Don’t Believe The Hype – David Gaughran Separates Myth And Reality About Indie-Publishing

They say tomorrow never comes, so when I said, last post, that David Gaughran would be my guest here “tomorrow” I was sort of right.

Okay, I was wrong. Events overtook my plans, as far too often recently, but (fingers crossed) MWi resumes normal service from today. Honest!

So, David is finally here as promised, fresh and  forthright as usual, and taking no prisoners!

For those unfamiliar, David has, in the space of a few short months, gone from the proverbial “nowhere” in literary circles, to one of the foremost indie bloggers on the publishing industry circuit, and probably the most significant commentator this side of the pond.

His Let’s Get Digital blog is  a must-read for its up-to-date common sense news and analysis of the latest in publishing, and his latest book, also titled Let’s Get Digital, is a must-read for anyone still on the fence about the future of e-publishing, or anyone about to embark on the journey.

Because of my connection problems back home in monsoon-ridden West Africa the intended post here on MWi to help launch David’s new book never saw the light of day. So before we move to David’s guest post for today here’s MWi regular and indie-publishing success Sibel Hodge on Let’s get Digital:

If you want to self-pub, you absolutely have to read this book. When I started out, I didn’t have a clue about all the things that an Indie author has to get involved in. It’s not just a question of writing a fab book – that’s the easy part! The hard bit is what comes next…

I didn’t have a clue where to find covers, good editors, how to market effectively and gain lovely readers and fans. PRC, MOBI, Epub sounded more like a scratchy disease than anything to do with e-pubbing. I had to learn it bit by bit and very slowly, but in LET’S GET DIGITAL you get you all the information you need in one place. David’s done all the hard work for you!

And the authors who contributed their stories to this book will show you that it really is possible to be a success as an Indie self-pubbing. Their experiences are uplifting and truly inspirational.

So do you want your manuscript sitting in a dusty drawer somewhere, or do you want to live your dream? If so, you need to get a copy of this book!

Let’s get Digital is in the top ten in its genre on amazon.co.uk with five star reviews across the board. It’s also in the top ten in three categories on amazon.com, with similar rave reviews.

Without further ado, here’s David:

Don’t Believe The Hype

Big Publishing likes to characterize self-publishing as an annoyance, a gadfly, an inconsequential nuisance that it would smote if it weren’t too busy counting its gold doubloons and polishing its Fabergé eggs.

Self-publishing is a side-show. The Digital Revolution will be tamed and assimilated. And if any indie writer does actually manage to slither out of the primordial soup, they will be co-opted.

Indie advocates are branded nefarious prophets, Pied Pipers leading clueless writers off the wharf to perish in the endless self-publishing sea.

Why the hysteria? Well, fear is a powerful tool. It can cow entire populations. What chance does a new writer have? All their hopes and dreams are wrapped up in one manuscript, and they are being forced to make a choice.

They know the publishing business is in trouble. They know that e-books are becoming a lot more popular. And they keep hearing indie success stories – new names all the time too.

But when they look at the map they were given, one path clearly leads to being published, once they get past the Gatekeeper, and the other just leads to a dark forest, and all the legend says is “Here Be Wolves.”

I prefer to deal in facts.

  1. You can earn 70% royalties from self-publishing. Big Publishing will pay you 14.9% once your agent gets their cut.
  2. If you self-publish, you will get to decide who edits your book, and who designs your cover. Your book will look exactly like you want it to. With Big Publishing, you have no choice. They may say you will have “approval” over the cover, but in practice you will be railroaded into taking whatever the designer comes up with.
  3. If you self-publish, you will decide the price. Big Publishing won’t care what you think.
  4. If you self-publish, you will decide when the book is released. With Big Publishing you will be locked into a schedule of their choosing, meaning a minimum of twelve months before it hits the bookshelves, often eighteen months, and sometimes even longer.
  5. If you self-publish, you will be paid every month. With Big Publishing, you get paid every six months, if they send the royalties out on time, if your agent processes it quickly, and if the statements are accurate.
  6. If you self-publish, you will have access to up-to-date sales figures. With Big Publishing, you never know how your book is selling until well after the fact.

Those are just some of the clear, irrefutable advantages of self-publishing. If any defender of Big Publishing would like to argue with any of the above, without resorting to nonsense arguments based on fear, I am all ears.

Big Publishing has its advantages too, and the two biggest are you the advance, and access to the print distribution network they have monopolized.

Let’s break that down. The average advance for a new writer is $5,000. If you are lucky, and you bag a contract with one of the major publishers, that might rise to $10,000. Maybe.

That cheque will be split into three payments. A third on signing the publishing contract, a third on acceptance of the manuscript (i.e. when you have made all requested edits), and a third on publication.

