Is Self-Publishing a Viable Option for Literary Fiction Writers?

27 May 2015

From  Sangeeta Mehta via Jane Friedman:

Even though it’s become quite easy for writers to use Amazon KDP or other platforms to publish an e-book—and use print-on-demand technology to create a professional-looking print book—it’s still rare for literary fiction writers to self-publish.

I asked literary agents Vicky Bijur and Ayesha Pande if and when literary writers should consider this option, how it might affect their long-term careers, and what digital trends we might see in terms of marketing literary fiction.

Sangeeta Mehta: Sales of self-published literary fiction are anemic compared to that of genre fiction, but is this a reflection of the industry as a whole—or because the success of literary writing depends on established, traditional systems that aren’t accessible to self-published writers?

Vicky Bijur: One theory: Genre fiction is read in digital form to a greater degree than literary fiction. That is, readers of genre fiction are used to reading e-books; literary fiction readers a bit less so. Also, there may be many more online blogs/websites, etc., devoted to genre fiction; it may be harder for a reader to find out about literary fiction that is available only digitally. Literary fiction is still review-driven; even though the traditional review media are shrinking, it is still really important to catch the attention of traditional critics, and I think it’s very hard for e-book originals to do that. As recently as 2008 or so a self-published author might still have been selling books to independent bookstores out of the trunk of her car. With the severe reduction in the number of independent bookstores, it much harder to get traction even if your book is in print form.

Ayesha Pande: My response here is based purely on anecdotal evidence: It seems readers of literary fiction have a bias for print books; many readers tell me they want to keep the books, put them on their shelves, read them again and share them with others—none of which is possible with an e-book. In addition, sales of literary fiction still do depend on reviews and self-published books don’t tend to be reviewed by book reviewers, mainly because there are simply too many of them.

. . . .

Many agents won’t consider representing a self-published work unless sales are in the high five- or six figures. However, very few works of literary fiction achieve such lofty sales, even with the marketing muscle of a large publisher. Do you have a sales number in mind when considering self-published works? Or would a positive review (from Kirkus or PW, both of which accept self-published books), or an award be more likely to sway you in one direction or the other?

AP: A writer having self-published their work, especially a first novel, wouldn’t necessarily deter me from considering her for representation. I would read the book and assess the merit of the work and make my decision based on that. Many excellent novels do not find publishers and there are many promising authors out there whose work deserves to be published and read. In fact I represent an author who successfully self-published his first two novels.

VB: When Lisa Genova approached me with Still Alice in 2008, which she had self-published, I didn’t care about how many copies she had sold. Here’s what I cared about: I couldn’t put down the book; my twenty-three year-old assistant couldn’t put down the book; I thought Lisa’s background as a neuroscientist with a Ph.D. from Harvard University provided her with an instant platform; she had the savvy and the sophistication to have hired a PR firm for her self-published book; she was writing about a topic that had a huge audience; she had already made deep connections within the Alzheimer’s community. That is, the book was spectacular, and it was clear the author was a superstar.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG suspects many sales of literary novels in printed form occur to support status-signaling on the bookshelf.

Primary school class self-publish charity mystery novel

27 May 2015

From UTV Ireland:

Students at a primary school in Donnybrook, Co Dublin, have written and published their very own mystery novel – all in the aid of charity.

. . . .

Brilliantly entitled The Catas-Trophy, the book is a classic whodunnit centred on the theft of a prestigious basketball trophy from a school in London.

The concept, plot and character development for the novel was devised entirely by the 29 girls in Class 5, aged between 11-12.

Each student wrote a chapter, complete with illustrations, to create the 140-page book. During the writing process regular votes were taken to decide the direction the story should take.

“It was a great lesson in diplomacy,” said class teacher Caoimhe Ní Fhaoláin.

. . . .

“Their attention to detail and commitment to the project has astonished me; they have worked together to fully develop the characters and ensure that the plots are flawless throughout.

“It is a fantastic story. The younger girls in the school have loved reading it,” she said.

. . . .

It has been published by a local printer and is currently being sold to students in the school.

Next week it will be launched on Amazon, with all the proceeds from Kindle downloads going to the Irish Cancer Society and Down Syndrome Ireland.

