Crossroads: Do I need a publisher?

by Pari

Since July 1, my grand experiment of committed daily writing has yielded: a YA novel, a lengthy novella (just shy of 30,000 words) and seven viable short stories ranging from 1500 words to nearly 7000. If you add those to the wonderful mystery I wrote that we couldn’t sell because it was “too original,” the novel I completed for NaNo, and about four or five more good short stories written since the beginning of 2010 . . . I’ve got quite a bit of inventory piling up here. And I’m adding to it every day.

Unlike many of my fellow ’Rati, I’ve never had the experience of publishing with a big NYC house. My chops come from a small press. At the time, it was a perfect fit; my work tended to the quirky (still does). But my fiction has never financially, completely, supported me. That doesn’t make my experience as a published writer any less valid than what my friends have experienced with St. Martin’s, HarperCollins or Simon & Schuster.

I’d argue, however, that it does yield a very different perspective because I haven’t had the benefit of
1. a New-York-centric view of the book/publishing industry
2. active editors who spend time looking at the story and working with me to make it better
3. major PR/Marketing departments pushing my books at trade shows and with the media (especially big national media), getting me online appearances, soliciting reviews etc etc (let’s not even think about funded tours)
4. active and built-in distribution & automatic ins with national retail outlets 

Though — embarrassingly — I felt sour grapes at one time, I am NOT complaining now. I’ve been in the field long enough to see the mercurial rise and fall of favored authors, the uncertainty they live with, the deadlines and publishing dates moved, the increasing responsibility/expectation for self-promo biting into dwindling advances, beloved editors dropped without a moment’s notice, publishing lines x-ed out, contracts neglected, pay withheld, e-book rights grabs . . .

I used to be one of those writers that scoffed at self-publishing. I thought people who opted for that decision – at least most of them – simply didn’t have the patience to do it the “right” way . . . to pay their dues and go through the fire of external vetting.

Now I have writer friends – some previously published by those big NYC houses, some never formally published – putting their work up on the internet themselves. They distribute their own books to Nooks and Kindles, on Smashwords and Lulu, they create online stores on their websites. They’re getting their work directly to readers without any middlemen whatsoever.

A particularly interesting development are the writers that have banded together to create a brand; my favorite group so far is Book View Café.

Sure, some of the creative work online is just crap. The same thing can be said for books/stories published traditionally. AND a lot of online fiction is well-edited and good. The same can be said for traditionally published works.

So what do I do?

Do I send my work out and wait — and wait — for publishers to respond? To tell me that my book is well written and fun but that they don’t see it having a big enough audience for them to publish?  Do I give up on that model and get my work out into the world immediately (after editing, thankyouverymuch) and embrace a totally paperless approach?

Is it even either/or?

Argh! I don’t know. That’s why I’m writing this blog.

1. What are the real benefits NOW, today, of sticking with the traditional model of publishing? Or is that model obsolete?
2. What are the real benefits of striking out on your own?

1. Do you look at publishers to make your purchasing/reading decisions?
2. Are your own opinions about self-publishing/traditional publishing changing? 

Help! The stories are piling up in my computer . . . and I write to be read.

42 thoughts on “Crossroads: Do I need a publisher?

  1. Laura Jane Thompson

    Right now (and things change) the only way I could see myself purchasing a self-published title would be if I received several recommendations from friends or family members about the quality of the work. Of course, I'm not the perfect test audience because I don't buy ebooks, and most self-published hardcover and paperback novels, in my experience, are even more expensive than traditionally-published novels.

    I'm certainly not taking a greater financial risk on something that hasn't first been approved and edited by a professional in the industry.

    That said, I don't really turn to publishing news to decide what to read. I browse the bookstore or Amazon, reading dust jacket copy, and I choose the titles that appeal to me. But if I'm online, I always look at the publisher, and if I see Lulu or PublishAmerica, or whatever, I click away immediately.

  2. PK the Bookeemonster

    The publisher of a book doesn't influence my reading. Whether it was published by a professional versus a self-publish does matter to me right now. It could change and I'll explain in a minute. I think, from the blogs I've read, the romance community has more readily embraced the non-traditionally published novel and read ebooks from those types of sites. (and I'm referring really only to the ebooks, not the printed page) The crime fiction genre has been slower to adapt to this new type of distribution but is now catching on.
    Would I purchase a self-pubbed ebook? If I knew the author which generally for me is one I only know from being published traditionally. I would be thrilled if an author who I had loved and who in the past had lost their publisher and is no longer available to me decided to self publish. I'm making the assumption that the only reason they're not writing anymore is the loss of a publisher and not a personal choice. Janet Dawson comes to mind, more of her PI series I'd buy in a heartbeat. I'm not a fan of shorts and novellas but I'm also not ruling that out if the author was right. Also, the price of the ebook needs to be on the lower scale, one that would make an impulse purchase a no-brainer and not something that I had to stop and contemplate the budget.

