Monday, September 19, 2005

Adventures in self-publishing

So what do you do when one group of people says one thing, and another person or group of people says the exact opposite? In my experience, it usually means that the truth, such as it is, falls somewhere in between.

Take publishing.

"There is no money in self-publishing," says the common wisdon at Forward Motion, a wonderful writers community. Self-publishing doesn't count as a "real publishing credential" to Miss Snark, a NY literary agent. The only people who self-publish are losers who aren't good enough to "really" get published. The only way to make "real money" (however you care to define that) in publishing is through one of the large NY publishing houses, which of course can only be accessed with the services of a literary agent, who, as a group, are only slightly less open to newcomers than a seventh grade girls prep school clique, and are the subject of a slew of warnings and search engines.

But then there's Dan Poynter, the guru of self-pub, whose take on the NY publishing establishment (agents included) is somewhat different. Self publishing is the only way to have any control over your work. Promotion is what sells books, and the author has to do the lion's share of the promotion anyway. Why shouldn't more of the revenue go to the author? Start up your own company and, with a little get-up-and-go, you too can be independently wealthy. (Frankly, perusing the bookstore shelves does tend to leave the impression that the best way to make money in self-publishing is to write a book about self-publishing.)

Like politics in the age of the blogosphere, there's enough chatter on both sides of this issue to reinforce whatever opinion one may have going into the discussion without ever having to seriously consider the merits of the other position. As a general rule, I am suspicious of absolutes. Of "this is the only way" to accomplish something. So here I am, stuck in the middle.

Granted, to a certain extent Poynter and the NYC world are talking apples and oranges. Poynter admits that his model is geared to non-ficiton, wheras even he admits it's tough to make money on fiction. Supposedly, NYC is the only way to go with fiction. What bothers me, though, is comments I've read lately about how NY is publishing fewer and fewer titles and fewer and fewer new authors in an effort to maximize their profits by publishing only what will sell big. Is this the trickle-up of greed as it becomes more acceptable in our society? Why settle for a handsome profit when one can have a ridiculous, or even obscene one?

Here is something I have discovered: the difference in cost between printing a book and selling a book is huge. That's the bottom line. Between the top and bottom lines, however, as NYC will tell you ad nauseum, there are zillions of levels known as "overhead." Marketing, design, sales, and other departments, for example. But the greater your overhead, the more you have to sell before turning your profit. Shrinking down all those intermediaries means the need to generate far fewer sales both to make back an initial investment and to reap a reasonable profit. (The definintion of "reasonable" is another hot button. The dreamer's definition is enough never to have to work again. The "writer's" definition is enough to make writing one's primary occupation. Mine is enough extra on top of what I make at the dream career I already have to put my kids through college; not a small sum, but a finite one. Although I write, I do not think of myself primarily as a writer.)

So: to continue the quest to find an agent and "make it there" in the 212, or to follow the path less taken?

Both, for the moment. The completed novel continues to get shopped around that big fruit of a city, while the niche market quirky humorous poetry book is self-published. I'll continue to expound on the topics begun above as I share the progress of this new endeavor. I don't even care if Miss Snark calls me a "hobbyist." I'm hoping I'll be chuckling all the way to the bank.

I look forward to your company as I embark on this new adventure.

Comments:
Ok, I want on the record here. I do NOT think self-publishing is a waste of time, nor do I think it's bad stupid or evil. I think self publishing is just FINE if you want to be in the book SELLING business. And it sounds like you'll be doing that, and it's what you want.

My gripe (and the "credential") comment is that people think sending their work to a PODsubsidycrackhouse is the same as being published by Random House.

YOu've clearly done your research and made your choices.

I think you're to be commended.

Now, where do I buy the book?
 
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