Friday, May 28, 2010

Self-Publishing ... ?

I have heard off and on from some individuals that, because it is so easy to self-publish, and because anybody can promote their work with Facebook and Twitter, the era of the large Publishing House is nearing it's end. Part of this post is due to an e-mail that was sent to me, a link to an article by Garrison Keillor. I grew up with A Prairie Home Companion. I folded clothes with my mother and laughed at Guy Noir. But just because young people (myself included) blog, write a ton, and invent knew textual slang to reduce the formality and impact of the written word when conversing online or through texting, does not mean we can all do this in a very business-minded way.

The difference between writing and publishing is in part mindset, and in part knowledge application. While writers interested in having their work published need to apprach their writing as a business, this means to apply a certain objectivity and practicality to the process of receiving critiques, sending out queries, manuscripts and the like. It means treating the others in the industry with respect. But it is my opinion that the writers advocating the future of publishing wherein only self-publishing exists, do not understand all that goes into a successful release.

Why do I have this perspective? My writers' group self-published last year and we intend to do it this year. I find that I have to explain many things multiple times to my friends and colleagues, because of the difference in mindset. When we gear up to self-publish, my brain switches from "writing mode" to "business mode." I start planning: How are we going to get the funds? How regularly do we need to hold fundraisers? Who can volunteer what time to what effort? How do I build awareness through social media and print media? Who will be the best editors? Who will judge what art goes on the cover? Who will do the cover design? Rejection letter, if there are stories that don't fit with our theme: "Folklore?" Or don't tackle the theme in a professional way? Copy editor? Editor? Who will decide what method of self-publishing will be most suited to this year's efforts and schedule? Who will arrange for the publication? Should we attempt e-books? What about deciding what budget we're working with? Press releases? What are the best regional blogs to contact? Will we have money for ads? Can someone design banners and badges to host on websites and blogs?

I did a lot of this by myself last year, with a bit of help. But to give the anthology a fair shake this time around, and generate the local buzz we're seeking to (in order to inspire a more pronounced literary community in our city) we need to work as a team. But the writers around me, for all their ;love of community, tend to be intensely independent workers. They don't work well with others when it comes to a business enterprise. They want a clear set of duties that they can take off into their own little corner and be certain they can get everything done. And they do, oftentimes, get things done. But that process can inspire stress that detracts from writing.

So when it comes to publishing, each book deserves a team's effort. But that team need not always be writers. Some of us can switch between the two, but I don't think it'd be fair to ask all writers to do so. More than that, I am strong believer in the fact that writers should not have to be independantly wealthy vto succeed, but a self-published author (if they are not surrounded by a team of volunteers)must hire their team. That's a lot of commissions to pay. That's a lot of ads to send around. Our marketing efforts, while in-house, are not going to be comparable to what a large publisher can muster. But part of the purpose is to learn what it takes to publish a book.

That said, I do think the era of Large Houses may well come to an end soon. But Publishers won't go away. I think the interdependence of real life/internet will lend itself better to small publishers. Small publishers don't have as much overhead, and may well be able to sell e-books more cheaply than do the big guys. But in order to bring in enough of a stream on cash to justify this, the small presses will have to change business models, too. The internet does open a new world of writing and I think readers and writers are still figuring out the best way this media can be used to compliment and promote fiction.


  1. It sounds like you and your group are doing your self-publishing very professionally. More like a small independent publisher than a self-publisher. I congratulate you guys!

    A lot of self-publishers I've seen on lists aren't able to go as full out as you. That doesn't hold them back, though. They hire out what they can afford and do the rest themselves, often on a shoestring. Some go the sub-pub route because they don't have the time to do the rest.

    It would be great if they could have a business team to serve their business needs. But it's also hard for small publishers to put money into something that isn't a sure thing. And it's hard for a writer to promise a sure thing without a sales track record.

    I think self-publishing will become a proving ground. And writers will build up a body of work over time that may or may not catch the eye of the Big Leagues. For some it will be an end in itself where you can have more control over your product. And where books that have a limited audience can live.

    I don't think large pubs will go away. I think they'll cut back a bit and be harder to get into. Their big potential budgets allow for things like multi-media ebooks and big name authors/brand names. So they'll probably always have the super-stars.

    The reality of the marketplace has changed since I was young. I still remember when Bantam, Doubleday, and Dell were separate publishers. And writers only had to think about writing. Those days are gone. I've watched them change and I know they're not coming back, just like I know the old star system of Hollywood is "Gone With the Wind."

    I belong to the Dramatist's Guild and last year they centered one of their publications on urging their members to mount their own shows because that was the best way they felt to break out in the present world. I'm afraid writers are also going to have to think about about putting on their own "shows," in order to build their own following, and move their careers or hobbies along. I agree with you that it's not the ideal situation. But I think that's the way it's going.

  2. Yes, I think you are absolutely right. I don't like that that is the way it is going, but it's true. I see the internet changing all jobs lately. My mother was recently trying to give me advice about resumes, and we were going to do a mass mailing of resumes. I told her that not all the offices took resumes by mail anymore, and it really flustered her. I said that the majority of places I contact is via e-mail...and that I've found better positions on craigslist than popular job sites, like Monster (who keeps sending me scams).
    I know that is a simple example, but it seems that the more we shift to online business, or a dependency for online communication, the more we operate in niches, that center around a sort of node. The big guys are based on a model that requires the production of a product--a physical product. But their grasp on the change in social organization and its impact on modern buying patterns is where I doubt their continued success. I'm pessimistic in some areas. But I think the internet structure promotes niches that operate around a node. The 'node' is any site that connects a person to other sites within their desired 'niche.' Very social media-networking like...but I am uncertain of the ability of larger industries to connect well this way. They are quite impersonal, and it seems the casual, more personal form of connecting is more successful in this model.