  3. Dana King

    A well timed post, Pari, at least for me. I write just about every day, and have quite a collection of favorably commented upon yet unsold manuscripts on my hard drive. I was close to getting one published a couple of years ago, and stepped up my research into the post-contract aspects of book publication, in the hope that I'd be ready when–if–the time came.

    Well, the time didn't come–at least not then–and what I learned about publication in general left me with the impression that the only thing that's a bigger pain in the ass than getting a contract is what happens after you get one. I've seen excellent writers, whose books I await eagerly, lose contracts because they don;t sell enough. I've seen "successful" writers–people who make their livings from writing–fighting to keep their angst from consuming them as they worry about deadlines, cover art, lack of marketing support, and a million other things.

    I'm still writing, and I still make perfunctory attempts at getting published in the traditional manner.The way I see it, I'm willing to make significant changes to my personal life and employment situation only if the reward is there. (And I do consider rewards to be other than financial, though the house and my daughter's college must be paid for, and retirement approaches.) The other option is to keep on doing what I'm doing now and not worry about it, essentially writing for my own amusement. I keep at it because I enjoy it, and there are too many people whose opinions I respect who tell me I'm pretty good. The day is coming when I'll start posting books to Amazon or Smashwords for $1.99 and do what I can through blogs and sites like Crimespace to get out the word, and will consider myself successful if I sell 100 copies. I might rather sell a 100 like that than 1,000 while getting run through publishing's obstacle course.

  4. Debbie

    If an author is being told that his/her work is good but won't capture a large enough market share, s/he should consider epublishing that work. There are often chapter samples to browse with ebooks, so it's no different than doing the same at a physical store. I'm guessing that the average reader, even avid reader, doesn't know one publishing house from another, let alone being able to identify self pub'd works. I imagine that it helps, just as in print, to have multiple titles to increase visibility, and I expect that being trad. pub'd is a benefit as well to an ebook author. Like traditional publishing, once fans find your work, they'll spread the word. Just my thoughts though! 🙂

  5. J.D. Rhoades

    From the comments that Ive read across the 'net (which admittedly is an unscientific sample), it appears that the audience is breaking down into three camps: people who don't have e-readers and say they prefer traditional books; people who have e-readers and prefer to use those; and a small group made up of people who use both.

    So, in order to reach the widest possible audience, it seems to me you'd need to be in both print and e-book formats–and the best best for print is still traditional publishing, due to the distribution network.

  6. Karen in Ohio

    Pari, I am beyond impressed at your output. That's truly remarkable, in particular when you have young children in your household.

    As a diehard reader who will read whatever is in front of me, including the soy milk carton, it doesn't matter where a story comes from. The crucial issue is that the story is a good one. Publishers today have to be extremely careful about their bottom line, just like everyone else, and I can understand why they're all looking for the next blockbuster. That doesn't help either readers or writers, though, who actually drive the industry. It really does not surprise me that the e-book/e-reader technology has taken off, or that readers and authors alike are circumventing traditional publishing methodology.

    I've converted three books to e-formats, starting about 10 years ago. In the five or six years that I actively marketed and sold them–which required a LOT of consumer education, by the way (I can't tell you how many people stuck CD's into their DVD players)–each title sold more than it had in the original, printed form. Consider that I retired four years ago; if I were selling them today they would no doubt do even better, partly because there are vastly more outlets in which to sell e-formatted material, but also because of the greater public acceptance, as well as the dedicated reading devices hitting the market.

    In short, I think you'd be wise to e-publish on your own. The one thing you do need is buzz, and you have a lot of writing and reading friends to help generate it.

  7. billie

    Pari, that inventory is incredible – and I for one am eager to be a reader! 🙂

    As a writer, I gave myself 7 years following the traditional path. Two agents, many editors' letters saying how gorgeous my book was, that it should be published, but alas they could not do it, and 5 books later, I decided it was time to do what I probably always wanted to do, secretly: start my own press.

