Welcome to my world! In episode four I’ll be talking about self-publishing vs. traditional publishing as an author, which is for you? Mark had a chance to get in on the act and add his view to my column so I would love to hear from you too.
Also don’t forget the giveaway for your chance to win an M/M book of your choosing from your TBR list by leaving a comment on this post.
I saw the most astonishing post on Facebook last week. A writer declared that since his M/M works and ideas had been rejected by all the gay publishers, he was “retiring” from writing. And then, according to the Facebook Phluff plugin, he either unfriended me or deleted his account – the second one, I think.
My first thought, of course, was…what the hell is wrong with you! A new life awaits you, in the self pub world!
I’m one of those writers who’s had a foot in both worlds. Years ago, under another name, I had a number of books published by Putnam Berkeley, Kensington, and Alyson books. So I’ve been around the publishing block – big, medium, and little outfits, and of course self publishing. And I’ve learned, the hard way, about what a traditional publishing, what we call a “tradpub” house, can and can’t do for you…and to you.
So before you decide to commit literary suicide because your manuscript languishes in someone’s slush pile, let’s discuss the pros and cons of both tradpub and selfpub.
CONTROL. This is pretty obviously a big win in the selfpub column. In tradpub, you may or may not have influence over the cover, the jacket copy, or for that matter the title. Trust me, the cover of my very first book is a leading candidate for the worst book cover ever. I’ve attached a copy for Mark, who can chime in here as to my credibility on that!
Mark: HAHA – OMG Brad! Had I seen THAT book cover (cringe) on Amazon I would have immediately carried on browsing, skipping over it very quickly, thinking that the book must be a bad joke. OK, we all know the expression ‘never judge a book by its cover’ but to be honest it may apply to people, however rarely has nothing to do with books. We all try not not be cover whores, but secretly we all are. When we are browsing the thousands of books out there a cover is the first thing that catches our eye if we are all truthful with ourselves. It really is the initial selling point along with the title which will then make us look in more detail continuing to the synopsis and then the reviews to decide whether we want to invest the money in buying the book or not. It might not be so critical once the author has a following and people know his / her work, then they’ll buy the next book regardless of what the cover looks like as they know the writing talent behind the cover. However, for an indie or first time author then getting that cover right, along with a catchy title, is in my opinion part and parcel of the whole package. Here I must say there is still a danger however of using stock photos and especially in the M/M world for some reason I constantly see the same models appearing on numerous book covers, therefore losing its originality immediately. I always think to myself, ‘not him again’ so there maybe a danger in this as well. Anyway, I’m side-tracking now. I could totally feel your pain Brad when being presented with a book cover that was nothing but tacky and grotty.
So the day I thought would be the happiest day of my life, the day I saw my book on a bookstore shelf for the first time, was a heartbreaker. I’d only seen the galley copy, which is a plain, colored-paper version of your book that’s released to reviewers before the official publication.
As a self publisher, it’s all you. Title, cover model, cover art, jacket copy, you have complete control. But that leads us to the question of…
PRODUCTION QUALITY. Let’s face it, this is a win for tradpub, most of the time. We’ve all seen some unspeakably, comically awful selfpub book covers. However much you may dislike the publisher’s choices, at least their covers always look professional. Grammar, spelling and typos are pretty well cleaned up by the many hands at a publishing house that go over the book before it’s done. I know that I can read my own work a thousand times and still miss a dozen typos.
But, of course, as a selfpubber, you can hire an editor, a copy editor (or find a willing minion to do it for free), a cover artist (Aubrey Watt did my covers for “A Little Too Broken” and “Have a Little Faith in Me”), and you get the best of both worlds – control, and quality. But that’s an investment, of course, that many selfpubbers who are starting out just can’t make. But trust me, my next book? Definitely getting a copy editor before it goes to publication.
TIME AND TRENDS. Wow, this is a total win for selfpub. Tradpub houses are large corporations, and their wheels turn slowly, clogged by a never-ending glut of meetings and emails and the need for so very many people to “sign off” on everything. Two years isn’t an unrealistic amount of time for you to wait for publication of your finished manuscript – you have to get an agent (time in her slush pile), she has to get it in front of an editor (time in her pile), the editor has to get the buy approved (meetings and memos la la la), the editor has to get to editing it, the marketing department has to go out and flog it (not so much anymore; that’s more and more on the author, see below), the book has to be put into a quarterly announcement catalog…
And trends, especially in romance, are hot one minute and over the next. Vikings! Vikings were suddenly hot, and I jumped my ass on that train within a month with my “Colum’s Viking Captivity” series. By the time a tradpub house could get something out? It was all over. The tradpub production cycle can only keep up with trends like billionaires and shifters that are here to stay longer term. Plus one to selfpub for the ability to keep up with trends.
