Monday, September 19, 2011

Indie Writers, Map Out Your Journey Before Hitting the Self-Pub Road (Part One: The Decision)

(posted by Saul)

I’ve been reading more and more frequently disturbing stories about writers frustrated with how hard it is to break into traditional publishing and instead making their way into self-publishing, only to find their frustration compounded by how hard it is to get people to buy their stories.

Believe me, self-pubbing is not a shortcut, and it’s definitely not a route to be taken by everyone. Publication isn’t simply a destination. It’s a series of stops and starts, detours and expressways. Sometimes the road is smooth and the horizon clear; other times, the route may seem to disappear altogether, the path so rough and treacherous that you’ll constantly wonder whether your mental suspension might give out at any moment.



There’s a lot that can go wrong along the way. It’s easy to quickly get lost.

Which is why it’s so important to have a clear roadmap of where you intend to go, how you intend to get there, and what milestones you intend to hit along the way.

The First Step: Deciding to make the journey.

Reasons for going indie are as diverse as the people who choose to write.

Impatience

For many, it’s this. Understandable, actually. Certainly, traditional publishing takes a verrrry long time—too long, in my estimation. The whole querying/submission process can take months, if not years, to traverse. Acceptances and contract negotiations can drag on and on, especially for the previously unpubbed. Then comes the inevitable, and inevitably long, revision process, a series of hurdles variously compared with the Nine Circles of Hell and ‘optional’ root canals that are meant to purify a manuscript and give it that sparkly, white gleam readers expect. Finally, the story rests in limbo for some unfathomable length of time until a place in the publishing queue opens up, a process as mysterious to writers as Stephen King’s brain or Donald Trump’s hair.

But regardless of how long these steps take, they are a necessary part of producing a product worthy of publication. Too many self-pubbed writers have apparently decided to bypass the whole QA/QC process: it’s clear from their work that they think editing and revision are optional steps.

Um, sorry to say, they aren’t.

Self-pubbing may provide some people instant gratification, but I’m sure most of these folks who assume otherwise soon discover the feeling rarely lasts very long.

Is it ever okay to be impatient? When you’re writing on or about a subject that is both timely and temporal. Think: Julian Assange and WikiLeaks’ decisions to release sensitive documents, or the news about Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson, or stories about the Navy Seals. These tend to be newsworthy subjects, and their time in the public’s psyche is extremely limited. But even so, it's not trade publishing is out of the question. They have some flexibility in getting titles out quickly, so impatience isn’t always a justifiable defense. Nor is it an excuse to publish poorly written and unedited drivel.

Frustration.

This takes many forms. At the top of this list is probably frustration over loss of creative freedom. Writers have long toiled under the aegis of the ‘maleficent’ publisher, who wrests all control away from the author and wrings all creative juice from him. Why shouldn’t a writer have complete control over content, over structure and execution? Here is where the realities of a market-driven society come to play: in general, people won’t buy what doesn’t appeal to them. Writers need to be aware of what sells and what doesn’t and work towards aligning their efforts to their consumers’ expectations. Publishers know this. The serious-minded self-pubber realizes this, sooner or later. The idealistic pubber doesn’t. The former has a better chance of eventual success than the latter.

Frustration over royalties. Ah, the old saw, “I want to get paid what I’m worth.” Or, “Why should I hand over all my heard earned earnings to some agent and/or publisher?” Really, in and of itself, this shouldn’t be a reason to self-pub. It is, on the other hand, an excellent reason to cheer the whole democratization of publishing which allows individuals to publish independently. Because of this shift, authors will one day enjoy greater financial reward. Having said that, self-pubbing is no guarantee of riches, and, in fact, can be less cost effective than going traditional. At least in the short run, and for most except the more successful authors. For the biggest bang for the buck, traditional publishing is probably still the unpublished writer’s best bet.

Indifference.

Then there are those who simply want to reach out on their own terms, irrespective of all the above, who simply thrill in the process of creating. Their works are like butterflies carefully nurtured under glass then released with no care wither they go and who sees them. But this is no reason, either. If you’re one those ilk who are publishing on your own website and offering your stories for free, then I’m not talking to you and, realistically, you’re probably not eading this anyway. No, I’m talking about those who wish to offer up their stories for sale. That alone should tell you something about motivation. They can claim indifference, but when the days slip away, I’m sure they feel some sense of loss when they realize their stories aren’t being bought.

The selling of stories is a business and it follows certain rules. Indifference is not a business model.

Which leads me to those self-pubbers who treat their writing and publishing as exactly that: a business.

Good Business.

The objective of these self-pubbers is to provide quality products with value by effectively reaching their customers (which they have already clearly defined in their own minds).

What exactly does this mean?

To answer that satisfactorily, the first thing the serious self-pubber needs to do is create a roadmap. That will be tomorrow’s post:

Part Two: Creating a Roadmap.

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