Punching Self-Publishing Stigma in the Face

Successful novels that were self-published - The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan - My Blood Approves by Amanda Hocking Wool by Hugh Howey - Fifty Shades by E L James - Eragon by Christopher Paolini - Daniel's Gift by Barbara Fr

First, a bit of a summary of what I’ve learned about indie publishing over the past six months, and then a glance at some indie successes.

Indie publishing, not self-publishing.

One thing I’ve learned about non-traditional publishing is that many prefer to call it “indie publishing” as opposed to “self-publishing” because the latter carries an outdated, negative connotation.

Traditional and indie publishing: neither is clearly better than the other.

In an older post, I analyzed a number of pros and cons for traditional and indie publishing for a new author. To paraphrase myself: Indie publishing allows for greater freedom in the content of your writing, the cover design, and much more. However, going indie generally requires substantial out-of-pocket costs for the author. Traditional publishing, on the other hand, takes away some freedom but the publisher would provide professional editing and a cover design, and potentially aid in marketing and an advance on royalties. My ultimate conclusion was that new authors should at least chase traditional publishing first because it allows time to understand the market as well as an opportunity to properly edit the manuscript before rushing to print (impatience is one of the worst traits of a self-publishing author).

Manuscripts without a high concept have a tougher time getting published traditionally, but there’s no such bar for indies.

As I’ve previously discussed, high-concept fiction is highly original, widely appealing, easy to visualize, and easy to sum up in three sentences or less.

These days, agents and publishers generally look for high-concept work. Thus, if an author’s query (or even just the hook) fails to demonstrate enough high-concept qualities, traditional publishing folks will be very unlikely to even look at the manuscript. It makes sense considering the quantity of material that goes into their inbox and the fact that a book without a high concept will result in less impressive sales numbers.

If you’re indie, you can publish just about anything—there’s no requirement of a high concept. However, you’ll run into the problem that agents and publishers anticipate when they see a “low concept” book: it’s going to be much more difficult to get people to buy that thing.

A book doesn’t need a high concept to be awesome.

While a book which lacks a high concept may be difficult to market, it isn’t necessarily a bad book: a book that doesn’t seem original on in a three-sentence summary may be original in its details; wide appeal is helps for quantity in sales, but books which cater to smaller, niche markets can great; visualization for high-concept fiction generally should be somewhat of an “action” scene which will be non-existent in subtler works; and there are plenty of awesome works out there that are difficult to sum up in a few sentences while demonstrating originality, wide appeal, and provide a strong visual.

Indie authors should utilize professional editors as well as beta readers.

A lot of the sucking found in self-published titles can at least be partially attributed to a lack of professional editing. At worse, these novels require drastic revisions under the guidance of a developmental editor. In the not-too-bad scenarios, these books merely need another read-through by a copy editor.

Many indie authors probably don’t bother with professional editors due to the considerable cost. In those cases, the author should alternatively gather a substantial amount of beta readers (including a mix of casual readers, other authors, and English Major-y people to provide feedback), and take time to seriously weigh their suggestions.

I’ve seen at least one indie author admit to ignoring all beta reader feedback and simply rushing to print. While it’s a good idea to critically analyze feedback and avoid rushing to change your book based on the opinion of a single reader, you shouldn’t take any feedback too lightly—particularly when the same bit of advice is repeated by several readers.

Too many indie book covers look like stuff I made in seventh grade (some are even worse).

Seriously, I’ve seen covers that look like they were slapped together by some kid in the late 90’s on MS Paint. If you aren’t considerably gifted with graphic design, find someone who is (i.e., a professional with a relevant degree). If you really want to get away from the old stigma of being self-published, it should look like it belongs on the shelves at Barnes & Noble.

If there’s an image, the resolution should be high—I don’t want to see pixel-y blocks unless your book is about 8-bit video games. Also, the book title and author name should be easy to read with genre-appropriate fonts (this article by Derek Murphy may be helpful, though some of those fonts are a bit too flamboyant and illegible for my taste). I’ve also read an article which suggests to use a serif font and sans serif font for the title and author name, but to avoid using the same type for both—one is serif, and the other sans serif.

Book sales will require dedication to marketing endeavors—platform building, book reviews, pricing deals, appearances, interviews, and conventional advertisements.

You can’t just slap your novel onto Amazon, B&N, Lulu, Smashwords, and Kobo and expect sales to magically happen. You’ll need to market that thing. Personally, marketing my book is what scared me into chasing traditional publishing. However, reading about different avenues for authors to get the word out on their books has made it less foreboding.

The first thing an author needs is a platform: a means with which the author can reach an audience.

If you’re a celebrity or a renown expert in some field that relates to your book, then you’re pretty well off. Having none of that, it may be a good idea to make some noise on the internet (e.g., blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). I’ve read some articles that bad mouth the effectiveness of social networking as a means to advertise your book, but I’m of the school of thought that believes some reach is better than none. Continue reading

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