The overwhelming likelihood is that you will never see another red cent for that book, so their meagre royalty rate won’t even come into play. That’s all your getting. Forever.

How does that compare with self-publishing? Let’s say you price your book at $2.99, meaning over $2 per book royalties for you. To beat the publishing deal with its $5,000 advance, assuming costs of $1,500 to publish, you need to sell around 3,250 books.

That might sound like a lot to a new writer, but you have forever to hit that number. Well, not quite forever, that’s just shorthand for the length of your life plus 70 years. In other words, your grandkids will still be getting paid by Amazon, long after you are gone. Hey, it’s one way to be remembered.

Forever is hard to think about, and tastes change. For the sake of argument, let’s assume the book will sell for ten years, and then it will be badly dated and no-one will really want to read it. That means you need to sell 325 books a year to beat the average publishing deal. That’s less than one a day.

Therefore, if you think your book is good enough to sell one a day or more, then, on average, you will lose money by going with Big Publishing.

Maybe you think your book is good enough to bag that contract with a major publisher, and step up to that $10,000 advance level. As a self-publisher, you just need to sell two a day and you have that well beat too.

That should show the much-touted advance in a different light. To me, the only real advantage in going with Big Publishing is their ability to get your book into lots of bookstores. That’s near impossible for a self-publisher. So let’s examine that a little closer.

I’m sorry to break this to you but, on a $5,000 advance or even a $10,000 advance, your book is not going to be in every bookstore across the country. It’s not going to be in the window display. It’s not going to be in that prime spot behind the cashier. And it’s not going to be on that table that everyone sees when they walk into the store.

It’s probably not even going to be “face out”. All that bookstore real estate is bought and paid for by the publishers. They only purchase those spots for the books they have made significant investment in, i.e. not a $5,000 or $10,000 advance.

Bookstores are dying. That might sound callous, but it’s a fact. People are moving online, either because of reduced prices and greater selection, or because the recent spate of bookstore closures and chain collapses have left them without a physical place they can buy books other than the box-stores like Wal-Mart or Tesco which only stock the bestsellers anyway.

Amazon is on its way to controlling 50% of the overall US book market in 2012. Each week that one clear advantage of going with a large publisher is worth less and less, and at the kind of advance most writers will get, you won’t even get to exploit it.

These are the facts. But Big Publishing doesn’t want to engage in that argument. Instead, these self-appointed Guardians of Literature do battle with straw men, delighting in these Pyrrhic victories, cheering as straw heads are placed on their crumbling parapets.

Look over there: an awful cover by a self-publisher! Look at this atrocity: prose riddled with dangling modifiers! Look at this poor misguided soul: he only sold five copies!

They can’t defend the status quo with reasoned debate. They must resort to fear-mongering and myth-spreading. You will never make any money. You will never be taken seriously. No agent or publisher will ever touch you. No reader will ever be able to find you.

Amanda Hocking

All of these claims are false and have been debunked again and again, but my favourite is a new one doing the rounds. Apparently, the fact that Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, Blake Crouch, Amanda Hocking, Michael Wallace, J Carson Black, Scott Nicholson, Mark Edwards, and Louise Voss have all signed deals with large publishers is proof that self-publishing is some kind of dead-end, that the smart ones are getting out, and that Big Publishing can co-opt the successful anomalies and assimilate them.

J Carson Black

This ignores one very important fact. The power relationship has been inverted. All of these writers were able to get the deal they wanted on the terms they wanted on the back of their self-publishing success.

All bar three of those writers have signed with Amazon and their royalty rates will be far, far in excess of 14.9%, and they will get an unparalleled marketing push. The other three have received eye-popping advances, which will also force their publishers to throw the entire weight of their marketing machine behind them.

Because they self-published. Fact.

David Gaughran, thank you.

Of course, you’ll be thinking “All very well, but these named writers have all been break-out successes selling in numbers most of us can only dream about.  What about the rest?”

Well, Marion G Harmon had a post recently on his progress as a newly self-pubbed writer who hasn’t yet broken-out. Marion will be joining us later in the month to tell us more, but I’ve stolen the following from his blog as a fine example of what David is describing.

Marion is author of a simply brilliant superhero novel called Wearing The Cape. He’ll be back on MWi later this month to tell us about a bold new experiment he’s trying. But for now, the numbers.

Marion started off at 99c to get some traction, as an unknown name with a unknown book, and has now upped to $2.99. Here’s what he reported on his blog last week:

After spending nearly a year seeking an agent, I self-published on April 25th, three months ago. Assuming that I had found an agent, who then immediately found me a publisher (an insanely optimistic assumption, since agented writers often go for years before closing a book deal), I would likely have earned a $7,000 advance–the industry standard for newbie writers–then had to wait for at least a year for the publishing company to actually publish my book. They might have printed 7,000-15,000 copies, not all of which would have sold, and I would probably have never seen more than my initial advance.

