Done with Traditional Publishing

Books to be returned...
Image by Hash Milhan

Brian Driggs asked me to discuss self-publishing after reading my sordid Fifth Estate story. While I don’t want to dismiss traditional publishing altogether, I can only speak for myself. I will self publish my next book.

There are several reasons, but first let’s discuss two reasons to consider traditional publishing:

Prestige

If you are published by a traditional house, particularly one of the majors, there’s a prestige element. Most “published” authors, some business people, and at least outwardly almost every publisher looks down on self published authors.

As someone who attended American University and then Georgetown University, the published prestige is comparable to Ivy League snobbery. And for the record, American challenged me more intellectually than Georgetown (which is perceived as on par with some Ivy League schools).

Traditional publishers will tell you to never self publish, that you won’t ever have a chance of getting published in real life. But then you hear stories of successful self publishers who get signed, people like John Scalzi, Mark Schaefer and Amanda Hawking. Self publishing has become a minor league for traditional publishers.

Learn How to Publish

Most people think they know how to publish a book, but they don’t. Working with a traditional publisher will show you how to develop, edit and review books to ensure quality products.

Make no bones about it, if you want to be a successful you need a decent product. This is no different than any other business. It’s also one of the points driven home in Guy Kawasaki’s Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, a must read for anyone considering self publishing.

Your idea may seem great to you, but the market needs to agree. Without strong editorial support your self published book will likely be inferior.

Why I’m Self Publishing

Kindle connectat al Netbook
Image by Rafel Miro

I did research a book on influence that was submitted to my former publisher Pearson. When the company asked me to make it a more tactical how-to, I said take it or leave it, in essence asking that it get pulled. I had no interest in writing a tactical how-to influence book.

Freed from my contractual obligations, I am not pursuing another publishing relationship. It comes down to getting paid, the announcement process, and content.

Money:

As an author who sells thousands of books, not tens of thousands, I’m not the most attractive talent on the market. So, any contract I get will have to have a heavy marketing plan with a token advance of no more than $10,000.

And because my books sell in the thousands, I will have to market the book myself and will likely never see a royalty check. Generally, publishers only help their top authors with marketing support. So I see little value from a traditional publishing house outside of distribution and editorial support.

In fact, most authors work for free or below minimum wage for publishers when it’s all said and done. The traditional publisher will push prestige and business impact, but a successful self-published book will create the same results.

I can hire professional editorial support and buy distribution. As the publisher, I keep $.70 on every dollar. Again, because I sell in the thousands this isn’t a significant gross, but at least it’s mine as opposed to the publisher’s earnings.

Pre-Release Process

Launch of Discovery/STS-133 No.3, remote camera
Image by DLR

The current public pre-release process leaves me wanting. Based on some experiences, I prefer to work in privacy until it’s time not to be private.

When I was a new author announcing a book months in advance was great. Experience has taught me pre-sales are usually negligible for the long tail of authors. The book announcement as a tactic can be much more effective from a marketing strategist’s perspective.

Next, authors and publishers in the marketing space are hyper-competitive so they crawl over each other’s online works. It’s so competitive that I have retreated from most authors, preferring to work in private.

Finally, for my first two books, I crowdsourced content to pre-seed community interest. In theory, this galvanizes the core, extends public interest, and also provides value-added insight.

My Fifth Estate experience changed my mind on this approach. Generally, it was more of an ego stroking experience than a valuable one (with the exception of Ike Pigott‘s contributions). And I actually found that it hurt my social equity with more casual community members.

Basically, it was cool the first time but it became a tired tactic by round two. Plus it tips your hat to competitors.

There are exceptions to the rule. Sometimes it’s a good idea for an author to float an idea if you’re not sure about its validity. Also, watching Brian Meeks‘ drafting process is fascinating.

I look forward to marketing my next book. It’s already planned (but not for the near future). The launch will be unconventional, and frankly, it should be refreshing for those used to the same old, same old story of “blogger to write/is writing book.”

Content

original by nikon D3s
Image by Abdulrahman Alkhozaim

It’s been said in many other places, from the aforementioned A.P.E. to Seth Godin’s Domino Project, but the traditional publishing industry stifles ideas. Everything is formulaic now, and there’s little tolerance for creative approaches and new ideas.

