Jude Hardin

Author, Drummer, Turtle Whisperer

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Should You Self-Publish Your First Novel?

I would still advise newbie writers to take a print deal, even a bad one, with a reputable house over self-publishing their first book.
--Lee Goldberg

I agree with Lee for several reasons:

1) If you can't make it past the Gatekeeper (even once), then how do you know your writing is good enough to be published?

2) A print deal is still the best way to get your name out there, and the notoriety will benefit you greatly even if you decide to go indie later on (as it has Lee Goldberg and Joe Konrath, among others).

3) The experience you gain working with in-house editors will make you a better writer.

4) There's nothing in the world like getting a call of acceptance from an agent or editor. It means all your hard work has finally paid off, you finally did it, you finally broke through. In most cases it means you busted your ass working on your craft for years. There's no substitute for writing and throwing away hundreds of thousands or words. You can't buy that. You can't learn it in a classroom.

So, even if you plan to go indie eventually, I believe a print deal with a reputable house is still the best way to go right out of the box.

Thoughts?

16 Comments:

Blogger Ellen Fisher said...

I don't disagree with this, necessarily. It IS hard for a new writer to know if his/her work is professional quality or not. That being said, going for a major publisher will mean your book's publication is several years away. It's going to take the average writer a minimum of a year to obtain an agent and sell to a publisher (and probably more than that), and then it typically takes eighteen months to two years for a book to be published. You'll get an advance (which can range from very little to huge amounts), but no other cash flow.

And you may spend two or three years trying to find an agent and a publisher, and never succeed. This doesn't prove your book is of poor quality; it could just be bad luck, an unpopular genre, or a host of other things.

Indie publishing, OTOH, is pretty much instantaneous, and you start getting paid very quickly. This can be a curse or a blessing-- it's a great thing if your book is truly ready for publication, but it also leads to people tossing unedited trash up on Amazon. Clearly some writers cannot tell the difference, but frankly the worst of them are probably never going to be professional caliber writers anyway. The ones that have promise may learn and grow from their reviews on Amazon and their failure to sell.

If I were just starting out, I honestly don't know which way I'd go. But I'm not sorry I put my backlist up on Kindle-- it's been a very good experience for me, and I intend to continue writing as an indie.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

All good points, Ellen. Well said.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I pretty much agree with you. My caveat may actually be, try to get the print deal/agent as hard as you can for all the reasons you state, and if that fails and you still think you should publish (not "want to" or "can" but "should), then why not? Just be prepared for the financial results to be negligible.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Mark:

Yeah, I can see where 70% royalties and keeping all your rights would be enticing, but I think it's best to hone your craft enough to get a print deal first and then use that exposure to help drive the indie sales (if that's what you want). Like Konrath has.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Robin Sullivan said...

I don't think it is so cut-and-dried as you state here. My husband's books "The Riyria Revelations" have done very through indie publishing. Should sell 10,000 books in December. He was just offered a six-figure contract from one of the big-six and he'll probably lose money taking it. As to your points.

#1- Getting by a gatekeeper does not dictate the quality of the book - many great books don't get past and many bad books do - the only judge is book sales.

#2 - I would change that to say you'll get more exposure - and I think that is indeed true - and the real reason he is going to take the deal. While you can make good money "indie" you will be exposed to a small % of the reading public having a big-six contract will get your name spread around the industry.

#3 - Can't comment on that yet.

#4 - Is just shear vanity and should't play into this.

The BIG thing I think you are missing is #5 - 0 change of REALLY breaking out (i.e. NYT or other list Best Seller) these lists are predicated on store sales and you really can't get the distribution needed without a publisher stocking all the stores. Sure the chance of this is very thin with a big-six publisher but it is Zero as an indie.

6:16 PM  
Blogger evilphilip said...

" If you can't make it past the Gatekeeper (even once), then how do you know your writing is good enough to be published?"

If it sells, you are good enough to be published. If it doesn't sell, then it wasn't good enough.

There is no need for someone to stand between you and the readers and vet your work.

I'm selling over 100 copies of my short story a month and it may continue to generate a small amount of income as long as I decide to leave it on Amazon (or as long as my genre remains popular). I'm already well above the professional rate any leading Sci Fi/Fantasy magazine would have paid me.

I understand that you think that because you were published by a small press that you are "published". You are incorrect. You yourself haven't been able to get past the gatekeepers and get published by a Big 6 publisher -- why waste your time and energy defending people who have rejected you???

6:54 PM  
Blogger Douglas Dorow said...

Jude, I respect your position, but you need to realize that not everyone feels the same need to validation.

I don't need to be accepted by the gatekeeper. I need to be accepted by the reader. If I publish a good book that a group of readers enjoys, that's success.

The world of publishing is changing and for new authors and mid-list authors, I believe self-publishing a quality story, that has been edited, has a professional cover and delivers on the promise that the reader, by reading it, will experience a different world for a short time is the world I want to pursue.

