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Writer-Talk Tuesday: Beware of the “Pie-in-the-Sky” Self-Publishing Gurus

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Have you ever heard/read one of these self-publishing gurus say or write something to this effect?

Avoid all legacy publishers. You can do everything they can, faster, and you don’t have to give away the majority of your income.

That’s a quote from this post from Joe Konrath’s blog where he proselytizes for self-publishing.

Let me take issue with a few things he says in this blog post that get under my skin:

I don’t see any noticeable sales boosts when I’m mentioned in some major periodical. The best media attention I ever received didn’t account for more than a few hundred extra sales. I’ve sold almost 700,000 ebooks. A few hundred doesn’t mean diddly.

Really? A few hundred book sales don’t “mean diddly” to you? Well, for a traditionally published author whose sales put me squarely in the midlist category, a few hundred sales are huge! Most traditionally published, midlist authors can expect to sell anywhere from between 5,000 to 20,000 books. A “few hundred” books to us represents a huge bump in sales and can mean the difference in whether or not we’ve sold enough to earn back our advances so that we actually start making royalties.

The majority of self-published authors would kill for a “few hundred” sales—because most self-published authors are going to do well to sell a “few hundred” in total.

Look at my Amazon reviews. I’ve got thousands.

Um, yeah. Because you got your start as a traditionally published author who, through the marketing/publicity efforts of your publishing house (and your own efforts, too, I’m sure), became a best-selling author with name recognition and a dedicated fanbase—from which you made a good living (I’m assuming)—before you moved into self-publishing.

But I didn’t make $140k in the last 30 days because of thankful writers, old fans, or a mention in the Guardian. I made it because I positioned my titles properly.

And you were able to pay to position your titles properly because you’re making money from already being a best-selling author and making money from your previously published books. The majority of authors, whether traditionally or self published, will never make that kind of money.

2. Focus, as always, on writing good books and presenting them in a professional way. The more, the better.

3. Social media and word of mouth are helpful, but you have to reach a lot of people before these become a factor. Less tweeting, more writing.

Totally agree with these two points!!!

And, back to the quote at the beginning of my post:

Avoid all legacy publishers. You can do everything they can, faster, and you don’t have to give away the majority of your income.

Um, no, actually, Joe, WE can’t do everything a traditional publisher can do (though if he’s truly making $140,000/month and believes everyone else e-publishing is too, then I can see how he could be under this misconception). Most e-published/self-published authors are lucky to make between $100 and $200 per month. Traditional publishers have so many more resources, so many more contacts in the industry, and so much more MONEY than we authors do to effect promotion of our books. Oh, and that’s not to mention the expense that self-published authors must (though some don’t) go to for professional editing, typesetting, copywriting, cover design, etc.

We can do it “faster”??? Not hardly. We could spend twelve to fifteen hours a day working on production and marketing and never make the impact that having a traditional publishing house behind us has.

“You don’t have to give away the majority of your income”???? How does he think we’re going to pay for all that editing and marketing and promotion that traditional publishers do for us after they’ve PAID us to write the book? Even traditionally published authors have to put some of our own money back into the promotion effort on top of the money our publishers are putting into getting our books out in front of (hopefully) the right people to try to increase sales.

The truth of self-publishing that most people considering it don’t get told is that once you go down that path, you’re going to find yourself struggling for time to write because if you really want to make money from book sales, you’re going to have to put hours and hours and hours of work every day into marketing. I still have to do this, too, even with the marketing efforts of my publishing houses doing what they’re doing.

There’s an old adage from the sales industry that is also true of the publishing industry: You have to spend money to make money. And in our industry, you also have to spend time to make money. The question becomes is how much are you willing to spend to ensure you have a quality product that will go a long way towards assisting your promotion efforts?

And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work.
Colossians 3:23–25, The Message

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth taking the time to do it right.

  1. Rachel Wilder permalink
    Tuesday, January 31, 2012 6:43 pm

    Preach it, sistah! I am not a fan of Konrath precisely for this reason. He struts around touting how easy it is to make money self-publishing, while leaving out the very pertinent backstory that explains his success. Talk about taking the “no backstory in the first 50 pages” thing too far.


  2. Caleb permalink
    Tuesday, January 31, 2012 7:06 pm

    Obviously there is an impossible amount of luck involved to the point this might not be a great model to follow, but I’m curious how you feel about this story:

    I think it gives a little more strength to this guy’s theories, though I’ll admit it makes me a little sick that her first success came at the hands of a vampire story. I think if you’ve got the books done, ebooking them for cheap isn’t such a terrible business plan.


