Self Publishing: More Thoughts

After all my research, there stands a  75% chance that I will self-publish A Path of Stones and The Fires of Tallenburgh Hall. Availability to the reader and total artistic control are just too tempting. Dana Kaye makes marketing look like something even this introverted hermit can do. So, why not.

Of the major self-publishing companies in the business, I’m considering splitting the job, and giving the ebook and paperback to CreateSpace (Amazon) and the hardback to Lulu. Now, that may raise some questions in your mind about ethics, as well as the obvious one of why split the job between two rivals? Let me answer the first part first.

In self-publishing, the writer is the publisher of record. The company producing the book is the printer. Read those two sentences again. Let them soak into your mind. That is critical.

It isn’t true if the writer publishes through Traditional Publishing, and the book is handled by Putnam or Tor. In that case, Putnam and Tor are the publisher of record. The term publisher of record is critical. The publisher of record is the one who controls the book’s ISBN. Now, with both CreateSpace and Lulu, the writer can get free ISBNs from the companies, in which case CreateSpace or Lulu are the publishers of record. I’m not doing that. If I self-publish, I will buy my own ISBN numbers (99 dollars per number, and each title will need three; one for the hardback, one for the paperback, and a third for the ebook). I will also, eventually, file as a LLC, to add extra rights protection to my books. It helps that my wife works for a law firm specializing in contract law.

That seems like a lot of work, but it boils down to this: the ISBN stays with the publisher. If CreateSpace owns it, and I decide in 2017 that IngramSpark is superior (a real possibility if Ingram plays its cards right), they keep the number and I have to get a new one. But if I own it, it stays with me and the title, and can move from company to company. In the scenario I described, I am the publisher and CreateSpace and Lulu are the printers, and it is perfectly ethical to hire the best printer for the job.

Why split them? Simply because CreateSpace does not have a hardback option. Let me rephrase that. It does have a hardback option, but it is for the author only, and it is expensive.

A hardback option only makes sense. Ebook sales have topped off at 35% of readership. The remaining 65% opt for print books. There are snobs like me who prefer the longevity of the hardback. Not only that, but the ebook has launched a renaissance of hardbacks. Many people fall in love with an ebook and want a permanent copy. They bypass the paperback and go for the hardback. I want to make that option available to them.

At the moment, there are three companies (that I know) who print hardbacks: Lulu, Blurb, and Lightning Source. I dismissed Lightning Source immediately as too Byzantine, although their subsidiary IngramSpark may change that, if it is expanded. Blurb is best for artists and photographers. In fact, it was set up by an artist to print portfolios. However, Blurb only distributes through its website store. Lulu distributes through its store, and can be found through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Not only that, but I have experience with Lulu.

I’ve published five books through Lulu, the last was a hardback. For the first, a memoir about my parents, I expected sloppy printing and a spine that broke half way through the first printing. Nope. That book was bookstore quality. The print was laser printed, but it didn’t show signs of pixelation. As for the hardback, it is traditional stitched and glued.  I am confident that Lulu can handle the Aura Lockhaven books.

I apologize for the fuzziness of the images, but here are some photos I just took of the hardback.

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And from what others have said, CreateSpace can handle the ebook and paperback with aplomb.

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Self Publishing: Book Size and Prices

I’m still examining the option of Self Publishing. It looks more and more feasible.

Today, I’m thinking about book size and price.

A Path of Stones is 160,000 words. That’s slim for a fantasy novel these days. In fact, keeping it short was one of my primary goals. There are two major complaints among us fantasy fans: the books are too fat, and the story is all about saving the world. Not mine!

Still, 160,000 words equals 500 pages. Certainly, that is 12 point, double spaced, 8×11 paper. Standard draft format. I reformatted it for a 6×9 book (when I was an editor, I always loved formatting), 11 point type, 1.5 line spacing, standard commercial margins of .75 inches top and outside, with .85 at the bottom and 1 for the gutter. Tonight, I will sit down with several commercially published novels and measure the margins and type size, so this is just an estimate. Even with the reformatting, the book comes out to 500 pages.

