Thursday, 14 August 2008

Coffee Break: Self-Publishing

The Captain's all-week bar and café is open again, so come along and join the gathering. This morning I'm going to have a cappuccino with lots of chocolate powder sprinkled on top.

This week's topic is about the non-traditional routes of publication. I've heard them go by many names, including: self-publishing, print-on-demand, vanity-publishing, etc. What do you know about these methods? Would you consider using any of them? Have you used any of them? Are there other alternatives that I don't know about? What are the pros and cons of these things?

Print On Demand

I was inspired to reconsider this subject, after learning about all the things you are supposed to do in your first chapter of a novel. After a while, I started asking myself the question: Who am I writing this for? My target readership, or just the agent/editor? I don't have the answer yet, but I can't help thinking that if we follow all the "rules", then first chapters will start to become too formulaic, if they're not already. Any thoughts about that?

24 comments:

Captain Black said...

Blogger seems to think it's still Thursday. Oh well, I suppose it is in ome parts of the world.
Off to check time zone setting...

liz fenwick said...

Interestin g topic........I know several people who have self published and done well but say it's bloody hard work and I feel writing the book is hard enough. Having said that I may still try it at some point.

Regarding things you are supposed to do in your first chapter....well guideline always help but they are guidlines.....I write stories I want to read and I know there are many women out there like me so I hope one day I will crack it :-)

Sean McManus said...

I self-published my book 'University of Death', a satire of the music industry. I reasoned that I'd rather invest my energies in trying to attract readers than trying to attract a publisher. I've seen friends write good books that have gone stale for years while they've tried to get them conventionally published. By self-publishing, I was able to get my book straight out to its audience.

It does mean taking on all the responsibility for PR and so on, but it's rewarding when you get a good review or good feedback from a reader.

I've tried to put plenty of stuff on my website as well, including free chapters, a tool for a virtual book signing and an author interview, to help convert the casual reader. I've written a guide to self-publishing with Lulu, which is on my site too, if that's of help to anyone.

Rowan Coleman said...

Hello all

sorry I have been off radar for a while. I am in the home straight to finishing my new book and what with quite a lot of things going on at home not to mention school holidays its a bit of a juggling act.

I think self publishing has changed a lot in the digital age. When I started out in the book world it used to be called vanity publishing and was generally considered the last resort for self indulgent writers with enough money to pay to get their work into print. But in this day and age competition to go down the conventional route is far fiercer than it has ever been and new print technology means you can print relatively small runs on demand and quite cheaply. I think even as a conventionally published author you have to be prepared to do much of you own legwork in terms of publicity, events and webspace anyway and while it is undoubtedly better (in my opion) to have the full force of a publisher and all that entails behind you some self published books do well enough to then attact a conventioan deal and SOME - and I think I'm right in saying that LEGALLY BLONDE was originally self published, but I could be wrong - go on to be international bestsellers. So even though as with all books published by whatever means the odds are stack against huge amounts of commercial sucess self publication can work, even if as an initial platform to get bigger publishers attention.

Its my coffee morning next week I think, so see you then!
Rx

Rowan Coleman said...

p.s on the subject of rules for first chapters, I'm not a fan of 'how to' books. Think of your reader sitting on your shoulder and think of how to encourage them to want to read chapter two and beyond- that's what I try to do.x

Calistro said...

My only experience of self-publishing was creating a surprise Christmas present for my dad last year. He'd written an 'autobiography' (he's 61 and only went as far as age 25!) in Word, illustrated with photos and I thought it would be lovely to lay it out properly, create a cover from one of the images and give him 10 'published' copies as a present. He was absolutely delighted and I'd recommend doing something similar for any friend or relative. Everyone secretly wants to see a book they've written on their shelf! :o)

I've not self-published anything but if I can't find a traditional publisher for novel #1 I think I'll get a copy self-published just so I can put it on my bookshelf and say "That was the first novel I ever wrote" (and then look back at it in a few years and think "Thank god it didn't get published!").

Am also considering getting some of my stories self-published - including the womag stories I've had published and the stories that have placed in competitions. I don't know if it's something other people would particularly want to buy but, again, it would be something for me to stick on the shelf (and an easier way of re-reading my stories than searching through wads of A4 paper!)

NoviceNovelist said...

Hi all, Back from a month in Australia so trying to get my brain back into the writing world! I agree with Rowan that self pub has changed considerably and there are good examples now of books that have found a convenional home after being self pub and gone on to do well. I think it's a case of go with your gut. I also agree with Liz that writing the book is hard work so it would be great (for me eventually) to have the support of an agent/pub rather than do it all myself. But who knows.

As for first chapters and how to books - I use them to kick start me and get me thinking - then I just write to tell a story. I think the crucial bit is to get the story out onto the page - then you can worry about it when you come to edit and check to see if you think it is doing what it should be.

Leatherdykeuk said...

I self publish a private, single copy of every manuscript for editing purposes as it's only marginally more expensive than printing the buggers out.

I've also self published three books of poetry on lulu.com, one of them only last Wednesday as it happens. I also collated 100 drabbles and self published that as a free book for Halloween last year and as publicity for novel #1 if it ever comes out. None have ISBN numbers so that I can still say I'm unpublished.

