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Self-Publishing Is For Control Freaks

24 April 2013

From Jeremy Greenfield on Forbes Blogs:

Unlike the other self-published authors to hit No. 1 this year — Jennifer Armentrout and Rachel Van Dyken — [Holly] Ward, who writes under the name H.M. Ward as well as Ella Steele, never published a book with a traditional publisher. She never gained the experience of what it takes to bring a book to market and make it successful from a secondary source — she’s self-taught.

Early on in her short writing career, Ward was in the early stages of working with a publisher for her first title, Demon Kissed (March 2011) but pulled out before the book was published.

“I have kind of a control freak personality and I didn’t think it was a good match so I backed away from that [working with the publisher] and decided to self-publish,” she said. “I did everything from the cover design to the model shoots to the content. I really like the level of control in everything when you do self-publication.”

. . . .

According to a recent report in the New York Times, quality editorial and marketing efforts keep authors coming back to publishers, but that’s simply not true. While editorial and marketing are factors, they’re nowhere near the top of the list.

According to a study of nearly 5,000 authors Digital Book World published earlier this year, asking them about preferences when publishing among other things, here are the two most important factors, in order, for authors when publishing a book:

1. Reach of distribution
2. Amount of creative control retained (read: exactly what Ward wants)

. . . .

So, the kind of control that Ward wants is actually quite typical for authors and it’s something that self-publishing caters to quite well. This should be disconcerting for traditional publishers, which typically offer a bevy of services and benefits but not control over a manuscript, its packaging and how it’s marketed and sold.

Link to the rest at Forbes Blogs and thanks to Dave for the tip.

One aspect of control that Jeremy didn’t mention is access to real-time sales numbers. With Amazon, Nook, Kobo, etc., an indie author can see what’s going on with each book, including what sort of response various publicity campaigns generate.

Whenever a publisher’s royalty report comes rolling into Casa PG, the difference is stark.

First, it typically looks more like a mainframe print-out from the 1970’s than a professional business report from the 21st century. It’s clear nobody really cares if the author understands it or not.

Second, it’s a summary of six months of sales with no week-by-week or month-by-month breakdown of sales so cause and effect from an author’s promotional efforts is impossible to evaluate.

Third, it’s badly out of date when it arrives, approximately three months after the end of the reporting period.

PG admits that suspicions always arise in his mind that the publisher is screwing around with the numbers. However, the royalty report is not designed to allow the author to double-check the accuracy of anything.

The reports an indie author receives empower the author to manage his/her business. Royalty reports from traditional publishers are one more reminder that the author’s place is out in the cotton fields, not in the mansion house.

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Bestsellers, Self-Publishing

37 Comments to “Self-Publishing Is For Control Freaks”

  1. Yeah, a control freak over her own money.

    Dan

  2. What’s wrong with controlling your own life? People can’t handle it because there’s no one else to blame. No agent, cover designer, editor, publisher or bookstore. The final decision is yours.

    In my opinion, a control freak tries to control others, whether people like it or not. We are people in control of our lives. OUR lives, not others. I don’t see why it makes us “freaks”. Exceptions, yes we are. In society, we’re trained to follow the majority no matter what. Just shut up and do as you’re told. Authors did that for decades. It killed careers and lost books forever. Time for change.

    • ZW/ZB, I think you are 100% spot on. The need to control other people’s lives is freaky. Just look at some governments of the world and some religions. But I digress.
      There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to control your own life and if the opportunity exists now to control certain aspects, where it hasn’t in the past, why not embrace that opportunity? We’d be freaks if we didn’t!

  3. Back in the day, I used to read a popular novelist’s blog to keep up to date with her new releases. Once, she was excited about her new book’s cover. She would have no control over it, of course, but she didn’t care, so long as it wasn’t pink. She’d shared this simple request with her publisher and was assured it wasn’t a problem.

    The cover was bright, screaming, pink.

    The author tried to make light of it, but I could tell she was heartbroken.

    Reading of her experience was very much on my mind when I decided to self-publish. Control over the money is important. Control over the product is equally important.

    I don’t think it makes you a “control freak” to want nice covers, especially if you’re willing to work to make them nice.

    Good for H.M. Ward!

    • On a writer’s forum there was an author whose sales were badly affected by her cover. I think she was a women’s fiction/chick lit author, but the cover was dark and depressing. The book ended up in the wrong part of the bookstore. Luckily they learned from their mistake for the next one.

      • Unfortunately, the sales of the first book would have negatively affected the number of second books ordered into stores by book buyers. A publisher’s mistake of that kind almost always has a horrifying downward spiral effect on an author’s career.

  4. PG, only three months after the close of the reporting period? You’re lucky there at Casa PG. I get my NY publisher royalty statements 5+ months (often 6) after the reporting period. Of course, the agent takes an extra couple weeks, but still – I see my first half statements (Jan-June) in December of that year, and my second half (July – Dec) in June of the following year. Or sometimes late May, if I’m lucky. Yeah.

