Self-Publishing and Community Experts: Are We Getting The Balance Right?

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My two most recent articles on TIPM dealt with a perceived hierarchical structure in self-publishing exacerbated by publishing experts pushing a very distinct interpretation of what good self-publishing is. I also questioned just who is really in charge of self-publishing and what their motivations are for the good of all authors. While it’s therapeutic for authors to finger point at an inflexible, publishing industry unwilling to quickly adapt to change and cede some opportunity over outright profit—combined with a burgeoning sub-publishing service industry filled with more trapdoors and pitfalls than a game of snakes and ladders—it’s also important for all authors to pause and take a close examination of where they are and what it is they want.

The measure of success—from one author to another—varies. The measure of success is only defined in the mind of an author—nowhere else. The path to that success—contentment or riches—is not defined by a prescribed course of medication delivered by an expert in the field, nor is it about discovering the value of X in a mathematical equation. Success is relative to the needs and wishes of an author. Good writing, like cookery, is both passion and craft. Present two avid cooks with the same dish to cook, and you are still likely to end up with very different results. Both chefs may be happy with their dish, but ultimately the diner (reader) will decide whether to return for another serving.
It’s easy to attribute blame as to why authors have not been presented with a democratic publishing playing field and access to professional publishing tools until recent years. Years ago the only options available to an author were the traditional gatekeeper route—via an agent or directly to a publisher—or stump up anything between $5000 and $50,000 for a vanity house deal. But let’s be very clear, nothing has changed about the way an author should hone his/her craft or their responsibility to deliver a professional manuscript before the process of publication begins. What has changed is the number of writers who now want to be published authors through the use of low-cost, easy-to-use publishing platforms and the lure of delivering a potentially ill-conceived and poorly written book to market quickly without the desire or willingness to first perfect their writing craft.
I’ve argued in recent articles that publishers and author-publishers have the greatest concern with book discoverability—not readers. Readers, unlike publishers, begin with a strong idea or preference for what it is they like and how best to find it, and readers are willing to live with excess expense if they can find it. One of the greatest sins perpetrated by publishers (big and small) against self-published books is that readers purchase books based on low pricing and discount offers, and worse, that price-fixing books at the top-end somehow bestows a stamp of added quality to the product.
While authors and readers are beginning to make clear choices on the method of book delivery, supplanting middle agents, publishers are still scratching their heads and trying to figure out how their model of sale and distribution is now beholden to giant retailers.
This article is about authors, so let’s leave publishers to fret over just who stood on their saucers of milk.
I hear this common declaration from authors:
I love being a writer but sometimes I hate being an author, particularly when it also means I’m my publisher, too! I can’t keep up with all this social media and website blogging stuff I need to do to promote my book. Every time I turn on my PC to write, I get sucked into doing other stuff. I had a blazing row with my husband/wife last night because he/she suggested I was having an online affair! WTF!
This is the reality the self-publishing community doesn’t like to focus and linger on too much. It’s almost like professional cycling’s drug problem, or whoring your singing talents out on the latest round of X-Factor auditions for recognition and success. No one really wants to have to do it, but if you want real success and to break out you have to do it because it’s all about competing; putting yourself and your book out there; and using your elbows on the shoulders of others at all costs. Sure, there are other ways like traditional marketing, but that’s a highly competitive and expensive space to tackle for many independent authors, even at a local community level. A social media presence is free, and though time-consuming, opens every author to an untapped global audience. Even paid promotional services online will prove far cheaper than hiring a traditional publicist.
Immerse yourself in the self-publishing community tightly and you will soon discover that the loudest voices to be heard will almost look on you with utter distain if you suggest that you’re not too bothered with sales and you self-published for the sheer pleasure; to just have your book out there and you are still enjoying the experience.
Frequent responses to this view will come from:
THE GESTAPO EXPERT
You must comply with our needs and vision of your book and your future. To question or attempt any other means to success not prescribed by us is to challenge our authority and experience. We cannot work with interlopers. We are the sum of our parts. If you don’t publish with expertise, great expectations and the ideals of the book profession, then you are not one of us. You are an amateur and a detractor and bring great shame on professional authors.
THE FACEBOOK QUEEN
She frets and writes, but mostly just frets. It’s not what she writes or how much she writes, but what everyone will think. Every paragraph written is interspersed with relentless visits to Facebook and Twitter to complain about how little writing she is getting done and to ask her followers (mostly other authors, not her actual readers) what they think about various challenges facing her. If she doesn’t wake with a daily challenge or quandary, she will create or find one somewhere—usually by surfing online and posting several links on it.
***
ABOUT PAGE
I’m Laurie Sandersmyth, professional indie author of 6 books, including the YA series of novels, The Ice Queen in Paradise. The first book in the series won the Idaho Bingham Trucks-For-Hire Young Adult Novel Award. I blog at icequeenparadise.blogspot.com and teach creative writing at the Lewiston Arts & Psychiatric Center.
Author’s Facebook page:
Is John okay for the name of a lead character in my novel or is it too ordinary? Maybe Steve or something more exotic like Laurence. What do you all think?
[14 minutes later]
Is it better to write a novel with Scribner or MS Word?
[21 minutes later]
I wrote 2000 words so far today—pleased. But I still need to write about 3000 words. Is this okay for one day?
[9 minutes later]
Thinking of moving from YA to horror for my next book. Will my readers be okay with that?
[34 minutes later]
Editor just returned my manuscript with loads of rewrites. Will be offline for a few days at least to get it done.
[24 minutes later]
Hey, just started to snow here! Cool!
[7 minutes later]
Just decided to do a half-price sale on my romance ebooks on Kindle. [Attaches a series of separate links to all 6 books]
[17 minutes later]
Tried this on and thinking of wearing it for my trip to AuthorCon next week. Does my bum look too big in it? [Attaches photo]
[22 minutes later]

