Is It Time to Self-Publish?

book-textbook

Book, Textbook by George Hodan

Keep in mind that I’m simply asking the question. This is no overt message to my readers or anyone else that I’m leaving traditional publishing. However, lately I’m seeing more and more signals that traditional publishing is becoming even narrower and less author friendly than it ever was before.

Why do I say this? Literary agent Steve Laube recently posted about massive changes at B&H Publishing, home of Brandilyn Collins, Alton Gansky, Robin Carroll, and other fine Christian suspense novelists. What are the changes? One listed item made my stomach drop:

Novels scheduled for release through March/April 2014 will continue as planned. But all novels contracted thereafter have been cancelled. Authors may keep advance monies prepaid and rights to those books will revert, but all future contracted advances will not be paid. (http://stevelaube.com/changes-at-bh-fiction/)

Oh, that’s bad, my friends. Can you imagine slaving away for several years and finally getting a novel contract? Only to find out something like this? That’s worse than bad. That’s demoralizing, folks. Why did this happen? Mr. Laube says,

They [B&H] had quite a few [books] that did very well but no single title or author, unrelated to a movie, climbed the bestseller lists and dominated. And there is the key to the success of a publishing division…at least one barn busting title. It wasn’t an issue of quality, in fact eight of their books were finalists in the Christy Awards. It was an issue of sales volume. [my emphasis]

So it all boils down to money. How sad.

Yes, God is sovereign. Yes, nothing takes Him by surprise. But imagine being one of these authors and finding yourself in this real pickle.

This is just an illustration of the downward trend of Christian publishing, and I know I’m not alone in my concerns. This is not the Christian publishing industry it was of just five short years ago. Publishers are cutting back on their fiction lines, they’re sticking to their bread and butter (authors who bring in guaranteed revenue), and offering fewer open slots for upcoming authors.

In short, finding a publishing home for your novel just got even harder. So what’s the solution? Well-known and established suspense author James Scott Bell had this to say in response:

Deciding to self-publish, for example, and doing so with a plan, is increasingly looking like the “right” decision for many writers. A self-publishing writer will not cancel his own contract, nor will he lose the rights over books he has labored on.

This is true, and it’s why self-publishing—or going the independent publishing route—is becoming more attractive to more and more authors. Granted, self-publishing brings some of its own challenges—namely, marketing. That’s the biggie. But don’t forget about the perks.

It’s even attractive in some ways to me, I confess. I’ve been there and done that. I once sent my second published novel to an acquisitions editor at one publishing house and waited more than eight months for a one-line rejection. Understandably, if you are submitting manuscripts and getting this treatment each time, it’s no wonder some authors are getting fed up with traditional publishing.

I can’t even imagine going through the joy of having a novel accepted, signing a contract, and even getting my first advance check—only to have the rug pulled out from under me. My heart goes out to these poor authors. If I was one of them, I’d probably be tempted to turn my back on the publishing industry for a while.

What about you? Do you think it’s time for authors to take self-publishing more seriously?

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12 thoughts on “Is It Time to Self-Publish?

  1. Kristen

    In his book APE: Author Publisher Entrepreneur, Guy Kawasaki makes a strong case for self-publishing. To my mind, the main obstacle, other than marketing, is funding. When you’re published by a royalty house, even a small indie press, the company pays for cover design, copyediting, etc. If you’re self-publishing, you have to pay those professionals yourself. One of the problems with self-publishing is that too many people try to bootstrap it on the cheap, either by skipping these steps or by getting them done too cheaply, and quality suffers. It’s a quandary…

  2. Adam Blumer Post author

    Good thoughts, Kristen. I know, however, that there are a few authors who self-publish successfully and have quality products. I think you are right though; they are the exception. It’s definitely something to think twice about.

  3. Greg

    The same thing is happening in music of course. It is just the reality of the market for better or worse. I tend to think it is for the better though it requires content creators to wear more hats. If I were an author, I would start thinking how to build a tribe (Seth Godin style) that may not be millions, but at least thousands who will follow you and buy anything you write. In other words, focus on getting in the trenches and building your own personal brand.

    Yes, you have to put up your own money but that is OK. If the artist/writer is not willing to invest in their own work, they should pause to wonder why a label/publisher would. Well over 95% of all music CDs lose money and I suspect the same is true in books. Publishers can’t take that loss forever.

