Another blast from the past: Author Interview – Diane Farr Talks Self-Publishing.
In 2011, I was still a newbie at self-publishing. But, come to think of it, everyone was. That’s how fast times have changed! In this interview I dish the dirt about the good and bad on both sides of the street: traditional publishing and self-publishing.
Q: Can you compare self-publishing to traditional publishing? Is one easier than the other? Do you like having more control over the process?
A: This has been a long, strange journey for me, full of twists and surprises. I was once a traditionally-published author who honestly believed that self-publishing was mostly—not entirely, but mostly—a consolation prize. In other words, I thought it was for losers.
It seemed glaringly obvious to me that e-publishing, even through a legitimate e-publisher, was so inferior to traditional print publishing that no author in her right mind would consider it as anything other than a last resort—or, rather, a next-to-last resort. Because self-pubbing was surely the last resort; the final destination for manuscripts that had been rejected everywhere else.
That may have been true a few years ago, but publishing has changed so quickly that savvy authors are now giving self-publishing a serious look—in some cases, even before submitting to traditional publishers. And that’s a sea change.
I got caught in the current when I transitioned from writing Regency Historicals to writing YA paranormal. Traditional publishers kept me dangling, unsure if my readership would follow me into a new genre, claiming to “love” my Wicked Cool, but…but…but. I suppose I had grown spoiled, over the years, expecting my books to be bought on proposal. I had “proven” myself—but only in my genre. By changing genres, I had stepped back into the role of newbie. Now I had to produce actual chapters! In fact, I was expected to deliver a complete manuscript before they would take me seriously. I kept working, but I grew impatient.
Finally, a reputable publisher “fell in love” (their words) with Wicked Cool. I had a couple of fabulous telephone conferences with my new editor. Received a contract. Signed it. Returned it. And never heard from the editor or the publisher again.
Now, publishing is a strange and quirky business, but that experience was the last straw. I pulled the plug on Wicked Cool, thanked my agent for all her hard (albeit fruitless) work, and gave it to an e-publisher—who snapped it up with an alacrity very soothing to my bruised ego.
I didn’t expect much, and I didn’t receive much. (Remember, at this point I considered e-publishing the “better than nothing” alternative.) I was pleased to have the book available, professionally edited and with nice cover art. But a few months after publishing Wicked Cool, my e-publisher revamped their imprint, went all-romance, and gave me back my rights.
“Oh, well,” I thought. “At least now I can self-publish a print version so my sisters can each have a copy.” And I did that. And part of the process of doing that was creating a cover. So I published Wicked Cool to Kindle while I was at it. After all, all the work was already done; the sucker was formatted and had cover art. And publishing to Kindle was free. So what the heck?
Talk about low expectations!
At first, I did absolutely no marketing. I didn’t even add it to my email signature, or talk about it on Facebook, or tweet it. Nothing. My expectations were nil. But, lo and behold, people started buying the book. My first sales were just four or five books a week—a number I found astonishing, frankly. I was absolutely dumbfounded when my sales doubled, then tripled, then went through the roof. (Somewhere along in there, I mentioned it on Facebook and added it to my email signature. But still.) Wicked Cool spent most of the summer as No. 1 on Amazon’s YA paranormal list.
So now…I’m a believer!
You asked me to compare self-publishing to traditional publishing. It’s difficult, because the two experiences are so different. Each has pros and cons.
The “pros” of traditional publishing are pretty obvious. You receive an advance and a contract with a deadline—a combination that often is the difference between finishing the book and not finishing the book. In a perfect world, the advance gives you enough to live on while you write, and the deadline lights a fire under you so you stop procrastinating. Meanwhile, you have a team of professionals at your back—a team that is every bit as invested in your success as you are. Your manuscript will be edited, copy-edited, typeset, proofed, and seen by many pairs of eyes. This helps minimize errors and guarantee that the end product will be as close to perfect as humanly possible. Marketing geniuses will design a cover, write back cover copy, figure out the perfect placement and pricing and who-knows-what, aiming to put your book in the hands of the readers who are most likely to buy it. And let’s not forget the prestige factor. That is not to be taken lightly. It feels really, really good to get picked up by a publisher—especially a “big six” publisher. Looks great on a resume. Or a query letter, for that matter.
