Is the rise of self-publishing good for writers?

Here at the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, we constantly wrestle with the issue of self-publishing. Some of our members believe we should be strong advocates of self-publishing as the new revolution that will save writers, while some others see it as a scourge on writing and literary culture that we should oppose at all costs. The range of opinions among our membership probably runs the full gamut in between. I think it’s healthy to get a diverse discussion going about the pros and cons of self-publishing. 

The following is a guest post by Lee Kvern on the subject:

Up until now I haven’t had a real view on self-publishing. I have always understood the need for people who are writing to be connected with people who are reading. What writer doesn’t require an audience? But in light of the huge market push (along with huge cost to produce a self-published print book), I now have an opinion. (E-books might be another story, certainly more viable in the cost versus what-you-get comparison.)

In my humble opinion, the self-publishing industry feels predatory, yet another way to suck money out of the already behind-the-eight-ball writer who must work one, two jobs in order to pursue (at best) this expensive hobby of writing. I’m against anything that markets to writers as opposed to for writers. I realize how enormously difficult it is to get a publisher, but for me, I would far rather take that 3-5 thousand dollars (for a print book) and go to a writer’s retreat, enjoy the fine company of writers, hone my craft, have readers that can offer me feedback that will help me grow as a writer.

I’ve seen far too many friends sucked in by the promise of self-publishing marketing schemes that leave them with boxes full of books in their basements that they can’t move or get reviewed, or submit to awards where your book might at least have a chance at being read. I’ve seen friends disappointed and bruised and disillusioned by the self-publishing industry. I’m not saying that publishers don’t have their own brand of disappointments (royalty cheques for one, and the sheer amount of time and money needed to get your book out there) but the difference being that between you and the publisher, you just might get a reader or two outside the neighbourhood.

Ok, that’s my rant for today, and I may live to eat my own boots/shoes on this whole self-publishing thing, if it’s truly changing the writing industry the way people think it will. More, I’m saying enjoy the process, embrace the supports in place for writers (Go to the Banff Centre or any other wonderful retreat!!) that serve to encourage, enhance, hone your skills and put you in the fine company of other writers. You can’t ever go wrong with that. And besides, who doesn’t want a basement full of writers (as opposed to books that you give away for Christmas – by the way, please put me on your list.) I promise you will be farther ahead and happier in the company of birds of the same feathers at writer’s retreats than handing over your hard-won money to the self-pub marketeers.

Lee Kvern is the 2012-2013 W.i.R. for the Canadian Authors Association (Central Alberta). You can find her on Twitter as @LeeKvern and on the web at: www.leekvern.com

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About julie sedivy

I'm a cognitive scientist and a writer of nonfiction and poetry. I serve as the President of the Writers Guild of Alberta.
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2 Responses to Is the rise of self-publishing good for writers?

  1. Holly says:

    Perhaps you might find it useful to look into self-publishing a bit more. You may be surprised at how it actually works for most people. There is actually NOT a “huge cost to produce a self-published print book,” as you claim.

    Yes, there are unethical companies that prey on authors’ ignorance of how self-publishing works. But I’d say that the vast majority of self-published authors don’t choose to purchase an expensive self-publishing package. They choose to put their book together by themselves: they may hire an editor or proofreader, a cover designer, an ebook formatter. And if they decide to print, they most likely won’t be investing in an expensive print run. They’ll be choosing a POD service which only requires the investment of formatting the book and having a full cover designed.

    Most self-published authors research their options and pick and choose from different service providers for design and editing work. Responsible self-published authors treat their book like a business. They may or may not put together a business plan and a marketing plan, but they will estimate the investment involved and then search for service providers who are within their budget.

    Yes, it’s easier to rely on a company that claims to do it all for you for a price, but if you do any amount of research online, you can easily learn how to put together your own “package” but choosing from different freelance designers and editors.

  2. eddie says:

    Please, spare me. it is so difficult to impossible these days getting a manuscript on a publisher’s desk and getting more difficult every year. You either have to have some sort of ‘in’ at house, shmooze literary events, or get extremely lucky. Publishing houses are merging every 6 months and bookstores are going under at a phenomenal rate. How’s a good story supposed to find an audience? Indigo Books gives a traditionally published book by a new writer 90 day to achieve decent sales or it gets returned. Publishers expect authors now to do a lion’s share of their own marketing. I read my eBooks to over 100 Grade 5 students in Toronto and Edmonton. I asked how many had eReaders and they almost all put up their hands. It’s the new generation and eBooks are their choice. Why would an author get only 25% royalty for a paperback yet still have to do marketing? Why not get 80% and offer your book at a cheaper price? Publishers have traditionally picked far more losers than winners because they are too subjective in their choices and would rather go with the status quo than actually seek out new authors.
    It’s a brave new world. Bookus Publishing has initiated a type of crowd-sourcing selection process in how they pick a book for publishing. Readers review submitted samples and rate them. Not one head honcho editor–a dozen readers. The most popular get to move forward. There’s a lot out there that stems solely from the electronic revolution. I was strung along by a Toronto publisher for two years with great promises to get published. I gave them exclusivity on my property for 2 years and in the end was cut. During the wait I lost another opportunity. I don’t need any more crap from any publishers. They made their own beds in how they treat authors to poor/non-existent marketing to shunning their own authors who had more to offer, and several more evils–don’t get me started.
    Mark Coker from Smashwords says “…ebooks cost less to produce, package and distribute than print books. There’s no inventory, and therefore no returns of unsold inventory. With a traditional publisher, it often takes 12 months or more before the book is released. With indie ebooks, the book is published instantly to a worldwide market. The indie author enjoys greater creative freedom, a closer relationship with their readers, the ability to earn 85-100% net as opposed to the paltry 25% of net paid by publishers, and the ability to price lower – which has the virtuous effect of driving greater sales volume, faster platform-building and greater author profits. Unlike the static print books of yesteryear, ebooks are living creatures. Indie authors can leverage Viral Catalysts …..to make their books more available, more discoverable and more enjoyable. Unlike print books, most of which quickly go out of print, Indie ebooks need never go out of print. Ebooks are immortal.” Read more @ http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/12/mark-cokers-2013-book-publishing.html

    yatscoffbooks.com

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