Link to the rest at UTV Ireland

Author Annie Stone on Marketing: Just Be a Nice Person

27 May 2015

From German indie author Annie Stone via Publishing Perspectives:

I published my first book back in March 2014. By the end of the month, I had created a Facebook page to help promote my book. Even though there wasn’t a whole lot of interaction with fans in the beginning, it was very important for me to reply to every single comment and message I received. Although the amount of comments on Facebook has increased so much that I am unable to keep up with them all, I do my best to “like” each post and respond to many of the comments.

If someone asked me how I go about marketing myself, I would probably answer that I don’t do any marketing at all. At least it’s not marketing in a traditional sense of the word. I like to consider it my own brand of “friendly marketing.” Although I have chosen to keep my publish persona under the guise of my pen name, I still give my readers a look into my private life on social media. I answer questions, send birthday greetings and have contests for readers to win copies of my books. I also actively contribute to book forums by posting my own personal book recommendations and give writing tips.

. . . .

I am not offended when I hear someone say “I don’t really care for your books, but I think you’re a great person.” Seriously, it’s more important for me to be recognized as a nice person than as a outstanding author. Of course I would love for people to enjoy my work, but I’m happy as long as my readers consider me a kind person.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Here’s a link to Annie Stone’s books

With Publishing Tools Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

26 May 2015

From TechCrunch:

Indie authors seem to be living in an age of wonders. They can upload a PDF and sell it instantly on Kindles and tablets. They can print-on-demand like merry little Gutenbergs, slinging their wares from India to Indiana. They can raise an army of fans to crowdfund their latest opus. But all is not rosy in the world of indie publishing. The tools – the things that were supposed to turn us all into one-(wo)man vanity presses – are abysmal and no one is fixing them.

First, according to The Digital Reader, Google has closed down its Play Books publisher portal in order to revamp the submission process. Why? It had essentially become a haven for pirates who uploaded versions of decidedly non-indie titles – Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers is one – as well as legitimate indie books. The uploader claimed to be the author of these titles and sold them on the store.

. . . .

I’ve been working with Amazon’s CreateSpace for my new book and found their process far from the bookstore-killer I had hoped. While my earlier, text-only books were easy to upload, the latest one contains a few pictures and is a bit longer. This means my book is out of print for long stretches if, say, I want to change a quote on the cover.

. . . .

[E]ach [CreateSpace] upload and change takes 24 hours or more to “review” and then can be shunted back to the creator with a very cryptic error. Because there is very little true instruction on the site – just a few diagrams that might be helpful for users with previous experience in book design – non-designers will end up sending and resending files ad nauseam. While most books don’t require such treatment, a few will and you’ll feel it if you ever have to deal with it. This means that authors of complex texts with diagrams and the like will have to spend money up front to have a designer create a pixel perfect version for CreateSpace and then risk endless re-dos as it is dinged again and again.

. . . .

But in the end writers don’t want much fuss and muddle. They have a hard enough time trying to make great fiction and non-fiction without having to worry about margin sizes. In fact, one author I spoke with saw the old guard publishers as the ultimate in fire and forget. He wrote his book, submitted it, and then waited… and waiting… and eventually it appeared.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Morgan for the tip.

Talmudic temptation

24 May 2015

From Jewish Journal:

From a glass-enclosed cabinet in her Westchester home office, historical novelist Maggie Anton removed a small clay pot. Indicating the Hebrew characters inscribed on the pot in the same Aramaic text as in the Talmud, she noted the rough outline of a demonic form inside the “incantation bowl.” She explained during an interview that during the fourth to sixth centuries, the same time that the Talmud was being created, the bowls, purchased in an antiquities store in Israel, were ubiquitous in Iraq — once known as Babylonia — the setting for Anton’s latest novel, “Enchantress.”

One of the many types of archaeological evidence of Jewish sorcery — “they call upon Jewish angels, they mention the four matriarchs, they quote Torah, some even quote Mishnah” — the discovery of these bowls represented a high point in Anton’s research for her love story set in fourth-century Babylonia. Until then, the Talmud had been her only primary source.

“Sorcery is a very important thread in the Talmud that most scholars have preferred to ignore until recently,” Anton said. “Illness was caused by demons or the evil eye, and Jews had a reputation for knowing the secret magic that did healing. In the Talmud, you’d go to a healer to be cured, and they would write a spell for an amulet that you would wear. Or they would do an incantation on a bowl, and they would bury it under your house. Everything was from demons and the evil eye.”

