Why self-publish?


Okay, as indie or self-published writers, we’re all over the positive news stories. “Konrath makes $22,000 in a month”; “Hocking sells over 100,000 books in a month”; “Michael J. Sullivan makes $34,820 in a month”, and they give us inspiration. Few of us will match these astounding figures, but there’s no harm in trying, and even a little fraction of that performance would please most of us.

But what is it about writing that I like? Is it purely the ability to create a story that I find entertaining, and meeting the challenge of completing the work? Is it the hope that I can have many thousands of dollars entering my bank account?

Well, yes and no to both. The main reason I’m writing nowadays (rather than taking an easy retirement from a lifetime of hard, non-writing work) is because people like to read what I’ve written.

Yes, I’ve been an avid follower of Joe Konrath for some years, and when he started talking about how his experiments with self-publishing were going, I’m afraid I got excited. I had dollar signs in my eyes – and I can convert US dollars into my native UK pounds in a blink of one of those eyes. But since self-pubbing two collections of my short fiction, I’ve discovered something.

I’ve discovered that warm, cosy, wonderful feeling you get when someone contacts you and says “hey, I downloaded your book. You know what? I loved it. Where can I read some more?” For me, that says it all. It’s not about the money, it’s not about the mental challenge – it’s about the entertainment, it’s about a person saying nice things about something you’ve spent many hours creating. I don’t think there’s any feeling like it.

So this morning, I followed a link from a friend on Facebook to a good news story. A debut novel has been picked up by Bloomsbury, and the author signed up. She’s over the moon. And quite rightly. Read about it .: here :. But, reading the story, something shocked me.

Bloomsbury will publish her debut novel ‘The Night Rainbow’ in the spring of 2013

Come again? Bloomsbury will launch her book in over 2 years’ time.

Now, I’m of an age where I don’t know if I’m going to be alive in 2 years’ time. Statistically, I should be. But who knows what the publishing world is going to look like in 2 years? Ebook sales are rising dramatically, although still less than 10% – 15% of total book sales. But with Amazon being predicted as possibly selling 12 millions Kindles in 2011 alone .: story here :. and Apple reportedly placing orders for 65 million iPad displays for 2011 .: story here :. there is no doubt the traditional model of book publishing is being changed, rapidly.

I wish Claire King all the best, and it’s no mean feat to break through in the way she did. Having read some of what she’s written, I would say it’s truly deserved. She’s a damned good writer.

But I just wouldn’t want to wait more than two years before my readers could enjoy my work. And that is why I self-publish.

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23 thoughts on “Why self-publish?

  1. Keith

    I’m in full agreement, Gerald. I never entered writing to make money. In fact the time I’ve spent in front of a computer, the return per hour wouldn’t feed a mouse, but that isn’t the point. For me the point is the exhilaration in the writing, the manipulation of the characters as you place your stamp on. Then there is the shear pleasure that someone, and not long suffering relatives or friends , wants to read what you’ve written and enjoys it.
    My worry for the future is the ease in which writers can place their work on the eBook sites. Self publishing has been controlled a little on the shear cost of setting up, forcing many to abandon and others to try and make sure their work is of a reasonable quality. With the likes of smash words and Amazon that is going out the window. If it’s a good or bad thing doesn’t really matter, except it might have the effect of pushing readers further and further away from the self publisher.

    Reply
    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      Hi Keith
      I agree with you. The easier and cheaper you make it to self-publish, the more it will attract people to do it to make a quick buck. I worry that if you push a title hard enough, people will buy it, and if it’s not of good quality, it will put people off trying a piece of work from someone they don’t know.
      I also worry a little about word counts. Even if a reader can buy a piece of work for less than $3, I think if it looks like a novel, it should be a novel, and that means something of 60,000 words at least. There are all sorts of items slipping into the listings as “novels” that are 30,000 words, or even less. I think you only have to dissatisfy a reader once to put them off. I would like to see Amazon list approximate word count as standard. Some authors / publishers do that, and it is to be applauded.
      The feedback system is a great arbiter, and personally I always pick up on the 1* and 2* ratings to see what people *don’t* like. You don’t always have to believe everything that’s written there, but book length is something that crops up from time to time.
      Thanks for commenting. Even a blog post is a piece of creative writing, and the fact someone takes time to comment is great feedback, and gives me that warm feeling!

