Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Self Publishers Anonymous

In 1912 the English writer Adeline Stephen married the writer Leonard Woolf to whom she stayed married until 1941 when she committed suicide. The couple's marriage was actually a happy affair despite the fact she suffered badly from manic depression; many writers do. In 1917 Leonard bought a small, hand-operated printing press; with it he founded the Hogarth Press, which subsequently published most of his wife's work under the name we know her better as, Virginia Woolf – Virginia was her middle name. He survived until 1969 and retained an interest in the press which by this time had become quite successful, e.g. publishing The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot and Laurens van der Post's first novel, In a Province. By this time, of course, they had begun using commercial printers.

In 1997 the Scottish writer Jim Murdoch married the American writer and ezine publisher Carrie Berry to whom he has stayed married up until 2008 and expects this will continue. The marriage has been a surprisingly happy affair considering Murdoch's history of depression. In 2004 Carrie produced a print version of her popular online magazine Gator Springs Gazette and followed this up with the literary journal Bonfire. In 2005 she planned to publish a novel by Paul Gitschner but ill health forced her to abandon all her publishing projects. In 2007, as a means to encourage her husband who was suffering from a particularly debilitating bout of mental illness, she agreed to his suggestion that they work on a project which would culminate in the publication of his first novel. He focused on creating a website and maintaining a blog; she concentrated on final editing and layout, organising cover designs, sending out press releases and dealing with the printer. The promotion they shared between them. There is no indication yet of either wanting to commit suicide, although judging by the sales to date, it could very well be both of them.

Now, why do I mention all of this? The reason is to clarify how my books are going to be published over the next few years. Personally I don't think it matters a damn but it appears the world thinks differently.

There are a number of expressions that have been floating around for a while that need some clarification: POD (print-on-demand), self publishing, vanity publishing, independent publishing and small press which I'll now like to discuss.

There are a number of companies that exist at the moment (Xlibris, Lulu, iUniverse to name but a few) who have taken advantage of developments in printing technology to provide a service to people who want to dip their toes in the publishing business. It's a great idea. It really is. And green. You can publish one copy of one book if you have a mind to. How green is that?

There was a catch though. These companies do nothing to regulate the products they produce and why should they? They're printers, nothing more. Print-on-demand is merely a technology, remember that. Carrie sent the files for my book to our printer (who has a print-on-demand press), and there were a half-dozen typos in it. Whoops. But no biggie because the first run was tiny, enough to fill one small cardboard box and most of those are going to get given away.

So, we're agreed. POD is a good idea. True POD is supposed to match supply with demand on a book by book, just in time basis with no need to retain inventory of any appreciable size. This is ideal for a "stackless" online retail business, for which the issue of non-returnable inventory is a non-issue. But there have been a lot of good ideas that people have made a mess of. And that's what's happened here. Big time. The market has been flooded with crap. Everybody and their auntie were suddenly able – for a modest fee (or even no fee) – to be their own publisher. A good idea suddenly turned into a very bad thing.

So what's the difference between vanity publishing and self publishing? I took a look a who put it this way:

Real self publishers approach the publication of a book like a business. They know that they need to offer the public a competitive product at a competitive price. They understand that authors must aggressively market their own books. Vanity publishing often overlooks the probability (or improbability) of recovering the cost of publication; the author is satisfied simply by getting a book in print.

In our view, the real difference between vanity publishing and self-publishing is whether the author has a realistic expectation of earning a profit.

I'm not sure it's as simple as that but it's a start. The first poem I ever had published was by a vanity firm. Vantage Press and Carlton jump to mind but there are others. I was sixteen and green (no, not the good kind). I paid my money, they printed my poem and everyone was happy. The thing was I had no control over the product. As it happened it appeared in a collection printed on nice paper but surrounded by a couple of hundred other poems and I have no doubt the only people who ever had the chance to read it were my fellow poets, their friends and families.

