Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fear, Uncertainty, & Doubt: Guest Post by David Gaughran

I've been wanting to branch out and do something a little different for a while, and one of those things was to invite another author to do a guest blog here.  I think it brings a lot more to the blog than just another opinion or perspective.  It also gives me a chance to showcase someone else here and introduce you to them and their work.

Today's guest post is by David Gaughran, an up-and-coming author, blogger, and self-proclaimed proponent of self-publishing.  He has so far published two shorter works of fiction and a nonfiction book on self-publishing, which I have read and highly recommend.  Here are his thoughts on self-publishing, with some good advice based on his own experiences.

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There is a lot of disinformation out there about self-publishing. I chose that word carefully. Some people are consciously spreading inaccurate information about self-publishing to steer writers away from it.

In the software industry, they called this FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The idea was that you would create enough question marks about a competitor's product so that the customer would stick with yours.

Those who are vigorously defending the status quo, you will find, are those that have the most to lose from it changing.

However, I'm not interested in assigning blame. I'm interested in writers getting accurate information about all the new opportunities that are presenting themselves.

Prior to 2007, a writer had one viable choice: pursuing a publishing contract. Self-publishing existed, but publishers had a lock on the distribution system. Self-publishers found it next-to-impossible to get their books in stores.

Also, to publish a print book at a price that could compete with publishers meant taking the risk of splashing out on a print run, storage space for all those books, and coming up with some way of selling to customers directly. Not easy, and a lot of people lost money.

That all changed when Amazon launched their digital self-publishing platform. Suddenly, publishers no longer had a lock on the distribution network. Plus, e-books were far cheaper to produce. There were still some costs, mainly cover design and editing, but those costs only had to be covered once - there was no extra fee for going back to the printer.

When e-books really took off in November 2010, a lot of writers began to consider self-publishing for the first time. While the first people to make real money were those that previously had a successful career in trade publishing, such as Joe Konrath and Scott Nicholson, new stars such as Amanda Hocking, John Locke, Mark Edwards, and Victorine Lieske emerged.

In addition to them, writers such as Louise Voss, J Carson Black, and Bob Mayer, switched from trade publishing to self-publishing and started to make more money. A lot more money.

By now, self-publishing has proved itself as a viable career path for unpublished writers, those who have had a successful trade publishing career, and those that haven’t.

Bob Mayer, for example, made the NYT Bestseller list twice, and shifted over 1 million copies of his Atlantis series alone for his publishers. He is making more now on his own. In July alone, he made $100,000 from self-published work.

Some people might say that all of these people are exceptions to the rule, that only a tiny percentage will succeed. But isn’t this true of trade publishing? What percentage of any agent’s slushpile will make it onto the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble? What percentage will get any kind of deal at all?

One of the more common tactics to scare people away from self-publishing is to tell them that no agent or publisher will ever touch them if they go that route. Someone should really mention that to all the agents hunting in the Kindle Store for new clients.

I know of ten self-publishers that have been approached by agents in the last few months, just from hanging out on Kindle Boards. One agency alone – Trident – has signed five self-publishers that I know of this year. Every few weeks, I hear of another self-publisher that has been approached directly to sell foreign rights to their work.

I think we can say that it’s clear that self-publishing is a viable path. But is it the best path for you and your work?

That is a question that each writer will have to answer for themselves. But what writers need to understand is that it’s not either/or. Many self-publishers I know also have trade deals for some of their work. Many in trade publishing are self-publishing “side projects” such as reverted backlist titles, short stories, or novels they were unable to place.

I think this kind of “mixed portfolio” will become more common, not less common, and in fact I think it’s a prudent approach as you will get the best of both worlds: the higher royalties from self-publishing, and the audience expansion into print that’s so hard to achieve on your own.

Barry Eisler walked away from a huge trade deal to self-publish. He released three titles, then signed a trade deal with Amazon, for one book, and has indicated he will be self-publishing further titles in the future. J Carson Black just signed a 3 book deal with Amazon. She will be releasing two self-published titles in the Fall. Amanda Hocking signed a huge trade deal with St. Martin’s Press. She will be continuing to self-publish other work. Michael J Sullivan signed a six book deal with Orbit. He will also be self-publishing.

The point is, they are not mutually exclusive paths. You can self-publish some work, and pursue trade deals for other projects.