So. After spending a year writing Wearing the Cape and another year finding an agent/publisher for it, I would likely have made no more than $7,000. But what is happening now?

This month I sold nearly 300 copies of WtC, more than 200 at the new price, and cleared $400. Assuming growth in sales remains steady, adding around $100 more a month, in half a year I’ll be getting $1,000/month from my first book (and assuming sales of 500/month is not being wildly optimistic). Taking that out to one year, I will have made more than what would have been my author’s advance on a book doing no more than moderately well by self-publishing standards!

Let’s just here that last bit again:

Taking that out to one year, I will have made more than what would have been my author’s advance on a book doing no more than moderately well by self-publishing standards!

And of course had he signed with a paper publisher his book would not even be available in that time!

Nor is Marion a lone voice.

DD Scott - WG2E

The chicklit-and-chocolate girls at WG2E are also not just balancing the books but beating the odds with their great range of novels.

Tonya Kappes -WG2E

They’ll all be joining us here on MWi shortly to tell us more.

And in a bizarre twist of fate I’ll be doing a regular feature over at WG2E from September. Well, as regular as I can manage.

LA Lopez - WG2E

So how about you guys? David shows you don’t have to be a phenomenal success to beat the big publishers at their own game. Remember, most paper published books sell less than a thousand copies. Most new authors never get a second book accepted.

I know not everyone likes to talk exact figures, but speaking generally, how are you doing? Are you close to exceeding, or have you already beaten, the likely return from an “average” trad-published deal?

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  1. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for having me. The reason I self-published was not because of the huge numbers of the guys at the top of the charts, it was the real money being made by people who never troubled the bestseller lists.

    Amazon have a new separate indie bestseller list. Interestingly, we can now say for sure that indies currently hold 100 of the top 326 spots. That should be an interesting one to track.

    I thought I knew the names of a lot of people in the indie scene through forums, blogs, Facebook groups etc., but looking through that list, I didn’t know who most of those guys were. I can name 50 people off the top of my head who are making a living from this or are approaching that level. And I don’t know who most of the guys are in the bestseller list.

    List here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/digital-text/3059252011/ref=zg_bsnr_tab

    Dave

    • Any hints that the Indie Store will be repeated on am.co.uk in the forseeable future?

      And any idea exactly how they define indie? Obviously the big publishers are easily identified, but small presses with just a few titles might well be defined as indie for these purposes.

      I guess the indie list will make life easier for agents and predators looking for successful indies to sign-up. Though those indies at this level will probably be making enough not to be tempted with anything other than a very exceptional deal.

      • I had heard nothing that this was coming until I saw a thread on Kindle Boards by someone who stumbled across it.

        I don’t think it’s even fully finished yet. They only have some categories up, and I can’t see how you would naturally navigate there from the home page.

        As for UK, your guess is as good as mine. Between a week and a year!

    • So…..Mark and David,

      What are your thoughts about Amazon making a distinction of Indie authors in this way?

      • Good question, Katherine.

        I suspect overall beneficial. This will show the many skeptics out there just how many indies are selling at the top level.

        And I think it shows Amazon recognize there is a keen interest among readers to seek out indie authors, because they know there’s a good chance they will get something more original than most of the safe, copy-cat, tick-box stuff being dished out by the gatekeepers.

        And as David’s observation shows, one third of the top sellers on am.com are indie. That’s a huge figure!

        On am.co.uk the Amazon summer sale is distorting the balance, with trad-published books at indie prices, but will be interesting to see how things compare once the sale ends.

      • There was a little flutter of worry amongst some on Kindle Boards that this was the first stage in a general coralling of indies and separation of our books from the main list.

        That’s never going to happen. That would cost Amazon huge money and they know it. Amazon are probably tapping into the subset of readers that actively seek out indie books. Most indies don’t want a big SELF-PUBLISHED sticker on their listings, so this seems like a neat solution that will give some writers some extra exposure.

    • Hi David! That’s a great post. It’s so great to see the success of your book (and not just because I’m in it :)) I think as more and more indie authors find success like you highlighted in your book, the less and less indie pubbing will be critiqued.

      “I know not everyone likes to talk exact figures, but speaking generally, how are you doing? Are you close to exceeding, or have you already beaten, the likely return from an “average” trad-published deal?”

      Beaten it 🙂 I talk real numbers on my blog: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=3062

  2. Hi Mark, This turned out to be a very timely post for me. After your initial contact with me from my mention on Nathan Bransford’s blog, my figures are still going great. I’m not bashful about talking figures,although sometimes I feel like I’m bragging but it’s not intended that way. I just want to encourage and give out the message “If I can do it, anyone can”. So, to anyone who would like some positive reinforcement, here it comes (although I did things slightly differently to what most of you talk about on these blogs).