500 pages isn’t that fat, compared to something like George R. R. Margin’s A Dance with Dragons, but it’s overweight compared to anything in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, or Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, and the Aura Lockhaven Chronicles more parallels the last two than any epic fantasy.

I thought about splitting A Path of Stones in half, to make the book slimmer and more affordable. There is an excellent place to do so right around page 245. Perfect. So, how would two books stack up compared to one, in terms of price per unit?

Lulu has a pricing calculator. I can’t find CreateSpace’s, but if I Self Publish, Lulu will handle the hardback option as CreateSpace doesn’t offer one. So, this is a far calculation.

A 500 page 6×9 hardback published on Lulu is $ 22.65, cost. The paperback version is $ 8.00. I’m thinking of sticking with a low royalty rate, to keep the price lower and move books. So, that would be a hardback of $ 27 and a paperback of $ 12. I could round it up to $ 30 and $ 15 respectively and still not be a greedy little hermit.

That isn’t bad, really. But what if I cut A Path of Stones in half?

The hardback would be $ 17.95, while the paperback would be $ 6.25. With my royalties, that is $ 21 and $ 9 respectively.

I don’t know about you, but a 250 page hardback at $ 21 seems like a rip off compared to a 500 page hardback at $ 27, or even $ 30. That paperback however, takes me back to the early 1990s.

The lower prices would move more books. Also, by splitting the book in half, I would double my royalties because I’d be selling two instead of just one. In other words, I’d make $ 6 for the same story instead of a mere $ 3. And at the lower prices, I’m likely to attract more readers and buyers. There is some good business sense in this idea.

I don’t know about ebooks. Those tend to be almost giveaways, even with steep royalties added on.

There is another consideration. The spine. I am concerned that at 500 pages, the paperback would split anyway — literally. Even the best paperback spines are not as invulnerable as their hardback counterparts. At 250 pages, the book is likely to last more than one reading.

Of course, this would mean I freak out my poor artist. “Dude, I need four covers instead of two.” If I split the first book, then I definitely split the second, thicker, book. And I have to buy twelve ISBNs total (it seems better for me to buy my own and be listed as the publisher, than take the free options offered by Lulu and CreateSpace and have them listed as the publishers).

Just more things to think about.

 

Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part Four

This is the fourth and final part of my examination of Self Publishing, and what it can offer Aura Lockhaven and me. Tuesday, I looked at my criteria of Artistic Control and Quality Control. Wednesday, I examined Availability to the Reader and Fame. Yesterday, I discussed Marketing and Revenue. Today, I will take a look at who won what criteria, and which of the two options looks the best, Traditional Publishing or Self Publishing.

My criteria for what I want are: Artistic Control, Quality Control, Availability to the Reader, Fame, Marketing, and Revenue. How does Self Publishing stack up?

Artistic Control: With the ability to publish what I want to see in the book, Self Publishing wins by a huge margin.

Quality Control: If I were not an editor, and did not have two very picky beta readers, this would go to Traditional Publishing. So, it’s a draw.

Availability to the Reader: With a turnaround time from completion of the book to having it in the reader’s hands of one week to one month, Self Publishing wins handsomely.

Fame: With so many publicity options open and offered by the publisher, Traditional Publishing wins.

Marketing: Again, with so many marketing options open and handled by the publisher, Traditional Publishing wins.

Revenue: Either way, the net revenue at the end of the year is about the same. So, this one is a draw.

Artistic Control and Availability to the Reader go to Self Publishing. Fame and Marketing go to Traditional Publishing. Quality Control and Revenue can go to either, or both. The end result is a tie.

