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I am very keen to get into writing, and have come up with several outline plots for short stories, novels and even trilogies. However, one hurdle, which I expect is not uncommon for most new authors, is that I am put off by the difficulties of publication.

Everything I have ever read about publication points to the fact that it can take years, if at all, to get your work published. Often quoted is that the Harry Potter books were rejected by many publishing houses before a small firm took a chance!

Recently I have been introduced to the possibility of self-publication, via Kindle or similar devices. This seems to take out the difficulty of finding someone willing to take on your work. But, is this a good idea? Should this be last resort, or is this the future of publishing?

I really am new to all this, so any advice would be greatly received.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I'm a huge fan of self-publication and small-press publication, and I think the stigma attached to both is fading. (It's worth noting that my only experience being published is non-fiction with a big publisher, but a girl's gotta start somewhere, and I do a lot with self-publishers in my job as head of a web development shop focused on small business.)

Self-publishing is viable now in a way it never was before, because:

  • Distribution channels for literature are more centralized than ever. While you used to have relationships with thousands of book stores and small chains across the country to get any notice, now once you are in one or more of the big listings you will be on Amazon.com, Borders, and Barnes and Noble's web sites before long.

  • You used to have to shell out big $$$ to do large print runs. Now, electronic publishing and one-off printing let you limit your up-front costs to whatever it takes to write, edit, lay out, create cover art for, and advertise your book.

  • Advertising used to mean big $$$ and relationships to put together print ads, TV commercials, and radio spots. Now, a professional-looking web site, a good social media strategy, and giving away a copy or two on Goodreads will get your foot in the door.

In short, the gap between "self publishing" and traditional publishing is closing.

Some tips you should know:

  • Invest in a professional website, whether just for you as an author, or putting your work out under a small press name. You can start with something as simple as a blog and expand from there, but people need to know where to go to find you and your latest work.

  • In addition to selling via the big eBook outlets, offer sale of DRM-free (but watermarked, if you like) ebooks in multiple formats on your web site and/or through outlets specializing in DRM-free ebooks. There are a growing number of ebook consumers who are tired of DRM, and their desired rate of consumption, at least in the fiction market, is far higher than the supply serving them.

  • Learn how to leverage social media: Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Identi.ca, your own blog's RSS feed, etc. to promote your work.

  • Use a print-on-demand service (I like Lulu.com) to offer print copies -- it doesn't cost you anything and not everyone reads ebooks.

  • Don't be afraid to pound the pavement. If you are doing tech writing, speak at a conference. If you are writing YA fiction, offer to spring for popcorn and do a reading at a local school or youth center. If you are writing any fiction, talk to local bookstores about doing a reading and/or book signing (most love promoting local authors when they believe in the work).

  • Give away a copy or three to people (Goodreads is a good channel for this) to get those first good reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, etc.

  • Spend time on great layout and typesetting. You can do it yourself, and there are plenty of free, open-source software and fonts to help you. If your book is hard to read, it doesn't matter how good a read it is, it won't get popular.

  • Once your books hit Amazon, etc. make sure to go back and click the "I am the publisher" option to get your book and author info in shape.

Hope that helps

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1  
I definitely agree that if you know what you're doing, self-publish may be the way to go. But beware, it's not a get rich quick scheme. There is still a lot of work that goes into making your book publishable that you're now responsible for, stuff that a traditional (be it a Big 5 publisher or a smaller publisher) normally does for you. You're going to have to spring for a professional editor, a cover artist, an ISBN, as well as be responsible for 100% of the marketing. You'll also have to make sure your print book is in physical stores (BAM, B&N, Borders, and smaller shops too.) –  Ralph Gallagher Dec 15 '10 at 20:58
    
Very good tips - each one as important as the other. –  TMarshall Feb 19 '11 at 22:42

I would recommend JA Konrath's blog on this. While he hasn't abandoned print publication, he sees e-books as a very valuable way to not only make money, but get your work out quickly and with more control over it. Here's a good take from him on publishing: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/08/changing-face-of-publishing.html

The biggest thing is that you need to build a little network of people to help. You need

  • an artist, or contract artists (maybe 99designs or something similar)
  • an editor or two that you can trust good

  • friends for plot/structure/enjoyment feedback

The actual conversion process of moving to Kindle/ePub format isn't that hard, and the simpler and more consistent you keep your writing formatting, the easier this is.

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I would second Konrath's blog. However, be prepared to spend some time, becaue he has a LOT of information pertaining to self-publishing e-books. That being said, it is well worth the time! –  Steven Drennon Jul 24 '11 at 2:18

With the rise of print-on-demand and (especially) e-books, self-publishing has become viable in a way that it never was before. However, this does not mean you should publish your first efforts. In most genres these days there are various websites that publish fiction, and these serve as a sort of minor league for up-and-coming writers.

At a minimum, getting published at these sites shows that a disinterested third party likes your work enough to expend the effort to publish it. It's a good way to get feedback and develop a reputation within a community. Once you do self-publish (if you decide to go that route), you'll have a much better change of making an impact.

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Publishing on the Kindle is definitely a viable option. In order to have a shot at success, though, you should put some consideration into how you're going to go about promoting yourself.

There are a lot of online short fiction magazines. The ones I am most familiar with are podcast magazines like Escape Pod (for science fiction) or PodCastle (for Fantasy). Writers like Tim Pratt have managed to have a respectable amount of success online by getting a lot of their short fiction published in popular online magazines like that, building up an audience who are then more likely to buy his Kindle/not for free works.

Then there are people who podcast their novels a chapter at a time for free, then sell the written version in Kindle form. Or, like Tim Pratt again, release the written version a chapter at a time on a blog but have the whole completed version in Kindle form, so that anyone who gets impatient and doesn't want to wait for all the chapters to be released can pay to get the whole thing.

It used to be hard to get published, and to get noticed once you had been published. Now it is easy to get published (in electronic form) but if anything it is even harder to get noticed because so many others can publish too. So I would say that it's not matter of whether you want to go with a self-publish/Kindle option, but how.

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Step one is to write a good book. I'd try not to worry about the traditional publishers v. self-publishing options until I had a solid manuscript.

In general, although the publishing industry is in turmoil, the future for authors looks brighter and brighter. It's also changing fast. Even if you have a good book ready in six months, the market and options will be different then. It's too hard to predict now. Regardless of what the industry looks like in the future, having a good book will always be a critical ingredient.

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