    I took a gamble and put my 1st book for free on Kindle when I released the 2nd in the series. (it’s been 3 months today that it went free) and to date it’s been downloaded over 39,000 times here and UK. As a result, sales of my 2nd book are doing well. I have sold over 2500 copies in 3 months. Now sales are roughly 15 – 20 a day, consistantly. With the current download rate, that works out to be around 20% of people downloading the 1st are buying the 2nd on a daily basis.

    I’ve had some teachers write and tell me they enjoyed the series so much they are going to recommend it as reading to their students once school starts. You can imagine how over the moon I was to receive emails like that. So who knows, I may have a spike in sales in a few weeks. (keeping fingers crossed) 🙂

    I’m not sure, now, if I will price the 1st book at 99c again. I’ve kind of written it off as marketing. Any advice on that, anyone?

    • Thanks for that, Alison. Those figures are impressive! 2500 sales is very respectable for three months.

      On pricing, it might be interesting to experiment the first book at a real cost – you can always revert to free again – to see what happens.

      Having a free book out there seems a good way of getting readers to find your other works, and especially if its a series I can see why that would be worth sticking to.

      As for teachers emailing – that must be far more rewarding than the actual sales. I’ll email you separately on this over the weekend,and also your original planned guest post, which despite appearances I haven’t forgotten!

      Ditto everyone else out there seemingly being ignored. It’s been a difficult few weeks, but playing catch up now.

      • Thanks, Mark. And No Worries. I am currently remodeling so I know 1st hand how life can get in the way. My own blog and twitter etc. have gone by the wayside the past few weeks and will continue to do so until I’ve finished my decorating 🙂 Need to get it done before family visit. Now where did I put my paintbrush…?

  3. …. Just letting you know I’m here, I have read this, and I am taking notes. Can’t believe I once thought self-pubbing was only a way for bad writers to get bad works onto the market! Of course, there’s a flip side to everything, but thanks for showing me the good in it. Very very exciting stuff this!

    • That’s the old vanity-publishing concept.

      A lot of people still think that way, and of course it’s true that some writers are taking advantage to upload books best never seen.

      But who cares anyway? No-one will buy them and they will fade into oblivion.

      What’s important is that writers can now reach readers without having to jump through hoops and meet the criteria determined by a small group of publishers who run their business based largely on guess work.

      What other industry could see 90% of its products fail to sell, and just muddle by on the ten per cent that were hugely successful?

      • Yes. Yes. Yes. I agree with absolutely everything you are saying and I really needed to hear it today!

        KO

      • Yeah, the whole silly argument that a mountain of poor self-published books will block out the sun and no-one will be able to find the good stuff is nonsense, and displays little knowledge of how people actually shop online.

        The vast majority of readers go to Amazon with a purchase already in mind. They don’t stumble blindly down the endless virtual aisles hoping to find a good book amidst all the dross. Just like in the physical world, they have lists of recommendations from their friends, new books out from their favorite authors, and stuff they want to buy that they spotted on blogs or in the newspapers or wherever.

        They will impulse buy other stuff when in Amazon, but this is usually things they see in the bestseller lists, or in the personalized recommendations Amazon displays them in the “Also Bought” and “Customer Also Viewed” lists that are dotted around the site.

  4. I’m all for self-publishing, but something needs to be said about producing a quality product. What about the costs (and the importance!) of hiring an editor, a professional illustrator (when applicable), a cover designer?

    • Ryan,

      I hire a professional cover designer and a professional editor. I would put the quality of my covers and edits up against any book and feel confident.

      These are jobs you can hire out for a flat fee. My last book (the designer worked for free) cost me $1000. I have earned 70% of that back in 3 weeks. I should have it paid off in a month. Every penny I earn after that – forever – is profit.

      Dave

      • I know that, and you know that. The average self-publisher often doesn’t consider it. I think it’s important to point out.

    • As David says, all these can be obtained for a flat fee if necessary But I think it also important not to fall into the trap of assuming these are all essential.

      Amanda Hocking is a fine example where professional editing simply didn’t come into the equation. That’s not to say she was proud of the less than perfect stories she was selling. But clearly the readers weren’t too bothered.

      It was the same for us. We launched Sugar & Spice self-edited, with a home-made cover and did our own formatting. And yes, the first cover was far from brilliant, the script had more typos than we’d have liked, and we had formatting issues.

      But nine months on we’ve sold close to 100,000 ebooks. Only once we’d sold enough to cover the costs did we get a professional cover and have it professionally formatted. It still hasn’t been professionally edited. We have over 120 five star reviews. Evidently the readers don’t care.