Okay, what's a small press then these days? The fact is that most small presses don't even have a printing press, not in the same way as Leonard Woolf had a press. Carrie's press sits in a factory somewhere in East Sussex as it happens. The bottom line is that a small press is a business. The thing about that kind of business compared to most other business is the product; it's the kind of product that doesn't usually make a lot of money, if any, so the people who get involved in these kind of ventures certainly don't do so to get rich quick – or at all.

To start off any business there needs to be an outlay. Even the humble street sweeper needs a brush before he can do his job. So, he starts off with a loss. In simple terms: you've got to speculate to accumulate.

Previously I've made a point of talking about my publisher as a third party and there was a reason for that. Because it doesn't matter to my mind who has published the book as long as it has been done to a professional standard. It does to some people though. Here's a comment made by L K Campbell on POD People's website:

I've been told that mentioning my self-pubbed books has kept me from getting published. So I've decided to test the theory. I queried an editor last week and didn't mention my books at all. I said that I was unpublished. We'll see what happens. But if they do offer on my book, I'm afraid that they'll be p*ssed when they find out about my self-pubbed books.

Suddenly, there is a stigma attached to going it alone. Bear with me, I'll get back to that.

In his article Self-Publishing: Is It For You? Thomas M. Sipos makes this important distinction:

[T]he vanity press stigma does not attach because the author pays for publishing, but because self-published/vanity press books do not pass a third party screen.

So I treat my publisher as a third party because she is one. Granted we squabble like husband and wife over some of the changes she wants to make but that doesn't mean she doesn't take her role seriously. The good thing about her being my wife is that she cares about the product almost as much as I do. It is NOT just a job to her.

I'm a writer. I'm an author. I'm a published author. To some people these terms are all different. To some people I'm a pretender to the throne. Okay, so you didn't publish your book but your wife did and the money came out of your joint bank account. You're self-published in all but name!

And my answer is: "Big [please insert your expletive of choice] deal!

I could list off all the great authors who have self-published in the past. Many editions of Leaves of Grass were published by Whitman himself. Philip Larkin, Edgar Allan Poe, D. H. Lawrence, Stephen Crane, Margaret Atwood, E. E. Cummings, Stephen King even ALL saw fit to do it.

So when did it become so much of a stigma that I felt the need to disguise the fact? It happened because of companies like the aforementioned Lulu, XLibris and iUniverse (all of whose services I considered in the past) who "publish" unregulated material. Initially, Xlibris accepted books for free. Some of its authors comforted themselves in the lie that this distinguished them from lowly vanity press authors. This was idiotic false pride. Xlibris accepted every submission, so being "published" through them signified nothing. They "published" everything and anything.

I wanted to be published but I knew that if it said Xlibris or any of the others on the spine then it would be judged without the book ever being opened. And my book is too good for that. I can say that with a bit more confidence now because I've read the reviews.

Self publishing is an act of vanity. Any kind of publishing is an act of vanity. Wanting to see your name in print no matter whose imprint it is under is an act of vanity. I am a vain man. Can we please move on now?

There is an attitude that’s summed up in this question: If what you're putting out is any good at all, why the hell isn't it being properly published somewhere? It's a reasonable question until you look at what is being published these days. Consider this quote by novelist Larry McMurtry:

It is really reductive to call what we have now a 'publishing industry,' when what it is is a media complex, in which promotability, not literary merit, is the sine qua non.

To see what he's on about just look at the top ten bestsellers in any week.

Stigma is not always a bad thing though:

[S]tigma serves a purpose. It should urge self publishers to do better work, to strive for higher standards for themselves regardless the potential or not of future attention from respected sources. It says, I am doing what I want to do, with the full knowledge that I will not be paid for it, and will probably not get much appreciation for having done it. - Self Publishing Stigma

The whole vanity press stigma is a curious thing. People have been shooting their own movies and pressing their own CDs for years and yet this is regarded as a positive thing. It's a marketing ploy. They call themselves independent. Indie filmmakers and indie record labels are looked on as a good thing, something to be encouraged and supported, even where the films are inept and the music unlistenable to. Another word from Thomas M. Sipos:

Press a CD into a DJ’s hand, and he’ll give it a listen, eager to discover new talent. Press a "vanity book" into a bookstore owner’s hand, and eyes roll. Books require a screen, whereas film and music do not. Funny, but that’s how the world sees it.