. . . .

Drawn to the intellectual rigor of talmudic study, Anton, who comes from a secular Jewish family, said, “I was 42. My mom had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. My kids were mostly out of the house. I had worked at the same job for a lot of years. I needed to have my brain doing stuff it hadn’t been doing before.”

But there was another reason. “I knew women weren’t supposed to study it; that it was forbidden at that point. And, of course, all you have to do is make it forbidden, and you make it much more attractive.”

Anton’s research into the life of Solomon ben Isaac (one day to be known as Rashi) and his family began “just for fun.” However, she grew increasingly fascinated once she started learning more about the vintner and scholar. “He was really a feminist, considering that he lived in 11th-century France. I was very surprised that 900 years ago, women in his community did wear tefillin and wear tzitzit and blow shofar. This was a kind of a black hole in Jewish history ignored by everybody.”

Four years later, she had completed the first draft of her novel. After making 12 copies of the manuscript, she showed it to her husband, daughter, some close friends and four rabbis. They all thought it should be published.

Among the many surprise twists of her literary trajectory, Anton’s publishing experience has been the most surprising of all. Although she had a literary agent, publication eluded her. Outside of Anita Diamant’s 1997 “The Red Tent,” there didn’t appear to be a market for this kind of fiction.

. . . .

“I knew how to reach Jewish women, and I knew there was interest. I did a lot of cold calling of [synagogue] sisterhoods, Hadassahs and National Councils of Jewish Women chapters. Then I went all over the country and Canada and hit the Jewish talk circuit — sold books in the back of the room. They would tell their friends. There was buzz.” In 18 months, 26,000 books had sold.

When the big publishers caught wind of that phenomenal figure for a self-published novel, a bidding war ensued between HarperCollins, Penguin and Crown. “This was the first book in a trilogy, and they wanted the rest of it,” said Anton, who chose Penguin. To date, close to 150,000 copies of the first volume of “Rashi’s Daughters” have sold, and it remains her strongest seller.

Link to the rest at Jewish Journal and thanks to M.S. for the tip.

Here’s a link to Maggie Anton’s books

Renting vs. Owning

22 May 2015

From Hugh Howey:

I couldn’t wait to own my first house. I mean, I literally couldn’t wait.

The closing date was still a week away, but I was already over at my future home on Taft St. in Hollywood, leveling a plot of soil in the back yard, spreading sand, and installing pavers. There was a covered arbor back there, and I wanted to create a patio where before there was just a patchwork of grass, soil, and loose rock. In the middle of the yard there was also a huge tangle of vines covering an old fish pond. Soon, I would have this up and running as well.

The owner of the house didn’t mind my enthusiasm. In fact, he very much didn’t mind. A lovely gay man, he spent the week sipping lemonade on the new patio and offering suggestions and advice as I worked on what would soon be my yard. I was learning not only how much I would love my first home, but how much I would love improving it and working on it.

I’d had the same experience with my first sailboat, Xerxes. I would stay up past midnight at times with a miner’s light on my forehead doing odd projects around the deck. Owning something is to want to care for it. Especially if you worked hard for the money used to acquire that thing. When something is given to you, or when you’re just renting, it’s hard to put the same effort in for its upkeep and improvement. Not to say it doesn’t happen, just that there’s something primal about sweeping out our caves and putting up some bison art.

There’s a myth out there about self-publishing related to this. Because of the big publishing houses’ eroding market share and growing irrelevance, there’s a concerted effort going on to promote traditional publishing as at least a viable alternative to going it on one’s own. The industry has moved quickly from besmirching self-publishing to attempting to sell the middleman-enriching route. Which is understandable; they want to lure in clients and continue making most of the profits off our art. But there is something abysmally wrong with many of their arguments, and we owe it to aspiring authors to point those fallacies out.

The particular myth I’m talking about here is that self-publishing requires a lot of hard work, while traditional publishing means all you have to do is write the manuscript. This is plain nonsense, of course. Publishers expect authors to promote their works, to engage on social media, to answer emails, to do signings and interviews, and much more. And this ignores the massive amount of work it takes to even get published (researching agents, writing queries, tracking responses, doing rewrites).

But let’s set aside the fact that authors of all stripes have to work their butts off to make a living at this. What pundits and publishers miss, because they have no experience with it themselves, is that self-published authors don’t work harder because they have to. They work harder because they want to.

