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Dirty Girls and Self Publishing: The Tricks of the Trade

By Alisa Valdes

ALBUQUERQUE: Me? I hate flying. My therapist says I’m a control freak who thinks everything crashes unless I’m in charge. There’s some truth to this. It is probably why my marriage failed and why my kid is an overacheiver. It is probably also not a stretch to compare my fear of flying/need for control to my drooling excitement over self-publishing.

Alisa Valdes

A million-copy selling author explains just how she went from St. Martin’s Press to self-publishing — just how easy it proved to be.

Self-publishing, you see, gives me control. And if I’m not in control, God only knows what will happen. My work might end up shelved under “foreign” in my own country again, or the press release might once more call it “spicy” and me “a hot tamale.” I might, again, get booked to read at a store in Arizona, only to have the manager ask me if I speak English — my native and only tongue. Shudder.

Or, worse, I might continue to feel my publisher losing interest in me because in publishing a writer is only ever as good as their last book. If that book is, say, The Husband Habit (my sixth novel and my attempt to write literary fiction that sold a mere 10,000 copies), I might even end up feeling something like the lunch lady who used to be the homecoming queen, with editors and publicists allowing me to dump mashed potatoes on their plates, but never quite looking me in the eye because they remember how pretty and promising I’d once been.

Crash. And freakin’ burn.

This in mind, I started to think about what might happen if I self-published the third installment in my popular The Dirty Girls Social Club series on my own. It certainly could not be worse than publishing The Husband Habit with a big house. Only a root canal without anesthesia could be worse than that.

The first book, The Dirty Girls Social Club was published through St. Martin’s Press and sold more than half a million copies. The second Dirty Girls book, Dirty Girls on Top, also with St. Martin’s, came in just under that. When I did the math, I realized I’d only have to sell 100,000 copies on my own to earn what I’d made for six times the sales with a major publishing house. If I sold the same number of Dirty Girls books as I’d sold in the past, meanwhile, I’d be…a goddamned millionaire. A goddamned millionaire in control of her own career and destiny.

My readers are incredibly loyal, and they love Dirty Girls. They love Dirty Girls more than anything else I’ve ever written. They want more, but my publisher, who has not met them coast to coast as I have and does not speak to them daily on social media sites as I do, does not quite get it. A series, big publishing reasons, can only be for things like mysteries.

Back in 2004, my first suggestion for a second book for me with St. Martin’s was a Dirty Girls sequel. My editor condescendingly said no and told me I had to build a “body of other books” before doing a sequel. Why? Because that’s how it had always been done. Fatal mistake on her part. Fatal mistake on mine for trusting her. My readers were not the typical readers. They were new to commercial fiction, many of them, and they saw themselves in the Dirty Girls. My fans wanted Dirty Girls, period. They still do. First rule of business? Give the customer what she wants. Big publishing did not trust me to know what my own readers wanted, and we all suffered in the end. And here I am, mid-listed and falling.

Lesson effin’ learned. I would not give big publishing a second chance to screw up my career.

The next step in my evolution was to figure out what, exactly, St. Martin’s Press had been doing for me to merit taking more than 90 percent of the profits from my work. Best I figured it boiled down to six things. Editing. Copy editing. Cover design. Marketing. Publicity. Distribution.

Okay.

The editing could be handled by my mother, a creative writing MFA who is brilliant but lacks the blue-blood pedigree, ivy-league connections and Fridays-off-with-pinot-grigio sense of entitlement that might have propelled her to, say, the top of New York publishing. Done.

The copy editing could be handled for a nominal fee by any number of grammarians I know, including several long-time fans who offered to do it for free just because they love my work. Done.

Cover design is easily accomplished with an account at iStockphoto and a few Photoshop tutorials. It might not be as fancy a cover as I’d get from St. Martin’s, but it would be guaranteed to fit my vision for the book. Done.

Marketing and publicity? I shook my head. In all honesty, I suspected I was doing the bulk of this work on my own. Every major media coverage I’d gotten for the past eight years was gotten on my own. I knew this.

To test my theory, I released All That Glitters, a book I’d had sitting around the house for a couple of years, with no media coverage at all, and sent word out only via my email list and social networking sites in January. Sure enough, that book sold just as well, if not better, than the St. Martin’s paperback that had been published the month before. Furthermore, the book was the first I’d ever had that cracked the “multicultural romance” bestseller list for Kindle on Amazon, after years of having publishers suggest I not try to include African American characters in my book, but rather stick to Latinos. Whoops for them.

