For this post, I asked the wonderful Dan Holloway to contribute his views. I met Dan on Authonomy. He is a vocal, experienced writer with a lot of interesting ideas. He has recently co-published his book, Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, and has written another novel interactively on Facebook (links below).
When Self-publishing is NOT a good idea
I’m a self-publisher. Some of you who know me would be forgiven for thinking I’m a self-publishing evangelist. But that’s only partly true. Self-publishing comes in for a lot of bad press, and the stats are, let’s face it, horrendous (http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com/2009/08/sales-statistics-iuniverse.html). And most of that is down to one thing: many of the wrong people self-publish the wrong stuff.
So I want to use Patty’s kind invitation to set out some very brief guidelines for what is and what ISN’T a good thing to self-publish. Not rules, guidelines. And I don’t have figures – but I have pledged to use my own book transparently as a source of data (http://agnieszkasshoes.blogspot.com/2009/09/hold-me-to-account-success-or-failure.html). Please ask any questions & I’ll gladly elaborate.
1. Self-publishing works best for niche markets that you know well. Why? Simple. There’s only one of you to do the marketing. If your market’s too diverse you could end up talking to thin air. If, on the other hand, your book’s called “A History of Orchid Growing in Queensland” and you’re the president of the Queensland Orchid Growers Society: why do you need a publisher? One thing this means is that:
2. Self-publishing tends to suit non-fiction better than fiction, because the niches tend to be tighter-knit. But not always. Which leads to:
3. Self-publishing works best if you’re writing for people like you. Simply because you probably already hang out with your readers. And if you don’t, you almost certainly already KNOW where they hang out. This is NOT the same as saying I think you should write ABOUT people like you. I tried once, and it was disaster. Then I tried writing about a gay 17 year-old Hungarian girl, with considerably more success. Nor am I saying you should write FOR people like you. This isn’t about what you WRITE. It’s about what you stand the best chance of selling without discovering extra hours in the day.
4. Self-publishing suits books that aren’t well-serviced by the mainstream presses. A publisher needs to know they will sell many thousands of copies to recoup their costs. Many genres of book (like literary fiction from newbies) just can’t rack up those figures. But as a self-publisher writing a book a year, you don’t need massive figures to make a modest living.
5. Self-published books are hard to get into bookstores. Not impossible. Hard. So you will probably rely on selling through Amazon or equivalent. Which means your book needs to appeal to a demographic that uses the Internet for its book purchases.
6. Self-published doesn’t mean slapdash. Don’t self-publish your book until it’s as good as you’d like it to be had a mainstream publisher put it out there. Self-publishing isn’t a shortcut to print. It’s an alternative business model for aspiring writers. You wouldn’t set up a bakery and sell cakes where the icing was all over the place and the body was sunken in the middle. So don’t think it’s acceptable to put your book out there with a bunch of typos and a cover made from Clip Art.
7. Don’t self-publish if you don’t like people. Strong self-publishers engage with their readers, they are entertaining presences in the cybersphere, and they work extremely hard at being part of the crowd they’re writing for. If you already hang out with your readers regularly, are well-respected, and enjoy doing it, you’re on the right track. If you like writing because it means you can lock yourself away and don’t have to meet people, forget self-publishing.
In short, before you self-publish, ask yourself why. And unless the answer’s “because it’s the very best chance I can give my book of reaching its audience”, keep on querying. But if it IS, the go for it! And Don’t. Look. Down.
Dan Holloway is a member of the Year Zero Writers collective, organiser of the Free-e-day Festival , and regularly blogs about indie writing. His novel, Songs From the Other Side of the Wall, is available as an ebook in all formats, for free, at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/3308