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Linsey’s Thoughts on Self Publishing

by Linsey Lanier

About a month ago, J. A. Konrath wrote a post on his blog entitled “Are You Dense?” In this post, in his shy, gentle manner, Joe tells it like it is in publishing today. He lists a set of arguments against self-publishing and shoots them down one by one.

Here’s one of my favorites:
With all the self-published crap out there, it will be impossible to find anything good.

There are billions of websites on the internet, the majority of them crap. Yet somehow you managed to find my blog.

Joe’s a witty guy. I was so inspired by his post that I wrote over 5,500 words over the next four days. Talk about a kick in the butt. (With inspiration like this, I finally finished my novella and published it on Amazon and Smashwords – more about that later.)

As you can tell, I’ve been dipping my toe into the self publishing pool for a while now. Am I ready to take the plunge and jump into the deep end? Not quite yet. But in addition to giving me a spurt of manic energy, Joe’s post made me think long and hard about self-publishing and who it’s meant for.

I came to two conclusions:

1. You’ve got to be ready

Of the 600 some comments in response to Joe’s post, there was one that particularly struck me. Someone said his wife bought an ebook and was sorely disappointed because the author didn’t finish the story. The story seemed to be a part of a longer book that had been broken up to sell separately. What? Big no-no.

Didn’t that author ever hear that if you’re writing a series, each book needs to stand alone? Guess he or she never went to a GRW or RWA meeting.

Maybe you’re an anointed writer with talent oozing out of your ears, but if you’re like the rest of us, then you need to log some practice time before you offer your wares. If you haven’t finished at least five manuscripts, if you haven’t been rejected by an editor or an agent several times, if you haven’t had your work critiqued by anyone but your mother, YOU’RE NOT READY.

Joe himself spent twelve years in the trenches learning the ropes, figuring out what it takes to make it commercially. Which means, to write something people actually want to read and will pay money for. Amanda Hocking did, too. Joe published traditionally first. Barry Eisler (the guy who turned down the half-mill deal from a Big 6 publisher?) has been traditionally published for years. Amanda Hocking tried to publish traditionally for nine years (I think) before she went to self-publishing. She got very familiar with rejection and revisions over those years.

In fact, Amanda says on her blog, “I write because I love it, not because I see readers as dollar signs. I am very, very passionate about my work, and I take it very seriously that people are inviting me to entertain them every time they buy a book.”

Wise words to live by for writers. My point is that none of these people self published the first thing they slapped down on paper. As Ringo says, “You’ve got to pay the dues if you want to sing the blues.”

2. You’ve got to know yourself

Among the commenters on Joe’s post, there was one fellow who kept saying things like, “It’s a free country man, let people pursue their career in the manner they choose.”

I guess he didn’t get Joe’s self-effacing style or that he is trying to help writers, not deride them. But I think I might know what he was trying to say.

Several years ago, a former blog sister and I were going through something of an identity crisis at the same time and we were e-mailing back and forth about it. In our research, we came across the phrase (new to me at the time) “follow your bliss.”

What does that mean? It means doing what your heart tells you to do. It means paying attention to what’s deep inside of you. To discover how you truly feel in response to certain stimulus. Like self-publishing and whether to do it  or not.

So ask yourself the tough questions.

Why do I write? What do I really want out of it? Is money the most important thing to me? Or do I just want to walk into a bookstore and see my name on a book? Do I want to be known as an expert on writing and be able to give workshops at conferences? Do I want to do a book signing?

I’m sure you can come up with more questions. Pay close attention to your feelings as you answer each of them. Be honest and evaluate. Your heart will tell you which way is right for you. And you’ll be happier knowing you’re on the right path.

For example, it was obvious to me from the posts I read that Amanda Hocking really wanted to be traditionally published, no matter how successful she became self-publishing. And she made it. I’m thrilled for her.

* * *

So what do you think about self-publishing? Love it? Hate it? Wish we could go back to the days of parchment and quills? Tell me what you think.

Oh, and for those of you who like frogs, check out my novella, Cleverest of Them All on Amazon and Smashwords. It’s the latest in The Clever Detective series, which first appeared on this blog (a word that rhymes with “frog”).

