Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Moonrat's Rundown of Publishing Options

The other day, I received a sad email from a reader who has decided to go the route of self-publishing. This person wanted to know why I--and others in New York publishing--had so little respect for people who chose to self-publish.

When I got this note, I realized we had some clearing up to do. I haven't talked about self-publishing much here lately, so perhaps that is the origin of the confusion, but I personally have nothing against people who self-publish, nor against the self-pub industry. In fact--if you can keep a secret--I freelanced for a large self-pub company for a long time, helping authors polish their books, etc. I know a lot about who chooses to self-publish, why, and what advantages and disadvantages they have. I also know the huge amount of work they undertake. But certainly I respect their choice, and respect the people who make that choice.

But publication is a choice--if you're in the throes of the submission process, this is sometimes hard to remember, but do remember you always, always have a choice whether or not you publish. You also have a choice how you're going to publish, and what kind of publication to pursue.

So I've compiled this list of the pros and cons of each of several publishing options (and trust me, each has pros AND cons). I have worked, as you now know, at big companies, small companies, and self-pub companies, and thusly declare myself a creature without bias (or pretty darn close). Of course, every publication experience is different. These are just generalizations culled from the best and the worst of my observations.

I have, rather snobbishly, lined up these options in the order of what (mostly) everyone starts out hoping for, then what they hope to settle for, etc. But I hope this pro/con list illuminates that all such distinctions are relative.

BIG HOUSE PUBLICATION
pros:
*Huge, powerful sales force. I put this first because it's perhaps the most important quality of a big house, whether consumers realize it or not. The reason most bestsellers come from big houses is because big houses have the most comprehensive and powerful sales teams, which have the best marketing sponsorship and thereby the biggest laydowns (first printings) and sell-ins (stocking numbers in national chains). So by default, they also have the best track records for numbers of copies sold--book buyers tend to buy what they see in stores. So chicken-egg-chicken etc. If you want your book to be a bestseller, your best bet is the big house route.

*Money, money, money. The big houses are giant corporate cash cows, often with private company or bajillionaire overlords (::cough Rupert Murdoch cough cough::). This means a lot of things:

*The possibility of a substantial advance (although these aren't universal, so don't get your hopes too far up).

*More personnel, so more people working on publicity, marketing, production, etc, with all the benefits that come from crack specialist teams.

*These personnel are usually paid more than their indie counterparts, which means (in theory) they may be the top of their game.

*Bigger possibilities for publicity and marketing budgets.

cons:

*Don't assume you're going to be allocated those publicity and marketing budgets. Only the "big books" will. All big companies have a way of stratifying each season's titles to indicate which ones are important and which are, essentially, quota-meeters. These two types of books are, respectively, Lead Titles and Midlist. If people are interested, I can talk about why the midlist exists elsewhere. But the fact remains that you may not want to be on it, unless you have the kind of book with a built-in niche audience (in that case, this may actually be a really good place for you). But for everyone else on the midlist, the publication experience can be harrowing, frustrating, and fraught with disappointment. You may have a great sales team selling the book, but if they don't love you or prioritize you, you might not have the dream scenario you imagined. More than one agent has actually told me they will no longer execute a midlist deal with a big house--they will take their project to a small house, and absorb the risks involved with that, rather than get involved in the midlist malarkey.

*A lot more bureaucracy. If you fall into the midlist, you may find yourself utterly unable to get a human being on the phone. Ever.

*Also, related to the bureaucracy: things can move at a totally glacial pace. In my time at a big company, I observed an awful lot of hurry-up-and-wait on the part of the author.

*Personnel turnover often leaves authors homeless. After their book is bought, it might get shuffled around. Here's's a great article I've linked to on bestselling author Susan Orlean's horrifying experience of big house shunting-around. Which isn't to say small companies are totally exempt, but there is some discrepancy.

In short, who would be best suited by this route:
BOOKS WITH OBVIOUS BLOCKBUSTER POTENTIAL. Make sure your agent gets you a good advance--it's your security deposit that the company is going to have to take you seriously. But if you fit this profile, this slot here is basically the only one on this list that will get you a bestseller.

