The Self-Publishing Sharks Are Circling

It's about to get "shark week" all up in here!

It’s a fact.  When sharks smell chum in the water they go into a vicious feeding frenzy, and brother, the chum is in the water.  On April 14, Bowker released their annual report on the publishing industry.  There were 764,448 self-published titles (the category is officially called non-traditional and it includes public domain books being republished) produced last year.  That’s up from about 280,000 in 2008.  And the projections for this year say even more books will be self-published than in 2009.  A lot of people want to write and publish a book.  A study done by the Jenkins Group a few years ago revealed that 81% of Americans feel they have a book inside of them.  That means one thing.  Scammers are foaming at the mouth.

The publishing industry is notorious for the sheer volume of disreputable people preying on your willingness to do whatever it takes to make your dream come true.  These sharks count on your ignorance of the publishing industry.  They are going to make you promises, guarantees, pledges, assurances, whatever it takes to get you to buy their services. They want your money, and you’re going to be very tempted to hand it over to them because this is your dream, after all.    Shouldn’t you be expected to invest everything you have to make it come true?

No.  Publishing is a high risk venture.  It doesn’t matter if you’re self-publishing or you’re a traditional publisher, statistics indicate that you are going to fail.  I don’t tell you this to scare you off.  I tell you this as part of your education.  In the traditional publishing world, roughly 70% of titles produced lose money.  The percentage of failure  is even higher in the self-publishing world.  I self-publish, so obviously I am a fan of self-publishing, but I have learned the amount of money invested in a book is not commensurate with its success.  Time is what matters the most.

Here are few facts, tips and a few of my personal opinions to keep in mind as you consider your publishing options:

  • Self-Publishing is Awesome – There are dinosaurs among us, and they will likely advise you against self-publishing. They’ll use the “vanity” word to degrade the practice, and try to convince you it’s not a legitimate publishing vehicle.  Those people are bozos, and they are as bad as the scammers.  Self-publishing is the ultimate “independent” form of publishing.  You have just as much right to sell your book to the public as an independent filmmaker has to sell his movie to the public.  Having said that, you want to spend wisely.
  • Be Wary of Agents Who Talk About Self-Publishing – Believe it or not, some self-publishing companies pay agents if they refer a writer to their company and that writer signs up for a publishing package.   It’s a deplorable practice.  Literary agents should only be concerned with getting clients to sign with traditional publishing companies.  The only payment they receive should be from their clients’ advances and royalties.  Anything else is a scam.
  • Paying To Be a Top 10 Book on Amazon – It’s called Amazon Bombing, and I don’t like it, particularly if you pay a company to set it up for you.  It’s a practice that basically uses a lot of smoke and mirrors to catapult your book to the top 10 for one day.  In many cases, it’s just one hour of one day.   You will quickly free fall out of the top 10 listing. They utilize emailing spamming techniques, newsletter lists, shady “free gift” packages, etc., and they will charge you $2,500 and up for the service.  This kind of top 10 listing serves no purpose.  A few years ago, it would capture the attention of the publishing industry and media, but they’re onto the scam now.  If you’re book can stay in the top 10 for a couple of days, then they will be impressed.
  • $20,000 for a Book Trailer – I’m going to mention them by name because this really pisses me off.  AuthorHouse (Author Solutions) sells a video book trailer service for $19,999.  BTW – Let’s not kid ourselves. That’s 20 grand, okay.  This is the supreme rip-off.  They call it a Hollywood trailer, and it’s for those authors who’ve been told their book would make a great movie.  First of all, most authors have been told their book would make a great movie.  AuthorHouse is preying on your vulnerability with this ridiculous product.  Second of all, the examples they have on their website are so cheesy it’s disgusting.  How effective is the product?  I just checked the Amazon ranking of one of the books featured, and its current ranking is 3,171,502.  The author paid $20,000.  I ask you, did the author get anywhere near their money’s worth?  I would never recommend AuthorHouse because of this product alone.  It shows a willful lack of integrity.  How much should you pay for a book trailer?  If you pay $3,000, you’ve paid too much.  I made my ownfor about $250, but that doesn’t count the cost of college tuition (I got my degree in broadcast production).
  • Mainstream Media – Never pay to be in or on mainstream media.  Don’t buy advertising in newspapers or on TV or radio.  And certainly never pay to be a guest on a radio or TV show.  Mainstream media does not help you sell books.  If someone wants to have you on their show and it costs you nothing out of pocket, by all means do it That’s a case of “it can’t hurt,” but unless it’s a national show with a huge audience, it’s not going to do much for you except give you something to talk about on your blog, which is useful.
  • Designers and Editors – This is where it’s okay to invest some money.  Interior and cover design matters.  And professional editing is crucial.  If you’re talking with a POD company, this is where you should spend most of your budget.  The in-house guys are usually very talented, and bonus, they know the company’s specs and policies.  If you go out of house, make sure you get them to sign a contract where they will guarantee you that they will hit the specs you need. You don’t want them to bail on you, and leave you with paying the bill when the POD company has to bring your submission up to spec.  Editing is a little more universal than design specs, so out of house editors can work great, but make sure you find somebody you trust.  If you’ve got a good relationship with the sales person at the POD company, why not use their in-house editors?  Push back on pricing if it makes you feel better.  Most of the time they will give you a discount.

