The Self-Publisher’s Dilemma

Tempting...very tempting...

Like everyone else, I’m very interested in how ebooks are going to change the publishing world, especially since I hope to be a part of that world in the near future.  Lately one of the things that has been coming up is the idea of self-publishing.  With ebooks on the rise, and easy-to-use self-publishing platforms readily available, why not just self-publish and cut out the middle man? That way, you make more money per book, and can sell your books for less.  Seems like a win-win-win situation.  But…

There’s always a but.  In fact, in this case there are two “buts” that I’ve noticed when it comes to self-publishing.

First, now that anyone can pretty much put anything up on the kindle, there is a lot out there.  And, I hate to say it, but a lot of it isn’t very good.  I have nothing against self-publishing; for some people, it’s a better way to get their stuff out there, and I’m sure there are a lot of great stories available that wouldn’t otherwise be.  But there’s also a lot of not-so-great stories available.  What this means is that trying to find a good self-published story in the murky sea of words out there is difficult.

True, there are some traditionally published books that aren’t so great, either.  I know I can think of several times I’ve read something and wondered how it got published.  On the other hand, writing is so subjective, that those same books were highly recommended by other readers, so again, personal opinion plays a large role here.  But, back to the point, with traditionally published books at least there’s some kind of filter.  With self-publishing, that filter has been torn off so it’s up to the reader to figure out what’s good and what isn’t.  Which is exciting, yes, but also difficult, and leads to my second issue:

How do you make your self-published book stand out from the rest? This is something I argue about with my husband all the time.  As I’m researching agents and working on my query letter, he’s asking me why I don’t try self-publishing and bypass all that, and the reason is, I know my own limitations.  Would I be good enough at marketing myself to become well-known? Probably not.  True, in today’s world authors are expected to market themselves anyways, but in going the traditional route, they have some help.  A lot of help, actually.  If you self-publish, you go it alone for everything.

This means marketing, finding an editor, scheduling your own book signings and talks, everything.  Amanda Hocking, one of the kindle millionaires that everyone has been buzzing about lately, says it best in her post here when she explains, “I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn’t writing a book.”

On the other hand, it’s clear that times are changing.  There are some great comments on Nathan Bransford’s blog about all of this, and how mid-list authors will be the first to switch over.  Already Barnes and Noble announced it will welcome self published authors through its self-publishing platform, PubIt! Shari Lopatin took a look at this platform and the issues it raises over at her blog, if you want to check out her post.

As for me, I still want to go the traditional publishing route, if only to prove that yes, I was good enough to get in that way.  But I have a feeling that, as things change, more people will turn to self-publishing and not as a last resort, but as just another option.  What do you think?

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Hey, I finished writing a novel! Now what?

Alright, after months of silence I’m back.  Today is actually a pretty momentuous day for several reasons, and not just because I finally got off my lazy butt and started blogging again.  I also…<cue the music>…finished my third draft of my current WIP (work in progress)! Exciting, I know.  And while it still has another half dozen drafts to go (probably more than that, if I want to be entirely honest), I now have what I refer to as a “readable draft.”

A “readable draft” means that the plot makes sense throughout and the story is basically finished, so I can now have someone else read through it.  I don’t like to share my WIP with anyone until it gets to this point because honestly, my first drafts are just a confused jumble of words, full of inconsistencies and terrible dialogue.  Now, at least, these plot fails are surrounded by bits of story that makes sense.  Yay!

What happens now, you might ask? Well, first I need to con someone I trust into reading this draft and giving me some good feedback.  Actually, I like to get two people to read it at this point so I can get a good variety of criticism.  The list of people I will let read a first readable draft is very small, which is how I think it should be.  All you prospective writers out there, don’t let just anyone read an unfinished piece because it’s really not going to be your best work yet.  Find someone who reads a lot and can take a look at your story as a reader and let you know what works and what doesn’t.  It has to be someone who knows you well enough to be brutally honest, but who’s opinion you trust enough not to get angry and take it personally.  These are tough qualifications, which is why my own list is so small.

Another thing I’ve learned is to give my first readers plenty of time.  They are doing me a huge favor, so I don’t want to rush them, but I also find it’s helpful to give them some sort of timeline.  Most people operate much better when they know they have to get something done by a certain day.  Otherwise, your manuscript might just sit in a corner of their rooms for the next three months.  Generally, I give them a month, which accomplishes two things.  First, that’s more than enough time to read a manuscript and give some general critiques on it, and two, that gives me a month away from my story so when I do get it back, along with their suggestions, I can look at it with a fresh set of eyes.

When I hand over my glorious manuscript, I have also learned to be clear about my expectations.  I don’t want any line editing, or paragraph by paragraph notes, or anything ridiculous and hugely time-consuming like that.  No, these kinds of critiques should come later from your writing group.  Don’t have a writing group? Join one! I’ll talk more about why in a later post.  But getting back to this topic, what I want from a first reader is just this: Is my story interesting? Why or why not? Does it make sense? What doesn’t work in it? Any suggestions to make it better? Those are pretty much the only things I ask at this point.

When I get back my feedback, that’s when the real work begins.

Review of the Undead

Alright, as promised I’m doing my first “fiction Friday” book review.  Since we were talking about zombies on our camping trip, and that led to me deciding to do book reviews on my blog, I thought it would be fitting if I started with a zombie book.  So, in honor of this theme, I chose “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” by Carrie Ryan.