They take what they think will sell, and if it doesn’t fit the cookie cutter, it won’t get published. That’s the business.

But I don’t think it’s innovative, nor do I believe the industry is correct. I can see why more and more authors opt to self publish. It provides a venue for unique opportunities since the industry stifles new approaches and ideas.

So count me in as yet another author who walked. I’m not saying I won’t publish traditionally again, but I don’t anticipate it anytime soon.

What do you think?

44 thoughts on “Done with Traditional Publishing

  1. Hey Geoff,

    First off thanks for the link back to BlogcastFM, As somebody who has interviewed hundreds of authors and never had an opportunity to work with a traiditional publisher, my perspective might be skewed. But the more I talk to published authors, the less the whole process seems to appeal to me.

    That being said, I think you brought up some interesting points. You learn a few things from the traditional publishing process (i.e. creating a high quality product). However, as you mentioned it’s something that we can learn. Much like the blogosphere, I think what will happen on Amazon, is the good stuff will float to the top.

    Another story I had on my show was that of my friend Kamal Ravikant who self published a book called Love yourself Like Yourself like depends on it. James Altucher wrote about. Tim Ferriss tweeted about it. And it became a MASSIVE success. No publisher involved and it’s only 60 pages. It’s lead to everything a traditionally published book might; speaking engagements, etc, etc.

    I personally think that we should encourage more authors to self publish books and create larger bodies of work because they have more impact than individual blog posts. Funny thing is same content, packaged, and completely different reaction from the audience.

    Anyways, if you’re ever up for it would love to have you as a guest on BlogcastFM.

    -SRini

    • I would love to be a part of BlogCastFM, SRini. Let’s make it happen, geoffliving @ me.com.

      I was just looking at a book we bought for our client Vocus, and it was a short one, clearly a self published, but very professional looking book. The author has made a good name for herself using this book, and I think it is clear that the stigma is rapidly eroding.

      Frankly, the monetary results of self publishing is really going to push a lot of entrepreneurial bloggers over the edge. For me this is the biggest reason, by far.

      Thanks for the insightful case study on Love Yourself Like Yourself. Fascinating!

  2. Thank you Geoff for sharing your perspective and experience. For us (so far) unpublished authors, you certainly provided some food for thought.

  3. I think you’re in league with my friend Lauren Hug and me. She posed the possibility of banding authors and editors together with the goal of self-publishing quality work. She, unfortunately, has come to the same conclusion you have because of her experiences with traditional publishing.

    I like the idea of being independent, but I suppose that’s to be expected. I’m particular about the projects I take and with whom I work.

    • I think that collective sounds brilliant. I would love to help if you have that in development.

      As to your friend Lauren’s experience, it’s very common. The more of us that talk about it, the more likely we are to go out on our own and succeed creating new ways to publish, together or alone.

      And there’s nothing wrong with an independent spirit.

    • In my above comment I mentioned how my editor leaves comments and then I fix it. Erin IS that very editor and she is AWESOME. I better stop goofing around here, as I promised to send her more stuff, today.

  4. Thanks for sharing, Geoff. I appreciate it.

    The prestige piece speaks to vanity, doesn’t it? There’s an air of superiority that comes from being published by a known entity; it suggests your work has been vetted by those who have been vetted themselves.

    Thing is, many of those prestigious institutions are lacking in much beyond the prestige. Sure, they can attract top talent, but how often do they go after the same old same old? Formulaic, as you say. Beyond publishing, how many VCs are funding cookie-cutter, me-too startups offering slight variations of existing successes?

    Yawn. “First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, then you win.” – attributed to Ghandi

    I guess those of us who have been writing for the web for the last decade long ago came to understand we do plenty of publishing ourselves. It’s got us where we are today. Why would need third parties to validate our future efforts?

    I wasn’t aware of “APE.” I’ll give it a look. As I’m currently weighing the pros and cons of printing a monthly magazine on-demand versus in-advance, I’m seeing how the vanity piece comes into play. I didn’t get where I am today because I pursued scale. I got where I am because I pursued benefit for my readers.