Artistic Control and Availability to the Reader are paramount to me. If not for Marketing, I would stop now and pursue Self Publishing without hesitation. As much as I want to see my book in bookstores, having that book be the book I want it to be, with no meddling, and getting it to the reader in a reasonable amount of time are more important. Marketing, however is a major concern. I dread it! Although, considering I don’t like to leave the apartment, why am I complaining about Self Publishing not offering book tours and invitations to conventions?

So, as of today, I cannot commit.

However, Self Publishing should congratulate itself. Not six months ago, I considered it untenable. Now, it ties with Traditional Publishing as viable. My priorities changed. Upon completion of A Path of Stones, my mind switched into serious mode. How do I get this book to the reader? The ability to do that, with what to me looks like minimal strain, is Self Publishing’s great strength.

I have ordered several highly rated books on Self Publishing that contain lengthy discussions about marketing, all published within the past twelve months, so they should contain current information. One is written by a legitimate book publicist (we looked her up; she has a proven track record). They should help me decide one way or the other. If Marketing has changed, and it’s easy for an introvert to accomplish, then I will likely walk the path of Self Publishing.

Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part Three

I’m a writer, not a businessman; an artist, not a salesman. With that, I want to examine the final two criteria of my list: Marketing and Revenue. Tuesday, I looked at Artistic Control and Quality Control. Wednesday, I discussed Availability to the Reader and Fame. So, today, what can Self Publishing offer Aura Lockhaven and myself, versus what Traditional Publishing can offer.

Marketing: Let me be blunt. I despise sales and advertising. I don’t like it done to me, and I sure don’t like doing it to others. It’s a hustle, in both definitions of the word, as in too much work, and too much fraud. It’s a racket of conning someone into buying something he doesn’t need because I want his money.

But I’m going to have to do it, regardless of whether I choose Traditional Publishing or Self Publishing. I am going to have to swallow my personal morals, and shove aside my introvert nature, if I want to survive as a writer. Apparently, it isn’t as difficult as it seems.

In the Internet Age, both Traditional Publishing and Self Publishing rely on the writer’s internet footprint, his or her platform. This is a given, and it’s true of almost any business or artistic endeavor, regardless of industry. I won’t go into the details of how that works, but the synopsis is that anyone in business should have between three and eight interconnected websites. I have four: an actual website, this blog, a Facebook account, and a DeviantArt account. That is my internet footprint. Between this blog, Facebook, and DeviantArt, 600 people follow me. Those are 600 potential readers. In Self Publishing, that is important as it forms the core of the initial marketing drive. In Traditional Publishing, it’s also important. An agent and editor will like that my internet writer’s platform already exists. It may be small, but if only 300 of those 600 buy my book, they will tell others. So, either way I go, I already have a foundation for some level of marketing.

It is a far too common belief that Traditional Publishing houses no longer engage in any marketing for their writers. That is just not true. While it may be greatly scaled back from twenty years ago, and the writer shoulders a greater burden, no publisher of any intelligence is going to invest time and money into a book without a strenuous effort to promote that book. To not do so is bad business, and the Big Five are anything but bad businesses.

Traditional Publishing has whole departments of publicists. The writer also has an agent. Both will see to it that the writer has book tours, speaking engagements, interviews with the press, book reviews in major magazines, and chances at other markets such as foreign translations and movie options. Publishing houses also have access to the best artists in the business, and cover art is still the best way to grab the attention of the casual browser.

With Self Publishing, I can forget all of that. Every last bit of it. It is at this point that I want to abandon any thought of Self Publishing. This is the issue that stops consideration of that option cold.

Based on my knowledge of 2012, self-published writers do not have book tours, unless they are willing to fork out the cash to rent a hotel conference room, advertise in that city, and read to twelve people who don’t have anything better to do that night. No bookstore carries their books, so they won’t be reading or signing in them. Conventions consider self-published authors to be lepers, so forget being on any panels. Writers’ guilds, such as Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, refuse membership to self-published writers. The press doesn’t take self-published writers seriously, so forget interviews. Book reviewers are snobs to begin with, and consider self-published titles beneath their dignity. So, all the marketing options available with Traditional Publishing are non-existent in Self Publishing.