      And to be honest, as a debut novel by an unknown name that the UK agents had said was unsellable, there was no way we were going to spend serious money on it. We just wanted to test the *real* market.

      If you can afford a pro cover and format then most definitely go for it.

      As for a pro editor… That’s the subject of some future blogs, but I think the idea that a professional editor is an *essential* is a fallacy. Having an editor is advisable. It is not essential.

      It can’t help but be noticed that the people who shout loudest about how badly edited indie books are just happen to be editors…

      That said, I’m hoping to have several editors guest here in the coming weeks to argue their case and say why most (they would no doubt say all) writers *need* an editor.

      • There are ways to make both affordable. I sometimes use interns from a nearby art school. They get college credit and a portfolio piece. I pay them a few hundred dollars, although most would do it for free. As for editors, I’ve befriended enough good writers that I can trade editing with them or hire them on the cheap. (And I hear you can find good, affordable editors online at freelance websites.) A self-publisher can spend less than $500 to get both done quite well. And maybe you are exceptionally gifted or just have a really great book concept. A great many self-publishers have neither, which is why I strongly encourage everyone to use an editor.

      • Self-Editing is possible but few people have the ability to critically edit their own work. It’s their baby and they can’t see it objectively, which is why I cannot agree with you in saying an editor is not essential.

  5. That’s very interesting about the Amazon.com indie top 100 – I do hope it comes to the UK.

    In a year, I’ve sold 41,000 copies of my two novels, more than I’d ever have imagined. Week by week, getting an agent and a publishing deal appears less attractive, as print sinks and digital rises. Yes, I’d like to get into bookshops, get more foreign contracts, and I think my novels would make terrific films. But I’m not going to give away all my rights in perpetuity for an advance smaller than the amount I’ve earned on my own so far. (That’s if anyone had approached me – which, rather surprisingly, they haven’t.)

    • I’m surprised you’ve had no agents chasing you, Lexi. Your sales are fantastic, and your books have great feedback and customer satisfaction.

      Unlike our Sugar & Spice I suspect your novels would do very well in the US, and with those figures it must be now worth seeking out US agents, some of whom might well give you a fair deal.

      But your point is well made about in perpetuity clauses and piffling advances. I think the size of the advance offered would be a good indicator of how much effort the publisher intends to put in to make sure the book sells. As per one of your own blog posts recently, it’s important writers and readers understand the place on the plinth is bought by the publisher, not gifted by the bookseller.

  6. Great post. Mark introduced me to David’s blog about a month ago, and every post is enlightening. I’m going to recommend his book on my blog this Sunday.

    I just checked out the indie bestseller list and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Like Mark, I’m wondering about small presses (esp. since I’m about to be published by a small press.) But I guess we’ll be ghetto-ized (or I guess un-ghetto-ized) with the Big Boys. Difference is, many small publishers are pricing at $ 2.99, instead of the ever-escalating over-10 bucks download from the Big Boys.

    NPR highlighted the escalating cost of ebooks on this morning’s broadcast. Amazon has actually been selling those books at a loss to get people to buy Kindles, but now they’re back to letting the publishers set their own prices–like $14-$18 bucks for an ebook. That’s going to be hell on the mid-list Big Six author.

    So I see a lot more of them going the Konrath route.

    Amazon is calling the shots now, but it’s the Big Six publishers who have the guns aimed at their own feet.

    Thanks for all the great info, and to Alison Pensy for sharing her stats.

    • I noticed some small press books on that indie page. It seems that Amazon are calling anything that’s not from the larger publishers “indie”.

      They could well be using who uploads through KDP and who doesn’t as the separator.

    • Thanks for the info on US ebook prices. Fascinating!

      Here in the UK the Amazon sale continues and indies are paying the price, with top paper names selling at 99p. Great for readers, mind, and I’ve stocked up on some great bargains!

      Worth noting here in the UK at least one publisher is deliberately pricing one of its trad published ebooks at a mere 49p, but is reaping rewards with sales of the many other books by that author.

  7. It’s interesting to note that Let’s Get Digital seems unaffected by those kinds of sales whereas my short stories just die completely. I think it’s hard enough to get someone to spend 99c/86p on a short story with so many good novels out there at similar prices without a load of books from larger publishers being on a heavily-advertised limited-time special.

    Another good reason to have a wide range of titles. One can carry the slack while the others are getting hammered by some force outside of your control.

    Releasing – something – regularly should help too. I’m not focused so much on how much I can maximize the sales of one title – certainly not at this point – I’m looking towards getting lots of titles up, then promoting the hell out of them. That way, if a reader is converted to a fan, they will have lots more stuff they can pick up, which should give me much more return for any promo efforts I put in.

    For now, my time is best spent writing, pulling out my hair, throwing pens across the room, and wrestling stories over the finish line.