Authors who have only traditionally published also fall prey to this myth. They’ve only ever rented. They sign ownership of their art away, and now they are punching a clock, toiling for peanuts, and that’s not a motivator to toil more. It’s a disincentive. Which is why most authors work a day job teaching creative writing, procrastinate, phone in manuscripts at the last minute, and waste their prodigious talents.

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey and thanks to Toby for the tip.

Vook to Relaunch as Free Self-Publishing Platform Pronoun

20 May 2015

From a Pronoun press release via Digital Book World:

Today Pronoun announces the formation of a new author-friendly platform for book publishing. Pronoun brings together Vook, the leading digital book creation and distribution platform; Booklr, the industry’s largest proprietary data and analytics engine; and Byliner, a digital-first imprint that publishes bestselling contemporary authors. With this combined technology and experience, Pronoun rethinks what publishing should offer authors. Pronoun empowers every author to create and distribute beautiful digital books, own and control their work and their rights, and receive 100% of their earnings – all for free.

“Pronoun is committed to changing the publishing model by making it open, and by making it free,” said Josh Brody, Chief Executive Officer, Pronoun. “The book publishing industry’s structure pre-dates electricity. Authors seek a viable alternative – both to legacy publishing, with its exclusivity and restrictions, and to self-publishing, with its complexity, limitations, and high costs. Pronoun starts with the author at its core, and builds from there.”

“Digital technologies have transformed every creative industry, from iTunes in music to YouTube in video. The same is now happening to the book industry, and publishers are unable or unwilling to keep pace with that change,” said Ben Zhuk, Pronoun’s Chief Product Officer. “Technology drastically changes the ways digital books can be produced, distributed, and marketed. The question is whether new technologies will be used to impoverish authors, or to empower them. Our mission at Pronoun is to put authors first – by building free digital tools that help them find and reach their audience for the lifetime of their books, not just at launch.”

Pronoun gives authors access to capabilities and information previously available only to large enterprises by bringing together the technology, data, and expertise developed by Vook, Booklr, and Byliner. Vook’s creation and distribution platform, which is used by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fast Company, and many other leading media companies, has achieved significant scale, publishing over 6,000 titles to Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google, and Kobo. Booklr’s proprietary data and analytics engine, which tracks performance, customer behavior, and pricing statistics on over 5 million books each day, is trusted by the most prestigious book publishing companies in the world, including Penguin Random House. Byliner, a boutique literary brand, publishes original titles and backlist stories from bestselling authors like Jon Krakauer, Jodi Picoult, and Nick Hornby.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Free sounds good, but, at some point Pronoun will need to collect money from someone. PG will be a bit suspicious until Pronoun explains that part of its business.

Stigma for Breakfast-How Indie Authors are Winning

20 May 2015

From author Susanne O’Leary:

As a self published author since 2010, I, like many of my colleagues, have had to struggle with the the general consensus that self publishing is only for those writers whose work isn’t good enough to attract an agent or publisher. It was the so-called ‘stigma’, which I, as a romance author, was used to. To quote Hugh Howey: ‘romance authors eat stigma for breakfast’.

. . . .

My friend and colleague Dean Crawford just posted a very interesting thread on the forum I run for Indie writers. He writes in the sci fi and thriller genres and is what is know as a ‘hybrid’ author, which means that he is both traditionally (by Simon & Schuster).  and self-published author.

. . . .

Deans insight into publishing is second to none, and he says it better than anyone. Here is some of what he predicts:

A big traditional publisher (one of the big 5) have recently shut down their sci-fi and fantasy imprint, with many redundancies. And another, nearly as big publisher has likewise done the same with their own s/f & fantasy genre imprint, the market currently 18% down in that genre according to figures within the industry. This is despite ( or perhaps because of ) the same genre being currently wildly popular within the independent community. The effects of the publisher’s shift in income, as huge numbers of sales move to independent authors ( despite the protestations of the Big Five that “it’s not happening” ) is obvious. Hugh and Data Guy’s conclusions from the Author Earnings Report is being affirmed by real-world events now in publishing.

. . . .

At the most recent international festival I attended, more authors than ever were asking me about independent publishing, all of them currently published by traditional houses. More and more of them were concerned about their future income. At the same time, I met more and more indie authors attending than ever before, all of them happily full-time and actually extremely excited about their futures, few of them with any interest in approaching agents or publishing houses for deals.

