Monday, March 10, 2014

Secrets of a Self-Publisher

Okay, I feel like Anne Burrell or something. You know her show on Food Network, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef? Or maybe I'm the only one who watches copious amounts of Food Network and HGTV...


So I recently self-published a book. It was a very interesting experience for me, already having gone through the traditional publishing process for numerous works. There are a plethora of differences between the two processes, and there are a multitude of similarities too. 

I think the biggest difference is the speed. Traditional publishing seems to take a long time, but the author has to handle very few of the details. You don't have to make (or contract for) a cover; you don't have to pay for editing (in fact, you get paid to do the editing!); you don't have to choose a release date; you don't have to worry about formatting the ebooks, or figuring out how to put them up on the retail sites. You basically get to write and edit -- and the business stuff is left to the publisher.

This can be both good and bad. I, personally, had a pretty good experience. I know others who have had a less fun experience. 

I also have had a good experience learning all of the above things about self-publishing. It is a steep learning curve, don't get me wrong, but I enjoy learning the technical aspects of formatting, and I already know quite a bit of HTML. 

I think the secret to self-publishing is understanding that it's not easier, it's not better, it's not worse, and it's not exclusive. 

Let me explain:

Self-publishing is not easy: It takes a lot of work to get a book into publishable state. Anyone who's ever written a book knows this. Self-publishers should spend as much time editing and proofreading their books as they do writing them. Things happen in formatting that might mess things up. 

For example, I am terrible at design. I can't decorate my house. I don't see balance or white space, or understand composition in visual art. Any cover I make is sure to be a disaster. I understand and admit this weakness -- and I think sometimes self-publishers refuse to admit any weaknesses.  

So I hired a professional to create my cover. 

I personally believe that authors grow and improve through professional editing. I have worked with 3 different professional editors through Simon & Schuster, and I have worked with 2 editorial, professional agents. I worked with a new editor for ELEVATED. I have learned something new from every single professional agent or editor I've worked with. 

Secret: If you're a self-publisher and you skip the "professional editing" stage, you're making a huge mistake. 

And editing isn't the only thing you should do. After you do a content edit (or 2 or 3!), you need a copy editor. And after that, you need a proofreader. You cannot be the copy editor or proofreader. It is my opinion that you must hire these things out, or at least ask beta readers to do them for you. 

This is the process of traditional publishing, and self-publishers should embrace the same level of quality in their work. 

For ELEVATED, I hired a professional copyeditor, and I farmed out proofreading to betas. There were still mistakes, even after multiple readers. (I will never name a character Honesty again! Different story for a different day.)

Self-publishing is not better or worse than other methods of publishing: I know there's still a stigma out there about it, and I wish it would go away. I have read a lot of books in my life, self-published, small press published, and "Big 5" published. Some of them I absolutely loved. Some I couldn't finish. Some I finished, but I didn't like. Some of the most popular books out there I did not like, because reading is so subjective.

I recently listened to an editor speak, and she said that she doesn't want to read the "self-publishing slush pile" and that traditional publishing allows readers to be able to avoid that slush pile too. 

I think she's totally wrong. ALL books go into a reader's slush pile. Most readers don't understand the difference between big or small publishers, or the many imprints at those publishers, or Indie publishers. 

They see a book with a cover and back cover copy. ALL books should strive to have the best cover possible, and the most professional cover copy possible. If a book looks good, fits a genre a reader likes, and sounds interesting, a reader doesn't care where it's coming from. 

Secret: ALL books are in one giant slush pile, hoping to be noticed above the one sitting on the shelf next to it. At least for readers. 

So it's my opinion that self-publishing isn't better or worse than any other form of publishing. For me, I used self-publishing as a way to continue to further my craft, as well as achieve a sense of forward momentum in my career -- a drawback of the traditional market (again, in my opinion). 

Self-publishing is not exclusive: Anyone can do it! The real question is whether you're ready or not. I'm of the opinion that everything that a traditional publisher does, a self-publisher should endeavor to replicate. That means hiring professionals to do things by being honest with yourself about your skill set.

After that, I think we should focus on buying, reading, and talking about books we think we'll like, both as authors and readers. Publishing is not as exclusive as it used to be, and I actually think that is a very good thing. 

Secret: There are tools for readers to use to gauge whether they'll like a book or not, and the publisher is only one very small piece of that. 

What do you think? Am I way off-base? Or somewhat rational?


D.E. Malone said...

You're right on the mark here, echoing my same feelings about self-publishing. I'm in the middle of my first self-pubbing venture, and I can't stress how important the copyediting/proofreading stages are! I can see why so many people taking this route might skimp in this area, in the rush to get the book out there. Also, it's disheartening to hear what the editor said about the 'self-pubbing slush pile'. But I suspect there are many more like her who cannot see the merits of self-pubbing for authors who have written wonderful stories and are in search of an audience.

LG O'Connor said...

