Monday, September 12, 2011

Self Publishing Guild- Why Not?

I've taken a break from querying over the summer, working on my YA Egyptian-Queen's-Spirit-Possesses-Pregnant-Teen book (it's just as angsty as it sounds!)

In the meantime, I wait for things to fall into perspective, so I can read Ways To Fall as if it weren't the product of three years of love and endless rewrites, the book that I cut my teeth on, and a story that I don't want to let go of.

I've been so disappointed by rejections, so afraid that my judgment is off, that I'm a crap writer, that my ideas are too cerebral, too out there, and just plain boring. I still have a few requests floating, but as I've mentioned before, I think of them as rejections that haven't happened yet, just so I can get on with my life. I really hope they're not--the agents involved are amazing and I would be so delighted to work with such talented and savvy people.

And yet, I'm scared of publishers. See Androssagency How eBook Royalties are Cheating Authors. Kristin Nelson has stated that publishers are undereporting eBook sales (she does say in the comments that she believes it is due to publishers not having systems in place to ensure accuracy). Passive Voice gives details about royalty statements, lots of examples and explanations. It's so ridiculous that it would be laughable, if it weren't cryable.

So, I'm leery.

I'm sketching some cover ideas and learning everything I can about self publishing (Dean Wesley Smith is a great resource, as is Joe Konrath.) Not because I don't think I can find an agent, although some days I do worry that it will never happen. I still think it would be worth 10% of net income to have a brilliant agent, just to be sure that someone is one my side and motivated to be honest and brutal, in a kind way, if neccesary. I DO NOT think publishers are the boogey man, but I have concerns. That's all I'm saying.

I would love to band together with a group of writers, edit the heck out of each others' work, and rise together out of the flood of crappy self-published ebooks out. I'd like to do chaining, where at the end of each ebook, a chapter by another author is included, leading the reader to begin another book within "the guild."

I can see this as a way that authors could easily expand their reach, without having to devote hundreds of additional hours to networking. Within the networks of the guild, each writer would find a much greater audience. We've all seen examples of authors with traditional publishers doing this- ie Class of 2011, League of Extraordinary Writers, etc.

I think about the authors I've traded crits with, and while several of them have had success following the traditional model (stop by The Green Bathtub and congratulate Amy Sonnichsen on signing with Emmaneulle Morgen at Judith Egrlich Literary Mangement!)and it's a matter of time for the rest, what if we could just do it ourselves?

Dean Wesley Smith posted today on the need to have a large backlist to be successful as a self-published author. I don't have that. I have a few short stories (okay, one, and it needs another pass) on my hard drive and one completed novel. Not exactly the 200 titles Smith recommends. But with a group of ten or fifteen other writers, we could work on manuscripts serially, putting up one a month or 6 weeks, or whatever. We could operate as our own imprint. Authors working with the imprint could keep all proceeds minus some money set aside as compensation to the guild to subsidize the next book's cover art, marketing, formatting etc. I think it would be good to have a limited number of hardcopies to give away as ARCs.

I've heard of some people having success serializing novels, and setting the price point lower, but I worry that that would create barriers for consumers and that you'd lose some readers due to the inconvenience of having to wait for the next installment or to download the next chunk. Still, setting the cost of fifty pages at $.49 might pull in some readers who are willing to part with such small change. Then again, making the first chunk of the novel free might do the same thing, better.

I'm not ready to act on this, but now you know what I'm thinking about.

What am I missing? Any ideas on how to step out of the herd?


  1. That's an intriguing idea, Kelly. I think it's worth pursuing. It's come to my attention lately that there are a few agents who have set up their own publishing companies to publish clients' work that just isn't right for the big publishers. This sounds like a similar thing, but author-owned instead. Even if you end up selling something to a larger publisher, it would be nice to make available the books they passed on. Especially if Ways to Fall is one of them!

    (I stayed up late Saturday night to finish it. Honestly, I couldn't put it down. I'll get you my notes this evening.)

  2. That sounds like a great idea, Kelly.

    I took the plunge into self-pubbing in mid-July. I've learned a lot. If you decide to self-pub and have any questions that I might be able to answer, email me at c.marie.keller (at)

  3. Hey Ben- thanks for the comment. I've heard about agents starting self-publishing ventures, and from what I undertand, the royalty rates aren't in authors' best interests. At the workshop by Dave Farland I went to in June, he summed up the problem by saying that those agents are getting in line to screw the authors first. I'm sure that's not a one-size-fits-all statement, but it's worth pausing over.

