Friday, December 30, 2011

Reasons Not to Not Self Publish: A Rebuttal (6 of 8)

Last month, Edan Lepucki posted an article on The Millions called "Reasons Not to Self Publish in 2011-2012: A List." I disagree and would like, over the next several blog postings, to offer my own point-by-point rebuttal.

Edan: “The E-Reading Conundrum; or, I don’t want to be Amazon’s Bitch”
Elly: “Smashwords.”

It’s almost so easy to refute this argument that it’s difficult. In this section, Edan talks about how independently published e-books are only available through Amazon. This is wrong. I sell my e-book through three venues—including Amazon,, and my own website, through which I have sold copies and have reaped 100% royalties—and a distributor (Smashwords), which, at no cost and actually a very high value for all the advice freely offered, converted my e-book to half a dozen different e-book formats at literally the push of a button. Smashwords pushes to Barnes & Noble, the Sony e-reader, the iPad, and more. And they take less of a bite than Amazon. They’re pretty much awesome, and if you don’t know about them, 1) you haven’t done your research, and 2) you’re really, really missing out.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reasons Not to Not Self Publish: A Rebuttal (5 of 8)

Last month, Edan Lepucki posted an article on The Millions called "Reasons Not to Self Publish in 2011-2012: A List." I disagree and would like, over the next several blog postings, to offer my own point-by-point rebuttal.

Edan: “I Value the Publishing Community”
Elly: “I Am an Artist, Not a Jobs Plan”

Here, Lepucki discusses all the value that the “publishing community” (agents, editors, publicists, proofreaders, etc.) bring to a book. She presents an interesting POV from author Peter Straub, who says in part that “[if the author doesn’t have his work edited] what is being said about the status or role of selflessness before the final form of the fiction as accepted by the audience, I mean the willingness of the author to submerge his ego to produce the novel that is truest to itself?”

I admit don’t have a really strong, acerbic argument against this. I don’t think Lepucki is wrong, nor Straub. It’s just not how I feel about it. I love to write, but I also love to edit, and to do layouts. I have writerly friends, whose opinions I trust with my whole heart and mind, who help me bring my writing up to the next level. I don’t pay them. They’re in it for the love of reading and writing. I use the tools I have at my disposal to have the ultimate say in how my book reads, looks, and feels. I don’t want to let go of it, pass it off at any point where I will lose control over the final product to someone who does not in fact have in mind the “true self of the novel” (whatever that means), but rather has in mind what will sell the most copies to the most people.

To me, writing is, at its essence, a solitary activity. It demands a disciplined, independent spirit. Painters don’t have “editors” or “proofreaders” who come in at the last minute and fix all the little “mistakes.” It’s a control thing; it’s an integrity thing. Perhaps, yes, it’s an ego thing. But I wrote the book. It didn’t write itself. Talk like that is a little foo-foo for me. And really, is manufacturing perfection by putting something through a series of hands really staying “true” to the novel?

Some writers do not have publishing skills beyond being an awesome writer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I do have other skills, and I also like to have control over my work. I choose to be independent of the “community” because I can be. I’m not in this to have a little skimmed off the top for the agent, then for the editor, and for a proofreader, a graphic designer, a publicist, etc. etc. I did the work. I want to be in control and I want to reap the rewards of—and take the knocks for—owing everything to myself.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why I’m Not Giving You a Copy of My Book For Christmas

Selling is hard. It takes a very special breed of person to sell things for a living, and I am not that breed. I suppose there is a bit in my mutt blood somewhere—I work in Business Development, which is a fancy way of saying I sell my company’s services on behalf of the company. But when selling my own wares, I find the whole enterprise kind of skeevy.

When I sell for my company, 1. I sell in writing, and 2. I sell them, the company. For me, it’s much easier to sell something or someone else. I can brag about them on their behalf—and believe it, too. I can do this, and I’m good at it, because it doesn’t make me feel: (check one or more below)
  • Egotistical
  • Self-serving
  • Self-involved
  • Boorish
  • Tasteless
  • Clueless
  • Impolite
  • Embarrassed/shy
Those are things I feel when I try to tell someone about my book face-to-face. Those are things I feel when someone hands me $15 cold hard cash for a copy of my book. It’s an overwhelming sense of “Oh God I hope they are buying this because they want to read it and not just to make me feel good.” I don’t want people to give me money to make me feel good. I want them to exchange money for the joy of reading—it’s a transaction, not a favor. I want to know that they at least anticipate the joy of that reading (even if it is a glimmer of voyeurism at reading the inner thoughts of someone they know personally or professionally).

And so, the inverse of this is true. Just as I don’t want people to force the book on themselves because of a feeling of compulsory politeness, I neither want to do the forcing. As I’ve stated before on this blog, I am very aware of the reality that not everyone likes to read, not everyone who likes to read likes novels, and not everyone who likes novels will like THIS novel. Just because you like me doesn’t mean you will like my writing, and THAT’S OKAY. I am not so egotistical or desperate that I think every single person in the world needs to read my book. That would be silly. I don’t call myself a “soon to be best-selling author” as some in my circles do.