If a publisher contacted me about broadening my reach through printing a paper book, would I hang up? No, I would listen, and if the deal made sense we would talk.

Best of luck to you and all of us who are trying to tell stories and find people to read them.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Derek J. Canyon said...

Jude, I generally agree with your 4 reasons, but I disagree with your conclusion that print-publishing is the only solution. I think there are better options for each or your reasons in self-publishing.

I go in to detail in my blog response, There's a new career in town: self-pub authors, but here's my quick responses:

1. A print deal isn't the only thing that proves your writing is good. Sales on Amazon also prove it.

2. A print deal gets you notoriety, but only 2-3 years from now when the publisher finally gets your book on the shelves. I can start building my own notoriety over those 3 years.

3. I can hire my own editor to help improve my writing for $1000. I don't have to give the publisher 85-94% of my earnings forever to get an editor.

4. I prefer getting validation directly from the readers. Yeah, NY acceptance would be something, but I much prefer seeing my monthly sales continue to grow on Amazon.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

I don't want any of you to think that I'm anti-indie. I'm not. I will almost certainly self-publish something myself in the not-too-distant future. I just think it would behoove most writers in the long run to do what it takes to land a traditional deal first.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Catana/Sylvie Mac said...

To #1, I'd say that the question is whether your book is good enough to be *read*, regardless of what publishers may want. How many now well-known authors spent years trying to get past the gatekeepers?

To @2, If you're willing to do the work, you can get your name out there without a publisher. And, considering what the industry is like these days, even if you get a contract, you're expected to do much of your own publicity.

To #3, In-house editors aren't the only ones in existence.

To #4, A purely ephemeral emotional reaction which can be gained in other more productive ways: sales, reviews

8:50 AM  
Blogger John Ling said...

Hello Jude. I've been dropping in on your blog every now and then, but this will be my first comment. Please bear with me. =)

1) If you can't make it past the Gatekeeper (even once), then how do you know your writing is good enough to be published?

That's true -- if you need traditional validation. My friend Yvonne Foong had her book rejected by every gatekeeper, small and big, and opted for self-publication route. Her book became bestseller in Malaysia, even won a national award, and those same gatekeepers that rejected her soon came knocking.

There's a caveat in this tale, however. Yvonne had oodles of self-confidence and just wouldn't take no for an answer. She pushed forward, gatekeeper or no gatekeeper.

So, really, what comes down to is your level of self-confidence. The end result will prove whether you're astute or delusional.

2) A print deal is still the best way to get your name out there, and the notoriety will benefit you greatly even if you decide to go indie later on (as it has Lee Goldberg and Joe Konrath, among others).

It really depends on the prowess and commitment of your publisher. If they are lacking in both areas and they fail to market you as effectively as they can, then you are better off on your own.

3) The experience you gain working with in-house editors will make you a better writer.

Agreed. But it's not the only way to become a better writer.

4) There's nothing in the world like getting a call of acceptance from an agent or editor. It means all your hard work has finally paid off, you finally did it, you finally broke through. In most cases it means you busted your ass working on your craft for years. There's no substitute for writing and throwing away hundreds of thousands or words. You can't buy that. You can't learn it in a classroom.

It's traditional validation, yes. =)

9:25 PM  
Blogger John Ling said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:25 PM  
Blogger John Ling said...

If you're willing to do the work, you can get your name out there without a publisher. And, considering what the industry is like these days, even if you get a contract, you're expected to do much of your own publicity.

That has been my experience, yes. You essentially become a traveling salesperson for the publisher, selling a product that is, well, yours to begin with.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Thanks for the insightful comments, John. I guess I needed that traditional validation, for the first book anyway. We'll see what happens after that.

9:27 AM  
Blogger John Ling said...

Thanks for the insightful comments, John. I guess I needed that traditional validation, for the first book anyway. We'll see what happens after that.

I know exactly what you mean, Jude. I used to be troubled by the idea that I wasn't a 'real' writer until I had been accepted by a 'real' publisher. And I must admit, it was such a thrill to get that first contract, to savour that feeling of traditional validation.

4:45 PM  
OpenID agyw said...

Normally, I read all comments, then perhaps, maybe, mayhap, I'll weigh in. I think like all things, this is good advice for the vast majority (IF I had a nickel or 70% for every time I introduced myself as an author/illustrator and someone told me "I wrote a book/ want to illustrate", I need never worry about putting my stuff out there or whether I make muster.) But as someone who has not been to jump through the proper hoops for all kinds of reasons, yet still has garnered enough glowing rejections, interesting accolades, and now really needs some kind of recompense, this is the best way to tell if I actually can or can't. Shyah run-on, can you tell I'm a kid writer? Next time listen to most youngsters, they don't even breath between paragraphs, let alone words. Jude, I appreciated your observations and input on Konrath's blog, so wish to follow you. Good luck on this journey and brave, new (shyah yet again, you know what? Uh-uh) not so much world.

3:12 AM  

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