book promotion, book sales, Uncategorized

I’ve Looked at Publishing From Both Sides Now.

A few years ago, when I was relentlessly querying anything that moved trying to find a literary agent, a woman I hardly knew asked me a simple question: Why? As in what can an agent get you? What advantage do you imagine professional publication offers over self-publication?

At the time, the questions seemed a bit naïve, maybe even disingenuous. Publication had to mean something. It meant getting past the gatekeepers of the industry. It meant acceptance. It also meant professionalism. How could that not be better than self-publishing? One was rolling out a sleek new model on a showroom floor; the other was stuffing a note in a bottle and throwing it over Niagara Falls.

And yeah. Part of me still feels that way. I have been professionally published (and will be again soon) and I have self-published and let me tell you, there ain’t as much difference as you might think.

My first book, Spark, was published by Lycaon Press. It was professionally edited by the staff at Lycaon. Victoria Miller produced a first-rate professional cover. With the book’s release, I was launched on a blog-tour (six blogs? four blogs? I don’t remember) with interviews and excerpts and a couple of guest blog pieces. It felt so professional. I was part of a stable of authors. I received royalties and quarterly reports.

Well…yeah, technically. Although actually it took a long time before I got paid my first royalties. And—kaching!—let’s just say they didn’t exactly pay for dinner that night. And I don’t mean dinner at a nice restaurant, I mean dinner. Like whatever we happened to be having for dinner that night, my quarterly royalties probably didn’t cover it. And I don’t think my sales results were exceptionally bad. During March, the paperback of Spark was featured for 25% off at the Lycaon website. It sold eight copies, and the owner congratulated me on having a good month.

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Shelf esteem.

Just before publishing my second book, Lycaon folded up their tents and got out of town. So there I was. Two books with all the professional trimmings and no publisher. So, I self-published. You know the routine: Kindle, Createspace, etc, etc. I had an advantage, of course, in that I didn’t need to hire and editor or cover artist, but otherwise, I was right back at square one.

And that’s exactly how it felt. I blogged, and I tweeted, and I maintained a Facebook presence, but I was pretty much just a lonely little bottle floating in an ocean, with countless other little bottles all bobbing around with me.

When I first contemplated self-publishing, that is precisely what killed my enthusiasm for the idea. According to Amazon’s own figures, there are over 3.7 million books available in the Kindle Store. If you spent a brief 5 seconds on each title, it would take you over seven months (no sleeping) to browse the entire stock—and by that time, there would be several hundred thousand new titles to look over. While this is a boon for readers (maybe), for authors it’s horrifying. The odds of being plucked—even once—from this vast sea are, well, staggering.

As far as self-pubbing versus traditional, there are some differences. Free editing and artwork are very nice perks, and it does feel like more of a thing—you are professionally and officially published. But as for the rest of it, I haven’t seen significantly better sales from one approach or the other. Either way, it’s a long, hard journey. There are some advantages to self-publishing, too. For one, you can set your own prices (I was never happy with how much Lycaon was charging) and collect a greater percentage of royalties. This also comes in handy when trying to run a promotion or offer a discount. Or when handing out review copies—most publishers will make a number of Advanced Reading Copies available, but if you’re your own publisher, you can decide this stuff for yourself.

But it’s the ways in which the two approaches are the same that tells the real tale. Either way, you will be primarily responsible for spreading the word about your book, for having a platform of some sort, for social media stuff. And (sorry to be a wet blanket) either way the odds are not in your favor. Success requires luck and perseverance. And perspective. These days, success might require setting very modest goals and giving yourself a lot of time to achieve them.

And really, there’s nothing wrong with that. You wanted to write? So write. No one said it was going to be easy.

In case you missed it, yeah, I’m mostly talking to myself here.

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20 thoughts on “I’ve Looked at Publishing From Both Sides Now.

  1. GD Deckard says:

    WoW, Atthys! Your hard boiled comparison between traditional publishing and self-publishing reads like noir fiction. Thank you for sharing your experience. We need to know exactly what we face before we can succeed.

    Somebody once asked a friend of mine about the wisdom of buying a cookie stand. My friend, who did restaurant location consulting for Olive Garden, checked out the site and told him “No.” Turned out there were 26 other places to buy a snack between the parking area and the cookie stand. “Nobody’s going to be hungry by the time they get to you.” Your experience shows the same thing. Millions of books. “The odds of being plucked—even once—from this vast sea are, well, staggering.”