I want to find my audience and I want them to find me. I want this process to be organic. I want people to hear about the book, read the free samples, and get so sucked in that they can’t not buy the rest of the book. I want to build trust in my audience that I’ll deliver on the promise made in the premise I am not selling anything other than a great story and all that comes with that. . I want people to review the book and not my sparkling personality.

Sure, there’s a part of me in the book. Maybe all of me. But whether someone buys the book, owns the book, reads the book, or not—that is not a reflection on me as a person. It is a reflection that they are not my audience, and that is okay.

So if you want my book, you have to buy it or borrow it or ask for it for your birthday. If you want it, you and I will find a way to make that happen. But it won’t be in any Christmas packages from me this holiday season. Not only is it probably the most self-serving and impersonal gift I could imagine (“you’ll like it because I wrote it!”), I want my readers to want to read the book more than I want them to own it.

“Thus ends the ringing endorsement of my own modesty,” she said humbly. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reasons Not to Not Self Publish: A Rebuttal (4 of 8)

Last month, Edan Lepucki posted an article on The Millions called "Reasons Not to Self Publish in 2011-2012: A List." I disagree and would like, over the next several blog postings, to offer my own point-by-point rebuttal.

Edan: "Self-Publishing is Better for the Already-Published"
Elly: "
Publishing is Better for the Already-Published"

In this point, Lepucki makes an argument converse to many I’ve seen — the argument being that a successful indie pubbed book can attract agents and trad pubbers. Lepucki says the opposite: self-pubbing is better for those already published traditionally. I really think the short of it is that sophomores are more successful than freshmen, period. Lepucki says “It’s much harder to create a readership out of nothing.” Yes, it is. But I reiterate my earlier points that whether you go trad or indie, much of the onus of marketing goes to the author. The sweat of the author—in making the book great, then selling the book greatly—is what determines success. The second book will ALWAYS be a tiny bit easier.

What bugs me most about this section, however, is Lepucki’s comment, “I don’t need an intermediary to tell me about these writers because their previously published books speak for them.” She is going back to the argument that she trusts publishers to tell her what’s good. That is trust I just can’t get behind. Besides, I think if you’re a writer worth your salt—or, for that matter, a reader worth your salt—you should be able to sniff out a good book just by reading the first paragraph. With so many traditional AND independent publishers putting out free samples of their work (such as “Look Inside the Book” on Amazon, or a free 15% on Smashwords), you should be independent enough to make your own judgments. Or at the very least, ask a trusted friend what to read next. Please just stop feeding the machine.

Reasons Not to Not Self Publish: A Rebuttal (3 of 8)

Last month, Edan Lepucki posted an article on The Millions called "Reasons Not to Self Publish in 2011-2012: A List." I disagree and would like, over the next several blog postings, to offer my own point-by-point rebuttal.


Edan: "I’d Prefer a Small Press to a Vanity Press"
Elly: "People still say 'Vanity Press'?"

I think the author’s point in this section is that “small presses are great.” I’m not sure what that has to do with a not self-publishing. I agree: small presses ARE great. But they have their own struggles, especially with lack of resources and a mismatch between income and output. I used to work for a small press, and it’s been hanging by a thread for as long as I can remember. Even in Lepucki’s own example, her beloved small press had to shut its doors.

Like internet start-ups, most small presses do not succeed. That’s the dirty little secret. Traditional publishing is expensive and it’s an insider’s game. When handled by a small press, books have about the same chance of success as with strong, informed independent publishing. A small press might be run by one or two people handling a dozen or so new books, and a back catalog of a couple dozen more. These are strapped, frazzled people. Well-intentioned, but overworked. Often, the onus is on the author to drive marketing and publicity on her own. The small press does what it can: secures some reviews in the trades, puts some branding on materials, networks, leverages the back catalog. But the difference between a small press experience and a good independent publishing experience is surprisingly negligible. The major difference, of course, is the bite of profits the author loses to the publisher.

Getting a book into print is only the first step. Lepucki recounts a great stroke of luck with her novella, but I hope she isn’t na├»ve enough to believe that will happen every time. I hope she also realizes that is the kind of traction you can create for yourself if your product is excellent.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Reasons Not to Not Self Publish: A Rebuttal (2 of 8)

Last month, Edan Lepucki posted an article on The Millions called "Reasons Not to Self Publish in 2011-2012: A List." I disagree and would like, over the next several blog postings, to offer my own point-by-point rebuttal.


Edan: "I Write Literary Fiction"
Elly: "The Segregation of Literary Fiction is False Logic"

In this point, the author laments that only genre fiction can find success in self-publishing and that “literary fiction” has no home there. She says the landscape for literary fiction in indie publishing won’t change until Jeffrey Eugenides and Alice Munro use CreateSpace.

Yeah, if your bar is Eugenides-like success, you’re probably going to fall short, no matter what sort of publishing path you choose. Firstly, literary fiction is a hard sell no matter what. Most agents and most trad pubbers are looking for genre fiction. In large part, only very small, very boutique houses or university presses are going to publish debut literary fiction. At the bigger houses who delve into lit fic, they either want the big name with street cred, or the ready-made movie book (or both). Literary fiction writers have the deck stacked against them no matter what, because that’s not what the general reading public buys.

