There's been quite a bit of talk on the interwebz lately about self-publishing, and I'm jumping on the bandwagon. I’ll leave discussions of sales numbers, platform, production values, etc. to other blogs. Today, we're going to take a look at a much more basic concern. That's right folks, we're going to look at whether self-publishing makes you die.
Now this requires some context. A couple weeks ago, agent Mary Kole (who keeps a very helpful blog, btw) posted an article arguing against self-publishing. Now my own views on self publishing are pretty moderate (It’s doable, but incredibly hard work, and you should get objective confirmation that your writing is up to par.), but I hopped over to read the lively debate in the comments.
One argument caught my attention. Given the odds for traditional publication, good manuscripts do slip through the cracks. Since you've worked so hard on the novel, isn't it worth it just to try?
That kind of made sense. What do you have to lose? If you fail, at least you know it’s your fault and not because the acquisitions editor read your manuscript the week his mother-in-law was in town. Sure, there's stigma, and there will always be people who say you’re selling your failures. But what's that to the knowledge that you really tried your best?
At that point, I caught myself. “But wait, Livia,” I said. “ You're a psychologist. You can't just blithely ignore social factors as if they don't matter.” And I was right (funny how often that happens when you argue with yourself). Social status has considerable impact on health and quality of life.
There's one study that looked at the effect of social status on longevity. The researchers compared the lifespan of Nobel laureates to Nobel Prize nominees who didn't get the prize. The Nobel Prize winners ended up living on average 1.4 years longer than the nominees. Now remember that even the nominees were highly respected in their field and financially pretty well off. But being a laureate added over a year to the winners’ lifespans!
Once I remembered this, I became highly agitated. Was it possible that self-publishing writers were jumping in without realizing the risk to their health? Should I warn people, or should I just sit back and wait for the coming holocaust? I could just see it -- self published writers dying off in droves, 1.4 years before their time.
Luckily, I caught myself again and realized I was jumping too quickly to conclusions. Because many other factors contribute to your health. Among those is ability to control your circumstances .
And self publishers do win in the control department. They don't have to deal with the publishing roller coaster -- the agent who loves your work but decides to leave the industry to become an organic farmer. The editor who inherits your manuscript from the editor who inherited your manuscript from the editor who took over your manuscript after your original editor left publishing house. The art department who decides that your children's book about puppies would really sell much better with hot vampires on the cover. All stressful events out of an author's control -- events that in combination just might start shaving days off your life.
So what's the moral of the story? I’m not quite sure. Perhaps the best thing is not to think about it too much, and write the best book that you can.
Hm.. Isn't that always the conclusion we come to at the end of the day? *sigh* Here's to many more happy years of writing for all.
So what do you think, writer friends? Any aspects of your writing life cutting your days short? Or is it smooth sailing?
Note: The research described and linked to from this article is real. If you haven't figured out by now, everything else -- including interpretation of research, implications for the publishing industry and the pros and cons of self-publishing -- should be taken with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Having some problem with comments. Posting here for Michelle (lady glamis)ReplyDelete
"I can't comment on your blog! This is my fourth attempt. Here we go again...
I just said I like your conclusion at the end, yes!
I'm going the self-publishing route for one of my books, and it has been an amazing experience so far. I might go that way with all my books, but I don't know yet. "
Livia, it looks like it put up my original comment finally. That was weird. It was going a bit haywire. :)ReplyDelete
Thanks for your help!
I think it all comes down to how a person feels. For some people it's a good option. For me the amount of time would send me right off the deep end - and yes, probably lower my life expectancy :)ReplyDelete
I'm going the self-publishing route, Kindle and Smashwords. It isn't something I'm going into lightly, but since I've made the decision, I've been energized. I have 4 prize-winning books that I can't sell to NY. Editors and agents tell me to send the next one, but there doesn't seem to be a slot for my books. So I'm making my own slot.ReplyDelete
My first book should be out within a month. I love it that I'm taking control of my career -- with a lot of help from my friends.
I'm sure the stress I feel over everything takes away years from my life, but then laughing at myself adds years back, so it all evens out. Probably.ReplyDelete
As for self-publishing, I'm not for or against it. It's a personal decision. I'd buy a self-published book. Publishing is a hard business to crack, so if people want to try, let them do it. Whew!
And now I know if I do it, my health probably won't suffer.
I think dealing with NY takes years off your life due to high blood pressure and stress. Things go unread and unappreciated which is extremely stressful for those who have spent years on their work. Form letters which say I didn't bother to read and BS from the editors about the "perfect" query letter. BTW it's different for everyone you send too.ReplyDelete
I sent work to an agent 2 years ago...so I'm not even worth the effort of responding to my SASE?
