The Ever Changing Fortunes of Self Publishing

Posted: August 25, 2012 in Darklands, Editing, Marketing & Promotion, Publishing, Reviews, Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

The publishing world is in upheaval. Everyone agrees on that.

Just this morning I read this post calling traditional publishing the new vanity publishing. The author makes a lot of good points about authors settling for far smaller royalties than self publishers in pursuit of the prestige of a traditional publishing house. He points out that many traditionally published works by new authors will recieve virtually no marketing or promotion – leaving the bulk of it up to the author, just like self publishers. Similarly he claims (and I don’t know, but have no reason to doubt his word) that most traditionally published books will not recieve widespread exposure or reviews in the media.

I have always assumed that the smaller royalties of a traditionally published author are more than compensated by the vastly increased exposure and sales. But if this article is correct, then perhaps not?

It is a very confusing time for authors, whether traditionally represented or not. Currently, circumstances seem to change by the week. It’s about 18 months since I first began to investigate self publishing, and exactly a year since I published Darklands as an eBook on Amazon. In that time I’ve already seen significant changes in the way self publishing works and the way it is perceived.

Eighteen months ago it was still pretty new and exciting. There was a pioneering, adventurous spirit to self publishing. Sites that would review self published works were a bit thin on the ground, but they existed, and would take on new authors.

Then came the first (that I am aware of. Probably not actually the first) of what has become an alarming trend of psycho-author deludo-knobbery. Jacqueline Howett’s astonishing online meltdown over what is actually a pretty fair and balanced review on Big Al’s Books & Pals quickly went viral. The next time I checked the site, Big Al was not taking on any new books to review. His plate was full.

More indie book reviewers spring up regularly. But if they achieve any success and popularity they quite quickly seem to change their review policy from ‘will accept self published books’ to ‘due to backlog, will not be accepting any more self published books.’

Worse, some review sites will not take on indie books because they have no interest in attracting the drama of a Jacqueline Howett style author attack. And perhaps *even worse* others (I suspect) intentionally provoke indie author attacks cuz, well, it’s fun. And it generates traffic to their site.

I regularly hear of (but avoid) packs of feral reviewers and equally feral authors coming to virtual blows on Goodreads or Twitter. I used to follow Cuddlebuggery (yeah, I know, that name! Just don’t worry about it), as I found their snarky reviews and up-yours attitude fun and refreshing. But I’ve been avoiding them lately. Their stream of recent posts on how to evade/confound/limit the damage caused by crazy indie authors is just depressing.

A year ago, attempting to navigate the gloomy waters of self publishing, I was a regular presence on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing message boards. There I found help, advice, and a lot of people in the same boat trying to support each other. Within a couple of months I’d abandoned the boards altogether. Not because I no longer needed any help, but because the threads were filled with messages such as: Give me a five star review, and I’ll give you one. Then came lots of complaints from reader forums about indie authors spamming their message boards with blatent and unwelcome self promotion. Then came the trolls to the authors message boards masquerading as stupid authors and working the community up into a frothy fury *sigh*

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Since the phenomenal success of initially self published authors such as Amanda Hocking and EL James, the mainstream media and publishers are starting to take notice. Sites such as Kirkus and Publishers Weekly are now offering an impartial indie book review service – for a price (around $200 for Publishers Weekly and $400 for Kirkus).

I don’t know about you, but I baulk at a) paying for a review at all, and b) those prices. But should I? If we are taking the traditional publisher out of the picture, then we have to expect to perform all the roles they used to. I am already aware of and have had to learn to fill or outsource the roles of: editor, proof reader, jacket designer, web designer, e-marketer, publicist.

But I guess the publisher also fulfils other roles that I don’t know so much about. How exactly does a traditional publisher go about securing a review in a national paper? Is money involved? Or just relationships? Networks? Favours?

If I am to be my own publisher maybe I should expect to outlay cash in order to promote my work, the way a traditional publisher would? But there are dangers. I am very wary of falling into the old vanity publishing traps of squandering money on a pipe dream. Without that objective, external presence of agent or publisher how do you know if your book really is any good? If it’s marketable? If a large audience would enjoy it? Or if a few well-meaning friends have been far kinder than they should have been, and really you haven’t a hope in hell…?

In my more cynical moments I wonder if the new-found interest by mainstream publishers and media is less to do with the extremely rare mega success stories of the Hockings and Jameses, and more to do with the small, reliable drip feed of hopeful authors shelling out a few hundred pounds here, a few hundred there, hoping, ever hoping that somewhere down the line they will at last get that big break they’ve been waiting for…? Which means that nothing much has really changed since the bad old days of vanity publishing. Authors still pay to get their egos stroked (or bashed) and the people enabling them are the ones making the money. Most authors will only lose money.

So what are we to make of it all? Have any of you paid for promotion or reviews? Did you see any return on your investment? I’d love to hear about it.

  1. MishaBurnett says:

    I currently have 21 Amazon reviews of my self-published novel “Catskinner’s Book”. (Launched in July of 2012.) They are largely favorable, and I didn’t pay for any of them.

    I did, however, offer free e-book copies on a site called that encourages (but does not require) users who download books to review them. I believe that four or five of the reviews I have came from Story Cartel readers, the others are mostly from people who downloaded it for free during my KPD free days. I also did a GoodReads giveaway, but I didn’t get any Amazon reviews from that, and only one, I think, on GoodReads.

    I have been promoting my work through my blog here on WordPress, and on Twitter. I have come to believe that it is simply a long process and there are no shortcuts.

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