One of the hurdles you have to overcome in getting your name known is the review. So far my book has had four reviews and I'm now going to direct you to a fifth at POD People where Cheryl Anne Gardner gives the book 7/10 and refers to the character of Truth as "one of the most endearing antagonists I have come across". There are more reviews on the cards. Granted none of these sites attract huge visitor numbers but who am I to complain? I'm an unknown writer in an overcrowded market trying to flog a book that everybody is struggling to classify because it stubbornly refuses to slip into a nice marketable genre.

There is so much material online about this. It's tiring (and not a little depressing) to read it all. And I need no help to be depressed, thank you very much.

Some bands make it big with their first album. And that's great. With others it takes a while for them to develop a following. I don't expect to make a financial profit with this first novel. I do expect to stack up enough positive feedback so that when the next book comes out people will be able to say, "Hey, I read about this guy's last book. Maybe we should give this one a go." It's a gamble and one I wish I'd taken ten years ago before all this kafuffle started but if wishes were horses who is to say I would have backed a winner even then?

One final comment. The only real criticism I've had of the book so far has been the editing which is ironically the one thing (other than the physical printing) we paid a third party to do. I engaged what I thought at the time was a reputable company to do the work about ten years ago when I first completed the novel. Numerous e-mails went back and forth discussing the finer points of the text and persuading me to break up some of my longer sentences and so I thought we'd put that one to bed. Carrie only did a final touch-up and I reworked a few sentences so that they'd fit better when the text was reformatted as an actual book. It just goes to show you, doesn't it? Incidentally the company we used is still on the go and, although I'm naming no names, is actually quite well respected. So there.

Hi, my name is Jim and I'm a self published author.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Jim. I especially liked your point about indie filmakers and bands.

One hears the same kind of dismissive remarks about bloggers, of course. It seems that literary intellectuals, much more so than film buffs or alternative music fans, feel very insecure without gatekeepers, which include not merely reputable publishers but also established literary magazines and awards. The New York Times Book Review still won't even review books of poetry from small or university presses, even though they publish many of the most prestigious poets now. The snobbishness is very deeply ingrained.

I don't get too worked up about any of this; I just do my own thing and try and support others whose work I like. At qarrtsiluni we're especially keen to publish writers who use blogs as self-publishing platforms, because say what you like, blogging is one of the best ways anyone's yet found for poets to reach audiences who don't consist solely of other poets. I think that's pretty damn exciting!

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

I remember now that I was having some poems of mine published in Bonfire....

Your posts are really full of information.

Best wishes, Davide

Ken Armstrong said...

Jim,I find this very interesting because what I am doing, in my bubble, at the moment is trying to complete a book of my own (probably burst the damn bubble again now).

I wholeheartedly commend you for the action you have taken to get your words out into the world.

We find it in theatre too - often when bigger companies won't touch a script, the only thing to do is rent the barn and put the damn thing on yourself.

For a while I was quite snotty about all this, "...if the National Theatre don't want me yet then I shall go off and sulk and try to do better..."

Not any more. If we believe in our writing, we have to use every guerrilla technique to get it out there on the streets and under people's noses.

So you go guy, I'm here cheering.

And I *love* your book (go and buy it people). My own upcoming modest review will attempt to compare you to Lady Diana. So you'd better brace yourself for that one!! :)

Art Durkee said...

Having self-published about seven poetry chapbooks, among other things, I can't argue with any of your points. I think they're all valid.