    I'm in the process of getting the three adult novels onto Kindle right now. Later in December I'll be launching the first book of a middle grade series there, and in January I'll be publishing my nonfiction book. I don't know how this will all pan out, but I can tell you that it feels absolutely wonderful to be done with the waiting game, in control of my creative work, and getting these projects OUT THERE.

    I had a blast doing a promotional calendar for the nonfiction book Partners in Zen – it's available at Zazzle right now.

    All I can say is that I am happier than I have been (writing-wise) in several years. I have two new projects booming along, and I know it's because I've created a plan for the previous, finished ones.

    And as a reader who once said I would NEVER read an e-book – guess who fell in love with the iPad AND the Kindle and now has a growing library on my desktop computer until Santa comes this year? I love reading good books – and am finding new ones every day that didn't come via the traditional road.

    Anyone interested can find November Hill Press info here:

    The first novel, claire-obscure, is actually already up on Amazon as an e-book. I'm still tweaking a few minor formatting issues that show up on the Kindle but not on Kindle for Mac, etc. so haven't started publicizing it yet, but technically, it's for sale. It's a book. 🙂 And the next two will join it there this week and next.

    There's also some talk amongst myself and a few other brave new worlders about creating a small press co-op – similar to Book Sense but for small presses – to share the work of publicity and marketing and gain some power in numbers. If anyone is interested in that, feel free to email me privately.

    Best of luck, Pari – either way you go I can't wait to read all this new work!!

  8. pari noskin taichert

    Laura Jane,
    Thanks for your candid response. That's part of the reason I hesitate to go totally electronic. I have to admit some of the same biases and assumptions. PublishAmerica is particularly irritating b/c its marketing platform is deceitful — it claims it's not self-publishing because you "don't pay" to get published. Nah.

    If I do go the ebook route, those books would be substantially less to buy than would their hard-copy counterparts . . .

    PK, Yours response is what I expect several of our Murderati readers to voice and for the same reasons: favorite authors losing publishers. I'm thinking about writing another Sasha book, but know that UNM Press is moving away from fiction now AND that their line is heading to more ethnic studies. Though Sasha is Jewish, I'm not sure she'd fit the bill. So I'd probably take her straight to electronic.

    Dana, We're sitting in a similar place although I do have works that have been traditionally published . . . so I've got a track record of sorts. But from where I'm standing right now, I'm finding the current publishing model to be much less compelling than it was nine years ago when I started this journey.

  9. JT Ellison

    Coming from the other side of the fence, I have to say that in addition to the editorial standards, the most important part of being traditionally published is distribution. There is simply no substitute for being in every Walgreens, Costco, Hudson Bookseller, B&N, Borders, etc. Tours, blogging, advertising, all that stuff becomes a minor note when faced with good distribution and bookstore placement.

    And… it's just plain easier on the author not to have to be both writer and publisher. Pari, I would highly recommend that you at least try the traditional route again, with a set time limit. Your work is too good to get lost in the noise. You have to follow your heart, but just remember, if you self-publish, you will be wearing all the hats, which is going to slow your productivity levels to a crawl.

    That said, we face an interesting future. Will bookstores survive the tsunami that is the ebook revolution? Will distribution matter in two years? Is there any right answer?

    No one really knows. So if you feel you want to be read immediately, and you want to do the hard work of publishing yourself, go for it. Though I'd even go with an experienced ebook publisher before I'd face it alone, to be honest.

  10. pari noskin taichert

    Debbie, Thank you. I'm looking at my mystery manuscript that is in such good shape, the one that got all the very, very positive rejections — and am thinking, "Okay. Do I leave it on the table for another year or two? Or do I just get it online so that my readers can meet Darnda and enjoy her?"
    I'm really torn. She's a great character and has an ability I haven't seen in any other protags . . .

    J.D., I agree on the three groups. I'm just not sure that the hard-copy books crowd is large enough for my "small" books, ya know? I guess from a visibility standpoint, continuing the traditional route makes a lot of sense. From a financial one, it's not so clear since — with ebooks — I keep such a large percentage of the cover price.
    I'm looking forward to the other comments today.

    Karen, Wow. You embraced the new technology when people were still in caves. Ten years ago? The fact that you've had the kind of success you have is certainly a credit to your writing and marketing savvy.
    Thank you for the kind words about readers and writers willing to generate buzz. I have a feeling that marketing through the internet word-of-mouth will be really crucial.
    I find myself hesitant a bit because of the current technology and not knowing yet how to convert books or manuscripts into the various formats. And then there are book covers . . .
    If I decide to go this route, may I ask you for advice?