I would have to expand my internet footprint significantly, ideally before the book is available on a website store. Once the books begin to sell, and the Aura franchise is in motion, followers on those websites will expand on their own. But I have no idea how to get the franchise moving to begin with. To me, marketing a self-published book looks like a heck of a lot of badgering my friends to buy my book and hope they will spread it word-of-mouth. It also involves too much cold call emailing. In other words, spam. It involves hoping that you, the reader of this blog, takes great pity on me and buy my book. Time spent marketing is time not spent writing. Beyond that, and hoping someone stumbles into my website, I have no earthly idea what to do.

I have actually self-published before. Between 2006 and 2008, I wrote three books of theological themes, a memoir of my parents, and a beginner’s guide to genealogy. I sold a grand total of 47 copies of all five titles combined. See? I have no earthly idea what to do.

That is all based on what I knew in 2012. It could be totally different today. Fortunately, there are resources. If I could research this topic in 2012, I can certainly research it in 2016.

For the criteria of Marketing, Traditional Publishing wins by a large margin, but that can change.

Revenue: If I wanted to be rich, I wouldn’t be a writer. Oh, sure, there are wealthy writers, such as Bill O’Reilly, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King. But O’Reilly writes historical non-fiction, which sells much better than fiction. Rowling and King made their money on movie contracts. Wealthy writers are rare.

Wealth, however, is a relative term. I have never made more than $ 25,000 in my life. When pundits talk about the infamous 1%, I think of people with annual incomes of $ 100,000. So, $ 50,000 is a king’s ransom to me.

My financial goal is simple: independence. I want my wife to be able to pursue her dream of being a stay at home artist. She supported me while I was in graduate school and wrote A Path of Stones. Now, it’s my turn. We would like to buy a modest house in the mountains, but right now, a larger apartment would be nice; one with a second bedroom so we could get the work out of the living room, and have space for more book cases. We’re quite happy with one nine-year-old truck. So, our tastes are simple. I do know one self-published writer who makes an average of $ 60,000 a year on sales of her books. A similar revenue would fill our goals nicely.

Traditional Publishing offers the best revenue up front. It comes with an advance. The typical, average advance is $ 65,000 for one book. That is average. Terry Goodkind still holds the record for the highest advance offered for a first time fantasy novelist, at $ 400,000. He did hold the record for first time novel, but that has since been broken. Stephanie Meyer was offered $ 750,000 for the first three books of the Twilight saga. Again, that’s rare, but it is possible.

That money is an advance, based on estimated and expected sales revenues. The writer will not see one additional penny until sales of that book reach the amount of the advance. Then, the writer gets a standard 6.5% royalty of the revenue of each book sold thereafter. Some seasoned, and highly profitable writers, such as Stephen King, can negotiate higher royalties, but I don’t know any who make 10%. So, for each $ 35 hardback book sold, I could expect a royalty of $ 2.25, and only .84 for each $13 paperback. I’m not sure of the royalty rate for an ebook. I’d have to sell 33,000 hardbacks to make $ 75,000 on that book, or 89,000 paperbacks.* I should hope the book sold that well!

There is a good reason for that. Traditional Publishing involves far more people than just the writer and editor. It also involves the editor’s assistant, the receptionist, the copy preparation team, the press operators, distribution staff, marketing staff, and a whole host of folk. That is just those people who actually work with the book. It doesn’t include the rest of the publisher’s staff, or the executives. They all get a small piece of the revenue of the book in the form of salaries. Traditional Publishing also involves a tremendous amount of advertising, which is an expensive undertaking. Print runs often number into the tens of thousands, and that ink and paper must be paid for. In other words, that $ 35 book has a hefty overhead.

Self Publishing is a totally different game.