The stigma is interesting: your comparison to music and film, both of which I have produced and released "independently" myself, is a good one. It just makes me think that, once again, the Literary World is decades behind everyone else. This isn't the first time in history that lit. has lagged behind the other arts. In fact, lit. has almost always lagged behind music and painting. I've read a fair bit of art history that repeats this point. I have to laugh whenever I read one of those self-promoting LangPo diatribes that claims that they invented everything that in fact was invented in music and painting long beforehand. It just makes me chuckle.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim. An excellent post. Thank you, I really enjoyed it. So far I've been one of the 'lucky' ones, having several novels published by commercial publishers. But I am, nevertheless, strangely drawn to the idea of going it alone, and in particular, print-on-demand, so much of your info was of interest to me.
In return, you might not yet have seen the YouTube video of the POD Expresso Book Machine in action.
This is the link to it.

Dave King said...

Well sais and needed saying. To have all the points you make brought together under one roof, as it were, is (would be, could be) invaluable for someone who has not set sail on this particular stormy sea before.

Jim Murdoch said...

Well, gentlemen, nice to receive such positive feedback.

I'll be honest I'm saying nothing here that's not been said on a dozen sites or more elsewhere online. It's been one of the easiest articles to research because there are so many people out there all saying the same thing, all making perfect sense. When did our world get so crazy that a designer label is worth more than the clothes it's sewn onto?

What you say about the New York Times Book Review, Dave, is a good point and underlines how blinkered so many people are. There's nothing like home cooking at the end of the day. So what if the product is not uniform, if there are no additives and preservatives, if the packaging isn't the prettiest in the world. It's the taste that counts. Suck it and see.

Ken, I hadn't really thought about it but you're so right. What's important is reaching people. The venue or the format is a consideration but that's it. What I'm thinking is that the people who would crowd into a converted church hall or will pick up a hand bound book of poems are probably the kind of people we want to read or hear what we have to say. They're open to new experiences.

As for the Diana thing – could you compare me to the sweet young thing with the see-thru skirt and the doe eyes rather than the media-friendly product she became?

Davide, Carrie remembers you well. I was really sorry when she had to give up Bonfire. It was shaping up to be a contender.

And, Art, I wonder if it's the medium that holds people back? Books are intrinsically old-fashioned and we get very sentimental about them. Music slipped from LPs to tapes to CDs to MP3s without anyone batting an eye hardly. The processes may have evolved but a book looks pretty much the same now as it always has. Bring Gutenberg back and sit him down in Waterstones with a Grande Caffe Latte and he wouldn't look about him and ask, "So, what're all these then?"

Finally, John, I, for one, would pay good money to own a collection of your café stories. I'm not sure how commercial they are especially since you've been marketed as a crime writer so it would make good sense. Our printer is Antony Rowe and Carrie's been working with them for years. If you have any questions drop us an e-mail and we'll see what we can do to help. (I say we but I mean she because I know next to nothing about that side of it. Nice video by the way.

Jim Murdoch said...

You've hit the nail on the head there, Dave, and this is the problem with the Internet in general, there is so much useful information out there but it's all over the place. It's like my blogs on short poetry and metaphors, really all I did was do the research and collate the data.

This time I have to admit there a bit more emotion in the article. I asked Carrie when she was proofreading it for me if it came across as angry because I certainly felt angry writing the thing; she said not but she felt it was cathartic.

One thing that has helped has been the positive feedback that I've been getting and a lot of it I've not been sharing. People have been reading the book and either rereading it or passing onto other people to read. That really says so much. It's all the validation any author could ask for. And that's with the six typos!

BTW do you know what one of the typos was? Eric Morecambe! How the hell could I get Eric Morecambe's name wrong. I have a statute of him (a copy of the one in Morecambe) sitting on the unit in front of me just now. He's an absolute hero of mine and I spelled his ruddy surname wrong! I should be shot.

Rachel Fox said...

Out and proud, my friend, out and proud! We have to be proud of who we are...I hate to sound like a new-age guru's true!