  11. pari noskin taichert

    Fascinating. I know so many writers who are adopting your model and who are finding such satisfaction doing it. If I didn't have my feet so solidly in the traditional publishing model, I don't think I'd feel this hesitation. I'll check out your press later today!

    Thank you for your perspective. I hope more traditionally, happily published writers chime in today too. If I was going to jump on the bandwagon with both feet, I probably would've by now. I'm standing here feeling so undecided precisely for the reasons you mention. But I never did have the kind of distribution you speak of because my publisher didn't have that kind of clout . . .
    Prestige? Absolutely.
    The ability to get into Wal Mart? No way.
    So I wouldn't be giving up that kind of marvelous distribution.

    I'm also not sure how I feel about completely circumventing bookstores — especially the ones that have been so good to me — for a quick buck.

    All these reasons — pro and con — are what are paralyzing me now.

  12. Karen in Ohio

    Pari, of course you can, although I have to admit that my Internet marketing info is pretty far out of date at this point. Technology has moved with the speed of light in the last decade, and my books on CD's look pretty passe. (Although they are still being sold, in dribs and drabs.)

    If I weren't so lazy I'd have converted them to Smashwords or something by now.

    By the way, I'm guest blogging today on Working Stiffs.

  13. Lynn Reynolds

    Pari, I read Murderati all the time, but am generally too lazy to actually comment. My publishing experiences mirror your own – I have two books out with a small publisher and have never cracked the larger NYC markets. The first book is a mystery with a bit of romance, but was marketed as a romance because that's the publisher's specialty. It has a very sexy cover that is stylish, but doesn't really reflect the content of the book and turned off a lot of middle-aged moms who were the target audience. I'd have had better control of that sort of thing if I self-published.

    Another point in favor of self-publishing – I know several authors who were initially published with small publishers who've now gone the self-publishing route and are very happy. They're also making a lot more money than they made with the small publishers, because they get to keep more of their profits.

    I've spoken to a few book groups and we got into discussions of publishing houses. Several readers in the groups began talking about books their acquaintances had published via Amazon. It was clear to me that the books were what we call self-published. But the members of these book groups – who are very well-read people – had no idea what I was talking about. Nor did they particularly care once I explained the difference. I suspect a large portion of the book buying public is like that.

    The biggest advantage of the larger publishing houses, as someone mentioned earlier, is the massive distribution in places like Walmart, Target, B&N. But if you're with a small publisher, you aren't getting that kind of distribution anyway.

    Good luck making your decision!

  14. James Scott Bell

    I do think self-e-publishing is good for a specific type of work: the suspense or mystery short story. That old pulp market dried up, and collections are rarely published traditionally. If you've written short stories and novellas, why not put those out yourself, and see it as another marketing move? I love the short story form. So I can see putting out a collection in e-format, maybe with a novella attached so people get their $2.99 worth.

  15. Robert Burton Robinson

    Pari, I would encourage you to go the self-published route. I wrote my first four books real-time, online. I posted each chapter as I wrote it—a crazy way to write novels. But my readers loved the books, so I self-published them in print, beginning in 2007. I sold only a few dozen per month.

    Then the Kindle came along, and I published that same four-book series as Kindle ebooks. Book Two, Hideaway Hospital Murders, has been on the Amazon Kindle Bestseller list for Romantic Suspense for months. I have it priced as a loss leader (actually, a low-profit leader) at $0.99 to help boost sales of the other books. It's working very well. I am now selling 1,500-2,000 ebooks per month.

    My new book, Naked Frame, is the first book of my new Rebecca Ranghorn Mystery Series. I wrote it in the traditional fashion: many drafts, etc. It is a much better book than the others, so I look forward to brisk sales once it gets going.

    I love having full control over the book covers. And I have two family-member editors that do a great job finding typos, plot issues, etc.

    Publishing Kindle books is easy. Amazon's converter accepts Word 2007 files. And you can distribute to other outlets, such as Barnes and Noble, via Smashwords. Their converter (or meat grinder, as they call it) works pretty well too.

    I publish the print versions of my books via CreateSpace. However, I sell very few print books. Not that I care. I'm making a $2.00 royalty on most of my ebooks.

    Good luck! And I wish I could write as fast as you do. 😉

  16. pari noskin taichert

    Karen has a nice post about the internet over at Working Stiffs.

    Lynn, Thanks for chiming in. I've considered every single one of your well articulated points and that's precisely why I'm sitting at this particular crossroad.

    Tom, Did he really? Wow. I didn't know that.

