This time, let’s start with the word count.
Word Count Progress
Whoo ha! I rock. Go on, you can say it.
Next, I’d like to say that in the comments section of the “year in the life” post someone asked about self-publishing.
And I debated about whether or not to answer it.
Because, you see, a lot of really nice people self-publish for very valid reasons.
Maybe they’re writing a very specific book that will appeal to people in a very specific field.
Like, for example, if you’re an expert at growing tulips, and all of your buddies are always asking you to write a book so that they can sell it at the NCUTGNA (National Convention of the United Tulip Growers of America), then self-publishing would probably be something good for you.
After all, you’re an expert on a subject…
Writing a book about that subject…
That will easily be made available to people who are interested in that subject.
So see? There you go. All the people who would have bought your book are going to hear about it through the UTGNA, so you’re all set.
Another perfectly valid reason why some people choose to self-publish is because they’ve written a very personal story that was very important to them and they want to see it in print.
I’ve known people who have done this to chronicle their life stories. Others may do it to honor a loved one who has passed away. Whatever their reasons, it’s not about having a career as a writer. It’s not even about earning money. Writing their books is a labor of love and they’re willing to pay to see it printed on nice paper and bound within a color cover.
But now I have to talk about the third (and possibly final) type of people who self publish…
And this is where I really, really hope I don’t tick anyone off.
You see, over the years I’ve met some really nice writers who have chosen to self-publish. Again, I can’t emphasize enough that these are INCREDIBLY nice people. But to be honest, the road they’ve taken would not be a road I’d be happy on.
Well, the differences between self-publishing (also called Vanity Publishing) and what I do are pretty basic, and the biggest one is money.
For what I do, publishers pay ME.
For self-publishing, I would have to pay THEM.
And since I’m an economist by training, I try to have the money flowing toward me as much as possible.
So why would anyone (who wasn’t a tulip expert or person with an incredibly personal story) choose to self-publish?
Well, to tell you the truth, this is something I’ve asked myself a lot. I’ve even asked self-published people, and for the most part their answers go something like this:
–THEIR ARGUMENT #1: They think the future is in e-publishing where books are replaced by electronic files, therefore eliminating the need for a printer, and bookstores, and all of the infrastructure that a traditional publisher brings to the table, so they think they’ll be better off doing it by themselves.
MY REBUTTAL: I like books. I like holding them and smelling them and walking through stores filled with them. So I want to sell books. And I’m going to keep doing it as long as society can spare the paper.
–THEIR ARGUMENT #2: The traditional publishing world has too many gate-keepers–like literary agents–so they decided to cut straight to the chase and do it themselves.
–MY REBUTTAL: If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard someone say, “well…from what I hear, getting an agent is the hard part”, well, then I’d have a lot of dimes!
Listen up, folks: getting an agent isn’t difficult. Nope. Not at all. Go ahead and re-read that if you have to. If you’ve written a really great book that publishers would want to publish and readers would want to read then getting an agent is EASILY the easiest part of the process.
But do you know what is hard? Writing a really great book that publishers would want to publish and readers would want to read.
So many people write a book, send it to an agent, get a rejection, and immediately turn to self-publishing because the “gate-keepers” wouldn’t let them in.
Well, that’s a perfectly valid way to go if all you want is to see your book copied and bound inside a color cover. But my dream was to have a career in publishing, so my first instinct was to rewrite that book.
Or research more agents.
Or start another book. And then another. And then another. Until I wrote the book that would have agents begging to walk me through the gates.
Seriously, guys. I am not lying to you when I say that I know A LOT of writers who were rejected by A LOT of agents, but they kept writing and now they’re having great careers.
–THEIR ARGUMENT #3: Publishers don’t market new books, leaving authors to do all their own promotion, so why should I let a publisher have the biggest cut of the royalties when I’m doing all the work?
–MY REBUTTAL: It’s true that publishers don’t have the money to give every book–especially unproven books by unproven authors–the Rolls-Royce treatment.
But every book published by a major publisher does get listed in their catalog that goes out to every bookstore in America–can YOU contact every bookstore in America and tell them about your book?
And every book published by a major publisher gets pitched to the sales reps at the major chains (like Barnes and Noble and Borders). Sure, the chains don’t carry every book, but at least you’ve got a shot with a major publisher–most BNs and Borders simply WILL NOT carry self-published books. Period.
That’s why a lot of self-published people find that their best distribution mechanism is the trunk of their car. Literally. They visit libraries or schools or literary festivals, and I’ve met some self-published people who have sold thousands of books that way.