The publisher, it turned out, either wasn’t doing much PR for me, or the PR they were doing was ineffective. The proof was in the sales. So, marketing and publicity? Done.

That just left distribution. With news of Borders imminent demise on the wind, and with e-books outpacing physical books at Barnes & Noble, this concern grows smaller with each passing day. Most of my readers are young and have e-readers, with a preference for Nooks because they come in pretty colors. I started investigating how a writer might format and upload their own book to various websites. People told me it was “too hard” and that I would need to hire someone to do that for me. My fear of flying kicked in, and I instead spent a total of two days learning how to upload my novel as both an e-book (Smashwords, Amazon) and a physical book (Amazon, Lulu) on my own.

Two days.

In less than a week, I had taught myself how to publish a book that was comparable in quality to what you might get from a traditional publisher, all the while keeping most of the money myself. I’d uploaded my novel All That Glitters as an experiment. Within the first 48 hours, I’d earned $600 – with no fanfare whatsoever.

In May, I will release Saints of Dirty Faith, the third in my The Dirty Girls Social Club series. On February 1, I began to market it my way, with a Web site where I am publishing a couple of chapters a week as text and audio. The plan is to give half the book away over the next three months. Feedback has been tremendous so far.

While I will continue to go with big publishers for my young adult books (I am under contract with Harper Collins for three books right now) I am very curious to see how the Dirty Girls experiment goes for me. I suspect it will go well enough to merit a national tour, which makes me think I should probably start taking pilot lessons now.

DISCUSS: What Advantages Can Traditional Publishing Still Offer to Established Authors?

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55 Comments

  1. Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing your experience of self-publishing, Alisa, I really enjoyed this article!

    I often wonder if I should keep querying the publishing houses with my multicultural romance or whether to self-publish, but I’m really unsure. I can’t help but wonder if publishing with a house in the first instance helps with getting established enough to enable successful self-publishing later on?? I’m so uncertain!

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading All That Glitters (it is now on my Kindle)! Cover is fab, btw!

  2. Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    This is such a witty and inspirational piece. I’ve been conventionally published but sales figures nowhere near the wonderful promises the publisher made me – and PR ditto, so I’m contemplating indie publishing for the future. I love your can-do attitude and wish you every continued success!

  3. Leily
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Congradulations for all your success and great attitude. Just wondering what would you suggest is the best way to find an editor(if English is not one’s native language) and is not fortunate to have a mother like yours?
    Would really appreciate your feedback as everyone advertises themselves to be experienced and highly qualified!?

  4. Erin
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    As someone who has come from the world of big publishing, I think this is a common view but not always an accurate one. Big publishers put a lot into publishing, marketing, editing your book that goes beyond what you can do on your own. Maybe you don’t think there is value in that work and maybe you’d prefer to do it on your own (it seems have proven successful for you), but ever situation is not the same and I just want readers of this story to take it with a grain of salt. This is one person’s experience and, perhaps, prejudice against big publishing, but big publishing is there for a reason. Not every book should be published and, even if your mother/best friend/neighbor likes it does not mean that it is something that has a place in the Library of Congress.

    As an agent, I do thank Alisa for sharing her experiences publishing on her own. I know that my writers are always looking for a way to publish those books that dont’ fit the mold with publishers and this is a great way to do that.

    P.S. I don’t have Ivy League connections nor drink Pinot Grigio.

  5. Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I own a small traditional publishing company and I recently realized that many authors would be better off self-publishing, so I decided to coach them through the process and offer my services in marketing the book.

  6. Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I think it’s only a matter of time before more trad-pubbed authors jump ship. Many are already putting up backlists. The ebook revolution has led to more control for authors. Times are changing and the mainstream publishers will have to learn to change with them if they want to survive. After all, authors are their bread and butter. If authors can now do it themselves AND retain more royalties, why not?

  7. Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Good decision. It does make an author where the heck all the money was going before…

    Scott Nicholson

  8. Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Congrats Alisa
    Speaking from my own very small self published point of view…

    I have a horror/paranormal series running on Kindle about a cop who gets shot and then after he recovers, he encounters ghosts and people with strange problems. So far there is a collection of short stories as well as a novella with a new novella due out in March.

