Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing

First off, let me make it clear that when I say “self-publishing” I do NOT mean using a “vanity” publisher. When you use a “vanity” publisher, it basically means that you pay a company that looks like a traditional publisher to edit/proofread your work and bind it into book form. The price for this service is usually several thousand dollars and can run into the tens of thousands depending on what type of ‘package’ you purchase. These companies and their ‘service’ are basically a rip off. The proofreading/editing is shoddy at best. If you do not like the end result, chances are you are going to be stuck with several hundred to several thousand copies of a book that you cannot give away. And even if you buy some type of ‘promotion’ package (where they supposedly advertise your work to the masses), chances of you selling a single copy of your book based on THEIR work is little to none. I would NEVER suggest that anyone go the route of the vanity press.

When I say “self-publish” I mean using a POD or Print-on-Demand company. (POD means that the book is not printed out until someone orders a copy of it. By doing this, it keeps the author from having to spend thousands of dollars on copies of a book that they then have to turn around and attempt to sell) It is a lot more work on the author’s part, but you won’t be out thousands of dollars on a project that you do not whole-heartedly love.

With the technology of today, getting published has become relatively easy for anyone who wishes to get their written word out to the masses. But is it really such a ‘quick fix?’ Here is just a small take on my personal trials and tribulations about the ins and outs of do-it-yourself publishing.

I chose to self-publish my last novel for several reasons (i.e. the novel Temptation which is a collection of 8 short erotic stories). First, the genre I write. There is a huge market for erotica but unfortunately the traditional publishers do not like getting their hands dirty with it. In today’s world just about everyone has a website. Before I decided to go the self-publishing route I looked up a few dozen traditional publishers to see what type of genre they would accept. Not surprisingly, none of them would touch the erotic fantasy genre. So I started looking into other options, namely self-publishing. The second reason why I chose to self-publish is because traditional publishers do not take unsolicited manuscripts. That is to say, you can’t just send in a query letter and part of your manuscript and expect them to do anything besides toss them in the trash. They all want literary agents to represent the author. This means that there is just one more person who gets a cut of the profits. And of course agents, as well as publishers, will not even look at it until it goes to a professional editor. I personally think that editors should be nothing more than a spell check with fingers. Unfortunately, they want to rip it apart and impose their own styles into the manuscript so it soon ceases to be the author’s work. I do my own editing since I have been doing freelance editing jobs for more than twenty years now. Once I’ve finished finding every error I can on my own, I send out copies to family and friends and ask them to mark any typos they come across. I guess you can say I cheat when it comes to editing.

You might be wondering what all is involved in self-publishing. What, exactly, does an author have to do in order to self-publish.

Everything. And I do mean everything. Most POD publishers (Print-on-Demand) will editor your work for you, for a fee. But it can cost several thousand dollars, and that’s money I just don’t have. My editing process is pretty much on-going. I am never really satisfied with what I come up with. The last novel I wrote I spent eight hours a day seven days a week for over two months editing it on my computer. Once I could no longer find any errors I ordered a printed copy and edited the hard copy. Once I made those changes I ordered copies for my family and friends and had them go through it. Then I had to change those mistakes, and that in itself is a job and a half.

The POD company that I use does not accept MS Word documents. When I upload the word document, the company changes it to a read-only PDF document. Unfortunately, the way the PDF document prints out is not the same as it does when it’s in Word format. So I spent countless hours adding in pages and spaces and reformatting the entire manuscript trying to get the PDF document to print out the way I want it to. Before you can even upload your completed files you have to decide what size the book will be, what type of paper you want it printed on, what type of binding, if it’s hard cover or paperback or if you want it in black and white or full color. I also design my own cover for my books. The little synopsis that appears on the back is written by me. I have my own storefront through Lulu  but again, I have to design the whole thing and keep it up and running.

Keep in mind that anyone can slap any dribble on paper and have it self-published. But that doesn’t mean that people will find it. Once you get the book designed and printed and perfect, then you have to get the word out. All advertising, book signings, getting interviews….it all falls on the author to handle all of this. Unless, of course, you are willing to pay the POD company to handle all of this for you. Most self-published authors are living paycheck t o paycheck so most of us have to resort to advertising that is little to no cost. And trust me, free advertising doesn’t exactly get your name out there. As a self-published author you will soon find yourself in a sea of self-published authors. Trying to make a name for yourself can be even harder than if you go the traditional publishing route.

So, is it a “quick-fix?”