BOOKS THAT ARE PERHAPS NOT POTENTIAL BESTSELLERS, BUT IN WHOSE GENRE/CULT FOLLOWING THE COMPANY HAS DEMONSTRATED A STRONG TRACK RECORD. For example, do you write urban fantasy or paranormal? Orbit is an imprint of a huge conglomerate (Hachette), but Orbit has been extremely successful with breaking out new genre authors by launching them in very tasty paperback packaging. It may be rare that their books break, say, the bestseller threshhold, but they sure as heck have a good track record of getting authors into the five-digit copies sold threshhold. A place where many, many of us would be very happy.

Most important of all, as you're submitting, IN THIS AS IN ALL THINGS, TALK OVER YOUR STRATEGIES VERY CAREFULLY WITH YOUR AGENT. You'll want to know what you want going in.

SMALL/INDIE HOUSE PUBLICATION
pros:
*It sounds trite to say indies are full of people with passion, and I don't mean to say the big houses aren't full of passionate readers, but it's true! Let's face it, we at the indies must have some kind of crazed vision of a literary future; otherwise, we wouldn't get ourselves stuck in these love-instead-of-money traps. But hey. This means if you sell your book to an indie, you'll most likely have a team of really die-hard nerds working with you. It can be a very loving environment.

*Many indies have a specific kind of cache; some get impressive numbers of reviews; others outperform all other companies, big or small, in specific genres. Take, for example, Akashic Books, who (among other genres) have created a monopoly on the noir anthology market. Who even knew such a market existed? Well, Akashic new, and made it happen, and has made many authors happy.

*Communication with your publishing team is relatively easy, since there are a small number of people and one professional often wears many hats.

cons:
*As mentioned above, indies are often specialized. They have smaller staffs, often with particular expertise areas. So don't try to reinvent the wheel--don't sell your crime novel to an indie that specializes in poetry, or your young adult novel to an indie that specializes in Slavic interest publishing. It's just... not going to be a good fit.

*Indie presses have small--often tiny--budgets. Let's just get that out of the way at the onset. They don't have huge public (or private) conglomerates behind them, and month-to-month cash flow is an immediate issue. They can't take huge risks, because huge risks could very well bankrupt a small company. Let's look at a couple manifestations of this smaller budget:

*A throwaway mistake a big company can make and absorb--say, printing and distributing 100,000 copies of a book, but only selling 20,000--could be ruinous for an indie. This means that they usually take smaller risks, printing closer to the bone, and are cautious about distribution. Because there are fewer copies available, let me come out and say it: on the indie model, it is very, very unlikely your book will be a bestseller.

In short, who would be best suited by this route:

BOOKS WITH CERTAIN CULT FOLLOWINGS: One great example of a success story is Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, a biopunk fantasy novel that was publishing in late 2009 by Night Shade Books, a tiny sci fi/fantasy specialty publisher in San Francisco. Night Shade really knocked the ball out of the park for this book, and The Windup Girl ended up winning both the Hugo and the Nebula and being featured in tons of big places, including Time.

If you have a book with a very specific or cult audience, you might actually be better served by an indie who specializes in your type of publication than you would be served by a big house, who basically knows how to make obvious commercial successes into obvious commercial successes. It's simply a different model of people-power and numbers. Do make sure, if this description fits your book, that you're going with the right press.

SELF-PUBLICATION
pros:
*You, the author, control every aspect of the publication process. You can choose to publish a book that has not met with trade attention. You can dictate the title, the appearance, and the editorial content, and be totally in charge of your own publicity possibilities. Most frequently, the hugest pro is that authors who might not otherwise have been able to see themselves in print can, after all, if they self-pub.

*The reading market is becoming more egalitarian, especially with ereaders, etc. Selling your own book cheaply is so easily done on the internet that you might be able to drum up a readership without any of the trappings or deadweight of a publishing house. Just as long as you understand that all the work will be done by you, the author--and that it can be quite a lot of work.

*Some books are really, really well-suited to self-publishing. If you're, say, a lecturer, a community advocate, a professional who conducts seminars, or a doctor or nurse, you may have the need for informational or learning-oriented packets. Self-pubbing is a great way to go, since no company is going to be interested in the project, but there is still a market that wants the project.

In fact, I have a story from personal experience. When I was working at a large company, we bought the rights to a previously self-pubbed book by a dynamic author who did a lot of lecturing on a particular topic. The author's lecture had a tie-in book he had been photocopying and distributing, essentially, from his garage. Once he hit the 20,000 copy mark, he got really tired of doing it himself and decided to see if a publisher could do the work for him. The sad thing was, our publisher couldn't do it as well as the author himself could--publishers sell in traditional channels: bookstores. They don't do well with the hand-to-hand selling. In the end, after a short period of time and only a fraction of the success the author had had on his own selling from his garage, the publisher reverted the rights to the author, who went back on his merry way, probably wishing he had stuck to self-pubbing the whole time. He's an example of an author whose book was actually better suited to self-pubbing.

