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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Riposte To Ros: Why Self-Publishing Isn't all Gloom and Doom Part I (By J.P. Ashman, D. Benem, J, D. Cormier, B. Galley, P. Jack, G.R. Matthews, B. McGregor, & D. Moonfire)

Nearly a month ago Ros Barber posted her one-side views about why self-publishing should never be considered by any true professional writer.  Safe to say, there were many who were not only peeved by her assertions but also felt that her column needed a counter.

So thanks to the lovely SPFBO authors, here's a riposte to many of Ros' claims. Presented below is part I (with Ben, Dylan, Jonathan, & James) , and part II (with Blair, David, Geoff, & Jack)  to follow tomorrow. Enjoy their thoughts...

Dylan Moonfire: I'll admit, the first thing that set me the wrong way with the piece was the last line of the introduction: "Despite royalty rates of 70%, I think self-publishing is a terrible idea for serious novelists (by which I mean, novelists who take writing seriously..." Writing is not marketing, they are two entirely separate skills. What makes a good writer has absolutely nothing to do with what makes a good marketer. Some people are good at both, some are lousy at both.

When some self-published authors decide to get into marketing, the results are the same as if someone announced they are going to be a great writer, buy a copy of Scrivner, and expect to be Ursula Le Guin after ten minutes. That isn't true for every self-published author because everyone has different skills and situations. Some have degrees in marketing, married a graphic designer, or spent the summer selling cars.

Others are lost but still want to try, so they browse the Internet because that is how writers fake knowledge for their books. They find a few flashy-sounding advice columns and then follow those suggestions with the slavish focus of someone who doesn't understand why that advice wouldn't work for them. Of course, with the power of Google, there are a lot of authors who find those same pages and also follow it, flooding everyone with copies of the same poor behavior.

Not every self-published author spams their feed with pictures of their books. Not everyone uses auto-DMs, trading links, or interjects their book into every conversation that shares a word with something they wrote. Some come up with marketing plans, hire professionals to handle PR, and treat their social presence with the same detail as the book they wrote.

A similar observation could be taken for the point "You risk looking like an amateur." Typography, ebook formatting, accounting, and the types of editing are all different skills. Very few people have all of them in equal measure. Not everyone understands the Dunning–Kruger effect. Publishers supply those skills, but it is still possible to hire people to cover those weaknesses and still produce a professional book. It isn't that hard to find good editors, typesetters, and formatters. Those are the same skills larger presses hire to do the very same thing.

The truest part of the article was the title: "For me, traditional publishing means poverty." For Ms. Barber, self-publishing may not be the best choice for her. For others, however, they either have the skills to create a high-quality story or they have the ability to hire those who are willing to fill in the gaps. It is simply a different path to the same thing: publishing a book.

One last point. A "real writer" is someone who writes. It doesn't matter if it is a journal kept under the bed, drunken poetry on a napkin for open mic night, or someone who spent two years writing with a fountain pen in leather-clad books. Writers write, that is all that is needed to be a real writer.

Ben Galley: It’s a real shame that Ros Barber didn’t take the time to talk to any of the thousands of hard-working, knowledgeable and passionate self-publishers out there when forming her opinion. Here’s why:

You should never forget writing for a living

This first fact is plain wrong when it comes to serious self-publishers. As I know Ros is fond of math, let’s do a little:

I have been self-publishing for over 5 years and in that time I’ve published 10 titles. 5 years = 1825 days. If 90% of that time has spent marketing, that leaves me 182 days to write and publish 10 books. That’s roughly 6 months. My fantasy books average at 130,000+ words. Combine that with my other non-fiction and graphic novel titles, and I’d say we could look at an average of 100,000 for each book. That’s a million words in 5 years, which equates to 5,494 words per day, every day. Basing on my writing speed, we’re looking at 6 hours. That means I would have had to work 60 hour days to give 90% of my time to marketing.

Any good self-publisher knows that product on the shelf and in readers’ hands is one of the secrets to success. He or she will also know the value of improvement. That’s why those who take themselves seriously will spend 90% of their time writing, 10% marketing.

Only fools behave like fools 

The example of Twitter Ros has rolled out is one that most self-publishers will abhor, and make an effort to steer away from. Self-publishing doesn’t automatically turn you into a fool and, like some disease, make you rabidly promote your book on Twitter and Facebook. Only people who lack the understanding of social media will do that, and they will notice when they see it doesn’t sell books.

We don’t need gatekeepers

I’m fascinated with this idea of validation that a lot of writers harbour: that being published traditionally is the hallmark of “I’ve made it”. I believe that’s archaic. It’s an indicator of quality, or being commercial perhaps, but the only true mark of validation in today’s market is what the reader thinks. That is the only person matters in the publishing chain. What readers think can make or sink a book and as such, they’re the only gatekeepers I want to please.


