Self-Pubbed vs. Traditional: Which is Better?

Someone asked me this recently and my answer got kind of long-winded insightful, and I figured why not inflict it on you guys? I'd save myself the trouble of writing another blog post you guys might be interested in what I think talking about it.

Although my personal neuroses have staunchly led me down the traditional path so far, the short answer is I don't think either path is objectively better.

Traditional publishing is harder to break into. You have to please more people (agents and editors need to believe they can sell your book, and sometimes they're done with a genre that readers still want) and you have to deal with more rejection. It will stretch you though, and if you make it, the benefits are pretty huge: an agent to partner with, professional editing, cover design, print distribution, etc.

Self-publishing, obviously, is easy to get into. I could do it right now. But success is more difficult because you have to do it yourself. You have to edit it (I recommend paying someone). You have to get a cover (again: pay someone). You have to find your audience by yourself (and hope they're into self-published e-books). The benefits are freedom, speed, and control.

But in my opinion, the biggest danger in self-publishing is fooling yourself. Susan Quinn addresses this really well in her Seven Questions to Ask Before Self-Publishing. I've seen a few folks go to self-publishing before they were ready. Some had been rejected by traditional publishing and didn't take the hint. Some thought the praise of their writer friends meant that perfect strangers would feel the same way. Some believed the hype of the self-pubbing community and were surprised when they only sold 200 copies.

Which path you choose depends on a lot of things: your writing, your personality, the market. But very generally, my advice is don't self-publish your first book.

But do query it.

Most likely it will be rejected, but I think you can learn a lot by querying, without harming your reputation or your status as a debut author. (I should note that weak sales in self-pubbing might not be a lot of harm, but I personally think you can learn more from querying anyway, so why risk it? You can always self-publish it later).

But no matter which path you take, no matter how low the sales or how high the rejections, don't give up and don't stop writing. Not if this is what you want. There are a lot of ingredients for success, but I've become more and more convinced that the most important one is stubbornness.

What do you guys think? Is there a better path? Why?

What To Do With a Bad Review

I once stated that I thought it was possible to respond to a negative review in a positive way (see the first footnote of this post). I am now rethinking that theory. Here's what happened to an author I know.

(Names and most specifics have been wiped, just cuz I don't want things to get worse):

1. A Reviewer posted a bad review of the Author's book on a popular book site.
2. In the comments, Reviewer picked out a couple users who liked the book (and had little or no other activity on their accounts), suggesting these accounts were sock puppets -- created by the author to artificially boost the book's rating.
3. Reviewer's readers agreed and mocked Author for such "obvious" fake accounts.

Before I go on, I want us to stop and think about what we would do in this situation. Assume the review counts (the book hasn't actually come out yet, so any buzz might count). For myself, it is taking every ounce of strength to take the high road right now and get to my point, rather than argue about Internet Immaturity and Spurious Evidence.

Oops. Moving on . . .

4. Author left a comment in the review thread -- not to comment on the review itself, but to mention that none of the accounts were fake (one of the accounts was actually her daughter).
5. Author was told somewhat bitterly that Reviewer is entitled to write whatever she wants about the book (note again, though: Author said nothing about the review).
6. A couple of people who liked the book spoke up in Author's favor (some in the thread, some in their own reviews).
7. These people were accused of being trolls, sock puppets, or both.

Then things got worse.

Friends of Reviewers left multiple 1-star reviews after not reading the book. Hateful comments were left on the reviews of the "fake" accounts. At one point, Author thanked a different reviewer for reading the whole book and being impartial, at which point two commenters blasted her for "dictating" what makes a review fair or not.

It's like this particular group of people has experienced other authors acting badly and assume Author is doing the same thing. They've seen authors with fake accounts and assume that any suspicious account is, likewise, fake.

To user-reviewers then: This is not (always) the Bad Author you're looking for. Sometimes people mean what they say, with no other agenda. Best not to assume.

But this whole thing just proves to me why commenting on bad reviews -- or trying to prove anything on the internet at all -- is generally a bad idea. Authors, don't comment on negative reviews. Yes, there are thousands of user-reviewers who will act professionally, even toward authors whose books they don't like. But it's not worth risking the ire of those who will misinterpret everything you do.

Professor Internet is right: it's better to just chill out and eat a sandwich.

What do you think? Would you have stayed out of it? (I don't know if I would have). Is there a way to step into this without making things worse?

Want a Critique? Let's Talk

We're gonna start something new here on Author's Echo. And it pretty much involves only good things for you.

FIRST, you can get a critique. I will accept:
  • Query Letters
  • Back-Cover Copy
  • First Pages
  • 1-page Synopses
  • Basically anything under 300 words that is used to answer the question, "Do I want to read this book?"
These are your first impressions. Agents look at query letters, readers look at back-cover copy, and everybody will read that first page. You want to make an impact right from the start, and I want to help you do that.

Send your first impact material to Tell me WHAT IT IS (query letter, back-cover, etc.), the TITLE, the AUTHOR (that's you), the GENRE, and then no more than about 300 words.

Every Wednesday, I will post one of these to the blog along with my thoughts. Then I'll open it up for critiques from Author's Echo readers (who, by the way, are really smart and talented individuals themselves).

But wait, there's more!

The SECOND good thing is for those of you who will be critiquing. Not only do you get to experience all the goodness of giving a critique, but every month I will randomly select one critter to win EITHER:
  • $10 at Amazon or B&N
  • A 20-page critique from me

Seriously, I can't see a downside for anybody here. First Impact posts start going up next week. If you have any questions, read the fine print or ask away in the comments.