. . . .

I was once a traditionally published author. When I decided to go out on my own, I was lucky enough to get the rights of my books back so I could put up a small but solid backlist. Now, I’m a proud Indie and earning an income I never thought possible.

Link to the rest at Susanne’s Blog

Here’s a link to Susanne O’Leary’s books

Can’t Everyone In The Publishing Industry Just Get Along?

15 May 2015

From Lit Reactor:

The level of discourse in this country really sucks.

It’s not enough to be right anymore. In order to be in favor of something you must also wish death and destruction upon the opposing side.

. . . .

Why can’t we all just get along?

It’s ridiculous when someone turns their nose up at a self-published author or a lover of eBooks, as if their chosen path makes them less passionate. I understand that controversy means blog hits, and we’re naturally attracted to conflict. But you know what? It’s a new year. I’m calling for a moratorium on all the negativity. It’s time for some optimism.

. . . .


The print advocates say: eBooks devalue real books. They take away from the art of a printed book. They contribute to the collapse of bookstores.

The eBook advocates say: Print books are relics. They’re expensive to produce and they take up space. eBooks never go out of print and exist forever.

You know what’s great? Books. My wife and I own hundreds. Maybe nearly a thousand. And they’re great! They’re fun for reading. People see all the books we have and assume we are very smart. They smell good.

You know what else is great? eBooks. Really, they are.

. . . .


The traditional publishing advocates say: If you self-published then you weren’t good enough to real-publish. There’s no standard of quality. You could smash your face against a keyboard for three hours and publish it, and what’s so special about that?

What self-publishing advocates say: Traditional publishing is just a way for someone else to make money off your hard work. By self-publishing, you maintain creative control, as well as your profits. Self-publishing is so easy, there’s no reason to not do it.

Self-publishing advocates call you an idiot if you want to traditional publish. Traditional publishers turn their nose up at self-published writers, calling them hobbyists who don’t take writing seriously.

Why can’t both sides just co-exist?

Now, there’s a longer conversation to be had here about the pros and cons of either side, but at the end of the day, for some people, self-publishing is great. Some people want that control. They want to be in charge of their own destiny. And that’s fine. Just because someone self-publishes a book doesn’t mean it’s going to be bad. There are plenty of books that are traditionally published that are terrible.

I think at this point it’s a matter of personal preference.

Link to the rest at Lit Reactor and thanks to Michael for the tip.

Writers in Kyoto offers expats a forum to discuss state of publishing in Japan

12 May 2015

From The Japan Times:

Those who love the English language and the written word have always found like-minded souls to associate with, formally or informally, in cities where English-speaking expats and immigrants are located. In Japan, though, once one is outside Tokyo, such gatherings are rare.

Traditionally, the Kansai region, and particularly Kyoto, has been home to small numbers of expat writers. Gary Snyder, Alex Kerr and Donald Keene are just some of the more prominent names who are or have been based in the old capital.

Past gatherings of local expat writers were often social affairs, but many hoped for something a bit more structured, where writers outside Tokyo’s publishing world could exchange practical advice and personal anecdotes on everything from how to pitch book projects to domestic and overseas editors, publishers and agents, to navigating the ever-expanding world of self-publishing.

. . . .

“Being a writer in Japan could be an isolated affair were it not for the Internet, which links us with people, publishers and readers all over the world. It means, however, that print-related people like myself have to learn a whole new box of digital tricks, which doesn’t come easy after a certain age, especially if your brain is not digitally wired,” Dougill says.

. . . .

The state of self-publishing, e-books and dealing with publishers are subjects of particular interest, as are tips for approaching publishers and information on the international market for books. And special efforts will be made for those authors who publish works with a Kyoto theme.

. . . .

“Print publishing is no longer what it used to be. Publishers want authors to market their books themselves or are looking for ‘partnerships’ where the author brings money or guaranteed sales. Advances have pretty much disappeared, and writers are expected to provide their own illustrations, even pay for them.

“So authors increasingly are looking to things that, in the past, would not have taken up their time and energy — marketing strategies, contract conditions for e-books, self-publishing, print on demand, tweeting, social media fan bases. You can spend all your time researching those things and not writing at all,” Dougill says.

Link to the rest at The Japan Times

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