Another trope that bothers me is the idea that writers must suffer through time for their art. That if a novel hasn’t taken you four years to write, it’s not a novel. Yes, practice is important, and trad or indie, you should never rush to put a book out there, but to me the notions that time equates to talent, and of suffering for suffering’s sake just to prove you’re a writer, are laughable.

It’s time for Donald Trump to apologise

Major prizes don’t accept self-publishing books. A minor speed-bump. There are plenty of other prizes that do. Authors aren’t likely to get reviewed in mainstream press. That’s too bad. There are countless review sites and blogs (oh, and readers) that will. Authors don’t get booked for major literary festivals? Well, that’s just not true. I’m proud to say that this year I have been invited to speak at the Festival at Hampstead Theatre and the Stratford Literary Festival.

4.4% of nothing is also nothing 

One of the best parts of self-publishing is the higher royalty rate. Yes, Ros is correct in her math that 70% of nothing is nothing, but most days I would rather take the 70% of an £8.99 book than 4.4% (what Ros makes in the UK per book sold on Amazon).

In summary, Ros’ article is misinformed, but there’s also a prevailing sense that she views self-publishing as a booby prize, or an amateur’s solution, and as such it comes across as snobbery. That simply isn’t true. Self-publishing is a viable and valid option for authors. It may not be a direct path to financial security, but from the looks of Ros’ published financials, traditional publishing isn’t either.

J. P. Ashman:Despite royalty rates of 70%, I think self-publishing is a terrible idea for serious novelists (by which I mean, novelists who take writing seriously, and love to write).”

We don't all get royalty rates of 70%. If you do, it's likely through selling an ebook at a lowly rate of £0.99. So let's clear that up before folk think we're raking it in. Also, bear in mind, we pay taxes and other fees. Those of us who take it seriously (many of us, despite what Ros thinks) pay editors and cover artists too. She does mention that, but clearly believes we do the following.

Paying some poor bugger in the Philippines a fiver, or bunging £50 to your PhotoShopping nephew will not result in a distinctive, professional-looking cover.”

I'm not quite sure why she chose the Philippines, but that's beside the point. Her point seems to be that we don't use 'real' artists and editors because we'd have to dish out jewels and gold to all and sundry, hoping that we find some rare, talented soul who isn't already inundated by traditional publishers who are paying for them out of the goodness of their hearts; making it free for Ros and her chums.

Wait! Didn't she say being traditionally published was financially depressing? Perhaps that's because her editors, artists and formatting gurus aren't free after all? Perhaps her publisher is paying for it from the money they're saving by paying her small advances and low royalties? I don't know, it's hard to tell, because like a lot of what she says in her piece, she contradicts herself.

I'm not going to cover everything she said, because I'm sure it'll all get covered in this article anyway. So, I'm going to leave mine short-ish, because I have a tendency to waffle. That's one of the reasons I choose to pay for a professional editor to edit my work.

Forgive me for coming across a little angry, but I don't appreciate people who tar folk with the same brush, for any reason. I'm self-published by choice. I love it. I love writing, world-building and I also love marketing and socialising with fellow writers, and readers. This is where my editor, Jeff Gardiner, would tell me to stop and shut up, so I shall.

Ros Barber had her say, which is her right. I just wish she'd chosen to ask a wide range of self-published authors their experiences before publishing her biased article. Now it's our turn to have our say, and you, the readers, are finally getting our side of it from more than one source! A real snapshot of what we do, how we feel. I'm off now to super-spam the world with 'buy my book' tweets and email drops.

James D. Cormier:You have to forget writing for a living.”

If you self-publish your book, you are not going to be writing for a living. You are going to be marketing for a living. Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing.”

Barber’s first assertion, like all those that follow, is anecdotal at best and a blind assertion without any evidentiary support at worst. The only explanation for the 90/10 percent ratio she cites is that a single self-published author who commented on her blog put the percentage of time he actually spent writing in the single digits.

This breakdown is contrary to my own experience and that of pretty much every self-published writer I’ve talked to, but, more importantly, it also ignores a fundamental truth of publishing in 2016: every author is also a marketer.

Read the rest of James' eloquent thoughts over at his blog.

Also catch part II of the riposte tomorrow....


Official Author Website
Order Sand And Blood HERE

Dylan Moonfire  is the remarkable result of the intersection of a computer nerd, a scientist, and polymath. Instead of focusing on a single genre, he writes stories and novels in many different settings ranging from fantasy to science fiction. He also throws in the occasional romance or forensics murder mystery to mix things up.