I’ll end it here for now, but I will have more to say in the future.  I’m watching the self-publishing industry like a hawk.  They get out of line, I’ll be there.  Count on it.  This business means too much to me to let the sharks attack.  Ultimately, the onus is on you, the writer.  Educate yourself.  There are no guarantees in publishing.  Well one… you’re going to get eaten alive if you don’t protect yourself.  Knowledge is king.

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Old Publishing Rant That’s Still Relevant

I originally posted this on August 21 of 2008.  And given that two pieces of news came out yesterday that seem to conflict with each other, I realized the content of the rant is even truer today.  The two pieces of news?

Essentially, that means more units of a product are being produced when demand for that product seems to be in a decline.  Why?  I think this old post explains why.  Feel free to leave your comments.

To say the world of publishing is in a constant state of change is a lot like saying the sun is hot. The ever-advancing realm of technology has not only transformed the method of production and delivery of books, it has also changed the buying habits of the reading public. Because of print-on-demand and the growth of online commerce, the barriers to getting a book to market are virtually gone. Anyone with a computer can write a book, upload it to a POD provider and make it available for sale with an online retailer. Inventory is no longer necessary. The cost of publishing is frighteningly reasonable, certainly more so than it ever has been before. The publishing world is no longer for the elite. It is an industry for the everyman. In short, we are in the midst of a publishing revolution. The question begs, however, is it too late?

Trends suggest we are reading less, yet more books were published last year than ever before. In fact a greater percentage of Americans would rather write a book than read one. I doubt this phenomenon exist with any other product on the market today.

So what is our love affair with writing, and ultimately publishing? Why is there a seemingly compulsive need to be an author in America when there’s arguably a relatively small market for books? It is a desire based on a lie or at the very least a misconception. Popular culture would have you believe that an author lives a life of leisure and luxury. They attend parties and rub elbows with celebrities from every walk of life. People want to publish for the same reason they want to be on reality shows. It seems less like work and more like being the center of attention.

If you want to write to be famous, put away that story idea. There are easier ways to be famous. Becoming a doctor and separating conjoined twins in a 27 hour surgery may be easier. It is certainly less time consuming. Training everyday for the Boston Marathon may be easier than achieving fame through publishing. You’ll certainly be in better shape than 99.9% of writers. Winning the nomination for presidency from one of the major parties may be easier than becoming famous through the written word. You will at least get to do less work and attend those parties with celebrities that you wanted to attend.

Writing is hard work. Publishing is hard work. Selling books is hard work. The rewards are not usually commensurate with the amount of work you will expend. Write because you love it not because you think there is a pot of gold at the end of the publishing rainbow. If you’ve ever said, “I need to publish this book because I have to pay some bills.” Back away from the computer keyboard and start flipping through the classifieds.

