In our process of learning what is going to work and what isn’t in marketing my novel I’ve had to search around to find places and forums for rubbing elbows with those who are in the process of self publishing their work. There are ways that it works and ways that it does not depending no the target audience. One commonly read blog called by Joe Konrath, A Newbie’s Guide to Self Publishing had a guest post his own journey from traditional to indie publishing found here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/10/guest-post-by-adam-pepper.html?showComment=1319229160969#comment-c8716749874601174964.
This blog post attracted quite a few comments from those who have made it, so to speak, in the traditional publishing world and those who have gone from traditional to self and finally those who tried the one route and are finding success in the other. What has struck me about the back and forth is this has been a discussion, or argument (depending on how you read some of these posts), about what is legitimate and what is not. Those who are coming from the traditional process have all pointed to what I will call the process by which they have paid their dues. It is no small feat to pay those dues and the process is brutal to the psyche at times. There was work put into the craft and landing an agent and in turn finding a publisher to accept the risk of a new author. It is a risk, there is no denying it. It is someone walking up to you, someone you do not know, and asking for some money to help them get a money maker off the ground. Would you buy into it? Probably not. After all, you are in the business to make money, not make kings. So, to cut through the garbage you listen to trusted sources to bring you those whom they think will make you some money. It’s a gamble if it’s coming from an unknown. You may make some money but probably you’ll break even. No guarantees in life.
So, is this the process of legitimacy? For the traditional title of published author, yes.
As a reader of fiction, perhaps you will pay attention to the label as conferring some sense of branding. Is this going to be a good read or not? Without a Putnam or Bantam label, you are taking a chance that what you are about to read is going to be a good story or not. Although, this is not a 100% guarantee of value given the numbers of books that are burned and destroyed after a brief print run because sellers could not get rid of their stock. But, it is less of a crap shoot. But, as a reader do you care about legitimacy? To the consumer, is it a book worth buying or not? It is an investment in currency for some pleasure reading. For the dollars spent, does the consumer know or care how much went to the author and how much went to the publisher? No. Did you get a good read for the money you spent? That is subjective to the consumer.
Now, we get to the other source. The market. The strangle hold on the process that delivers books to the consumer has been blown open by Amazon.com and its subsidiary Create Space in the delivering of content at discount and direct input of POD titles into their already well established market. This has challenged the notion of what the process is even about. There are strong feelings on both sides, but since this blog was primarily from the self published side the strong feelings come from those who have gone the traditional route towards those who have not. Adding a sense of balance are those who have done both and choose to do both but for different reasons.
Yet, is it not the market that makes the decision in the long run? It’s more a choice of control now. Do you want to control x% of the profit (and liability) or not? Do you want to retain control over the creative work or not? What is presented to the consumer is a choice. Buy the $.99 cent novel and get $.99 cents or more (based on the subjective tolerance for what is entertaining and what isn’t) or buy something at $9.99 and have a little more invested in the chance. Either way, the consumer makes the choice when presented with the option. If the money you make as an indie author is made $.99 cents (minus the delivery fee set by KDP) and a million people buy it, and then buy your next, is that legitimate? Money is money and the author kept a larger percentage of the sales and the rights to do what they wish with the work all questions of legitimacy aside.
They Met at Shiloh is self published for a variety of reasons, control being the primary one. I will admit that I bypassed the traditional route entirely as I did not want to fuss with it. There is more work to be done with marketing, but as the rise of social media has proven, one need not the advance nor the marketing prowess of a big house to use social media. I do not have any doubts that the road ahead will be easy nor that the work put in will lead to spectacular green and numbers, but I didn’t write it to make millions or the New York Times best seller list. I wrote it because I want to portray Civil War history to those who may have found the traditional ways of teaching it boring.
I used to be bugged by these same questions, I still might be as I move into having something that can be purchased and wonder about who confers this idea of legitimacy. This is a discussion/argument that writers are having with one another primarily. The consumer only cares if the story they purchased meets their expectations. Unless they are buying something written by a nobody and taking a chance, they already know what they are buying is from a trusted source, regardless of the publishing label.
Is there a redefining of the traditional terms and titles that we confirm on ourselves and peers in a growing market for easy to purchase media? I think we are seeing a redefinition of what was once the domain of the publishing houses and those who were published by the “vanity press”. Ebook publishing has blurred those lines. The vanity press has been an option for a long time, but the differences have come with the methods and way to sell something that takes very little capital and very little in the way of up front risk for a publisher (individual). A good editor and cover designer and a book can be be ready for immediate download for as little as 3K or nothing depending on your tolerance for quality. A process that did not require an agent and a publisher to make a product ready for purchase by a consumer. Quality aside, the product was made ready to consume and if offered free or practically so (just look at iTunes and the success of apps for devices at practically free prices) to get a sense that a new paradigm has been introduced for what can be consumed and what it takes to offer it. The end user still decides what is worth it and what isn’t based on opinion, not by whom the app or book was published.