    • Tuesday, January 31, 2012 7:12 pm

      Hopefully you read down to this part of the article:

      “But what about the nine years before she began posting her books when she wrote 17 novels and had every one rejected? And what about the hours and hours that she’s spent since April 2010 dealing with technical glitches on Kindle, creating her own book covers, editing her own copy, writing a blog, going on Twitter and Facebook to spread the word, responding to emails and tweets from her army of readers? Just the editing process alone has been a source of deep frustration, because although she has employed own freelance editors and invited her readers to alert her to spelling and grammatical errors, she thinks her ebooks are riddled with mistakes. ‘It drove me nuts, because I tried really hard to get things right and I just couldn’t. It’s exhausting, and hard to do. And it starts to wear on you emotionally. I know that sounds weird and whiny, but it’s true.’

      In the end, Hocking became so burned out by the stress of solo publishing that she has turned for help to the same traditional book world that previously rejected her and which she was seen as attacking.”

      She was very open on her blog as she was going through this process about how difficult all of the day-to-day work of being a self-published author (even one making as much money as she was making) was and why she made the decision to sign with a traditional publishing house.


      • Tuesday, January 31, 2012 7:15 pm

        And I tried reading Switched—I love a good YA fantasy as much as anything—but after the first about 20,000 words, I had to stop reading because of poor editing and elementary style problems that could have been fixed by a good professional editor. Of course, that didn’t stop a few hundred thousand other people from buying the book (and its sequels). But if her earlier writing was rougher than that one was (in its “final” form), I can see why her stuff was getting rejected.


        • Caleb permalink
          Tuesday, January 31, 2012 7:25 pm

          Yeah, I read it all and agree with your points as well as some of his. Mostly I was just saying I don’t think either route should be completely written off. I think there’s a happy middle and that both options can be theoretically be successful with the right amount of talent and luck.


        • Tuesday, January 31, 2012 7:34 pm

          While luck plays a small component, hard work accomplishes a WHOLE lot more than luck ever will. 😉


        • Jenni permalink
          Wednesday, February 1, 2012 12:51 am

          I made the mistake of trying to read her first novel, My Blood Approves (praise God for Kindle lending because it wasn’t worth $.99 imo). I got to 50% before I quit because nothing had happened in the story.

          But just because a book isn’t “good” doesn’t mean people won’t buy it.

          Tried to read a book called “Significance” (another loaned $.99) and the author has around 130 5-star reviews – most also mentioned that it’s the most mistake-ridden book they’ve read…yet LOVED.

          Doesn’t make me want to let my own quality go, but it hurts when I’m slogging thorough an edit while others don’t care…and still sell.


      • Caleb permalink
        Wednesday, February 1, 2012 8:08 am

        After downloading a sample of her first book, I’d say luck accomplishes more than talent did by a longshot in this particular situation. Becoming a multimillionaire in self-publishing with that kind of drivel? I could’ve been convinced she was a teenager. I suppose it could be argued she worked hard by writing 17 books in ten years, but if this is the quality, I’m gonna give the credit to luck here.


  3. Tuesday, January 31, 2012 7:28 pm

    Thank you. Our senior pastor’s wife self-publishes because she’s chronically impatient and got frustrated after one editor suggested some ways to make her book better. Now everyone at church who knows I write and am still dealing with rejections asks, “Do you know Christina self-published? Why don’t you do that?” Because I want to tell my future children that I persevered, not that I gave up and went second-best.


  4. Charmaine permalink
    Wednesday, February 1, 2012 12:05 pm

    I self published, but I knew it would sell because of who it was about; a biography of Tom Ryman of the famed Ryman Auditorium. The publisher, Providence House, considered it one of their Signature Books. They did an excellent job and delivered what they promised, but mainly it was up to me to sell the book myself. They got it on Amazon and set up Ingram as the distributor; sent out press releases, arranged some radio interviews, and arranged for me to be a panelist at the Book Festival in Nashville. I took it from there speaking to book clubs, AARP Senior Meetings, etc. I learned to visit book stores and talk to managers with complimentary copies. Published 3,000 copies in 2001, and only 197 copies left It will continue to sell as long as the Ryman stands. .
    I did not make any profit on this book, and feel fortunate to have at least broke even on the cost. I don’t regret self-publishing this, I’ve had a lot of fun and met a lot of nice people. It’s a lot of work–it’ll be up to the author to sell it.
    I would never self-publish fiction. Maybe times are changing and this is what the publishing industry is coming to. Good luck and best wishes to those that do.


  5. Tuesday, February 7, 2012 3:30 pm

    I don’t have a problem with Konrath because I think he helps move the dialogue in publishing. Yes, there are writers who swear by him and thinks everything he says is gospel, but those same writers swore by everything editors said or agents or crit partners or whoever. You have to do your own homework, which includes researching what the average writer who is epublishing is really making, and to read between the lines. No different than writers needing to check out agents and vanity publishing predators. The old adage remains: Do Your Homework.

    However, I think Konrath and others like him inspire unpublished writers to think outside the box, and I’m fine with that.

    But I get how his posts could be a complete affront to published authors. Alas, it’s his story and he gets to tell it the way he wants…until someone else decides it’s time to force him to come clean.



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