A Right Way to Become a Writer?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
I’ve had so much to think about lately. This world of writing and reading is certainly filled with ideas and advice. Even those who don’t write have opinions about writerly topics. I am blessed to have friends who write, friends who read, author friends, friends who have been published and friends who hope to be published. I think it’s my nature to be a peacekeeper, because up until recently I hadn’t even been involved in a conversation about what qualifies someone as an author or the difference between being self-published and traditionally-published.

I found out that some small independent book stores won’t shelf books by local authors who are marketing their books on Amazon. The following day I heard a story about how an author was treated poorly by another author because their book had been self-published instead of traditionally-published. I wrinkled my forehead and phoned a friend. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Isn’t an author is an author is an author? I mean, who cares how exactly you got published, you’re published, right?”

Tiffany: “I know what you mean, but it’s like the GoodHousekeeping stamp of approval if you’ve been traditionally published. Do you know what I mean?”

Me: “Not really. I’ve seen good books that were self-published and terrible books that were traditionally-published. Explain this to me again.”

Tiffany: (sigh…) “Things are changing and I know where you’re coming from Crystal, but if you stop at Starbucks in Manitowoc, Wisconsin or Starbucks in Philadelphia you know exactly what you are getting. The Starbucks name offers some credibility. Sure you can get a great cup of coffee at the local coffee shop, but you don’t know that until you try it. Surely you can agree with that?”

Me: “I hear you, and of course we are talking coffee and I’m pregnant and can’t have any – thanks … but I guess I’m just the kind of person that would rather visit the local coffee shop and take a chance. That’s exactly how I feel about books. I wouldn’t choose a traditionally-published book over a self-published book. I’d find out more about each book and choose which ever one appealed to me most. Am I really all that different than the rest of the world?”

Tiffany: “You’re different alright Crystal … but from an author perspective, if you have a chance at being traditionally-published it adds to the credibility of your book and it’s like being the valedictorian instead of just making honor roll. All this will probably change as self-publishing becomes more widely accepted, but in the meantime it’s just how it is.”

Me: “I think this will be my blog topic on WOW! this week – I want to hear what others have to say. What do you think?”

Tiffany: “That’s a post I’d definitely read!”

So… Here I am asking for your thoughts and ideas. Part of me feels like self-publishing my first book to get my name out there and then approach a publisher with my second novel. Then again, will a publisher take one look at me as someone who was self-published and shut that door? Is there really only one chance to make a first impression in this industry? Is there really a right way to do things and a wrong way? What is your experience?

Crystal J. Casavant-Otto is a church musician, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, two young children (Carmen 6 and Andre 5), three dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, and over 200 Holsteins. Crystal and her husband, Mark, are expecting another son at the end of September. You can find Crystal blogging at: http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/


Iola said...

If your self-published book is good enough, or sells enough copies, a traditional publisher will be interested. Names that spring to mind include EL James, Hugh Howey, Jessica Park and Jamie McGuire (not that I have read or would read any books written by any of them, but that's about their content and attitudes, not their self-published status).

Within the Christian publishing world, Agent of the Year Rachelle Gardner has self-published, as has Amanda Luedeke (of Macgregor Literary). Tamara Leigh has chosen to self-publish her recent books, and many traditionally-published authors are self-publishing their out-of-print back list.

There is a huge amount of information around about self-publishing: see blogs like JA Konrath, the Passive Voice and the John 316 Marketing Network.

If you do decide to self-publish, make sure you budget for a professional edit and cover design and publish yourself, not through a vanity press like PublishAmerica, Tate or Author Solutions (who operate WestBow). For more information on publishers to avoid, see Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware.

Margo Dill said...

I think it really depends on your genre and what you are doing with the book, as in is it a series? If you write romance and are writing a series, self-publishing is an option. A LOT of romance writers own a Kindle, give new authors a try, read profusely, want the 2nd book in the series if they got the first one free/low cost. If you write middle-grade for kids and are writing a stand-alone, this may be a more difficult choice--will you be able to get your book into the hands of parents? Will they care? Do kids care--of course not--but kids are not the ones buying picture books and middle-grade novels. So, to me, you have to look at your career LONG TERM and decide what genre you are in and how these readers get their books. FINALLY, I asked one day on my Facebook page what makes you buy a book? Many of my "likes" are my friends and not other writers. MOst of the people who answered said: word of mouth or the author is good. NOBODY, but a writer said, they look at the publisher. :)

Anne Louise O'Connell said...