Self Publishing involves no editor, publicist, or any of the office staff of Traditional Publishing. Usually, the books are not printed until ordered, so the cost of paper and ink can be spread out to each book, instead of paid for in bulk (although that often results in a higher cost per unit). Self Publishing does come with a certain amount of marketing, mostly in the form of inclusion in the company’s website, such as an Amazon listing for CreateSpace. I imagine that is handled by automatic logarithms. All that equals low overhead for each book.

Therefore, the writer can set her own profit margin, sometimes as high as 50%. She can sell a book at a lower price than through Traditional Publishing, but still have a higher percentage of the revenue for a royalty. Let’s take that $ 35 hardback. Through Self Publishing, the averaged cost for a 500 page hardback novel with dustjacket (bookstore quality) on Lulu is $ 25. That means, the writer would have a profit margin of $ 10, instead of $ 2.25. So, she would only have to sell 7,500 hardbacks to earn $ 75,000.* If she wanted to be aggressive, she could drop her profit margin to $ 5, sell the book for $ 30, and still only have to sell 15,000 copies. If she was confident of the book’s success, she could lower the profit margin to the standard $ 2.25, and sell 33,000 copies, but at only $ 28, a price low enough to almost guarantee sales. That’s pretty nice for both the writer and the reader, don’t you think?

That doesn’t mean revenue in Self Publishing doesn’t come with a few caveats. There is no advance for self-published books. None. While the writer may receive a larger royalty, anyone the writer hires, such as editor, publicist, or artist, is going to be paid out of that royalty. In Traditional Publishing, the publishing house pays all of them (their salaries are built into the price of the book, but spread out over thousands of titles). Any hired assistance should be factored into the profit margin, which will raise the price. Finally, there is a significant market not available in Self Publishing — the bookstore.

Again, as with Marketing, I’m basing my analysis on what I knew in 2012. This could be different today.

For Revenue, it’s a tossup between Traditional Publishing and Self Publishing. They both look about the same for net end-of-the-year I-have-to-pay-taxes-on-this cash in the bank.

Tomorrow, I will conclude my reconsideration of Self Publishing by discussing the net balance of who won what criteria.

* Please check my math. I ran these figures through a calculator three times, but that seems like an awfully low amount of sales versus an awfully high amount of revenue.

 

Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part Two

Self-published books are not limited to cookbooks and family histories. There are quite a few self-published books that became famous. Some of them are the entire Chicken Soup for the Soul series, the Bridges of Madison County, What Color Is Your Parachute, the Martian, the Celestine Prophecy, and Still Alice. For better or for worse, the list also includes the dismal (in my opinion) the Shack, and the worse (in my opinion) 50 Shades trilogy. The majority of what we now consider classics written prior to around 1850 were self-published, and even some later, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses.

So, fame via Self Publishing* is a possibility. Fame is one of my criteria for what I want for Aura Lockhaven and myself. The other criteria include Artistic Control, Quality Control, Availability to the Reader, Marketing, and Revenue. Yesterday, I discussed what Self-Publishing can offer me in Artistic Control and Quality Control. Today, I discuss Fame and Availability to the Reader.

Availability to the Reader: What I mean by this is the time lag between the total completion of the book (when I have made all the corrections suggested by my second beta reader and it is ready for submission) and it appearing in marketplace for the reader to buy. This criteria is second only to Artistic Control.

In Traditional Publishing, the time required between acceptance of a novel and it appearing in a bookstore is sixteen months to two years. That is outrageous! It made sense thirty years ago, when editors worked with writers to polish a book, and offset printing required metal plates that were made by typesetters, rekeying the entire book one word at a time. With the less involved editorship prevalent today, and the technology of the 21st Century that can take a PDF manuscript file and translate it directly to the printing press, I have to ask why does it take so long.