    Now, granted, I have yet to write a novel-sized story with this character but on the one hand, the collection has sold over 50 units since September and the novella has started to climb in sales (which to me is an indication that the people who liked the collection moved on to reading the novella)

    None of this would have happened to me in ‘real life’ since I’d still be collecting rejection slips. Their reasons, while valid to a point, would range from the fact that “nobody will buy a horror collection from an unknown writer” to “there’s no market value in it.”

    Still, despite the odds against me, I hammer away at new stories.

    Imagine what someone like you could do with an established fan base!
    Good luck to you!

  9. Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Thanks for a wonderful article. I was working really hard doing all my own promoting and not making much from my book. Now I’m and indie and I’m loving it. I pay for my own covers and editing and then continue with my promotions as before. Much more profitable for me and I can price my books low enough for more readers to buy.

  10. Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Loved reading this — thanks for sharing!

  11. Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Congratulations on your decision!

    The control afforded by independent publishing sure is a breath of fresh air.

  12. Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Welcome Alisa and congrats! I enjoyed the Dirty Girls Social Club when I read it a few years back. Glad to see you’re sticking with the series and joining us on the dark side. Love the covers! It makes me want to try to make my own next time. I just started a epubbing label with a few other authors, and one of our authors also figured out formatting pretty quickly and plans to teach us. It’s great to be able to do it all! I love having control, like yourself.

    Again, congrats and best of luck!

  13. Edward Nawotka
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Should it be “uh-oh” time in NYC? Probably not, but the drum beats are starting to signal that the natives are restless and a revolution may be fomenting.

  14. Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I’m glad for you. That first taste of freedom is heady stuff, isn’t it? I recommend the indie path to any writer. We were born free. Why give it up?

  15. Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    @Erin: I don’t think Alisa is suggesting that the publisher’s work has no value. Note that she did pick out the services that the publisher was providing and specifically seek out ways to do all of those on her own, and she acknowledges that she or her self-publishing team might do some of them less well (e.g. cover design). The kernel of this article is not “self-publishing is for everyone,” it’s “self-publishing works for established authors whose publishing houses aren’t serving them well.” She already has a following that wants Dirty Girls books, and the problem she’s solved is how to get them more Dirty Girls books when her publisher won’t print them. Obviously existing fans don’t need to be convinced to read the next installment, so marketing and cover design are less important; what’s most important is getting them the words they want to read. With an author who wasn’t established, or with a book that was radically different from the author’s previous work, the calculus might change.

  16. Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Dear Alisa, Legwork Team Publishing is a Custom Publishing Company out of New York, We would love to help you publish your next book. warmly Yvonne

  17. Amy Stevens
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Alisa- Congratulations…keep following that fear of flying…it’s doing great things for you and your career! I made the absolute RIGHT choice to write about one of my favorite authors :0)

  18. Posted February 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting, however, this will probably work basically for established authors. It is true, editing, copy-editing, proof-reading, layout and cover picture are services that can be bought, even though it does not always make sense or is even possible to employ your mom for free. And yes, it is difficult to find a good editor, but I have encountered bad editors with established publishing houses as well.

    However the publicity/PR part is more tricky. First, newspapers don’t review self-published books, period. That is probably different if you are Stephen King, but if you are not established, they don’t. And yes, I made the experience as well that you, as an author, have to pitch in for your own publicity. But it is a huge difference to the press whether you do it as a self-published unknown or as a Random-House author.

    Also, it is a bit naive to think that if you are getting 10 percent of the cover price, the other 90 percent are making the publisher fat. If you do it yourself, you still have to pay printing, editing, layout, PR, and give a share up to 55 % to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. In addition, you are carrying all the risk. It might still work out but then again, it might not.

    As for the lady who is offering her authors to self-publish and offer her services to them; she it putting the risk on the author and gets paid up-front. With an actual publishing company, it’s the other way round.

  19. Posted February 7, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Alisa, what shocks me is your revelation that ‘The Husband Habit’, mainstream published, sold only 10,000 copies.

    I self-published ‘Remix’ last August, and have sold 13,500 copies so far – mostly in the UK, mostly in the last three months. I’m an indie author, with no platform, and I did the lot myself; editing, formatting, cover, marketing.

    With your publishing track record, ‘Saints of Dirty Faith’ should do everything you hope for it when released in May. I think a mix of mainstream and indie is probably ideal.

    Lexi Revellian

  20. Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Self publishing is the future. The “Big Boys” only look at the bottom line and don’t understand marketing today (using techniques that worked 20 years ago doesn’t cut it) and don’t give a rats you know what about the reader. The publishing model made sense 10 years ago, but today there are many tools that an author can use (many for free) to self publish, making what the traditional publisher offers obsolete.