I'm going self pub and will stand or fall by my own hand. I'm sick of formulaic books fed to us by the big hitters. They say there is no room for mediocrity but that is exactly what we are getting. Then their kids get contracts too...funny. I spent little time courting the big houses I saw right away what to expect and have heard enough horror stories.
Adapt, change or face extinction. NY will get what they deserve in the end.
I've been telling people forever that it's not a kidney transplant. It's not world-in-peril stuff. It's just publishing a book. Probably no one will die. But they don't listen. They just huddle in their bomb shelters, stockpiling toilet paper.ReplyDelete
I don't get why agents are so against self-publishing. It's like they take it as a personal attack against their judgement. How dare we not take their word as gospel that our book isn't something that can sell.ReplyDelete
What difference does it make to them? Especially if they turned down the manuscript?
My favorite arguement was the 'must protect the reading public from the horrors of the self-published book'. As if we're pelting readers with our books as they approach the bookstores.
My day job has a hell of a lot more stress than than being rejected by agents, so if my life is shortened, it's going to be from that.
So far I've only had good experiences with self-publishing. Yes, it takes a little work to produce your book covers yourself, do the marketing etc, but when you get that first review by somebody who truly loved your book, it's like being on stage and receiving a standing ovation - even though I'm sitting on the couch in my pajamas.ReplyDelete
And then, once the money starts adding up, you wonder what took you so long to do it.
Very funny. All those rejections cut years off my life. Every time someone leaves an affirming comment, or tells me "you can do it," adds years. It's a balance, isn't it.ReplyDelete
Livia, I think this is the funniest thing I've read all week. Thanks for the chuckle! (Laughter improves health and makes you live longer, right?)ReplyDelete
Thanks Jeff :-) I wasn't quite sure how this article would be received -- whether I'd offend indie writers, NY publishing or both. Thus far, no pitchforks...ReplyDelete
I still haven't decided on self publishing or regular, but I've learned in the process, my writing is getting better every year. By the time I have the manuscript that will make it, I hope the right route will open up magically the right path to my future. In the mean time, Livia, I think, for the first time, your article may have shortened my life! You had me going this way and that way and back to this way! I think I'll just write and be a happy camper and worry about publishing in due time...like now...or maybe not now, but, now....ReplyDelete
Lauren -- Oh no! That was not a predicted side effect :-)ReplyDelete
(And the above thanks was to everyone who's dropped by so far, not just Jeff). Nice to see some new faces here in the comments section.ReplyDelete
If I hadn't gone the route of self-publishing, I think I would've put a gun in my mouth by now. People are reading my work now (maybe not in the thousands) and that makes me feel better about myself as a writer. There will be plenty of time to get into a publishing house. This is has gotten me working harder at my writing than anything before.ReplyDelete
Fantastic. I'm going to hold out for the Nobel Prize, then.ReplyDelete
I went with assisted self-publishing (POD and e-book) because I was getting frustrated with the lack of good new sf I enjoyed reading--lots of reprints of stuff I read fifty years ago. I got an editorial review (Editor's Choice), 5 star reviews at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and people who've bought the book love it. Too early to tell if many sell, but I'm feeling and (I'm told) looking great in my Medicare years.ReplyDelete
Thanks for linking to my blog - my response to your question is to ask what is important to the author. Is it to see their book in print, to know that they achieved some form of publication, and to have the book commercially available to readers? If those are the author's motives, then I think self-publishing is going to be satisfying. If, on the other hand, the author would like that book to begin a career in writing, then sales figures for self-publishers must be taken into account, and my opinion is that holding out as long as it takes (and working as hard as is required) to sell the book to a publisher is the way to go.
Thanks for being a good sport and joining in on the discussion, Chris. I appreciate it.ReplyDelete
This is hilarious. One of your best posts ever!ReplyDelete
"Make you die." Livia, I love your humor.ReplyDelete
I really haven't given this much thought myself, even though so many are talking about it. I'm (soon) going to try for traditional, because it just doesn't feel right not to.