    • Having more titles out does appear to be the key. The UK success of Mark Edwards and Louise Voss shows just how powerful that can be if you can release two top sellers in quick succession, with the books working in tandem to haul one another up the charts.

      Lexi Revellian similarly got a huge bounce on her first book when she released her second, and had the two been released closer together I suspect they would have climbed even further.

      Kris Rusch gives some revealing numbers in her latest post showing how sheer volume of titles rather than sales on one title make her a living, and Konrath’s figures paint a similar story.

      We’ll be putting this to the test next week when, almost a month later than planned, we finally release our next book, the first of a series. More on that next week.

  8. Further to my observations about editing, above, Anne R Allen has a thread on her latest post – http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2011/08/wait-dont-kill-that-darling-real-skinny.html – which has just been updated with the observations from NYT best-selling author Terry Galanoy. be sure to check out the full post, but this was Terry’s comment over at ARA:

    “I have been teaching creative writing for over 30 years at 4 major universities and have over two million words in print (maybe more) and my experience is that the second, third, fourth, etc. thought/revised ms. is trite, stale–and a hashed-over also-ran.

    The fresh and original–after maybe a once-over for plot lapses and typos–are always the best I have read, judged, passed on to agents etc.”

    That’s not an argument against editors. Just another voice saying that the “editors are essential ” argument is not set in stone.

    More on this in future blogs when some professional editors will be arguing their case, explaining just what an editor does, and showing why most writers can benefit from their services.

    • Dean Wesley Smith makes a similar argument.

      However, while this may hold true for some experienced writers, I think writers with less experience still need to draft several times.

      I know I need to cycle through drafts to add “layers” each time. My first draft is good for getting down the story. Next one is clean-up/plot-holes etc. Next one is more setting/characterisation/senses and general prettying up here and there. At that point I’m usually good to go.

      Maybe in ten years I can lose a step or two, but for now I really can’t. I guess everyone is different.

      • Absolutely, the more experience one has the more likely one will have the experience to self-edit to an appropriate degree.

        I certainly still cycle through drafts adding (and removing) layers, and for proof-reading we have used a paid third party on our latest book.

        But I could never tolerate a publisher’s editor telling me to change my storyline or a character, or rewrite to suit their preconceptions as to what will sell.

  9. Hi Mark (first, can I just check you got my piece a week or so back? :))

    This is a fascinating post, and I’ve watched David’s burgeoning wit interest, but you just know I’m going to quote Jessie J don’t you 🙂 Only I guess for some it “is about the money” in which case this is almost certainly one of the books people should check out (though of course the more woot-wooting and motivational content a book has, the more it worries one as a reader about the content – and I do worry about something like Marion’s assertion “on a book doing no more than moderately well by self-publishing standards!” that’s just factually wrong and people should always read books from both sides of any contentious case, then decide what’s right for them and go for it.

    But going back to my original point. For me self-publishing was never about the money. As my reputation as an indie author was taking hold after 2 years or so contributing to various underground sites and doing live shows that started out as 10 family friends and a year later are a safe bet to play to sell-out to pretty much anywhere that’ll have us (I run a literary show), I self-published The Company of Fellows, in part because my wife had lost her job and we were in danger of not making rent and I knew it was the most commercial thing I’d written. which it proved to be. It hasn’t sold in massive numbers, but it’s sold over 5000 and that has kept a roof over our heads, for which I will be eternally grateful. But it also opened many doors – winning a poll at Blackwell’s, for example, which saw me invited to be on a Rising Literary Stars panel along with some quite big names in traditionally published fiction. And I’ve received some very kind offers on the back of it. Again, all fantastic.

    But. I’m now introduced as a thriller writer. I’m invited to do things as a thriller writer, to appear plaecs talking about my thriller. And that’s not who I am or what I write by and large. I’m having to do a lot of back-pedalling work to get my other writing, the writing at which I’d spent so long and which I hope will make me a long-term (30 years or more) future, back to the forefront. Writing for me was always about challenging people, showing what could be done differently, pushing their world view – and I was getting somewhere with that, but whilst I’ve made money that has been essential, I’ve unduobtedly taken steps backwards in my overall aims.

    So the overall picture is complex. I’ll be blogging about this in a few days at Kindle UK Authors but it really is essential that – as your title suggests – people never do anything because of hype – either from trad publishers or self-publishers. Because it’s not a choice about this year. It’s a choice, if you’re serious, about the rest of your life. And that means first and foremost knowing what it is you want to achieve, and then going and finding the best information to help you achieve it. And constantly re-calibrating yourself as you go and not getting sidetracked by “success” into taking a path that leads you to an altogether place from the one you wanted to get to.

    • Received and I did email you, Dan. Will follow up with you again over the weekend as obviously did not get through.

