Saturday, May 22, 2010

Self-Publishing Debate

I’m beginning to find rather amusing these ongoing and, at times, heated discussions of self publishing vs. standard publishing. Oh, some refer to it as vanity publishing...a term I now consider to be misplaced in some instances. If you receive royalties, I believe that to not be vanity publishing.

More than ten years ago, the Authors Guild, Inc.(I’ve been a member since 1990) began to offer their members the opportunity to put there out of print books back in print. Many authors have done so. I did so with my late husband, Don Pendleton’s two mystery series, 12 books in all: the Joe Copp Private Eye Thrillers and the Ashton Ford Psychic Detective series. The Back in Print program was in conjunction with (a company somehow connected at the time with Barnes and Noble) and apparently now under the umbrella of Author Solutions/Author House.

At the time I published Don’s 12 books with the Back in Print program, the set up cost per book was $99 and the royalty rate was 25%. I also published several other books with iUniverse over the next two years or so, at the $99 setup, and did my own covers, and had a royalty rate on those new books at 20%.

They’ve made profit...and I have heard from others, “but you didn’t get anything up front like you would with a publisher.” No, you do not get an advance when publishing this way, an advance against royalties. And in some cases, depending on the size of the advance you receive, it could be all you ever get, or if you earn out more royalty above the initial advance (usually part on signing, part on delivery of the mss), the publisher may distribute it to you over a long period of time while keeping some of your earned royalty money as a protection for them against returns by booksellers.

In the last few years since I published with iUniverse, their rates have increased significantly...about 500%. And things are not as good with this new company—they were slower to post royalties, and are not posting Kindle royalties (I paid $99 bucks recently to have two book put at Kindle by iUniverse). That was a mistake on my part as I could have done it for FREE myself, as I’ve discovered how easy it is to do. I’ve now put 31 books at Kindle myself, and I love that as I can watch my daily sales through my account at Amazon Kindle.

I have also ended my agreement with iUniverse on the Joe Copp and Ashton Ford mystery series, and will be putting them in print with shortly. I did new covers for all 12 and put them at Kindle where they are selling nicely. Those same covers will be done soon for the new PODs.

I also published two books with, my PI novel, Shattered Lens: Catherine Winter, Private Investigator, and The Cosmic Breath: Metaphysical Essays of Don Pendleton. That was quick and easy at $39.

So what I am so amused at is the apparent belief by many (agents, publishers, and authors) that books published in this way have no value. You can read what many are saying in their blogs, and in comments about POD and ebook publishing....if an author decided to bypass the agent—the mainstream publisher, then the manuscript must be “junk” and not worthy of publication. Why does a writer’s group disallow an author membership if he or she has published in this way? Why are some well-known writers against this kind of publication? Why do they care? They have made their money via their choice. (or have they actually gotten ripped off by mainstream publishers and don’t care to admit that—and believe me, it can happen).

Personally I prefer having control over my books, and if it means not having to go through the marketing process of a well-written manuscript, whether at the agent level or the publisher level, which can take many, many months or longer, it is well worth it to me. I get irritated when an agent takes months to reply, or will only reply to a query if interested, often leaving the author hanging will waiting a reasonable time, Yes, my books may suffer lack of distribution, but I have decided that I will do all I can to let people know of my writing and those who are meant to read it, will. The others who want to complain and prejudge the quality of work with a self-published tag on it, well, that is their problem.

Authors write for a variety of reason and expectations from publishing their work can be varied. And the rewards of writing have nothing much to do with bucks but with heart-felt feedback. Those are the things that stay with an author, the joy of sharing—the meeting of the minds, the author’s with the reader’s. The moment you learn you inspired someone with your words, that’s all that really matters. I’ve enjoyed that many times over in the last twenty years. And my husband, Don Pendleton was able to enjoy that for his long career, and even today, I still receive emails from his fans on how his books inspired them.

For some quality self-published works, take a look at Jon Guenther, H. Charles Dilmore, Summer Bacon, Stephen Tremp, Don Pendleton, Linda Pendleton, Greg Pendleton, and in the coming weeks, a memoir by Athena Demetrios. I’m sure some of you know of others who could be added to the list. I know the list of quality, interesting, and inspirational, self published books must be very long. It has to be as there is a lot of talent in this world.

Some mainstream publishers and booksellers who are getting in the game of offering publishing programs for a fee, now includes Harlequin, Thomas Nelson, Barnes and Noble (just announced), Hay House, of course, Amazon, and I would bet the list is growing day by day.

So why the negative reaction by some agents to authors who self publish? Seems obvious....they may be out a job one day.

What is not obvious is why another published author cares if one of his peers decides to self-publish....

Oh, maybe that’s it. They don’t consider self-published authors “peers” in their “elite” world? Could that be it?

All that said, do I believe in spending a lot of money putting your book out there? No, not really. Any aspiring author about to publish should carefully research, consider all alternatives, and not be “taken in” at a vulnerable time—vulnerable—yes, as it feels great to hold your book in your hand, or to see it listed for Kindle download or other downloads as ebooks.

It’s a sense of pride of doing what we love to do, and doing it well. As Joseph Campbell once said, “Follow your bliss.” And if that bliss is writing, do it!



Wanda Shapiro said...


I'm glad a checked out your post and you made a lot of great points re: self-publishing. I agree that vanity publishing is an outdated word since the advent of print-on-demand but industries inevitably carry over words from earlier evolutions. I laugh when my co-workers in the web design industry say "below the fold" rarely thinking how that word held over from the good ol' print days.

Eventually, people will realize that self-publishing isn't always a last resort. I believe it's inevitable though it's taking much longer than it did in the music and film industries.


Linda Pendleton said...

