Saturday, June 14, 2014

Traditional vs. Indie: Do you REALLY get it?

I laughed when I saw this the other day. Anyone who knows me knows that I firmly believe in good punctuation, grammar, and spelling. I’m also a stickler for details. I spend a lot of time in the Chicago Manual of Style but, admittedly, there are lots of things in there that I've never seen. So when I ran across this in the back of the book, I laughed until I cried, and I knew this was a subject that I had to pick apart. Take a really good look at this and you can see why so many people are self-publishing.

That’s right, folks, the steps to traditional publishing. Ah, I remember those days. Sitting around waiting for rejection letters, or having a manuscript accepted and sitting around waiting to see when they'd publish it or if you’d make any money because the publisher was pretty much taking it all. Those were the good ol’ days, huh?

So here’s the new and improved version of publishing. It’s really simple: The writer does everything. No kidding. If they don’t do it they hire it done. So let’s go over the basics.

I write the book. When I’m finished writing it, I do a few things. First, it’s proofed. That’s the search for spelling errors, incorrect punctuation, grammar problems (“was” and “were,” sheesh), etc. This is also the time for revisions. Don’t like that paragraph? Take it out. Got the wrong character’s name in that scene? Change it back. Found out that he gave her a ring on Christmas morning, then took her to Thanksgiving dinner the next day? That timeline’s a screwed-up mess. Fix it – fix it all. And good luck with that, too.

In the meantime, the concept of the book also goes to the cover designer. That’s always fun. Most cover designers are pretty intuitive, so if you can just give them an idea what the book is about, they’ll run with it. I think mine does an excellent job, but then I’m kind of biased.

Once the cover is back and all the proofing, editing, and revisions have been done, both come back to the author. Now, if the author is smart, they send the files out to a formatter. If not, they format them themselves. I did that once. Notice I said once. Never again. The cost is minimal as opposed to the hours and hours I spent tinkering with the files and never getting them quite right. Plus, let me tell you, readers and other authors can tell which books have been professionally formatted and which ones were self-formatted, and it's a glaring disparity. So nope. Off to the formatter the files go. But it's your call. If you have a masochistic streak and enjoy spending countless hours beating your head against a wall, go for it.

In the instance that you do show enough intelligence to publish a book by actually paying for formatting, the files come back to the author as a completed book. Yay! Next step? Choose your retailers, make sure you have files formatted for their devices, set up everything, and hit “Publish.”

Now take a deep breath and pour yourself a glass of champagne. You’re a published author! You’re finished!

Eh, not quite. If you were traditionally published and used the model from the first flow chart, yeah, you would be. All you could do then is hope that the publisher keeps all their promises and that someday you’re popular enough with readers to make demands regarding placement and royalties and maybe even make other publishing houses sit up and take notice. Not so much at this point, but you are done.

Not if you’re an indie.

If you’re an indie, your work is just beginning. You see, every day thousands and thousands of books are uploaded to sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Some of them are great. Some of them, not so good. Okay, a lot of them not so good. A great many of them are poor and a surprising number are really, really bad. I mean really bad. Frighteningly bad. And guess what?
You’re out there competing with them.

What’s happened is that good authors are getting harder and harder to find. I don’t mean that they’re not out there; I mean they’re hard to literally find. Their books are jammed into the pile with so many fair, poor, and really, really bad books that it becomes hard to figure out what’s good and what’s not. Readers don’t like to buy a book just to have to return it because it’s so bad they can’t make it through. Of course, some of them return the books anyway, but that’s a completely different blog post. Asshats.

What that means is that, as authors, we have to find a way to rise above the pile; to stand out from the crowd; to make sure people know who we are.

Behold, the indie after-publishing flow chart.

Looks a little chaotic, huh? That’s because it is. And this just scratches the surface - there's so much more. You see, no one’s found a formula yet. Sure, some claim to have, but really, not so much. Any successful author will tell you that what works for them doesn’t necessarily work for others. And I even sat and listened to two pretty successful authors say that a lot of it was just plain luck. Not very encouraging, since I’m not one of the luckiest people I know. That would be Kathy. But enough of that. It’s just that you have to try a lot of things to see what works.

Worse yet, it’s not always clear early on what’s working. You have to give it time, which means often you give time to something that, in the end, just doesn't work.

But the worst part is this: You can’t stop. There is no end. If you want to sell books, you have to keep going. An author I know said that she took one day off Facebook and her sales plummeted. I can’t say when the last time was that I had a day off. I’m typing this in the car as the hubby drives. By the time this is posted tomorrow morning (Saturday), I’ll be 4.5 hours from home visiting relatives, and I’ll be up and doing promo. There’ll be more on Sunday morning. When I’m not doing that kind of thing, I’m checking on swag prices and designing the stuff, trying to find conferences to attend, working with my promo people, staying in touch with my street team (Hey, ladies - I love you!), and just generally busting my ass to sell a few books. I've been working 18 to 20 hour days for almost two years. And there’s not an end in sight.

Now you know the truth. We don’t just put our books out there, sit back, and watch them magically become bestsellers. That actually happens to some people, but not very many. In the meantime, most of us are out there face-planting on our desks from exhaustion, looking for a pencil to stick in our eye to dull the pain, and seriously considering turning to a life of prostitution because it would pay better and at least you’d have your days free.

I won’t do that. I love my books. I love the characters. I love it when someone else loves them as much as I do. I love when I forget that they’re not real people, or I’m depressed when one of them is hurt or sick (I’m tearing up right now), or two of them get into an argument – out loud – while I’m driving in the car. If no one ever bought another one of my books, I’d keep writing.

But after a while, I’d sure as hell take a day off.