In addition to having a borderline unhealthy obsession with the written word, he is also a developer who loves to code as much as he loves writing. He lives near Cedar Rapids, Iowa with his wife, numerous pet computers, and a pair of highly mobile things of the male variety.

You can see more work by D. Moonfire at his website and get more information about his entry, Sand and Blood over here.

Official Author Website
Order The Stone Road HERE

Geoff Matthews (G R Matthews) began reading in the cot. His mother, at her wits end with the constant noise and unceasing activity, would plop him down on the soft mattress with an encyclopaedia full of pictures then quietly slip from the room. His father, ever the pragmatist, declared, that they should, “throw the noisy bugger out of the window.” Happily this event never came to pass (or if it did Geoff bounced well). Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies with the self-same parent who had once wished to defenestrate him. When not watching the six-gun heroes or spies being out-acted by their own eyebrows he devoured books like a hungry wolf in the dead of winter.

Beginning with Patrick Moore and Arthur C Clarke he soon moved on to Isaac Asimov. However, one wet afternoon in a book shop in his home town, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he came across a book by David Eddings – and soon Sci-Fi gave way to Fantasy. Many years later, Geoff finally realised a dream and published his own fantasy novel, The Stone Road, in the hopes that other hungry wolves out there would find a hearty meal. You can follow him on twitter @G_R_Matthews or visit his website.

Official Author Website
Order Exile: The Book Of Ever #1 HERE

James Cormier went to law school and spent years as a practicing attorney before realizing that what he really wanted to do with his life was sit around and write stories about imaginary places. Which is why you're reading this now. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, his son, and the requisite two cats that every writer of fantasy and science fiction is presented with upon the publication of their first novel.

Ben Galley was born in 1987 in the British Isles. As a child, exposure to the works of Tolkien and Greek mythology helped fire his imagination and left him with a great desire to spin his own stories. Ben wrote the first book as a DIY project and since then has written several self-help blog posts and also offers consultancy services for the same. He’s currently hard at work with the next book.

Official Author Website
Order What Remains Of Heroes HERE

David Benem resides in St. Louis, Missouri, where in his free time he pursues his passion of writing fantasy fiction. What Remains of Heroes is his first novel, and he is presently hard at work on its sequel.

Official Author Website
Order Black Cross HERE

Born Lancashire, England, J. P. Ashman is a Northern lad through and through. His parents love wildlife, history, fantasy and science fiction, and passed their passion on to him. They read to him from an early age and encouraged his imagination at every turn. His career may be in optics, as a manager/technician, but he loves to make time for writing and reading every day. Now living rurally in the Cotswolds with Wifey and their little Norse Goddess Freya, He's inspired daily by the views they have and the things they see, from the deer in the fields to the buzzards circling overhead.

Writing is a huge part of his life and the medieval re-enactment background and tabletop gaming lend to it; when he's not writing the genre, he's either reading or playing it. He plans to keep writing, both within his current series, and those to come, whether short stories or epic tomes

Blair MacGregor writes fantasy—adventurous, epic, and dark. Her debut novel Sword and Chant was included in the first Indie Fantasy Bundle through StoryBundle, and her more recent novel Sand of Bone was included in the 2015 Fantasy Bundle. Her short fiction has appeared in Cicada and Writers of the Future. She is a graduate of Viable Paradise and a member of SFWA.

She also teaches and speaks on a variety of topics—education, wellness, failure and resilience—for audiences ranging from a double-handful to a couple thousand. In years past, she acted and worked in thirteen Shakespearean productions, spent a dozen years teaching martial arts while homeschooling her son, and once learned how to drive a combine from an Amish man who couldn't drive it himself. In between all that, Blair hikes and camps, grows organic produce, and indulges in the occasional ziplining excursion. She loves traveling to places both wild and domesticated. She currently lives in Colorado with her one son and two goofy dogs.

Order Sins Of A Sovereignty HERE

Plague Jack is a pseudonymous author who dislikes writing writer bios. Plague Jack loves Gorillas, comic books, rock climbing and conventions. He currently is writing two different series. 

NOTE: Be sure to catch part II tomorrow. "Someone's wrong on the internet" art courtesy of Louise Wei and Dave Hodgkinson.


RnR Bros. said...

Very informing post. As a writer, myself, I often toyed with the question if I should self-publish my work when the time comes, and I still do. However,this blog post told me that although it is important to know how to distribute and promote your work, it is also important to remember that you're writing for the sake of writing as well to please your target audience. Although self publishing is not every writer, it doesn't make those who self-publish any less of a writer.

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