Just because you can, doesn't necessarily mean you should. This is an important reminder for pretty much anything, but it definitely applies to self-publishing.
Sure, self-publishing your novel is very easy nowadays, but should you? If you have a novel and you've queried one hundred agents and didn't hear back from a single one, then you need to ask yourself what it is about the novel that isn't getting attention. Because if it doesn't grab the attention of at least one out of one hundred agents, then chances are it probably won't grab many readers.
But wait! someone in the back of the audience shouts. Agents don't know anything anymore!
Do you really believe that? Sure, they're not all amazing. Some are so-so. Some even suck. But their job is to find books that they think they can sell to publishers.
But wait! someone else in the back shouts. You don't need publishers anymore!
This is true. You don't need both kidneys, either, but it's ideal to have both. I'm not saying publishers are needed anymore, but it seems the current trend is to completely buck the system and just self-publish. And, honestly, self-publishing makes more and more sense. Sure, there's still that stigma, but the stigma seems to be mostly with other writers. Writers are, for the most part, egotistical beings. We want to be accepted by readers, yes, but also by our peers. It is, in many ways, a literary circle jerk.
Me, I don't really care to participate. This shouldn't be surprising to regular readers of this blog. I'm not seeking acceptance from my peers and other writers so much as a solid continuous readership from ... well, readers.
Awhile ago, I was talking to a writer friend of mine about self-publishing a certain manuscript, and this friend said, "Why would you want to do that? You're a good enough writer you don't need to self-publish."
And that's the thing, isn't it? Self-publishing is no longer a writer's very last option. In fact, if the writer is smart enough, they might consider it first and foremost. Sure, you might miss out on that instant gratification of a book deal, or you might lose some of the respect of your peers, or you might not be nominated for awards, but so what?
Then again, just because you can, doesn't necessarily mean you should.
Just because you have a novel on your hard drive that you were never able to sell, doesn't mean you should throw it up on Kindle and cross your fingers. You are, after all, a brand, and your novel is a product. If readers find your product and aren't impressed, they'll remember the brand, and they'll probably never try one of your products again. This is why you need to make sure that if you do self-publish, you're doing it with your very best.
Don't get me wrong -- editors are nice, but no editor is the same. The suggestions editor A would give you on your novel might be completely different from what editor B would give you. And editor C? Editor C will give it a read-through, might cross a few things out or circle a few words, and then pat you on the back and send you on your way.
For the novels I've self-published so far -- The Calling, The Dishonored Dead, and just recently The Serial Killer's Wife -- I know that they're good. I know that they're clean. They've been vetted by agents. Major publishing editors have seen the manuscripts (except SKW; I decided to simply bypass the publishers on that one). Many, in fact, liked the books. Ultimately, though, it always came down to a question of "just not being right" at that moment in time.
As I've said before, publishing is a mixture of talent and luck. The one you have control over, the other you don't.
And as I've said before, no two writers are the same. What works for one writer probably won't work for another. So if one writer sells one million e-books ...
As you've probably already heard, yesterday John Locke sold his one millionth Kindle e-book. It's quite an impressive feat, especially since he's only published nine books and just started publishing them two years ago. He is, in a way, the James Patterson of self-publishing.
And he just sold over one million Kindle e-books.
Good for him.
Seriously, I mean it. I don't begrudge anyone his or her success, no matter how big or small. I do, however, take issue when someone uses their massive success to sucker other people out of their time and money.
Because on the heels of John Locke selling one million Kindle e-books comes this new e-book of his:
Yes, that's right: How I Sold 1 Million eBooks In 5 Months! ... which is an interesting title, considering the man has been selling his e-books since 2009, but whatever the case. Anyway, when I saw this new e-book I thought, Okay, makes sense, I guess, try to cash in while you can. But then I saw the digital list price and it made me go, What the what?
If you're at all familiar with John Locke, he has branded himself as the 99 cent novelist. Which means he only makes 35 cents on every e-book sold, but still, sell a million e-books and that's no chump change. But yet, a 99 cent novelist, you'd think that his ... well, get-rich-quick e-book would be priced accordingly. Nope. Even $2.99 would be somewhat reasonable, though from what I understand the actual book isn't very long at all. In fact, I was just curious enough to download the sample and see what all the fuss is about (no surprise that the e-book has already made it into the top 100 of the paid Kindle store). Here are some actual passages from the e-book:
The phrase "vanity publishing" was almost certainly invented by traditional publishers years ago in order to squash the competition from entrepreneurial authors.
By ridiculing and publicly shaming self-published authors for daring to invest in their own talents and abilities, publishing houses were able to elevate themselves to god-like status. What they're saying, when an author believes in his abilities to the extent he's willing to invest his own money to publish a novel, he's writing purely for his vanity!
I have to give credit to the geniuses that came up with this hogwash, because publishing is the only business in the world that has managed to make such a ridiculous notion seem plausible.
Note that there's only one exclamation point in that section. Just note it, because there's many more ...
When you look at what's available [in the Kindle store], you'll find lots of choices, including free books and famous authors, whose titles generally run $9.95 to $14.95. You'll also find John Locke novels for 99 cents. The famous authors' current books are your first choice, of course, so you'll want to get several of those.
But how many can you afford?
After you've downloaded several, and realize you've spent $40 or more, you're still hungry for content, and this is where I come in! You look at a $9.95 book with 138 reviews, 60% positive, and you look at John Locke's 99 cent book with 138 reviews and 80% positive. You see John Locke has nine books available and you calculate you could buy all nine for less than one of the famous author's books!
You think, "I could buy five John Locke novels and a moche latte for less than one famous author's book!" You read the "about the author" section and learn that every book John Locke has written became a best seller, and he is also, in fact, a New York Times best-selling author.
You figure, "What the heck. I'll give John a try. I've never heard of him, and he probably sucks, but hey, it's only 99 cents." -- And that's the moment I turn the tables on the famous authors, because first, my books may not be great literature, but they certainly don't suck. Second, there's no way in the world the famous authors can afford to price their books for 99 cents, because their publishers would lose a fortune!
As I've been telling people for more than a year, when famous authors are forced to sell their books for $9.95, and I can sell mine for 99 cents, I no longer have to prove my books are as good as theirs. Now the famous authors have to prove their books are ten times better than mine! -- And in a game like that, I like my chances!
The sample sort of fizzles out after that, but you get the idea. In fact, I actually don't even feel like I need to comment further. I'll just end with what I started with:
Just because you can, doesn't necessarily mean you should.
And if you do, make sure it's your very best.
Okay, now that our seminar is over, you can PayPal me $4.99 at your quickest convenience ...