They're all HERE

JJ said...

I know that it has become frowned upon in recent years, but at the moment I wouldn't consider it. I don't write to be published - I'm writing for me, because I enjoy it. Although as time goes by, I guess that might all change.

I didn't think Print on Demand was the same as self publishing - I thought it was just a different media ...

Fiona said...

Hi Captain

Don't know blogger was playing at this morning but I deleted my post as I didn't want to hang around gate crashing a coffee morning post.

I would consider self publishing. POD has become much cheaper and creating websites and blogs is easier than a few years ago.

Many great books start life as PODs so why not?

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Graeme K Talboys said...

There is certainly a long and venerable history of self publishing. It is probably better for non-fiction as it is so much easier to target the market than it is for a work of fiction.

I have been both routes and become a publisher as well - so have had to learn about layout, design, printing and so on. It's great fun (well, I think so) and certainly helps you to appreciate what a mainstream publisher is up to.

In the end, it is horses for courses. I self-published things that had been accepted by conventional publishers but which, for various reasons (a bankruptcy, an attempt to force a drastic change of contract), never made it past the editor's desk. The beauty is, using POD, they never go out of print and I get to keep all the money (such as it is). The downside is the time involved in preparation, set-up, tracking orders and all the rest.

I would still like my w-i-p to be placed with a mainstream publisher, but know that if they all refuse to make a fortune from it, I have the option of producing it myself. It is good to know all the hard work won't end up gathering dust in cardboard box.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I know what you mean about who you are writing the book for. I'd like to think I'm writing it for me. But I want it published, so I must be writing it for everyone else. Self publishing is something I have considered but I do like the idea of a book deal/contract so I shall try that route first. Long way to go yet though!

CJ xx

Debs said...

I would love ultimately to be published by a mainstream publisher, however, if that fails I would consider self-publishing.

I did take the opportunity to have several copies printed of my first novel purely to have a copy on the shelf of something I'd written. I have to laugh at what Calistro said because now I've re-read the 'book' I can honestly say that it is a relief that no-one else but the odd family member did ever read it. It has since been drastically revised.

I write what I would like to read and so write for myself whilst trying to remember that it has to appeal to others. I suppose we should be writing for the agent/editor as they are the ones who will accept/reject it in the first place before it ever gets the chance to reach our target readership. A bit of a 'catch 22' really.

ChrisH said...

I know it can be the way to 'success' if success means being taken up by a mainstream publisher but it's not what I want to do yet. Still yearning to see every woman on the beach reading my book as I once saw with Jilly Cooper's 'Rivals'.

wordtryst said...

Self-publishing seems to be a better option for writers of nonfiction who already have a 'platform', and the stats on sales are not encouraging. I've read that only a tiny fraction of self-published books sell more than 50 copies: once the author's family and friends have done their duty, that's it.

I've also learned through helping a friend who self-pubbed (with extremely depressing results) that libraries won't carry self-published books unless they've been reviewed in a prestigious publication. I would not go the self-publishing route except as a last resort, and would not encourage new writers of fiction to self-publish.

That said, there have been success stories, both in terms of sales and of exposure that led to deals with traditional publishers. This is the exception, though, and writers who've been even moderately successful at self-publishing all say that it took a tremendous amount of work on their part.

The bright sides: the writer has absolute creative control over every aspect of the work, and gets to enjoy a much larger percentage of the pie than that offered by traditional publishers.

Lane said...

POD/self publishing is a tool and although it's not a road I want to go down yet, I can certainly see its merits, particularly for non fiction, charity books and collaborations.

I also love Calistro's idea of getting my short stories wrapped up in one copy and LDUK's idea of getting one private copy of the W-i-P done. So much easier to edit:-)

As for first chapters - I think some of the 'rules' have to be taken with a pinch of salt. I think I may need to look up what these 'rules' are:-)

Lexy Harper said...

I self-published my Bedtime Erotica trilogy through BookSurge LLC and all things considered it was a good experience for me. The cost per book was rather a lot – US$499 for the basic no-frills package and six months after publishing the first book I doubted that I would ever recoup my costs. But, I had anticipated this and even when the follow-up book was ready for publishing I held back until I had earned enough royalties to cover the setup cost.

I edited the books myself and the mixed reviews I received reflect this; some readers were able to enjoy the stories without being bothered by the errors and the italics I had thought necessary to convey my meaning, while others were very irritated by them. The bad reviews were painful but mostly deserved, and I took these into consideration while editing the current versions of the books.

At first, I had hoped that a major publisher would notice my work, but now I am quite content to retain all rights to my books while the royalties roll in meagre-but-steady amounts.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Sorry I'm late (again).

I thought about self-publishing my first book, but I really want to see it get picked up by a big publisher. (And yes, I know sometimes self-pubbed can lead to big pubbed on a rare occasion.) Personally I looked at Lulu, which seemed like the most reasonable and professional way to get it done. The thought is still out there, but I don't think I'll do it. I'll just keeping writing and submitting until something breaks.

As for the first chapter thing, I look at advice I see on the internet - no how to books for me - and then I use what I think works for me. I'm still writing for myself, but part of writing for myself is writing the best book I can. If a little advice here or there accomplishes that goal, and also gets me published, even better. =o)