Oh what a conundrum! I grappled with this for two years while researching the wonderful world of publishing and comparing the pros and cons of traditional versus self-publishing (while my first book, a non-fiction, was being traditionally published and I was putting the finishing touches on my debut novel). After querying agents for a year, I was visiting my mom and she asked me when Mental Pause, my novel, would be published. I sighed and told her about the interest a few agents had shown but that there were no offers yet, so it could be a couple years away yet. As we polished off the bottle of chardonnay we were enjoying, I made the pronouncement that I was tired of waiting and I would be self-publishing in the New Year. That was December 2012 and my novel launched via Amazon (Kindle and KDP) on International Women's Day, March 8, 2013, to rave reviews (and an IPPY Award for best adult fiction in the eBook category)! Sales are going well, I have total control and I make a higher percentage on sales than if I went the trad route. My background is in PR so I have the skills to do my own marketing. As you indicate, the industry is in a huge state of flux so the bottom line is to put out a quality story and promote the heck out of it!

Anonymous said...

Shame on that author for treating another author poorly :( And are those independent bookstores making a statement against Amazon, or against self-published authors? I am very lucky to live about five minutes away from Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, and they absolutely support the self-publishing community. Maybe some persuasive person (PR person?) could convince one of your local bookstores that they could drum up some positive press and local support by proudly offering an indie section. Also, some of our libraries here dedicate shelf space to self-published authors, which is wonderful. I bet a community of authors could accomplish this in your area :)
As to your question about first impressions, there is definitely only one chance. So someone going the indie route should do everything in her control to make it a great one! And I think that's possible but it takes a lot of investment (time and money).
If she self-publishes and the book doesn't sell, yes, future publishers will look at that. But, if she published traditionally and the book didn't sell, it's the same situation.
Also, don't forget small presses! They're a great option, too.
I love Starbucks local coffee shops. There's room for both. Sorry to bring up coffee again ;) Decaf is an option, right?

Lisa Tiffin said...
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Lisa Tiffin said...
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Crystal Otto said...

I love and appreciate that you are all weighing in - this is the author community I am accustomed to working with - we share and genuinely care about one another, we help one another be successful, we share our successes and our works in progress.

Thank you for sharing with me and others. This is heart-warming.



Lisa Tiffin said...
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Lisa Tiffin said...

Great topic and great comments. I have been thinking about this for a long time, and I feel like many editors and agents are looking for breakout, NYT bestseller novels while in fact many writers are writing solid, dependable midlist sellers.

I recently self pubbed my MG novel, Theft of the Star Tracker, and plan on self pubbing its sequel. The book was once under contract with a small pub (but was a casualty of the economic downturn), has been extensively revised/edited and has a professional cover.

In the meantime, I am querying agents on another MG and a picture book and am writing a YA that will go the agent route.

I think there is still value in traditional "stamp of approval" publishing, but I also think there is value in self publishing, too. Every book is different, and it's definitely a changing publishing landscape out there!

Lisa Tiffin said...

Sorry for the deleted/double posts - hadn't updated my Blogger profile and it wasn't showing my name!

HistorySleuth said...

It definitely depends what you're doing. I have a self published book, but it is a local historical murder case, nonfiction. I have another one that is a niche topic I will self publish. My fiction I haven't decided yet.

I am also an avid reader. I thought about this very thing the other day when I realized all the books I've down loaded in the past year have been self published authors or from small independent publishers. All based on word of mouth, reviews, and if I thought I would like it by the blurb.

There are so many choices for a reader now why spend 12.95 for an e book from a big publisher when I can spend 4.99 or less.

I do still like hard copy too and that's where self publishers get hurt when I go in a book store to get something.

Victoria said...
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Wide Lawns said...

I decided to self publish my book because I thought traditional publishing involved a lot of time wasting and I wanted to learn about the self publishing process just for fun. I had a really positive experience. I thought it was simple, allowed me lots of creative freedom and was generally enjoyable and stress free. I would recommend it to anyone and I plan to do it again. The biggest lesson I learned is that I should hire a professional editor. Couldn't afford it this time around, but I'm still thrilled with how my finished book turned out and it's selling far more than I thought it would and getting excellent reviews(no, not from my mom). So in all, yay for self publishing!

Unknown said...

I just got done reading your article, and really enjoyed it, thank you. I have over 200 self published books so far. You can see some fun self-published books at Fun2ReadBooks.com where they are in paperback, digital and audio also now. all of them are indie and self published, any questions or help, please ask me, I do this full time and would love to help anyone that needs help or advice, thank you, Vince Stead.

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