Monday, 6 February 2012

Publish vs Self-Publish - A Voice of Reason?

I posted on Patty Jansen's blog last week and she's posting on mine this week. I do hope she doesn't make as much mess in my place as I made over at hers. I met science fiction author Patty on Harper Collins' peer-review website for aspiring authors, authonomy. Here's her take on the whole business of getting published and where the self-publishing 'revolution' is taking us. We don't necessarily see eye to eye on this, but in diversity lies life...

On Friday, Alexander wrote a guest post for my blog entitled Rejection – An Author’s Guide detailing how his books had gained him 250 rejections, and how, despite being given hope, he had ultimately failed to find a publisher.

My first reaction was: Wow, 250 rejections. My second reaction was: Is that all? I loved Olives, and recommend it to anyone, but for the sake of argument, let’s take a different perspective.

After Alexander’s post, I went and tallied up my own rejections. I don’t tend to keep close tabs on these, because, frankly, it gets depressing. I counted more than 300. Many more publishers, especially for book-length manuscripts, never bothered to respond at all.

Within that massive pile of rejection, there are some acceptances. Some small stories to small magazines, soe to delightful but fairly unknown local anthologies, all of them fun and stroking my ego as writer, but none significant. There are also a handful of special acceptances I would like to talk about.

In 2010, I won the Writers of the Future contest. Apart from publication (at 10c per word), and $1,000 prize money, this involved a one-week workshop with some of the greatest writers of Science Fiction and fantasy alive. The workshop, the use of resources, travel to LA, accommodation at the famous Roosevelt Hotel was all paid for. This is especially significant, since I live in Australia.

It didn’t fully dawn on me how big this thing was until as part of the program, we visited the printing plant where the book was being printed. The print run is 40,000.

Later that week, there was an acceptance ceremony broadcast on the internet, which was watched live by many people, and has been watched by many more since.

Also, I have recently sold a story to the largest Science Fiction short fiction magazine, Analog Science Fiction and Fact - a print run of 25,000 dedicated readers and many online sales.

My point of mentioning these is that there is just no way a nobody writer is going to attract those kinds of numbers with a only self-published material. Yes, you can do give-aways, and sometimes these attract a few thousand freebie downloads, but how many people are actually going to read freebie downloads?

The second point is that many people want to be familiar with a writer before buying books. Do they like the style? Can they be fairly sure the book is going to meet certain standards? Personal opinion aside, when a writer has published traditionally, this writer takes both skill and audience to a self-publishing venture.

Therefore I think it’s plain dumb to write off publishers completely. How I hate the term legacy publishing, and see it bandied about with vitriol, as if large companies are stupid. These are business people, who owe the writer nothing except what’s in the contract. They owe it to their company to make a profit, and will make decisions accordingly. That’s not evil. That’s how many of us make a living. They do not owe unpublished writers anything.

On the other side of the spectrum, with the option of self-publishing, writers no longer owe publishers anything either. Fed up with shitty or downright rude business practices, writers choose to vote with their mouses, and good on them. I am one of them, and started my venture into self-publishing when a contract on a novel fell through and I couldn’t bear to take the damn thing to market again.


That is not to say that there is nothing beneficial to be gained from interaction with large or slightly less large publishers.

Large publishers have one major thing in their favour: numbers. Even if your book tanks, it will have been read by many more people than you are likely to reach with self-publishing only. These people have already invested in your work and, unless they absolutely hated it, are more likely to buy your next self-published book over the self-published book of an author they don’t know.

To be honest, I find the mutual disdain between self-publishers and publishing houses and those published by them quite silly. There are books that won’t appeal to large publishers on first sight (mind you, they will appeal if they sell well self-published). Writers used to go to small press with these titles. These days, they might as well do it themselves. As aside, I think small press will suffer more from the self-publishing boom than large press and will probably have to re-invent themselves as editing and formatting services. There will always be a market for mass-published books.

From a writer’s perspective, self-publishing and traditional publishing enhance each other. You draw people to your work by publishing traditionally, and sell your other work to them for 70% royalties at Amazon. Sneaky, huh?

A bit more about Patty
Patty Jansen lives in Sydney, Australia, where she spends most of her time writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. She publishes in both traditional and indie venues. Her story This Peaceful State of War placed first in the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest. Her futuristic space travel story Survival in Shades of Orange will appear in Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

Her novels (available at ebook venues, such as the Kindle store) include Watcher's Web (soft SF), The Far Horizon (SF for younger readers), Charlotte's Army (military SF) and books 1 and 2 of the Icefire Trilogy Fire & Ice and Dust & Rain (post-apocalyptic steampunk fantasy).

You'll find Patty on Twitter (@pattyjansen), Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads, LibraryThing, google+ and her Must Use Bigger Elephants blog is at:

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1 comment:

Dan Holloway said...

It's always interesting reading Patty's take on things, and I've always respected both her willingness to listen to the other side of an argument and the considered reasons behind her own opinions.

I think there's a lot of sense in this piece. I'm not sure what I think about smaller presses and self-publishing - I think what will happen may be what happens to independent bookstores - that a lot will go to the wall but those who know exactly what they're doing, maintain their narrow content focus, but embrace a broad means of engaging their audience will do well and carve themselves out a valuable place. In the UK there are several great new specialist presses emerging - from Peirene and And Other Stories who specialise in quality contemporary literary fiction in translation to Bluemoose who specialise in Northern urban literary fiction and Nasty Little Press who publish contemporary poetry. I think those who suffer are those who do stuf too similar to the larger houses and don't have a real identity (just the same as independent bookstores that want to be like the chains only are not owned by them).

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