Thursday, July 26, 2012

Self Publishing in New Zealand - To Self Pub or Not to Self Pub, Part Two

Why Am I Self Publishing?

I've wanted to be an author all my life. If you've been following this blog at all (which I haven't been stellar at keeping alive, I do admit) you will have seen me transition from flitting about, from career to career, and gradually grow more serious about writing.
It's very difficult to make a living through creative writing alone. Perhaps almost impossible. I'm extremely lucky that I have a very supportive family and no major obligations (like children or a mortgage) to stand in my, no doubt poverty-stricken, way.
So I have to make a confession right up front.

The Money

I am self publishing, in part, because I hope it will mean another source of income that I can take advantage of in the next year or so. If you put your work at the right price point on Amazon, you are entitled to 70% royalties. Even if you don't, the average seems to be about 35%. That can add up. Particularly when you compare it to the percentage trade publishers generally offer (off the top of my head, I think it's between 8% and 12%. E-publishers often offer royalties on a par with self publishing, so don't rule them out on royalties alone).
However, money is a terrible reason to self publish.
Most people who self publish will not see much money from their work at all. After they've tapped out the market made up of friends and family, their work will languish in the depths of Amazon forever. Promotion is not a magic wand. Quality is not a guarantee.
Of course, the same is true of someone who publishes with a trade publisher, but in that case you most likely at least got an advance and professional promotions, as well as your book sitting in actual bookstores.

So why do I think I will be different? I don't. I'm gambling here, to some extent, and I'll tell you why.

Speed and Quantity Counts

I am a very fast writer when I want to be. My output isn't huge at the moment, although it's not bad, but it's as low as it is because I'm lazy. And it's rising.
I've had years to develop the bad habits I've got and I'm slowly trying to get rid of them now. I'm learning to make myself excited to write and dedicated to learning the craft.
But, if I light a fire under my own tail, I can get things done. I mucked around for months, thinking I should put something out there before really deciding to go with it. I've had an idea for years that would fit a series of novellas beautifully, about a young man who is really good at problem solving and is travelling around some strange islands doing just that.
About a month ago, I finally decided to really get to it and I finished the second half of the first novella in the series within a single weekend. When I finally crank myself up, I'll hopefully be able to do around one novella per month.
No, they are not works of literary genius. They are, hopefully, fun to read.
And from what I've seen, being able to crank out a lot of books  in a short time works to your advantage when self publishing. I can't imagine many publishers being happy to publish one book per month for you (except whoever published the Goosebumps series perhaps!), but having a huge backlist available when self publishing online is what helps people to make a living. With such a low price point, and no problems with delivery or storage, if someone likes one of your books there's no reason not to buy all the rest right then and there.
(I think I should point out here that of course, there is always the option to self publish paper books as well as the e-books I'm going to harp on about, but they are not something I've given much thought to yet as they are a much bigger investment in time and money when it comes to self publishing).

Size Matters

You'll notice I said novella and not novel. Perhaps I could have crammed my series of novellas into a single full sized novel, but I like the way it breathes at the moment. However, if I wanted to get it published by a publishing house, even an e-publishing house, I'm fresh out of luck. There are very few places that will take works of this size and subject matter (i.e. non-romance, approx 37,000 words) and most of the ones that might take it are fairly new and untested. They still might be a good option, if I wasn't happy to do all this work myself and I do think longingly of them at times.
At any rate, if I self publish, I don't have to worry about size. People have been self publishing even short stories to some success. My novella looks positively gargantuan in comparison.

Promotion

I am fairly well versed in the internet and in social media. I know how SEO works and what spamming is and so forth.
I'm not sure if promotion is a reason to self publish (it seems like it's going to be a pain in the arse, frankly) but it's not a reason to not self publish, at any rate.

Some other reasons for self publishing that I've seen people mention are:
Wanting to have control over your cover and the rest of the process.
Wanting to have control over the rights to your book.
Wanting to undercut the big publishers.
Wanting to see results quickly.
Being unable to get your book placed with an agent or publisher.
Writing a niche topic that probably isn't commercially viable for a publisher.
Knowing you've already got a ready-made audience and wanting to cash in on that, rather than share the profits.

There are probably more that I haven't seen or thought of. If you have another reason, by all means leave it in the comments!

I've got other novels in mind, or even half started, that I will eventually send out to agents and publishers. I have the book of poems that I completed last year (which still needs work) which I intend to send out as well. I am not putting all my eggs in one basket, so to speak.
But I'm excited about this experiment. I loved writing this fun little book. And I'm hoping other people will like it too.

Next post I'm going to talk about the bits of self publishing that I could do without.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Self Publishing in New Zealand - To Self Pub or not to Self Pub? Part One

So, I started writing about research last time and it turned into a drawn out warning about scams.
So, this time I'm going to talk about how to do research on more exciting things.

Most of you are probably a crack hand at internet searches so I'll skip that and go straight to my number one resource at the moment. Internet writers' forums. In particular, the forums at Absolute Write.
There are other forums for writers, some of them catering more specifically to a particular community (like the Kindle boards for example) but the Water Cooler at Absolute Write is one of the largest and longest running, as well as just being a nice place to hang out. If they don't already have your question answered somewhere, they will bend over backwards to help you (and you should return the favour).

It offers an enormous resource to anyone who is interested in any aspect of writing. If you are just starting out, there is plenty of encouragement available for the asking. There are also several very good tutorials available, for example Learn Writing with Uncle Jim.