I’m honestly happy if they’re happy, but that’s not for me. I’d much rather use that time to write more books.
Simply put, I firmly believe that even the bare minimum effort by a major publisher is going to be far more than what you can do by yourself.
After all, keep in mind that with a major publisher they have paid you, so most authors allocate some or all of that money for promotion.
If you’re digging into your pocket to pay the publisher and then digging into your pockets again to promote…well…it doesn’t take long to run out of money in the pocket.
–THEIR ARGUMENT #4: I don’t want to give up control over my book to some editor.
–MY REBUTTAL: My editor makes my boo
k better. I want a better book. It’s really as simple as that.
–THEIR ARGUMENT #5: What do you mean “self-publisher” vs. “traditional publisher”? I just Googled “book publisher” and went with the first thing that came up. Why? Is there a difference?
–MY REBUTTAL: Yes. Amazingly, this is not an uncommon situation. Many, many times I’ve had people ask me how much I paid to have my books published because they simply didn’t know or realize that most books you see in bookstores or read about in Entertainment Weekly simply are not published by that type of publisher.
If you’ve written a book–or would like to write a book–you need to learn as much about the industry as possible. Don’t be taken in by scams of any kind.
I’ve never paid an agent.
I’ve never paid an editor.
I’ve never paid a publisher.
–THEIR ARGUMENT #6: An agent or traditional publisher thought their book was good, but no one was sure how to market or sell it. Therefore, the author decided to self-publish, figuring that once she/he sold enough self-published copies, she/he could prove that the book has a track record and break in then.
–MY REBUTTAL: Well, to be honest, I’ve heard of a few instances of this one working. But still, the odds are too long for my taste.
I’m more the type of person that–if an agent and/or editor is telling me that I’m a good writer, but I’ve written a hard-to-sell book–well I’m just going to go write a DIFFERENT book.
After all, that first book isn’t going anywhere. It’s not going to rot on the vine. And hey, if book #2 becomes a huge hit then selling/marketing book #1 might be a whole lot easier.
–THEIR ARGUMENT #7: The publishing world moves too slowly. I want my book out right away!
–MY REBUTTAL: Well, I can kind of see a point for this one. Kind of. Maybe. After all, if you’ve written an insider’s take on some famous person who is very much in the public light (like a political figure, for instance) I could see wanting to strike as quickly as possible.
But here’s what you need to know: the publishing world moves slowly for a reason–quality takes time.
The second thing that I’d like to point out is that publishing can also move incredibly quickly when it has to. It is a business, after all. If it’s profitable to put a rush on things–they will.
–THE ARGUMENT I’VE NEVER, EVER HEARD ANYONE MAKE: Traditional publishing is just. . . harder.
Again, I really, really, really don’t want to offend anyone. I don’t want to insinuate that self-published people don’t work hard or that they, by definition, are inferior writers, because I’m sure there are some talented people who have taken that route.
But this is my blog, and this is something that, deep down, I’ve got to say: it seems to me like the person who writes the checks calls the shots.
That’s why I think traditional publishing is bound to be harder–it’s just got to be.
I was talking with a good friend and colleague last October. That morning, I’d gotten word that CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY was going to be on the New York Times Bestseller list. The day before we’d closed the deal for GG3 and Kat. It was, simply put, one of the best days of my professional life, and I was telling this man all about it.
He asked how hard it was.
I said it was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life.
He asked how many hours it took to write Cross My Heart.
I said that I worked several hours a day, every day, for over a year.
He asked if it was emotionally difficult.
I said that every time I got off the phone with my editor I would lay down on the floor and cry.
He asked why I do it… why would I put myself through that…why wouldn’t I just pay to have my book published, or–better yet–give up.
I said that I don’t cry because my editor is mean, I cry because my editor is right and that means I’ve got a lot of work to do.
I cry because I need the books to be that good.
I cry because I know that not making a deadline is not an option–that I’m going to have a career in this business and having a career means looking at 20 page revision notes and saying, “I can do this.”
Having a career means sending ten new book ideas to your agent, asking for advice, and being ready for her to say, “These are okay. Okay isn’t good enough. Come back with something better.”
Having a career means coming back with something better.
Because that something better might be a story about a girl who goes to a boarding school for spies.
That something better might get optioned for a movie.
That something better might end up being a New York Times Bestseller.
So if you’ve ever wondered why I would go through the process I described in my The Year In the Life of GG3 post, that’s why.
Publishing the traditional way is hard.
But it’s the way I’ve chosen.
And, in my opinion…
It’s worth it.