      The danger of being typecast is a very real one, which is why Saffi and are diversifying early with other genres, while at the same time trying to ride the unexpected success of Sugar & Spice by launching a crime thriller series.

      Securing a sound financial base, especially given we share the rewards, is essential if we are to write full time long term.

      Our most recent agent interest, while offering great things, wanted far too much control (or example, write only crime for the next three years!). Well thank you for considering us, Ms Big-Name Agent, but we don’t really think the market is suited to your style just now. We hope you have better luck elsewhere.

  10. Hi Dan,

    That’s a fair point. My explicit aim is to build a career out of this. I talked a lot about money in this post, but it’s not my primary focus. Rather, that is writing the best books I can and publishing them to the highest possible standards.

    But money is important. Without money, I won’t be able to dedicate my life to this. I want to write until they nail me into a wooden box and pry my Bic biro from my cold dead hand.

    The only way I can guarantee sufficient time to pursue all my literary aims is to have a solid foundation of royalty income.

    But, as I said above, my primary aim is to write the best books I can. I think if I do that, the rest will follow.

    Dave

    • “I want to write until they nail me into a wooden box and pry my Bic biro from my cold dead hand.”
      I hope you succeed 🙂 (because your writing career is a long one, not because your life is short, of course!)

      • Heh.

        I have zero interest in writing a handful of books that are spectacular sellers. I would much rather write 100 books that do reasonably well.

        That doesn’t mean that I will sacrifice quality for quantity – far from it, I think I’m nearly too slow in my approach – it just means I’ll never stop writing. There are just too many stories I have to tell.

  11. I have to agree on the editing comments. I self-edited my 1st book, made harder by the fact that I have an British education and the grammar and punctuation in the US is different. There are errors in the book but out of 39,000 downloads I’ve only had a couple of comments in my reviews about the grammatical errors (and they weren’t made by the school teachers who contacted me 🙂 ).

    The 2nd book was edited by a school teacher friend of mine and I’ve had no comments so far on that one.

    Not to be derogatory in any way, shape, or form, but I don’t think that grammar is such a huge issue as it once was, I’m not sure it’s even taught that well in schools nowadays. So, the odd grammatical error probably goes largely unnoticed. But I have read some self-pubbed books where it was so bad you literally couldn’t understand the sentence. Now those kind of books need serious work.

    • I think I have a slightly different view to Mark on the necessity of a good editor. But he’s a smart guy, has sold a hell of a lot of books, and I will listen to what he has to say with great interest.

      I will say this though. In my experience, many of the self-publishers that avoid editing altogether (and I am most certainly not referring to you here) are those that need it most. Often, they will be those that have a poor homemade cover, and an unenticing blurb.

      That’s not really giving your book much of a chance.

    • I have to agree with Alison on the editing as well. Three months ago I published my first novel, Carpe Bead ’em, after leaving my small publisher. I hired an editor that still didn’t catch my many mistakes, but it hasn’t seem to hurt me. A couple of reviews gave it three stars because of the mistakes, but loved the story so they over looked it.
      My second, The Ladybu Jinx, and third, Splitsville.com, was edited by a self proclaimed grammar geek and school teacher who is actually a reader turned beta reader. My next novel out in October, Happy New Life, is being edited by a different editor for more plot holes, grammar, etc….
      Needless to say, I’ve been self published for three months today, and have sold a total of 2299 ebooks. This week I started selling 100 a day. I hope it keeps up!!
      Mark~Thanks for the shout-out!! I LOVE CHICK LIT AND CHOCOLATE GIRLS FROM WG2e!!! Fantastic! I can’t wait to connect with your readers here, and welcome aboard WG2E!! Hmmm….I have to get a name for the fab guys joining us there;))

  12. I just wanted to second what Dave is saying here. I have three quarters of a million books in print in English. I get paid advances larger than $10K, at least 50% of the books I have written have stayed in print for 10 years or more, and I still find the economics of indie publishing pretty much as compelling as staying with traditional publishing, which is why I am doing both. I am not ashamed to say that money is important to me since writing is how I have fed and clothed my family since the 90s.

    • Thanks, William.

      Being able to do both is at this stage probably the best option, for those lucky enough to have got in through the door.

      But for those just starting out going indie first and joining the paper chase later if appropriate seems to me the best strategy.

  13. Ryan Jacobson :

    There are ways to make both affordable. I sometimes use interns from a nearby art school. They get college credit and a portfolio piece. I pay them a few hundred dollars, although most would do it for free. As for editors, I’ve befriended enough good writers that I can trade editing with them or hire them on the cheap. (And I hear you can find good, affordable editors online at freelance websites.) A self-publisher can spend less than $500 to get both done quite well. And maybe you are exceptionally gifted or just have a really great book concept. A great many self-publishers have neither, which is why I strongly encourage everyone to use an editor.

