Thursday, February 20, 2014

Experiments in Self-Publishing vs. Traditional;

The traditional vs. self-publishing debate has been going on for as long as I've been writing fiction. And largely, this debate is old geezers telling young whippersnappers that their music is too loud, and young whippersnappers claiming that music is supposed to be loud. Duh!

You see, the old'uns don't think traditional publishing has run its course. And they're right--traditional publishers still sell a ton of books. But does that mean the young whippersnappers are wrong? Absolutely not. Music is good loud.

Imagine this: a flexible market where traditional and self coexist.

Sounds crazy, right? But it isn't. The fact is, authors are finding both paths to publication viable. And readers are finding both paths to writers viable. E-books now represent a large portion of how books are read (estimates I've found range from 20% - 35%) and they're growing. But assuming such a trend will continue until all print sales are squeezed out is swiss cheese logic. Because publishing is a unique industry, and it's flexible--there is plenty of room for people to be who they want to be. Self-publishing is for certain types of people and traditional publishing is for others and debating which is better is a little like debating which group of people is better, when in actuality, they're all equal but different. Which is how I think it should be.

In the interest of finding what type of writer I am (old geezer or young whippersnapper), I decided to give self-publishing the ol' college try. "Why not?" I asked myself. Hard-headedness was the only reason I could think of. Self-publishing is supposed to be easy (if not frustrating). So I went to Amazon to find out how easy, and if self-publishing is for me.

As it turns out, self-publishing is very easy. I mean, scary easy. I mean, prom queen easy.

Kindle Direct Publishing streamlines the experience so that posting a book takes little effort or knowledge. A trained monkey, given enough tries, might accidentally publish a book simply by clicking random buttons on the website. In fact, making the cover image was the hardest part. (I'll get to how I did that, along with proper use of Creative Commons art, in my next post.) The only problem I ran into was a small formatting issue, which was easy to fix.

When I signed up for KDP, I did so with the intention of publishing one short story--I went with "Erasure", which was originally published through the pro-zine Buzzy Mag. It's an older story, but one of my favorites. But I ended up publishing 2 shorties. I decided that since this was a test, I wanted to publish 2 stories of mine that are written in totally different styles. "Erasure" is a straight-genre piece. It's fast-paced. The second story I published, "Five Years Gone", is a new literary piece (meaning non-genre) that focuses on emotion and has a slower pace.

Problem is: I had deceived myself. 

When I stepped back, I realized I hadn't published that second story to better serve my test. It does do that, but it wasn't at the heart of my motivation. No, in actuality, I had published that second story because I was felling the rush, the excitement, the hunger for publishing. Posting "Erasure" was easy, it came with that good vibe that accompanies all new publications, and I didn't have the black cloud of possible rejection hanging over me.

The instant gratification aspect became shockingly apparent. And that scared me. Because it came with the texture of addiction.

The real question is: would that self-publishing itch be a negative addiction or a positive one?

Time to expand my 'test'. It isn't just about how easy self-publishing is or if I like doing it. It's about whether or not self-publishing comes with enough benefits and sales to justify giving in to instant gratification. 

As someone who has had all of his work published by appeasing those hooded gatekeepers known as editors, waiting for months or, in a couple of cases, over a year for a response to my submitted manuscript, I've learned to deal with being patient. But still, this self-publishing thing was so-ooo easy, and already I hear it whispering promises in my ear, telling me that YES, I should self-publish.

So what this test calls for is time. As the months go by, I'll be tracking information and blogging about my findings. What I'll be looking for is sales. 

My goal as an author is to connect with readers. At this point, I don't really care if I make any money. But since I can't track readers, I'm forced to look at sales as a representation of readership. As a loose data set, I will compare the amount of money I received for first rights on "Erasure" (which was a professional level payment) to total sales on Amazon. 

Already I have some sales. In the first day "Erasure" was posted, it went to #75 in the top 100 horror short stories on Amazon. (Here's a secret: that doesn't mean much. It took approximately 5 sales to get there.)

But the effort!!!

With millions of pieces of fiction available to readers on Amazon alone, my stories aren't going to sell themselves.

In my findings, I'll look at effort. Publishing via established publication requires little effort. They market for you. They edit for you. In essence, they work for you while paying you to do it. Self-publishing, on the other hand, requires tons of self-promotion and tons of knowledge in editing, marketing, the industry, consumer trends, etc, etc, or a surrogate for such knowledge, which usually costs money. Plus I had to design my own covers, but that was fun.

It also leads to the thing I most despise about self-publishing: shameless self-promotion and a world plastered in advertisements.

On Facebook alone, I receive anywhere from 1 to 5 event requests to like someone's book every single day--it's a sea of stuff I simply don't have time to pay attention to. Any serious discussion about fiction, like the one over at, leads to those annoying posts that are about selling a self-pubbed book and not the actual conversation. Somehow, these people enter a discussion about the future of publishing, write a sentence or two that actually applies to the discussion, then work that into a paragraph about how awesome their new book is. Oh yeah, and here's the link!

Barf. Ruiner.