I've published my recent book myself. Even though I get pretty much solidly good reactions and interest from readers and listeners I couldn't find a publisher (though I didn't look very hard..). Not many places publish poetry, of course, and they all have longer waiting lists than the NHS and I just didn't have the time...I was ready to go NOW! Plus for those that do publish poetry I am either too messy, too cheery, too inexperienced, too direct, too old, too non-specialist, too sorry-you-don't-fit-in-here (isn't that a good thing for a poet? Only sometimes apparently) I just did it myself. Like you say it doesn't cost that much (even using all recycled materials like I have done...the price was the same as elsewhere) and the books are mine - to send out where I want, to sell how I want, to promote how I want. So far it's going will be a slow process in some ways...but it's my process, my way.

And as you say if it's good enough for's good enough for us!

I loved Eric Morecambe too...and Ernie Wise. The 2 crazy uncles we all wanted to spend Xmas with...

Lee said...

I'm proudly indie and have never regarded writing as a business venture in any form. Recently I issued a Lulu edition of my novel at cost, simply as a reader service upon request, though I'd already printed up a few archival copies. Going it alone is very satisfying if you're prepared to remain unrecognised and unfeted - which is more or less your fate as a conventionally published writer anyway.

If I need someone else to tell me I'm a writer, then I'm not.

Jim Murdoch said...

Rachel, I was so struck when I was in Morecambe and we found the statue how respectful people were allowing others their moment with him. I know queues are very British but that's almost what there was, a polite queue while we got our photos taken alongside him. And I don't have one of the grotty wee statuettes they were flogging all along the promenade either, I searched till I found a decent one about 10" tall, an exact copy of the statue. It's amazing how well-loved that pair were. There used to be so many double-acts back then but, with the exception of "Ant and/or Dec" (Bill Nighy's character in Love Actually), I think they've pretty much had their day.

Jim Murdoch said...

The point you make about conventional publishing is interesting, Lee, because there simply are not the success stories that people imagine. Those who make a career out of it are very much the exceptions. I remember a documentary a while about the quite successful author Geoff Ryman – I think at this stage he had about four books under his belt – and he was still having to work for the civil service to pay his bills.

I'm sure that many people would laugh when I talk about being a writer as a business but that doesn't stop me being businesslike in my approach to doing things. It's certainly not a hobby. Hobbies are things you can give up and life goes on.

Synchronicity said...

ugh...this is the third time i have tried to comment. yesterday blogger was down and just now it would not accept my wordpress link.

anyways...just wanted to say that i am new to your blog and that i love how you write. this post was very informative and right on.

i do think the trend is growing towards self publishing. i was just published recently through a publishing company but who knows if that will happen again.

you are right that writing is a business. i thought writing was just about writing. boy was i wrong. i was told by my editor that my publisher likes writers who are "comfortable with the media." i am not. but i guess i will have to adjust my introverted personality if i want to follow my dreams.

great site you have here and i will definitely be back to read more of you.

Jim Murdoch said...

Sorry you had such problems posting, Merelyme, but I'm glad you enjoyed the entry. I find your comments interesting, especially what the editor said. The thing is, I'm sure most writers are not media friendly. I certainly am not. Most of the time I'm not even people friendly but we cope.

Conda Douglas said...

Good overview, Jim. You always write such comprehensive posts.

But if I could add a bit: It's all changing, all of it, every moment. I'm reminded of a talk show I once saw where the commenter said that the world is undergoing a far faster, far greater transformation than during the Industrial Revolution.

So fast that POD, Kindle, etc. are old news. So fast that "publishing" almost doesn't have any meaning. Almost.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for that, Conda. So we're living on the cusp or in the midst of a publishing revolution ... it's hard to tell. So, why am I not more enthusiastic? Perhaps because of the growing pains.

What gets me is that the change to digital media happened almost overnight. One day people were buying CDs, the next everyone is walking round with iPods on. I keep waiting on some kind of iBook coming out, something that grips the younger generation in the same way and makes reading cool again.


The previous comments have covered everything that I wished to say. You have encouraged me to embrace self-publishing rather than avoid it. One day I will be in the ranks with you, I hope! No...I WILL!!!