Secondly, as even the author herself points out, literary fiction is as much a niche or a “genre” as, say, hard science fiction. Each has their own specific audience, with limited opportunity for cross-over and cross-selling unless the book meets certain mainstream expectations regarding plot, character, tone, etc. Separating literary fiction out is not only snobbish, it’s false logic. Both self-published and trad-published author will fail if they do not identify their audience and market to it accordingly.

Reasons Not to Not Self Publish: A Rebuttal (1 of 8)

Last month, Edan Lepucki posted an article on The Millions called "Reasons Not to Self Publish in 2011-2012: A List." I disagree and would like, over the next several blog postings, to offer my own point-by-point rebuttal.


Edan: "I Guess I’m Not a Hater"
Elly: "I Guess I am?"

In this point, the author states that the argument that traditional publishing is dying is moot because trad pubbers are making more money than ever. She says they consistently put out great books and she wants that stamp of approval on her own book. “I trust publishers,” she says.

Saying you trust publishers to tell you what’s good for you in literature is like trusting a doctor to give you a prescription for a pill that has him rolling in kick-backs. They don’t have your best interest in mind; they have theirs in mind. They are a business. They do not put out the best books; they put out the books that sell the most. Most of the time, these do not overlap.

Nobody’s saying that traditional publishers don’t know what they’re doing. But the model is set up to favor incumbents. Large advances—or any advances at all, really—are a gamble unless spent on a known commodity. Times are tenuous for the big guys, so they’re going to continue to put out what they are fairly sure will make money. They also have the power behind them to be tastemakers. Books that become inexplicably wildly popular (read: Twilight) do not do so solely on their inherent merits. They are calculated business ventures. See, “Recursive Self-Homogenization.”

Trad pubbing doesn’t favor the fresh or the rebellious. The whopping, weird 1Q84 would never have come out in the U.S. if Haruki Murakami wasn’t already a known commodity. Guess what: I’m not, and likely you aren’t. Trad pubbing is for folks who can have their name bigger than the title on the cover, and the occasional one-off they can squeeze in using profits from the former.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A New Look and a New Outlook

It's been a truly crazy couple of weeks. I know my friends and family miss me. I know I need to wash the kitchen floor and repaint my toenails. I could stand to go back to the gym, oh, every day for three hours for the next month. Unfortunately, the phrase "worked my ass off" has only been a metaphor.

My nose may be a bit scraped up from the grindstone, but I was able to get The War Master's Daughter out almost on schedule. The site has been redesigned with a new look, and I think it's rather pretty and inviting (despite the gothicky pull quotes). Check it out, if you have the chance.

You'll also notice that the book itself is now available for pre-order. I did not anticipate that things on Amazon's end would take as much time as they are taking, so the paperback won't be available till closer to Christmas. But the eBook will be out on December 13, and anyone who pre-orders the paperback will get a free eBook so you can get a head start on reading.

So the site's new, and I'm feeling somehow new too. I've received five pre-orders already, so it really feels like I'm running a business. Of course it's a terrible business in which I'm knee-deep in red, but I don't care about that. I'm not in this to make money. I never was.

I'm also feeling an enormous sense of ... oh, I'm not sure how to put it. I guess I feel indebted, to my readers. I owe you for your support, and I only hope I can deliver the experience you are seeking for your $14.95 + $1 handling fee. I feel absolutely humbled. I blushed when I saw my first order come in. It was a scary, wonderful thing. I can hardly wait to see what the future holds.

I turn 30 on Sunday. I feel like this is right where I should be.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Read an Excerpt from TWMD

A new excerpt from my novel, The War Master's Daughter, is available on Scribd. It's taken directly from the proof for the final novel. So here are your action items:

1) Read the excerpt - the prologue and first chapter are available:
2) If you like the excerpt, share the link with your network on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog. Then become a fan on Facebook so you can hear right away when the book is available (Dec 11 is the target release date).
3) When the book is released, get yourself a copy - paperbacks and eBooks for various devices will be available. Those ordering the paperback directly from me will get a signed copy and some extra goodies.
4) Pour yourself a hot cocoa and cozy up with the book. Trust me, it's perfect wintertime reading, by the fireplace, with the furry animal of your choice (cat, dog, husband...) curled up at your side.
5) If you like it, please tell 3 friends about it. I don't necessarily mean post about it on the internet (you can do that too); but really tell some people. People have so much content coming at them all the time, it's the eye-to-eye recommendation over a cuppa that really motivates people to action.

As an independent publisher, I'm on my own in a cold, dark landscape. I want you to buy my book, but I don't expect you to if it's not your thing. I understand that. There is too much to read. Over 300,000 new books were published LAST YEAR. And I'm sure you still want to go back and re-read Catcher in the Rye. Again.

But try the excerpt. You might like it. You could hate it. It could also open up a new world to you that you never considered. But at least you'll know. Then your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to help others find out if they like it.