Hi Wanda,

Glad you enjoyed my comments. And it looks like you are ahead of the game with your "plan" and self publication of your book. In looking over your website, you've put a lot of time and effort into making it successfully work for your book. (and your next one :-) )

Good luck with "Sometimes that Happens With Chicken." Intriguing title and I like your oover, too.

Mary McDonald said...

Thanks for addressing this issue. There is definitely a 'second-class' stigma associated with self-publishing. Why is it that indie muscians don't have that same stigma? It's pretty much the same thing.

Wanda Shapiro said...

Thanks Linda. When I decided to self-publish I was determined to bring a more professional air to self-published literature. Too many people rave about the speed to market possible with self-publishing, but you can't hurry a quality platform.

Debra L Martin said...

Hi Linda,

I followed your comment link on my blog back to your blog and was glad to see your post on the Self-Publishing Debate. I agree with you. Today's self-publishing is not like it used to be.

For our first book, we did the agent/publisher query route and got back encouraging comments like "This has commercial potential" and "Good writing" but no one "loved it" and we didn't land an agent.

Fast forward 3 years and we now have 2 novels for sale on Kindle. Both books went through numerous edits, beta readers, etc so there was no rush to self-publish. My co-author and I wanted a quality product out there. After all, the books have our names on it and we wanted something that was professional and that we could be proud of.

Linda Pendleton said...

Hi Mary,

There is that "second-class" stigma associated with our self publishing...and it is time that agents, publishers, and some authors, accept the fact that our books are worthy of being published and enjoyed by readers.

It is moving in that direction rather rapidly now, and Kindle is partly responsible for that acceptance, I believe.

Thank goodness, times are changing.

Debra, there comes a time when authors get frustrated and tired of playing the "game" and decide to put their quality work out there.

I say, good for us!

Wanda, as you may know, many of us do not rush into publishing...but after energy of marketing our work, often for months upon months, we take hold of our project and move forward, as you've done beautifully. I'm sure you have already promoted better than some publisher may have done for you. They tend not to spend a lot of resources and energy on midlist writers--so if we are not a celebrity we may be out of luck. So in the long run, you may be ahead of the game, and also have control....that's nice.

Thanks, you guys for all your comments. :-)

Anonymous said...

Very well-stated, Linda (as usual), and I'm not just saying that because you plugged my book, although thank you for the mention.

I think what much of the debate comes down to is ego. I mean why pussy-foot around, let's call it what it is. Self-published writers are a threat to mainstream/traditionally published writers because we may just prove them wrong after all of these years. We may actually be putting our work out there and people discover there are other writers "just as good."

Have book sales declined in bookstores because people have stopped reading? I don't know but it seems to me's doing just fine for itself. I think people are just tired of seeing the same names in retail stores. How many Vampire love stories can you read before you say, "Okay, something new." I mean look at movies right now. Another remake of Robin Hood! Really people? Really? And I LOVE Russell Crowe. Sex in the City the movie shouldn't have even made the silver screen, let alone a sequel in my humble opinion. I mention movies in this context simply because publishing has gone the way of media conglomeration.

And let us not forget that traditional publishing has fallen on its financial head (or what... aren't there just 5 heads left?) not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES in the past fifteen years.

Why are all of the agents saying these days: "I'm not taking any new clients?" Really? Then how do you eat, folks? Name-branding your authors who publish a contrite, tired old plot identical to their last book? No thanks.

Like you, I've been both professionally and self-published. I have plenty of readers who've told me they love my work. That's good enough for me. I need neither the banal nor pedantic blowhards of the publishing industry to validate that.

arlee bird said...

It's good to continue to hear the different sides of the ongoing publishing debate. I like your take on it because it gives a little more optimistic view of the oft derided approach of self-publishing. Good job.

Tossing It Out

Linda Pendleton said...

That's right, Jon. Look how things have cahnged since you and I put out ebooks almost ten years ago. Can you believe it has been that long! And then just think how publishing will be in these coming years...more and more self-publishing. And darn good books at that.

The prices of hardcover books are outrageous now...unless you go to amazon for reduced prices--

Ego has a lot to do with it...and as I've said in the past, NY publishing lacks vision, and so do many in Hollywood who do not take advantage of all the talent that is there to give them fresh product.

Linda Pendleton said...

Thanks for your comments. It's a tough business and it helps if we can do it our way. And change is underway.

Wanda Shapiro said...

It's so nice to see this comment string continuing. It's such a nice contrast to this other comments string I've been following.

Everyone in this string gives me great hope for the future of independent publishing and independent authors.

Anonymous said...

That's good to hear, Wanda, because we can ALL use a little hope now and then. I think a lot of writers are even tired of traditional publishing because all the industry biggies make it sound hopeless from the start.

"Well, you might get your manuscript published after six years of trying" - or - "This isn't what we're doing now but check back in a few months." Huh? Forget it, folks! I'd like to publish something before I'm dead.

So stick to it--and stick to Linda's blog because, if anything, she's an encourager. :)

Wanda Shapiro said...

Jon - I will definitely stick to it and I will definitely keep reading Linda's blog.

I mostly avoided the things that the industry says because I didn't much reach out to them, but an ex-agent acquaitance said to me, "I couldn't put it down, but I'm not sure the publishing industry is ready for this." That was one of the many pebbles that tipped my indie scale.

Ricky Kendall said...

Good for you, Linda. It has become much the same for artists and musicians. Though I never made much money from my CD Crayon, I think self publishing is the way to go. If I were to cut another CD, I would take the same route and take my chances with something I can reach out and touch any time I want. It's hard to lose control of your work, make no money and have no access for making appropriate decisions or changes to make it better. I agree with you 100% on your blog.