I’m very excited to begin a new week on the blog with a very important, very specific theme. It will be a week-long series of interviews and stories, and I hope you all learn a lot from them. But first – some back story.
Since 2008, the publishing industry has been… confused. Technology caught up with it just in time for the recession, and it was left not really knowing what to do with itself. Since then, there have been who-knows-how-many articles and blog posts predicting the death of books. These rumors have been greatly exaggerated. It took publishing a while to recover, but we’re doing just fine now, thank you. No matter how books will be read in the future, there will always be an industry responsible for making them.
It’s still uncertain, the way every business is uncertain in times of economic instability, and it’s competitive as ever to get your book published. While publishing was at its weakest, technology allowed a new viable option – self-publishing. And it sure looks attractive these days. Self-publishing has been around long before 2008. Lulu.com, for example, began almost ten years ago, even before self-publishing was as simple uploading a PDF and having your book immediately available for download.
In a way, self-publishing is a bit like internet dating. First, it was only for those who didn’t have what it took for “the real world.” The stigma was massive; it was something to be ashamed of. Then you hear about your friends doing it, and suddenly you become less skeptical. And now it is practically commonplace.
Commonplace, but not without stigma that is.
I’m not going to pretend I haven’t been guilty of looking down at self-published authors. After all, it’s my job to make sure authors aren’t doing this alone. No one in publishing wants to see an author get taken advantage of, which is why we’re always telling writers how much value there is in traditional publishing. In fact, I like the tradition. Agents are important. Editors are important. Publicists and copyeditors and subrights managers are important.
There are writers out there who believe agents and publishers are “threatened” by self-publishing because it bypasses the steps we usually handle. They claim that’s why we in the industry “hate it.” I can only speak on behalf of myself, but that is not why self-publishing makes me nervous.
There are three things about self-publishing that scare me, actually.
1) There are still writers out there who aren’t aware that companies like PublishAmerica and AuthorHouse shouldn’t be charging them to publish their books, and that they should be the ones paying the writers for the privilege.
2) Too many forums and comments online have enforced an idea that agents and publishers are greedy or want to hinder writers’ creativity. This turns many writers against traditional publishing, making them take matters into their own hands. And that’s when writers can do themselves a disservice without even realizing it. Writing takes a lot of time and then even more time to get right. All writers need an editor. Then, even once the book is finished and you press that Publish button, the work doesn’t stop. You become your own accountant, publicist, agent, and assistant. Where’s the time to write your next book? It’s a lot of responsibility that most people are not experienced in having all at once.
3) Then there are the success stories. We’ve all heard them. Amanda Hocking and John Locke are self-made millionaires. Barry Eisler walks away from a $500,000 advance to self-publish instead. These success stories are wonderful for the authors involved, and they serve as proof that self-publishing is no longer a dirty little secret among writers. The stigma, however, remained in a way that was even more polarizing. The allure of self-publishing was even greater because now, in addition to avoiding rejection, there was a chance of becoming a millionaire. Doing anything for money is always a bad idea. Always. Chances are, you won’t become rich. Like the person on the news who won the state lottery, success stories can be great and inspiring. But they are too rare to rely on.
For every writer who uses self-publishing to become success story, there’s one who is just sick of being rejected. Those are the two extremes, and unfortunately they have clouded the judgment of many, myself included. I also believe that most people don’t fall under extremes. Most writers have nothing against tradition; they just want their stories to be heard and found a way to do it. Truthfully, sometimes self-publishing is the better option (as explained in more detail by literary agent Meredith Barnes), and if traditional publishing can have mid-list authors, why can’t self-publishing?
These smart, talented, tech savvy mid-list authors are who I’m devoting this week to here on the blog. Self-published writers Marilyn Peake, Tracy Marchini, Michelle Davidson Argyle, and Karen Hooper, who did not self-publish but decided to go indie without an agent, will all share their experiences on going it alone.
NOTE: Yes, I am still a literary agent. Yes, I will always tell writers to exhaust all traditional options before looking into self-publishing. This week isn’t about me. This blog is, and always has been, for writers and as a place for writers, it’s important to me that I present any helpful information I can offer. Glass Cases is mine alone, and does not represent the agency I work for in any way, shape, or form. I cannot stress that enough.
Hope you enjoy this break in our regularly scheduled programming, and check back in tomorrow to hear about sci-fi writer Marilyn Peake’s road to self-publishing.