Changing the Way We See Self-Publishing

This morning my perspective on self-publishing shifted. I had always seen it as a second phase, either the space you reach when you cannot find an agent (at no fault of your own, of course…) or the choice you make when you’re already established and want to regain control over your profits. Sure, I had read all kinds of success stories, but I had also scrolled through the sea of titles, lost in the myriad of choices, uncertain of the quality and dissuaded by the prospect of reading on an electronic screen.

However, this morning as I sat over tea at my favorite French bistro with my uncle and my husband, I was swayed a different direction. Suddenly, self-publishing was the indie choice I loved all along without ever realizing it, akin to making an independent movie instead of waiting for a big studio with its formulaic tastes to discover your project. I adore many independent movies. I don’t know why I never made this connection before.

In fact, this past weekend, I saw an indie flick at Tower Theater in Sac, the kind of place you sit and revel at moviemaking’s past, the crown molding and neon sign making up for the struggling air conditioning and sagging seats. We watched Frances Ha, a movie which at first makes you wonder if you’re witnessing a slow theatrical train wreck but eventually blossoms into a genuinely funny and touching film. Indie movies may have their flaws, but they also bring you into worlds more refreshing than those where everyone has a shiny new car and drinks Coca-Cola with the label pointed outward.

I see my book as kind of the same deal. It may lack some of the sheen of a blockbuster, but there is enough beneath the surface to make it worthwhile, especially if you stick around until the end. Likewise, I recently read my uncle’s first novel, a book which marries Dan Brown’s ability to create suspense with Pillars of the Earth’s timeless heroes and villains. It is exactly the kind of thing I would expect to see on the bestseller’s shelf at the local bookstore, yet he has not been picked up by an agent. Proof the old system is imperfect, overlooking true gems in the ocean of submissions.

So, as I left our little book meeting, I could see my novel self-published with an indie charm, no less meaningful without the mark of a major publisher on its spine. I’ve always been an acquired taste, as my father likes to say. It only makes sense I would find a quirky world for my words to thrive, an audience who appreciates this sort of thing, the kind of people who go to sit in Tower Theater instead of always opting for the comfort of the megaplex. The gatekeepers may bemoan the changes in the publishing world all they like, but it is about time the indie book market follows in the footsteps of its movie-making big sister.

Part of my late embrace of the self-publishing model is also learning to experiment with e-readers. So far, the borrowed kindle kicks the iPad’s butt and I’m coming around to the idea of reading my own words on one of these screens.

Part of my late embrace of the self-publishing model is learning to enjoy e-readers. So far, this borrowed kindle kicks the iPad’s butt and I’m coming around to the idea of reading my own words on one of these screens.

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21 thoughts on “Changing the Way We See Self-Publishing

  1. jadereyner says:

    Having only recent self published my very first novel, I have to say that reading your own book on a Kindle screen is a pretty magic moment! Indie publishing is seriously hard work and is in no way the easy option and nor should it be considered second rate. The problem is that there can be this kind of feeling about Indie authors due to the quality of some of the works and so once you have published, then it is definitely an uphill battle. I self published because I didn’t have the patience to go through the whole agent/publisher process and as you have said yourself, that process can be flawed in any case. Good luck with your new book and project! 🙂

    • oliviaobryon says:

      Yes, I can definitely tell it is a ton of work– but I like the democracy of it. Even if my book finds just a few readers, I will feel like it was a success to put it out there instead of waiting on an agent/traditional publisher to label it as worthwhile. It’s something I need to do in order to move on to my next project.

      I look forward to following your publishing journey more closely and am grateful for the words of encouragement!

  2. Amen. I’m self-publishing because I honestly don’t care about the validation of a publisher, nor am I going to play the game of no simultaneous submissions, but it’ll take us six months just to take your work out of the package it came in. If no one buys the first book, that’s fine — as soon as the first one is done I’ll start on the second.

    I’ve worked mostly in the field of comic books, and the number of times I’ve been left holding the bag and the artists I teamed up did a lot of work only to see it go down the drain of people’s incompetent decisions or watch ‘Hollywood’ accounting eat up the profits we made because bean-counters want to ‘prove’ they actually didn’t make money on the book — yeah, done with that.

    One of my comics partners and I had been looking into self-publishing late last year and we got an interest from a small publishing house, so out of curiousity we started talking with them, and after having to make up a specialized submissions package to them despite this being previously published work that they just could have sat down and y’know, actually read . . . then we see a copy of their standard non-negotiable boilerplate contract that is just a complete joke, with poorly worded language as to how long they have the right to publish the material, with only a slight discount to us as the creators to purchase copies of our own work to try to go out to conventions and signings to promote it, and that was the final straw for me.

    The term I’ve learned is disintermediation, which means not letting a publisher with a ton of overhead stick all the fingers in your pie while you end up as the creator getting shafted. When you keep the majority of the profits you don’t have to sell nearly as many copies.

    The era of the romanticized writer who just sits in a study and writes and lets other people handle the business end is gone. If you want people to see your work you need to be an
    entrepreneur. It’s hard work, and you need to be just as creative in the marketing and getting people to take a look at it, but there’s plenty of resources out there to learn how, and you can practically do it for no up-front costs. There’s no reason for a writer not to at least try it and at least get someone more than an low-level enevelope-opening peon see their effort.