(The indie music segment really grabbed me.)

Rachel Fox said...

Lots of the younger generation are reading, Jim...not all of them perhaps but that's never going to be the case. Younger people get a bad press so often but as we all know...the press is never the whole story. That's one reason writers struggle with dealing with the media I think...a journalist will tend to want to sum someone up in a neat article (hey, did I do that to, I hope not!) when the whole point about being a writer is keeping things more open-ended, more ambiguous, more like life (which is never as simple as we would like it to be, damn it!). Don Paterson writes some good poems on this subject.

Jim Murdoch said...

Susan, I look forward to that day.

On the indie music score I'm reminded of Kathryn Williams who released her first album, Dog Leap Stairs on her own Caw Records label in 1999. Made with a budget of only £80; NME declared it "jaw-droppingly beautiful". It just shows what can be done.

I've also just read a very interesting article in Publishers Weekly on the future of traditional publishing. Very sobering stuff.

Jim Murdoch said...

I don't have anything against the younger generation, Rachel, hell I used to be young. (No, I wasn't). Apart from the odd short story I'm not really sure what in my œuvre would appeal to a younger audience. My first two books feature a fifty-three year old; the next one focuses on a forty year-old (although we see him grow to eighty in the course of the book); the next, a pair of forty year-old Irish layabouts and the current one a fifty year-old woman (at least that's what she is at the moment). I'm not really interested in young people and I can't really see them having much interest in me.

That some of them are reading and not spending their entire lives in front of one screen or another is something I am grateful for. Carrie's granddaughter in particular is a voracious reader and is always easy to buy for.

One thing is inescapable, we are living in a society where there is an ever increasing amount of things to choose from and the way we inevitably make those choices is by assimilating small packets of information and making snap judgements. We have no other choice. I've already accepted that mindset as the inevitable which is why I went for a cover with basically a logo on it, something eye-catching because visuals have always been more immediately accessible than words. I won't argue which is the most powerful.

Anonymous said...

I think all publishing is a kind of vanity, as is playing music on a stage or sunbathing naked on a beach.

POD technology has made a lot of new things possible. For a lot of short story writers there isn't much of a choice. I believe this is because short story collections don't have a single marketable idea, to make them an easy sell, so publishers stay clear of them.

I think what defines vanity from self-publishing is the apparent 'success'. If a few critics say it's great then it's a rare and 'undiscovered gem'. If it's picked up by an Agent or publisher is also regarded as the underdog coming good.

My first collection of very short stories was first available as a POD title. The costs involved in POD don't really work for hundreds of copies though and 'on demand' can often mean a few weeks wait.

Jim Murdoch said...

Nice to see a new name, Adrian, and I agree totally with you on the vanity thing as you will have read. Your right though about the problem with POD, ordering one copy at a time is impractical and expensive. The most cost effective way we found was to order in batches of 45 – an odd number I know but that way we keep all costs to a minimum.

I like the look of your book BTW. I've ordered a copy though I can't promise when I'll get round to it. I have a pile growing beside my chair and I keep finding other things to do.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,
That's very kind of you. Many thanks for the thoughtful post, which I enjoyed reading. Likewise, 'Making Sense' looks interesting. I'm will have to track it down and review it for my blog.

William F. DeVault said...

Well said, Jim.

I have been published by small presses and by two different POD houses, and I prefer the POD route, as it gives me greater control of the final product. There is some stigma attached (no worse than being a "poet" in a supermarket novel market world), but I am fine with that.

And I'll put the quality of my poems and books up against anything, anything, being ground out by the hamburger factory houses of New York or the academic vanity presses that run off of student fees and state subsidies.

Ken Armstrong said...

"Irish layabouts"?

Surely not!!


Jim Murdoch said...

Adrian, I know what you mean but it's not kindness. The point I wanted to make about being published is that I have a quality product for sale. It's worth buying. And the same goes for your book. I read your three stories, liked them, liked the blurb and was willing to fork out hard cash to read the rest. I have a fondness for very short fiction. Even when it comes to novels I prefer novellas.