The “cons” of traditional publishing may be less obvious, to those who haven’t had the experience. The first, of course, is that it’s really, really hard to get in the door. You have to have talent and you have to have luck. Editors don’t want to see your unagented manuscript, thank you very much, but agents aren’t interested in unpublished writers. Once you somehow get past that Catch-22, there is normally a wait of weeks or months while your manuscript is passed around and discussed (or, worse, sits on someone’s desk untouched—and you will never know which fate has befallen your precious manuscript until the decision is finally announced.) This is your first experience of the glacial pace at which the publishing industry moves, and believe me, it never gets any better or any less frustrating.
After the euphoric moment when you get “the call,” you may wait months for a contract. You sign quickly and return it, and sit patiently by your mailbox for the next weeks or months, waiting for your countersigned copy and your advance. Your book will actually be published a year (or eighteen months, or two years) after that. By this time, your advance is long gone, together with most of your dignity and all your self-esteem. They have vetoed all your ideas, including your chosen title, and slapped a title of their choosing on your work. They have created a cover without consulting you—and, love it or hate it, no changes will be made. (There is still cover art up at Amazon.com for one of my books with my name misspelled.) They have paid the cover artist more than they paid you. They probably paid the copy editor more than they paid you. Maybe they pay their mail room clerk more than they pay you; you’ll never know and you’re probably happier not asking. You are a cog in the machine, and by the time your book comes out you will feel like the least important cog. And it’s best not to borrow any money against the royalties you expect to receive in the future. Because, again, your first royalty statement won’t arrive for another year—yes, that’s right, a year after publication, which was a year or more after signing the contract, which was several months after you got “the call,” which was several months after you or your agent submitted the manuscript—and when it does, it will be an incomprehensible sheet of contradictory numbers with no check attached.
Okay, there may be a check attached. If you’re lucky. But book sales are even harder to predict than the stock market. So don’t get your hopes up, you worthless cog.
You see? Pros and cons…!
But there are pros and cons to self-publishing, too.
The “pros” begin with the absence of gatekeepers. Nobody will ever say “no” to you. You don’t have to wait for anyone’s approval. You don’t even have to wait for feedback or input of any kind. You want to publish something? Publish it.
Oh, wait, that’s a “con” as well as a “pro.” Because the gatekeepers are what gives traditional publishing its well-deserved reputation for quality.
If you self-publish, my best advice is to run it past as many pairs of eyes as you can coax into looking at it. No matter how well you type or how clean your copy is, there will be errors in a novel-length work. You should catch as many as you can.
The author has complete creative control. Again, this is both a “pro” and a “con.” It’s blissful to have no combative personalities to deal with, and nobody you have to handle with kid gloves because they have all the power and you desperately want their approval. When you self-publish, you have all the power, and you can be as nice to yourself as you like. But on the other hand, those editors and marketing people have their jobs because they are excellent at what they do—and some of the changes they browbeat authors into making are changes for the better. Without these people interfering in your business, you will feel much more relaxed and cheerful. But you may be producing an inferior product—and you’ll never even know it.
Your self-publishing ventures will pay you a much, much higher percentage than a traditional publisher is willing to offer. And you won’t have to negotiate to get it. The “con” on this one? You’ll be getting a bigger piece of a smaller pie. Sometimes a much smaller pie. So it can be hard, sometimes impossible, to measure whether you’re better off self-pubbing or trad-pubbing. Sometimes it’s obvious, one way or the other, but often it isn’t.
The next “pro” has no downside, as far as I can tell, and that’s the transparency and immediacy of self-publishing. You will see your sales happening in real time, and money will be deposited directly into your bank account on a monthly basis. There is nothing, nothing like this in traditional publishing. At least not yet.
Here’s the worst “con” that I’ve found with self-publishing, one that can’t be mitigated without incurring expenses that an author may or may not be able to handle: no marketing or art departments! You are going to have to pay for cover art, put up with sucky cover art, or be extremely clever and/or talented. Plus you have to advertise the book yourself, trumpet it via social media, or cross your fingers and hope for the best. From personal experience, I can tell you that it’s difficult to type with crossed fingers. So now you know what method I use.