I’ve been spending a little time – okay, a lot of time – over at KBoards lately, learning all about Kindle books. My favourite forum by far is the Writers’ Cafe, which is a supportive community of self-published authors who discuss blurbs, covers, marketing, social networking, writing tips and just about anything else you could think of to do with writing and promoting books.
There used to be a time when self-publishing was the last resort of writers who had failed to find an agent or sell their work to a traditional publishing house. Companies willing to exploit writers’ burning desires to see their work in print – so-called vanity presses – preyed upon those desires and extorted large sums of money in return for producing copies that did not sell. Writers could also take the cheaper but more labour-intensive route of organising their own editing, cover, printing, marketing and distribution.
But the days of writers shamefacedly admitting their work is ‘only’ self-published are over. The numbers of writers earning a full-time living or more are increasing. For some, the decision to self-publish is not the last step in a long process of submission and rejection, but their first choice.
Analysing the mechanics of self-publishing, it is not difficult to see why.
- After publishing houses and agents have taken their cut, writers receive about 20% of the retail price of their work. An ebook that sells for $2.99 or higher on Amazon pays 70% royalties to the writer.
- Publishing houses devote their marketing resources to their guaranteed bestsellers, not their backlists. A self-published author retains control of their own marketing, and the number of venues for marketing books is large and growing.
- Editors and cover artists who offer a professional standard of work are increasingly available.
- Pioneers in the self-publishing movement have broken new ground in developing strategies for building readership that traditional publishers fail to exploit (if they are even aware of them), such as mailing lists, using social media and blog tours.
- Self-published writers retain all rights to their work.
According to the statistics stated at Author Earnings, self-publishers’ share of the ebook market is large and growing, which may be partly due to traditional publishers’ insistence on pricing ebooks the same or higher than print books.
What the future holds is uncertain. Traditional publishing houses may bluster that self-publishing is still the final resort of those who did not make the grade, but Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, John Locke and others beg to differ.
Super editor Jamie Chavez gives a bad review of a book that was published, evidently, before it was made ready by any kind of editing. The strange thing is the book was put out by a major publishing house. Read her play-by-play remarks on the mistakes and don’t do them.
Some bad things…
- Repeating info ad nauseam. Say it once and move on.
- Spelling with wrong words, such as waste for waist. “She put her arm around his waste” is a very sick thing.
- Continuity mistakes. Get the timeline straight. If you say five minutes ago, he ate lunch, don’t change it to he hadn’t eaten for two hours in the next paragraph.
- Purple prose. Avoid ridiculously decorated descriptions. “He looked angrily at me, his eyes like two Sherman tank cannons.”
- Get your facts straight. AKA write about what you know, else people who do know will complain.
I recently came across some great advice in Madison Smartt Bell’s book, Narrative Design. It has since stayed with me, despite my neglecting to take the wisdom to heart.
This is a section in the book where Bell writes about how he opened/opens his classes (Iowa workshop):
“Assume that when your work is being discussed, about 90 percent of what you hear will be useless to you and irrelevant to what you have done. Learn to listen carefully and to discriminate what’s useful to you from what’s not. Remember the relevant part and ignore the rest. If even one person understands what you intended to be understood, then you can say you have succeeded. Past that, the only issue is just how widely accessible you want your work to be. Don’t try to please the group. Don’t even try to please me. The person you have to please is yourself. Your job is to become the best judge of your own work. If you do become a professional writer at some point, you’ll need that skill more than ever before.”