Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Traditional vs. Self-Publishing

I’ve now had the opportunity to have my books traditionally published as well as trying out the self-publishing route.  With Willow in the Desert (the sequel to the award-winning The Willow and the Stone) now in the hands of my proofreaders, I’m faced with the question of which one I’d like to go with.

Here’s the issue with traditional publishing in my opinion:  it’s like a brand name label you slap on a product.  People perceive that if a publishing house puts it out, the writing and story are automatically good.  The literary gods have smiled upon that writer and deemed them worthy.  The editing and marketing will be top notch and the work is destined to be a bestseller. 

Wrong.  Even the big publishers are becoming a mockery of themselves these days.  For one thing, when a book is initially released, they make even the e-book version stupidly expensive.  Yes, it’s a business.  Yes, they have to make money.  But it feels like a slap in the face to have publishing houses digging greedily into my wallet, drooling for every penny they can find.  I refuse to pay more for an e-book than what a paperback goes for. 

Next fallacy about the traditional publishers:  that they will market your writing.  Wrong, unless you’re Stephen King, John Grisham, or J.K. Rowling.  Nope, if you’re a midlist writer, all the promoting and marketing is up to you.  You’ve got to draw the readers in and make them take notice.  At least half your time (if you’re serious about this stuff) is spent marketing.

My biggest bitch about the traditional publishing world:  editing.  I’m a fan of the Sookie Stackhouse series (upon which the HBO series True Blood is based).  I have every single book except the latest one -- because the ebook is still at the hardcover price.  Now this is a bestselling series with a large well-known publisher.  So I’m horrified when I see the many editing snafus present in these books.  In certain places, it’s like the editor was drunk when they looked it over.  It’s awful.

The hard, cold truth of it is being traditionally published is it’s like paying contractors a huge amount of money ... more than half of what your work will earn ... to present your thousands of hours of writing to the public in such a way that they will buy it.  Sure, there are plenty of books that publishers will spend more to produce than they’ll make back.  I know that.  In too many cases however, you’re paying for crap.  When there are massive formatting errors, a cover that doesn’t represent the story at all, and poor editing, why would anyone bother to sign a contract?  It’s like having your work spit on.  And you’re essentially paying them to do it with the tiny percentage you receive on sales.

My own two books, finally accepted by a small but established publisher, were similarly mistreated.  The formatting for both the print and e-book versions were completely horrid.  The e-books were eventually straightened out, but who knows how my sales were affected in those first days before they were?  And the publisher has mis-categorized them both as ‘Romance’ with no apparently no interest in correcting that.  Also a sales killer.  Now the books are out of print, and I found out about it by accident ... no one from the publisher bothered to tell me this was going to happen. 
I’ve checked into what it takes to do this publishing thing right, and quite honestly it’s not that difficult.  Unfortunately, I signed a three-year contract for both books, so it will be awhile before I can get them back and start over.

So I’m going to self-publish Willow in the Desert, coming out in the new year.  I already have a cover artist who is amazing at what she does.  The rest I will be doing myself and the results are going to be much better. 
The biggest problem will be that for many, self-published writer = hack who’s not good enough to be traditionally published.  So be it.  I’m proud of my writing.  I worked very hard on it, and those who have read my books and talked to me about them have had nothing but praise.  Heaven knows, traditional publishing has been a big disappointment, so as far as I’m concerned, I have nothing to lose and a lot of happiness to gain.

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