PS: If you’re into social networking (and who isn’t these days?), I’m talking about Kristen Lamb on my own blog today, if you’d like to stop by.

katt - May 31, 2011 - 12:37 am

Great post, thanks for sharing.
I’m still hoping to go the way of traditional publishing. My fifth novel is finished and I feel ready.
So on that note, I’m also prepared to go the ebook route if I haven’t landed something solid by next spring.
My goals are set, the alternative are noted and the path is murky as h… heck!

Sandra Elzie - May 31, 2011 - 6:04 am

Very interesting post. I’ve started looking into putting a couple of my books (written earlier) out on Smashword. I’ll use another name since their not in the genre that I’m writing now, but I think it’s the right time AND I think it would be fun to join others on this wagon.

And Kitt, Good luck…either traditionally or with e-pub!

Marilyn Baron - May 31, 2011 - 6:25 am

Linsey,
I’m one of those writers who want to see my book in a bookstore or a library but I’m also published in eBook format and that’s been exciting too. Like Sandy, I wouldn’t rule anything out.You are blazing the trail for us on this blog as far as electronic publishing and I think people should pursue their goals and be open to all possibiilities in this changing world of publishing.I’m looking forward to learing more about it and I applaud your success.

Maxine - May 31, 2011 - 6:43 am

Linsey,
Thanks for your blog. I printed out the emails that dealt with self publishing and have them for reference. I AM going to try the self pub route. Have finished one and working on 2 more. Need to be sure they’re in good order and then try to figure out the posting language on Smashwords and Amazon. You’ve put out some very good information.

Debbie Kaufman - May 31, 2011 - 7:36 am

Good information, Linsey! My additional advice, everyone can benefit from an editor, even if it isn’t a professional. Someone else will catch those mistakes you don’t. I just finished my galleys and found errors that missed the copy edit stage. And nothing bugs me more than a story that is chock full of errors.

JB Hunt - May 31, 2011 - 8:10 am

I just commented on Dear Author in response to Courtney Milan’s post about her self publishing venture (a novella, Unlocked, which is wonderful).

This was a very smart move for Courtney Milan because she has a well-established (and well-deserved) following. She’s an auto-buy for me and for many others.

But how successful would such a venture be for someone just starting out?

Of course, Courtney’s brave move could be paving the way for unpublished authors to break in through self publishing successfully.

I’d like to hear more about the process and its implications for agents and editors — perhaps at RWA Nationals?

Linsey Lanier - May 31, 2011 - 10:27 am

Thanks, Katt. Sounds like a solid plan and that you know what you want. But, yes, even with a good plan you never know what lies ahead. Good luck. When you do publish, stop by and leave a link in a comment.

Linsey Lanier - May 31, 2011 - 10:28 am

I’m excited for you, Sandy. I’m not sure about the other name, though. Check out what Kristen Lamb has to say about that in “We Are Not Alone” before you decide.

Linsey Lanier - May 31, 2011 - 10:30 am

Thanks, Marilyn. It’s an exciting time for all of us. For the first time, I feel like I have control over my writing future. We all do, and there’s room for everyone.

Elaine - May 31, 2011 - 12:32 pm

Great post Linsey and please post more on this topic!

I’m not ready to go the full novel route on self-pubbing yet – I’m going traditional at least to see how it goes first. However, I have thought about putting several short stories up on Smashwords or Amazon. Short stories don’t necessarily have a big market with the traditional 6 publishers anyway, and several of mine have won contests but can’t really be sold anywhere.

Please keep blogging on this topic! Good to hear from fellow writers :)

Elaine

Linsey Lanier - May 31, 2011 - 12:52 pm

Congratulations, Maxine! Welcome aboard. It isn’t easy by any means. And it takes patience. Mark Coker as some great guides on Smashwords. I recommend going with them first. Also, make sure you put your very best work out there. I’m working on revisions for some of my old manuscripts. Wouldn’t dare put them out there in their current state, LOL.

Linsey Lanier - May 31, 2011 - 12:55 pm

Excellent point, Debbie. Those little errors are sooo hard to catch. Here are two links I have for freelance editors with reasonable rates.

