Friday, June 26, 2009

Ebooks and Self-Publishing, some thoughts

There has been a lot of conversation on the net regarding self-pubbing, ebooks and associated attitudes from various writer’s organizations. I ‘spect some independent publishers are also conversing with their counterparts on the subject.

I think it’s fair to consider self-publishing print materials such as novels, short stories and non-fiction as one kind of business model. There are success stories and failures, just as is the case with the publishing of print materials. I also believe that epublishing is simply another kind of business model. None of these models are inherently good or bad, in terms of product quality.

An author who makes a rational decision to self-publish should be neither derided nor congratulated and wouldn’t be if folks on the sidelines were less emotional and more prone to pragmatism. The same should be true of decisions to publish via electronic means instead or in addition to traditional paper. Self-publishing puts a work into the realm of individual investment of time, talent and money. Publishing with a press that requires an investment of funds by the author should likewise be neither condemned nor applauded. It is the product that should count.

I don’t understand why it’s okay for a musician or a band to produce and distribute its own music via CDs or a website, but it’s not okay for an author to do the same.

If an author takes on the production of his or her work using the same or higher standards of quality in the editing and production of a given work, as the standards set by a business called “publisher,” why cannot the result be judged using the same standards? Instead, the work is largely ignored and the focus of most negative criticism falls on the decision regarding how to publish. Moreover, most of the critical comments are couched in broad terms. We read constantly, often from sources that insist they don’t read ebooks or self-pubbed work, that such work is inferior, not worth time and effort. How do these people know that? If you press them they’ll suggest that a long time ago they read an ebook, or a self-pubbed novel and it was really bad.

That kind of discrimination—which is exactly what it is—is injurious to our society.

Right now there is a kind of upheaval in several national organizations relative to policies regarding membership and association linked to the decisions regarding how a book is published. Interestingly much of the negative rhetoric is similar in nature and tone, if not identical. One could almost believe there is a small group of individuals who are dedicated to stamping out publishing business models which do not conform to “the way it has always been done.”

I don’t believe in conspiracies. Restraint of trade is a nasty way to interact with the Federal Government and can be very costly. Conspiracies to defraud are almost always found out, sooner or later.

What I really wish is that more time and energy would be spent helping authors to understand the business models that exist, their advantages and disadvantages, so that those who are unlearned in these areas could be guided away from the scam artists, the thieves and robbers who would take your money and deliver nothing. Or maybe there are and I just haven’t run across them yet. Maybe distribution is at fault. Which reminds me of an incident to illustrate my points.

As a reviewer of mystery fiction, a self-pubbed author once verbally attacked me when I read and reviewed her work but refused to submit it to the newspapers for which I was freelancing at the time. Before I read the book, I had determined that the paper would not print my review of the book because it was not available in local bookstores. That was their policy. Not set by me, but I was quickly perceived by the author to be the barrier. I was standing in the way of her success. She assumed it was my fault that the book would not receive local coverage. This author should have done some research into marketing and promotion before she elected to self-pub the novel. What newspaper is going to devote space to any author whose books are not available in local bookstores?

Authors need to learn in detail about the business model they wish to use and professional author organizations like RWA, MWA, Sisters In Crime and EPIC could provide great service to authors by concentrating efforts to help their members learn what they need to know for success, instead of squabbling over whether e-books are legitimate and whether publically admitting to having self-pubbed is a death knell for a writing career.

Woe betide the author who believes e-publishing and self-publishing are simply neat ways to get around the costs of fact-checking, copy and line editing, content editing and professional cover and book design.


  1. Carl,
    You wrote:
    **One could almost believe there is a small group of individuals who are dedicated to stamping out publishing business models which do not conform to “the way it has always been done.”**

    You're right on the button there. That's why I dropped out of the two major mystery writers' organizations. My dues money is limited. It won't go to them -- ever again. Who needs the aggravation?

    You also wrote:

    **Before I read the book, I had determined that the paper would not print my review of the book because it was not available in local bookstores.**

    It's a business decision that some authors refuse to accept.

    My book by Krill Press is Print on Demand but on a few bookshelves in Oregon, thanks to personal calls made by my publisher. A small, start-up press can do that.

    Also, a Chicago area newspaper picked up Lesa Holstine's review.

    Distribution is the key to anyone trying to build a career. I'm too old to worry about that, but I still hate to hear the question: Where can I buy your book? Not everyone can/or is willing to go online, or place an order through a local bookstore.

    Good post. Thank you!

    Pat Browning

  2. Excellent discussion on this ever-changing industry. I have bookmarked it to refer to others. You've given this topic a great deal of thought, and I think you are mostly spot-on.


  3. An eloquently written blog, Carl. I definitely agree that self-publishing is the same as starting your own publishing press. It is a business. And yes, indeed, you need to be well prepared to wear all the hats of author, publisher and promotional manager. It has its drawbacks and for some authors, great positives.

    After going through three small presses, two micro and one good-sized small press, I made the decision to self-publish fairly easy and without reservation. I am enjoying the freedom. I invest good money in a well-established editor and all aspects of my book are polished as much as any micro or small press can do. Why give them the profits of my creation?

    Thank you for your much thought out blog and for hopefully opening some eyes and hearts out there.

  4. I've been published by NY publishers, electonic publishers and other formats. It behooves no one to judge on the format at publishing. Content is the key.

    But the squabbles that periodically arise are a waste of time. Someone always looks down their nose at something.

    When my first print book was published by an important NY house, a woman who was a member of a prestigeous publishing family said to me: "It's nice that you have you foot in the door, but when are you going to write a real book?"

  5. Brilliant, Carl. Wish everyone looked at this business with the same cool, professional eye and manner. The one thing that should be emphasized in the self-pub vs. "other" issue is that self-publishers get their work edited by at least one good other eye and mind before they send their baby out into the world. That would help end the "a pox on self-pub, it's trash" cry.

  6. Great comments, Carl. I have seen so many changes in the 11 years since I started publishing. The most disappointing ones are review publications who no longer review self pubbed books and organizations who go out of their way to put roadblocks to as many avenues of promotion they can, from blocking authors from being on panels to changing membership criteria. It doesn't discourage me because I love what I do, but it places unfair roadblocks and forces me to search for other ways to get the word out.

  7. I salute you for a well thought out and eloquently stated post on a subject that has created more heat than light, Carl. Objectivity seems to be a dying trait.

  8. Great comments Carl. Like Patty, I'd had 4 publishers before deciding to set up my own publishing company.

    The 8 books I've published have been reviewed by major players, including Library Journal, and they've won several awards here in Canada where I live. However, they wouldn't "count" in many writers' groups.

    Do I encourage people to self-publish? No, I don't. Too many people waste their money because they don't realize this is a business and they need to know what they're doing and not simply go to a company that advertises how easy it is to get their book into print and say, "Make me a book."

    I think associations for writers should focus some of their energy on helping newbies understand everything - the bad as well as the good. And call a spade a spade if necessary.

    If there's a fear that some badly written books will get in if rules are relaxed, then arrange some kind of peer screening so that all authors are judged according to the quality of their work.

  9. Thank you for your much thought out blog and for hopefully opening some eyes and hearts out there..