      Reply
  2. Susan Helene Gottfried

    Yep, that time lag is one of the things publishers are most definitely going to have to get a handle on as the publishing world changes. I frequently see books where the two-year lag has been waived because it’s such a hot thing! Must get it out NOW!! so we know it CAN be done.

    We shall see how this whole thing evolves. In the meantime, I’m glad I’ve got books out and am making progress toward my goals. That’s all I gotta say at the moment.

    Reply
    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      You’re right, Susan. For me, I can’t see the point of waiting so long. Even six months from a finished work to being ‘out there’ is too long. Yes, I understand about the cover design process and the marketing meetings there must be and the sales managers and executives that need to be involved. Probably, somewhere along the line, an editor or three will get involved. Printing schedules are an issue, I’m sure, especially if you’re contemplating a big launch. Maybe there are other book launches lined up in the meantime, so any new stuff has to be slipped in after those.

      But … But … But … 2 years??

      Reply
  3. theaatkinson

    Gerald: Great post. Love the way you put it, “People like to read what I’ve written.” That’s it, isn’t it. It’s the sense that we’ve communicated something, touched someone. I know that feeling as a reader and I know I want to give that feeling to another reader. It can be just that simple, can’t it?

    And the wait time for traditional publishing is soooo long. Even to small journals with short fiction.

    I like this new mode of writing and reading. Epublising is definitly the way to go. The marketing? Well, that’s another game, isn’t it?

    Great stuff. Loved this read. I subscribed within seconds of the first sentence.

    Reply
    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      I think it really is, Thea. Until it happened, I’d had a few people compliment me on my writing, but they were friends, and I thought they were ‘just being nice’. But when people you don’t know *buy* something, and then compliment you, it’s a whole different thing. I love the feeling.

      Reply
  4. Mark Adair

    Hi Gerald. Nice post. So much to be said for indie-publishing, especially with 2-3 year lead times in the traditional pub world. I would add that an advantage to the traditional model (from what I hear) would be the team (agent, editor, publisher, etc.). Although we indie writers do our best to prop up one another and encourage each other, it would be nice to have a few folks who’s vested interest required some commitment of their time and money. Having said that, as you mentioned, the paradigm is shifting and it’s good to be on team that will win th race.

    One of the reasons I write is the conversation. I hope my fiction stirs up thoughts and feelings that demand to be explored and discussed. When I receive feedback that someone has downloaded my novel, it’s such a nice feeling. When I hear that it drifts around in their heads several days later, it’s hard to wipe the smile off my face.

    Cheers,

    Mark

    Reply
    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      Hi Mark

      Thanks for the comment. It very much looks like an awful lot of us enjoy that great feeling when we sell a copy of our book. Another advantage is that, as authors, we’re out there. We’re talking to the people who are reading our books. We’re betting comments and reviews. No longer is everything being filtered through our publisher or our agent. It’s no wonder trad-published authors like to do the book clubs and literary festivals. It’s their chance to meet the readers.

      Aye, the times they are a changin’, and the successful ones will be those who participate and embrace the technology, and those who react quickly to movements in the industry. Two years to publish is just way too long.

      Reply
  5. Mel Comley

    Sorry, but I started writing to make money and because I love it so much.

    Hopefully the sales will start rolling in for all of us soon.

    Good luck

    Gerald with your retirement and your writing.

    Melxxx

    Reply
    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      Hi Mel

      That’s a worthy aim, no doubt about that. But I’ve seen your excitement when you’ve received a 5* review. You may have started writing because you wanted to make money, but you’re an author too, and you want people to enjoy what you’ve written. And maybe, if they’ve enjoyed it, they’ll buy the sequel!

