Welcome to Biting-Edge, a blog shared by authors and vampire experts, Mario Acevedo and Jeanne Stein. We’ll cover urban fantasy, vampires, pop culture, and all things Joss Whedon. Unlike other fantasy blogs, we don’t insist on body cavity searches (unless you ask politely). Snarkiness is most welcome...though we won't promise not to bite back!

Sunday, December 04, 2011
  Thy shall not suck

Mario here:

Now that we're done with NaNoWriMo for 2011, the next question is: what to do with your literary masterpiece?

Simple answer: Get it published.

Uff! As daunting as writing a book can be, we've all learned that getting published is the next roll of barbed wire to crawl through. There's the ordeal of query letters and rejections, false starts with a bad agent, dashed hopes with a pussy-footing editor and publishing house...and the waiting, the waiting...for months...years maybe for something positive to happen.

Once you've done the run-around with the big New York publishing houses, you might look to a mid-sized press, and then smaller presses. Going for prestige, as it were.

And there's the siren call of self-publishing. At least you have a book in print. If that's all you want, then go for it. But if you want to reach the masses and perhaps make a little money, then self-publication presents huge challenges of its own. One of which is distribution for the mountain of books in your garage. A lot of those trials are spewed in this rant posted to another blog regarding self-publication:

I work as an event coordinator/marketer for an independent bookstore that has been inundated in recent years with self-published authors looking for shelf space and store events for their books. We get – and I am not exaggerating – between 400 and 500 requests a year from self-published authors asking us to stock and promote their book. On a slow week, we get 5-10 requests; on a busy week we’ll get 20.

If you ask most indie bookstore event coordinators about self-published authors, you will probably see some combination of eye-rolling, teeth grinding, or derisive laughter. Self-published authors are the bane of our existence. There are so, SO many would-be self-published authors that would do well to read this piece, and read it thoroughly. And then second-guess their decision to self-publish. But I know they won’t.

Why do I loathe (most) self-published authors? Here’s why. And I’m saying all this so maybe – MAYBE – there’s a self-published author out there who will read this and then understand what they are up against when it comes to marketing their self-published book through their friendly neighborhood indie bookstore.

1. Their books suck. There is no other way to say this. Bad writing, bad grammar, bad spelling, bad plot/character development, bad subject matter, etc. Don’t even get me started on do-it-yourself cover art. The book is bad. It’s bad. That’s why it couldn’t get published by a traditional publisher. But you can’t tell the self-published author of this monstrosity that their book is substandard and unsellable. Because they would act like you’ve just told them their brand-new firstborn child is ugly. Hey, I get it. You put a lot of work into this thing, and you ended up with an ugly baby. But that doesn’t change the baby’s looks, or the book’s ability to sell.

2. 90% of self-published authors are rude, pushy, completely self-absorbed, and relentless. This is my BOOK! It’s my MASTERPIECE. How dare you say it is not worthy of being stocked in your store, unless I pay for consignment?? How dare you, to not jump up and down and beg me to do an event for this book – even though I am not really from around here, I have no friends, and the book has only a very narrow niche appeal since it’s about my past life experience as a 16th century vampire with a skin condition?? Some of them don’t even bother to pitch the book themselves, but hire some poor hapless “freelance literary agent” to do it for them. Then relentlessly prod the “agent” to get them an event. THE BOOK SUCKS. IT’S NOT HAPPENING.

3. Self-published authors show a really appalling level of self-non-awareness. EVERY self-published author thinks they are the next Stephenie Meyer/James Patterson/That Guy on Amazon Who Sold a Million E-Books. EVERY self-published author thinks their memoir about going on a hiking trip to Alaska where nothing particularly dramatic happened is “special” and that “people will love it!” EVERY self-published author thinks they have written the new breakout bestseller, YA sensation, Great American Novel. I hear the same words from the same types of people over and over and over, about how their books are “different.” The books are never different. 50% of them have badly Photoshopped covers and are printed in Comic Sans.

You wrote a book. Congratulations. Let me make this clear. WRITING THE BOOK AND PAYING SOMEONE TO PRINT IT FOR YOU DOES NOT MAKE YOU SPECIAL. If the book is actually good – and in the several thousand requests I’ve processed, I’ve seen three or four that actually were – THAT makes you special. But please, PLEASE stop acting like paying AuthorHouse or Smashwords or any other vanity publisher a few thousand dollars entitles you to anything. It doesn’t. Not the adoration of untold legions of fans. Not the respect and admiration of your local indie bookseller. Not sales from your friends (who 80% of the time, from what I can see, end up with free copies rather than purchased ones). Not attention from local or national media. Self-publishing means that instead of the book manuscript being stuck in a drawer, there’s a 99% chance you’ll end up with boxes of unsold books in your garage. Fewer than 1% of self-published authors sell more than 150 copies of their book.
Please think about all this, self-publishing authors, before you give your credit card number to Smashwords.