    James, That's another option I'm looking at . . . thematic collections of short stories. Might work. I know I don't have to decide one way or the other — to be so black/white about it — but for today's discussion I thought it'd be good to draw the distinctions.

  17. pari noskin taichert

    I appreciate your comments and perspective. It sounds like e-pubbing is working really well for you. I know several people who feel exactly as you do.

    It looks from your post like you use several different formats. How long does it take you to do all the conversions etc? In other words, how much time do you spend on the teckie stuff as opposed to writing?

  18. Spencer Seidel

    A lot of good points here. I'm currently with a small press. And this was intentional. There are benefits and drawbacks to this of course, but for now I'm perfectly happy with my decision.

    I think in general, you're always better off having a third party financially committed to your writing. It always helps to have that level of vetting backing you up. That said, nowadays, we writers know that it can sometimes feel like we're self-published for all the money and time we spend with marketing-type stuff.

    If you do self-publish, I would advise checking out how Cory Doctorow did it. Technically, he isn't self-published (he has–had?– a deal with Tor/Forge), but the spirit of his idea is the same. He *owned* his decision to put all his work under Creative Commons license, which I think is important.

  19. Tammy Cravit

    This is a tough question, Pari, and it's one I've been thinking of as well. As an as-yet-unpublished fiction author, I can't help but see the traditional publishing route as increasingly not a viable option for me. Getting a book published by that route was always somewhat of a long shot, and I think the industry's steadfast desire to cling to what my father (who's published both non-fiction and fiction) likes to call "the best and brightest business models that the 17th century had to offer" is making the problem worse. I was in a Barnes & Noble a couple of months ago, and was shocked to see half-empty shelves EVERYWHERE. Publishers are increasingly less willing to take a gamble on unproven authors, and so it seems are bookstores. Given that reality, it's hard not to wonder if the "traditional publishers have the distribution infrastructure" argument is becoming less relevant.

    I agree that the argument made by J.T. and others in favor of "traditional publishing" does indeed have some merit, and that there's not necessarily a "clear" answer. But I have to note that I hadn't read ANY of J.T.'s books until I got my Kindle, at which time I bought all five of them and am 3/5 of the way through the series at present, and the traditional publishers' distribution network therefore helped not really at all in driving those sales.

  20. Alafair Burke

    I confess that contemplation of these questions makes me put my fingers in my ears and say "la la la la la." My instinct is that the consolidation of the sales market makes it advantageous to have a big publisher putting out my books. B&N, Borders, Target, CostCo, Walmart etc may not be scouring small presses for gems. Same goes for limited review space in the dwindling numbers of publications that still review. But I'm probably way behind the curve on this stuff!

  21. JT Ellison

    Tammy raised an interesting point that I'd like to comment on. I fear I may have been too simplistic in my earlier statement.

    "Distribution" is a much greater beast than simply having your book show up on the shelves at the bookstore, where obviously a finite group of consumers see it. Distribution is the culmination of months of hard work from every facet of a publishing house, from the editor who's been cheerleading the project from the beginning, the marketing folks who plan the book's release, to the hardworking sales team who take said book out to their accounts and sell it in, to the advertising team who decides what ad dollars are spent, and where best to spend them, to the art team who creates the most intriguing cover, to the digital team who arranges for the ebooks to be available online, to the PR folks who do the advance distribution of galleys to reviewers and bloggers and set up tours and signings and do booking for media, etc. etc. It's a well-choreographed dance that is invaluable to the longevity of any writer's career. It how five years after your first book releases, new readers are still finding you.

    "Distribution" is brand-building, which is hard enough for the author to do with all the money and effort of the traditional house model, much less handling it all yourself on the self-pubbed route.

    It really comes down to what your end goal is – being read, or being widely-read. Neither goal is one to scoff at, it's an individual choice.

  22. Tammy Cravit

    J.T., thanks for your follow up. At the risk of hijacking Pari's post, let me hasten to add that I have no doubt of the importance of brand-building, or of the benefit that comes from having someone with deep pockets and broad reach helping you do it. On the other hand, I have to say that I think the "mainstream publishing industry" (to the extent that such a monolithic entity exists) suffers from one fairly major problem: in my view, fear of change in their business practices is preventing any systematic effort to quantify honestly what actually works in terms of driving sales.