Publishing should come from a place of passion. If you want it to be your main source of income, then plan to do the following:

    • Practice your craft.There are enough crappy writers on the market.Don’t be one of them.
    • Hire a professional designer for the interior and cover.Don’t be all things to your book.You’re the writer.Leave the rest to more qualified artists.There are rare cases where one person can write and design the book, but chances are you’re not one of them.
    • Work with an editor you trust, and by all means don’t be your own editor.
    • Invest time and money in marketing.If you think the book can sell itself, you’re wrong.If you don’t have a lot of money, spend a lot of time marketing your book.If you don’t have a lot of time, spend a lot of money on marketing your book.If you don’t have either, don’t plan on selling a lot of books.
    • Read books.If you’re not a reader, don’t kid yourself, you’re not a writer.
    • Give it time.Don’t measure in months here.Measure in years.

      If you follow these simple rules, you can succeed in publishing even if this new publishing revolution is too late in coming. The reading public is hungry for books of high quality. Give it to them. It’s your duty as an author. You’re part of the revolution. Act like it. Write like it.

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      Do Self-Published Authors Need Barnes & Noble?

      Little Known Fact: I played the bearded love interest in 1987's "Some Kind of Wonderful."

      No need to prolong the suffering.  Let’s just rip the band-aid off.  Barnes & Noble doesn’t want to carry your self-published print-on-demand book.  In fact, they are annoyed that you would even ask.  It’s nothing personal.  They have limited bookshelf space and they are selling a product that is losing market share to other forms of entertainment.  From a business perspective, they want books that are going to carry the smallest amount of risk.  They want books that have the best possible chance of disappearing from the shelves and turning into profit.  Your self-published book with its limited marketing budget and your author’s name that has zero brand recognition just doesn’t fit the bill.  Not to mention they get a sweet returnable deal with major traditional publishers that basically gives them 90 days to sell the book or return it with no financial penalty.  In other words, it’s just business, and they are only annoyed with you because you are about the 100th POD author to ask in the last hour.  Barnes & Noble is not a bad company.  They are not trying to think of ways to prevent you from selling your book in their store.  They are trying to make money.

      Do they think your book is crap because it’s self-published?  Probably, but that really doesn’t enter into their decision.  Plenty of crap is published by traditional publishers, and they have no problem carrying those books. They don’t care that your book is well written or is designed well or even won an award or two.  They just want to know what you’re going to do to get the books out of their stores once they agree to shelve them.  And frankly, you can’t match what the traditional publishers are offering them.  I’m blunt because I care, and I don’t want to see you waste your time.

      You don’t need brick and mortar bookstores, and if you think you do, you shouldn’t use POD.  It’s not for you.  If you’re POD, and you’re trying to solve the brick and mortar puzzle, STOP!  You know all those goofy romantic comedies where the unpopular guy is always trying to get the homecoming queen, while totally ignoring the cute geeky girl who is madly in love with him?  Well, in this case, you’re the unpopular guy making a huge mistake by not seeing the opportunity right in front of your face.  Amazon is your geeky girl, and she’s head over heels for you, my POD friend. But she’s not just a geeky girl.  She’s a very popular geeky girl. Stop ignoring her, and get on with the relationship.  How?

      Concentrate your efforts on building your personal brand online.  Make a name for yourself through all the personal branding tools, blogs, social media, podcasts, Youtube, etc.  Use that energy you would have used to get into brick and mortar stores to no avail and drive traffic to your Amazon detail page.  You have all the power to sell your book online where you are wanted.  Why are you wasting your time and energy trying to sell in an arena where you have no power and you’re not wanted?

      I close with one piece of advice.  If you’re considering a POD company that has convinced you that they can get you into brick and mortar stores, run away as fast as you can.  They can’t.  They aren’t going to spend a second of time trying to place your book in brick and mortar bookstores.    They want you to buy into their returnable program, mostly likely with Ingram.  This will include your book in Ingram’s database, but they won’t carry any inventory in their warehouse.  Your book will be available as a special order title.  Someone will have to enter the store and ask for your book to be ordered.  So, I ask you, if the returnable program doesn’t mean you’re going to get shelf space, what is its value?

      Stop looking for love in all the wrong places.

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      Geeky Publishing Stuff – Who is today’s book consumer?

      Found this awesome presentaion/video from R.R. Bowker on today’s book consumer.  This will only be interesting if you have a book on the market or want to have a book on the market. It really just re-enforces the growing influence of new media marketing in the publishing industry.

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      Book Four of the Oz Chronicles – The Land of the Dead – A Candid Look at the Publishing Industry

      Book Four is coming.  I promise!