    If you do build your personal brand, you can feel safe putting up your own money and go the self-publishing route. The gross margin is incredibly better too. I would not go with a label if I had a choice. I really am even wary of distribution deals at the moment. I have had one on my desk for months that I would never have dreamed I would ever get offered but I can’t bring myself to sign it.

  4. Tracy

    I think of there is a big move to self publishing that the quality of the books will go down quite drastically. I have read several self published e-books, and in most of them the grammar and common spelling mistakes/typographical errors are numerous. I know self publishing can be done well, but most authors trying to save money may skip hiring a professional editor to review their book.

  5. Heather Day Gilbert

    Excellent post. I have this feeling that B&H is just the tip of the iceberg…the beginning of a domino effect (then again, I’m trying to rein in my natural bent toward pessimism). Horrid to say, but so very REAL to authors who are living with crazy-long wait times, not only once their stuff is out on submission, but even just trying to get in the FIRST door with an agent. The wait times have definitely lengthened since I wrote my first book five years ago.

    Several friends and I believe hybrid authors will be the wave of the future. I’m all for it, if it means we can focus more on writing and less on the blogging and platform-building that was imperative just a few years ago. And yet I did read that Amanda Hocking, the HUGE self-pubbed author, went traditional recently so she could focus more on writing and less on marketing. Regardless, I think authors are going to survive.

  6. Deb Brammer

    Well, you know, Adam, that I am planning to self-publish my next book. This was a true story that needed to be told but was too risky for traditional publishers to consider. So after having 4 books by a traditional publisher, I’m planning to self-publish the next. Seems like all the rules have been changed since I started to write for publication. Don’t know where all of this is going. It’s a tough time for publishers too. We just have to ask the Lord to lead us one book at a time. Thanks for a good, thought-provoking article.

  7. Adam Blumer Post author

    Interesting, Greg. Thanks for writing. Branding is so true, but it’s the nuts and bolts of the whole thing that I find so intimidating. How exactly does one build a tribe? I need to read more Seth Godin. It seems to be true. I know of several authors who merely need to crank out a book, and it’s an instant best seller. I’m not saying these aren’t quality books, but let’s face it, by the fiftieth book, the old formula just doesn’t offer the same charm. Yet they have these loyal customers who buy whatever they write. Interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Adam Blumer Post author

    Yes, Tracy, I agree. Self-publishing has gotten a bad wrap because SOME books are so poor in quality. I think that game may be changing, but with the freedom and ease of using Amazon’s CreateSpace or whatever, authors CAN crank out a book and ignore more crucial matters, such as editing. So we will always have the poor examples among us.

  9. Adam Blumer Post author

    Thanks, Heather. These are scary times, but God is on His throne. I thought getting one published novel under my belt through a somewhat-well-known Christian publisher would ensure an easy path for future publication. Boy was I wrong. Don’t expect any special treatment at all.

    About the blogging, I see its value, but it is still time I have to carve out of my novel writing time. I still haven’t been able to find the balance that works for me, not with my editing deadlines too. I’m making better editing money this year than ever, but when will I be able to finish my third novel? I’ll get it done, but I can’t crank it out quickly, and that’s where I feel the pressure. There seems to be some unspoken rule that an author must crank out one novel per year, at least. Maybe the full-time folks can do it. You probably could too.

  10. Adam Blumer Post author

    Hi, Deb. I wish you the best on that book. I know it has been a big project that has demanded much sweat and tears. Changing rules are a constant irritation. We’ve been told to blog every week if not every other day; now some recognized authors are questioning the whole blogging thing. Then we’re supposed to be marketing on Pinterest. Who can keep up? As I shared with another author, I bent to the pressure, and I’ve been blogging once a week for the last year and a half. That’s about all I can manage with other demands, but to do it I must carve out time I would normally use for writing the next novel, which isn’t getting written as quickly as I would like. Oh well. We can only do what we can. God will lead us but maybe not the same way He leads others.

  11. Kristen Stieffel

    @Greg: I agree, writers should be willing to put up their own money to invest in their work. But that does rather assume that one has money to put up. 😉 Some of us don’t. Which is what leads us to either sign the royalty contract or produce the kind of poor-quality self-publishing Tracy mentioned. Then again, there’s always crowdfunding.

  12. Adam Blumer Post author

    That’s a very good point, Kristen. Most of us work full-time jobs and THEN try to publish the next novel. If the advances and royalties were better, we’d all probably be more eager to invest it in marketing. As it is, don’t quit your day job . . . at least that’s true for most of us. But like a friend told me recently, you have to spend money to make money. Maybe. Maybe not.

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