Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker: Self Or Not?

Before I begin, a bit of disclosure: While the following has been written in an attempt to be professionally and personally non-biased I am an Associate Publisher for Renaissance E Books. 
Now, with that out of the way...

So, should you stay with the traditional model of working with a publisher or go the self-publishing route?

I'd be lying if I said I haven't been thinking – a lot -- about this.  The arguments for stepping out on your own are certainly alluring, to put it mildly: being able to keep every dime you make – instead of being paid a royalty – and having total and complete control of your work being the big two.  

But after putting on my thinking cap – ponder, ponder, ponder -- I've come to a few conclusions that are going to keep me and my work with publishers for quite some time.

As always, take what I'm going to say there with a hefty dose of sodium chloride: what works for me ... well, works for me and maybe not you.

Being on both sides of the publishing fence – as a writer, editor, and now publisher (even as a Associate Publisher) -- has given me a pretty unique view of the world of not just writing books, working to get them out into the world, but also a pretty good glimpse at the clockwork mechanisms than run the whole shebang.  

For example, there's been a long tradition of writers if not actively hating then loudly grumbling about their publishers.  You name it and writers will bitch about it: the covers, the publicity (or lack of), royalties ... ad infinitum.  Okay, I have to admit more than a few grouches have been mine but with (and I really hate to say this) age has come a change in my perspective.  No, I don't think publishers should be given carte blanch to do with as they please and, absolutely, I think that writers should always have the freedom to speak up if things are not to their liking, but that also doesn't mean that publisher's are hand-wringing villains cackling at taking advantage of poor, unfortunate authors.

It took finding a good publisher to change my mind ... that and seeing the business from the other side.  While there are a lot of things that separate a good publisher from a poor one the most important one is that a good – and maybe even great – publisher understands the business.  

Case in point: authors love to bitch about their covers – but a publisher that takes the time to look at what is selling, what isn't selling, what distributors will and won't accept, and creates a cover accordingly is actually doing the author a service.  Yes, the cover may not be an accurate scene from the book, but it – if it works -- should tease and tantalize enough to get people to buy it.  By the way, since this is supposed to be about publisher versus self-publishing keep in mind that you would not know what sells and what doesn't – by the way, the amazon best sellers list is not a good indication – and so will be operating pretty much in the dark.  

Authors often work from ego – and there is nothing wrong with that – but far too often what they want, and what will actually sell, are polar opposites.  They want to see their work like books they admire ... but they also may be completely ignorant of the fact that while those books look nice they simply don't leap off the shelves. 

Being in the trenches of publishing, looking at the numbers myself, is very sobering.  Just take social networking.  For people in self-publishing it's the end-all, be-all -- you can't succeed, they say, without it.  But while exposure is important, many of your FaceBook friends will not buy your book.  The people who will buy your book are looking for erotica they will enjoy – and if your cover, your marketing, your whatever, doesn't speak their language then they simply won't cough up the bucks.  It's a sobering though that many bestselling erotica books are written by authors who don't play the social networking game ... at all.

Yes, when you self publish you have complete and total control – but that also means you have no access to a publisher's experience: you will have to do everything from scratch, from learning how to get your book on amazon, iTunes, etc. to dealing with cover art specs and ebook formatting.  Sure, when you self-publish you keep every dime – but you could very well spend it and more in time doing what a publisher does.

And marketing ... I totally agree that publishers should do more of it, but publishers have never been good at that, even before the ebook revolution.  But even a little publicity from a publisher can work wonders: many authors are discovered not via advertising or marketing but because their book was put out by a publisher whose catalog had a best seller in it.

If you self-publish then you are a single voice yelling as loud as you can – and these days there are a lot of single voices yelling as loud as they can – and against this din a lot of readers, and reviewers, are turning a bit deaf.  It may be hard to hear but being with a publisher still carries a lot of weight when it comes to getting noticed.  

Sure, if you're a huge author then going the self-publishing route may make a lot of sense, but think of it this way: huge or not, with a publisher your mailing list, fans, and miscellaneous contacts will not be the only way people will hear about you and your book – and the cost of getting more would probably be the same as the bucks a publisher would take.  

In the end, though, the decision is yours.  If I could leave you with anything, though, is that while there are many publishers out there worthy of scorn there actually are many that not only know what they are doing – though experience and observation – and who can do a lot for you.  Often their advice may be hard to take, but if you trust them they can be a great help – and perhaps the difference between writing a book that doesn't sell ... and one that does.


  1. I'm seeing some claims here that aren't backed up. A few of them, but I'll focus on the idea that I, an author, can't figure out what types of covers sell well. I admit that for a debut author, it can be overwhelming. This person may have some idea of what they like (which a good publisher will also take into account) but they won't have cold hard data backing up its salability. However, once an author has a solid backlist, they DO have that data. They also have something even better: the ability to test new covers.

    While publishers could test covers, they don't. Different books aren't really comparable. How many books have gotten new covers six months, a year after release? In particular, how many books that aren't selling well with publishers get new covers? Hah! If a book tanks, they consider it a loss and move on. The only publisher I know of who's been pretty regularly testing new cover styles is Entangled, so brava for them (and it pays off in more ways than one, more sales and a higher influx of quality submissions, AKA everyone's subbing there!).

    But the bottom line is this: when my new books come out, they now sell more than the *average* release from any digital publisher. Period. How do I know this? Simple. I look at the Amazon ranks. While they aren't perfect indicators of the number of books sold, they are perfect indicators of relative sales. Meaning, if mine is at rank 1000, it's selling quite a bit more than the new release XYZ from digital publisher debuting at 40,000. So... yeah, I think I can figure out which covers sell. The numbers prove that.

    By the way, I'm aware that a lot of things factor into sales numbers--primarily, the book itself! However, I think it's fair to presume that the books coming out of these publishers qualify as "pretty good" or they shouldn't been accepted, right? And I'm not just referring to teeny tiny niche publishers, but all the big digital publishing dogs, even branches of the Big 5.

    Publishers *have* a lot of data and the ability to use it. But they don't. That's what kills me about the situation. I wish publishers were more successful. I wish they cared enough to be. In fact, I'm still publishing with them under a different pen name, so I have a vested interest in them doing so! But I don't see that happening, and it's a fundamental logical flaw in this article, the idea that they could do better, so they will. In practice... well, they don't.

  2. Skye, gorgeous design on your site and your covers...

  3. To follow up on Skye's comments - a lot of publishing companies these days are run by amateurs. I'm sorry, but that is a fact. The mechanics of publishing have become so much easier, and the numbers about ebook sales are so amazing, that everyone and his brother thinks he can create a website, start taking submissions, and make big bucks. It doesn't work that way, though.

    The two publishers I work with at the moment are both very proactive about gathering data and trying to adjust sales and promotion strategies to fit the latest Amazon algorithms and genre fads. My past experience suggests, though, that this is rare.

    I'm not saying that self-publishing is a bad route for some authors, or for some books. It's especially relevant if you have book that really doesn't fit into the genre niches publishers love. It's great for risky content.

    As for me, though, I'm delighted to pay part of my take to a publisher who is serious about quality, marketing and business. That allows me to devote more of my scarce time to the process of writing.


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