*If you're a fiction author who is dying to see their work in print--and professional-looking print at that--in a hurry, and who isn't really bothered by how widely it is distributed, go for it. For hobbiest writers without specific writing career aspirations, self-pubbing might be a great option. You'll have a way to get your story to family and friends, and maybe some others, as well, depending on your own distribution efforts.

cons:
*To get to the heart of my reader's question, there is a stigma associated with self-publishing. Not everyone feels this way, but many people do. This is because self-publishing contains a range of book types. Many fall into the type "author's passion project that can't seem to find trade publication." Trust me, as someone who has worked on many, many such titles, the range of quality among them is vast. I have seen some well-written, entertaining books that stand on their own but perhaps didn't attract an agent's attention because of bad timing (eg, there were a glut of similar titles on the market). I've also seen books that were barely written in English--in fact, some quite obviously by non-native speakers--but whose authors were so frustratingly precious about their vision that they refused to edit a single word. If you choose to self-publish, you're going to encounter people who think all self-pubbed authors fall into the latter category. You are going to have to work harder to set yourself apart, since no one but you has sanctioned the publication decision. That is, if you want to set yourself apart--as discussed above, many people self-pub for other reasons entirely.

If you choose to self-publish, you have to remember it is a choice, that you're doing it for your own good and have been well-informed about your options. You can't let people get you down or angry or defensive--if you do, you've lost this game. If the publication of your book does not make you happy, then you shouldn't publish it.

*You have to pay to publish your book, instead of having someone else pay you. I mean, these days, what with the trade author's job coming crumbling down, that's probably a smaller concern. But you do need a chunk of capital to get started.

*Capital, indeed, is the great equalizer... The more money you have to put toward promotion, the more likely your book will have any kind of chance in the trade market (if, indeed, trade market you pursue). Brunonia Barry had a huge success with her 2008 book The Lace Reader, but don't forget that she probably wouldn't ever have caught anyone's attention if it hadn't been for the very substantial private publicity plan she implemented when she self-published.

*The fiction market everywhere is extremely competitive. If you are considering self-publishing a novel, it is really important to ask yourself whether this is a novel that mainstream publishing didn't understand (in which case, they probably never will! so, like Brunonia, go with the god/dess of your choice and do what you can with your book) or if it is perhaps a book that isn't ready for trade publishing--meaning, might need another polish, more editorial development, etc.

*You most likely will not have trade distribution (meaning, you probably won't be stocked in your local Barnes & Noble or Powell's).

*Choosing the self-pub route often precludes a trade career. Not always, as demonstrated by Brunonia Barry, but often. The reason: chains, salespeople, buyers, retailers, etc all have access to Nielsen Bookscan. They look at author track records, and usually use these track records to decide whether or not they want to support the author's next book. If it shows that an author has a (most likely very modestly-selling) self-pubbed book already, they are going to use that as an excuse not to buy in again. It's how things work. Trust me, it's frustrating for everyone. But it's a point not to gloss over.

In short, who would be best suited by this route:
BOOKS WITH SPECIFIC PROFESSIONAL NICHES WHOSE MAIN DISTRIBUTION CHANNELS ARE NOT NECESSARILY BOOK STORES Like the author I mentioned above.

NOVELS BY AUTHORS WITH SPECIFIC VISIONS THEY DON'T WANT TO EDIT FOR TRADE PUBLISHING. If you're getting consistent feedback from agents that your book is not right for them for editorial reasons and you really believe in your project as it exists, with no changes, then it's possible your best bet is a smaller (not trade) audience. You can maintain 100% of your vision through self-pubbing, and although it will mean you will have limited distribution, your content will be solely in your control. A niche market is a better fit for many books, anyway.