      Reply
  6. Claire King

    Gerald,
    Interesting post and thank you for the kind things you say about my writing. I know what you mean, two years sounds crazy. I see it in the eyes of my family and friends when I say I’m going to be published (and they say ‘wow great!’) and then they say ‘in two years time’ and their faces fall and look slightly baffled.
    I admit that the wait is going to be agonising, but I will fill it with writing short stories and another, perhaps two novels. Some authors spend two or three years, even agented, finding a publisher, so from that perspective…
    Also, Bloomsbury in those two years have time to sell translation rights (the deal is for world rights) and try and get a strong co-ordinated launch in UK/US/Germany at least. In the long run I hope this will be good for the novel and good for a long term writing career.
    Personally I’m not in a position to self-publish and it’s not what I envisaged for this particular novel, but I know there are plenty of people doing so and making a good living out of it, or at least being read by a wide audience.
    We’re living in interesting times for the book market, let’s see how it goes.
    Best wishes,
    Claire

    Reply
    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      Hi Claire
      Thank you so much for commenting on my post, and for understanding my point of view. I think, were I younger and in a position to consider a traditional publishing deal, then I’d certainly think more positively about it. I know a number of writers (and another one now!) who are traditionally-published, full-time authors, and they enjoy the life of an author.

      I was negotiating with one last year to visit our (small) literary festival, and he was prepared to drive a couple of hundred miles to meet around a hundred readers, and then drive back home the same night. Wonderful dedication. But for me, at my age (mid-50s), I’m not really interested in doing book tours or ‘events’, even if I were to get there.

      We met some Bloomsbury authors last year (Marika Cobbold and Jane Rusbridge) at a book club evening who really enjoyed meeting people who had read their books, and we (as readers) enjoyed being able to discuss their books with them. I’m full of admiration for writers starting their career with a traditional publisher. I would imagine it’s even harder to get that publishing contract these days.

      Thank you again for taking the time and trouble to comment. I really appreciate it.

      Reply
  7. Amy Rose Davis

    Great post, Gerald. I have to say–the lag time and the expectation that authors do most of their own promotion and marketing were the two factors that made me go indie. I figured that IF I landed an agent right away, on first round of queries (and really, hardly anyone does that), it would still be at least two years before my book saw the light of day. And that’s IF everything went perfectly. I figured I’d use those same two years to build an audience with actual, you know, writing. 😉

    I do understand exactly what you mean about that connection. My novella “Silver Thaw” has received some very nice 4- and 5-star reviews from people other than my mom and my best friend. When someone posts on my FB page that he/she couldn’t put it down, it warms me all the way down to my toes. 🙂

    Best of luck to you. 🙂

    Amy

    Reply
    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      Hi Amy

      Thanks for commenting. I love the phrase “warms me all the way down to my toes”. But yes, it’s that feeling!

      Reply
  8. BeaMoyes

    I completely agree with what you’ve said about the value of self-publishing as a speedier process than the two years it often takes to be published from a tradtional publisher. Another route to this is what I do at Ether Books. We are a mobile publisher which curates good short content (stories, articles, poetry ect) and makes it available on mobile to read and download. Unlike the self-publishing model we can assure good quality content and only publish the best contemporary writers (inc the likes of Hilary Mantel, Louis de Bernieres and Lionel Shriver), but also unlike tradtional publishers we can publish it within two weeks!

    I am so glad there are so many routes that great writers can produce their books and reach their readers, but there are more options than simple self-publishing which have alot less risk and find it hard to achieve global distribution.

    Reply
    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      Hi Bea
      I really think that the reading market has expanded with the introduction of new media devices, and it sounds like what you’re doing is a good halfway house – cutting down on the long lead times, but still ensuring the quality of the content. I’m off to see what you do!