It doesn’t have to. When Sarah Palin was nominated for the vice-presidency by the Republican Party in 2008, three books about her were on the shelves within six weeks. That was eight years ago, when printing technology was still primitive compared to today. Certainly, those books were full of errors, but they were rushed from first draft to stores to take advantage of Palin’s momentum. If they had been properly edited and polished, turnaround time for those books could have been six months. So, a fast turnaround time is possible. It just isn’t done.

Not so with Self Publishing. The time lag between incorporating the second beta reader’s suggestions and the book resting in the hands of a reader can take anywhere from one week to one month. The time between is spent formatting the book for hardback-paperback print versions and e-reader versions (they are totally different) and preparing the cover art. If I’m smart, I will be working with the artist while the beta readers are doing their jobs, and both cover and text will be ready simultaneously.

One month is a good turnaround time.

So, for Availability to the Reader, Self Publishing wins hands down.

Fame: Yes, I want to be famous. I want people to know my name, and moreso, the name of Aura Lockhaven. It would not hurt my feelings if Aura Lockhaven entered the pantheon of popular culture and stood alongside Kirk and Spock, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Wonder Woman, and James Bond.

On the other hand, I don’t want them to know my face all that much. Writers have an advantage over actors and musicians. Stephen King can go to a restaurant and be left alone. He may look familiar to the other diners, but they don’t know exactly why. Jennifer Lawrence and Bruce Springsteen can’t say that. I value my privacy, but I also enjoy meeting new people. Being a writer gives me the opportunity to choose which I wish on any given day.

Fame is one of the two criteria where I balk at Self Publishing. The other is Marketing, which I will discuss tomorrow. The two are actually linked.

The people involved in Traditional Publishing (agent, editor, publicist) will go to great lengths to ensure a high profile for a writer that they believe has a modest success on his hands. The agent and publicist will arrange book tours, interviews, and reviews. They will recommend that bookstores promote new books. It is up to the writer to establish connections to the readers, but agents and publicists provided the open doors.

As of 2012, that was not true at all for Self Publishing. It offered absolutely no book tours, interviews, reviews, and no self-published book appeared in any bookstore.

Even a writer of a modest success (say, sales of 65,000 copies) is taken seriously. His fame grows exponentially. His books are in bookstores. He has the opportunity for movie deals (that is where the big fame and money lie). Self-published writers are not taken seriously by the press, the movie industry, and especially by other writers. Their book aren’t in bookstores, so how is a reader going to find them? No movie producer even looks at self-published books. Some self-published writers have sold millions of copies, but I cannot name one.

I’m still thinking like it’s 2012. All of that could have changed in the past four years.

A few nights ago, I said to my wife, “I could sell 100,000 copies of A Path of Stones through Self Publishing, and still no one would know my name!”

Do you see the logical fallacy? If 100,000 people have bought my book, then 100,000 people know my name. That is a sizeable readership. Yet, I cannot get that through my skull.

What does Self Publishing in 2016 offer in terms of the potential for fame? I have no idea. This will require further research and serious contemplation.

Go back to the criteria of Availability to the Reader for a moment. In Traditional Publishing, I could sell a book to a publisher, know it will be a best-seller, but have to wait two years before anyone knows who I am. During those same two years, through Self Publishing, I can publish three novels and be well on my way to being somewhat known by the reading public.

Ultimately, the responsibility for my name being known rests with me.

For the criteria of Fame, Traditional Publishing wins by a slim margin, solely because of its promotional campaigns. That is, it wins today. I will reevaluate this criteria as I learn more.

Tomorrow, I will discuss the final criteria: Marketing, and Revenue.

* If you notice, I spell self-publish with a hyphen, but Self Publishing without it. That’s just my personal choice. To me, self-publish is a verb, while Self Publishing is a noun describing an industry.

Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part One

After six years of work, my first novel, A Path of Stones, is ready for the light of day. Before I set it out on its own path to the fantasy fiction reading public, I want to finish the second book, The Fires of Tallenburgh Hall. That book is halfway written, and I anticipate a completion date for the first draft of December 1. That gives me time to consider exactly which of the three available publishing routes I want to pursue.