BOOKS BY AUTHORS WHO WANT TO BE IN PRINT IN A HURRY AND WHO ARE WILLING TO DO THEIR OWN DISTRIBUTION AND PUBLICITY. A number of authors don't believe in the trade model at all. It does, after all, yield a lower percentage of the profits to the author. If you have your own vision and plan for moving forward, and understand the amount of work you'll be undertaking, then go for it.


~~~
Remember that it may be more frustrating and heartbreaking for you to publish your book poorly than to not publish it at all. As my mother has oft said to me, if it's meant to be, it will be. Which isn't to say it's not a worthy goal to pursue, and that arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible isn't a great idea. But understand all the options going in, and know what you want, and what you're willing to do to get it.

70 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a midlist author with a Big House Publisher, I would *very* much like to know why the midlist exists. Thank you.

Ello said...

As always - very nice run down. This should be required reading for everyone interested in publishing!

moonrat said...

ok, Anon. you got it. i'm out of steam for this week, but it's a good post for next.

Derek Gentry said...

Awesome post, moonrat! Easily the most even-handed thing I've read on the topic--thanks!

Lydia Sharp said...

Wow. I'll have to bookmark this and come back later when I have more time. You are seriously awesome for writing this. Thanks!

Tara Maya said...

Thanks, Moonrat! This was really helpful. Does it take different numbers of book sales to be considered "successful" for each kind of publishing? For instance, if one topped a certain number of sales with a small publisher or as a self-published book, but still didn't reach the numbers possible with a big pub, would that be taken into consideration if the author tries to sell future books? (Not the same book).

jjdebenedictis said...

This is a really good post, and I, too, would like to know why the midlist exists!

Charles Gramlich said...

I would have liked to have big press distribution and sales but most of my stuff is niche stuff and the small press was the place where I needed to go. I recently tried the self-publishing route with a collection of stories just to see how it worked. It was fun.

Leona said...

Nice post :) Very well worded and good specifics both ways. Thanks for that.

hmmm word verification = angst

JEM said...

Thanks for taking the time to write such an in-depth analysis of the options. I'd always thought "the bigger the house the better your book will do," but you made some really compelling arguments for indie publishers in certain occasions. Thanks!

Anne R. Allen said...

Bookmark time! Superb post. Best I've seen on the subject. Thanks Moonrat!

Travis Erwin said...

Thanks for this concise breakdown. This is the best sumamry I've read as of yet.

cindy said...

thank you for this, moonie. so informative as always!

Anita said...

Thanks for the gift of your time on this post!

Heidi C. Vlach said...

Very informative breakdown! This is going into my bookmarks.

Gary Corby said...

That's a brilliant breakdown, moonrat!

I suspect self-publishing could probably break down further into those who create print books, and those who go purely for ebooks. I know little about publishing, but quite a lot about software, and ebooks look to me much more like a software business than a publishing business.

Saranna DeWylde said...

Great post! Lots of information presented in a helpful manner. That was kind of you to take the time.

There's been a lot of fuss in bloglandia about the differences between vanity press, self-publishing tangled with a labyrinthine score of other issues. It's hard to tell the music from the noise.

I have a few friends who self-publish. Some are so talented I'd love to see what a big house could do for them. Others need a bit more guidance.

Anyway, cool post.

moonrat said...

Gary--well spotted. In fact, you saw into my brain. I originally had a fourth category--ebook only publishing--but got sick of typing the darn blog post and called it quits after doing the first three. HA!

However, it sounds like you might have more interesting things to say on the subject than I do anyway...

DeMisty said...

Nicely put and very extensive, but I think you left out university and scholarly presses, which are very important for nonfiction, educational and, as of late, literary works (the literary books are usually published under book series, like the University of Nebraska Press's Flyover Fiction series, and through book prizes for poetry and short story collections). I think they may fall between the big houses and the independent publishers. Some are small houses, of course, but some are huge, like UNP, or Oxford University Press, or the University of Texas Press.

Their print runs may not be as big as the big houses, but many times substantial. Also, their advances may be smaller or, in many cases, nonexistent, but they won't make you pay for publishing your book! Some have small marketing/publicity teams that push your books. Again, not as much as the big houses, but enough for many happily university press published authors.

Linda said...

Moonie, thank you for the most cogent breakdown of publishing options I've ever read. Brilliant. peace...

Sarah Laurenson said...

Thanks, Moonie. Sent this out to some people as an excellent resource.

moonrat said...

Thanks, DeMisty. good call on UPs. There's another post someone besides me is probably more qualified to write...

