Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"How to Publish Your Manuscript"

This headline caught my aunt’s attention and she called me on the spot to tell me about the class. Admittedly, I was nervous about going, because honestly outside of RWA chapters and affiliated groups romance can get a bad rap. I hoped I wouldn’t have to stand up in front of everyone and say, “I’m Skylar. I write romance.” In my neck of the woods, you get THAT look. The one that says, “Oh, you write smut.” (In retrospect this is funny because the business center is a block away from 3 adult stores.)

I went to the class intrigued to learn the ins and outs of using author devices on Amazon.com and an insider’s advice on booksignings. (True I don’t have a book out, but it’s always good to be prepared for the “what ifs”.)

I walked into class, and just as I’d guessed, it was dominated by women (and a couple unlucky bfs/hubbies that got dragged along). The presenter was dressed nicer than anyone in a crisp pinstripe business suit. I thought it was a little bit of overkill, but when he started talking I knew why. He’s a businessman…not necessarily a writer, so upper most in his mind was setting a good image. Plus projecting that polished kind of look made him appear credible.

I’m not saying the talk wasn’t good, but I could tell by the gallery’s questions that we had some serious beginners in the ranks. And I didn’t feel at ease with the prof’s spin that an author who’s tired of getting rejected, should self-publish. That gave me a cold chill. These people (of which only 3 including myself had finished a manuscript) sat out there seeing $ because of his example on how real publishing royalties and advances stack up side-by-side with self-publishing payoffs. Sure the $4,000 difference in the self-published author’s pocket (and the idea of controlling everything) seemed nice, but he completely glossed over the work it would take to make a self-published book successful. In order to get those greenbacks in the author’s pocket he’d have to sell constantly to push that same number (as well as sell every single copy). And hawking a Kinko-ed copy from the trunk of your car doesn’t exactly exude the same image as signing stock at a B&N (unless you’re lucky to break in with the chain’s distributor).

In the instructor’s case, he’d decided to write a non-fiction entrepreneur how-to and ended up self-publishing because he couldn’t get a publisher to bite. When an agent did reply with interest, he already had the book out. So she passed on representation. As a businessman, he was able to take his book to meetings, panels, etc. to promote. By following up on a real professor’s tip he managed to get his book picked up by a small publisher. (Because they published the same book, he had to trash the extra copies of his self-published book, which he’d paid out of pocket for.) So he had seen both sides of the coin to an extent…and decided to self-publish his second book.

Eventhough he’d seemed to walk the walk, his answers for some of the questions still didn’t sit easy with me. And I made sure to pipe up about those “agents” who snipe needy authors like true vanity presses. Heck, I’d seen Chaptermates fall for those ploys, so I new these students wouldn’t know the difference.

In the end, I came home shaking my head, almost glad the 3 hour class had wrapped in 2. Especially since the instructor had glossed over all the points I’d wanted to learn about by saying, just go to Amazon.com and you’ll see a link for a bunch of author stuff. Then he’d shared more personal anecdotes about his booksignings.

I still frown thinking about his overall “take home” message…no not the pep talk of how a down-and-out English teacher and divorced, welfare mom can be household named bestsellers…but that self-publishing just might be the way to go.

I’ve heard more buzz lately from new romance authors wanting to self-publish. I know cases like this instructor’s can turn into big success (just look at Christopher Paolini and ERAGON), but for most it never seems to be a winning situation or even a wash. In most of the cases I’ve heard about and from what I’ve read it seems self-publishing for fiction writers is the kiss of death.

What do you think about self-publishing? Is it a good thing or bad thing for a writer’s career? And should a “newbie” really give it a shot to break into the business?


The one saving grace that I enjoyed in the seminar was that the instructor pushed “On Writing” by Stephen King. If you’re a writer and haven’t read it, please do. You won’t be sorry!


Xandra Gregory said...

Chris Paolini's parents are PR professionals. What he lacks in literary representation he makes up for in media connection. I'm always suspicious of the self-pub seminar that doesn't start out by urging the potentials to ask honestly why they can't find a home in NY or small press.

There are times when self-pub is an appropriate venue--niche interests, where the market just isn't large enough for NY to take an interest, or, if an author has enough decent direct access to concentrations of their target market via cons (like SF) or fairs (Ren, craft, special interest, etc) to make the benefits of NY's distribution questionable.

But anyone going into self-pub should be very aware that the Chris Paolinis, the Deepak Chopras are the exception, rather than the rule.

MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott said...

I also read somewhere that the "self-published" Chistopher Paolini's book was actually published by his parents' publishing house. Um.... yeah. Not exactly self publishing unless they started the business for that one purpose.

Selling self published books is a very hard and arduous road. I know, my hubby sells his self-pubbed comics at conventions. I've thought of self pubbing some of my fantasy novels, but I would do that only for myself and to sell at cons, but I would never let it stop me from persuing publication with other houses.


Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Great post, Skylar. Self-pubbing is a tough road. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone unless they want to work twice as hard as everyone else to sell, if they're lucky, half as much.

Cassandra Kane said...

It sounds like this class was a way for him to sell to a captive audience, a way to market himself as an expert. I'll bet the next book he brings out is on how to self-publish. (Cynical, moi?) A shame he couldn't provide any real content.

IMHO, unless you're one of the rare breed who can both write and sell sell sell equally well and with equal enthusiasm (and they do exist), I'd give it a pass.