    Alisa’s story is inspirational, but it’s not the only one. There are many, many self-published authors making very nice livings. I know authors who are selling tens of thousands of books a month, at price points from $0.99 to $2.99, making 6 figure salaries. Not one or 2 mind you, several!

    Sure there are costs to self publishing, but the thing is that the author can control those costs. They can do the things they know how to do, and only pay for the stuff they can’t.

    Anyway, welcome to the other side Alisa, and I wish you good luck with your books.

    Phil

  21. Posted February 7, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    @Erin: “Not every book should be published and, even if your mother/best friend/neighbor likes it, it does not mean that it has a place in the Library of Congress.” You accidentally omitted the rest of your sentence: “–because only I, and gatekeepers like myself, are qualified to make that judgment, so stop getting uppity, little girl.”

  22. Miriam
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Unlike this would-be millionaire author, publishers actually pay their copy-editors, recognising that people who do this professionally have to make a living too.

    For Leily, try the directory for the Society for Editors and Proofreaders: http://www.sfep.org.uk/pub/dir/directory.asp

  23. Posted February 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Miriam – My mother IS a professional copy-editor. You underestimate my intelligence and her professionalism. But I’ll let it slide. You don’t know me.

  24. Posted February 7, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and also – if you KNEW my mom, you’d know that she has never said she liked anything of mine just to say it. Some people are blessed with naturally supportive and loving mothers; not so for me. Pessimism is the social currency in my mom’s family. They are tough rural people who expect very little out of life, and even that which is expected is negative. You win the lottery, my mom will predict you getting hit by a bus on your way to collect. She is a stoic, tight-lipped, extremely critical and often brutally honest person. If something sucks, she’ll say it. If you’re getting fat, she’ll say it. If you screwed up your life, she’ll say it. And, unlike many in NY publishing, she will never think “oh, Alisa can’t do better because she’s Hispanic,” or some tripe like that. She’ll think, “what the hell was my daughter smoking that this passage reads like a bad term paper?”

  25. Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Great article, and a glimpse of what lies ahead.

    I was an unknown with no books before and no connections, writing about a market the big publishers seemed to have no interest in. Now my Nigerian romance has found its niche, thanks to self publishing.

  26. Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    I’m a traditionally published author with six books in print. I’ve won awards, one of them at a national level. I get lovely reviews. PUBLISHERS WEEKLY said my last book, STRANGERS was “compelling.” Do I make a living with this work that I apparently do pretty darn well? Oh, heck no.

    My publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, treats its authors wonderfully well. In particular, I believe our cut of ebook revenues is significantly better than the industry standard. Without the prestige of this house, I wouldn’t be getting any notice from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY whatsoever, and I wouldn’t be on bookshelves. I’m not interested in jumping ship. However, I have decided that taking the leap into self-publishing in addition to my traditionally published work is an opportunity to have more control over my career, to possibly make the big bucks we’ve all been hearing about, and to stimulate sales of my traditionally published books.

    I still hold rights to the environmental thriller, WOUNDED EARTH, that got me a hotshot Manhattan agent and lots of attention in New York, but no sale. I’ve published it as an ebook, and a print book is currently in the works. I also have a number of short stories that were published in print anthologies, but for which I only sold first rights. I e-published three of them individually, and also as a mini-collection called OFFERINGS. I’m blogging about my epublishing experience at http://maryannaevans.blogspot.com/ and it looks like it will be an interesting ride.

    How am I dealing with the chores my publisher usually does? I’ve done some of the cover and interior design myself, and I hired professionals for some. I’ve done some research into distribution, and I think I’m on the way to setting up a system that works for me. I had it edited long ago, before I started agent-hunting. As for copy-editing, I did that myself, and my agent’s first words after reading the entire manuscript were these: “This is the cleanest copy I have *ever* seen.”

    Marketing is an interesting topic. I taught myself to be my own publicist when ARTIFACTS came out in 2003, and I got myself on five statewide public radio networks and a half-dozen local TV broadcasts within just a few months. I’ve tried hiring publicists over the years and, frankly, my results are far better. Unfortunately, marketing self-published ebooks is a brave new world, and I’m going to have to teach myself again. I think I can do it.

    Great post, Alisa. I hope your blend of traditional publishing and self-publishing works for you. I’m going to give it a try.

