell out what they are doing up front and there are no gray areas.

A lot of what we read on the Internet these days comes from ambitious, aggressive amateur bloggers with strong opinions and they are often very wrong. Time usually proves this. I once worked with an editor/publisher who was also a literary agent and I remember how SOME people made comments about conflict of interest. That happened about four years ago, and I can tell you from my own personal experiences with this editor/publisher that there was never a conflict of interest with regard to what I was doing with her. She was my editor/publisher, not my agent. We worked on getting books out, not on shopping them to publishers. She didn't get a commission from me. There was no conflict of interest at all...in spite of all the negative blogs posts written about it. I have never worked with a more honest person in my life and her experience in publishing only made the books better. So all that ridiculous hype from those vacuous bloggers was really nothing more than people with loud mouths talking too much about something they knew nothing about. And the good thing is that I'm still here four years later to point this out. Even better, I'll be around four years from now to point out even more ridiculous things I've seen in the past. Oh, I never forget.

In any event, my main point with this post is to try to show people who are thinking about self-publishing that you really do have to take it seriously in every single sense. And even though you can learn how to do it all alone, it might not be a bad idea to look into a publishing service that will do it for you. I know if you do search you'll find several that look interesting. And in my humble opinion it would be a disadvantage not to look into what some of the literary agencies are doing now with e-publishing services. Literary agents are an honest lot of people...for the most part. They know books and publishing better than anyone out there. And the best ones know a thing or two about marketing and promotion. I know marketing and promotion are not part of an agent's job right now, but I see that changing more in the future, too.

Make sure you do what's best for you, and don't pay attention to a lot of the negative things you read these days. Most important, you don't want to wind up like my friend who made every single self-publishing mistake a writer can make by not doing the research. And whatever you do, don't let that hooded stigma about self-publishing not being as good as traditional publishing stop you from looking into it. That old mindset is last Friday, not now. More and more traditionally published authors are self-publishing their books and short stories and it's opening up a new world for readers. I recently saw where one author swore she'd never self-publish, as if it was beneath her in some way. And that's just downright stupid.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

What I love about the notion of self-publishing is that it returns control to authors in many ways. Let's say someone is a Stephen King kind of author i.e. one that in a specific genre. If attached to a publishing company, such an author would be under pressure to keep the cash cow going, so no room to go in a different direction easily. Secondly, it lets unknowns and first timers publish and take their chances. Yes, a lot of garbage will be published, but a lot of garbage has been published by big houses over the years, so that's status quo. I do believe "formatters" will be a big industry. I find this very fascinating and exciting.
Matthew Darringer

ryan field said...

I remember how shocked I was when I read that HTML was a language in itself. I didn't get it at first, but I do now.

And I do like the control I have. But I also have to admit that I like working with publishers, too. When the collaboration works, and everyone is on the same page, there's nothing better. It's just a wonderful experience that's almost hard to explain. It's like editor, publisher, and author are reading each other's minds.

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