    • I thank God regularly for my failures to finish any decent number of books before I decided to quit trying to get something published. Fast forward to 12 years later and the entire publishing world had changed and writing original fiction became attractive again. I imagine sometimes how much of a dream-crusher getting published would have been. I think I would have been devastated to learn the truth of publishing back then. It probably would have killed my spirit for a good long while.

      • Same here. I’m glad that I was too busy with getting “real job” ten years ago. If I had started trying my novels then, I think I would have given up and not look back until I retired. Now with the self publishing opportunities, I feel like even a nobody has a chance if she can tell a good story.

  5. Darn skippy.

    To summarize many years and a long decision process, I self-publish because I want control over MY books, MY rights, MY stories, MY writing, MY characters and worlds, MY time, MY career, MY name(s), and, oh yeah, MY money.

    Control freak, and proud of it.

    • Amen! I think that speaks for all indies.

      • I intend for my work to be the center of my own business stategy, for whatever it’s worth, not an interchangable and disposable cog in someone elses.

        That’s just me.

    • Amen. Amen! I’ve reconciled all those years of rejections by agents and editors by my indie success. It is great to do what I want and write the kinds of stories I have always wanted to read and have other people enjoy them without someone telling me they don’t conform to whatever formula. And I have a monthly paycheck for it! The only reason I could see for going with a trade publisher would be to have paperbacks in bookstores. I wake up grateful every day for the opportunities that came with the rise of ebooks and self-publishing in the last five years.

    • *hi-5s* Once I got the bit between my teeth — especially in regards to cover art — I just can’t see relinquishing it. (My covers are AWESOME ART! …well, the ones I didn’t do, anyway. 😉 My typography for the title and whatnot can be argued, as can my coloring, but the art? Dis not the art. Being one’s own Art Director is fabulous.)

  6. I like your use of the word empower, PG. 🙂

    Because that’s what this is. It’s hardly being a control freak to choose a publishing path that allows you to be more empowered than you would be otherwise.

    This isn’t to knock those who choose the trade route, but for me, self-publishing allows for a greater degree of empowerment over my own career. With empowerment, of course, comes responsibility, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    And I agree. The only kind of trade deal I would consider (at this time. Who knows what things will look like down the road?) is a paper only deal, because trade publishers still have superior distribution when it comes to paper books.

  7. As usual, great commentary, PG.

    So, first the label “control freak” is a conceptual twist. It is a put-down and implies that giving up control of your work is a more mature and healthy way of relating.

    The opposite is probably closer to the truth. In actuality, wanting to own and control your own work is empowered and emotionally healthy.

    However, I suspect the author of the article did not intend it to be insulting. The term is thrown around now, mostly by agents, to describe self-publishers. Titleing the article that way was most likely a ‘hook’.

    And the article is decent, I liked this:

    “So, the kind of control that Ward wants is actually quite typical for authors and it’s something that self-publishing caters to quite well. This should be disconcerting for traditional publishers, which typically offer a bevy of services and benefits but not control over a manuscript, its packaging and how it’s marketed and sold”.

    True.

    • “…wanting to own and control your own work is empowered and emotionally healthy.”

      Yeah! Tell it, sister!

      (Although I agree with your take on the term as title hook. :))

  8. Having had an agent who was a control freak–and who resorted to lying, bullying, and manipulation on numerous occasions to make me do as told and to get his own way–I view “control freak” as a very negative term, one indicating a dysfunctional and damaging pathology.

    Whereas I view “wanting to take charge of my own fate” as very positive and empowering. Which is certainly a key factor in many decisions to self-publish.

    I am very much a “take charge of my fate” sort of person, yet I am very happy with my current traditional publisher. However, this follows about 20 years of mostly being very UNhappy with my previous publishers. My current publisher (DAW Books), however, does empower me. I am -closely- involved in packaging decisions. I can’t think of a single thing that’s been done on my packaging at DAW without my approval or agreement (and we’re on book #6 now, so that’s a good track record). Early on, I had a problem with the manuscript formatting–and when we discussed it, they saw my point and changed it. Early on, we had an editorial disagreement and just kept discussing it until we came to a consensus; the resulting choice was not my original intention or the editor’s recommendation, but a result of those discussions which has made the work -better- than either of our original, separate intentions.

    I don’t have any say in distribution, but the broad reach of their distribution in both print and epublishing (DAW is distributed by Penguin, soon to be the Random Penguin giant) is a strong attraction for me–alothough it wouldn’t be strong enough to keep me in my seat if all of the above weren’t true. This is an era where a writer who’s unhappy at a house, whose work is treated like expendable cannon fodder or street garbage, has good alternatives and choices that didn’t exist before.

    My own experience (almost 20 years of being treated like a hooker by most houses I wrote for) echoes the widespread view that most publishers treats most writers (and most books) badly.

    But if you find a GOOD publishing relationship with a talented, capable, committed publishign crew who treat you, the writer, as a valued partner in the publishing process and who treat your book as a valued professional asset, it =is- empowering and satisfying even to someone who likes to take charge of her own fate (or who is, in some slang, a control freak).

    Laura Resnick

    • I’m glad to hear there are still humane publishers out there.