Making Sense hasn't been released yet. I'm not sure when. The next book is the sequel to Living with the Truth. Maybe then. So, we're talking a year from now thereabouts.

William, I like the tone of your last paragraph. We put a lot of effort into our books. It is a labour of love, not a job. I also think '"poet" in a supermarket novel market world' is a wonderful way of putting it.

And Ken, yeah… That was the novel where I finally got Beckett out of my system. I've always hated that Mercier and Camier get referred to as a kind of proto Vladimir and Estragon – they're really not a very nice couple – so I started to think about where Didi and Gogo came from. It's not quite what I ended up with but that's what was on my mind.

Anonymous said...

thankyou for this post I have just dipped my toes into the self publishing world with Lulu.. and I wish I had read this first..:) still has been a learning experience beyond value..I'm not making much money but I have gathered a King's treasure in knowledge..this post added to that..

Art Durkee said...

one thing you've always got to keep in mind is that is publishing industry is a business. I have dealt with editors who loved the work, but wouldn't take it because they didn't know how to market it and didn't feel they could make any money selling it. Poetry is known loss category, within the larger book publishing industry. It never makes the best seller lists; it almost never earns its keep.

So part of the situation is purely economic, and lies very much at the feet of the publishers. This is where self-publishing can be a boon, and make connections with you audience, your readers, in ways that the mainstream publishers can't, and in many cases can't even imagine.

The other part of the situation does lie at the feet of the writers, though. While I get the occasional poem published—whenever I bother to submit, which is often the last item on my plate, and done only if I have the free time for it—I collect lots of rejections because my poetry doesn't fit known niches. (I sympathize with your comments in this regard, Rachel.) I am too "experimental," usually; I don't usually get called obscure or arcane, but I often get called incomprehensible. LOL And here I thought all my poems were so transparent . . .

The point I'm trying to make is that finding your ideal audience is often a difficult gambit, and is entirely up to you.

Actually, the hardest part of the game is not the publishing part, but the distribution part. I have a vast body of work in my back catalog, in many media. My biggest problem has always been finding my audience, and letting them know I exist. Self-marketing is a necessary component of self-publishing, and for many writers, it's the weakest link. (Remember, I've been involved in book and magazine publishing as a graphic artist, typographer, and designer for decades. Marketing and promotion are always tough nuts to crack.)

So, I have no problem publishing a poem on my blog or website, even if that means some journal later rejects it as self-published. I have made connections to some aspects of an audience in this way, that I have never reached before.

Art Durkee said...

There have been several comments about art as a business. I think this is a VERY important point. One must treat their art—or rather, the aftermath of the art-making itself—in a very organized, businesslike manner.

I am pleased that art schools and music schools now require their students to take business classes. The very idea was considered wacko back when I was in music school, but I really wish I had done it back then. I would have avoided many very obvious and stupid business blunders, and avoided many other mistakes, too. Now I have a young friend who's in art school, and they make them take basic business classes. I think that's brilliant.

Rachel Fox said...

William F. Devault - what a great comment! The pride in your work and the refusal to put in your place comes through loud and clear! Up the revolution, brothers and sisters!

Jim Murdoch said...

What can I say, Confused, there's experience and then there's costly experience and the thing about paying for something is you tend to value you it that bit more, don't you? Even discounting my wife's own experiences I did do a huge amount of research into how to tackle this venture and there is a lot of helpful data out there but it's a) finding it and b) distinguishing from all the other well meaning (but not necessarily accurate) information.

As for distribution, Art, we're a lot more comfortable with purchasing online these days. We don't need to go into a shop, pick up a book, flick through the pages, put it down, pick it up, put it down, walk half way round the store and then come back to find someone else standing in your spot. That's why self-publishing is a viable consideration. Of course promoting oneself online brings its own problems.

Of course, what works for poems doesn't for novels. People still want to curl up with a cup of coffee and a good book – not a laptop.