Red Hawk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Silver Hawk said...

Very nice post.

I know of one person who self published a non-fiction how to book, and has sold many copies, including on Amazon. This is a book that he wrote, and could not get published at a normal publishing channel.

He is an expert in optimizing large boilers, and contracts out to utilities. What is interesting is that the people who hire him are also the people who buy his book. They read it, and then hire him again.

Anonymous said...

Indie publishers also have a mid-list: i.e. they have books that are low priority in comparison to others.

And 'mid-list' may in some cases simply be a euphemism for 'bottom of the list'. (If there's a top and a middle, there obviously has to be a bottom too.)

I am 'bottom of the list'. I've published two books with very respectable indie publishers, both of which have had little effective media support, and have struggled to make any impact saleswise (the totals are probably more or less equivalent to a moderately-successful self-published book).

As a result, my existence remains marginal. Selling the next one will be even tougher, and the advance will be peanuts.

Robin L said...

One of the best breakdowns and recaps I have ever seen! Excellent!

And thank you. :-)

February Grace said...

I can only say three words in response to this post.

I love you.

~bru

Teresa Stenson said...

So helpful and direct, thank you for taking the time to write and share this.

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

Thank you for an informative and detailed post. I appreciate your effort. I love it here.

Adam Heine said...

This is the most unbiased look at the different publishing options I've ever seen. Fantastic job, moonrat. Thank you so much.

Todd said...

Great post...a bit rare to read something from someone in publishing who doesn't just automatically write off all self-pubbed works.

I also would love further explanation of midlist.

Anonymous said...

I've always wondered: if you publish a book of, say, short stories through a university or indie press, how could that impact your future chances of publishing a novel through a big house? I know they look at numbers, but wouldn't a collection from a university press be understood to be a different sort of thing? And what if you published a book of poetry through a university press -- surely those sales numbers wouldn't affect your changes of selling a novel to a big house, right? I just hope they wouldn't see low sales numbers from a university press book of stories/poems (where low sales numbers are expected!) and not give you a chance on a novel.

Keetha said...

I self published two books, regional titles about cooking, and did well enough with them; I sold a combined 2,000+ copies, got them in a local Barnes & Nobles with no trouble (and Books a Million contacted me!).

In retrospect, the books needed more editing, more tightening up. That is a big con about self publishing. Since the writer is also the editor and publisher and VP of publicity, it's terribly hard to be objective. Good editing is essential.

I'm writing a novel and I will go the traditional route with it. I think self publishing would be a hard way to sell and promote a novel.

Great post!

moonrat said...

Anon--I do think people make allowances for UPs--there is some understanding there.

Keetha--thanks for chiming in! Your story perfectly fits my model :) I appreciate the justification.

Glynis said...

Great post. I s/p my poetry books for fun. With my novel I want the experience of querying and waiting. I want to say I have tried it this way first. In a few years if I am still on the rejection road, then maybe I will s/p just to hold a copy in my hand.
Patience is my friend at the moment.:)

Tracy Barrett said...

I liked Keetha's comment that "since the writer is also the editor and publisher and VP of publicity, it's terribly hard to be objective." Writing, illustrating, editing, designing, marketing, etc. are all very different jobs, and few people can do more than one of them at a top level--there are wonderful author/illustrators, and many writers can also self-edit well, and there are a few people who can write or illustrate AND market, but to combine all those tasks in one person is pretty close to impossible. This usually shows in the final product.
I'm like Anonymous--midlist author at a Big House.

Joann Swanson said...

Fantastic information. Thank you!

kitchen table said...

Great post indeed. This kind of post is a must to read. It is so informative. I will be visiting this blog for more info and updates.

California Author said...

I am glad to see someone tackle the topic.

Today publishing options are changing so quickly that it can make your head spin.

A few years ago I would not have considered self-publishing at all but actually constructed an ebook last year...technology still has to catch up.

One thing I would mention is subsidiary publishing--some small houses partner with the author and have a team for marketing, design and a distribution channel with major distributors--always needed and always good.

As for me, I got passed around after signing contract with a major publisher and decided to part ways.

Had a small independent house for one book and a middle sized publisher (division of B&N) for the next.

As you state, pros and cons both ways. I am leaning towards the entrepreneurial spirit of smaller publishers but I think the publishing model over all needs to undergo some serious change.

Shelley said...

