Sunday, December 11, 2011

10 Reasons Why I Am Self Publishing



We had quite a dust up this week over the self-publishing revolution, beginning with my thoughts on agents, followed by Clare's post on reasons NOT to self-publish. As I have just released a new story for Kindle (more on that below), I reflected on the reasons I choose to self-publish alongside my traditionally published work.

1. It's real money

I write for a living. Self-publishing increases my income substantially, and pays off monthly. I'm sort of old school on this. The pulp guys who wrote during the Depression were, first of all, trying to put food on the table. Writing is my job, and if I can up the income at my job, why would I not do that?

2. It's not either/or

I don't have to choose self-publishing to the exclusion of traditional publishing. I do both. The nice thing is I can make sound business decisions with more options and information than ever before.

3. It's not about hate

One thing I didn't understand about the original reasons-not-to-self-publish post was the point about not being a "hater." Yes, I know there is some vitriol out there about trad publishing from authors who have been burned by it. But hate is a personal invective and traditional publishing is not a person. It's a business. One should simply make clear-headed business decisions, with self-publishing as one of the options on the table.

4. It's what I love to do

I love to write and have people read what I write. Self-publishing lets me get more of my work to more readers. This is why traditional publishers should not fret over authors self-publishing non-competing work (and should take a liberal stance on what constitutes "competing"). An author who makes more readers helps the traditional publisher sell more of that author's books.

5. It lets me try different things

I am free to write what I want and put it out there in the marketplace. I can stretch my muscles, try new styles. My latest story, described below, is an example. This is major.

6. It's a market for shorter works

I love the novella, novelette (10 – 20k words) and short story forms. This market was pretty much dead until the self-publishing revolution. Now you can actually make a buck off this type of material.

7. It's fun

Traditionally published authors always love the day a box of their new book arrives from the publisher. You take out a fresh copy, smell it, admire the cover, riffle the pages. Well, it's just as much fun to see your book become available online, even more fun when people start buying it.

8. It's empowering

Writers have never had the power they have now to reach readers. It used to be there was only one way to do it, and that was through the largesse of a difficult-to-reach Kingdom called the publishing establishment. I like having more power. But with power comes responsibility, and it's up to me to make sure my writing is the best it can be. I like having that power, too.

9. It's a free market

It's nice that the market -- the readers themselves -- get to decide how much reward an author gets. That's as it should be. The more an author writes and publishes and pleases readers, the more the market will reward said author.

10. It's fast

This may be my favorite reason of all. I don't have to wait a year or 18 months to see something I wrote go out for sale.

As an example of all the above, let me tell you how my latest offering came to be:

A few months ago I purchased the Kindle edition of the Robert E. Howard Omnibus. Howard was one of the most prolific pulp writers of the 30s, best known for creating Conan the Barbarian. He wrote in several genres, including the Steve Costigan boxing stories.

I liked the style of these stories because I'm a boxing fan (old school, that is, from Jack Johnson to Muhammad Ali), so about six weeks ago I found myself tapping out a first person narrated boxing tale. I called my character Irish Jimmy Gallagher and set the story in 1955 Los Angeles. Pretty soon I had about 6000 words in a voice I really liked.

I rewrote the story then sent it out to a group of beta readers, who I told to be "brutally honest" with me. I really didn't know what I had. The feedback was 100% positive, with a few suggestions and typo snags. So I took their notes and made some changes and then did the following:

* I created a cover to suggest the pulp-style boxing stories of yore. I purchased a license for a pen-and-ink boxing picture from iStockphoto and designed a template (I'll change colors for future stories) in Pages for Mac. Total cost to me: $45 and a couple hours of time.

* I wrote the marketing copy for the story, which is a crucial link in the self-publishing chain, but I enjoy that process, too. Fifteen minutes.

* I converted the story to .mobi format using Calibre software. For a novel with a TOC, I would probably hire this step out. But I wanted to see if I could do it with a simple short story, and I could. A few hours to learn the program and mess with it.

* I uploaded the story to Amazon on Monday morning (ten minutes to fill out the info on their publishing page) and it went live later that day.

From the finishing of the story to getting it vetted by beta readers, doing the formatting and design and placing it online, it was about a week. That absolutely rocks.