Just been reading Konrath’s post on Howey’s wedding. Anyone got links or website with pictures of it?
[1 hour 46 mins later]
Just off phone to BF. We’re going to see 9 Yards a Slave later. Can’t wait! [Attaches YouTube clip of trailer despite getting title of film wrong!]
[4 minutes later]

Anyone know what time it is?
***
(…and on and on and on it goes)
While some of the above might even be appropriate for a private, personal Facebook profile, I’m still staggered how authors mishandle their social media presence. Your public social media presence is intended for your readers and to build a potentially greater audience—not for your personal ramblings on holidays, kids, what restaurant you ate in last night, why you disagree with the voted winner of X-Factor, or what you think of the political system in North Korea.
Journalists and celebrities—often strongly in the public eye and asked for their opinion on an issue—can get away with mixed content on social media, particularly Twitter. If you are an author without a wide profile, then you are going to alienate your personal friends or audience, or worse, both!
THE INDUSTRY GURU
I’ve been in publishing for 40 years. 40 fuckin’ years! It’s Ionger than some people are married, for Christ’s sake! My Dad started out as a tea-boy for Gutenberg in the early print days and eventually ran his own publishing business. I learned everythin’ I know about the business from him.
I remember one Christmas when we were still just young kids—New York was covered in snow and the Hudson was completely frozen over. We had no money for a turkey roast, and while we were sittin’ around the TV watchin’ another fuckin’ repeat of My Wonderful Life, my Dad went down to the local library and drew out four books at once. One was Capote—can’t remember the other three—doesn’t fuckin’ matter. But back then, shit like that was frowned upon—one book, one week! You understand? [Raises voice, a lot!] Respect authority and obey the fuckin’ rules! That’s why we live in a great, free country like America. Well, anyhow, we ate those four books that evening and it was the fuckin’ best Christmas meal we ever had as kids.
You know, I think this self-publishing thing will fix a lot of stuff for us in the publishing business. I spent a few years at Penguin sorting through submissions when writers could send packages to us. Some of the shit writers sent us was god-awful! I used to have nightmares about it until Woody Allen’s agent recommended me a great therapist. And I still check in with him from time to time, but just for old time’s sake… you understand? I’m not some fruit-loop from Manhattan. We were born and raised in the Bronx. No messin’ about.
We can pull any self-published author we want from the Today or New York Times bestseller lists and they’ll jump at a contract from us. It’s what they all want—everyone wins. I mean, what author wants all the marketing crap on their plate, doin’ everythin’ on their own, while bussing tables at a downtown pizza parlour? No way, fuck that shit. We’ve got the connections—Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Target—the whole fuckin’ shabang. And if those places say they won’t take the books, we’ve people workin’ for us who’ll pay ‘em a visit and make ‘em fuckin’ take the books. That’s how it works in this business. It’s an understandin’ on all sides. It’s easier for us now. We have the agents in our pockets—no shitpiles, and we get authors with a proven sales track record. Once the author has the numbers, we can always do it better than they can on their own.
Hell, we’ve this new imprint now where the fuckin’ authors will pay us to publish their books. Can you believe that? I love this self-publishin’—best thing to ever fuckin’ happen this godforsaken industry. I laugh when people say we’re frightened of self-publishin’. We ain’t scared of nothin’.
We done now? I fancy some ribs and a couple of beers. There’s a great place downtown. Kevin Spacey recommended the place to me. You comin’?
YOUR MOM & FRIENDS
You wrote a book?! I don’t believe it! When did you start writing? Aunt Maple wanted to write a book about her time with that sailor down in New Orleans. That would have been a great book. Such a pity she married that insurance salesman from Florida.
What’s your book about?
A serial killer? That shit scares me. But I bet it’s a great book. Can you get me a signed copy? No, wait, I shouldn’t ask that. We love you. We should pick up a copy from Barnes & Noble, or order it from Amazonia. Sally can do it. She’s good with that sort of computer stuff.