I think I have my topic for my next post. Thanks. :)

http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/guest-editor-c-tolley/

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/04/guest-post-by-diana-cox.html

Linsey Lanier - May 31, 2011 - 1:05 pm

Hi JB. Thanks for letting us know about Courtney’s post. I can’t believe she turned down Harlequin. That IS bold (see link below – everyone check it out). And I love the DIY cat photo.

“How successful would such a venture be for someone just tarting out?” From what I’ve read, some people do well, others flop. A lot depends on your ability to market yourself. A lot also depends on writing a good book. There’s a lot of competition. Bottom line is, you never know until you try.

For a traditionally published author with an out-of-print backlist, it’s a no-brainer, imo.

I’m sure they’ll be lot of buzz on this at Nationals.

http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/courtney-milan-on-self-publishing/

Linsey Lanier - May 31, 2011 - 1:16 pm

Thanks, Elaine. Short stories are a wonderful way to start out in self-publishing. It’s how I did it. For my shorts, I’m going the free or almost free route. I would recommend free for at least one story. Or if you are out for name recognition, all of them.

When Amazon made my short story “The West Wind Blows” free, it got 2,113 downloads the first day and was #32 “out of over 15,000 free books in the Kindle Store.” Today, it’s up to 5,831 total downloads.

Linsey Lanier - May 31, 2011 - 1:31 pm

By the way, here’s a quote from Courtney Milan’s post that I think should be everyone’s mantra:

“Finally, I’m dedicated to producing the highest quality books that I can. My readers deserve no less. If I feel that a method of publishing threatens the quality of my books, I will walk away from it, no matter the financial implications for me.”

JB Hunt - May 31, 2011 - 1:57 pm

Yes, Linsey, I agree that this is going to be a HUGE topic of conversation at Nationals. Should be lively!

Sia Huff - May 31, 2011 - 3:03 pm

Linsey, you’re very brave and do the reseach – a great combo.
I’m on the fence about self-publishing. A lot factors weigh in, including having a good product and trying the traditional route. To each their own. For me, I’m just trying to be the best writer I can. I applaud your testing the waters.

anna - May 31, 2011 - 4:44 pm

I took a class with the owner of a small press a couple years ago, and his take was, “You really don’t need us anymore.” Well, he was a marketing genius, and I think that’s the difference. If you can find your audience, why use a publisher? Some of us, though, cringe at the thought of marketing.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

Linsey Lanier - May 31, 2011 - 5:22 pm

Thanks, Sia. Actually, I’m pretty nervous about this whole thing, but I’ve just got to give it a try. You are a terrific writer and I know you will find your niche eventually. Just keep writing. :)

Linsey Lanier - May 31, 2011 - 5:24 pm

Hi Anna! Glad you liked the post. That’s an interesting quote. I don’t know if you need to be a genius at marketing for self-publishing to work. I think most writers cringe at the thought of marketing themselves and yet many of them have been successful. Besides, according to Kristen Lamb (and others) the old way of marketing isn’t the way to market books. Check out “We Are Not Alone” for more about this: http://whodareswinspublishing.com/WANA.html

Matthew - May 31, 2011 - 5:51 pm

I am a writer, and I was having a book published through a traditional publishing company and it was going to take a few years to get out, and in the end the company made the decision to pull it. So it isn’t a guarantee even once you have signed a contract. It is what intrigued me to look further and when I found the company that I am working for I have learned a tonne about self-publishing that is benefiting me a heap with my own writing. The company is FriesenPress and I would definitely recommend checking into it if you decide to go that route. It does require work. All publishing approaches require you to be good at marketing,it cannot be escaped if you want to succeed. There are advantages to all forms of publishing and it is about finding the one that works for you as is mentioned above.

Linsey Lanier - May 31, 2011 - 7:19 pm

Matthew, sorry about the book deal. Bummer. Thanks for the tip about FriesenPress. I will definitely check it out. Good point about marketing. But it’s not as painful as you think. Some of it (like making friends on FB and Twitter) is even fun. :) Thanks for stopping by.

Susan - May 31, 2011 - 8:13 pm

Linsey,
Great post. I can use the information. I will bookmark it for future reference.

Tami Brothers - May 31, 2011 - 8:43 pm

Hey Linsey! Great informaiton. I LOVE reading Joe’s blog. He has some very impressive numbers and I LOVE that he is not only showing us his numbers but that he brings in guests to share theirs as well.