Great post, Elena. I think what many people fail to realize is that getting a quality self-pubbed book to market can be EXPENSIVE. If you don't happen to have professional editors as friends to trade services with, editing and proofreading your book alone can cost you upwards of $3,500. Yes, you can find cheaper resources, but a really good line editor will cost you ~$1,400-$2,400 for 80K -120K word book just for one pass. I've priced out many, and used 5 over the course writing three books. Sadly, right or wrong, it explains why authors low on funds sometimes scrimp in this area.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Totally agree with you. There is no right or wrong way to publish. It's what's best for you as a writer. And I totally agree with your advise on self-publishing if you choose to go that route. You do need to hire an editor and others to make your book as professional as a traditionally published book.

For me, I'm not ready to take the self-publishing plunge and don't feel pressure to get published anymore. I have so much on my plate, I am just writing when I can and trying to enjoy the journey.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I think you're dead on, Elana. Like you, I've done it both ways. I really did like having my publisher do so much of it. I miss that.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Self-publishing can be done so well. I love when authors really take stock of their strengths and weaknesses, and are willing to hire out the parts where they are less strong. It makes such a difference! And I love when authors really go through all the steps-- and go through them well-- when self-pubbing. You've done it in a way that other authors should model their efforts after, and it turned out amazing!

Angela Brown said...

Because I've chosen self-pubbing from the get go, I can whole-heartedly agree with what you're saying. Self-publishing and traditional publishing have their pros and cons, but no matter which way you go, it should be handled professionally so that you can end up with a professional product that readers can enjoy.

Liza said...

I agree with you...except that everyone who self-publishes doesn't take the same time and effort as you did. Folks don't hire editors. They don't hire copy editors or proof readers, and it shows! I'd me more inclined to read more self-published books if they came with assurances that the author took similar care as you describe before publication.

Unknown said...

Self-publishing is still publishing, it just means you are funding it yourself. I fully agree that an author who chooses to go the indie route should invest in an editor/cover artest/etc. Publishers pay for all those things up front because they believe the book is good enough to earn back that investment. If you're self-publishing, you should believe in your own book enough to put forward the same type of investment.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

You make perfect sense. And a good self-published author will seek professional assistance in producing the book (as you did)and take the appropriate time necessary to put out a quality product worth reading by the public.

Which is why I cringe over seeing how fast some "indie" authors put books out. I recently saw someone post on FB that their goal was to self-publish 8-10 books in 2014. *cringe* 10 books would mean an average of 36.5 days spent on each one.

People who self-publish 10 NaNo books per year are perpetuating that "stigma" that other self-published authors have to struggle with.

Unknown said...

Hi Elana! I am a big fan of your blog and I can't thank you enough for providing your wisdom and lessons-learned in the area of self-publishing. I'm three weeks away from my book launch and I'm relieved to see that I've gotten most of your recommendations completed! Keep writing, and thank you again!

Anna Soliveres

Jessie Humphries said...

You make a very valid argument. After being an author, you should become an attorney for sure. And we could open a law firm called Humphries & Johnson, Attorneys At Law. Or Johnson & Humphries. Or Hump a Johnson, Lawyers. Or Johnson Humps. Or whatever.

Unknown said...

If a book looks good, fits a genre a reader likes, and sounds interesting, a reader doesn't care where it's coming from.
So true! Having got my self-published books into a number of school libraries, and having spoken to a number of teen readers, all they care about is whether they like a book or not and how they can get hold of it for themselves. NOT how or who published it!

Jo Schaffer Layton said...

Spot on, Elana. Love your open and balanced approach to this topic. You've done both... so you're in a great position to shape an informed opinion.

Kelly Polark said...

Thanks for sharing, Elana!
I'm glad self pubbing is losing a bit of its stigma.
My middle grade is at the editor right now! I agree, it is needed!

Christine Fonseca said...

I'll be honest and say that I don't think Indie publishing has the stigma it once had - not even close. Not with amazing authors making it BIG, not with our new Hybrid authors. And if the popularity of IndieReCon was any indication, many others are starting to see the stigma go away too. Yes, there is still PR about the "problems" of Indie Publishing - but more and more people (including agents and traditional publishers) are weighing in and seeing Indie options as one of the viable options authors have.
It is a GREAT TIME to be an author!
Just my two-cents

Nicole said...

Great timing on this, and thanks for sharing your insights! I'm in the middle of this debate right now, and the post really put it in a new light.

Robin said...

Like you, I have read good and bad books (IMO) self-published, small press published, and Big 5 published. I think that with the small press and Big 5 I am less likely to be annoyed by copy editing or proofreading mistakes. The more eyes on the material, the better. And that is where self-publishing tends to fall down. I have read some stories with great potential, but wading through the misspelled words, bad grammar, and weak plot holes... well, these are the things that give self publishing a bad name. These folks didn't invest in all of the editors that you say (and I agree) are necessary.

However, self publishing is NEW. I am hopeful that within this new market things will change. People will learn that it is imperative to hire editors for these important tasks. In other words, as time goes on, authors will LEARN. And more editors will become available as the need increases.

This was an insightful post on two very different means of publishing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Oh... and I found you via Dianne's site:)

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