So now I have a boxing story for sale. If I had sold it to a pulp magazine in 1935, I might have been paid $100 for it as a one-time fee. Now I will make royalty income off it for the rest of my life. While one 99¢ story is not going to buy a new car, it is certainly going to be substantially more over the long term than our forefathers of the pulp days ever saw. So I will be writing more stories in this series, and start other series as well.

This is a good thing. No, a great thing for writers.

So those are ten of my reasons for self-publishing. And now it's my pleasure to introduce you to Irish Jimmy Gallagher, who checks in at 6'3" and 225 pounds. A boxer with dancing green eyes and a wit born of the Blarney Stone, Jimmy is a hell of a fella, quick with a laugh and quicker with the jab.

But if you foul him, stand back.


Available for 99¢ exclusively on Kindle.

38 comments:

  1. You are an inspiration. Your go-getter attitude is infectious and I think it helps writers like me who can get a bit overwhelmed by all the things we have to do (in addition to writing).

    And I too am very glad to have the option to traditionally or self-publish. Let's face it, we're all control freaks in some way shape or form, so having more control over your writing career can only be a good thing. And it will be what we put into it.

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  2. I really like #10. A few weeks ago, I was certain that I had the research done on my next book, but I hadn't started the actual work of writing. Now, it looks like all 540 pages of it will be available for sale before the year is up.

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  3. Hear Hear!

    That's what she said! And her words was like butter!

    wink, wink, nudge, nudge

    Know what I mean, know what I mean.

    knowing glance to the side

    She's a goodun' that self-pubbin'

    poke, poke, scoots close

    that'll rise you up in the mornin'

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  4. I would like to apologize for the previous post. Having just received a royalty check for my own self-pubbed works both in Amazon and in Audible and having celebrated by watching a several old episodes of Dr. Who followed closely by a little bit of Monty Python for the past three hours I am afraid something got stuck and all I can say now is "A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat."

    Say no more, say no more.

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  5. I was about to say what a great list but then got sidetracked by Basil's Monty Python references and have a sudden urge to watch Life of Brian...I think it is great that as writers we have so many more options and choices. Jim, as always your posts inspire me and remind me why I love doing what I do!

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  6. I've also decided to go Indie. I listed all the pros and cons, because I wanted to make sure the decision I was making was the right one. I think a lot of authors are jumping into it because it seems easier. The one major requirement is still the same: A good book is the biggest marketing tool.

    #5: Publishers want books that are different enough that they're fresh but not veer too far from what's already being published. Me? I'm the one who would give the marketing department heebie jeebies -- if I got back agents. I don't want to the person who the agent is saying they love the book but can't find an editor to buy it.

    #6: I've always had a huge problem with word count. I tend to run significantly short -- very hard for me to get to 90K. Worse, it's a major revision to pull apart the book and add that many words. It finally hit me during my final revision: I could see I was going to be 30-40K under again, despite all the work I'd done. I'd thought the best solution was to add a second plot, but I was starting to see the story was over complicating itself. The second plot had to go, and I had to accept that maybe I just do better in the 50K-60K range. Word count is not my friend.

    And a third one that's not on the list. I can't outline. I could write one up to meet the publisher's requirements of having one before I write, but considering how much the idea evolves when I write, they wouldn't get the same story I outlined. At all. I'd be forever writing on spec and risking wasting all that time to be rejected for being too different.

    Linda Adams
    Adventures for women
    http://www.linda-adams.com
    http://garridon.wordpress.com/

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  7. What a great time and place it is to be a writer!

    I love it that you've take all the comments these past few months and blended them into solid business points for all of us, Jim.

    Well said!

    Onward!

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  8. We need to do a public service announcement about the dangers of mixing Basil's mind with any absurdist comedy troupe.

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  9. And Linda's reminder needs to be emphasized whenever this subject is bandied about:

    The one major requirement is still the same: A good book is the biggest marketing tool.

    One of the benefits of the "forbidden Kingdom" route was that it forced you to become better. If you self-publish, you need to find ways to put yourself through your own "meat grinder" to grow as a writer.

    But if you do, the indie rewards are potentially great.

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  10. James, I look at self e-publishing as yet another tool to get the words out and into the hands of the public. Thanks for the excellent step-by-step walkthrough on getting the story out of your head and onto the Kindle.