      Reply
  9. Randy Benjamin

    Gerald,

    I just turned 64 and I’m not all that hyped on book tours either. But I did get into writing for the money as well as the fact that I love to write. I quit my day job in 2008 and started writing full time. One thing this made me do was to realize that if I don’t write, (and sell) I don’t eat! That’s a great motivator 🙂

    I took to self publishing immediately. In fact, my best selling book is “How To Publish Anything On Amazon’s Kindle” which came out in 2008 and has been updated many times. I write a lot of ‘how to’ books. Nonfiction is usually easier to sell than fiction, but the real money is in fiction. So my nonfiction books pay my bills and allow me to do the fun writing “fiction” when I have the time. I’m getting ready to release my first fiction novel, “Fermilab” in a few weeks.

    Like most unknown authors, I just squeeze by right now. Luckily, at 64, I don’t have a lot of needs (or wants) so I can live on what I make. A family of 4 couldn’t. Maybe not even a family of 2! But we all hope to have success along with our love of writing… earning money from our writing is great, but I doubt that any of us would be writing if we didn’t enjoy it… I find I enjoy it more though when I can pay my bills 🙂 It’s only through self-publishing that this is possible! I’d starve waiting for traditional publishers to even get to my books.

    Randy

    Reply
    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      Hi Randy
      I’m in a similar position to you, and my strategy for self-publishing is different to someone in their 20s or 30s. I’m fortunate in that I don’t need my writing to provide an income. But my point of the blog post is that I’m getting a far greater kick out of people having access to and liking my writing than any income I’m generating. If I were to ever get in amongst the big hitters, that may change, but I think I’d still get that buzz from a good review.
      Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  10. Kate Bowyer

    Gerald what a wonderful read! I too have been an avid reader of Konrath’s infamous blogs talking about writers making a huge splash and big money with self publishing and they often inspire me. Some days I don’t know what inspires me more, is it the dollar amount these writers are making or the amount of books they sold? Honestly I’d have to say most days I’m most impressed by the amount of books sold. Though the money would be terrific so I could write full time.

    I’ve had the writing bug for many years but kept putting it off thinking I would never be good enough to be published and my dear husband would always push the self publishing route for me to try. But I always thought he was crazy and besides who buys self published books anyway? Finally, I have totally seen the light and I’ve committed to sit down and write. Fortunately for me I had great timing with Amazon and B&N (and other places) making it so easy for me to self publish.

    I found one statement that Claire made very interesting when she said, “Personally I’m not in a position to self-publish”, why is that I wonder?

    Cheers,
    Kate

    Reply
  11. geraldhornsby Post author

    Hi Kate

    Thanks for the comments and thoughts. I think you’re absolutely right – the ‘new era’ has given us opportunities that we’d never thought we’d get. I wouldn’t have had the stamina to go through the submissions / agents process, I don’t have the talent to do it through the competitions process (like Claire), and I wouldn’t ever do the vanity thing. So for people like me, it’s a fantastic opportunity.

    I think Claire can’t self-publish because she’s got the contract with Bloomsbury now.

    Thanks again.

    Reply
  12. Claire King

    I just wanted to come back to Kate’s question. I’m not in a position to self publish because I don’t have the financial resources to do so. I have a family to bring up, first and foremost. I understand that I could produce an e-book at very little cost, but that’s not what I’d envisaged for my novel. I’d like a professional copy edit, a beautiful cover, a marketing plan, a look it to literary prizes even. I don’t write genre fiction, which typically has a more voracious readership and is considered more commercial. I write literary/contemporary fiction. I’m not an expert on self-published markets but suspect they are not so active in that area. I do publish my short stories electronically and make them available for free, to be read and to see how they go down, but I feel differently about my novels. I hope that’s understandable!

    Reply
    1. Kate Bowyer

      Claire thanks so much for answering my question I was really curious. I think it’s wonderful that you put your family first and I can understand having a husband and kids myself.

      Best of luck with your book and congratulations on everything!

      Reply
  13. Pingback: Self publish and be damned « Peter Labrow

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