    Oh, and I think I’ll have to check out BlogcastFM. I’ve seen Srini around for years, but only today made the connection between what he’s up to – interviewing authors – and what I’m up to – interviewing gearheads.

    Post (and comments) deliver. Thanks!

    • The vanity aspects are what is keeping the publishing industry in tact, right now. But this is similar to what kept newspapers in tact during the original blogging era. When the economy hit the shitter, the weak links fell, and continue to fall (e.g. Newsday print, Rocky Mountain News, Business 2.0).

      Only the most prestigious and biggest publishers have the girth to survive this. Even at that, they are now starting to act like vanity presses (the old term for self publishing).

      One aspect that will really hurt traditional publishers is using bloggers as talent. Bloggers tend to be cowboys already. More and more of us will pursue this path, irked at the issues associated with traditional publishing.

      Good luck with your magazine!

      • Thank you, sir!

        We cowboys tend to bootstrap. I can share the rough draft of my project on a blog for less than US$100 a year, crowdsource the first edition, and distribute through Amazon. Big box, vanity publishing houses are a good way to find yourself beholden to others.

        Like the news story this morning about the US Airways + American Airlines merger. Something like US$11B value. And over 70% of the new company will be owned by creditors. That sounds promising.

        To me, signing with a big publishing house is akin to taking on debt. It’s a slippery slope. Next thing you know, the whole economy is at risk because the majority of companies depend on monthly loans to cover their expenses.

  5. I will be honest.

    For those of us who haven’t written a book, it can be intimidating to look at someone else’s words and be constructive. Other than offering binary feedback like “This works/That sucks,” it’s hard to make suggestions when you aren’t as steeped in the research and the original vision.

    It also can be taxing to keep forcing yourself to think Big, as in what the book Could be if it weren’t already presented as an Is.

    I will probably end up self-publishing, mainly because I already know my potential audience is small, and I don’t have the time to spend does a publisher’s work for them.

    • LOL, well, Ike, I appreciate your candor. I think in your case, you would thoroughly enjoy the thinking through of a book, linearly. Not the 100 posts slapped together as blog, but the weaving, the narrative, the logical argument and conclusion, the arc, etc.

      I encourage you to do it. You think differently afterwards.

  6. Thanks for the mention, Geoff.

    I think you made a strong case for self-publishing. I’ve just started reading APE after having a conversation with co-author Welch in a G+ community.

    I feel that I have a strong understanding of the mechanics of self-publishing, but there subtle tricks that can take a book from successfully loaded and looking reasonable, to being indistinguishable from a Big Six tome, are not yet part of my skill set.

    Money aside, I love the control of running the publishing aspect of book creation.

    One of my hobbies is woodworking. Crafting something from scratch is very satisfying and with books, it feels similar. I learned to build a box, which was fine. Then I learned to connect the sides through joinery, which was more satisfying, and lastly I’ve learned to cut the dovetails by hand, which is unnecessary but also satisfying.

    I approach publishing the same way. I sent my finished work, in sections to my editor, who doesn’t fix the errors, she leaves a comment (No comma, spelling, ect) and then I fix it. This is like learning to hand cut dovetails. It takes a lot of practice, but I’m becoming a better wordsmith in the process.

    I truly believe that if one works at self-publishing, the editing, understanding cover design, and, of course, the writing, that it is very possible to produce a book of exceptional quality.

    Good luck in your new pursuits. I think you’ll find it very rewarding, and I don’t just mean financially.

    • Yeah, I like the woodworking analogy. See I think I’ll learn a ton about publishing and book writing going this route, much more so than I would just writing books alone, and doing the marketing. I like the control and timing it affords me.

      Should be fun. Thanks for your words. While I have been working on this path now for a couple of months, I was not doing so openly. Chatting with you and watching your work made it easier.

  7. Pingback: The New Intermediation in Publishing « Connection Agent

  8. Good on you Geoff! I see a lot of this in the music industry as well. I believe that the internet, while watering down a lot of what we access with an endless stream of crap, has in fact enabled artists to be artistic. It is infinitely more difficult to do this all yourself but at least the product is the best it can be. And that, above all else, is what is important.