    Mary Anna

  27. Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Alisa, I love your fire and admire your strenght to take your creative future into your hands. There will always be a naysayer standing on the sideways critizing your decisions and twisting your words, but please continue to create a new path for yourself. Please continue to share your experience and discoveries through your blog and books. I picked Dirty Girls Social Club and could not put it down. We created a book club and the ladies LOVED it.

    Can’t wait to see the rise of your success.

  28. JR Tomlin
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Anyone author who isn’t reading Joe Konrath’s blog on this topic is doing themselves a disservice. Which ever way we decide, we should do it from hearing the complete argument and not just the nay-saying from some of the people tied to traditional publishing (Not Alisa Valdes, obviously)

  29. JR Tomlin
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Eva Schweitzer said, “Very interesting, however, this will probably work basically for established authors…”

    Yeah, well you might want to tell that to Amanda Hocking who sold more than 100,000 novels in DECEMBER alone. (Ah, aren’t facts inconvenient little details? :) )

    And she was certainly NOT an “established author”. In fact, she had never published before at all.

    So much for that. You don’t have to already be published to tackle copy-editing, etc. You do have to work hard at it. But writing is damn hard work, however you end up published.

  30. Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    As a published author who is currently navigating the waters of multiple contracts, a few options to fulfill, and the ebbing value I’m finding in many of the “big house relational benefits,” this is certainly a witty, refreshing, and eye-opening post. You’ve inspired me to move in this direction myself. (I’ll let you know if I find other good flight instructors). ch:

  31. Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    It is great when anyone takes control of their work. I don’t see the need to criticize anyone for self-publishing. Hurray for all of them–for the good and the bad. Hurray for people who actually finish a book and see it through the possibly grisly end. It takes guts.

    I do think that already having an audience makes self-publishing a more viable option. Sure, new, unknown authors have had great success as well, but some people have won the lottery and stayed happily married to their high school sweetheart for 50 years. Yea! It can happen. But there are a lot of losing tickets in waste baskets and divorce decrees in filing cabinets too. Of course, as more people try self-pub, the odds ought to change. I’d be interested to know how many readers here buy self-published books. And of those how many buy self-published books from authors they don’t know? If we want self-publishing to be the wave of the future, we’ve got actually buy the books.

    Either move–the traditional way or the self-way–takes guts and determination.

  32. Erin
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    @AllenVarney, that wasn’t at all what I was saying. I think Alisa does a great thing for herself and for her readers by taking control of her work and doing what she can do best. I just don’t want all writers out there to think that they will start self-publishing something that isn’t really up to snuff and thnk they’ll be as successful as she is.

    Not everyone should write, but a lot of people think they should. Look at how NaNoWriMo has grown. Go to a party and tell people you work in publishing and I guarantee 9 out of 10 of them have a novel in a drawer or have “always wanted to write a book.” Writing isn’t easy but people think it is and they think it shouldn’t be that hard to get it published…but it should be. It’s hard to be a successful actress. It’s hard to be a professional baseball player. Writing takes talent just like anything else and not everyone has that talent.

  33. Posted February 8, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I ride all sides of this issue. My background is from traditional, NYC trade publishing. My clients are all small book publishers, of a variety of types. And I am a volunteer moderator on the Yahoo Self-Publishing group (one of the largest and most active around).

    So: from those perspectives, here’s what usually gets missed.

    Authors like Alisa usually have a less than complete understanding of the numbers that are implied by their decisions. (Market penetration, sales conversion probabilities, standard terms of trade, COGS, gross margin, contribution margin, working capital requirements and cash-flow, are just a few of the numbers that can make or break a publishing effort.) It sounds as if she has the bones of a plan, but I strongly advise her to pull out a spreadsheet, and put some flesh on it, before she goes too much further.

    Making your mistakes on paper, and then figuring a way around them is absolutely critical to survival in this business.

    Authors without that fan base usually add another layer of misunderstanding: the difficulty of finding their audience, and building their platform. “If you build it, they will come” worked in the movie, but it almost never works in book publishing.

    Also, while Alisa sounds as if she’s getting professional-grade help, and doing a good job on her book, many self-publishers fail to remember that, while most of the non-professionals can’t recognize the differences between a professionally prepared book and one that isn’t, the sales of the two versions generally are quite different, demonstrating that the public does react to the differences on an unconscious level. That is, after all, why publishing companies (who are chronically poor) spend the time, effort and money in those areas.