Whew! Edan Lepucki at The Millions adds her two cents about why not to self-publish.

But the game changer is e-publishing and the growing availability of e-readers. No more stacks of books to buy. No more cranky bookstore managers to pester. While a lot of writers have flung their scribblery poo into cyberspace, e-publishing has given many worthwhile authors a second chance. The loudest screamer in this argument is of course, Joe Konrath.

But closer to home, is Lynda Hilburn's experience of buying back her book, The Vampire Shrink, and repackaging the manuscript as an ebook to restart interest in her work (which became an Amazon bestseller!), and garnered her a new publishing contract and this nifty new cover. You could say that both Konrath and Hilburn had the advantage of a known name.

But that's not always the case. For example, Elle Lothlorien, frustrated in trying to find a home for her thriller, gave up on the traditional route. She instead self-published a romantic comedy, The Frog Prince, on Amazon and made their bestseller list, elbowing aside competitors from traditional publishers. But there are others whose Internet sales can be counted in the teens.

With tens of thousands of choices, how do people chose an ebook?
Surprisingly, the decision is not too different from folks buying a traditional paper copy off the shelves.

The Big Five Reasons people buy a book

1) People are familiar with the author.
2) Word-of-mouth recommendations.
3) The cover.
4) The back cover copy (or the description on the website).
5) Reviews and press.

For you as yet unpublished, item 1 you can't do much about. 2 and 5 are iffy. In all three cases, learning the fine art of Blatant Self-Promotion is key. But the cover and back cover copy are yours alone to create, or screw-up.

Remember that adage: Don't judge a book by its cover?

Well, it ain't true. First of all, a good cover catches the eye and that's a huge plus. A cover tells readers what kind of a story to expect. Romantic comedy? Hard-boiled noir? Political thriller? A bad cover, and especially with self-published work, a cover that says Photoshopped will mark your work as amateurish and in need of serious editing. In other words to the reader, pass.

Thoughts or experience with ebooks, both as a writer or reader, are welcome. Until then, keep your head down as you crawl through the barbed wire.

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So brave. So true. Self-published authors were quite frequently very difficult to deal with as a bookseller. Some would call and yell at us booksellers for not selling enough copies of their cheaply-bound, nearly unreadable book.

Since I'm planning on becoming one of them in a few months, this is bracing info, but it's good to bear in mind. Thanks.
I'm guilty. After being published by a small press ten years ago, and after 8 frustrating years with an agent who sat on everything I sent him, I decided to e-publish on my own. On top of that, I decided to e-publish other writers struggling with the same delemma. I have nowhere near the marketing power of New York, but I'm proud of what TWB Press has to offer through Amazon and Barnes&Noble. Granted, there's a lot of self-pubbed junk out there (I've read some of it), from amateur writers who are literally peeing in the pool, but there are also a lot of great stories, as well. The trick is finding them, which is accomplished the same way as New York printed books: word of mouth.
Great post. Self publishing is a hard route to go. It's a lot more work in the long term if you want to do it right.
BUT, if you do it right - hire an editor, learn marketing, or hire someone to do it for you, get a professional cover made, etc. it can work.
There are always the exceptions to every rule, the writer who pukes out a perfect first draft, vomits it onto amazon and becomes an overnight best seller.
BUT - those are the VERY rare exceptions. Most of us have to work very, very hard to become successful no matter which route we take.
This is definitely good food for thought for all of us living and working in the ever changing publishing landscape.
Chris: Glad to be of service.
Terry: Go get 'em!
Bree: Hard work? I became a writer to avoid that!
I've made my living self publishing for over 20 years. I don't disagree that most self published books are bad, and many of us are blatant self promoters. Fair enough.

But most small bookstores are also much more difficult to deal with than chains or big distributors. They demand the same discount for one book as we give Barnes and Noble for a thousand; they routinely order small quantities and then don't pay the invoice. They spill coffee on our books and then return them wanting full credit. They charge small publishers for shelf space, they charge us for book signings. Then they tell us we should "support the local independent" bookstore because it's part of our community. Alas, they don't practice what they preach. They don't "buy local," they buy all their inventory from six big NY publishers (some owned by big German holding companies) and two huge distributors, both headquartered more than a thousand miles away.

Still, I love independent book stores. They're part of the literary community, we all love books and reading, they're doing the best they can. They honestly don't see the irony in telling us to shop local when they don't. We shop at a local book store to support the local owner; that's the same reason a small bookstore should stock the best books of self published local authors. It's a pain for them and for us, but we're part of the same community.