Are you gonna be on the TV or radio? When Sally’s ex-husband shot that drugstore owner, she was on local TV. It takes time and effort to get noticed, honey.
Are you gonna make lots of money? Oh my God! They could make a film about your book. They do that now, don’t they? Matt Damon could play your lead character—or is he too old?
Everyone is going to offer you advice on publishing your book—whether it’s welcome or valid and whether it comes from an expert or your mom!
Even if you choose to self-publish, you are a writer first, secondly a publisher, and thirdly a marketer. Never let anyone convince you that this should not be the order of things. At least 80% of your time should be spent being a writer. Experts in the field of self-publishing will try to convince you that you need to be a business entrepreneur, and many authors will try to convince you that you need to also be a marketing guru. You don’t! It doesn’t mean you actually have to carry out these tasks yourself. Few publishing experts will place much emphasis on the craft of writing, but instead on everything from editing, layout and design, to marketing and promotion. You will tend to find the people most forceful about imparting this wisdom, gain somewhere—financially or by enhancing their profile or services as a professional—by propagating this myth. Publishing, and the services associated with it, is their 80% job, not yours!
We once existed in an industry when publishers told writers how to be authors—even prepared to spend time nurturing them over time. Now, publishers use literary agents to screen submitted work and deal with any unnecessary nurturing required. Indeed, you could also argue the sands have further shifted, and even literary agents now expect pristine and market-quality (almost near ready to publish standard) work before they will even take an author on.
In an a democratised world of books—just as the distinction between what an author and a publisher actually is—the question of what makes a writer an author is being challenged. Michael Kozlowski, Editor-in-Chief at Goodreader, explored this idea over the past week. I don’t agree with the conclusions he made. One reader’s idea of literary quality is another reader’s pulp quantity. While all writers can be authors with a published book, we also have many experts from the self-publishing community (often with a lot to gain outside of selling books) telling authors how they can also be publishers!
All the elements of publishing are important as a process, but they have nothing to do with your craft as a writer. Few serious writers who self-publish their books spend any more than a book or two before realising they have to farm out these critical aspects to external professionals.
What writers need to do first is to hone their writing craft before becoming authors or publishers.
What experts in the self-publishing community need to do is stop trying to convince writers that they need to be business entrepreneurs and marketers to reach their fans and readers. From where I’m sitting, all that achieves is to eventually compromise what an author does, dilute their content, and alienate them from their audience, particularly when it is done badly.
I’m happy to take the crossbow arrows and bullets if you honestly disagree with my view. And yes, I’m also a publishing consultant. But unlike many other experts in this field, I work with traditionally published, hybrid and self-published authors. I deal with a lot of the issues above before the confusion, misinformation and expectation of going it alone sets in.

 


Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant
If you found this review or article helpful, but you’re still looking for a suitable self-publishing provider to fit your needs as an author, then I’m sure I can help. As a publishing consultant and editor of this magazine, I’ve reviewed and examined in detail more than 150 providers throughout the world like the one above. As a self-published and traditionally published author of nine books, I understand your needs on the path to publication and beyond. So, before you spend hundreds or thousands, and a great deal of your time, why not book one of my personally tailored and affordable consultation sessions today? Click here for more details.
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