Thursday, February 04, 2010

a change in opinion about self-publishing

When I was 11 years old, I illegally discovered a book in the grown-up fiction section at the local library. The book was called SILK ROAD, the author Jeanne Larsen, and the story a multi-mythic fable of Tang Dynasty China, starring a plucky courtesan who fetishized foreign language. I read this book... I don't know. 25 times? 30 times? It got to the point that I didn't need to read it anymore, because I remembered it too well.

Sadly, the book went out of print. For years, I'd buy used copies on Amazon and give them to friends for Christmas, etc. But now, it seems, the author has taken it upon herself to bring it back into print--via that oft-defamed method known as "Self Publishing"--in this new edition.

I admit, despite having worked with the model in various capacities in the past, I have had my doubts about self-publishing. I'm still not advocating it as a means of "getting published," particularly for the first time, unless your circumstances meet very specific criteria (I can share those criteria of my Humble Opinion another time, if you're not bored of talking about self-publishing). But is this what it's going to be used for in the future? To bring favorite, little-known books of mine back into print so I can quit buying friends battered used copies off Amazon? I've bought at least 15 such copies of SILK ROAD for people in my day. Granted, I assume (from the iUniverse publisher label) that Jeanne Larsen, that beloved author of mine, has had to dig into her own pocket to publish copies. Perhaps not the ideal dreamed-of author scenario. But Henry Holt, who published her the first time, weren't willing to keep her in print--often with big publishers, a certain threshold of annual sales must be maintained, or it doesn't make fiscal sense for them to keep you in their list. Sad, in my opinion, if that means no one can read SILK ROAD at all.

Of course, Larsen will surely be assuming either only modest sales (via whatever internet traffic happens upon her on Amazon) or is planning on spending her own money to market. Again, not an ideal author situation, and since I love her so much that makes me sad that she has to work so hard, again, for her book. But on the other hand, if you're an author and you create a "baby" you're proud of, wouldn't you be willing to expend a little effort to keep it in print? I know I probably would.

I've long wondered why some small press didn't scoop SILK ROAD up and try to republish it. Of course, working at a small press, I knew (intellectually) exactly why it is difficult to bring a book back into print, etc etc. But (emotionally) I always hoped someone would laugh off the obstacles. I guess Larsen has done so herself. I hope it goes well for her.

22 comments:

Heather said...

I agree - I wouldn't go the self-publishing route, but one of my favorite books (Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne, now a movie with Michael Cera which doesn't do the book justice) had several sequels. The first sequel was published with a small press, but the third and fourth were self-published. Although the original is definitely my favorite, fans of the series no doubt are glad that Payne published the later books on his own.

Susan Adsett said...

Actually, it looks like she didn't have to pay anything out of pocket - it's a print on demand book through the author's guild http://www.backinprint.com/ "free in most cases". She should see a 15% royalty on anything that sells, with no real risk. Seems like a really nice solution for exactly this kind of book - writer sees their book in print again, readers can get shiny new copies, iUniverse makes money... the long tail at work.

Nicola Morgan said...

as an author who is very happy being published by publishers, and who knows many reasons not to self-publish, I think this is an excellent situation and one which I would embrace. I've had a couple of books go out of print after moving publishers, and my agent and I are holding onto the rights for a while. But s-pubbing them one day is not something I'd dismiss. Good for this author.

moonrat said...

Thanks for the gumshoe work, Susan :) I feel even better!

booksandbiscuits said...

On my MA Publishing talk, we've been talking a lot about how Print on Demand technologies will make books going out of print redundant in the long term - if the publisher doesn't have to keep stock of their long-tail backlist books in the warehouse, but can keep the copyright and keep it in print by having it available through POD, then it's still available for the few people that might want to read it, even years later, and both they and the author still get their cut - and the author doesn't have to pay! Seems like a good solution for the type of situation you're talking about - I've had the same thing where I could only get hold of a second hand copy of a book by Robert J Sawyer from America for about £30 through Amazon because it's out of print in the UK, despite him being an award-winning sci-fi author with one of his books, Flashforward, having recently been turned into a successful TV show. So for future authors, going out of print might not be a problem - but for those who've already done so, I agree - self-publishing/POD is a good solution if there's still a small demand!

Amalia T. said...

that sounds like the best reason to self-publish I've heard so far. Not ideal, certainly, but still an excellent use of that system.

RCWriterGirl said...