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  11. Well put, as always. I'm not making a living from my writing, and have grown weary of hearing all the reasons I wasn't published traditionally. I went the e-book route. My sales are in double digits, but the responses from other writers have been excellent. This allows me to write the books i want to write and have them read, even though the audience may not be large enough for a traditional publisher to make any money from.

    For an established writer, I think this is the perfect venue for exercising other muscles when your editor is afraid of any changes that might take people--mostly him--out of their comfort zone.

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  12. And you know, Dana, "making a living" at this is not the primary locus of success, IMO. If you're doing something you love and getting a return, and you honor that by doing your best every time out, that's success, too.

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  13. I agree with you that this doesn't have to be an "either or" publishing world. This opportunity to try new things and get feedback (and volume of sales of your self-pubbed books are feedback)can help authors go in new directions their publishers might frown upon. It's all a big shake up, and I love all the new avenues for writers to publish and readers to find what they love to read.

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  14. Great list, and good logic behind your choice. 5, 6 and 9 were the three biggest on your list that were also on mine. (My other main one was seeing publishing is starting the digital shakeout process newspapers started a decade ago. I have the scars from the first round. I'm steering clear until publishing works things out. I don't need more scars.)

    One of my biggest reasons is that I can try my quirky idea of a series that doesn't easily fit into any genre and if people like it as much as I do (so far, they do), I have more options in the future — and that's always a good thing.

    Thanks for presenting a clear-headed assessment of some of the pros of going indie the right way. It's not a shortcut by any measure, but it is a great tool for us writers looking for readers.

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  15. I enjoyed the post! And I pray that you will be blessed with your self-publishing endeavors. What you have to say is so true. My first four books are self-published. I never even submitted them for main stream publishing because of many different factors. Although I haven't yet gone the electronic route, self-publishing has worked very well for me. I'm currently working on my fifth book and praying for the Lord's will on this one--self-publishing again or submit to main stream publishing? Time will tell.

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  16. Jennie, self publishing is a great place for quirky. For trying things. These Jimmy Gallagher stories will be a series (and maybe even a collection someday), as will a high concept series idea on the slate for next year. Fun stuff.

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  17. There's no dust up. Either you are published by someone else or by yourself. It's your choice.

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  18. What a good 10 point reasoning behind self-publishing. I'm a chef by trade and writing is my release. I enjoy it and I want others to read what I create. A lot like the food I cook. Thanks Mr. Bell

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  19. Awesome post and dead-on. Everyone is acting like you have to choose a side and fight to the death. I live in a Civil War town and know that even that conflict had shades of gray.

    I am a big consumer of 99 cent Kindle stories. Most could benefit from some brutal editing. I really don't care about your 20-page ruminations about the relationship between education and faith in God and please, please put tape over your exclamation point key. (However, I've been exposed to a bucketload of neocon propaganda in my fav military thrillers traditionally pubbed as well, so big houses aren't immune.)

    On the flip side, I also see fresh premises and some fun stories are aren't 400 pages long.

    Most of the highly polished rare gems are still probably going to come from the "evil empire." I was enjoying my usual quota of fun Kindle stuff and then read The Hunger Games. Night and day in terms of quality. And I can see from the few rough spots in HG that some Darwinian editing likely went into the rare gem that book became.

    I liken Kindle cheapies to short stories in magazines and pulpy covers in the dimestore. Some days I dont' need or want Steinbeck. I want a fun-filled genre romp.

    An agent who would turn up her nose because I went Kindle probably wouldn't approve of my clown blog, my #OWS politics, and my penchant for not-totally-happy endings. It wouldn't be a good fit.

    Now, I'm off to check out Johnny G (I love the time period and genre).

    Terri

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  20. I am going to assume that we are all among friends enough that I can ask James if there is a typo in his description - "waiting fables."

    Terri

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  21. Here's another nice thing about self-publishing. If a reader picks up a typo, you can instantly fix it. In this case, Terri picked up a typo in the book description on Amazon (thanks Terri) so I just went in and changed it, and it should be fixed in a day or two. Nice.