AS someone who is totally confused about what to do next with my fits-no-box(Internet) writing, I appreciate both the information and the kind tone of your article.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this brilliant run-down of the options available in the print segment of the publishing industry. But what about the epublishing segment?

Anonymous said...

Moonrat, what about how misleading some self-publishing companies can be? I just think this should be pointed out. No, certainly not all are, and it doesn't change the fact that self-publishing really can be an excellent option in some cases. But lately I have seen ads that are just horrifying -- like hinting that your self-published novel could possibly get picked up by a big house for a 6-figure advance, etc. And I'm not even talking about the out-and-out sham companies, either. It's so depressing.

moonrat said...

Anon 12:01: you're totally correct. And it is sickening. The thing is, the people most being taken advantage of by this, erm, entrepreneurialism are the ones who don't arm themselves by researching (ie, the kinds of people who probably won't ever encounter this blog post). This makes me sad.

Every single day that I work in publishing, I see innocent ignorance that could potentially hurt an author. Just this morning my office got a call from someone who wanted to know how much it would cost to publish his book--and we are a respected, traditional trade publisher, nowhere google-able as a vanity press, so not sure where he got that idea. Sometimes, if a call slips through and I end up talking to someone, I recommend that they read up on the process online. But there are a LOT of people who don't end up talking to someone like me before getting in bed with a parasitic vanity house.

I really love you guys--I really do--but sometimes I'm sad because the only people I'm writing for are the ones smart enough to do research in the first place, which means not the people who need the most help. Le sigh. <3

K.C. Shaw said...

I love this rundown--very clear and balanced. Thanks!

I do think you've left out a big chunk of the small press markets out there, though. Night Shade Books is an indie, but it's hardly tiny. The real tiny publishers are the epublishers (although some are getting pretty big--I suspect Samhain probably outsells Night Shade Books, for instance) and the micro-publishers who are run by one or two people. They range from clueless to professional and almost none of them require agents (Night Shade Books does), which means it's up to authors to research where they send their work and then know what to look for in a contract.

Fortunately, there are lots of excellent resources out there for authors looking at epresses and micropresses: Preditors & Editors, Absolute Write's Bewares & Background Checks forum, Writer Beware, etc.

Elle Strauss said...

I read somewhere recently about someone who published with a house where the author and publisher collaborated--shared the costs of publishing the book. Have you heard of this? How common is it and is it an effective option?

Thanks for taking the time to break it down!

Brad Jaeger said...

Moonrat,

You're consistently one of my favourite bloggers, and this post is just another example of why that is :)

Thanks for the info!

Anonymous said...

If you go self-pub. route and use a pen name, how will that affect future chances with the "Big Boys?"

Anonymous said...

Great post!

I especially like your future knowledge of who will win the Hugo!

:D

T.

(I did vote for the Windup Girl, mind you. It is awesome.)

M. M. Justus said...

Is editorial input a pro for big house publishers and small presses, and a con for self-publishing, or am I deluding myself into thinking that I would get good editorial input from publishers anymore?

Because, honestly, the catch-22 of not being sure of the quality of editing I'd get from someone I'm paying for the job (being told what they think I want to hear rather than what I need to hear) is what's keeping me from self-publishing. Critiquing from my peers only goes so far, and I don't want to make a fool of myself.

Best and Most Delightful Stories About Paris said...

Terrific post! Very useful. Thank you

Philip van Wulven said...

No mention of ebooks? As far as I can see, you write only about Dead Tree Books.
The ebook is another alternative now open to self-publishers.
The market is exploding exponentially, and independent authors stand to benefit. Large publishers have the same advantages as in print publication, except that large retailers now sell self-published authors along with books from publishers big and small.
Without the overheads a self-publisher can be very competitive in pricing and still make substantially more per copy sold than they would if their work were conventionally published.
Some establisshed authors are now taking this route, as well as unknowns.

Nom de Gare said...

Thanks for an incredibly insightful, generous, thoughtful post, which I imagine will be revealing for published authors, would-be published authors and people working in publishing, too. In my experience (working first for a big multinational, then for a small but successful indie), this is relevant to the Australian industry, too.

I would just add, echoing some other comments, that "small" and/or "indie" is a pretty broad category, and there's a significant difference between publishing with a "small" but well-known, well-respected house (ie a company with few staff, tiny budgets, but a big reputation and high chances of mainstream review and distribution, often through the distribution arm of a bigger company) and a "small", unknown, (to the media and book trade), undistributed house. The latter may be just as competent and worthy, but they haven't yet proven themselves and, to be frank, your book may be received not much more enthusiastically than if it were self-published. Just a pessimistic addition/nuance.

