More self-publish

I’m looking at what I wrote the other day (just prior to this so not going to link) and it’s, well, almost fanboyish. I’m still feeling fanboyish, but let me add a little reason to it.

There are a lot of pros who advise against self-publish, both e-book/epub and print on demand (POD). Set aside for a moment the possibility/probability of “I didn’t so you shouldn’t,” the reasons boil down to two: you lose the strengths of the traditional system, and you can get ripped off. (If you’re an indie who’s wandered over here, don’t give me the line that trads are rip-offs. I’ll get there, but it’s not a black and white line either.)

The strengths of the traditional system are that you get someone who makes your writing good enough a lot of people will buy it (instead of it lingering with no sales and you wondering why), an inhouse or rolodex stable of experts at various substeps between writing and distribution (cover design, typeset, copy edit, etc.), a NAME for which people look in lieu of your obscurity, an extremely wide distribution net and sales/marketing force, and a chunk of money in your hands relatively quickly.

Unfortunately it’s a narrow bridge with thousands jockeying to cross it. And equally unfortunately there are a lot of caveats with every one of those strengths. Pay, for example. Three to six months later is considered normal. Nine months, while worth complaints, won’t drop jaws as unusual. Longer happens. So does short-changing, hidden books, the magic of Net vs Gross, and the list goes on. (I told you, indies, that I’d mention the crook business.) Or take editors. Yep, every house has some good ones. Pretty much every house also has a lot of editors in training; copy-editors who are trying to get a handle on real editing and your work is their practice session. Yep, you’re paying students to use your material for their training session.

Again, though, the worst of the strengths is that it’s a narrow bridge. There are a lot of reasons both from history and from anecdote to tell us that a wider bridge would bring a lot more material readers would purchase. There’s also… no, I’ll get to the fat tail in a minute. I said there were two reasons many pros dissuade people against indie (self) publishing. The second is rip-offs.

It’s not so bad in the electronic world. It really comes up in the POD world. The simple way to put it is that a lot of Vanity Press moved into POD, changing the name but not the practice. If you can sell enough books at a high enough price you can make a profit even at those places. Odds are if you can do that you can break down the door for traditional publishing, too. And while you’ve still got people trying to take a lot of your product for little, you’re less likely to wind up owing your soul to the company store.

Once more, the big deal about indi publishing boils down to the combination of very low entry costs plus a fat tail. If you’re writing fanfic or unauthorized derivatives you still fail and can still get hammered. (caveat – there are places for fanfic. Just not “indi”.) If your writing is terrible with massive plotholes and meandering passages that do nothing to tell the story, your tense jumps without notice or reason from present to past to future (a failing of mine), you’re probably not going to sell.

But if your writing is decent and you can tell an ok story, you can sell a little. And that, there, is why I’m so frigging excited. The bridge is not just wider, it’s darn near infinite. You can do it electronically for pretty much just the cost of your access to the internet. (Writing on the public library’s computers? Using an old and almost decrepit Pentium 2 over 64K dialup? you get the idea.) If you want to add print there’s some small fees, and some lessons to learn to avoid large fees. If you’ll take the time to look around for the lessons the bridge is almost infinitely wide.

I begin to think we have entered an era where Heinlein’s Rules need no caveats.
1) Write.
2) Finish what you write.
3) Do not Rewrite unless told to do so by someone who is paying you to do it.
4) Put the work on the market.
5) Keep the work on the market till it’s sold.

But there are people who warn it’s not all roseblooms on streets paved with gold, and frankly that’s worth keeping in mind as well.


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