    And last, but not least: publishing is high-stakes gambling. It’s expensive to do well (a typical trade book takes a minimum of $20,000 to launch, and a mass-market novel can require far more). No one really knows which books will “go big” and which won’t. Bigger publishers rely on the odds. If you’re good at picking books, and prepping them, and if you have enough bets on the table, most will more or less break-even, and some will win enough to keep you going for another year. Small presses and self-publishers don’t have enough bets on the table to ride out the losers. This can be a brutal problem.

    In short: it’s more complex than it looks from the outside (as Cory Doctorow found out, although that didn’t make as much of a splash as his other thoughts on the issue). It’s not hard to do a basic job, but it’s very hard to do a good enough job to make a sustainable career out of it.

    I wish you all luck, and I also hope that you evaluate your options with clarity before you make your decisions.

  34. Posted February 8, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m not surprised by all the negativity from the traditional industry folks, but I am annoyed by the way they willfully ignore the success of many new indie e-book authors.

    During the entire month of January, several of these authors shared their experiences on http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/ to prove this tired mantra that the traditional guys keep spouting isn’t necessarily true. Stop by and read their true stories.

  35. Terri Robberson
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations, Alicia, on your bold and wise career decision to self-publish. I am not an author, but I have been studying the evolution of publishing and the emergence of self-publishing for some time and am confident that as an established and successful author with a strong fan base you will find self-publishing both satisfying and lucrative.

    I would like to comment more specifically on the state of the publishing industry. I agree that the six things publishing houses offer an author are easily delineated: editing, copy editing, cover design, marketing, publicity and distribution. Four of the six are easy for an independent author to replicate; however, the challenge of marketing and publicity for the new author trying to break through via self-publishing is monumental. With estimates that over 800 books are published in the U.S. each day (most through self-publishing channels), a new author has little chance of breaking through. Many of the usual sources for marketing and publicity, such as established book reviewers, contests, etc. are often closed to talented authors simply because they decided to self-publish.

    The traditional publishing houses did offer one extremely valuable service to the consumer: they were the “gatekeepers.” As gatekeepers they ensured the books that were listed for sale met basic standards and gave some assurance of quality. However, when the gatekeepers have become deaf and dumb, without vision or imagination, I fear it leaves a vast void for the future of publishing; it represents a disservice to readers that is leading us down a path of mediocrity as the publishers opt for “safe” selections and focus on ROI.

    Herein lies the conundrum. Readers could benefit from some sort of intermediary—an independent source that holds a book up to the public and shouts, “This is good, read it.” But readers do not benefit when the criteria for entry is no longer involves the creation of something original, fresh and compelling, but writing something proven, predictable and painfully formulaic. We need something that is open to the new author and something that ensures quality, and the current system accomplishes neither goal. Hopefully, something will emerge in the near future.

  36. Posted February 8, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    I think this story is the future of publishing. I have two manuscripts that I am seriously debating whether to send in to my agent or publish myself. Since I’ve already established a publishing presence via Who Dares Wins. Publishers are really painting themselves into a corner, especially with the 25% royalty rate on eBooks. Additionally, as you note, an author has a much greater incentive to promote since we see the results right away.
    I think a big problem is that publishers have looked at authors as replaceable parts for decades, especially the midlist. They almost acted as if they were doing an author a favor by publishing them. But now that they no longer control distribution, the playing field is changing dramatically.
    As far as quality control: readers will do that. They always have anyway, except for those book publishers tried to jam down people’s throat. My Atlantis series sold well when traditionally published and it’s selling well now that I’ve brought it back out.

  37. Alisa
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Terri – I think that intermediary is called “the media”…any author, regardless of how they are published, would be wise to learn how to publicize, promote and market their book through new media, traditional media and social media. No one can expect to sell books without a campaign to raise public awareness of it.

    You do raise a good point, though, which is: Will traditional media review or cover self-published works? Perhaps this is a good time for an enterprising entrepreneur to start a website where she/he highlights the best in self-published books. Or several sites, delineated by genre?

    Brave new times, folks! Change breed opportunity, if you are willing to let go of all that you once thought to be true.

    I am not surprised my Marion Gropen’s negativity; after all, she makes her living as a consultant to publishing companies. If self-publishing terrifies publishers, just imagine how it makes those who depend upon them for their livelihood feel. Marion, time’s are changing. We either change with them, or we become obsolete.

