Monday, August 20, 2012

Self Publishing in New Zealand: To Self Pub or Not to Self Pub, Part Three

So, I said I would write next about the downside of self publishing, and I've waited a while to do it. I've waited until I have actually published my book (as you can see from my last post).
So, to be honest, I'm in the midst of the downside right now, and that is that there is no big payoff in sight. Of any kind.
With trade publishing, although I'm only speculating here, you have a series of payoffs. The moment where an agent accepts your work. The moment that agent finds you a publisher. The moment you hold the first copy of your new book in breath in that sweet, sweet book glue.
Not to mention the money and the fame. Yeah, for the most part neither is going to lift you into euphoria. But, still it's something.

Payoffs

Self publishing offers none of that, at least, not up front. Do you remember when I said in the last self publishing post that money is a terrible reason to self publish? That statement has not been disproved.
So far, a few days in, I've sold in the single digits. This is for a story that I've worked on for hours and hours over the last few months, towards the end up to twelve hours a day when I could. I've broken my heart over the cover (because my heart is obviously ridiculously fragile) I've scoured the words for formatting errors and so forth.
Yes, I did know what I was in for. But I can't help but feel slightly disappointed. The same way I feel disappointed every time I get a rejection letter from a writing market.
Now, your experience might be different, of course. I don't have a huge platform (I suspect at least one of my sales has been to my mother) and I know that people who do have a platform (a group of people interested in what they have to say, such as followers of a blog) will often see an immediate flood of sales after announcing their book is for sale. I also know, from following a lot of self publishing stories, that those sales can and often do dry up once the platform is exhausted.
Self publishing is a long, slow haul for most people. You can't guarantee at any point that you're going to make any money at all.
I've appreciated every individual sale, so far, because I know that's someone choosing to spend their valuable time and money on my work. Maybe that makes me a better person. But authors who have been given an advance a thousand times what I've made so far (and that's not saying much!) would most likely laugh at that... all the way to the bank.
Which leads right into the next thing I'm not really enjoying about self publishing.

Promotion

You have to promote. Even people who say you don't have to promote, usually have some kind of promotion technique that they just don't consider to be real promotion (perhaps their technique is to tell people not to promote?).
But, it's not enough to just promote, you also have to promote well. I can definitely understand why people are tempted to jump around the internet with pom poms out, doing a little dance over their baby, but that just won't work. If anything, it will annoy people and make them less likely to buy your work.
The best kind of promotion, from what I've seen, is simply interacting with people. Helping them. Sharing with them. Being part of a community. That makes them want to read your book for themselves. And when they do that, they are much more likely to want to review it. And reviews are worth gold on book selling websites. There is, of course, more to it than that and I will most likely go into it in another post (if only so you can know how to avoid making my mistakes). But, for now, let's continue on our anti-self publishing journey.
Why is promotion bad? Because it takes forever. A lot of it is fun, since being in a community is fun. But a lot of it is frustrating and generally, it's not what I'd prefer to do with my time. If my novel was trade published, I'd still have to do some promotion, it's true. But it would be more structured, less of a shot in the dark and there would be less of it in general.

Legitimacy

I know I might be told off for this, but there's no escaping the whole “gatekeeper” dynamic lends a legitimacy to trade published books that is lacking in self published books. Anyone can self publish. A good cover isn't a guarantee of a good book (the reverse isn't true either). So, your baby is adrift with a bunch of other books that might not be worthy of her. Likewise, perhaps it's your book that isn't worthy. Perhaps it's mine.
You can stem these doubts by hiring a really good editor, who can tell you if your book is worth publishing. You can try to stop them by telling yourself it actually doesn't matter. After all, either people will buy the book, or they won't.
But most authors go into this game, not for money (at least, not for long) but for recognition. They want to communicate and share themselves with others. Not having the backup of knowing that a publisher thinks your book is worth something makes it that much harder to put it out there and say, I think this is worth sharing. This is the best possible way I could have told this story. Please read it.
I love my book. I love the characters, I'm excited about the story arc I have planned for the series and I honestly think that it's worth something. I've had a few people tell me that they enjoyed it as well. But there is still a niggling doubt. A doubt that, to some extent, I think will be there until I either sell 10,000 copies, or get published by a big trade publisher.

Those are the big three for me. I could also mention the fact that you need to be more of a Jack of all trades (or be able to afford a designer, a formatter and an editor), the fact that formatting for the first time is incredibly frustrating, the fact that other some other people might also consider it a bit of a failure if you self publish rather than going with a trade or e-publisher, the huge amounts of research you need to do, and so forth. But I'm sure those will come up later.
For now I'll try to focus on the silly little dance I did when I received my set of ISBNs from the National Library and the thrill of making two sales in the first hour after my book went live (without any promotion... if only they were all that simple!)
And that concludes my To Self Pub, Or Not To Self Pub series. Next time I'll most likely start focusing on more practical aspects of self publishing. If there's anything you want me to talk about, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me.