Monday, November 22, 2010

Launching Your Career Via Kindle, the Unpublished

What is your thought about authors who publish on Kindle? I first became aware that authors were doing this with their backlist about a year ago. Kindle makes it easy by offering a 70% royalty rate at a certain price point. Then J.A. Konrath announced she was releasing a new title on Kindle. That seemed to open the floodgates. Now, I know so many multi-pubbed authors who are not only selling to NY, they are releasing their backlist and even new fiction on Kindle as well.

What do agents think about this new trend of authors self-pubbing through Kindle? In your opinion, does it harm us? Help us? Does it affect the way you look at prospective authors?

This is a post I’ve been wanting to do for some time, but knowing it would take a lot of thought and work, it took me a while to get my thoughts together or, more to the point, my thoughts on paper.

Today’s post is going to be Part One of a two-part piece on self-publishing electronically, whether it’s through Kindle or another format. Today’s post will focus on the unpublished author, as per the reader’s question, while tomorrow’s will take a look at the published author who wants to use electronic self-publishing as a way to build or enhance an already successful career.

It’s a really interesting time in publishing. Self-published electronic books are changing the way many of us think about books and giving authors quick and easy ways to get their books out to readers without the help of traditional publishers or agents. And there is no doubt that we’re seeing success stories from authors who are doing it their own way and on their own. That being said, we’ve seen this before.

When I first launched BookEnds 10+ years ago there was something hot and new on the scene, something that was going to revolutionize the way we publish and finally get rid of those “gatekeepers,” otherwise known as agents and editors. That something was POD (print on demand). Sites like iUniverse and Lulu were popping up everywhere and for a mere $99 (or something like that) authors could publish their books and find an audience themselves. The talk at the time was that we didn’t need agents anymore, we don’t need editors. Readers are going to be able to make the decision about what books should and shouldn’t be published, and some bookstores were even working with these sites to carry the books. Sound familiar?

Just as there is today, there were success stories with POD, authors who went out there and did it their own way and found readers, a lot of readers. Eventually a number of those authors were picked up by what we’re calling today “traditional publishers.” The truth, though, is that, just like today, there were many, many more authors who floundered, sold very few copies, and never had anything near the success they dreamed of.

It’s true that self-epublishing is different in the fact that you are guaranteed “bookstore” space since most of the opportunities available are directly through the sites readers are already going to for their books. Right there you see more potential for success than you did with POD. And there’s no doubt that it’s appealing to sidestep the tedious process of finding an agent and finding a publisher, but is it really easier to find a reader? I’m not so sure. Remember, just because you put the book out there doesn’t mean the readers will come. Think of it this way: If every single person who is querying me this week (that’s 300+ people) decides to epublish on their own, it’s not going to take more than a week before the market is flooded with books, and when readers are overwhelmed, what do you think they’re most likely to do? My guess is go back to those books that are tried and true, those authors they already know will deliver a good read. Heck, there might even become a time when readers rely on the brand name of publishers to help them weed through the mass of books to choose those they feel will be quality books.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against self-epublishing, not by a long shot, but I think it’s important that authors carefully consider all sides of the story before jumping in, just as I hope you would carefully review any publishing contract before signing. There’s definitely a time and place when self-publishing through places like Kindle can be beneficial to an author, and I have authors who I think it can help, but I also think you need to consider exactly what you want out of publishing or epublishing and whether putting everything you write out there is necessarily the best thing. Frankly, this is the exact same advice I gave five or ten years ago when authors were asking my opinion on self-publishing or POD publishing. What are your goals as an author and your dreams for this book?

Lately I’ve read a lot of blog posts and articles on self-epublishing and how it’s the downfall of traditional publishers and that we’re all terrified of this new world. I suppose there are some who are terrified, in the same way there were people who were terrified to give up the typewriter, wordperfect, or put a credit card online. You might be nervous about change, but eventually you’re going to have to take that step. That being said, I feel that some of the articles I’ve read have been incredibly biased and misleading. They praise the authors who have had major successes in the self-epublishing world and throw their names around like it’s so easy. Frankly, I think that’s a discredit to those authors like J. A. Konrath who have worked hard to achieve the success they’ve achieved, whether by self-publishing through Kindle or finding a home with a traditional publisher.

J. A. Konrath created quite a stir when he (not she) announced his deal on Kindle and regularly discusses his thoughts on epublishing, but this world isn’t necessarily for everyone. Joe has a following, he has an audience, and most important, Joe works damn hard to constantly promote his brand. In my opinion, he’s an exception to what’s happening, not the rule. Trust me, Joe has a lot of great points, and the biggest is the amount of money one can make going directly to places like Kindle rather than through a traditional publisher. That being said, can you make the money if no one buys your books? Joe was selling books to readers well before he entered the self-epublishing world, he had a fan base, and people were hungry to read more of what he had written. Let me put it this way: For every success story like J. A. Konrath, there are hundreds of authors who put a book out on their own, only to see a hundred or so sales to friends and family and then nothing.

Do I think it’s a mistake to go out on your own? No, but I do think you need to be aware of the pitfalls, and one of the biggest is falling into a clump with thousands of other authors who have grown tired of the query process and are convinced that no one in publishing knows any better. I think self-epublishing is much easier for those with a recognizable audience already. J. A. Konrath has that and so does Seth Godin, another author who has decided to stop using traditional publishers and epublish on his own.

While self-epublishing is certainly different from POD, primarily because in self-epublishing you can actually get your book to readers through stores, I don’t think finding readers is any easier than finding a literary agent or publisher.

The world is changing and so is publishing. It’s an exciting time and frankly, with all the discussions that are happening, I’m not convinced anyone has touched on what the future will really be like just yet. Personally, I think it’s still going to include traditional publishers, editors, and agents, because who wouldn’t want a smart team of people on their side to help market, edit, and promote their book, and who wouldn’t want a business manager to help guide their career and take on some of the headaches that any business can create? I just think we’re going to see things happening in a different way.

To sum up (to really answer your question), because obviously there’s a lot I could continue to say, I think self-epublishing is a viable option if you know why you’re doing it. If your hope or plan is to build your career and use it as a way to get out your debut novel, you might want to either rethink whether that’s the best way, or seriously consider how much work you are willing to put into it. In other words, do you have the time (and money) to spend marketing and promoting the book like you would really need to do to find readers? If, however, you have a story you love, that you want told, and you just want it out there, I certainly think it’s a great alternative to “traditional publishing.”