    I've been a reader since I was a child, but I have long had more than a reader's view of the publishing business. When I was younger, my mom was an editor at a small press publishing kids books which was ultimately acquired by a much larger conglomerate. Both my father and stepmother are published authors, and my sister and I have both worked as freelance journalists. And what I've seen, over and over, are companies that cling desperately to "the way we've always done it" until the ship is already on the way to the bottom of the sea before scrambling around frantically for a new business model.

    Publishers that could leverage the e-book market (which has almost a zero marginal cost associated with additional sales) are instead pricing e-books at or in some cases above the price of hardbacks. The big publishers have prohibited retailers like Amazon from discounting e-books and have encumbered their books with digital copy-protection technologies that create more burdens for legal purchasers than they do for pirates. (I've lost 10 purchased e-books so far when their publishers have gone out of business and taken their "digital rights management" infrastructures with them; meanwhile, most pirated books seem to be scanned from paper.) We see publishers neglecting their midlists in pursuit of the next breakaway superstar, but forgetting that the midlist is where those superstars come from in the first place.

    So, I guess, my point isn't so much that there isn't a benefit to being "traditionally published", and it's not even that I disagree with your comparison between "being read" and "being widely-read". My point is that, in a world where we're seeing all sorts of new distribution techniques, reading technologies and marketing vehicles exploding onto the stage all the time (book trailers are one example that comes to mind), nobody seems very interested in quantifying exactly what works and what doesn't, and that fact bewilders me.

    Oh, one more random data point: I'm a pretty voracious reader normally, and I've just about tripled my spending on books since I got my Kindle. The "traditional" publishers that want me to pay $15.99 or more for an e-book when I can get the paperback for $6.99 are, to my thinking, being awfully penny-wise and pound foolish, and their authors are undoubtedly losing sales as a result. (I know that, for me, a lost e-book sale does not translate to me buying the paper book, necessarily.) On the other hand, I've bought e-books from several Murderati authors (J.T., Pari, Louise, Alafair) and those have all been reasonably priced relative to what I think an e-book should cost.

  23. Susan Shea

    The book world is shifting under our feet. Today's answer won't be tomorrow's. Having said that, and having all of one book so far in conventional print, I agree with JT that "distribution" in all of its nuances is critical. My experience is that even with adequate – but not aggressive, retail-oriented – distribution strategies, it's more author work to sell the book without thee brand name and brand size behind you. I want people to read it, but I'd also like at least some of them to buy it, and for that you need some entity, preferably not you, to take the project on professionally and with energy and imagination. It looks to me as though print and mainstream e-book venues are where to be today. This is a topic I think we're going to be looking at constantly for the next 5 years though.

  24. pari noskin taichert

    I'm pleased everyone is discussing this so coherently and well. It's a tribute to our 'Rati community that we can have conversations without falling into emotionalism.
    Your point about the vetting is one that has bothered me with the idea of self-publishing. There's something so powerful about having others believe in you and your work. But I don't know how much of that matters to readers anymore. I simply don't know. If it doesn't matter to most of them, then of what import is it to me? Again, I don't know.

    Interesting points, especially about JT's books. Though I suspect her publisher was the one that got those on Kindle for you to buy . . .
    I guess I want to frame whatever I decide in terms of what's best rather than looking at it as a "giving up on" publishers. I don't know if there has been a seismic shift in NYC houses' willingness to publish new writers . . . they seem to be continuing to do so. But I know for myself, that my works to date haven't been perceived as being "big" enough concepts to attract those venues. So I'm wondering if it's stupid to try to force it.

    Again . . . I don't know.

  25. pari noskin taichert

    Alafair, you made me laugh. Thank you. I think for authors that are with good houses and who are happy, it's a no-brainer. Stay with those who are taking your career forward. You can take your fingers out of your ears now.

    JT, Beautiful explanation of distribution. Again, my experience in a smaller house has been substantially different from yours — especially when it's come to creating a brand identity. Truly no sour grapes here — no despair either — I'm just trying to look at this whole issue with logic rather than myth (pro or con).

  26. Spencer Seidel

    Pari — one thing I forgot to point out… These concepts are not necessarily mutually exclusive. You can sell self-pubbed ebooks (or whatever) while shopping around manuscripts to smaller pubs.

  27. pari noskin taichert

    Tammy, I knew you had experience with publishing but had no idea just how much. I do think that there have been some large changes in publishing during the nine years I've been watching it closely. What you've said about the de-emphasis on midlist is true. I also think that the celebrity/blockbuster approach has hurt the industry. But there are writers whose careers are being nurtured — and who are flourishing though they may not be household names. I can think of several 'Rati that fit that bill.