As to self publishing, the reason to do it is that it's profitable. It's cheap to print books. I make a profit of between five and ten dollars per book (wholesale or retail). I've sold about 100,000 copies of my first book and it still pays my mortgage every month; the others sell well, too. Even at that, you'll be hard pressed to find my books in my neighborhood independent bookstore. You'll have to go to a Barnes and Noble store, or Amazon, at which they are considered "best sellers."

The fact that your local bookstore finds you irritating should not prevent you from considering self publishing.
Kenn Amdahl
Kenn: Thanks much for providing another perspective to the story.
What I love about self-publishing is, the passion of people on both sides. Those pro and con truly live and die by the printed line. While many self-published books do suck, there are many published ones with similar errors in story (if not formatting).

E-publishing is giving us authors another avenue, which is nice. After all, we'd all like to make some extra cash right? That being said, the 150 sales comment seems nearsighted with the advent of e-publishing. I know I've sold at least 700 books of my short story collection over the past year. While that's not huge numbers, it buys me starbucks (once a month).

I see nothing wrong with publishing both traditionally and e-publishing. But it is important to understand the pros and cons of both. You shouldn’t self-publishing because you can’t sell your book to a traditional publisher. You should self-publish because you want creative control and are willing to do the editing, formatting, distribution and PR it takes to sell books. The easy way is often the hard way for most self-publishers.

Okay, end of rant!
It's a cruel, cold, calloused, (oh, yes), and capitalistic world we live in. . . . . so, we do what we can to survive.

Thanks for airing this, Mario & Jeanne. Reality, sometimes, bites.
Thanks for the great post, Mario (and the shout-out). Indie authors: you CAN do it, but be prepared for a huge learning curve and a lot of painful lessons! For those who are interested, I will be guest blogging for Joe Konrath tomorrow (Dec 6th). Topic: Pricing for indie authors. For those who are in the Denver area, I will also be doing a presentation on my "indie-publication journey" for Douglas County Libaries Writing School on Monday, January 23rd at the Highlands Ranch Library from 6:00-9:00 (it's free). I will be doing an "E-Publication Workshop" for the same on Sun February 12th at Higlands Ranch Library from 12:00-5:00pm. The cost is $60.
-Elle Lothlorien
Wow, there was a lot of generalization and plain old vitriol in that rant - someone feels very threatened by self-published authors, it seems. I sent query letters to every agent even remotely likely to represent my novel - no takers. I queried small presses too - nada. You see, my writing doesn't fall neatly into a recognized genre (someday Counterculture Lit will be acknowledged), and it portrays use of hallucinogens in a positive light.
So I finally said F--- it, I will do it myself. I hired a book designer for the interior (she did a beautiful job!) and a pro for the cover - also beautiful. My book looks better than 90% of what's out there. And I am really a writer, well acquainted with language, grammar, story structure and all the rest. Read KARMAFORNIA before you declare that "EVERY self-published author thinks they are the next -----". I don't even aspire to that. I just think there's a niche for my writing out there, and self-publishing turned out to be the way to get there.
The ranter failed to mention an advantage of self-publishing, which is CREATIVE CONTROL. Not such a bad thing.
Julie: Well said. Thanks!
Tom: Actually, Jeanne bites, if you let her!
Elle: It was a pleasure. (Big red?)
NC: Good luck. Sell bunches and then lend me money.
Mario: Thanks so much for the thought-provoking post. And for the mention! First, as a psychotherapist, I really WORRY about the person who wrote the rant. Smashwords (owner Mark Coker will be at the Pikes Peak Writers Con in April) doesn't ask for money. It isn't a vanity publisher. There is no cost for an author to upload a manuscript there. It's interesting to see all the rabid opinions on the topic of traditional vs. indie. To me, it's a no-brainer: I want everything. I belong to several email loops of published authors who are exploring the indie world. They (we) are happy-dancing all the way to the bank. Authors should be able to make a living, and taking our work directly to readers is just a good idea. There are die-hards on both sides of the issue, but I suspect the "this, and" approach will triumph. I really hope the success of self-publishing continues because I have lots of books in my head that I'm not willing to sign away the e-rights to!
Lynda, I agree. There tends to be a lot of misinformation on both sides of the debate! I noticed the Smashwords error, but just assumed they meant the Amazon affiliate CreateSpace. Even so, CreateSpace makes your book available in hardcopy on Amazon, so it's not like you'd have hundreds of books in your garage! A great post, and definitely worth talking about.
I wish that individual peace. It's his or her reaction to the issue that concerns me.
Well said! My husband and I own an independent bookstore, and we deal with self-pubs every day, too. I will say I have found a few gems, but not too many. The thing to remember is that there is a difference between self-publishing, in which all the standard publication markers are met -- good writing, good editing, good cover, something important to say, etc. -- and simply self-printing, which is most of what we see. Thanks for this post.
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