Back in March, when I was really struggling to decide whether to pull my novel from the remaining agents that were considering it and self-publish it, I didn’t know this. It was only when I realised that I could self-publish a couple of stories – as an experiment – that I broke the impasse.

And that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t have to pull my novel. It remained with the agents. And I self-published. Two months later, I had sold over 200 books. I pulled the novel.

So for anyone unsure about self-publishing, for anyone that doesn’t know if it’s something they would enjoy, or something that could work for them, I suggest doing the same. Self-publish a short story. See if you enjoy the process. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t.

If you do, then you can consider publishing your novel that way. If you don’t, you’ve lost nothing other than the minimal cost involved in publishing a short, and you will at least have learned something.

I’m a huge convert to self-publishing. If you had asked me about it six months ago, I would have thought it was only viable for writers with a sizeable backlist of reverted titles. I don’t think that anymore.

But, like most self-publishers, I wouldn’t say no to a trade deal if the terms were right. However, the difference now is that if I am approached by an agent or publisher, I will be dealing from a position of strength. I made $425 last month. From self-publishing. It’s only my third month. I haven’t even got my novel out yet.

And if a publisher approached me tomorrow, and made an offer on my novel, I know exactly what the minimum terms I would accept are. I have sales records. I have built a platform. I have a rough idea of how many books I could sell.

When I was in the slushpile, I would have taken anything. Now, instead, I know the value of my work. I’m making money. And I’m writing more than ever because the joy is back.

Chasing an agent is such a grind. It’s such a negative experience. Self-publishing has been nothing but positive. I’m back in control of my life and my career. And I’m having a blast.

Self-publishing might not be for everyone. But I think even that is looking at it the wrong way. You aren’t making a career choice which is tying you down for life, closing doors. You are making a decision on one book, or story. It’s not binding.

And if you do it right, you might find that it opens doors.

- David Gaughran

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Many thanks to Dave for sharing that post here.  He's got a few things figured out that authors, self-published or otherwise, would do well to heed.  I wish him the best of success in his own endeavors.  His blog, Let's Get Digital, is a great source of information for both writers and readers alike, and consistently has news and current information on the world of publishing.  You can find his books on Amazon.com, as well as other digital book sources on the web.


  1. Hi, Jonathan.

    I'm so glad to see David spreading himself around! Let's Get Digital (the book) opened my eyes, changed my writing and I am now in the process of writing and self-publishing a golf adventure series using the knowledge that David was kind enough to share. So many new options, possibilities...

    Reading his blog also got me to your site and I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say. Love your reading list, by the way.

    Wouldn't it be great if all of us could find success and happiness through self-publishing? I think we can.


  2. I was really thrilled to have David guest blog for me. He's seen a lot of success on his blog, and that appears to have continued with his stories. In my opinion, he is quickly becoming one of the experts in the field of digital publishing, and I wish him great success in the future!

  3. David wrote: "One of the more common tactics to scare people away from self-publishing is to tell them that no agent or publisher will ever touch them if they go that route."

    Great article, and yes, the parallels to what frequently happens in the software industry are all too real.

    There are also parallels between self-publishing and starting your own small business. I think, for some, it takes a bit of an entrepreneurial drive to succeed and have fun while doing it.

    P.S. Here's an ironic twist on all this: I submitted a book to the Writer's Digest Self-Publishing Contest a while back, and although I didn't win, the comments were excellent and the book scored very high. At the end of the commentary the judge wrote that "I should seek out a major New York House for my next book." That comment left me with more questions than answers, especially considering the nature of the contest. I guess that also sort of sums up the chaotic state of the publishing industry right now.

  4. David, your book reaffirmed my decision to self-pub. Thanks!

    Jonathan, thanks for hosting David. Best of luck with your books! PJ

  5. LET'S GET DIGITAL is a terrific book, and this guest post gives you an idea why.


  6. Thanks for the great comments, folks! And you're right - Dave's book Lets Get Digital is immensely helpful. It solidified some of the thought processes I've had about the publishing industry, and it clarified a distinct point that is probably the most important I've seen in a while: You now have the ability to succeed with more than just great writing, determination and a lot of luck. You also have your own business sense and marketing abilities to use.

    Let's Get Digital is well worth it for any author, no matter his or her publishing credentials or goals.

  7. I think my last comment didn't go through. Rats must be chewing the wires again.

    I just wanted to say thanks for the comments and to Jonathan for allowing me to rant and ramble.