LOL! Yep. Self Publishing is a long and dusty road. Not one I want to go down. But kudos to people who do. There are merits in it. Great post. Here's to living 1.4yrs longer :)ReplyDelete
What happens to lifespan if you use vodka as a preservative? That's what I really want to know.ReplyDelete
Livia, what a great and entertaining post! Thanks for writing this. I loved it. And, honestly, it was something I had never really thought of. I mean, the 1.4 years isn't a big deal, but the reduction of stress is definitely something to consider. Whether that results in self-publishing or un-self-publishing is a different matter.ReplyDelete
What a great post! I do think I`m becoming rather sedentary. I spend too many hours writting. Gotta change that!ReplyDelete
I don't know that anything but stopping one's heart from beating will actually kill a person. That aside, however, self-publishing gets every author over a single huge hurdle: getting published at all.ReplyDelete
But I guess that's kind of like being nominated for the Nobel prize. On average, self-published books sell around 100 copies. As a book designer who's paid professional rates and has worked for a steady string of self-publishing authors the last few years, I can say confidently sales of 100 copies do not get it done. In fact, I suppose it could lead to some life-shortening stress.
So the trick for winning the prize, not just being nominated, is an integrated plan that begins with writing well about something that readers beyond the "natural audience" of family and friends will find interesting enough to pay for the book. This is why consulting a professional editor and, later, copy editor is a wise investment. A professional book designer (what I do) should also be part of the plan, to create a book that prospetive readers will pick up, thus giving that fine writing and interesting subject a chance to reach the reader. And throughout all this, a smart marketing plan must be hatched, so that the book can reach beyond sales of 100 or so to that "natural audience".
That's a formula for "going in health" on the path to self-publishing.
As with "regular" publishing, you need to know what you're getting into before you do it. Self-publishing doesn't, on it's face, provide nearly as much rejection, but it's waiting out there for you no matter which route you take. Either way, you're in for a lot of work. Be ready for it.ReplyDelete
I've self published, sold 400 copies, and I'm still alive. Of course, I've gained some pounds due to sitting far more than I should. So I'd better get off my butt and make time to exercise because I don't want time to be taken from me.ReplyDelete
Very funny! I went the self-publishing route with my first book, but I went with the wrong company. I highly recommend investigating ALL the options out there, before investing any money or time. As some self-publishers can take years off your life as well!ReplyDelete
Oh, wow. I just read Mary's article, and I feel like she just hauled off and slapped us all in the collective face. Ow!! What a load of condescending bull****!! I have a good friend who was an editor at one of the big NY houses, and she and I used to talk all the time about how her industry and mine (entertainment) were almost the same these days. Publishing houses want sure things, like celebrity cookbooks or memoirs by Sarah Palin. And if their marketing departments can't figure out how to sell a book, then they don't want to buy it no matter HOW brilliant it is.ReplyDelete
And the heck of it is, you're still required to do most of your own promotion even if a publishing house DOES take you on. And that much-vaunted "we can get you into bookstores" thing? Well, you get about four months, on average, to become a hit, before you're pulled off the shelf and replaced with somebody else's first novel. And good luck if you've signed a multi-book contract, if your publisher isn't interested in pursuing your second one -- but owns it regardless. Now that must be the definition of author purgatory.
Very sadly, the bookstore share of the market is shrinking rapidly. Soon, the ability of the mainstream publishers to get their product into the stores won't count for much anymore.
Sorry for the rant. But man, I haven't read such an insulting diatribe in a long time! (Hers, not yours, Livia. :-) )
I think if any part of writing life will cut my days short, it'll be the late nights and large amounts of coffee :DReplyDelete
Christian, Actor, Writer, Artist, Nerd.
There is of course a way out of this looming doom: Win the Nobel Prize. But you didn't say for what... Literature, one of the sciences? I'd say go for whatever is more of a sure thing. You don't want to take a chance on losing those 1.4 years!ReplyDelete
Great post, Livia.ReplyDelete
I've been published via the trade way. Still want to do another mss that way, but I am chomping at the bit to ePub a scifi of mine. Right now compiling info on publicity outlets and the like. When i finally do it, I want to do it with eyes open.
Very interesting post, again. I'm so glad I found this site!ReplyDelete
I like the whole picture look you gave it. All the way to the end where you throw your hands up in the air and say, who knows?
I think perhaps those who want a traditional deal and submit tons only to never get accepted are more the equivalent of the nobel nominees than self-published writers. Or, writers who finally get that deal, watch their book slip through the crack anyway and are told by the company, "Yeeeeahh, no, we've decided not to publish your second book, sorry."
Having said that, I think it also has a great deal to do with the individual in question. Someone who's more comfortable letting others make decisions while they work on their stories would likely find less life-shortening stress the traditional route. Someone who finds less stress in as much control over their work as possible would likely find less stress the self-pub route.
That's what I'm enjoying about your site though. I find it enjoyable when a post gets me thinking. Don't really need definitive answers.