I wish they would do this with kids books. I love STOP THAT BALL. And it's out of print. My parent found one copy in the basement. And I read that to my kids, but I'd love a shiny new copy to share with my own kids. (one that doesn't smell 40 years old--as the basement copy, which started off as my oldest brothers--is)

Tawna Fenske said...

Really interesting post, and good food for thought!

It also makes me want to go out and get my hands on a copy of SILK ROAD. Thanks for the suggestion!

Tawna

Sophie Playle said...

Interesting - actually something pretty darn good about self-publishing! I recently starting having second-thoughts about my hatred for self-publishing (I'm still not convinced, but I've started seeing some of the advantages) - blogged about it about a week ago.

P. Bradley Robb said...

This is one of the reasons I often use when extolling the benefits of eBooks. Publishers are able to constantly keep the backlist earning money without having to invest in it.

The same goes for authors, obviously.

Rebecca Knight said...

And now I have one more thing for my reading list :). Thanks, Moonie!

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

As vanity publishers go, IUniverse isn't so bad. Their BBB rating is pretty good and they actually turn down manuscripts (unlike PublishAmerica and Authorhouse).

I know at least a few doctors who have used IUNiverse to publish obscure medical books and it's worked out resonably well for them.

I'm a big fan of self-publishing. That's how I got my start.

Heather Wardell said...

I for one would be interested in your Humble Opinion on when self-publishing is a good idea. You know, if you are looking for a post idea. :)

I released my first novel for free on my blog and have had over two thousand downloads, which thrills me. No money, true, but I`ve had some lovely comments emailed to me.

moonrat said...

Heather--that is TERRIFIC. 2000?!? Geez. I hope you're very, very proud of that number... phoosh.

Angie said...

I hope you don't mind me picking your brain, but this makes me think...

If publishers in future can keep books 'in print' by offering them as POD titles, how do you think that will change the rights the author signs over to them?

Wouldn't it mean authors would effectively be signing their rights away in perpetuity?

Is this always a good thing? Does it change the monetary value of those rights?

Stuart Neville said...

I self-published a limited run of my short story collection, signed and numbered them, and they've made nice contest prizes. I used Lulu.com, they were cheap, and the quality was excellent.

There's a lot to be said for using POD avenues to enhance you traditionally published career. JA Konrath talks about it on his blog, and it seems to have done well for him.

Using POD as your sole means of being published is still a shot in the dark, though, unless you have a very specific kind of book. As a writer of fiction, you're in danger of drowning in the sea of amateur crap. For non-fiction, depending on the subject matter, it's a more viable option. Someone recently asked me for advice on publishing a very niche kind of music tutorial book; in the end, I felt it was best for him to go the POD route because of the nature of the book.

It depends, in other words.

moonrat said...

Angie--that's a really interesting question. I think in probably 75% of cases, an author would benefit most from having their title constantly available, forever--kept in print without their having to worry about it. But you're right, there'd be the 25% who have different reasons to want to claw back rights and try something new. Perhaps for them their agents will need to devise different clauses. Eg maybe a 7-year license with opt-in renewal? In any case I'm sure publishing companies are being quite close-minded and grumpy about this POD issue, but will eventually figure out "language" that makes everyone happy.

moonrat said...

Stuart--thanks for the example. I agree with you 100%: fiction=slippery slope, nonfiction=often more profitable to self-publish. And more than anything, I agree with "it depends."

Jane Steen said...

Really fascinating post & comments. I just learned a great deal about self-publishing, so many thanks to all the knowledgeable commenters.

I've quite often had occasion to want out-of-print books, and will welcome the day when POD becomes widespread. It will be a boon for academics and specialists (or in my case, the intellectually curious) because some books just aren't easy to get and when you do find a used copy, the price reflects that rarity.

Ulysses said...

Moonrat: I had a similar experience with author Barry B. Longyear. Long version here. Short version: wanted a book that was out of print. Found it through BackInPrint.com. Not a high-quality version, but I got the story and I believe the author profited thereby. I also bought his Saint Mary Blue and Manifest Destiny.

I think self-publishing in this manner is a great way to bring back and recirculate older, out-of-print books.

Abraham said...

This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I love seeing websites that understand the value of providing a quality resource for free. It’s the old what goes around comes around routine.

Ann said...

I LOVE SILK ROAD!
Seriously, this was a formative book of my teen years - I'm so glad I'm not the only one! So glad that Larson is putting it back out there. It's a lavish, gorgeous, read that deserves to be far better known!