Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Self-publishing symposium: Henry Baum

How does self-publishing differ from traditional publishing?

Limited distribution. Other than that - nothing. Yes, a publisher offers a design team, marketing team, and editorial guidance, but a writer can do those things alone. The one thing a writer cannot do (unless he or she has a gigantic marketing budget or money to self-distribute) is distribute to brick and mortar bookstores. In this way self-publishing will always lack compared to traditional publishing until distribution changes.

Do self-published book review blogs help to raise the reader awareness of self-published books?

Vaguely - awareness, yes. Immediate book sales, not so much. The most books I sold with my last novel, North of Sunset, was not from a review on the Poddy Mouth blog, but after that mention was picked up by Entertainment Weekly. People can say that blogs have a lot of marketing power, but it's still the mainstream, traditional press that can have the biggest impact on book sales.

How do you respond to the following statement?—Self-publishing is not a serious way to get one's work into print now and never will be.

You're a backward-thinking turd. Really, though, the "never will be" is easily discarded because imagine a world in which as many people have e-readers as now have cell phones. It'll open everything up. This is about being "in print" though, and self-published books can look as good as traditionally published books if you hire the right people. As mentioned, it's not the best way to distribute, but to have an actual book in your hands? Just fine.

Has the golden age of self-publishing already passed or is it yet to come?

Totally yet to come. Repeating myself here, but this time is coming: e-readers are ubiquitous and the Espresso Book Machine can be found at bookstores and other places (Starbucks et al). Traditional publishers will start looking to print on demand to save on costs - compared to having an up-front print run that may not sell. At that point, there's very little difference between traditional publishing and putting it out yourself, as everyone will be using a similar distribution system.

What about the challenges posed to the self-published writer by having to promote and edit his or her own book?

Every writer has to edit his/her own book, so it amounts to hiring an editor you trust. That will cost around $800, give or take, so it's not for everybody. Writers need to take on their own marketing as well. Personally, I'd like to have the muscle of a traditional publisher's marketing/distribution team, because I can then combine that with the marketing I'm already doing. That's better than going it alone. My whole beef with the traditional publishing industry is how books are selected, not how they're distributed or even marketed. It's sickening that books are selected based on how they can be marketed, but I can't deny that having someone else marketing you is effective. It's just better for my sanity to not try to enter a system that's gauging your work on something other than the quality of the work. It's too painful and maddening a process, and getting worse.

Why is it that a self-published author has yet to emerge into national recognition as a self-published author? (As opposed to being given a mainstream publishing contract after a self-published book attracts attention.)

I guess because once you reach a level of success, most writers take the traditional book deal. If a publisher said, we'll give you $50,000 and better distribution, I wouldn't turn that down. If I was making $50,000 on my own, that'd be something different. But most writers aren't and most people need the money. It's not about the validation, I imagine, it's about the money. Very hard to turn your back if someone's offering something generous.

As time goes on and distribution improves, writers will be able to be self-sustaining. As it stands now, some of the people who are successful with self-publishing are those who had success with traditional publishing and have a larger platform because of it. My dream, of course, is to become that self-published poster child and still sell a lot of books on my own while having total creative freedom to release whatever I want. My diabolical plan is inching forward.

Has the experience of self-publishing changed the way you write? (If you have self-published.)

It's made me not have to think about the market at all. I still want to be entertaining. I'm not an experimental writer, I still want it to be readable. But I don't have to write by putting myself in an agent's head and how he or she would read the book. Honestly, that's how I should have been writing anyway, but ambition can get in the way of writing.

On the flipside, the obsession about an agent or editor's acceptance or rejection can get in the way of writing as well. So while I might have to spend a lot more time plugging my work all on my own, I have to spend a lot less time querying agents, looking up independent presses, and caring too much if they like what I write. Instead, I can just find readers who like or dislike it, which is the point of writing in the first place - not to be published, but to be read.

Henry Baum is author of North of Sunset. His latest novel is The American Book of the Dead. He is also the editor of Selfpublishingreview.com


Floyd M. Orr said...

I gained a lot of respect for you after reading this post, Mr. Baum. I had certainly heard of you and read a few things you had written previously, but your expression of this matter is right on the money!

Carla King said...

Thanks for this article. Limited distribution is no longer a problem though. I've got great distribution through SPU, the small press arm of IPG. They have a stringent acceptance process, sure, but if you're a serious author with a book of fine quality, then they will accept you into the program. If you're not, then you should work toward a quality product and get a great marketing plan and you will have distribution just like authors in traditional publishing. Thanks!