Sunday, September 28, 2014

Self-publishing traps

I recently undertook to do an 'Assessments Day' for a local writing centre. I was honoured to be asked and really enjoyed the event. The writers I spoke with were generally very sensible and had their feet on the ground, but now and then I come across someone with stars in their eyes: someone who thinks writing books is going to be their path to riches.

Sadly, this is usually far from the truth. Most writers in this country earn less than the dole. In my city of Perth, for example, I believe there is less than a handful of people earning their living by writing fiction. If you write, do it because you enjoy it, not because you expect to make a living at it.

As a freelance editor, my speciality is doing what I call ‘mini-assessments’ for new writers. A mini-assessment is based on a synopsis and the first twenty pages of the writer’s manuscript.

I always start by giving new clients what I call 'the standard lecture'. Now, it’s quite possible that you already know these things, but it’s surprising how many writers do not, so I'll  restate them here to be on the safe side.
1.                  It’s extremely hard to get a novel published, and it’s getting harder and harder with the current uncertainties of the economy and the radical changes that are inevitable in the publishing industry. For every thousand MSS sent to publishers, no more than a half-a-dozen are published. Hard SF – or even ‘soft’ SF – is harder to sell than Fantasy and even harder to sell than the most popular genres, Romance, Crime and Mystery.
2.                  Because it is so hard to get published, your work needs to be of a very high standard in every department. This usually means spending money on editing and/or MS assessment, and these services are not cheap. Because of that, it’s sensible to make sure you’ve done absolutely all you can with the work before handing it to an editor.
3.                  You may well decide to self-publish. Here are a couple of things to bear in mind.
‘Vanity’ publishing should be avoided at all costs. Publishers who want money from you to publish your novel are vanity publishers, even if they call themselves self-publishing houses. True self-publishing means you set yourself up as a publisher and engage your own sub-contractors for editing, artwork, layout and printing. It’s a lot of work, but it usually works out cheaper than vanity presses. In either case, distribution and marketing fall to the author, and it’s a sad fact that most self-published or vanity-published fiction books sell fewer than 100 copies, and many sell fewer than twenty. The bolding there is deliberate as it’s something every wannabe author should know and accept.
 A note on e-publishing. This is becoming more and more the route most writers will follow to get their work ‘out there’. A quick look at Smashwords on any given day will reveal that several dozen new books have miraculously appeared overnight! So it’s just as competitive as the hard-copy market. All those books begging to be read no one could possibly read all of them, and many readers still have a resistance to reading on-screen at all. So an e-book has to be outstanding to succeed, and the author must also be ready to undertake a lot of work on promotion through the social media. Just sticking your book up online will not by itself bring in sales.
I hope I haven’t put you off self-publishing with the above comments: properly approached, self-publishing is as valid a way of any to get your work in front of readers. However, I do like to make sure new writers don’t have stars in their eyes and are not on the road to being conned by vanity publishers! There are some veritable sharks about on the internet. I’ve heard of people paying as much as $25,000 to get a book published, because they didn’t know any better, and I've personally met one young man who'd been fleeced of $12,000 for a really shabby editing job and very ordinary looking stock cover. Don't let this happen to you: don't be conned - be careful!