    JT's question about being read or "widely read" doesn't apply to those of us who've worked with small presses because it'll probably end up being pretty equivalent when all is said and done for me since the best book I've written so far didn't find takers due to its quirkiness and editors' concerns that the audience wouldn't be big enough for it.

  28. pari noskin taichert

    I'm sure you're right that this is something we'll be discussing and analyzing for a long time. I'll be curious to see how it evolves.

    Spencer . . . yes, I do know that. The way I've been thinking about this issue is pretty simplistic, but it certainly isn't — and doesn't need to be — either/or.

  29. Karen in Ohio

    Such an interesting discussion.

    My first book (non-fiction) was so different that publishers didn't know how they would market it, and they had no interest in listening to little ole me and my ideas. After two dozen rejections I decided to self-publish (this was in 1994, long before e-publishing was a possibility).

    If that book had been published the traditional way, there would have been a couple thousand printed, I would never have made more than my initial payment, and it would have been on the remainder tables within 24 months. Instead, I sold more than 8,000 of them, and it was picked up by Crafters' Choice book club. They printed and sold an additional 10,000. Other than bundled sales, where purchasers got a discount by buying more than one book in my product line, nearly all of the books I hand sold were at the full price of $19.95.

    As someone said, you do have to wear a LOT of hats when you self-publish, but it's a heckuva lot easier to e-pub and sell electronically than it is to warehouse many thousands of books, and ship them all over the world. CD's streamlined the process, but it was still more cumbersome than it is with today's many outlets. I made a BIG mistake with my first print run (the index was totally bolloxed), which messed up my catalog sale potential early on, but that was just a glitch, in the long run, and I did recover from it. Fiction rarely has an index, so you wouldn't be making that mistake.

    Pari, you could try it with a short story or two, and see what happens. Seems to me that e-books are perfect venues for short stories, in particular.

  30. Tammy Cravit

    Pari, whatever you decide on the larger issues, I agree with Karen's suggestion: Putting together a compilation of short stories or similar and self-pubbing it via Smashwords, the Amazon Digital Text Platform, etc. would be a relatively simple and inexpensive way to test the waters and get a feel for both the production process and the type of response you can expect. I've done this process a couple of times (I have a short story of mine free on, and I re-released on Kindle and Smashwords an anthology my writing group put together and self-pubbed 6 or so years ago), so I'd be happy to offer pointers and direction. I don't want to spam up your post, but if you'd like to see the result of those efforts, please feel free to e-mail me privately and I'll shoot you over some links.

    I also don't mean to suggest that there's no role for traditional publishers in this brave new world. Quite the contrary, they can be an attractive option if you're writing the kinds of books they want to publish, you're willing to deal with the trade-offs they engender, the moon and Jupiter properly align to produce a contract, etc. (She says, only partially facetiously). But the exciting thing for me, as a reader and a writer, is that there are increasingly many other avenues for writers to get their work out there and to share voices and stories with the world that might have been previously filtered out by the big publishing oligopoly. This may be scary for the publishing conglomerates, but to my mind, providing more venues and vehicles for diversity in storytelling can only be to the good over the long haul.

  31. Lance C.

    I've been following this debate for the past couple of years, starting out on the "real authors get New York publishers" side and slowly moving to the realization that unless you're already wildly famous, traditional publishing isn't going to offer many advantages over doing the work yourself, but can add significant heartburn to the process.

    However, one thing does stop me cold. When I worked as a game artist, I remember the feeling I got the first time I walked into a store and saw the title I'd worked on sitting on a shelf. A real product! In a store! Where people can buy it! That made up for several late-night work sessions.

    I'd just once like to walk into Borders & Noble and see a book with my name on it on the shelf (or an endcap, or on the table in front, or even face-out on the shelf, but I'll take it however it comes). Just once. Then I could probably face the digital world with my head held high. But I'm still traditional enough to figure I'd be just a pretender if I go straight to digital. Maybe a few more debates like this one will cure me of that. Thanks, Pari.

  32. KDJames

    Pari, I enthusiastically agree with those who suggested you e-publish *something* on your own (with help if needed). It seems part of your hesitancy is the factor of the unknown — how it works, whether it works, how much work it will be. So try it. Doesn't mean you ever have to do it again if you deem it a complete disaster.

    As a reader, I never look to see who published a book before I buy it. If it's an unknown-to-me writer, I read cover copy and the first few pages. I download the free sample at Amazon all the time. I don't read reviews and I'm not sure publisher-generated advertising has ever made it into my field of vision. I do listen to recommendations of people whose opinion I've come to trust.

