Monday, February 27, 2012

Self-Publishing - A Delicate Balance Between "Control & Quality"

I have really been thinking about the changes in the publishing market. We cannot ignore the fact that there are a lot of new things on the publishing horizon. Yet, with all of these changes, there are many things that writers need to still consider.

When it comes to self-publishing, the biggest reason I hear of writers jumping into this business is to gain control of their writing. They want to say how it is written, how it is sold, and certainly the issue of how much of the profits they get from the sales of the book. I am all for this. I want writers to have a lot of success with their writing. Still, I do start to question the trade-off for this control.

I was sitting at the swimming pool this last Friday watching my kids go back and forth for a long time. So, I sat there and scanned through my e-reader to see if there was a great deal on a book. Why not? I had the time. I set the search function to scan based on price, lowest to highest, and frankly, I was shocked at what I found. Over 1000 titles of books being GIVEN AWAY FOR FREE. These were all from self-publishing sites. I should also note, I found several stories that had been submitted to me for consideration that I passed on. But here was the big concern I had - Here are authors who wanted control over the sales of their books; authors who wanted to put their story out there for people to buy - and they were giving the book away?

But, did I buy any of those books because they were free just to get "hooked" on the author? Absolutely not. I will say, this was not due to the fact that the books were self-published. It was because the titles were horrible, the premises were even worse, and some of the samples that I could read were beyond poorly written. What did this tell me? Well, these authors could now say they were published, but I have to say, I don't think it was worth it.

Now, many self-published authors tell me they are paying someone to do the editing for them. Hmmmm? First of all, based on the sampling I did, I wonder what the editing was? In several of the cases, a simple grammar checker would have caught those errors. But secondly, was there any editing in terms of finding a plot or story that truthfully would be marketable. Was there any consideration of finding a story that the author didn't just have to "give away" to create "sales"?

The more I thought about this, I was reminded of the comments that showed up last week here on the blog discussing the need for a potential shift for agents to take on more authors who simply want to take the self-publishing approach, but to do so from an editorial standpoint. This tells me (combined with the money people are paying for free-lance editors and critiques) that maybe the self-publishing people are beginning to recognize that the need for editors and agents still is there.

So, if agents start taking a more active role in serving the needs of the self-published authors, how will that change things? I see several issues here:
  1. Agents will take on these responsibilities, but, because they are doing more work on the editorial side of things (including copy editing which we normally don't do), the commission we set will have to be higher for us to compensate for the time spent on the project. Hey, don't be shocked at this. If you are willing to pay $2 - $5 per page for an external editor to do this, then agents should certainly be considered in this equation.
  2. The issue of supply and demand will again take a toll on the writers. Remember that most agents have a limit/cap on the number of authors we handle. These are the authors that are in it for the long haul and are looking for those larger contracts. Filling those holes with "self-published" authors will reduced the number of agents available.
  3. That control issue may change. As an agent, we would likely be doing more than simply copy editing your books. We would be looking at structural changes as well. Like you, we want to see the book succeed since that is the only way BOTH of us would make money. The better the quality book, the better the chance the book will sell. This of course means that you would have to listen to the agent and make those changes he or she recommends.
  4. Contract negotiations would now be controlled. First of all, I have to stress that the self-publishing contract is not something that can be negotiated so don't expect more publicity and what not from your company you decide to go with. Agents would not negotiate anything here. Secondly, and this is the more important element, I am betting agents would now say "no more giving away your book". Do current traditional publishers do this? Yes, from time to time, but it is always in exchange for generally a flat-out fee paid by the publisher, or a link to a current book out there, or sometimes just the re-release of a book that didn't sell so well the first time, but now it is used for publicity.
In the end, self-publishing does get you some more freedom, but the question is still - "at what cost?" Sure, this was the story "you" wanted to tell. The story that the "editors and agents" weren't smart enough to see the potential, but is it really the best quality?

Do I see a potential need for agents to take over more responsibility for providing services to writers who wish to self-publish? Sure, but the question is, are you, as a self-published author, willing to pay for it, both financially and, more importantly, in terms of giving up that control you have screamed about?



  1. And this is the exact reason why I'm considering the traditional route. I'm still young, so I believe I'll need assistant in order to publish a book.

  2. Amen. I too have browsed the free selections of ebooks. The vast majority look like debut 'anyway' manuscripts. You know, the kind you start revising after completing the first draft, then notice all the structural and plot deficiencies but move on anyway. Just get it out there.

    NO. If it's garbage throw it out and consider this your practice run.

    Agents should definitely charge a higher fee/percentage for self-published authors due to the extra workload involved. Agreed.

  3. I second Scott and third Rashad lol. I am not at all impressed by the writing in self-published works. A percentage for an agent's cut? I vote for a sliding scale based on sales. 60% up to 1000 books, 50% next 1000, get the point.

  4. Is there a lot of self-published junk out there? Yep. A lot of folks are jumping into it for accolades and exposure.

    Ever visited or They compare well to the "free" section of e-book stores. Some good stuff, but you have to sift through dreck to find it.

    Personally, I only download a freebie if it's 1) an author I'm already interested in, or 2) a genre I'm hankering to read. But #1 happens far more often than #2.

    Most self-published authors I read who are self-publishing to take charge of their own careers actually produce work of greater quality than some of the "Big 6" bestsellers I read.

    Zoe Winters' e-book on self-publishing? I found 1 typo in the entire thing. Patty Briggs*? I find probably 1 typo per chapter… in every book.

    That's with casual "I'm enjoying this" reading, not "I'm proofreading this" reading. (Yes, there's a difference.)

    A good copyeditor is like a ghostwriter: their edits match the author's writing style or "voice."

    Match. Not change.

    I know from experience that most people think they're better than they actually are at copyediting and proofreading. They have English degrees and "love grammar" and correct others all the time, but if you hand them a proofreading or editing test, they'll flunk.

    (For the record, I can pass either one. I actually work as both a copyeditor and a proofreader for more than one company, right now.)

    Content editing, copyediting, and proofreading are like everything else: If you don't know what constitutes a good job, you can't tell the difference between a genuinely good potential employee and one who's suffering from the overconfidence effect.

    If authors learn how to do it, themselves—even if they're not great at it—they'll be better aware of what they need to look for in employees.

    Just my 2¢.

    *I am extremely fond of Patty Briggs' stories. She's just prone to typos, particularly mistaken homophones.