MONEY AND PAYMENT. Selfpub wins big, hands down. Unless you’re getting a big ass advance, you’re gonna wait a long while for tradpub to pay out. When I was writing for tradpub, some days I thought there was nothing but a little man in a green eyeshade in a room in the basement, calculating royalty statements. Why else did it take so long? Six months of sales, and then six months later you’d be paid for that first six months. Minus, in the case of one small New York house, what they called a “reserve on return.” That was a dodgy accounting method of keeping your royalties back in case your book received a massive number of returns. It was always well beyond a reasonable number, the whole purpose being to hold onto your money and make another nickel of interest.
Oh and never mind the agents like the one I had who’d “mail” my check on a Friday, putting it into a box after 5 pm, I knew from the Monday cancellation date on the stamp, that I wouldn’t get on the West Coast for 3-4 days, and which I’d then take into my bank and be told they had to put a “hold” on it because it was on some rinky dink “Savings Bank” in New York. So it’d be two weeks before I had the money, at a time when I was very desperate indeed for the cash – all so she could make another nickel of interest on that money.
Amazon, for all its faults, pays me every month, 60 days after the end of the month for which I’m being paid. No excuses, no bullshit about “so busy right now I’ll get to it,” just…cash on the barrel head. Draft2Digital, Nook, all pay monthly, and AllRomanceEbooks and Smashwords pay quarterly, on the appointed day. You cannot beat that.
MARKETING. A toss up. Most tradpub houses will still take on literary or literary-thriller authors who don’t have a massive “web presence.” But for commercial genre authors, romance, SF, etc., the burden of promotion is going to be on you anyway. Gone are the days when the Marketing Department took over when your book was done, hustling it to all the many bookstores across the land. You’re gonna have to show your Twitter follower numbers, your Facebook followers, your blog stats, la la la. So either way, you’re gonna have to sell your ass on the digital street.
PRESTIGE. Yeah, if that’s important to you, you’re gonna need tradpub. A lot of writers, maybe including the gentleman above who “retired,” need that official identity, that paper book with a logo on it that will impress their parents and schoolmates. It’s a status symbol, but we know there are a lot of people who live for those.
ACCESS. Yeah, tradpub wins again. No serious news outlet is ever gonna review a self-published book. Not because none of them are good enough, but because they’re afraid it would open the floodgates to a shitstorm of submissions of marginal, adequate, and just plain shitty books. And, let’s be honest, it’s a closed club; New York editors go to parties with New York journalists, la la la. The selfpubbed are the “outsider artists” of the literary world.
I could go on and on. But TL;DR, your choice between the selfpub and tradpub routes depends on your patience, your need for money now, your confidence in your own abilities to “do it all,” including marketing, and your “identity needs” as an author.
I love selfpub. I love the control, the immediacy, the fast money. Would I ever go back to tradpub? Maybe, if they plunked a million dollar check in front of me. Actually? Nah. Because tradpub is hidebound now, all swallowed up by giant corporations, and they take as many risks as their parent corporations. It’s like the old joke about the bank – they’ll give you a loan if you can prove you don’t need it. Giant selfpub successes like Hugh Howey are approached by tradpub, eager to get a piece of their pie, but the fact is, once you have that much success, there’s not a lot of appeal to the deal unless you get the kind of total creative control that you had as a selfpubber. They wouldn’t offer me a million bucks unless I’d already made a million myself, basically.
Publishers don’t take risks anymore. That’s like the other old joke, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” If an “odd duck” book like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” takes off, well, then the rush is on not to find the next odd duck that will start a trend…no, the rush is to find copy after copy of that successful book. Harry Potter didn’t get its start at a Giant Publishing House – it was rejected by all of them. Who then ran out trying to find the “next” Harry Potter, by which they meant, something exactly like Harry Potter but with different names.
Selfpub is the Wild West, where the experiments are made now, where the risks are taken, where something wonderful can come out of nowhere. I’ve staked my claim, pardner, and I’m ready to strike gold.
What is your opinion or experience as a reader or author with self-pub vs. trad-pub? Do book covers make you buy books? Would love to hear what you have to say.
Each week, on our Wednesday Author Column posts we will gift to one lucky commenter answering the author question, a Kindle eBook from your TBR list.
Please leave an email address to enable us to contact you. The winner will be contacted the following Wednesday.