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March 4th, 2009

2:24 PM

Self publishing from an non-fiction writer's POV

We have seen writers discussing self-publishing and all the wonderful things it is supposed to do for them. Have you noticed how little discussion there are about what self-publishing will do for readers? I find it odd that this topic, which is supposed to revolutionize traditional publishing and make giants like Random House quake in the knees, focus so little on getting readers to buy those books, so little on finding ways to get those books into the readers' hands. It is as if, given that bookstores are denounced by these people as evil corporate entities, readers will automatically agree and there are hundreds and thousands of readers out there eagerly waiting, their browsers permanently at Amazon, to snap up these self-published books the moment the overpriced trade paperbacks or hardcovers are available for sale.

These idealistic authors mean well, I suppose, but their pretty speeches, usually lacking statistical evidence to back up their rhetorics that self-publishing is the brave new world, play right into the market plan of vanity publishers like Lulu. Lulu, Xlibris, Authorhouse, iUniverse... they all make money selling the books they print back to their authors who will buy them back in hope of selling those books themselves. When you think about it, there is very little difference between these vanity publishers and those motivational speakers - all promise a quick and painless way to become rich, famous, or respected right away, but at the end of the day, the only person becoming rich is the motivational speaker. Or the vanity publisher.

Which is why I find the following articles interesting. John T Reed is an outspoken, blunt, and pretty funny real estate investment guru who also dabbles in self-publishing and he has written considerably (and self-published) a book on the matter. What I find interesting here is that he writes non-fiction, which we all know is one of the best suited genres for self-publishing, and he also thinks of his writing career the same way that he approaches real estate investment - as a business. He doesn't babble about a creative Utopia where there are no evil corporate pigs. He does denounce the traditional publishing model, but that's because he's a businessman who wants to make a profit in his endeavors and let's face it, middlemen in the publishing industry take a big chunk out of one's profits. And when it comes to self-publishing, Mr Reed goes the whole way: he doesn't rely on Lulu to sell his stuff, he goes to a printer and does everything himself. Perhaps self-published authors should take the same approach: cut out the middlemen (in this case, the vanity publishers and their various overpriced but generally worthless add-on marketing services), think like a businessman, and start selling. Don't see how this will work for a fiction author who doesn't want to spend a lot of time marketing his or her books, but hey, nobody says making a living out of writing is easy.

Mr Reed's Tips on Successful Self Publishing
Mr Reed thinks that symbolism is for bored or pretentious people (check out his hilarious anecdote about the time Harper Lee visited his college)
Mr Reed on cutting out the middlemen

The rest of his website is worth spending a few hours on, by the way. He exposes fraudulent real estate gurus, although given that he is exposing his competitors, you may want to take what he says with a grain of salt. Still, his BS detector guide and explanation on why you should not waste your money on expensive seminars are just some of the many good advice you will find here. He also has strong views about the military (and you may be pleased to know that he's all for openly gay people serving in the military). All in all, this is one website I've bookmarked for weekend reading.

6 comment(s).

Posted by Teddypig:

You know, first I don't see Lulu as something bad. They sell exactly the services they say they will.

I can respect someone like this guy for being hard working and getting in there doing all this stuff by himself to reap the benefits from his own hard labor.

But about his sales pitch...

I think in the end this guy and others like him lead people down the same path as those "Work from home!" gurus or those Amway fools.

They over simplify the effort and success provided by the hard work of a "good" Publisher with "good" industry connections and experience.

They also always seem to under value the individual contributions and input of a "good" Editor or a "good" Cover Artist or a "good" Salesman.

I know that Publishing needs to change it business model.

I just do not think that DIY works and I guess I for one am not egotistical enough to think I could "do it all" and create a product anywhere near the value of the type created by a group of experts at a "good" publisher. And to say "well you can go hire or buy help in doing so" is just not rational or financially practical is it?
March 5th, 2009 @ 12:24 AM

Posted by emily:

I am not really sure why publishing needs to change its business model. It has been as it is few several hundred years, always including self-publishing as one of the array of options. It is as flawed as any human industry but not noticeable more than say food production or car making.

My observation is that authors most vehement about the self-publishing revolution have far fewer self-purchased self-published book by other people who are not their personal associates on their shelves than I do--in fact sometimes none at all. :-?

So they want to profit from a revolution they are not taking part in?
March 5th, 2009 @ 12:34 AM

Posted by meh:

It's been "as it is" for only about 200 years (following Stanhope's improvements to the press), and that is primarily because of the costs associated with producing distributable copies in mass market numbers being beyond the average writer's pocket book. Self-publishing and a patronage (as opposed to the current patronzing) system were more prevalent prior to that. Any number of literary greats before that time self-published -- and while the vast unwashed masses of today's self-published will never be literary greats, neither were now revered authors when they once started.

What do self-published titles do for readers? Depending on venue (e.g. electronic), it can offer the same story at a lower price point because there are fewer middlemen. It can offer niche material that traditional publishers won't touch because the profit margin is too low. It can offer faster time to market for readers who want new releases from their favorite authors ASAP. Really, it can do anything a traditionally published story can do and more except for one thing -- promise you that a gatekeeper made sure it was up to THEIR standards (which may depart significantly from those of the reader).
March 5th, 2009 @ 2:00 AM

Posted by Teddypig:

Really, it can do anything a traditionally published story can do and more except for one thing -- promise you that a gatekeeper made sure it was up to THEIR standards (which may depart significantly from those of the reader).

Well yeah, it "can do anything as well" as a traditional publisher offers. The key word being "can". That "can" being based on the various talents of the person doing the publishing all themselves.

I just think this idea that the typical customer buying will get a Certain level of quality or a Guarantee of quality with the product is what avid readers do expect and it is important.
March 5th, 2009 @ 2:40 AM

Posted by Teddypig:

The Kindle also permits a large preview (10% of the text?) - more than enough I would think to reveal which titles are likely to be lacking in quality, particularly when combined with other clues like cover presentation and amateurish ad copy. If only the traditionally published stinkers with their slick presentation were so easy to spot!

Right, but they also allow this for all the traditional press eBooks on the Kindle also.

So that means to me that all the poor grammar and spelling errors compounded by self editing found in that sample chapter of your self pubbed eBook are not gonna hold up compared to a professionally published and edited eBook very well.

I just keep coming back to the fact that there are "good" ePublishers out there who provide all these professional services and expert people to provide support (if they accept your manuscript) and they are better capable of providing that fighting chance of getting sales even on the Kindle.
March 5th, 2009 @ 11:12 AM

Posted by emily:

Indeed. I know what self-publishing "can" (a.k.a. en masse would it "could") do. I have bought about 100 self-published books and reviewed free copies of about 50. We should be well past the "can" stage by now.

Do you know how many of those self-published authors I remember by name and auto-buy? Two (LK Campbell and Donna Barr).

I have also been part of several initiatives to try and establish reliable branding for readers--and left each time when the brand decide to embrace material is that near illiterate and poorly presented.

So long as the box is equally likely to hold a donut or a viper, methinks the revolution might be on hold? it means every self-pubbed author has to build their own brnad, which is difficult and exhausting and almost will always put them at a disadvantage to a collective such as a publisher.

I continue to ask each new self-pub messiah "so how many self-published books written by people you don't know did you buy in the last year?" Normally the answer si a telling silence.
March 5th, 2009 @ 11:50 PM