First off, this book has a great title.  Really, it’s the best zombie title I’ve seen, about a thousand times better than “Dawn of the Dead,” etc. (although Shaun of the Dead is a pretty good title, too, now that I think about it.  But since that’s a movie, it hardly counts).  But the question is, does it live up to its title? To be honest, when I first read this book a couple of months ago, I wasn’t so sure.  I definitely had mixed feelings about it, but since then I’ve found myself thinking about it at random times, and it stuck with me enough that I went out and bought the sequel, “The Dead-Tossed Waves,” even though it was still in hardback and I don’t actually like hardcovers on principle.

The basic plot is this (no spoilers–you could get most of this from the back of the book): Mary lives in a small village in the middle of the forest.  On all sides of their village is a fence, and on the other side of that fence is…you guessed it.  Zombies.  Hence the hands and teeth.  Her village is ruled by a Sisterhood of nuns, who teach them that they are the last people alive.  Shortly into the book, however, their fence is breached, and Mary and her friends have to venture out into the world, trying to find life in the midst of all that death.  Mary’s eventual goal is the ocean, but along the way she’ll have to decide between the two men who love her, subsequently destroying her friendship with her former best friend (actually, it was already pretty rocky by this point), and mending her relationship with her estranged brother.  She’ll discover truths about the forest, and the sisterhood, and the zombies on the other side of the fence, but most importantly, she’ll discover truths about herself.  And yeah, that sounds vague and lame, but I’m trying really hard not to give any spoilers here, so take it or leave it.

And now for the fun stuff.  First off, I love how they never refer to the undead in this book as “zombies.”  Instead, they call them “the Unconsecrated,” which sounds religious and creepy and really helps to make this book unique from all the other zombie books out there.  The Unconsecrated themselves are done really well; these are slow moving, relentless creatures who spend all their time hovering at the fence, moaning.  When they see people, they moan louder, and their fingers are all bloody and broken from trying to get in.  Later in the book, a new kind of Unconsecrated is introduced–a fast one, speeding back and forth and throwing itself at the fence with a ferocity that terrifies all the villagers.  And with good reason…

The characters in this book are well-done as well.  The main character, Mary, feels very real to me.  I like her because she’s not perfect, but she’s interesting and curious and strong.  A born survivor, she decides what she wants and she goes for it, which could be taken as selfishness, and really, it is that, but it also makes her a very intriguing character.  And it’s clear that she’s a good person, she just sees things from her own perspective.  I actually thought she was similar in many ways to Katniss from “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins (great book–I’ll be reviewing it later)–both of them are strong female protagonists who look out for themselves first, although Katniss was a little more sympathetic to me because she loved her sister more than herself, whereas Mary comes first for Mary.

The other main characters are Harry, the boy Mary is supposed to marry, and his brother, Travis, the boy Mary actually loves.  What I liked best about them was that Harry wasn’t a total jerk.  Usually in those movies where the main female is with the guy she doesn’t love, he actually turns out to be a jerk, making it that much easier for the girl to move on to her actual love.  Real life isn’t like that.  People are all mixed bags of good and bad, and the characters in Carrie Ryan’s book are no exception to that.  In addition to Harry and Travis, there are Cass, Mary’s best friend, and Jed, Mary’s older brother.  Both of these characters are interesting because they start off as pillars of strength for Mary to lean on, and then they end up turning on her.  In fact, all the relationships in this book are handled very well.  I kept thinking certain characters would end up with other characters, and looking for the familiar patterns repeated over and over again in books and movies, and I kept being surprised by how things actually turned out.  That doesn’t happen too often, and it’s refreshing when it does.

Ultimately, there were three things I didn’t like about this book.  First of all, I felt like some parts were kind of glossed over.  Not to sound like a pervert or anything, but the author never actually mentions if Mary is sleeping with one or other of the boys in this book.  It’s inferred by the situation, but the fact that she doesn’t spell it out kind of bothered me, because it left me a little confused about their relationship.  Second, I wanted to know more information about the Sisterhood.  Mary starts to find out some disturbing facts, but then she’s forced to leave, and the book ends without that being resolved.  True, there’s the sequel, but I still felt like I needed just a little bit more closure.  On the other hand, this lack of closure is closer to real life, so maybe that’s not such a bad thing.  And third, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the ending, but then again, it’s a zombie book.  There’s no way a zombie book can end too happily.  Think about it–once there’s one zombie in the world, that’s the beginning of the end, really.  Unless they’re like the zombies in “28 Days Later,” which can actually starve to death.  Hint: the Unconsecrated are not that convenient. So really just the first thing bothered me, and just a little bit.

So, all in all I would say that on first read, I liked this book.  On a star scale, I would have given it a solid 3 of 5.  Then I sat on it for a while, and now, I’d actually give it at least 4 stars, probably 4.5.  And if you want to know the truth, the reason this book stuck with me is one line.  Just one line in the book that resounded with me so strongly I couldn’t get it out of my head.  Mary says, “He was everything.  Why couldn’t I see that he was everything?” And with this one bit of dialogue, I could feel all the regret and anguish that looking back always brings when you realize you’ve made the wrong choice and you can’t fix it.  Even now, my heart aches for her, and she’s just a bit of words on a page.  So that’s my conclusion–this book is a good idea with great details and characters that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.  Read it.