  38. Kris
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Very inspiring–kudos to you for taking charge of your publishing destiny! If I may, however, take exception to one point. It takes more than a few Photoshop tutorials and a stock photo account to create a decent book cover. As a book designer with two decades’ experience, I wish it were that easy! Too many self-published book covers reveal the fallacy of this belief. Learning a computer program does not a designer make any more than mastering Microsoft Word turns one into an author.

  39. Posted February 8, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    This is, to me, a gold mine of information and I thank you for sharing it.

  40. Cheryl
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    I am just a Reader, but have watched publishers shoot themselves in the foot for years. I read non-fiction, especially history, politics, and biography, and fiction, including both literary and genre fiction. In genre fiction in particular, I have waited impatiently for new books by authors whose work I devour, only to find that they have “lost” their publisher. Usually the publisher concludes the sales aren’t good enough, or the editor leaves and the new one doesn’t see the value of the author’s work.

    Meanwhile loads of what I call non-books fill the tables at the bookstores, like all the celebrity “memoirs,” the diet books, picture books of some fad tv show, crowding out the real books with real stories to tell.

    Publishers started killing publishing well before the internet began speeding up the process.
    It’s a disservice to everyone, readers, writers, and publishers alike.

  41. Terri Robberson
    Posted February 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Alisa, thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree with you that the media is the “intermediary” to raise reader awareness of a new author or new work, especially one who is self-published. Unfortunately without the avenues I previous mentioned open to these new authors they have very little chance of gaining media attention. I’ve read some self-published books by new authors that were as good or better than anything from the publishing houses (Robert Morrow’s Ringing True, Bob Mendonsa’s Working Choices and Maureen Smith’s Ghosts of Fire, for example), yet they go largely unnoticed.

    I think the social media opportunities are great, but I see these new author’s still facing the same challenges as a result of the thousand of tweets, blogs, face pages, etc that swirl through cyberspace each day.

    I also agree that there is an entrepreneurial opportunity here for someone to serve both authors and consumers, and I am noodling some possibilities.

  42. Posted February 9, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Congrats, Alisa – You obviously know exactly what you are doing. Forget the naysayers and TAKE CONTROL! I’ve had a great experience with self-publishing and wouldn’t do it any other way.

    If you’d like to take the next step and self-publish an audio book version of your series, get in touch; I’ve got all the info you’d need.

  43. Posted February 9, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Boy, as I read through this list of comments again, one thing I’m noticing is how challenged people are by the thought that “non-professionals” are doing the work of “professionals.” So much fear!

    If you are a good editor, publisher, cover artist, etc., you will still get work even if thousands of authors self-publish.

  44. Lisa
    Posted February 9, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    In reality, you can self-publish a book on Createspace for the price of a proof copy (less than $15). The book is sold on King Amazon. Instead of earning 5-7%, you can earn $5-7 (more or less depending on the price YOU choose). This is self-publishing for almost free in a nutshell.

    People ARE doing it. It CAN be done.

    As we all know there is a lot of crap being self-published. At the same time, a phenomenal thing is happening -a lot of great books are being published as well, and they are finding a market. All you need is an idea, a computer, and enough money to buy a nice meal and you are in business. You can even market yourself for free. Think Blogger, Facebook, Twitter…oh yes, it CAN be done. If you do a great job of writing, editing, copy editing, and formatting then your book might rise to the top. Add an eye popping cover and a marketing plan and make your book the whip cream and cherry on top.

    But it could FLOP. Really. It might be a horrible book. You might not recognize it because you are attached to it. Your best friend might do a suck bite job of editing, and your skills at Photoshop might need a few years of practice. An audience might find you and reject you. You could get 1 star reviews on Amazon. Book bloggers might refuse you and buyers might shy away from you. It COULD happen.

    That’s the risk you take.

    But if you decide to make a plan and upload your very own caterpillar, then it’s possible you will get a butterfly in return. You won’t know until you try.

    Same goes with submitting. But if your bathroom is already wallpapered and you are getting older and your life is getting shorter and you have nothing to lose then why the hell not? Seriously? Why not?

    You may or may not get rich. You might not ever become famous, but at least you will live your dream -which is more than the writer with a book in the drawer who eats the rejection slip for dinner and cries over spilt milk will ever get.

    We live in a new era; a different time. The time is now. Either you do it or you don’t. But don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t do it if you want to do it. Don’t let anyone steal your dream. Write the damn book and publish it.

  45. Posted February 11, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Well done, Alicia. Now’s a good time to take advantage of all the venues that technology is now offering us.

