Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Is there a time for everything, including self-publishing?

Are there times when it makes sense to self-publish?

If what you have in hand is a work of fiction, I'd say the answer is no 99% of the time. You should read yesterday's post for my complete answer about self-publishing a work of fiction.

Still, there are a few cases when I think it might make sense to self-publish non-fiction, with a whole bunch of caveats attached, the first and foremost being that you must understand that this will probably cost you money, should be researched thoroughly (ie, do more than Google "self- publishing"), and is highly unlikely to lead to either fame or fortune. Add to that list: you are sure you haven't written something that could result in a lawsuit.

Self-publishing is a maybe when:

1) You teach seminars and want attendees to purchase your workbooks or self-created texts.
You have an audience, a means of distribution, and probably know what you are getting into.
Keep in mind that in most states, you will need to have a business license, resale permit, etc. and deal with sales taxes and so on. Make sure your self-published materials are completely your own -- you don't want to get hit with violation of copyright, etc. And be sure that you aren't missing out on an opportunity for wider distribution and sales by selling your book to a publishing house.

2) You have made a study of local history that will have limited interest anywhere outside of your community, and there is no small press willing to take it on. Again, be sure interest would be so limited.

3) You are an expert in an obscure field who knows that your subject matter will not be of interest to a university press or textbook publisher, but you believe there is a need and at least a tiny market for your work.

4) You want to reprint, perhaps with a scholarly foreword of your own, a work that is in the public domain and out of print. You are sure there is no other reasonable means to preserve a print edition of this work.

5) You are a war veteran, and want to write about your military experiences. You are creating a memoir that will likely be special to your friends, family, and possibly to other people in your unit, and perhaps even a few military history buffs. You are not working on something that is literature -- not Master and Commander, Catch-22 or All's Quiet on the Western Front. You don't aspire to be W.E.B. Griffin. You just want to tell your own story.

6) You have written a history of your family. You are not a descendant of Thomas Jefferson or anyone else you heard about in grade school.

I think by now, most of you get the picture. You'll notice that this is not on the list: "You are the author of a series that has gone out of print, and you want to make it available to new readers."

That's because I have strong misgivings about whether or not POD self-publishing is a good idea for writers in this situation. I've heard from some writers who were very glad to have the ability to do this, and others who deeply regretted signing on to reprint programs. The downside? Rights can be tied up forever. You may make the book less attractive to potential new publishers. You may not be pleased by the end product, which may not look or feel like a trade paperback from a major house. You have to ask if, aside from any expense to you, this will be worth your time and effort. Will your readers want to fork over $25 for a
trade paperback that may appear to be cheaply printed and bound?

You may want to read what Lee Goldberg has to say about the "big bucks" you can make by going this route. Lee and Keith Snyder have a long history of posting warnings about scammers in the self-publishing industry, and about some of the companies that will swear they aren't vanity presses, but do not at all behave like legitimate publishers. Worthwhile reading before you decide to abandon hope of finding an agent.

After reviewing some of Lee's posts on self-publishing, I find I have an additional item to add to the list above:

7) You are incredibly famous -- and this requires more than a lot of "friends" on myspace. According to Lee Goldberg's blog, in 2005 Jack Klugman self-published a memoir of his years working with Tony Randall, and spent half a million dollars to publish it well. If you haven't had a highly successful acting career that spans several decades, you may not be famous enough to try this.

Next time I'll talk about some of the problems with self-publishing, ones that most new writers do not expect — the difficulties that lead to the low sales numbers — and other pitfalls.


Jan Burke said...

In case you are wondering what the heck happened above...

Jim posted a comment, I responded, and he then asked that his original comment be removed.

Leaving my response up on the blog if you couldn't read his original comment seemed to me to be unfair to Jim, so I took that down, too.

Anonymous said...

I see you covered my example from the previous post. But considering that the 83 over 500 includes those categories, it makes the potential for fictional works even drearier.

Karen said...

Jan Burke,

I wanted to give you the website address of the Forensic Program at West Virginia University. Its a joint project between WVU and the FBI (check under academics)

I really enjoy the Irene Kelly books,

karen kelley king