    Good luck with your book!

    • oliviaobryon says:

      What a fascinating experience, I am so glad you shared– really helps to reinforce the idea that removing the middleman can sometimes be a very good thing! I really like the term disintermediation, going to have to keep that one. I kind of like the new frontier of the author who must also be entrepreneur even if it is a lot of work and a lot of uncertainty. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

      • You’re welcome. I think the biggest factor, as other folks have mentioned here, is that you can’t simply revel in the freedom it affords without taking the responsibility of making sure that without a whole team of professionals whose compensation is coming out of your bottom line, you still produce a professional-level product. Disintermediation means you’re weaing all the hats, and you have to wear each one of them well, which includes editor, proofreader, and production. It’s not just being given a blank canvas without any restrictions.

        The other issue I see that kind of paints self-publishing in a poor light is there are a large number of people engaging in it who seem more interested in using it as a platform to rail against how unfair or unjust the traditional publishing system is rather than celebrating the fact that they have the opportunity to express their creativity. The attitude is they’re doing what they’re doing more to spite the fatcats than the idea that they have something worthwhile to share with the world.

        Yeah, we’re all at least a little disatisfied with the status quo, but that negative rhetoric can get old, especially when it comes in the form of these firey manifestos when you listen a little while longer and they let slip they’re still working on the first draft of their first project, so this vast knowledge of the publishing industry comes from what they’ve read somewhere and not actually experienced first-hand. What’s happening in the traditional publishing world isn’t really impacting you much if you’re self-publishing — a lot of it just seems like self-justification as to why they’re doing all this work, rather than be invested in the work itself as a by-product of choosing this particular path.

        What I find interesting is the impact it can have on your creative process. Once you get in deep enough and you start looking at actual production elements, and start to realize that if you’re doing an actual print edition, you’re going to have to account for every page that you write and incorporate that into the price, that brings it into a whole different light when you actually sit down to write about whether that needs to be in there or it’s just indulgence, which makes for lean, better writing right from the start. Even e-books have a sort of physical component in that there’s storage space on servers to account for and a certain amount of bandwidth required to deliver the final product, so kilobytes count there, as well.

      • oliviaobryon says:

        Again, really interesting points. There is definitely a lot of work to be done (and a big margin for error without all that extra support). I’ve found that in general, people like to complain about anything, so the status quo is an easy target. It is interesting to think about what self-publishing does for creativity, however, especially if it means people take more risks in their writing, (for the good and the bad). I’m just beginning to see it differently, so for me I have a feeling it is going to be a long process to put together all the pieces.

  3. jeffo says:

    “It may lack the sheen of a carefully-edited blockbuster, but there is enough beneath the surface to make it worthwhile”

    Please, please, please if you self publish, take the time and expense to make sure it is carefully edited, and that it does have ‘sheen.’ Because the truth is, a lot of readers will be turned off by the surface, if the surface is littered with typos and grammatical errors. In a medium like books, appearances DO count. Give it a good, professional cover and layout. Don’t scrimp, don’t rush.

    This is not meant to discourage you. Self-publishing is a great choice for many people, but if you’re going to do it, do it right.

    • oliviaobryon says:

      Haha, I actually went back and changed that line on your behalf– it now just says some of the sheen of a blockbuster, instead of mentioning editing. By the time I self-publish I expect to have had more than 10 sets of eyes read my book, not to mention the countless re-reads I have done myself. It will be carefully edited, I more just mean it won’t have a professional third party edit/revision or be swayed by the desires of a publishing house or agent, which may make it feel a bit more indie than traditional. I am incredibly picky about the cover. Rest assured it will all be done right, it just might not be flawless despite all of the aforementioned efforts 🙂 It will be done to the best of my ability.

  4. kingmidget says:

    Super Like. I’m looking forward to our next conversation.

  5. I love ‘indie’ films as well, and for the same reason, and am very interested in self publishing, but the marketing challenges are enormous whichever route you follow

  6. I think it’s fantastic that you’re seeing something like self publishing from a slightly different perspective. As it happens, I too, decided to go my own way rather than pursue the traditional route.

  7. “Indie books” is a really great way to put it. I have a friend who’s self-published a children’s e-book. I’ll have to tell him that phrase because he’d love it. I can’t wait read more about how it all goes for you; I have big dreams of writing/illustrating someday (assuming I quit procrastinating and actually finish any of my myriad projects 😉 )

    • oliviaobryon says:

      Yes, that phrase helped me see things differently too!

      I hope to hear that you follow your big dreams 😀 A little work here and there adds up over the long haul… Although I definitely know how challenging it can be when multiple projects divide your attention. Best of luck!

  8. melanie says:

    I am very excited for you, my friend. I cannot wait until your book is out there for everyone (me!) to read. You are definitely an inspiration!

  9. jasonrsaenz says:

    It is strange how we don’t really make the connection to self publishing and indie films. Maybe cause films are more visible or have been established longer. I don’t know. I like how you describe the Tower with it’s charm making up for the struggling air conditioner and sagging seats(not to mention the product placement of blockbusters). Nice to hear about your book meeting and rekindled(no pun intended ;))enthusiasm about publishing. Here’s to the momentum continuing.

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