Monday, July 03, 2006

Self-Publishing: Frank's Counterpoint

How can we bridge the gap and give both professions more courtesy and respect they deserve?

I chose to address the second question first because its implication answers the first question. We’re asked to bridge the gap, give courtesy and respect to two different PROFESSIONS (?): SP writers and ‘traditionally’ published writers (?) The fact that the latter doesn’t even have an abbreviation (that I’m familiar with), speaks of the distinction. I fear this prejudice to be wide-spread. For example: I turned eight years old in 1974, and decided then that I wanted to write story-books. Since then I dreamed of the day that I’d open an envelope, find an acceptance letter, and leap in the air for two-weeks-straight like a Publisher’s-Clearing-House winner. OF COURSE anyone who’d PAY to be published MUST be a loser! Then in January of this year I’d read something that made me Google . . .

Do you feel there is a stigmatism that says, “self-published writers aren’t as good of writers as ‘traditionally’ published writers”?

“In 1994 Barnes & Noble reported that books from the 10 largest publishers accounted for thee quarters of their purchases. By 1997 these 10 leaders accounted for less than half of the books bought.”–Jump Start Your Book Sales, by Marilyn and Tom Ross.

Indies and SPs are biting into traditional houses’ market shares, which is why the big boys only solicit famous authors, why it’s harder than ever for a new author to receive an acceptance letter, and why Random House has entered the POD game. RH is either trying to snatch up all the little fish, or has entered into the if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em wisdom. Even if a ‘traditional’ house accepts an author, all they get is a little shotgun marketing; you’re accepted not because you’re good, but because you can sell books. The days of holing-up with a muse and a keyboard in a comfortable apartment, are over. The only person who’s going to publish a new author is the new author. This concept is what changed my mind about SP.

I’ve also seen Peter Bowerman’s self-publishing strategy reflected in the January’s Writer’s Digest (cover story I think, but the cat messed on it and we had to toss it out). The upshot is that internet has forever changed the industry because SPs now have access to all the privileged information that used to keep us at the mercy of thepedestaled ‘traditional’ houses. I own a 2002 Writer’s Market (stop laughing), and in that year compiled a list of Christian Fiction publishers. In 2004 I subscribed to WM online, and discovered that MORE THAN HALF of the publishers on my list were either out of business, or ceased accepting unsolicited unagented manuscripts. As long as one has a polished edited manuscript and successfully creates market demand, booksellers will be driven to the SP. I’ve spent a decade on Flashpoint, and now I’ve CHOSEN to make five dollars per copy instead of bowing before the altar of tradition, and netting less than one dollar. In order to use the talents He’s invested in me as a full-time income in our modern world, I have to make ends-meet, and pay the bills. If I can do that on one fifth the book-sales of tradition, then SP seems the wiser choice.

From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it. — Groucho Marx


Cathi said...

I really enjoyed reading your article, you make some very good points.

kc said...

Yes, very good points indeed. Though I wonder about your blanket statement's validity which expressed that new authors can't be traditionally published. That's hogwash. Look at Robin Parrish. Or the hundreds of other "Christian" fiction authors out there getting contracts every day with traditional CBA houses. I didn't say it was easy, but it does happen.

On the other hand, I do realize CBA won't publish your heart's desire - spec-fic. Too bad. I really think they should. 'Course, couldn't you just market your book for ABA? Or are they even more picky with authors they will publish?

I'm still in limbo about SP. I've no doubt there are many quality books out there. Thing is, you have to wade through the crap to get to them, seeing as how anyone can do it.

God bless - keep us informed with your progress. Perhaps we can change the face of fiction yet.

Frank Creed said...

Thanks for stopping by!
For any of you unfamiliar with Karri, she's literally a professional book reviewer.

If this article gave the impression of a "can't be published" blanket statement then I stated my point far too strongly. My was to indicate the current market trend toward proven writers and the subsequent trend away from new authors. I so wish I still had that litter-box doomed January Writer's Digest for quotes!
Regarding secular publication methods of Christian speculative fiction, the finished section of my Christian fantasy braided-novel is probably vague enough for the American Booksellers Association, but the ending will be too evangelical in purpose for their tastes. In any case, there are only two fantasy-specific traditional houses that still accept unagented submissions.
The big problem is that my Christian dystopian cyberpunk sci-fi sub-genre setting is what He's really called me to write, and it's purpose is not merely a bit-o-God evangelism but post-evangelism, which mandates high-performance theology. No secular house will touch a new author's work written for such a "narrow" audience, and no Christian house will gamble on dystopian cyberpunk.
Regarding the literary quality of books from non-traditional houses, I agree that there are cubic-miles of dumpster stuff out there. One needs to master the craft before leaping into print. But I think your definition of SP may simply be an antithesis of traditional house methods. POD and SP are as distinct as the CBA, the ABA and the AMA!
Publish On Demand companies tend to draw the real amateurs because 1) the initial cost is so much cheaper than SP and 2) most PODs give a false impression that they will will sell your books for you. SP used to be equated with vanity-press, but POD has made vanity affordable.
Actual Self-Publishing requires thousands if not tens of thousands of investment dollars, subcontracting all services from printer to publicist, and lining up all your own galley, interview, and review promotion.
The formula is: start your own small press + subcontract the essentials + plug into the Christian market-niche subculture's existing print, radio and TV media = doing his will. I'm a second-shift factory worker but He's made me a perfectionist. I've spent a lifetime learning the craft and now I'm stepping out in faith. I'm forty and my ministry won't wait decades for the CBA to get courageous.
Im staking our retirement money that His will be done.
Scott “Frank Creed” Morris
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