Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Diamond in the rough

by Stacey

I know we've all talked a lot about self-publishing and what it means for the more traditional, old fashioned book business, and I'm not really interested in getting into the pros and cons of self-publishing, but I thought it was worth exploring this topic a little bit further and see if there are ways to address how the two worlds can come together.

What prompted by interest in the subject was a few things that came up around the same time. First, I read this piece about the rise of self-publishing and how the digital age is somehow making self-publishing more respectable. I'm not sure if I agree entirely , but she makes some interesting points about how far self-publishing has come. Then, I saw this in Publisher's Weekly about an entire trade show for self publishers and authors who have either published this way, or plan to, or for anyone curious about what it's all about. Finally, and perhaps the most interesting piece of all, I had lunch with a prominent editor recently at a major commercial house who told me that they had recently done a deal with an author who had previously self-published her book. We talked a little bit about it, and when I asked her if the book had done very well in its self-published life for them to consider reissuing it, she told me that it hadn't sold particularly well, and the numbers weren't all that great. So I asked her why in this ridiculously difficult market did they agree to publish it? Because it's really good, she told me. Oh, how simple. And how refreshing!

I continue to believe that there are untapped talented authors lurking out there publishing books on their own, in some cases quite successfully. I've signed up several self-published books over the years, and it's been a bit of a mixed bag. One author was self-publishing her novels successfully long before it became fashionable, or as easy as it is today. When she chose to reach out to traditional publishers, we got her a very nice six-figure deal for two books with a commercial publisher, and after a few years of feeling increasingly frustrated by the lack of control over the publishing process, she decided to go back to self-publishing. Another was a cookbook that I resold successfully to a division of Random House, and the book has sold fairly well and looks like it will backlist nicely. A third was a nonfiction self-help book that had some great elements and an author who promised to support the book financially, but I wasn't able to make it work. I am fascinated and intrigued when I hear stories of self-published books selling to traditional publishers, in some cases for a lot of money or with a big promotional plan in place. And I've thought over the years about trying to find self-published books that have done well in an effort to find new clients and new projects. If an author has gone through the time and work required to publish on their own, they have already shown a commitment to their work, and if the stars are aligned in just the right way, maybe we can help them in their efforts by matching them with a traditional publisher who can offer much greater sales, marketing and distribution support. In the perfect storm effect, this can be a major win-win for all parties. Look at The Shack as an example.

There are so many books self-published every year (the stat of 764,448 titles last year is staggering) that there still needs to be some sort of filter to find the quality over quantity. Other than the books I've worked on, I haven't read many self-published titles, and I'd love to learn more about what’s out there. Do any of you have any recommendations for self-published books you absolutely loved?


  1. Well, I'm a huge fan of my own books, of course...

    But seriously. Jeanette Clinkunbroomer was the first runner-up in Amazon's inaugural contest a few years ago. She put her book, Life Without Music, up on CreateSpace. It's one I keep coming back to. I remember putting down a book by a best-selling author and picking up this one -- and liking it SO much better. Such a better book (and not just because it's about rock and roll).

  2. Grr...had a long reply, but my internet cut out and I lost it.

    I'm thinking of going the self-publishing route and the more I read about it, the more encouraged I am. As part of my research into it, I bought what I'm pretty sure, are three self-pubbed books on Kindle. All were $0.99, but the price was only part of the factor for buying them. I didn't want free, I wanted the author to get something for their hard work, even if it's only a few cents, and I would have spent more, but these three were books that I would have bought if I were browsing at Borders. Or, at least considered them. I might not have bought all three if the price was $6.99/apiece.

    I've only read one so far and only 3/4 of it due to time constraints, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's called Never Love a Stranger, by Ellen Fisher (I don't know her, so I'm not trying to plug a fried or anything on your blog. :-)) It's a time travel romance with a nice twist that I've not seen in that genre before. The man comes from 300 years in the future.