But you aren't just thinking about writing if you're looking at this blog entry, are you?
Because if you are, stop reading and start writing.
It's all too easy to justify researching all day, and put off the actual writing until tomorrow (I know, I'm definitely guilty of this). Being a writer means writing.
It means writing right now.

The one caveat I would add here is that if you are planning on writing a non-fiction book of some kind, my very basic understanding of that is that you generally pitch it to the publishers before you write it. So, if you aren't completely set on self publishing (and there's no reason you should be) you might want to research that process before setting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). 

If you've finished, or almost finished your novel/book of short stories/poetry manuscript/whatever and you're starting to think about what to do with it now that you're done, feel free to research your little heart out.
The first thing on your mind will likely be, how can I get this out there for people to read it?

And that is the question, isn't it. I assume you are reading this blog entry because you're interested in self publishing. You've seen all the success stories that have hit the news lately, perhaps. You've heard about the higher royalties, the greater control self pubbers have over the publishing process.
You've, perhaps, realized what a long shot it is to get something published with trade publishers. It's not a matter of sending off your baby once or twice and waiting for the millions to flood in. It can, and probably will, take years from the moment you lay down your pen after writing "The End" to the point that you hold a newly printed book in your hands. Years and possibly hundreds of painful rejections.

Self publishing can be done in a matter of minutes. No rejections necessary. You write, "The End", you upload, and that's it, you're published.
No. Bad writer. Put your itchy trigger finger away.

It's tough, I know. You're excited about your story (or poems, or whatever). You want to share it with the world and you want to do it now. But the second you upload your book to the Kindle or anywhere else, it is considered published and your first rights are gone (don't know what first rights are? Research it).
Maybe that is what you will eventually decide to do. But you owe it to the story to do your research first on what is the best option for you and your manuscript.

Now, while you are researching, bear in mind, there are a lot of people out there who are very upset over the choice to self-publish. Whether because they can't see why anyone wouldn't or they can't see why anyone would. Don't become one of these people.
There are positives and negatives for both sides. Find them. Consider them without emotion.
Don't be swayed by the lists of popular authors who have self published their way to success. Not only are those lists often bogus, they brush over the fact that most of those authors happily continue to stay with their publishing houses once they have them. There must be something to being associated with those houses. It's not an evil conspiracy (on either side).

So, that's your task. Research whether or not you should be self publishing at all. In my opinion, in most cases, there is no right or wrong answer.
In the next post, I will tell you all about why I've chosen to self publish this particular book and how I arrived at that decision.



Saturday, July 21, 2012

Self Publishing From New Zealand - Research and Scams

So, I'm about two or three weeks away from self publishing my first title. I've really enjoyed the process so far (except designing the cover, since I don't enjoy design work) and I thought I would do a few posts detailing the steps I've taken to get to where I am at the moment.
Why should you listen to me? Well, because I'm a lazy, procrastinating no-good wannabe and I've somehow managed to complete a next-to-final draft and a handful of people have said I made them laugh and they enjoyed my work. I also have a cover. That's a really nice place to be.

So here is the most important step I've taken so far in my "self publishing journey". This post is going to be about the baby steps anyone should take when they are thinking about publishing (whether it's self publishing or not).

Research. I cannot emphasize this enough. In fact most of the other steps are going to be subheadings under this ultimate commandment.
And it should be easy. In fact it can be too easy to get sucked into reading only about how to get published, rather than about how to write, or even writing in your chosen genre. 

Research is what will keep you from making the disastrous mistake of allowing yourself to be published by a vanity or scam press. I'll get you started right now by linking Writer Beware. This is a resource sponsored by a Science Fiction and Fantasy writers' organisation, but it was set up for all writers, including non-fiction and poets. The Alerts For Writers page is particularly important.
Because publishing is difficult.
Self pubbing might seem like the easy route, particularly if you've researched what it takes to get published by trade publishers (some people call them traditional publishers, but that's kind of a loaded word).
But doing it all yourself is hard work and you have to expect it to continue to be hard work. From what I can see, there isn't going to be a point where you sit back and bask in the glow of your online bank statement. At least, not for more than a few minutes. Then you'll be back to writing more, publishing more, and promoting more.

And in the midst of all this hard work, you might stumble upon a website by a publisher who seems nice enough, so you send them your stuff. Lo and behold, they give you an answer almost immediately- they love your writing! They want to take over all this pesky work and publish your book for you!
At this point they might ask for money in order to do that.
Do not give anyone money to publish your book. Real publishers will only give money to you.
They might not ask for money. They might only take your book, slap a cheap cover on it and throw it out there, telling you that if you want it to sell, you'd better buy a midden-heap load of copies in order to promote it. Then they'll lose your royalties in the mail.
More terrifying, for an author, a publisher will have the rights to your book. They can do whatever they like with it, including not edit it, or add errors to it, or not publish it at all (depending on the contract, of course.  A legitimate publisher will have given you a decent contract which would prohibit all of this).

Self publishing is a gamble, but it's a gamble where you at least get to roll your own dice. If you fall in with the wrong people they will take the dice off you and it could be years before you get them back.

With that said, there are a handful of companies out there that will do all the work of self publishing for you. They will get you a cover and editing and formatting and so forth, and with that kind of company you can decide for yourself whether they are worth using or not. Generally they are expensive and won't do anything for you that you can't do yourself.

I originally started this post thinking I would talk about research in general, and it turned into a warning about scams. Really, they can be very sophisticated and your best bet is to just check everyone. In the age of the internet it's OK to be cautious and cynical, and it's easy as well. Google that sucker and make sure you look past the first page of hits.
So, next post, I think I will talk more about researching in general.