The two main components of marketing for a writer, per my exhaustive research, are a website and a blog. I spent three months creating my website and nine months establishing and promoting my blog before I even released my book. And I've made sure that I have a quality product to attract readers that has nothing to do with the book. Which has meant promoting me, or at least the online me that I am comfortable with the world seeing. I was always in this for the long haul.

On the business side of things, you have to be able to sit down with a pen and a bit of paper and do your sums. Even if you fully expect to make a loss you need to have a figure in your head that in an acceptable loss. You cannot predict the future. Knowing you have a quality product is one thing. Convincing others that they need what you're selling is another thing. Nothing is a certainty – even with a traditionally published book. I recently read about a writer who happily trundled along to a pre-arranged and well-promoted book reading in Borders and not one person turned up to hear her despite the fact the shop was full of people. Good product, pretty award-winning writer – so what?

And, finally, Rachel, really I'm not a revolutionary and I don't even see this as a revolution. If it is, it's going to be a quiet one. Self publishing is nothing new. Drawing attention to it makes people question it. That's why I didn't. The book was published and that was it. There was nothing to make a fuss about or start waving a flag over. That said, writing this blog has allowed a lot of other people to have their say and that's fine by me. Now, can I go back to my garret, please?

April L. Hamilton said...

>>Your right though about the problem with POD, ordering one copy at a time is impractical and expensive.<<

Actually Jim, this is no longer true, and it's also no longer necessary to order any minimum print runs to get a decent per-copy cost.

I'm a proud indie author with three self-pubbed books in print, all of which I published through CreateSpace. One of them, a 310pp, standard-size, perfect-bound trade paperback runs me $4.57 per copy in production costs, with no minimum print run or order required. Taking the bookseller's 40% cut into account, I was able to set the book's list price at $14 and *still* net $3.83 per copy in profit. To publish a single copy of the same book through Lulu would've cost me $10.73 per copy. At that production cost, I would've had to price the book at $18 just to break even, $19 to earn just $1 per copy in net profit. The price would have to climb even higher to cover the cost of Lulu's charges for Amazon listings and an ISBN, both of which are provided free of charge through CreateSpace.

I'm afraid many authors aren't aware that the old days of minimum print runs and big up-front expenses are over; it truly *is* possible to self-publish on a shoestring budget, and in fact the only expense I incurred in publishing each of my 3 books was the cost of a single proof copy for my review prior to publication: less than $5 each.

While it's true that CreateSpace is more a printer than a publisher, in that they print whatever you give them regardless of your errors and oversights in the manuscript, I firmly believe most authors can manage most or all of their own manuscript and cover prep tasks, thereby saving a lot of money, but still come out with a professional-looking book. To prove it, I've published a step-by-step, how-to reference book on self-publishing called The IndieAuthor Guide. I see that your email is listed in your profile, so I'm going to put my book where my mouth is. I'll email you a complete pdf copy so you can share your views on it, whether positive or negative, with your blog audience if you wish.

All - You may find this article I recently wrote for Teleread of interest: Top Ten Self-Publishing Myths.

Also, I've made some of The IndieAuthor Guide's content available on my website in the form of free, pdf downloads. Enjoy!

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for all that information, April. I have to say I've been taken aback by the positive feedback I've had. I really have never wanted to have a big 'I'm self published' sticker on my site. That I am as I've said is neither here nor there and I expect to be judged on a level pegging with any traditionally published book. Not being ashamed of oneself is one thing; banner waving is something else completely.

I didn't really want to go into laying out how much I've paid and to whom. I only wanted to get across to people that the cost was not prohibitive in any way. We order in batches of 45 because that is the optimum way to make the most of our printer's charges for post and packing. Yes, we could order a single book but it's the postage and packing that would ramp up the costs. And, seriously, if an author doesn't reckon he's going to dispose of 45 books through give-aways and sales then maybe he shouldn't be getting into this business. Also, since we've been using this company for a wee while now we have a relationship with them and that's not to be sniffed at in this day and age.

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