  • I will try to critique everything sent to me, but I make no guarantees. What if you guys send me like a thousand query letters? What if I go blind from awesome? What if the Mayans were right? YOU JUST NEVER KNOW!
  • I will accept any genre, though keep in mind sci-fi/fantasy is my thing.
  • Critters will receive one entry for each week they offer a critique. Most months, this means you can earn up to 4 entries for the drawing.
  • Only actual critiques will be entered for the monthly prize. They don't have to be long, just useful. "This rocks!" or "This sucks!" won't cut it.
  • You may comment multiple times on a single post, but you'll still get only one entry for the drawing.

Books I Read: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Title: The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian
Published: 2009
My Content Rating: PG-13 for violence
Cliffhanger Ending: YES

Thomas wakes up in a dark elevator with no memories of who he is or what he's doing there. He emerges in the middle of a giant maze, surrounded by boys who have likewise been stripped of his memories. They've spent the last two years trying to escape, while struggling against the creatures that live in the maze. But Thomas is different. Things feel familiar to him, though he doesn't know why. He has to figure it out fast, though, because his arrival -- and the surprise arrival of the first girl the next day -- is about to change everything.

I completely fell in love with the world-building of this book. I mean, shoot, a giant maze with moving walls? What's not to love! And then when you start catching pieces of the mystery behind it all: HOOKED.

The characters made me happy too. They were smart (mostly; see below), brave, and stubborn (in a good way). I wouldn't mind being stuck in a maze with most of these guys.

The one thing that bothered me through most of the book was how slow they were to pick up on things. I didn't like that they seemed to be withholding information from each other, and I didn't like that it sometimes took Thomas a few tries before he remembered/believed something somebody did tell him.

The fact that I'm telling you about the book, however, should tell you just how much more I love the secrets and the world-building. I should be mad, but I'm not (though I do hope they're quicker to pick things up in the sequel), and I'm pretty sure I have to finish this series.

Leviathan Fan Art

This is probably my favorite thing I've ever drawn for Anthdrawlogy, and not just because Scott Westerfeld posted it on his blog.

Okay, yeah, maybe it is because of that.

What's your favorite mythological monster? I think mine's the kraken, but I bet one of you can name one I like even more.

Blog Growth: 2012

About a year ago, I took a look at the growth of this blog, what I thought was working and wasn't. It looks like a heck of a lot has changed in a year.

(1) Google Bait
I don't intentionally write Google bait, but the vast majority of daily hits come here from Google. They come looking for images of steampunk, board games, Lord of the Rings, Dune, and various classic novels (assuming those last two are students looking for an easy book report: let me know what grade I'm getting, m'kay, guys?).

(2) Getting an Agent
Writers who read blogs are interested in a couple of things, and one of them is seeing other writers succeed. I started this blog as a narrative of my journey, and though the narrative is really slow and plodding, people notice when critical plot events happen. (Well, mostly. Note the lack of growth when I got published in BCS.)

(3) Content People Talk About
Before I got an agent, blog growth jumped around September 2011. Sometimes posts just hit a nerve, and then people link them so they can hit more nerves. For me, some of those posts were: Why Haven't You Self-Published Yet, What Do Agents Owe You, and Writing When You Hate Writing.

Hits don't mean readers. All those folks who found me on a Google image search are unlikely to stick around for more. I think the Google hits from that one steampunk post prove that.

Even hits from getting an agent don't automatically mean readers. Honestly, a lot of the growth since December is due to other nerve-striking posts: The Offer I Turned Down, What Makes a Query Letter Awesome, The Thing About Rue and Racism, etc.

So what do I think gets readers? Content People Talk About.

But how to write content people talk about . . . Heck, I don't know. For every post that got retweeted, there were a dozen or so that only you (my loyal readers) noticed. If I knew how to hit a nerve every time, I'd be rich.

I do know this:
  1. Know your audience (from the post titles, clearly my audience is writers).
  2. Write stuff nobody else is writing.
  3. Write you.
As I said in last year's post: "Honestly, this is stuff anyone can do."

What do you think? How did you find this blog, and why do you stick around?

About E-Readers and Free Books

One of the interesting things about the e-pocalypse is the proliferation of free books. Plenty of smart authors -- self-published and otherwise -- are releasing free books into the wild as a promotional effort.

In theory, this is a great idea. Heck, in practice it's probably a great idea, but I've noticed something about the free books on my Kindle.

I forget about them.

Seriously. I mean not all the time, and not forever. But yeah, most of the time: I hear about a free book; if it sounds like my thing, I have it sent to my Kindle; and then I forget.

Why? Well, partially because downloading it from the laptop and remembering that it's on the Kindle are two separate events. When I'm on my Kindle, I forget about wherever I was surfing that morning.

Mostly, I forget because I didn't pay for it. I'm sure there's a psychological term for this, but I value something more if I pay for it -- even if I only paid a little. It means I made a semi-difficult decision (knowing me, it was a long decision, probably involving lists and a flowchart), so I put more value in that book. I'm more likely to make time for it.

And I'm less likely to put it down. I can't tell you how many Kindle samples I've downloaded, thought "this isn't bad," and then never thought about again.

Does that mean giving away free books is a bad thing? Well, no. There's strong evidence that they work, and I do get around to them eventually (and it's kinda nice too, like, "Oo! I forgot I had that!").

There's no question free books will get more downloads. But I wonder if you couldn't get more readers overall if the price point was just a leetle higher. Low enough to be a steal, but high enough to make the buyers value the download.

I dunno, what do you think? How do you treat free books?