    And thanks for the kind words about Ways To Fall. I'm excited to get your notes. *checks email again* lol- no pressure, Ben!

    Connie- I will definately come to you with any questions that come up. I'm not sure what I want to do, except I don't want to go it alone. Thanks!

  4. I'm intrigued by this...though not quite ready to jump on the train yet. Still flirting with going independent, and thinking I'd only go that route with my YA books, were I to make the leap. Great thoughts, though! This is the way to approach it--from outside the box!

  5. Thanks for dropping my name in there, Kelly, and for all the congratulations. :)

    I've heard of agents who are starting their own publishing companies, too, and I don't see how that could work without a major clash of interests. RED FLAG CENTRAL! :)

    But, your ideas about an author's guild do sound intriguing. I guess it just depends what your standards are: who can join? how you judge who meets the standard? I think ultimately it would turn into a similar "gatekeeper" mentality, the way many people see agents now. Not to say it's a bad idea, but there's a lot to think through.

    Since you're not sure what to do, keep writing and remember that nothing you write is wasted. IF WtFall doesn't end up going anywhere, and you are published with a later book (traditionally published), you could revise it at that point. Don't think that shelving it means that you shelve it forever.

    Hang in there, my dear!

  6. Hey Suzanne- thanks for the comment. And I'm not ready to jump on the train yet either. Just thinking aout loud. Err, with my fingers;)

    And Amy- thanks for the comment- you're right- if we're trying to build an imprint, we'd have to have some quality controls. I think the difference is that an agent can't be a crit group, and a crit group can recognize when something is ready. My friends who are published/agented did not surprise me. The thing is, some of them who aren't agented have and do surprise me.
    I think a small group within the group comprised of the strongest editors could reliably say who's ready and who needs to keep working. There could be a vote or whatever. But maybe we wouldn't "reject" people, just say what they need to work on. IDK:)

    My point is not to do away with gatekeepers. I think that's a good practice, actually, one that has helped me to develop my story well beyond what it would have been. While I see the value in anybody being able to publish, I've been burned enough on self published books to always always read the sample pages first.

    That's the point of banding together- you wantt the reader to rely on the guild (or whatever) as a trusted source of quality books. Thanks, Amy!

  7. Interesting ideas, Kelly. I can tell you've put a lot of thought in this.

    Some well-established crit groups could probably pull this off. The funny thing is, most of the time, those well-established crit groups all succeed at going the traditional route, anyway (because if they don't, they kind of fall apart).

    I think the next few years will be critical in determining what shape the publishing landscape will take. And really, I think it comes down to the publishers. Are they going to pull their act together and start acting like independent suppliers in a competitive market, or are they still going to try to pull off the more monopolistic model that's been successful in the past but is less relevant now that so many of the old barriers to publication are crumbling? If traditional publishers can adapt, I think they'll maintain their position as the premier way to publish. If'll be interesting to see what rises up to take their place.

  8. Hey Krista- It's funny, but this idea of banding together only occurred to me a few days ago, but of course I've been aware of the mess that is publishing for quite some time and thinking hard about how self-publishing might be made to work.

    I agree that good crit groups tend to make all involved more successful. That's the awesome thing about them.

    However, publishers are huge organizations, very slow to adapt. I'm not sure I'd be willing to bet on all of them making it. Of course, I don't gamble, but if I did...

    They're passing on a lot of good books because they're too risky, according to agents like Kristen Nelson, and agents can't sell books that they could have sold 5 years ago, she says in the blog post I linked to above. There's a huge problem for writers there.

    Thanks for the comment:)

  9. Good points, Kelly. That could definitely work. I think the main problem with self-publishing is that people often do it because they don't want to "face the rejections." But your idea would be different because you'd actually have to be accountable to somebody and there still would be that quality control. Nice idea!


  10. Amy, does that mean you're going to ditch your agent and throw in with the guild? lol Nah, I wouldn't either. In fact, Dave Farland suggested in our 1-on-1 that if I can get a good publishing deal, to take it and get established as a real writer...

  11. Freakish timing. I just emailed the group about this same thing. Yes, I think it's time to band together - rope our dinghies together and create a Writing Cartel.

  12. Hey Jen- Let me know what kind of a response you get. And I like the sound of "cartel." It's for realz;)