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Debut, indie, self-published or vanity and publishing

To thine own self be true.
T.S. Conrad

In a recent interview, Sue Grafton states the following:

. . . The indie success stories aren’t the rule. They’re the exception. The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time. This is not a quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall. Don’t get me started. Oops..you already did. (Credit: Leslea Tash, Louisville Author Spotlight welcomes Sue Grafton, Louisville Kentucky, The Pulse of the City.

You might ask, is there a difference between debut, indie, self-published or vanity written works?

The answer is yes. A debut author equates to a debut novel. A debut novel is the first novel published by an amateur, novice or entry-level writer and is the initial opportunity an author has to impress the publishing community. Debut novelists often have a difficult time finding a publisher, so they often move to self-publishing as a plan to get in the game and carry the intent to re-edition with a publisher, but this isn't good writer planning.

Conversely, a self-publishing author equates to a self-published book, which is without any form of representation. Self-published books are privately printed. The author is responsible for cost, design and layout, distribution, marketing and promotions and etc. This author does it all, or outsources to companies offering them services such as BookBaby, Lulu, etc. However, a self-published author may have prior credits and is not necessarily debut.

An indie author is not a self-published author - the two are not necessarily the same. An indie author makes independent writing their business, which involves a lot of ownership and publisher-like attributes. The self-published author uses iUniverse, Lulu, BookBaby to get books printed. In their cases, what you see is what you get. An indie author may use varied market resources, but they may also have a logo, own varied media and present with a lot of traditional publishing ideals as an independent. Therefore, there's a big difference between self-published and indie; however, independent publishers are not synonymous with indie either.

A vanity author pays a significant fee to publish a book with little to no reader recognition in the process of book development. Again, vanity is not synonymous with self-publishing or indie and it is not even synonymous with subsidy publishing even though the publishing industry frowns on both vanity and subsidy publishing.

Other affiliations, such as: partnerships, co-ops, etc. are also historically frowned on. Today, many self-published or indie authors do co-op or partner to form independent small publishing houses and may or may not invite new authors, which isn't frowned on.

What happens when a self-published, indie, vanity or subsidy author decides to second edition their title with a publisher?

First, a lot of publisher work to reinvent the wheel. The entire element of a "debut" author, which is a marketing tool because it automates a message to channels, vendors and readership regarding a new "impressive" novelist (through a publishing house) is removed after self-publishing whether indie, vanity or subsidy release. While the mindset of the publishing community is changing - typically publishers desire first rights to new titles they represent. Second editions remove this capability. Normally, only existing authors who are newly signed with "new" releases can get prior works revamped and published with a publishing house. Self-published books when presented to publishing houses, often result in rejections, especially if prior sales were not good. If the title has experienced poor sales and a publisher picks up the title, that is a lucky author.

Many authors self-publish and don't sell well and then desire a publisher to "fix" their problems. Their poor sales history adversely affects the new second-edition release. And, often, even in not selling, the self-published author doesn't listen to the publisher if suggestions are presented to redress a poorly selling book. An example is the author who submits a poorly selling novel and the publisher suggests: new cover design, retitle, pseudonym, rewrite, etc. The author often will say, "Well, I like my cover." "I feel the title is great - I don't want to loose the 200 followers I have and the 100 sales market it has experienced." "But I am happy with the content." "No, I don't want to use a pseudonym." In these cases, why is the author contacting a publisher to re-edition? There is no reason, if sales are poor, there is a reason and it isn't due to being published no matter how you publish. Poor sales means there's an inherent problem with the book as it is.

Yet, the novice author often expects magical sales through a publishing house they could not achieve. This doesn't happen without the publisher fixing whatever was the issue in self-publishing whether indie, vanity, etc. If the title is clean, the marketing platform, cover, author's presentation of the title or another element may require adjustment to promote a selling product, but if a publisher picks up the previously published title - change has to occur.

So how does a writer make the switch from self-publishing, indie, vanity or subsidy to a publisher?

The most crucial element is for the writer to determine "why?" Are they happy with self-publishing, indie, vanity or subsidy press? Do they need to get a publisher? A writer has to answer these questions and it isn't necessary for every writer to secure a publisher.

Publishers look at manuscripts as potential reader interests in order to make a profit. If the goal is for the author to boost their ego or show off (many writers have this goal), then the publisher isn't going to be interested and why waste their time asking?

Writers often forget that the goal of writing is: audience. Before a writer writes, they need to underscore what they want from publishing. The old pros and cons list creation works as a tool for author discovery if as a writer they are honest with themselves; however, swap pros vs cons with author benefit vs reader benefit. They should list as many line items as possible under each column.

Once this list is developed, the writer should next establish selling points. What benefits does their title carry for readers and retailers? If the writer feels the title doesn't "have to sell," "require a lot of readers," "not need be a mainstream title," they should self-publish and not bother a publishing house. Their type of self-publishing (indie, vanity, subsidy) is up to them. While frowned on, vanity and subsidy publishing may have merit for heirlooms or private keepsakes and there is nothing wrong with that. But they are not worth a publishing house's manpower and labor force . . . if, on the other hand, the book is a way for the writer to show family, friends, acquaintances they have published a book with zero readership concept . . . the title should be understood to be such from the get go, which may not be bad either, but doesn't warrant a publisher.

There's not too unfamiliar commentary in many amateur titles usually located in the preface, acknowledgement, author notes, etc.: "I'm sorry to say, I didn't write this for you as a reader, I wrote this for myself and then decided readers might like it too, so here you go!" This is the absolute WORST lead-in a new or dated author can include in their novels, but new authors tend to state this 75% of the time. In reviewing titles on bookshelves and considering a purchase, to most readers such a disclaimer is a put down. Readers want to read books authors write for THEM, not for themselves and NOT as a second-thought.

A debut novelist who desires literary success should represent readers or pick another field to engage in. On the other hand, a vanity author doesn't need to care nor worry about sales.

A good writer determines key elements for readers, investors, vendors, and etc. and definitely locates a publisher with whom they will work and listen to, in order to build a quality product readers want to purchase. And, they also share their goals for writing - the reader should be goal #1.

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Quote: I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught. ~Georgia O'Keeffe