No, I just think it’s an option. Those of us who choose to go this route have our reasons. Yes, many of us choose to self-publish because we cannot get published with a traditional company. Others want to retain complete control over their work, others do it just because they want to. If you think that self-publishing is something that you can do real quick to get your work out there, then I am afraid that you are going to be very unpleasantly surprised. Going the self-publishing route takes months and months of hard work after you’ve written the manuscript. The more work that you choose to do yourself then the longer it will take and the more work there will be for you to do. You have to not only be creative in your writing, but also have to come up with some pretty creative ways to get your name out there and promote yourself. Is it worth it? Oh yes, to hold a copy of your book in your hand is always worth the time and effort put in to it. I don’t think self-publishing is for everyone, especially if you do not have the time and energy it takes to devote to marketing yourself. But for many, it has definitely helped to get them that much closer to becoming a household name.

Criticism: To Listen or Not to Listen

As a writer, at some point in time, you are going to come across criticism.  You will have those who mean well and will give an honest opinion, and then you will have those people who are just plain idiots, who are angry at the time, or who seriously enjoy the instant gratification and anonymity of slinging shit at the walls to see what sticks.  You actually will get some good advice, some of which you may or may not want to take.  The question you have to ask yourself is if the advice given will make any difference, if it applies to your particular writing, and if you really give a damn enough to take the advice.

A personal pet peeve of mine is for someone to tell me how to write my own ideas.  But guess what?  Sometimes they are right.  So how do you know if their advice is for you?  Try taking their advice and rewrite the suggested areas.  Is it any better to YOU?  If not, then toss it.  Nobody said you had to take their advice.  If you specialize in a specific genre or idea and feel that the advice really doesn’t apply, then don’t fret about it.  I have had a lot of “advice” from people who try to impose their own thoughts and opinions on what should and should not go on in my little world of the vampire.  What they fail to comprehend is that I spent YEARS creating the world that my latest novel takes place in.  I wrote down all the rules and regulations that governed what my different types of characters could and could not do long before I created a single character to live in that world.  I may not be an expert on the vampire, but I certainly could argue the point that I am an expert when it comes to my own storyline and the world in which that storyline lives.  But I try not to just toss aside a suggestion.  Any suggestion that I can actually use at a later date is always a good thing.   Most of the time, however, the suggestions given to me really do not apply to my particular genres.  When that happens, I simply ignore it.

Sometimes I get suggestions that fall under the whole, “I don’t really give a crap” category.  But what if the criticism is so vocal, or shared by so many people, that they might be on to something?  If I know in advance what others will think when they read my work, then I can incorporate that into my storyline.  For example, I had several people make remarks about how absolutely absurd the names of my characters were in The Red Fang.  I did not just haphazardly pick names at random when I named the majority of my characters.  There actually was a whole vampire culture aspect as to how my vampires came by their names.  This idea was hinted at, but never talked about in detail, and I did not even intend to have any hint of the ideas behind their names come into the storyline until the second novel.  But since I now knew that people thought their names were so stupid and that they didn’t understand the great cultural background of how my vampires got their names, I had to decide if including this information would benefit the storyline enough to warrant including it, or if I just wanted to let people think whatever they wanted.  In the end, I included an entire chapter that involved the three main characters sitting around poking fun at the ridiculous vampire names along with the cultural history regarding those names.  In the end, when people who read the story think that the names are incredibly moronic, when they come to the chapter that explains the cultural significance of their names, the readers are the ones who end up with egg on their face rather than me.

In my particular writing style, I have a tendency to write like I am giving a verbal recount of a story.  I use incomplete sentences, run on sentences, have dangling participles and modifiers all over the place.  It is very laid back and low key.  My writing style does not resemble a polished, professionally edited book at ALL.  And that ‘s the way I want it.  I have had hundreds of readers tell me they enjoyed my writing style and that it really made them feel like they were in the story.  Bottom line, it works for me.  I don’t sound like all the cookie cutter books out there and I don’t want it to.  So when I get comments bashing my writing style as being ‘unprofessional’ or that point out all the English rules that I am breaking, I file those suggestions under the “I don’t really give a damn” category. 

The worst thing a writer can do is try to embrace a writing style that is not naturally their own.  If all writers sounded the same, how very boring the books would be to read.  I know that I am breaking English rules.  I did it on purpose.  The real question is, does pointing this out actually help me?  If the grammatical errors hinders the storyline and takes away from the action, then yes, it helps.  But if the story reads, sounds, and feels just the way I want it, then no, pointing out that I have disposable adverbs and unnecessary modifiers does not help me.  One has to keep in mind that not everyone will “get” what you are trying to say, will understand your point of view, or will even be smart enough to follow along with your storyline. 

If all else fails and the criticism/suggestions is really bothering you, then take a step back.  Count to ten.  Reread your work.  If there is something that YOU genuinely think needs to be changed or addressed, then by all means, change it.  But if you feel that your work is just fine the way it is, then take all those “suggestions” with a grain of salt.  After all, you can’t please all the people all the time.