    But as the brave Sir Lancelot said to the Bridgekeeper, “I am not afraid.” I know that countless e-books disappear into Cyberspace. I also know that more people read than read books. They read online. The Writers Co-op and many, many other online groups give writers a chance to successfully promote their books.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. atthysgage says:

    Well said, GD. The difficulties are real, but there’s no point in being fearful. We can but try. We write our books, we reach out to others, we build a network. Together, slowly, we grow.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So helpful. But why do I have Coldplay buzzing in my head: nobody said it was easy…but no one ever said it would be this hard!

    After the creativity, it becomes a job like any other…all the trimmings of effort. Highs & lows.

    Cheers to the start of the writer’s co-op!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. atthysgage says:

    “Nobody said it was easy, but nobody said it would be this hard!” Too right! It’s a bit like parenting. No matter how many people tell you how hard THAT job is going to be, it still manages surprise everybody with how hard it really is.

    Thanks for being here, Jill, and everybody else as well. I know it’s going to take a long time, but building a community of readers and writers is the only way I can think of that might actually make the job of being a writer easier, more pleasant, more satisfying.

    (You’ll note I didn’t say profitable. One thing at a time.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. mimispeike says:

    I look at being traditionally published as a seal of approval. It may not help you with promotion, but once someone has noticed you, it may be akin to a thumb on the scale. Every step of this is difficult, the writing is hard, the getting it in final shape (editing) is hard. The selling, hardest of all. Once you’ve established a presence, maybe then it’s easier. Atthys, with your two good books, and a trad publish, you’ve got a jump on the rest of us.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. atthysgage says:

    I appreciate that, Mimi. The professional label still carries some weight, though maybe not as much as it used to. I mean, (assuming you can’t get published by Penguin or Random House) do many people care about some small press label? Is being published by Black Opal Books or Lycaon Press really more impressive than Book Country or Createspace (or Feckless Muse?) I think the appearance of professionalism carries weight. A professional looking cover, a nice clean edit.

    It’s just damned hard to get noticed either way. But self-pity isn’t very becoming, so I think I’ll stop this now.

    Like

  7. Hello and thanks for the informative post! I found you through Sue Ranscht who visited my blog. I agree that no matter what route you go there is a lot of work to be done either way. I’ve indie pubbed three books and have had four release through a traditional publisher (Kensington/Lyrical Underground). My fifth one will come out in December.

    I love the creative control I have over my indie titles, but I do love the support I get from my publishing house. On my most recent release, they really stepped up all the promotional aspects. I think part of the key, whichever route you choose is to build a back list. Finally, I’m starting to see a payoff in royalties and I believe it’s do to all the titles I have out there. I strive for two releases a year. Tough when working a full time job but so far I’ve been able to hold with that schedule (I started pubbing in 2012).

    I really like what you’ve got going on here with the co-op and intend to be back. If you’d like to say hello I’m at maeclair.net

    Either way, thanks for a great post!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Thanks for visiting and following, Mae, as well as for the comment. I quite agree that a backlist is perhaps the most important ingredient – I’m only just finishing my second, so you’re way ahead! Once you have that, you can tinker with discounts, giveaways and so on. Just a matter of being prolific, I guess.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I’ve had some great experiences with giveaways and promos. But you’re right, having a few titles does help 🙂 Facebook ads and book subscription lists have also been really beneficial in getting my books noticed.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. atthysgage says:

    Mae. Glad you are with us. I’d be interested in hearing more about your positive experiences with giveaways and promos, not to mention the ads and subscription lists, which have always produced lukewarm results for me. (Not that I’ve done that much.) I’ve checked out your website, by the way. It has a nice look.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. HI, Atthys! I see you accept guest posts for consideration, so perhaps I could put one together about giveaways and the promos I’ve run, including some FB stuff and subscription lists. I’d be happy to share. And many thanks for checking out my website. It’s great connecting with other authors online!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Your guest post would indeed be welcome, Mae – thanks for the offer! For the moment we don’t have too many drafts lined up, so whenever you have something, give me a shout via the contact page and we can schedule it. I’m certainly keen to hear about the promos and giveaways.

    Liked by 1 person

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