    The opening paragraphs were a bit clumsy, and I have to admit, I was thinking, 'Oh no.' but I kept reading and it began to flow much better just past those first few paragraphs.

    I liked the mc's voice, and that kept me reading too. The male character wasn't as good, but that was part of the story, as far as his voice. Plus, physically, his description of him isn't of *my* dream man, but I can certainly see that others would love him.

    Overall, I thought it was about middle of the pack as far as romance books go, which isn't a bad thing for a self-pubbed book.

  3. We design quite a number of books for self-publishers. Some of the books are better reads than others. But a book that I really must recommend for anyone dealing with a terrible illness: Sara Gorman's DESPITE LUPUS: How to Live Well With a Chronic Illness. It's really about much more than just Lupus.

  4. My to-be-read pile is so large, I'm not sure I could pull out a particular title yet. (There are a lot I'm excited about reading, but I haven't got to them.)

    I also think that, at the moment, a lot of authors are like me - putting up their "non-commercial" work first to get feel for how it all works. While I know there are some winners out there now, I'll bet there will soon be a lot more.

  5. I have to say I don't think I've ever read a self published title. I'm sure that there are great ones out there but the traditional publishing model means that I know that it's been edited by professionals and chosen by a whole team of people as a good read. With self publishing you could buy something and you don't even know if it's a first draft or not until you've already paid for it.

  6. Sure, there's my own Mansfield Park and Mummies, not to mention all my critically acclaimed small press (not self-published) other titles.

    As a two-time Nebula Award Finalist it is extremely frustrating for me to have neither agency representation nor major publisher interest.

  7. bitter and twisted18/5/10 9:55 PM

    With regard to fiction only: There are two types of self-published books. There are the ones that are not as good as the author thinks they are and there are the ones that are quite brilliant, have unique and refreshing plots and venture to places that the too formula publications don't reach.

    What both types will have in common is that they will have been refused by a great number of agents before the self-publishing route will have been considered by the author.

    Why have the good ones been missed by agents? Because agents will not have liked the authors profile, or the synopsis will not have revealed in two pages just how cleaver the twists of the plot are. Even when a story is showing potential it will be refused because it doesn't fit the business modular requirements.

    The publisher who is supporting the author mentioned will find there is a massive sleeping market for what he is offering and from where I'm looking from, she is taking a first bold step to setting right an industry in decline.

    Please leave the name of the book and author on the next blog entry, as I would like to buy a good book. something I haven't done for a number of years as there hasn't been one available.

  8. When I read recently that Roddy Doyle self-pub'd his first novel THE COMMITMENTS, I swallowed my tongue. Yeah, the good ones are out there... somewhere.

  9. The only self-published stuff I've ever read is poetry by a few local authors. I've recently self-published my own book and have gotten amazing feedback, nothing bad from it yet. I get a little scared every time I see that an agent has posted something about self-publishing, it almost all seems to be so negative. I was suprised to see a little sunshine in this post. Thanks for not putting a dark cloud over my head!

  10. Bill Deasey's Ransome Seaborn is an amazing book. Really, really, really good. I would love to see him go mainstream with his writing.

    It was the PODdy Mouth Needle in the Haystack winner some years back. He's since self-published a second novel Traveling Clothes, which I haven't yet read. He's a musician by vocation.

  11. The Number One Book I Did Not Finish But Very Much Want To Try Again:

    The Descent by Jeff Long.

    The Number One Book That I’ve Already Tried More Than Once But Couldn’t Engage With, I Don’t Know Why:

    Dead Sea by Brian Keene.

    The Number One Book That I Found Mostly Painful and Likely Will Not Revisit:

    The Ruins by Scott Smith.

    The Number One Book I Shlogged Through and Almost Abandoned, But Kept On; No Pay-off, I Felt, In the End:

    Suffer the Children by John Saul.

    The Number One Book I Struggled Through, Maybe Put Down For a While, But Finished and Am Very Glad I Did:

    666 by Jay Anson.

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