    • I’m glad to hear good things about DAW. I’d been picking up hints that they were pretty good — Seanan McGuire tends to be vocal in her appreciation for them — but no one’d said it flat-out in my hearing. (I’ve also heard good things about Baen.)

  9. I don’t really have any objections to the characterization. I do like the level of control I have when designing my own books, which is one of the reasons I don’t like Smashwords’ execrable style guide.

  10. “I have kind of a control freak personality and I didn’t think it was a good match so I backed away from that [working with the publisher] and decided to self-publish,” she said. “I did everything from the cover design to the model shoots to the content. I really like the level of control in everything when you do self-publication.”

    Holly Ward is an artist as well as an author and “owns a swank photography studio” (http://pinterest.com/hmward3/), so I can see why she would want a say about her book covers.

    • No kidding! Those are premium covers.
      I wonder if the tradpub got as far as showing her what *their* idea of a modern cover was. 😉

  11. Cotton Fields.
    Yup.
    Some tradpub contract do bring sharecropping to mind.
    Good one, Mr PG, sir.

  12. I said it before and I’ll say it again—it’s all about the money.

  13. I self-published an alternative cookbook in the 80s, way before self-publishing was fashionable. Then, it was almost taboo to do it yourself. It sent a message that your book couldn’t cut it with a traditional publisher.

    Now, look at the industry. Authors are empowered. The only thing that bugs me about self-published books is that many are not professionally edited or proofread. 🙁

  14. I am a self-confessed control freak and always have been. One of my sisters opined that I was potty trained at gunpoint, and plus thirty years of managing major construction projects has done nothing but reinforce those tendencies. But guess what? I’m totally OK with accepting the success of failure or my own actions and decisions. It’s being powerless to control my fate that I have problems with, so self-publishing has been great for me, both financially and emotionally.

    So I would concur that self-publishing IS for control freaks and assert that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The alternative is letting someone else control both your financial and your creative work, and for me, that’s a non-starter.

  15. Lol, I finally got a “tip” on PG. I think we should start a club. As for PG’s commentary: Wow, classic snark-laden “Zinga” fest.

    Only +5 awesome pts. awarded instead of +10 though because when it comes to pointing out what’s wrong with BPH sales reporting you’re just shooting fish in a barrel. The manic-depressive kind who’ve completely given up.

    But I do wonder if publishing exec’s get the same level of reporting only twice a year?

    It would explain a lot.

  16. Oh, you can bet that whatever sorts of sales reports the high muckety-mucks get, they are a lot better than the reports authors receive. Why, how else can they say, “Your book didn’t sell to expectations”?

  17. They say control freak like it’s a bad thing.

    Actually, I agree with Laura – the term is meant to describe a pathology, but gets tossed around like so many other clinical terms do that it has lost its impact and become almost a joke term.

    Anyway, the more I read about what you give up to go tradpub, the less interested in that route I become (excepting some rare and exceptional situation). One of the bedrocks of my personal ethics is accepting responsibility for myself and my actions. I am comfortable making hard decisions and potentially bad ones–because there are also potentially brilliant ones. I trust myself as an artist not to need someone else’s validation before presenting my work for sale. I trust myself with my work more than I trust anyone else with it. Does that make me a control freak, or an egomaniac? Or neither, because I am not unwilling to listen to the input of people I do trust…I just understand that advice, edits, etc., are all suggestions that represent that person’s interpretation of my work and how my work as they see it could be improved. Some of the suggestions will improve it and bring it closer to what I want it to be; some won’t. The point, ultimately, is that if I am the one making the final choices, then I ensure the book is presented in the way that most closely represent what the work was meant to be. I am not a child star whose innate talent has to be groomed and coaxed into just the right form. I am an adult, with a fully developed artistic aesthetic and the technical training (writing-wise, and possibly art-wise) to realize my visions. Why would I let someone else have control over my work? Opinion and advice, sure, but at the end of the day it’s my name on the cover and my dream on the line, and I’d rather be answerable to myself for my success or failure than anyone else. Because that is how I live my life: I am responsible for myself and I accept the consequences of my actions. I believe in olden times this was called “adulthood.”

  18. “I am an adult, with a fully developed artistic aesthetic and the technical training…to realize my visions. Why would I let someone else have control over my work?”

    This! Totally this!

  19. Am I a control freak about my own career? Damn right.

    There is no one more interested in your career than you.

  20. “I am an adult, with a fully developed artistic aesthetic and the technical training…to realize my visions. Why would I let someone else have control over my work?”

    I agree totally. There is an assumption with publishers that authors don’t know about anything other than writing. But many of us have other creative skills too so it’s frustrating when our comments on covers, websites and other issues are disregarded.

    Being in control is a major reason why I’m self publishing but that doesn’t mean I’m a control freak – it means I’m sensible.

  21. I wouldn’t say I’m a control freak because I’ve learned over the years what my strengths and weaknesses are and understand the value of delegating responsibility and work to those I trust. But I’ve been in positions in the past where I’ve given up control and been badly burned by it. Never again. In my opinion, the key is to know what I can control myself and what I need to delegate out, but always keeping control of that choice. My problem with the traditional method is that its default position is the writer gives up almost all control from square one, and that, to me, is unacceptable.

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