    In fairness, don’t be too hard on the publishers. They are a business and that means they are likely to be conservative. A bad mistake means the company is in trouble and the individuals will kill their careers. This atmosphere of fear makes it hard to make intelligent decisions, and harder to take risks. They’ve forgotten the SAS motto, “Who Dares, Wins.”

    I think you’ll win.

  46. Posted February 12, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Great to see published authors providing inspiration to self-published writers. Thanks, Alisa.

  47. Posted February 24, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    I went a similar route in 2009, while still under contract to Kensington. I just released my second independent effort, with self-editing plus a final read-through by a talented friend, cover design by a friend who is a graphic artist, formatting for print and the various eReaders by myself, and a self-produced book trailer. My readership is nowhere near the size of yours, Alisa, but I am making money, giving my readers fresh stories, and best of all, there are no publisher plotline rules that must be followed!

  48. Posted March 6, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    I’ve made the same decision. I have a series with Random House that has sold 1.3 million copies. And a major mass market paperback coming out from St. Martins in May. But I just published Chasing The Ghost on my own, will be publishing a Civil War novel trilogy on 12 April to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the war and another thriller on the 4th of July, The Jefferson Allegiance. I made the decision when my wife reminded me that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again, expecting different results. Time for change.

  49. Posted March 6, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Alisa, good for you for taking control! This is exactly what we’ve done at The Writer’s Guide to ePublishing. We’re all embracing the digital revolution. Not embracing it will only mean we get left behind (more than we already have been). I had a similar experience with my Lola Cruz mysteries. Lack of marketing and promotion and no time given to develop the series before it was cut loose.

    After doing my own experiment with A Deadly Curse (a romantic suspense based on the legend of la Llorona) and the upcoming A Deadly Sacrifice (chupacabras and a curandera!), I’m convinced that being in control of our careers is all-important. I’m taking the third Lola Cruz mystery to an ebook just as you are taking the 3rd Dirty Girls book that way. Can’t wait to read your new books!

    Congratulations on your new path and on being in control.

  50. Posted March 6, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations on your new path. I’m impressed and inspired. Off to find out how to be a Dirty Girl. One thing I was pleased to read in your post is how you had your mom serve as your editor. Too often I’m finding poorly edited and copyedited self-pubbed books. Yes, a self-published book can bring in sales. But a well-written, fully edited self-published book brings in fans. Fans bring future sales. Fans bring a writer a career.

  51. Posted March 6, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Okay, I’ve never been pubbed by a ‘real’ house. At the present time, I don’t know why I would submit to one. Thousands of previously-published authors are also competing for what might be the last production slot ever. At a lot of houses, promotion always was up to the author. In the past, authors knew nothing about distribution. But that’s all changed.

  52. Posted March 9, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your amusing and encouraging treatise. It sure seems like you are headed in the right direction. Ebooks aren’t going away anytime soon!

    When my (first!) book is completed, I will probably go ahead and submit it to publishers, but you can bet your bippy I’ll be looking into self publishing at the same time!

    In Joy,
    Sara McGoodwin

  53. Posted March 10, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I chuckled and laughed outright at you article. You are SOOOO right! I selfpubbed in the beginning and then went with a snall press. Big mistake there! I should have kept going on my own. I have to say, the pub did little for me and made the lion’s share of the cake! No more! I have two new books that will be released under the KDP program with Amazon in ebook and paper. I like ebooks, though I do have a paper following, so I will do that end of things to continue appealing to both sectors. The publisher tends to only want to go eBook and quite frankly, it annpoyed the snot out of me. Hence my trip back to self pubbing. I think it takes nerve to do what you (&I) have done, but I like to be in the driver’s seat, too. Onward & Upward!

  54. Posted June 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    I sold over a million books with Random House, but according to their business ‘rules’ they didn’t want me to write what I wanted to. I now sell over 1,000 ebooks a day, making more in a a week than I did in six months with them. Traditional publishing is clinging to a business template that if it isn’t dead yet, is on life support.
    After 20 years in traditional publishing, I still don’t understand how they do business. I’m not sure they do either. Yet we also still see the big celebrity book deal, aka Snooki, happen, while they pretend to know the business and what people want to read?

  55. Amanda
    Posted June 25, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much, Alisa! It’s so nice reading about authors with a readership. Have you ever read Austin Nights by this dude named herocious? It’s a great love story that involves renegade publishing.

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