      Book Four is coming. I promise!

      Ok, I have been fielding questions now for about a year concerning Book Four of the Oz Chronicles Series.  First, I want you to know that I really appreciate your interest.  It means a lot to me that you care enough to keep needling me about the release of the next book in the series.  Second, I appreciate your tolerance for my cryptic answers.  I haven’t felt comfortable enough to tell you what’s really going on behind the scenes because it doesn’t just involve me.  It involves my agent and about a half dozen major publishing companies.  I have spent a lot of time responding to comments and suggestions from the big boys just to show them that I’m willing to play by their rules.  Don’t worry, I’ve pushed back on major plot points that I thought were essential, but I’ve also given ground on things that were more aesthetic in nature.  So far, I’ve gotten pats on the back for my flexibility, turnaround time, and skill at applying suggested edits.  What I haven’t received is a book deal.

      Breaking down the doors of the mainstream publishing industry is the hardest thing I’ve ever done from a professional standpoint.   I’ve heard that getting a book deal is akin to winning the lottery, but I think it’s much easier to win the lottery.  Getting a book deal is as hard as winning the lottery, discovering a cure for cancer, and having your Youtube video go viral all on the same day.   I am in the fortunate position of having an agent who is my advocate in this process.  She’s been terrific, and I now know why they are necessary.

      I have been at this for a long, long time.  I am one of those writers that has five manuscripts and 12 screenplays sitting in a drawer somewhere.  They’ve been viewed by an elite group of people, and by elite, I mean people who were willing to read something written by an unknown bum like me.   I’m not counting the three Oz Chronicles books in this count.  They’re not sitting in a drawer.  Thanks to the POD and ebook world, they have been read by literally thousands of people.   In fact, I have been perfectly content with offering my books through these low-cost, high-tech vehicles.  From what I’ve learned about the industry, I’ve made enough money and then some to cover the typical advance for a first time author.  I’ve done it with a marketing budget that hasn’t exceeded $1,500 since I first self-published in 2005.  I have what the mainstream publishing industry calls a working platform to get the word out about my books.  Essentially that means I’m an active blogger, Facebooker, and Tweeter.  In short, if you’re reading this, you’re a part of my platform.  Please, don’t feel used.  This is less a marketing tool for me than it is a release.  Call it my place to vent and make a fool of myself.  The marketing part is just a byproduct at that venting.

      I have been asked repeatedly if I’m doing so well with POD and ebook publishing, why even try to get a traditional deal.  It’s a valid question.  I have a few answers:

      • There is no question the mainstream publishing industry can offer me a level of prestige that the self-publishing world cannot.  To be totally crass, this means more money coming in.  My platform will broaden, and other doors will open for me.   I consider my writing my career.  What I do to earn a living, supports my writing.  A mainstream deal means I am one step closer to my writing also being how I earn my living.
      • I have always seen the Oz Chronicles as a multi-media project.  It is not just a series of books.  It is a video game, a graphic novel, a series of films, action figures, maybe even an online role playing community.  A mainstream publishing company could give me access to all these different avenues for the Oz Chronicles.   I can publish a book on my own, but I can’t produce a video game on my own.  I’m not that smart or financially fluid.
      • I have to finish this thing.  I started this “publishing (or selling a script) as a goal” journey 20 plus years ago.  I have been rejected time and time again.  I have been told I am so close over and over again.  I have been ridiculed on a few occasions (very few).  I’ve even been called evil for my writing.  It may seem petty and pigheaded, but signing that dotted line will justify every turn I’ve taken and every word I’ve written.  It’s not like I’m dodging bullets to get published.  I’m just fielding a lot of no’s.

        What does all this have to do with Book Four of the Oz Chronicles?  Everything I’ve written in this post to this point has been one big excuse for why I haven’t published Book Four yet.  I’ve let it languish in limbo while the major publishers weighed in on Books One – Three.  I’ve placated my writer’s soul by writing another book in the meantime (which I’m planning to publish soon), but I’m not willing to wait anymore.  Book Four is officially on deck.  I’ve had a hard time getting back into it, but I had a breakthrough the other night that gave me the direction I needed.  I’m actually excited about getting it done.  Always a good sign.  I also realized that I have five other books I want to complete, and I have forbidden myself to get back to them until I’ve finished Book Four.  I will keep you updated on word count as I go.  Right now, I’m at 7,500 words.  My goal is 65,000.  So, you can see I have miles to go before I sleep, but the outline is done, and I’m ready to turn this march into a sprint.

