Friday, March 8, 2013

Most Amazing Guide to Self-Publishing: A.P.E. (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur)

Most writers know at least one self-publishing success story.  A famous one, almost an urban legend by now, is the story of Amanda Hocking, of Minnesota.  She needed a couple hundred dollars one day, so she decided to self-published her paranormal romance.  In twenty months, she sold 1.5 million copies of her e-book and made $2.5 million.  Not only that, but she signed a huge deal with St Martin's Press. 

Self-publishing used to be called "vanity press," because only the vain would consider it.  Now it's earning more and more respect from both authors and publishers.  Agents regularly scout the self-published books on amazon.com to find new authors who are making it big there.

My indie-released songwriter friends never understood why writers are so hung up about self-publishing.  Musicians have long separated from the labels and ventured out on their own, releasing their own CDs and working with indie distributors like cdbaby.
But we writers have been told that unless we get an agent and go the traditional route, we'll never be taken seriously in our writing careers.

Now, everything has changed--and we'll never go back, I believe.

This allows writers much more freedom and many more options.  It's all good news for us.


Comparing the Three Options
I've personally tried all three options for publishing:  agent to large publisher, small press, and self-publishing.  My agent was wonderful (now retired) and got my career started many years ago. 

From there, I discovered the benefit of small presses and their kind editors. 

Recently, I had a super experience with self-publishing a book, loving the artistic control of quality and timing, earning back my costs within a few months, and now making much more per copy than I make on any of my contracted books still in print or not.

But self-publishing requires that most authors become not only writers, but also skilled in publishing and marketing.  That's why a new book, A.P.E.--Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch, is a welcome addition to my library.  And I hope it'll be to yours as well.

 Should You Consider Self-Publishing?
Each publishing option has its ups and downs.  Nowadays, it's much harder for new writers to attract an agent's attention--the average success rate is 75 queries to 1 positive response, according to a colleague who consults for publishers.  That means a lot of work for writers, researching 75 agents to submit to, before you even get a listen. 

Small presses also have a narrow window for acceptance, but if you can get attention there, you're almost guaranteed a good editor (at least, that's been my experience). 

Then, there's the platform.  That's a whole new balancing ball for writers to think about.

 Platforms and Advances and Editing Help?

Publishing with big houses and even smaller presses gave a writer broader reach, at least several years ago, with the marketing and distribution help only an established publisher could give. 

But now most publishers want the writer to bear most of the burden of marketing.  Book proposals (even for fiction and memoir) require the writer to detail her platform, or her plan to get her book out there.
Also, advances are few and smaller now, for most authors.  I recently attended a panel of agents in NY who discussed $5000 as the average advance these days for new writers.  Of course, there are exceptions. 

Third, many publishers don't have the same careful editorial and proofing procedures I benefited from as a writer starting out in the 1980s.  Manuscripts must arrive in pristine condition--it's the writer's responsibility to hire developmental editors and line editors if she can't upgrade the manuscript herself. 

The Bottom Line
So, the writer must become more than just a wordsmith with a good story.  She has to learn to sell her book as well as write it.   
For this, writers get 7-1/2 percent of sales, which for a $14.00 trade size paperback amounts to about $1.13 per copy.  We do the marketing work, we hire editors before submitting it.  The publisher prints the book as orders come in (print on demand) in most cases, not wanting to carry inventory, or does a short run of less than 500 copies to see whether the book will sell.  Agents take 15-20 percent of everything.   
Some writers are thinking seriously about their options now.  Many are choosing self-publishing.   You have decide if it's for you.

A Great Self-Publishing Story
Guy Kawasaki, author of A.P.E., tells the story of his book, Enchantment, which was published by Penguin in 2011.  He learned that a large tech company wanted to buy 500 copies of the e-book.

But Penguin didn't sell e-books directly.  So the publisher tried to buy it from Apple, Barnes and Noble, and amazon.  It ended up that an employee at the tech company had to purchase 500 individual copies one at a time with a credit card. 

It made Kawasaki's "brain fry," as he said.

So he began researching the self-publishing option.  He was so successful with it, that he put together this book, A.P.E., with his colleague, Welch.  The book has gotten excellent reviews, including Seth Godin's comment that calls it "nuts, bolts, and inspiration."

Divided into the three steps of self-publishing--writing, creating the printable manuscript, and marketing it--it covers every possible option and is up to date.  I knew a lot about self-publishing and learned so much more from this hefty guide. 

The Financials

Self-publishing requires money up front, for a printed book.  Less or none for an electronic book.  But if you're going to have to market it yourself anyway, why not make $10.00 a copy instead of $1.13?
What's your experience with self-publishing?  What are your thoughts?
Find out the potential, explore your options.  Don't be swayed by the traditional route when there are more opportunities for writers than ever.

Your Weekly Writing Exercise
Your writing exercise this week is to read all about writer Darcie Chan. She was rejected by over 100 literary agents and dozens of publishers, then went on to self-publish her debut novel and sell over 400,000 copies on Kindle.  Think this kind of story is a fairytale?  It's happening more and more.
Self-publishing is still a controversial topic.  But as the industry takes one hit after another, it's an option many writers are considering--and succeeding with.