Sunday, May 5, 2013

Is self-publishing the worst, or is it fun?

There's still a fair amount of disdain out there for Indie Writers like me.  Many circles don't consider you legitimate unless you've won over the gatekeepers of the publishing world: the literary agents. 

Here's how to get an agent.  1.  Be famous.  2.  Have a famous friend who will write a forward for your book. 

Do I sound cynical?  The other way to get an agent is to write a killer query letter that will land, with hundreds of others, in a liteary agent's slush pile.  Most agents get less than 5% of their authors from the slush pile so the odds are...not in your favor.  Most agents live in New York.  I'm from New York but I live in Omaha, Neb.  Call me paranoid, but I often wondered if my return address lowered my chances even more. 

I spent more than ten years getting rejected by agents so when I found out I could self-publish on Amazon, I leapt at the chance to bypass those gatekeepers.  In ten months my book,  The Truth About Dating (The Quinn Malone series) had sold more than 25,000 copies.

Rejection cuts more than I think it should.  I'm ashamed to say that ten years of rejections had made me decide to never write again.  Selling twenty-five thousand copies of my book changed all that.  I immediately wrote another book, a mystery set in my old Brooklyn neighborhood, Clinton Hill.  Murder Beyond Words (A Ruby Neptune Mystery)  Last year, that book sold 20,000 copies.    I wrote a sequel, Murder with Art (Ruby Neptune Mysteries).  Self-publishing is fun!

But then I tried to get some vibrant, wonderful bookstores in the Clinton Hill area of Brooklyn to carry my mysteries.  My books sell well online and both have an average review of 4-stars on Amazon, but local bookstores didn't want to carry them.  Why?  My paperbacks are made by an Amazon affilate, and they don't give brick and mortar bookstores a good deal.  I could sell them by consignment, but that's a lot of extra work for the stores.  These reasons make sense.  But an underlying commentary was this: self-published writers suck.  They can't write.  That's why they couldn't get published traditionally. 

This is the prevailing belief among critics and booksellers even as many self-published authors sell really well.  Sell thousands more books than me.  Sometimes it seems like the only ones who didn't like their books were the gatekeepers who first rejected them.

I just read this article on Salon.com by Ted Heller: The Future is no fun: Self-publishing is the worst..  Mr. Heller describes his odessy from successful, traditionally published author to author-with-brilliant-book-that-no-one-wants-to-buy, to self-published-author-that-no-one-respects-because-he's-self-published.  It's an interesting read.  Frankly, it was a relief to see a traditionally published writer vent his frustration with how hard the writing life is for everyone, be they traditional or indie.

I don't have the bitter taste of success ripped from me like Mr. Heller, so I'm still grateful for self-publishing.  Parts are bad, but (I'm starting to learn) no worse than negatives of being traditionally published. 

Here's why self-publishing is bad:
1.  I hate marketing myself.  It takes up too much of my time and I'm not good at it.

Here's why self-publishing is good:
1.  I write what I want.  No one phones me to ask how many chapters I've written this week. 
2.  I do what I want.  When I wanted to put a link at the end of one book recommending that my readers read Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's book Half the Sky, no one said, "That book's with a different publisher so we can't promote it in yours."  Or other stupid things like that. 

Here's the irony of self-publishing:
1.  I love libraries and bookstores.  I hate Amazon's scorched earth policy on the competition, yet I owe all my success to Amazon, and the stores I want to support won't take my book because I'm part of Amazon.  This, even though I set my Amazon paperback prices to match the price of my book at my local bookstore in Omaha (which was happy to sell my books).  That's the other fun thing about self-publishing: I can sell my books for any price I like.  You'll never find my paperbacks cheaper on Amazon than in the bookstore because I want to support our local bookstores.


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