        Thanks for your patience and if you’re wondering if there’s anything you can do to help.  There is.  Spread the word!

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        POD, Self-Publishing, Starting Your Own Publishing Company, Signing with a Major Publishing House – Jeremy Robinson has done it all!

        I’ve talked about Jeremy Robinson before on this blog. He’s a writer to be admired for more than just his talent. He is an extremely resourceful guy who had a dream he refused to give up on. He started in the POD world, and graduated to owning his own small publishing house, and eventually even signed a publishing multi-book deal with a major publishing house (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press). He’s a guy to watch and learn from. Luckily he’s made that easy for you. He has a bi-weekly video blog on Youtube that is worth subscribing to if you’re a writer, author, or a member of the publishing community. Here’s one of my favorite installments. Watch, learn, and pass along the link to everyone on your list that’s ever talked about publishing a book.

        A Rant on Publishing & Writing

        To say the world of publishing is in a constant state of change is a lot like saying the sun is hot. The ever-advancing realm of technology has not only transformed the method of production and delivery of books, it has also changed the buying habits of the reading public. Because of print-on-demand and the growth of online commerce, the barriers to getting a book to market are virtually gone. Anyone with a computer can write a book, upload it to a POD provider and make it available for sale with an online retailer. Inventory is no longer necessary. The cost of publishing is frighteningly reasonable, certainly more so than it ever has been before. The publishing world is no longer for the elite. It is an industry for the everyman. In short, we are in the midst of a publishing revolution. The question begs, however, is it too late?

        Trends suggest we are reading less, yet more books were published last year than ever before. In fact a greater percentage of Americans would rather write a book than read one. I doubt this phenomenon exist with any other product on the market today.

        So what is our love affair with writing, and ultimately publishing? Why is there a seemingly compulsive need to be an author in America when there’s arguably a relatively small market for books? It is a desire based on a lie or at the very least a misconception. Popular culture would have you believe that an author lives a life of leisure and luxury. They attend parties and rub elbows with celebrities from every walk of life. People want to publish for the same reason they want to be on reality shows. It seems less work and more like being the center of attention.

        If you want to write to be famous, put away that story idea. There are easier ways to be famous. Becoming a doctor and separating conjoined twins in a 27 hour surgery may be easier. It is certainly less time consuming. Training everyday for the Boston Marathon may be easier than achieving fame through publishing. You’ll certainly be in better shape than 99.9% of writers. Winning the nomination for presidency from one of the major parties may be easier than becoming famous through the written word. You will at least get to do less work and attend those parties with celebrities that you wanted to attend.

        Writing is hard work. Publishing is hard work. Selling books is hard work. The rewards are not usually commensurate with the amount of work you will expend. Write because you love it not because you think there is a pot of gold at the end of the publishing rainbow. If you’ve ever said, “I need to publish this book because I have to pay some bills.” Back away from the computer keyboard and start flipping through the classifieds.

        Publishing should come from a place of passion. If you want it to be your main source of income, then plan to do the following:

        1. Practice your craft. There are enough crappy writers on the market. Don’t be one of them.
        2. Hire a professional designer for the interior and cover. Don’t be all things to your book. You’re the writer. Leave the rest to more qualified artists. There are rare cases where one person can write and design the book, but chances are you’re not one of them.
        3. Work with an editor you trust, and by all means don’t be your own editor.
        4. Invest time and money in marketing. If you think the book can sell itself, you’re wrong. If you don’t have a lot of money, spend a lot of time marketing your book. If you don’t have a lot of time, spend a lot of money on marketing your book. If you don’t have either, don’t plan on selling a lot of books.
        5. Read books. If you’re not a reader, don’t kid yourself, you’re not a writer.
        6. Give it time. Don’t measure in months here. Measure in years.

        If you follow these six simple rules, you can succeed in publishing even if this new publishing revolution is too late in coming. The reading public is hungry for books of high quality. Give it to them. It’s your duty as an author. You’re part of the revolution. Act like it. Write like it.