Friday, July 27, 2012

The Business of Writing: Self-Publishing Versus Traditional Publishing by Linda Rohrbough

I find it disturbing when someone says, “You should publish yourself because then you get to keep all the money.” When I hear this, I think what are they smokin’?

Can you publish yourself and make money? Yes. Absolutely.

But that begs the question:  Why is it that successful self-publishers end up in the traditional publishing route? In the twenty years that I've been in this business, I only know of one self-published book that is still being self-published and that's The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Marilyn Ross. (Marilyn is a Coloradoan, by the way. She co-authored with Tom, her husband, but sadly, he died not too long ago.)

Now, there may be those who'd say to me, “Linda, you've never self-published so how would you know?” Au contraire. I started my own press and self-published my first book. Three divisions of Baker & Taylor, a major U.S. distributor, picked it up. I didn't know at the time what that meant, but I do now. Bottom line is this: When you self-publish, you deliberately put on several hats to wear. And many of those hats are heavy, awkward, and don’t fit well together. Some hats carry a stigma that’s tough to live with. I love to write and I didn’t care for the other hats, so I dropped self-publishing and pursued the traditional route.

But back to the subject at hand, which is self-publishing versus traditional publishing. There are two things you need to have a successful book: exposure and distribution. What I mean by exposure is to get information to the right people about the existence of the book and its benefits. What I mean by distribution is getting the book into a position where the right people can easily buy it once they find out about it.

You've got to have both exposure and distribution in order to sell books – and I mean sell enough books that it makes a difference in your lifestyle. Both of those things require a team. Which is why all the authors’ books I know about that have successfully self-published, like Harvey McKay (Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive), Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul), and most recently Amanda Hocking (whose paranormal romances were initially published as Kindle e-books) are all now traditionally published. These authors realized they could do better with a team that understands distribution and has tools in place to get both exposure and distribution.

I can tell you that in most cases, these authors approached the traditional publisher about their projects, not the other way around. Right now, there’s a glut of authors. Publishers have so many authors come to them through agents that they don't have to beat the bushes. So the idea that some big house is going to come knocking at your door is not reality. Some smart agents who saw an opportunity have approached authors, but then they had to turn around and sell those authors to the publishing houses.

I said all that to say it scares me to watch newbees get suckered in by promises of quick glory if they'll just spring their hard earned bucks for whatever deal a self-publisher is offering them. Just bypass the whole painful process, skip the frustration and rejection. Wouldn’t that be nice? I love that idea. But I can tell you that’s not going to happen. Finally, one of the worst offenders at taking newbees to the cleaners is finally getting called on the carpet:  Publish America. The Writer Beware® blog, by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, just published a piece on the class action suit that’s been filed against PA. The post outlines much better than I can the “problems” the suit addresses. But there’s a lot of money out there to be had from authors who don’t understand the business and a number of houses have gotten into self-publishing following PA’s model.

Does this mean I'm saying don't self-publish? Not at all. I am saying know what you're getting yourself into. The press loves the rags to riches stories out there of self-published authors who’ve made it. Just notice, though, that the ones who do make it team up with a publisher.

There are short cuts, sure. But none of them have to do with bypassing patience and hard work. The most critical component is to first make sure the writing has that emotional appeal that draws readers, whether it's fiction or non-fiction. And reading this means you have a leg up because you're probably a member of Pikes Peak Writers – which is great because this group specializes in helping writers get published and stay published. If you're reading this and you’re not a member, why not sign up? It's free, and I can't think of a better investment of your time than to join.

So can you self-publish and make money? Yes. Absolutely. But that’s like asking if you can buy a lottery ticket and win the lotto. Sure. You can. But there are better odds in other avenues if your goal is to be a millionaire.

That's my two cents. The bottom line is writers write and there’s always room for good writing no matter how it’s published. Writing – and honing your craft – is the most important thing you can be doing no matter which publishing route you decide to take. There’s no substitute for a well-told, well-crafted story.

About the Writer:  Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with national awards for her fiction and non-fiction. New York Times #1 bestselling author Debbie Macomber said about Linda’s new novel: "This is fast-paced, thrilling, edge-of-the-seat reading. The Prophetess One: At Risk had me flipping the pages and holding my breath." The Prophetess One: At Risk recently won three national awards: the 2012 International Book Award, the 2011 Global eBook Award and the 2011 Millennium Star Publishing Award. An iPhone App of her popular “Pitch Your Book” workshop is available in the Apple iTunes store. Visit her website:

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