To D.I.Y. or not to D.I.Y. …

As I get closer to polishing up a poetry manuscript, the Specter of Validation pops by more frequently. He’s not saying much just yet. He usually just scans my poetry collection, perhaps flips through a volume before tossing it over his shoulder, and leaves. But soon enough he’ll show up, bags in hand, ready to camp out.

One of my least favorite things in the world is writing checks to publishers, which was a large part of the reason I took a break from po’biz. The last straw was a brief email exchange I had with a fairly well-known poet. I forget the exact circumstances, but she had seen some work of mine and was very complimentary, even going so far as to ask why I hadn’t entered a couple contests she had recently judged. I had. The manuscript never got to her, twice.

Interesting, now excuse me while I find something to smash.

So, this time around I’m weighing the pros and cons of doing it myself. The major con: while the self-publishing stigma seems to be weakening, should I ever want to apply for a higher-level teaching gig, a self-published book might as well be no book. Then there’s the slim chance of being reviewed or “taken seriously.” The pros: complete control of the product, design, and marketing, not to mention royalties of 100% (minus the increasingly negligible costs of production). There’s little money in poetry, unless you’re famous and/or dead, so why not keep all of it?

Just yesterday I had this conversation with a colleague who writes fiction. He has several quality journal publications, edits an annual fiction anthology, and just turned down a third publisher’s offer on his first novel. The reason – little money, less royalties, and virtually no promotion. Apparently, the burden of marketing and promoting a book is increasingly falling on the authors themselves. He’s considering the self-publishing route, reasoning that if he’s going to do the lion’s share of the after-publication work anyway…

So I’m curious. How many of you have considered it? Are doing it? Would never do it? And why?

Oh, and there are a couple new pieces on the Official Statements page. I just discovered through the WordPress help section that pages can be structured in chapter format (so that serialized projects read in order), but it takes a little tweaking. So, to the two of you who look at it, if it disappears, it will return shortly.

To D.I.Y. or not to D.I.Y. …

4 thoughts on “To D.I.Y. or not to D.I.Y. …

  1. Dan, self-publishing is more manageable and instantaneous than ever before. And with digital printing technologies, especially the marriage of Amazon’s Kindle with Amazon’s purchase of the print-on-demand capability of CreateSpace (once called BookSurge), some measures of distribution can be achieved that were unreachable for the self-published poet before.

    It is by no means a new thing that publishers ask authors to do a tremendous amount of work, travel at their own expense, and lots of other things. Publishers that succeed and survive never spend more than 8% of sales on marketing. How much is that typically? The math is a breeze to do with a successful and sustainable press, such as University Press of Mississippi (where I am marketing director). Eight percent of 2 million in sales per year, well that’s $160,000. And we spread that over 75 new printed books, a corresponding number of electronic books sold via 17 different vendors, 40 or more books brought back into print via print-on-demand technology, and 10 distributed or reprinted books from other publishing partners. That’s more than 200 new author creations each year, back-stopped by 1100 backlist offerings, and brought to market by a staff of five marketing professionals with a budget of $160,000. Yes, we’ll be asking authors to work with us.

    So is the above wise? I can snarkily point to scores of failing and failed presses that spend beyond that 8% maximum of sales on marketing. Gone, daddy, gone many are now. Mississippi, on the other hand, has recorded since 2008 its record year at 2.3 million, and two second bests in a row at 2.16 million in fiscal year 2011 and 2.2 million in FY2012.

    I would flip your colleague’s question of “why do all the work if you can’t have all the money?” For a literary novel, I can barely understand where he is coming from. And I’m sure his prospective publishers must have detailed something that he felt was really lacking. If he were a really well known radio or television personality who had finished a non-fiction book that his already existing audience might respond to and purchase (the defintion of an audience becoming real market), then I would understand perfectly. Look at Seth Godin’s publishing history. He has become so well known that publishing traditionally carries very few advantages for him, and a whole score of financial minuses.

    But a first-time literary novelist? Hmm. Flip that disdain for the publisher: Odds are you are not going to be making any fortune with your first novel. So, really what’s the lost revenue stream here? What you need is to get your novel in as many places as the publisher and you working together can, and get your friendly face, voice, and message in front of as many curious readers as you can this first go around. And, presuming that one could join with a publisher that understands the business, there are many very complex connections that publishers maintain that very few self-published authors will have access to. Done properly publishing as an enterprise is complex; there are wholesalers and internet giants and one remaining nationwide chain store that all demand metadata and technical shipping specifics (ASNs and barcodes on boxes, all kinds of terrifying and tedious stuff). These are things that a publisher, even a small one, can do for the first time author. The self-published author… you are on your own. So why not seek an ally in this campaign, especially when, as you say, your own career will not be advanced by a self-publication. You’ll do lots of work, yes, when working with a publisher, but you will have guidance, assistance, counsel, and a brand.

    No doubt I have questioned this same route. I thought I would never find a publisher for my first novel Morkan’s Quarry. Even my wife, Tammy, suggested self-publishing she was so tired of rejections that said, “We love it, but….” And as I say in my short story collection toughed it out in 38 different submissions before being chosen for the Juniper.

    Never be bitter, never give up when you know what you have is right. And never turn away from the solid assistance a wise publisher can give you.


  2. Umm… This from the Huffpo rant, quoting the Guardian… “the average amount earned by DIY authors last year was just $10,000 (£6,375) – and half made less than $500.” Is this even mathematically possible?

    If half of self-published authors made less than $500, then each author in that other half of self-published authors would have to make A LOT to bring the mean up to $10,000. Right?

    I smell blather.


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