The three are Traditional Publishing (agent-editor-publisher), Self-Publishing (print-on-demand), and Independent Publishing (through one of the small, independent houses springing up).  Each offers a nice set of positive features, and an ugly set of negatives. So, my final route will be the one that offers the best positives, and the most workable negatives. In this series, I want to discuss the middle route, Self-Publishing.

Self-Publishing is no longer a case of the writer maxing out five credit cards to have a local print shop prepare 1,000 copies of a book that is only going to sit in the garage because the writer cannot give it away. This was known as vanity press, and usually the purview of genealogists (the only ones successful at it) and poets with more ego than talent. Not so today. In the past fifteen years, Self-Publishing has become inexpensive, thanks to print-on-demand systems that require no money up front by the writer, and no inventory. It has become legitimate, as more good writers turn to it as an alternative to Traditional Publishing, a corporate enterprise ruled by five massive multinational publishing houses who look for overnight bestsellers and not likely to take risks. The big names in Self-Publishing are Lulu, Blurb, and CreateSpace (Amazon). Each has been around long enough to gain some heft and a nice share of the market.

In the past, I’ve held a grim opinion of Self-Publishing. In 2012, for my final class in my master’s program, I wrote a paper and delivered a presentation on the subject. To me, Self-Publishing seemed like a highly viable option for the niche writer and the artist who wants a portfolio, but not so much for the writer of genre fiction. There were too many headaches, notably that the writer had to do all his own marketing, and that Self-Publishing was still just vanity press.

That was 2012. It is 2016 now. The world has changed. Self-Publishing has changed. Readers have changed. I have changed. It is time to reassess Self-Publishing for me, the writer of fantasy fiction. It’s time to stop thinking like a graduate student (let’s face it, we can be snobs), especially since I earned my degree four years ago. It’s time to stop thinking like an old fart who looks down his nose at this here young whippersnapper technology. Perhaps telling Self-Publishing to get off my lawn is a case of cutting off that snobby nose to spite my face.

I am reassessing Self-Publishing, beginning with a serious study of how it works in 2016.

What can Self-Publishing offer Aura Lockhaven and me? My criteria are: Artistic Control, Quality Control, Availability to the Reader, Fame, Marketing, and Revenue. Oddly enough, considering this is the greedy 21st Century, money is not at the top of the list.

Today, I want to look at the first two items on that list, Artistic Control and Quality Control.

Artistic Control: Self-Publishing gives me absolute artistic control. Nothing goes into the book unless I want it to go into the book. By the same token, nothing comes out, either. No editor telling me to remove a character, or worse, insert a politically correct token. I’m not sure if Traditional Publishing editors do the latter, but in our terrible socio-political environment, it is possible.

Editors certainly do tell writers what to take out! George R.R. Martin is leading off The Winds of Winter with chapters he had to remove from A Dance with Dragons. And there are the notorious times when editors totally rewrite stories as L. Sprague DeCamp did to Robert E. Howard, after he was long dead, and Gordon Lish did to Raymond Carver, while he was still alive.

In the last night of the last class of my master’s program, my professor said “Write what you love to read.” I follow that advice. A Path of Stones is what I want to read, and hope that others share that desire. There is no character or event in the story that I do not want in the story. What may appear to be a superfluous moment or name is a seed for a major event or character that will appear in a future book. An editor does not need to remove those moments and names for the sake of streamlining, nor insert new ones for the sake of trendiness.

If I self-publish, I won’t have to worry about any of that. So, for this criteria, Self-Publishing wins.

