Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Author Q & A on Self-Publishing

I’m kind of obsessed with self-publishing. Not necessarily because it’s “the thing” right now – but because I like to try and remind myself that change…kind of rocks. And I want to embrace it to grow with the flow.

So instead of digging my head in the sand and pretending the publishing world isn't changing around me, I opened up my ears and learned quite a few startling facts. For example, think the hardest part is figuring out how to make it look good on every e-reader?

How about...making sure it doesn't stop your NEXT book from making it to every e-reader.

Huh? Well: price point matters. More people will buy at $.99, BUT less people will MOVE with an author if they move beyond that price point. So, selling a ton of books at $.99 doesn’t mean jack when your next book is a $9.99 paperback…or god forbid, a $17.99 hardcover.


I've spoken before on the dangers of self-publishing and also on the emotional leap it takes; but I was inspired by a few questions a reader sent in recently to honestly answer some questions an author contemplating this decision will face.

So, here you go:

Q: Does e-publishing books in the black hole of Amazon kill them for agents or regular publishers?

A: If your goal is traditional publishing for a project, do not self publish it. The books I've seen sell to traditional (Big Six) publishers after being self-published sell in the 100,000's-millions. It is very rare to make this happen. If you want to self-publish, just be prepared to tackle all that self publishing entails - wearing all the hats of a publishing house that go into a book, such as production, copyediting, marketing, cover design, and oh yes, customer service.

Q: Would the existence of such books harm the presentation of a new book?

A: No. Self-publishing a book doesn't mean you're dead in the water forever traditionally; but, it's in your best interest to sell as many copies as possible, because if a publisher does fall in love with your next book and wants to buy it, they're going to make an offer based on how much they think they'll sell - and bookstores will only offer to stock what they expect to sell, and with a book already under your name, they'll turn to that book's sales as a comp. So if sales are low, the bookseller won't stock many, and the publisher won't make much money, so they won't offer you much money.

Q: If an author self-publishes and sells poorly, can he or she "start over" with a pen name?

A: Yes. But, I say this first, as a firm believer in branding, and second, knowing that in today's technological world it's impossible to really "start over." Also, if the next book you want to publish is within the same world or'll be directly competing with yourself to potential buyers.

Q: Does self-publishing one book in a series make it impossible to sell another book in that series?

A: No. It is possible for a publisher to pick up the next book in a series and re-release the first book. HOWEVER, the instances I've personally seen this happen are in genre books that "tie" together (such as a romance series, in which each book stands alone with a new hero and heroine but features the same world and cast of characters). Publishers do NOT like to see "follow up" books; sequels are near impossible to sell. Even a sequel that reads like a sequel of a book that wasn't even PUBLISHED is hard to sell. So again, if your end-goal is traditional publishing for a PROJECT - which includes the whole series - do not self-publish.

Unless you are the God of Marketing.

Q: Can an author publish only through Amazon, with no promotion, and then delete the book from the site and pretend it never happened?

A: I actually turned to a colleague for help with this one; I wanted the perspective straight from the publisher's mouth. This is what Liz Pelletier of Entangled had to say:

"There are certainly authors doing exactly that; putting work up on Amazon or Smashwords, basically "test marketing" the book, and when it doesn't sell 100k copies in a month, pulling it like it never happened. Of course, publishers are aware of this, and they typically search an author before a sale - and it's impossible to keep any record, such as a review on a blog or Goodreads, from existing. There's also a clause in standard publishing contracts which says the author has never posted their work in part or in its entirety, for sale or for free, anywhere public.

As long as authors are honest about it, publishers and agents will deal with the situation on a case by case basis, but legally, if you do not disclose this previous 'publication' status, you're in breach of contract."

(And yes, before you ask - even if you list it for free, even if you post it up on your blog, even if you don't assign an ISBN - that's self-publishing, folks, and this applies).

Q: Does putting a paragraph or two of a work up on a blog count as previous publication?

A: Yes. But it isn’t something that would stop a deal; don’t freak out if you’ve already done this. As long as you aren’t posting on a site that retains the rights to anything posted on it, you’re fine (this is why it is important to read through contest terms and conditions, for example).

My stance on putting excerpts up on your website or blog is that it’s fine for a WIP…until you are on submission with that project. That exact excerpt may (and most likely will) change through editing – it may even be cut! Later on, you are allowed to post up excerpts for promotional purposes once you are contracted, but again, you would want to be open with your editor about doing so for the reason above, and also because you don’t want to interfere with any first serial rights that may be in the works (such as publishing the introduction or first chapter in a magazine).

Q: What about self-publishing works that you don't plan to submit to a traditional publisher? How would that affect anything?

A: The only advice I can give here is to be career-minded about how you self-publish. Meaning, if you self-publish erotica and try to get representation/traditional publication for your children’s books…doesn’t exactly go hand in hand. It can certainly be a strategy to self-publish novellas or short stories to help promote your other works, for example.

Q: Would self-publishing a project deter an agent from wanting to represent it for film?

A: No; in fact, this is one area where agents can very much aid a self-published author: audio, film/tv, and foreign rights.

Typically, the self-published author will sign an agreement with an agent allowing them to represent those specific rights without also getting a commission on the self-published work (assuming the work was self-published prior to representation).

It's not something agents are keen to do - sub rights can be tough even for traditionally published books - but you aren't excluding that possibility at all.

Voila! Until next I ramble on self-publishing, friends...


  1. These are great tips Natalie :) Thanks!!

  2. ...interesting thoughts to consider.



  3. Thanks for doing all of the legwork! I've been wondering about these same questions for months now. A wonderful post!

  4. Ooh! I learned something new! I never knew putting something on your blog counts as publishing. I guess that would mean those display sites, too? Nice to know!

  5. You just solidified my anti-self publishing stance (for fiction, anyway). It can be tempting though.

  6. Does putting a paragraph or two of a work up on a blog for critique count as previous publication?

    1. I'd like to know this, too. There are a couple paragraphs of my WIP on my blog.

  7. Question:
    What if you self-publish works that you don't plan to submit to a traditional publisher? How would that affect anything. I have longer works that I commit to traditional publishers, and then self-publishing shorter works in between.

  8. On my website, I have a 1 or 2 paragraphs of two projects I'm working on- should I take down? What about if it gets revised and isn't exactly the same?

  9. Self publishing is great idea but keep in mind that responsibily not be barden.

  10. I expanded my Q&A to answer some of the questions (and others) above. :)

  11. Would a story that was included as part of a thesis be considered a published work?

  12. Thank you for your tips!

  13. What a great (and informative) post! I would never have thought of half of those issues. It definitely gives food for thought. Thank you for taking the time. :)

  14. Great Q&A on self-publishing! Oh, and joined your blog today, too! ;)

  15. Wow. Thanks. There are some tips in here I didn't realize would be potential "problems" - really good post.

  16. What a thoughtful idea.Thanks for share this.

  17. Hey I've given you an award over at my blog!!

  18. Found my way here through Rach writes. Great article. Thanks for the advice. Tweeting now. :)

  19. As part of the self-publishing world, it's great this article still stands up nearly three years later. Good work!