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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Drop Out... A Cautionary Parable

Let me introduce you to Amy Anybody. Amy is a bright student who doesn't feel like her school is giving her everything she needs to succeed in life. With two semesters left until graduation Amy drops out and goes her own way, home schooling.

For six months she has a world-class education. She learns Latin and Greek, speaks German and French fluently. Amy takes up playing classical piano, finishes a correspondence course for calculus, and tours the museums regularly. Her education is a hundred times better than what she could have obtained in an over-crowded classroom and the world is her oyster.

Until she applies for college.

Amy's dream school is the Ivy League Big School, and will not accept her GED. Suddenly, she's stuck. She either has to go back to high school, possibly for an extra year because she missed six months of school, or she has to go to Small School.

Sure, Amy is a genius, but she's in a pickle now.

Flip this scenario on the writing side.

Now Amy Anybody is an amazing pre-published author. She's a writer with a bright future, but she's not willing to do the Query Slog with everyone else.

Rather than wasting years trying to find an agent and sell her book, Amy goes with self-publishing. She does the editing and design herself. She puts months, maybe years, into her project. Everything is flawless.

The book sells well for the genre. She starts receiving good reviews. Amy starts thinking big time. Maybe she should try to get the sequel published with someone bigger. Maybe earn an advance.

But big publishing houses won't look at her because she's self-published.

There are still options open to Amy. She could go with a smaller publishing house. Many smaller houses aren't worried about your previous publication credits. Amy could back track, try the Query Slog, and go the route big publishing demands. She could self-publish her next title.

The only thing Big House has in common with Big School is the network.

We're a society that needs contact. Writers are everywhere: facebook, twitter, blogs, radio... Readers want to find you. And they don't want to be limited to finding you on Amazon at Create-Space. Not everyone has an e-reader yet and your audience wants to walk into a brick-and-mortar store to find your book.

If you can put your book in the brick-and-mortar, you will lose some readers.

You can still sell. You can get your self-published book in the brick-and-mortar.

I'm on the fence about self-publishing. It seems to be the right option for many people, especially those willing to put the time and capital into creating what amounts to their own publishing company. All the work done by a publishing house is done by the author. Some of them seem very happy with this.

Other people are very happy to go with the big houses, or smaller houses on a smaller scale.

Then I read things like Why I Did Not Submit to Penguin by Ruthanne Reid and I'm reminded why going-it-alone is a dangerous path.

All in all, I think publishing is something you can not jump into blindly. This is a business. There are multiple ways to succeed. If you know what you want up front, you will know which path is best for you. If you want to be published by a Big House, you need to do the Query Slog and find an agent. If you just want to see your book in print and sell a few hundred/thousand copies, a small press will work for you. If you're willing to do all the work yourself, maybe self-publishing is the right venue.

Even more than having a good story, it's about knowing what you want when you're done.

What do you think?

Comic found Here and used under Fair Use laws. Thank you to the artist for understanding the situation and putting it so well. :o)
Picture of Amy Anybody found HERE


  1. Well, you got me on two levels here - because I was both home-schooled (you can get into an ivy league school being home-schooled, by the way - there are plenty of ways to prove both your worth and your grade point average though I chose not to go that route), and I'm self-publishing.

    Times are changing. I can list off several self-published authors in the last six months who have been contacted by agents or publishers and are now under contract with one or both. Self-publishing does *not* derail a traditional publishing career any longer (well, unless your writing sucks, in which case it's certainly not going to make it worse), and can even help you get noticed in some cases. Much like querying agents or subbing straight to publishers, the stars have to align just right, but it's no longer the "really bad idea" it once was. For people like me who are highly motivated and organized, it can be very rewarding to know you have full control over your work from start to finish.

    Much like home-schooling, self-publishing isn't for everyone. Odds are someone unwilling to put the work in to create a professional product, do some marketing and have the patience to build a good backlist before there's much money to be seen isn't going to do well. But it doesn't carry the stigma it once did, and it's not going to derail a traditional writing career as it would have in the past - which is exciting. I think a smart person always keeps their options open, and doesn't pen themselves into doing things "the way they've always been done" just because the alternative is "different". Options are never a bad thing, in my opinion.

  2. As a home schooler, I'd like to point out that home schoolers have gotten into Harvard, Yale, Brown, MIT, McGill, U of T, Oxford, Cambridge: and the list goes on. They are interested in bright people, and if you are willing to jump through one of their proof-hoops- say take the SAT, which does not take 6 months or a year to prep for- they will gladly take your money.

    Publishers of course are looking at the prospect of giving YOU money, so perhaps it's not so easy to prove to them that you'll sell well.

  3. Um...I don't want to sound like the world revolves around me, but this post hits a little too close to home for me to assume you're talking about someone else--esp. with the name. For what it's worth, there were a LOT of factors playing into my decision to self-publish that aren't listed above. I never would have considered it had I not been thrust into by a dishonest press. If this post is not about me (and I realize I sound like I'm thirteen saying that), feel free to ignore this comment.

  4. :o) I love all your comments!

    Home-schooling can be wonderful, and I know most schools now accept the GED. The biased against alternate education is pretty much dead. The analogy is a stretch in that, I admit.

    And self-publishing is very workable at the moment. I expect it will become an even more viable form of publication as e-readers become more popular.

    But, my point of view, is that there are still some limits to self-publishing. Especially if you want a big-name publishing house to share space with your name on the side of the book.

    A self-published title enters a Wonderland. Future titles can easily have agents and major backing, but that self-pubbed title... not always. There are some cases where a self-pubbed book gets sold and published in the more traditional forms, but it isn't common.

    Jamie - Options are never a bad thing at all :o) I think people need to research them all the way before they jump in, that's all.

    Snazel- I know, sorry the analogy was a bit outdated :P Colleges are all about money some days. I still miss my Alma Mater, even when they send me fund drive letters.

    Amy- Eeek! I should have used gender-neutral Author Anybody, the post wasn't directed at you.

    Honestly, I never realized so many of my followers were self-publishing! This is great though.

    Now, who wants to volunteer a guest post about self-publishing and how it works for you? I'd love to see some sales figures and costs from someone who is in the thick of things.

  5. Liana - I did three posts on self-publishing last month, explaining the why and the how of it all. Here is a link to the first post:
    I plan to follow up in a couple months to say how it's going.

  6. Amy - Very thorough! Thank you for the link. I'm interested to see how the sales figures work out for you.

    I'm a hard numbers kind of person. My biggest fear with an vanity publishing (although maybe not self-publishing) is that I would spend more on the publication than I would make on selling.

    I know that if you go the Very Bad Route of paying someone to publish, that could happen. But I don't think anyone here was planning on using Publish America, right?

  7. Goodness, I hope not!!! I used Createspace and it was nearly free. The only thing I had to buy was a proof copy with shipping. So for $8 I had a book available on Amazon.com and Createspace.

  8. I have a publishing/marketing blog at http://bookbiz.jamiedebree.com, where I've got a series of self-publishing posts going on right now. I'd be happy to do a guest post for you if you'd like, though my cost numbers will be "soft" - ie, rounded. I'd be happy to share how I got the deals that I did though...most of it was just knowing the right people. Social networking is invaluable for that.

    To give you an idea, I spent around $200 upfront (I used CreateSpace, and the extra $100 was optional on my part).

    You can publish a book without spending anything if you're talented enough to do your own cover art. I'm not. ;-)

  9. Jamie - I'd love to have a guest post on costs and figures! When do you want to come visit?

  10. I emailed you Liana...wasn't sure you got it. If not, feel free to email me at jdebree8@gmail.com. :-)