Thursday, February 25, 2010

Yes, You SHOULD Self-Publish - Follow-Up

Shockingly, yesterday's blog post actually generated both readers and responses.

I'd like to address some of those responses here.

Kirstin Morrell was angered by the fact that I quoted her and did not alert her.

I carefully qualified my argument with the phrases "To me" and "That's success as I would define it." Then you decided to throw a little party with my name without even having the courtesy to invite me.

So the question is, then, would you like to have a discussion of this topic, or was this a private party I interrupted, only to find a straw man dressed up to look like me?

First, let me say that since this is a blog no one reads, it would no more occur to me to email Ms. Morrell to let her know that I quoted her than it would occur to me to, say, email Sarah Palin if I blogged about Sarah Palin. I'll try to figure out how to alert her to this post, since it's not my intention to personally offend her.

I'd be happy to talk about the issue of self-publishing with Ms. Morrell or with anyone else, but I'd like to point out that I didn't set up a straw man of her argument for the simple reason that I was not arguing with her. I was disputing a point made by Mr. Sawyer. Ms. Morrell's definition was only tangentially involved. She may have quite a different opinion of self-publishing overall than he does. My post only says, "Mr. Sawyer should not employ this particular definition of 'success' for a self-publishing venture, and here's why." It does not say, "Kirstin Morrell's opinion of self-publishing is wrong."

There were also some Anonymous responses that I would like to address. Two posters referred back to an earlier post I made about lowering the price of the paperback edition of my book to try to increase sales, to try to show that I was, in fact, a failure. And the numbers just don't bare that out, boys, sorry. You're quite right - I am currently only selling about 20 copies a month of the paperback edition of this book. But if you'll check the sales rank of the Kindle edition, you'll see that it's performing much better. I am selling from 100-150 copies of the Kindle edition a month. This means that, between the two editions, I can reasonably expect to sell at least 1500 copies this year.

Anyone who tells you that a first-time novel selling 1500 copies in its first year is a failure does not know what they're talking about. It's that simple. Many, many traditionally-published first novels fail to sell 1500 copies. So if you want me to feel like a failure for selling that many copies, I'm just not going to do so. I can browse the genre lists at Amazon and see where my sales rank stands compared to people published by small presses in my genre - or by not-so-small presses in my genre - and I know who's outselling me and whom I'm outselling. So tell me, if I sell 1500 copies of my book this year using Amazon's tools, and would have sold 0 copies by pursuing traditional publishing, by what crack-brained ratiocination can the decision to self-publish possibly have been the wrong one?

If the Nook or the Sony Reader supported footnotes, I'd probably do even better. But they don't, so I can't sell at B&N or in the other ebook stores, or for the upcoming iBooks store; Amazon is it for me right now. But that won't happen to my next book, so I hope to do even better next time.

It's not a lot of money. It just pays my cable and internet bill. But the advance a first-time novelist would receive wouldn't do much more. It might even do less.

I'd also like to respond to one last comment of Ms. Morrell's. She was obviously a little annoyed when she wrote her post, and decided to get a little snide. I'm not taking it personally, though, because it gives me the opportunity to make another point that I think is important:

And of course your mother will buy your book. That doesn't make success.

No, my mother won't buy my book. Thomas Brookside is a pseudonym. My family has no idea that the book even exists. I realize that the stereotype about self-published authors is that all their sales come from their mom, but that's just not true in my case.

So I'd like to amend my earlier advice telling everyone to self-publish:

My full advice is to self-publish, using only CreateSpace and free ebook tools, and do so under a pen name. The contempt that the traditional publishing world has for independent authors flows from two sources: the notion that you're going to print a lot of books using PublishAmerica or some scam outfit and then nag your family members to buy them, and the notion that the reason you're publishing is so you can show up at cocktail parties and crow, "I'm Joe Blow, published writer." You can take the satisfaction of that contempt away by publishing under a pseudonym, and then leaving your family alone and never, ever, ever being that guy at a party.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Yes, You SHOULD Self-Publish

In a recent blog post, author Robert Sawyer advises everyone not to self-publish, because he says it's impossible to be successful at it.

He then cross-posts Kirstin Morrell's definition of success:

Now, let's define success. To me, it would be someone who makes a full-time living from writing SF novels, novellas, and/or short stories, without living below the poverty line. That's success as I would define it. And I don't know one SF author who self-publishes who would meet my criteria for success.

I really don't see how this can possibly be an appropriate definition, for two reasons.

First, according to this definition every author everywhere who has a day job is a failure. Poof! There went basically the entire literary fiction genre. Every last one of those people has a day job. Failures all?

Second, the standard of comparison being employed is absurd. To judge whether or not a self-publishing venture is a success, all you have to do is compare your outcome to your likely outcome if you had continued to pursue traditional publishing. Since the overwhelming majority - maybe 99.99% - of people who pursue traditional publishing will never get an agent, never get published, and never sell a single book, any of those people who pursue self-publishing and sell even one copy or net even one dollar made the right decision.

When someone asks, "Should I self-publish?" it's really silly to answer them, "No, because if you self-publish, you won't be as successful as Dean Koontz." The only method of analysis that makes any sense whatsoever is to say, "Ask yourself if you will sell more books, get more readers, and make more money by self-publishing or by traditional publishing."

I would tell everyone considering writing to self-publish. If you don't buy scratch tickets, self-publish. If you don't expect to win the Lotto, self-publish. If you pursue traditional publishing, the odds are overwhelming that you will never sell one single book. If you self-publish using CreateSpace and the Amazon Kindle Store, you at least have a chance to make some sales and get some readers. For every 1000 of you out there who decide you want to write query letters and keep your fingers crossed for a traditional publisher instead, 999 of you will utterly fail and never sell a single book to anyone.