Thanks for a terrific post.

Tami :mrgreen:

ps – Just went over and got all 4 of your books. Kudos on the Amazon Author page!!!!

Tami Brothers - May 31, 2011 - 8:44 pm

AND just wanted to say that if you didn’t have the link here for your books, I definitely would have procrastinated and maybe bought them later in the week. But because you had the link, I went over to check it and couldn’t help but grab them all… Food for thought…

pss – got Annie’s too… :wink:

Linsey Lanier - May 31, 2011 - 9:27 pm

Thanks, Susan. Glad to be of help. :)

Linsey Lanier - May 31, 2011 - 9:34 pm

Tami, I’m definitely a J.A. Konrath addict. I just love his posts and his guests are way cool.

THANK YOU for the sale! I appreciate it and hope you enjoy reading Stacey’s latest adventure. I wondered about the link. I’m glad it was useful. I know you’ll love Annie’s books, too.

Btw, I’ve got a page on my personal blog with links to purchase my books, as well as books of friends (Tamara, Annie, Marilyn). I’ll add more in the future. http://linseylanier.blogspot.com/p/buys-books.html

Carol Burnside - May 31, 2011 - 9:57 pm

Linsey, I’m right there with you in the self-pub pool or Indie publishing, depending on who you talk to. ;)

However, I was lucky enough to have a couple of works that had been previously published, so I had cover art and such for them. I’m a bit more cautious about my other works, though I have been considering a compilation of short stories.

And Tami, I saw that pss. :D Can’t wait to hear what you think.

Linsey Lanier - June 1, 2011 - 8:01 am

Yes you are, Carol. It’s good to have a blog sister to talk with about the ins and outs. :) And you’ve got your Red Sage release to deal with before you jump into any further indie ventures. I know you’ve been busy! A compilation of short stories sounds interesting, though. :)

Selena Blake - June 1, 2011 - 10:29 am

I think one of the misconceptions right now about self publishing is that its an easier way to become known and make money.

There’s nothing easy about self publishing. As I said in my guest post on Joe’s blog back in March, it takes a tremendous amount of work to go from book concept to publication. As an indie author, I’m responsible for all aspects of my business. And it is a business.

Thousands and thousands of readers have taken a chance on reading my work and I take that very seriously. It’s my job to not only write well but to be objective. Is my work good enough? Not everything I’ve written is publication worthy. It’s my job to have my work edited and have a professional cover produced. And don’t get me started about distribution!

If you’re not good with details, if you don’t want to work endless hours on top of writing your book – self publishing is not for you.

I work longer, harder now than I ever did with either of my publishers but I think it’s been worth it and I take great pride in my product.

Christine Glover - June 1, 2011 - 10:42 am

Hi Linsey: Sorry I’m late to the blog. I love the information you posted and am very interested in this avenue of publication. I have considered the questions you posted as well. I think that I’m writing because it is like breathing to me. I want to be strong in my craft and entertain my readers when I get published. I also want to make sure that every book I write offers readers hope and the desire to be valued as women. Respected. Worthy. I would LOVE to be published by my favorite publisher, but if I’m not quite there yet. I feel I still need to hone my craft and build more stories and add more Rs to my files before I go the self-publishing route. But it is an option I review constantly.

Linsey Lanier - June 1, 2011 - 8:37 pm

No problem, Christine. Glad you’re here now. And glad you liked the post.

Sounds like you’ve already done your soul-searching. I like what you said, “I also want to make sure that every book I write offers readers hope and the desire to be valued as women.” That’s the right attitude no matter how you end up getting published.

Linsey Lanier - June 1, 2011 - 8:49 pm

Hi Selena! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I just looked up your post on Joe’s blog (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/guest-post-by-selena-blake.html). What an amazing story!

You are absolutely right about the amount of work involved. A self-publishing writer is the R&D department, the editing department, the copy-writing department, the cover art department, marketing, sales, accounting, etc. etc. Even if you “out-source” some of those duties, you are still responsible for making sure everything gets done right. BUT in the long run, I think it can truly be worth it. Sounds like it’s working out well for you.

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