Anyway, an extremely useful post. Thank you, Moonrat!!

Liz Czukas said...

I'd like to add my enthusiastic "yes, please!" to those looking for some information on what Mid-List means to a writer.

A wonderful post. I'll be bookmarking this to come back to later.

- Liz

Anonymous said...

You are too polite to be blunt about the primary reason self-published books are not taken seriously: the vast majority of them are unspeakable crap. Bad writing, bad grammar, and most of all clueless about what is worth reading and what is self-indulgent garbage.

In addition, many are physically awful. Awful covers. And as for the interior ... well, when even a respected outfit like Amazon's CreateSpace asks the author to choose a text face at random, what can you expect?

That said, almost all of what you said is correct. It is too bad that the clueless authors who would benefit the most from reading it, are the least likely to read it. And the least likely to put aside their foolishness and deal with the reality which you ably summarize.

moonrat said...

Philip--as mentioned in the comment stream above, ebook publishing is one type I did not include. There are people so much better qualified to remark on its pros and cons than I am that I'd feel a little useless.

Anon 3:11--I came as close to that as you're going to see from me :) It's true, though. But there are some exceptions.

Anonymous said...

A lot of the stigma attached to self-publishing seems old.
I have asked on other blogs, why musicians and filmmakers don't face the same issues as writers when they do it themselves?
Musicians and filmmakers write just like authors--what's the difference?

Deb said...

Very interesting post, thanks.

Martha Ramirez said...

Awesome post, Vicky! Thanks for taking the time to write it up:)

sharkguy said...

Interesting post.

We have an expectation now of having to do everything ourselves regardless of where we end up for our next book.

We are hustlers---writers, editors, publicists, ad sellers, who've arranged our own head shots and at times, our own radio and TV interviews.

With cut-backs I imagine the onus is now with the author, more than ever, to go out and push the hell out of their product.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Thanks for all of this...when do you sleep??

I'm feeling really grateful to have landed a former indie now imprint of a big house publisher. I get the small pub treatment with the big house reach. Perfect!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Thanks for all of this...when do you sleep??

I'm feeling really grateful to have landed a former indie now imprint of a big house publisher. I get the small pub treatment with the big house reach. Perfect!

Donna Hole said...

Thanks Moonrat.

this was very timely for me - I know, I'm arriving late. But, that's just me. I'll be saving this link to read ALL your links.

Hope your weeks slows down and you get a break.

........dhole

Terri-Lynne said...

As someone releasing an idie-press novel this autumn, I can totally agree with your gist of the experience. It is NOT for those seeking fame and fortune--Paulo Bagigalupi aside. Rather, it's for those you site in your post--those with a niche novel that needs a niche venue big houses generally don't or won't handle.

Great post! Thanks!

Dayana Stockdale said...

That is a really helpful post! Thank you. And I am interested in hearing more information about the midlist. Thanks

Sean said...

Extremely enlightening. Thank you for posting this.

Anonymous said...

I self-published. And found that editors were more willing to read a manuscript in book form. Which led to a publishing contract with a major publisher--a harrowing experience. Although the individuals at the publishing house were honorable, reasonably accessible, and hard working, I found them to be incompetent, at every level, beyond my wildest dreams.

Anonymous said...

In the NY African American community there are actually a lot of self-published authors. In fact, when I tell other AA writers that I'm looking to get published, they seem to automatically assume I'm going to self publish too.

And the fact is a lot of these self-pub writers in my community make more then industry writers; even with really, really, bad books.

The thing is though, most of them know how to hustle. They go to beauty salons, big summer events, the major shopping centers in the 'hood, anywhere they have to to sell their books.

I don't know if I've got that kind of hustle in me. I think I would be content to let the industry hustle on my behalf.

But then I hear, "MIDLIST"...and I start to wonder where am I going to find a decent pair of purple gators and a pimp cane this time of year...

This article gives me a lot of think about. Thank you so much for your directness and honesty.

Luther said...

Your post seems to give an honest opinion on this subject and I can respect that. Thanks for sharing.

Book Printer said...

Wow - this is a brilliantly comprehensive walk through of publishing options. It's worth noting, however that Amazon now pays 70% to authors, which surely makes the self publishing route even more financially rewarding.

Tony Noland said...

Thanks, this was an informative post that cleared things up for me.