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  22. Can't proof my own stuff for @#$%. However, other folks', it stands out like it's neon. It got me a proofreader gig with a micro-press :)

    Terri

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  23. A great piece and I agree whole-heartedly. I have just returned to self-publishing myself (though with pretty different books to yours!).
    Here, if you are interested, are my reasons for doing it:
    http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/2011/11/returned-selfpublishing/

    I hope it works out well for you,
    Alastair

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  24. I agree with all your points, actually. I make a living as a writer, albeit 99.9% of my income comes from other things than my fiction. That said, the indie route has given me another venue for work and income, and overall, it gives me options I didn't have before. I think that's a good thing.

    There is a lot to dislike about how traditional publishing operates, but I'm not sure that "gatekeeper" is one of them. I became a lot better writer trying to break down those doors.

    That said, I could do without opaque royalty statements, minuscule publishing windows, hostile contract clauses, and the three-book death spiral.

    Still, if the right offer came up from a legacy publisher, I'd take it.

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  25. Great article, as always. I'm wondering, though; do you think self-publishing would be so beneficial to you if you did not already have your 'author creds' established? Your name(s) sets you apart in the self-pub field; I suspect that if an unknown author published your latest short story, it would languish in obscurity. Not to take anything away from your story (I haven't read it yet, but it's next on my list!), it's just that a cluttered market makes it all that much more difficult to 'break out.' 
    What do you think?

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  26. Rob - I think you have a valid point.
    I think the two major disadvantages of self publishing are
    1) - lack of quality editing
    2) - lack of distribution opportunities

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  27. Great post, jim, as usual.

    I'm one of the can't-gin-up-enough-words type of writers. All my novels weigh in at right around 50,000 words (far too short for New York), and none of them feel rushed. Each story is complete and lean, the way I like it. No need for any artificial subplot padding.

    And you're so right about how great it is that novellas and novelettes have found a home. I've got a novelette coming out in a couple of weeks that will kick off a new series.

    Yes, self-publishing is a terrific development, and it's only going to get terrificker.

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  28. Good thoughts, Mike. Thanks. Keep writing. That's the ticket in this game.

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  29. It's refreshing, after so many mixed and emotionally-laden opinions, to get a simple statement of the facts. Why you have decided to self-publish some of your work has me thinking very hard once more about my own e-publishing.

    Personally, I like complete control. Spending the time and effort making the quality superb is a fair trade for the freedom of it.

    But, most of all, I like the idea of bringing a story to readers that they'll love. For the first time, I'm kind of excited about the prospects.

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  30. BTW, I snagged a copy of IRON HANDS.

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  31. Jessica, it IS an exciting time to be a writer. Put your stuff through a rigorous review process, then go for it.

    Mike: Thanks.

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  32. Fantastic cover, Jim. Can't wait to read it.

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  33. Thanks, Michelle, for the kind word about the cover. I normally would farm this out, too, but I just wanted to try it on my own and create a template for the short stories (rather than design a whole new concept each time).

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  34. Great post and your enthusiasm is really up-lifting! Obviously marketing is not a problem for you, you just burst out with energy!

    And I think your best advice is in one of your comments: put your book through a demanding review process then go for it!

    Yeah! That's what I did (but my marketing still stinks...oh well, we'll see how it goes...)

    Wish me luck as I wish you all the best in the new year!

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  35. Linda: finished works rarely closely resemble the outline, sometimes not at all. Publishers know this. It's mostly a check that you have a complete idea and know how to plot.

    There are certainly some works that are easier or only marketable self-pub, but I've yet to make 5% on self of what my royalty checks are.

    But if the piece is done and not going elsewhere, there's no reason not to. And of course, certain niches will just fall through the cracks otherwise.

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  36. I think every work has a natural length. I'm glad to see authors able to control the stories they create. Sitting around the campfire, a fable is transformed by audience response, we may be returning to that.

    I've started what I call an ePulp series. I love that you are playing with the form and hope others do also. I'm posting five Sparrow Swift eBook only pulps, then every five compiling a print anthology. I'll start marketing after Christmas in a limited way and will see if the stories develop legs and start dancing.

    Experimenting is a joyful thing.

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  37. You've inspired me since I read your book on plotting (when I first started writing a few years ago) and more recently with your book The Art of War for Writers. But you complete the trifecta with this post! Thank you for speaking to the heart of why self-publishers do what they do. (And no, it's not about "hate")

    Best of luck with your short stories! Now, I just need to get my dad to buy a Kindle, because he would LOVE that boxing short story... :)

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