Quality Control: This is a dicey subject. Editors at Traditional Publishing houses don’t. They used to, but not much anymore. Cases when heavier editing would have been nice include the atrocious expository in the Harry Potter series and the fawning redundancy of the Twilight series. Granted, both could be examples of editors saying “this is good enough for kids.” That is an insult to tweens and teens, who really should be given the finest craftsmanship possible. Despite the “take it out, George” approach of George R.R. Martin’s editor, far too many gaffes slipped into the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Most notably in one instance, Martin switches from third person narration into second person narration then back out. I will give Martin an excuse. He was far too close to the book by then to catch the error. But that is what an editor is supposed to do.

Now, after saying all that, I would like to point out that Traditional Publishing offers better quality control. The Self-Publishing world is rife with examples of writers publishing their first drafts, without any serious editing for punctuation, much less consistency and continuity.

Here, I have an advantage. I’ve been a professional editor, and I was darn good at it. My clients cringed at my pickiness, but they ended up with quality books as a result. My wife, who is my first beta reader, is better than I am. The closest we’ve ever come to an argument is when she tells me I need to change something, I dig in my heels, and she ends up proving herself right. My second beta reader has an extremely sharp eye for redundancies and artifacts, often catching things that slip by the two Boutwells. Even as my wife is reading through the final draft of A Path of Stones, I am too, and I caught a few inconsistencies. So, whether I publish through the traditional route or the self route, I can guarantee the book will be the best I can possibly deliver.

As for physical quality, I can’t speak for CreateSpace or Blurb, but I know Lulu’s quality. I’ve self-published through them before. I expected mediocre at best, especially in the binding. No. The books they printed for me would be right at home in any Barnes and Noble.

For this criteria, it’s a draw. Both Traditional and Self-Publishing offer good quality control, mostly because I demand the best of myself before it ever leaves my home.

Tomorrow, I will discuss criteria three and four; Availability to the Reader and Fame.

WHAT SHOULD I WRITE?

I’ve been gabby lately, but I can’t help it. Blogging is a good break when I need to put the novel down for a few minutes.

I just want to pass on some advice I heard that may help my fellow writers answer the oft-spoken question “What should I write?”

Many people know they are writers. They have a natural talent for putting words together into magnificent stories that leave readers breathless. Picking a subject, or a genre, is daunting, however. There are so many! Which one does a beginning writer choose?

I faced that question in February. It was my last semester of classes before I wrote my thesis and graduated with an MA in Creative Writing. It was time to begin writing for myself, time to start publishing. But what? After reading the stuff for three years, I felt I should write “literature;” in other words, mainstream stories with powerful emotional messages. But I didn’t know if I wanted to. Sure, I love literature — Hemingway, Steinbeck, Carver, Wallace — but I didn’t know if I wanted to write like them. It seemed to me that literary writers piled heavier and heavier miseries upon their protagonists and in the last chapters, killed them. After suffering with chronic depression for 19 years, I wasn’t sure I wanted to relive those emotions and invite a possible relapse.

So, what should I write?

About that time, my professor said “What should you write? Well, ask yourself what type of books fill your bookcase. If you like to read it, then you should write it. Chances are other people will want to read it, too.”

I went home and looked at my bookcases. What dominated them? I had virtually everything from theology to history, from Tolstoy to Twain, from science fiction to horror. One genre, however, towered over them all, filling the entire bookcase in the living room. FANTASY! I am drawn to the mythical, the archetypal, the heroic. I had Tolkein, Howard, Lovecraft, and King Arthur. I had a whole row of English history books. I had books on dragons and swords. Heck, I even had a sword hanging on the wall!

I had a duh moment. A duh moment is when the answer is so obvious that it’s overlooked and it takes someone else to point it out. As in … “What color is my hair?” “Take a look in the mirror, doofus!” DUH! “Where are my glasses?” “What are those things on your nose!” DUH! “What should I write?” “What the heck do you spend all your time reading and all your money collecting?” DUH!

I committed to the fantasy genre, and I have never been happier in my life.

So, if you’re stuck on choosing a subject for your story, ask yourself what do you like to read? Write what you like to read. You will be happy! And so will your readers.