    As a writer, we're all in such different career places, I don't think there's one right answer. I've gone back and forth too. My current plan (once the ms is polished to my satisfaction) is to see whether it garners the interest of an agent and try to go the traditional route. For an unpublished writer, the biggest obstacle is being unknown. I think it was Konrath who said obscurity is the biggest enemy. I've found that to be true. I discover new-to-me writers all the time through twitter and blog posts — talented writers, writers who have 5, 6, 7 books out — and I've never heard of them. And I consider myself to be widely-read. So for me, a publisher who can reach a bigger audience is perhaps worth the pitiful monetary reward and the loss of e-rights forever. Sigh. For the first book, anyway.

    But it does take a bit of the pressure off to know that if no one in the traditional publishing world is interested, I can still put my work out there for the two dozen people who I know DO want to read it. And that will be $40 of income that I don't have today. And I'll write the next book and maybe there will be three dozen readers for that one.

    But you have readers, Pari. And a big platform here on Murderati. I say go for it. See what happens. If it sucks, don't do it again. It's certainly got to be better than always wondering, "what if…"

  33. pari noskin taichert

    I think that might be the most sane way to do it. Maybe I'll do the novella as one "book" and some of the short stories as another. It might be interesting to learn more about this by doing rather than wondering.

    I should've read your post before responding to Karen. I, too, am NOT claiming or even hoping for the demise of traditional publishing. I might try to sell my Darnda book now that I have control of it again b/c I'd really like this character to have the life she deserves. That said, if I don't find takers after a reasonable amount of time . . . I might try to give her life on my own.

    That feeling you're describing is incomparable. I wish it on you and every other person who wants to be published. It feels like a million bucks. If I could get one of my works in paperback and wildly accessible, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Go for it! Don't give up until you've really tried.

  34. pari noskin taichert

    The WHAT IF is a serious concern. I have to try this at least a little, as you and others have suggested, just to see what happens to original pieces of fiction. My first UNM Press book is up and available on Kindle now and I'll upload the second in a few days. But those are books that already have track records. I'm curious about fiction of mine that no one has seen . . .

    Thanks for all the input today. It has been a wonderful, wonderful discussion.

  35. Tammy Cravit

    Perhaps the 'Rati crew should add a page to the site with direct links to the Kindle (and ePub/Smashwords/etc.) e-editions of all their books. I think the "Murderati Authors" collection on my Kindle has 17 books in it so far, and I'd love to have a one-click stop for adding to that.

  36. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I'm glad the rest of you had this discussion!

    I don't think any of us can say what's going to be the best way to do any of this. I do remember my script reading days, finding out that any major agency or studio had WAREHOUSES of script submissions, almost all of it completely unreadable. I remember find out how agents' readers, then agents, then production company readers, then production company executives, then production company heads, then studio readers, then studio executives, then studio heads, were all part of a very distinct screening process that would weed out the dreck for the good scripts, the standouts.

    That's what publishing houses do, too. I want that process in place to screen out that chaff so that I have some guarantee that a book I pick up will be marginally readable.

    I HOPE some screening process will always exist.

    I would never read something self-published unless I knew the author.

  37. pari noskin taichert

    That's a good idea. We should look into it. Thank you.

    I like your example and you're right that self-publishing does let anyone put his or her work up there. That's why there's so much noise. The "vetting " argument holds a lot of weight. I don't know how I feel about it. I don't buy ebooks yet, don't have the technology . . . but will soon. When that happens, I'll be interested to see if my buying habits change. I suspect they'll fall more in line with Tammy's in that I'll buy a lot more books because I'll be able to afford them . . .

  38. Kathryn Lilley

    Pari, I'm "between contracts" as the saying goes, and I'm seriously considering publishing the next installment in my mystery series on my own. I've thought for a while that authors who have an established following should use a mix of publishing strategies–traditional and self-publishing, and see what sticks to the wall. The downside of self-publishing, as you point out, is not having the sales force repping you to bookstores. But with the popularity of e-books increasing at an exponential rate, a bookstore presence may not be as important in the future.

    I still believe that self-publishing is not a good choice for writers who have never previously published. Most of us still need a publisher to get our name out there and known to the reading public.

  39. pari noskin taichert

    Thanks for chiming in today. I'm glad I saw your comment. I agree that self-publishing might not be the way to go for newbies. And that a mix might be perfect for those of us a little further down the road.
    It sure is a brave new world . . .

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