Thursday, October 14, 2010

CAN SELF-PUBLISHED NOVELS BE SUCCESSFUL?

Last month Angela responded to our post about self-publishing and asked this perfectly reasonable question about the publicity side of our business.

Angela said...
I agree with Alissa that there is more than one way to get published. I also agree with Julie that the business is really subjective.People often recommend self-published books to me and don't even know the books are self-published. They could care less who the publisher is, they just want to read a good book. That being said, I think it's hard to put a good self-published book out there and be successful without the benefit of editors, readers, proofreaders, a marketing and PR team, and sales team. Kae, do you and Jon do PR for self-published novels? And if so, I'm curious if you have a different strategy for promoting self-published books.


Jon brought this question to my attention this morning and we spent some time discussing it. While we have worked with self-published authors in the past and continue to do so today, these are authors of nonfiction. Publicizing fiction is very difficult, even if the fiction is published by a standard publishing company. Fiction benefits from the distribution, advertising, marketing and sales efforts provided by large companies. But, other than sending out review copies, most publicity efforts for first novels are minimal. When a novelist gains a name and reputation, there is the opportunity for a much wider publicity campaign. That's why you see famous novelists on "Today" and "Oprah."

I would never advise an author to self-publish his or her fiction. (Unless, of course, the author is famous, lectures widely, has a built-in audience of potential buyers, and is already a veteran of countless media interviews.) Without the support a publishing company provides, it's next to impossible to get a fiction book out there in the numbers required to make an impact. Now, I am sure there are exceptions. Perhaps you are a successful self-published novelist or know someone who is. If so, please let us know. I'd love to hear how you did it and so would our readers, I'm sure.


Publicizing self-published non-fiction is a different matter. We've been very successful with our nonfiction self-published authors. Because these authors are experts in their fields, they have the option of selling their books when they do lectures and programs, on their websites, and online. These people have a "platform" (a built-in audience) and can use that audience to promote and sell their books. Typically we will send out review copies, schedule radio and television interviews, set up book signings and pursue online opportunities for our nonfiction authors. Our campaigns for self-published nonfiction authors are the same as for published authors and are limited only by budget constraints.

Bottom line is, publicity for ANY book, published or self-published is tougher than ever as media channels morph and shrink.

9 comments:

Chudney Thomas said...

Thanks for this post. Someone asked me recently if they should self publish. I think I'll pass this along.

jonathanframe said...

CP Taylor, the author of Shadowmancer is a case in point of someone self-publishing that book. But that was later picked up by a publisher who happened to see it and like it.
I've recently self-published a book and yes, the difficulty is all the marketing and publicity I need to do to try and get it noticed. It's an ongoing process but I did manage to get onto BBC local radio to talk about it and I'm being featured in my local newspaper and I have actually sold a few copies. But it's fair to say I'm not giving up my day job just yet.
Jonathan Frame (www.jonathanframe.com)

Colette said...

I recently met Karen McQuestion, a self-published author at a self-publishing book expo. She not only self-published her fiction -- she went all electronic at first. Her title Easily Amused has been in the top ten Kindle sellers. I'd say that is a success!

Angela said...

Jon and Kae,

Thank you for taking the time to answer my question! I recently saw an article about agents representing self-published novels (provided the novel had sold thousands of copies). It made me wonder if that shift was affecting other aspects of the publishing industry, like PR, as well.

Angela said...

Just saw this PW article today and thought I'd post the link. It's about a fiction author who just had their self-published book signed by Sterling's new Teen Fiction imprint, Splinter. It will be interesting to see if more self-published books are picked up like this...

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/44900-sterling-to-start-teen-fiction-imprint.html?utm_source=Publishers+Weekly%27s+Children%27s+Bookshelf&utm_campaign=a5f2ae4bc7-UA-15906914-1&utm_medium=email

Thinkhappy said...

I'm in the process of querying and while researching, came across your blog. My debut novel was self-published in July 2009, and I have already have an independent publisher who wants to print a second edition early next year.

It's my belief that with any book, published traditionally or self-published, the secret is in the marketing. Blog tours, signings, readings, advertisements--they all play a part in the success of a novel. The marketing is much more difficult when you are self-published, but I've never let that stand in my way. My first local signing was at Border's.

Having been self-published, I am seeking an agent this time around. The ease of distribution and publicity via traditional routes cannot be matched as a self-published author, even though our distribution may be handled through Ingram and Baker and Taylor. My book, Megan's Way, hit the top Kindle list a few months ago as well, so sales are growing, but as much as I hate to state it, their is still a bit of a veil over self-publishing in general. I actually look forward to finding an agent this time around (if I am so lucky).

That being said, the publishing industry seems to be in a bit of a quandary as a whole. With ebooks so readily available, publishers are making big changes in the way they publish, how many copies they print, etc.

If you're a writer--write. Readers will come. But this self-pubbed author does see the tremendous value in acquiring an agent.

Peace and light,

Melissa Foster

Thinkhappy said...

I got on a little rant about book promotions, and your original question was about self-pubbed novels being successful - sorry!

I believe the clear answer is, YES! Two recent examples are Lisa Genova and Brunonia Barry.

I sent my novel to a hollywood talent agent for a particular actress and received a request for a screenplay two months later. It may go nowhere, but it can happen. The caveat is, you have to MAKE it happen. The more effort you exert, the more successful you will likely become.

Julie said...

An interview with Karen McQuestion on NPR inspired me to self-publish one of my novels. It went live last month on Kindle and Nook. In the past three weeks it has sold 30copies. The first six sold before I'd told anyone I knew that I was self-publishing. Eight sales were in the UK. Since then, I've read my first indie novel (I liked the author's posts on a kindle page) and I loved it. It was a terrific book, and a steal at 99 cents! I've just started a second indie book, and so far, so good.

I go to bed at night, smiling because I'm imagining that someone I don't even know is reading my book! If I'd kept waiting for a publisher, no one would be reading it, so I'm pleased with my decision.

Chicki said...

My critique partner, Erin Kern, sold 20,000 copies of her novel, LOOKING FOR TROUBLE in May.

Then there's Amanda Hocking http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qWOy4p4MvM

and Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, Victorine Lieske, Beth Orsoff, Selena Kitt, HP Mallory and MANY others.