    • And, you keep more of the money, which given the amounts we’re talking about is going from free or close to it to at least something.

  9. I whole-heartedly agree with your article. I am in the process of self-publishing. After initially seeking the traditional route, I ultimately realized that I would rather play the game by my rules rather than theirs.

    In the end, a book is in your hand, regardless of what route you choose and with that comes the knowledge that you have made a lasting impact on each new reader who turns each page. There simply wasn’t much the traditional route could offer me, that I couldn’t do myself. You’re so right in your sentiment that “prestige” truly is the driving force behind seeking big houses and little else.

    With the right marketing plan, a well-written manuscript and a quality self-publishing product, any book has the opportunity to succeed.

    • So, I have no idea why a random photo of a male is being shown after having wrote this comment…that is not me and I’m not a male. lol

    • I have never been one to tow the line for very long. So Ill give you an amen. I think the fiscal rewards are too much to ignore. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars.

      • Agreed. I’m not patient enough for the waiting time that is involved with the whole traditional process. The fiscal rewards are equally compelling. In truth, I personally don’t see much advantage in the traditional route. I even have the same distribution that any large house could offer me. This wave of self-publishing will only rise with many new and established authors, leaving the the big houses wondering what went wrong. I think it’s time the traditional route improved their model.

  10. Bravo Bravissimo! Yes- I think you brought up excellent examples of bellwethers (eg. Amanda Hawking and Seth G. Domino) that signal that self-publishing is the future. Your timing is perfect and you have a critical mass of followers to make this truly happen. Good Luck!

  11. I think you’re smart to self-publish–I can’t think of any reason why a marketer would go with traditional publishing anymore. Especially since the publishing houses expect you to do all the marketing yourself anyway, you’re basically doing the work twice–writing the book then marketing it–all so they can get paid. It would be one thing if all you had to do was write the book then wait for your .30 on the dollar to roll in; that’s no longer the case so authors are getting totally taken advantage of, IMO, and still thinking that going with a traditional publisher is somehow better. It’s not.

    • It’s funny, when you look at the pros and cons on paper using a traditional Franklin list, it’s so obvious. Just another example of mystique versus facts. Hope you are well, Maggie.

  12. Minor correction: the self-published author that you refer to is Amanda Hocking, not Hawking. The post that you linked to had an error in the post title but it’s spelled correctly in the rest of the article.

  13. The more and more I read and research, I have come to the same conclusion. Also having watched the traditional process closely, I am convinced.

    I have already started my first book, and I’d rather hire an editor, build the platform myself (which I’m already doing now via my blog), distribute through my own channels and voila! There’s something to be said for not having to answer to anyone but yourself.

    AJ Leon is a good example of that as well.

    • Yes, there is, and frankly, I am in the midst of the same process, and perhaps may be nearing the end game on it. I cannot tell you how nice it is to be able to press go when I want to, and hold back if I/or my editors feel like it needs more work. Or if it gets done, but at a bad time (say June when I am running a major conference), I can put it on hold until I can dedicate the time without killing myself.

      That, my friend, is freedom.

      Also, I am thoroughly enjoying not drubbing my audience with book chat months before it comes out. Three books behind me, I just feel like this is a tax on all parties. Bring me a finished a product, then let’s talk!

      And you know what, surprise me. I think when we see the big companies in the world do this, the longest ramp you see between product (e.g. Samsing Galxy 4) and market is a few weeks.

      Cheers!

  14. I attended American University & Georgetown is no way “on par” with even “some Ivy League Universities. Stanford, yes. Georgetown, no. These are all great schools though, and school is school. Snobery will get you nowhere my dear. :D

    • While Princeton, Harvard and to some extent Yale are superior schools, you are wrong when it comes to the second tier Ivy League Schools, like Penn, Brown, Dartmouth, etc. It comes down to program by program rankings. Give me Georgetown MBA, law, international studies, and medical any day over second tier schools like Brown. So, guess we’re going to disagree.

      And please don’t call me “dear.” Snark doesn’t defend a weak position.

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