    I’m all for that. We are exploring art student possibilities for the cover of our new St Malory’s YA series, and for editing we would strongly favour trusted fellow writers as beta readers.

    I agree most writers – especially those starting out – need both proof-reading and storyline-editing assistance. What I question is the assumption that these are indispensable, and how one decides which editor is good for your particular book.

    I’ve heard far too many horror stories about editors insisting on changes the author has no desire to make, Mandatory suggestions, as they are called in the trade. Disagree and say goodbye to your contract.

  14. davidgaughran :

    Heh.

    I have zero interest in writing a handful of books that are spectacular sellers. I would much rather write 100 books that do reasonably well.

    That doesn’t mean that I will sacrifice quality for quantity – far from it, I think I’m nearly too slow in my approach – it just means I’ll never stop writing. There are just too many stories I have to tell.

    Agree totally. We never for one second expected to have a break out novel on our hands, and while it brings its own rewards it also brings its own downsides in terms of high expectations for future works, the unwanted attention of predatory agents who only see numbers, and the very real danger of being genre type-cast.

    The real upside of having a success with the first book is having the confidence to get on with other projects knowing there are no gatekeeper hoops to jump through.

  15. J. Linwood Schulman :

    Self-Editing is possible but few people have the ability to critically edit their own work. It’s their baby and they can’t see it objectively, which is why I cannot agree with you in saying an editor is not essential.

    Thanks or joining us.

    It’s the “essential” bit and the word “editor” that throw me.

    Lots of experienced professional writers do not use professional editors, and still do pretty well for themselves. Equally, almost every trad-published novel will have had the company editor work their magic, Yet as we all know most trad published books fail.

    I don’t doubt a good editor can be a valuable asset. But who decides what a *good* editor is? And why should they be better than a trusted group of beta readers?

    A good edit is essential, of course.

    The idea that only a “professional editor” can deliver this service is what I find unacceptable.

    • Miriam
    • August 13th, 2011

    I’ll have to look into that book. My sister is very snooty about self pubbing, but I’m beginning to look on it differently. Yes, Mark, partly because of you. But I read so many blogs and about ninety percent of them are yelling at me IT IS CHANGING – CHANGE WITH IT!

  16. Oh my Gosh, Mark! I’m just now reading this…as you know, I’ve been deep inside my writing boutique getting ready for my next release LIP GLOCK (available on or around Monday 8/15)! Yayyy!!!

    But anyhoo…thanks beyond bunches for the superfab WG2E shout-out!!! And “chick lit-and-chocolate girls”…luuuvvv that funky fun spin!!!

    And wow are we just over the moon to be partnering with you for some over-top-fun, pay it forward kinda scoop on both The WG2E and MWi!!!

    Thanks too to you, David, for just a brilliant post here at MWi, and I also just bought your book!!!

    Cheers, Y’All!!!

    • Pj Schott
    • August 13th, 2011

    That’s a keeper. Recognize some of my favorite authors here too.

  17. I’m buying David’s book for my KOBO right now. 🙂

    • Doug H
    • August 26th, 2011

    Brother and one of the beta-readers of Marion G. Harmon here, the aforementioned author of Wearing the Cape, and I thought I’d add my own two cents on the question of professional editors. (A little late, I know, but I only just got here.)

    My brother has the advantage of family and friends that are voracious readers and none of us shy about expressing our opinions. For me personally, I’d probably flunk a college-level English test, but a sentence will “feel” wrong (a hint in big flashing lights is when I read it, then need to re-read it to make sure I understand what’s going on). So I read the manuscript, a couple of sisters read it, some friends, plenty of good advice from a couple of writer sites, all of us happy to point out misspelts, problem sentences (and paragraphs), etc., etc., etc., along with acting as sounding boards for plot ideas. And after all that, we still missed a remarkable number of goofs that were found only after the book was published. Which leads to another advantage of electronic self-publishing: you find mistakes, you can correct them almost instantly. Within a few day, buyers going forward will have a book with fewer errors in it.

    And assuming Marion is spectacularly successful, there’s one thing he won’t have to worry about so long as we are his beta-readers: having an editor that will publish whatever he writes without bothering to do his job because anything that he writes will sell to his loyal fans regardless of the quality. Robert A. Heinlein could really have used a circle of friends to tell him that his last few books needed some serious reworking before being published. (Of course, it could be the ego of the writer at work, with an editor hindered in doing his job by the fact that the writer could always go somewhere else to publish. With us for beta-readers that won’t be a problem, either.) So if you have a decent-sized circle of family and/or friends that know good (and bad) writing when they see it and enjoy reading what you enjoy writing, I wouldn’t think that an editor is necessary from a quality standpoint.

  1. August 12th, 2011

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