And yes, that is another addictive pitfall I'm experiencing. I feel the need to push my work down every throat I encounter. And I hate it. Before, my promotion efforts were minimal and noninvasive. I post things on Facebook and Twitter on occasion, never sending direct messages to people. When I do promotion, it's for X, Y, and Z publications that I'm featured in. Which means I'm also promoting the publication itself and all of the other authors included. When those other authors market, they're also promoting my work. It's a great process. But self-publishing short fiction is all about me, me, beautiful, lovely ME.

And worst of all: that time spent working for myself is time I should be writing.  And writing is why I got into writing. 

To me, at this point, it looks a little like selling Mary Kay. Instead of selling a product people are actively out to buy (their products are available online and come with no pressure tactics), you start pushing to friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers, the dog walker.  You hold 'parties' (Facebook events) and desperately try to convince people who trust you to hand over their hard-earned so that you too can have some hard-earned. A certain chunk of sales comes from people who don't want to hurt your feelings, and you know that, and that's called exploitation.

Now, that is all subjective and I'm still forming my opinion on it. Which is why I'm giving it a try. So let me apologize for shameless plugs in advance. 

I plan to keep sharing my progress as I go, doing my best to keep pre-assembled opinions like the one above out of the process as much as I can.

Meanwhile, Hugh Howey is running another test over at

He has some excellent data over there that is worth checking out--with proper context. In comments on his page and others, I'm seeing people who are excited about Howey's data. Really excited. "This is a game-changer," they cry. "I now know what to do with my first novel," they exclaim. All over Facebook, Twitter, and author blogs, hardline opinions about publishing as a whole are being drawn from this data.

The problem is, the data is in its infancy; it's just a start and not some newly revealed truth about publishing. 

My biggest issue wasn’t the data and easily digestible charts, but the words between them, that swiss cheese logic being used to make far-reaching inferences that wrongly sway opinions. Howey has a lot of people who trust him, yet aren’t equipped to understand how he came to his findings. Meaning, releasing when/as he did was a bit irresponsible. That ship wouldn’t float in a scientific or historical setting.

An expert who really understands the problems in the data, and Howey's far-reaching conclusions, talks about it here.

But that's just my opinion. And it should be noted that Howey hasn't said his data is the be-all, end-all, either. People are coming to that conclusion on their own. Howey is attempting something great over at AuthorEarnings and I eagerly await more complete results.


  1. Hi. I found the link to your blog through the Facebook KDP page. Your post is very interesting and I will look forward to reading further reports on this subject. I have just self-published a novel on Kindle books and I'm wondering how good a platform this is for writers. I'm in touch with writers who have done very well but they have had books published 'the traditional' way too. Some of these writers published on Kindle, after having been turned down by publishing houses, and did very well. I have a feeling that it may be like being a needle in a haystack, but I thought I would give it a try. I also paint professionally and I know the pitfalls of having expectations in any creative career. We can always say we 'do it for the love of it,' but we need an audience too! I loved writing my novel and felt a sense of achievement but now I have a feeling that I will have to do a lot of self-promotion. We will see, and I will keep reading your blog for further comments on the self-publishing route. I'll let you know if anything happens to my book too!

  2. Fiona--
    Please do let me know how your book goes. I've been talking to a lot of people about their self-publishing efforts lately and one thing I can say for sure is that it takes a certain level of bravery to really put yourself out there.
    Good luck with your book and thanks for reading!

  3. Hello. I like your article. Self publishing has been the best option for me. I never wanted to wait for anyone to tell me that my work wasn't good enough. This is the reason I decided to self publish my books, ebooks, and my photography work. I do my own promotions, but these days I just add my links to my profiles and just enjoy different forums along the way. People will know about my work when they look at my profiles. I don't have to do much. Interacting with people in different forums is very important, because this shows that you care about different subjects. I know what you mean about the people that discourage self publishing. Some have even come to the point of telling people not to read my work. It's all on the reviews sections, but what I notice is that people enjoy my writings. I'm grateful for that. What's more important for me today is to write. I just wanted to share my work with the world as soon as I could and this is why self publishing was ideal for me.

  4. Norma--
    I'm really starting to see that the decision has a lot to do with personality. It sounds like you figured out what fit yours best! I'm a member of a few groups here and there, but I don't cruise many forums. I'll have to give that a try.

    Thanks for commenting and best of luck with your work!

  5. Hi again. Thank you for replying to my previous remarks. I agree that it takes a certain level of bravery to put yourself out there. One of the reasons I like self-publishing is because it gives people a wider platform to showcase their writing, and there's the option to link up to other sites and forums. Ripples spread out all the time. As a painter, I know how hard it is to get through the doorways of commercial galleries, if your work doesn't fit any trends and genres, or you are unknown. Publishing houses here in the UK are reluctant to take on new writers and I often wonder how many good writers are passed by. I felt so excited about my book and wanted to share it, and I agree with Norma about not wanting to wait. My brother has published books (non-fiction) the traditional way and I've seen that he has had quite a bit of marketing help from his publisher. He is now thinking of also putting some books on Kindle. People have been very helpful, suggesting all kinds of ways to self-promote my book, Norma, I researched some reviews on books by some very established (best-selling) authors on Kindle and was surprised how many had unfavourable comments, one-star ratings, and messages saying 'don't bother with this book.' I think that with anything we create, there will be people who like it or don't like it. But as you say, the most important thing is to write and share it.