Friday, November 08, 2013

Writing: Publishing Is Not For Sissies (Guest Post by Daisy Hutton)

Some time ago, I asked Brandilyn Collins to detail the thought process she went through in deciding to publish some of her books in the "indie" market, rather than with a "traditional"publisher. Brandilyn was careful to indicate that this is a matter of choice for each author. 

Today I've asked the publisher of Harper Collins Christian Fiction, Daisy Hutton, to present her view of publishing in the modern marketplace. 

Publishing these days is not for sissies. It never has been, but for the past three years, publishing has felt like the Wild West.  The revolution in on-line selling and digital reading has created unprecedented opportunity for both authors and publishers to engage directly with readers, and the will of the reader has been unleashed. Authors now have more choices than ever before in how they go about reaching their audience with their stories.

We’re all familiar with the current conversation around self-publishing. We’ve been in the midst of a heady moment. The walls have come tumbling down and the possibilities have felt limitless for both authors and readers, and smart publishers have tried to respond in kind with behavior, policies, and practices that are more author-centric. There is no question that the revolution in self-publishing has not only opened alternative publishing routes for authors; it has also made traditional publishers more author-friendly places to publish.

Alongside of this moment of incredible opportunity for authors, publishers, and readers alike, immense challenges have also emerged. The great question now in publishing is this: how do stories and readers find each other in our new world? Authors, publishers, and retailers are spending a great deal of time, energy, and money trying to get their books read amidst the plethora of self-published content that has flooded the marketplace. Self-publishing has tended to be most successful for authors who have an already established brand-awareness; success through self-publishing has tended to be more elusive for emerging authors who are still finding their audience amidst the tidal wave of inexpensive and readily available content that is available to readers.

Protecting the value of carefully curated, beautifully crafted, and expertly packaged content has never been more critical than at this moment. We can talk about any number of practical reasons why an author would chose to publish with a traditional house – broader distribution, marketing support, editorial and design expertise, expert pricing analytics and consumer analysis. But in my mind, the real reason that traditional publishers are still relevant today is because of the value they place on helping make each piece of content they publish as beautiful, as meaningful, and as powerful as it can possibly be. And such a value is particularly important to publishers and authors who are publishing and writing from a perspective of faith, where we aspire towards content that is genuinely transformative. This is the reason that I get out of bed each day to do my job- because I still believe that stories can change people’s lives and because I want to be a part of helping our authors make their stories as powerful and persuasive as they can be.

Thanks, Daisy. I'm sure readers of this blog will want to voice their opinions on this matter. I agree with Daisy about the value of seeking traditional publication. There are definitely things the "trad" publisher brings to the table. I also agree with Daisy's statement that authors with established brand-awareness do best in the self-publication market. Now let's hear what you have to say.

I look forward to reading your comments. Thanks for dropping by. 

(And come back Tuesday for news of a special offer--hint: if you don't already subscribe to my newsletter, you may wish to go to the margin at the right and sign up now).


Unknown said...

Thanks, Daisy, for your post.
As a new author (just signed with Stobbe Literary Agency for my first novel)I have eagerly read comments and articles by many authors on the pros and cons of indie publishing. In the end, it was for exactly the reasons you cited that I am trying to find a traditional publishing house. Thanks for your dedication to helping make our stories the best they can be.

Richard Mabry said...

Steve, Congratulations on signing with Les. And thanks for your comment, with which I agree.

Anonymous said...

Daisy Hutton has summed up the whole argument in one statement: "Self-publishing has tended to be most successful for authors who have an already established brand-awareness..."

Too often people don't stop to consider the fact that marketing a book must go beyond friends and family. Once that well has dried up, it takes great effort, a distribution system, and the ability to rise above the dreck (or let's be honest, sometimes the other dreck) by building the same name recognition the established author has worked so hard to create. And the fact that there are the notable exceptions (Amanda Hocking, et. al.), they are exceptions. Ultimately as a writer, there are no shortcuts to developing a readership and a reputation.

Self-publishing is a valid choice in many cases. For speakers who want books to sell at their presentations, writers in niche markets that offer little profit for major (and some smaller) publishers, there are obvious benefits.

For others, however, it is simply the easy path to publication. And the easy path isn't always the best path.

Richard Mabry said...

Thomas, Well-said. One thing I hope comes from this post is a message to people considering self-publication when they can't (for whatever reason) get a traditional contract. It's not an easy road whichever way you go, but I'm happy to have a partner in the journey. If we travel it alone, there's even more work ahead.
Thanks so much for dropping by, and for your comment.

Carol Garvin said...

There is still a chasm between the opinions of those who favour indie and tradition publishing, but I think Daisy has perfectly identified the strengths and weaknesses of both methods.

I like to think the current popularity of self publishing will be cyclic... with readers becoming more discerning about material that emerges via the easy path (and perhaps shouldn't), and new writers who recognize the value of having publishing experts on their team. I hope I'm not wishfully thinking! LOL

Carol Garvin said...

Ackkk! Those darned keyboard gremlins!! *traditionAL*

Richard Mabry said...

Carol, I'm hoping that one day the "us vs them" mentality shown by people on both sides of the issue will subside. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. (And I thought I was the only person with gremlins residing inside my keyboard).

Cynthia Ruchti said...

Beautifully expressed, Daisy. Thank you, Richard, for hosting this gracious woman who has such a depth of knowledge and understanding of the industry, coupled with a unique compassion for both authors and readers. Great post.

Richard Mabry said...

Thank you, Cynthia, for your comment and for your presence here. Honored at both, and I'm sure Daisy feels the same.

J. R. Tomlin said...

This is simply not true: "Self-publishing has tended to be most successful for authors who have an already established brand-awareness..." The most successful of the indie authors such as Hugh Howey had absolutely no "already established brand-awareness". Others of us who are doing well as what would have once been known as 'mid-list authors' also had no such established brand-awareness'. And although I consider myself in the middle, there aren't many traditional authors who can say what I do: I support myself with my fiction.

I would take a good, hard, second think before I took self-publishing advice from a traditional publisher. Maybe instead talk to people who actually do it.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Richard, there are plenty of "distribution systems" out there for indy authors. They are known as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, et al. Advising that self publishing is for "speakers who want books to sell at their presentations, writers in niche markets that offer little profit for major (and some smaller) publishers" shows how little you actually know about self-publishing. That might have been true (probably was) ten years ago. Now it is simply wrong.

Southern-fried Fiction said...

I enjoyed this post, Doc. I agree with Daisy, too. I think for a well-established author, self-publishing is a viable choice, but for those starting out … well, for me, my dream was to publish traditionally. It's finally coming true! I would have felt like I was choosing second best if I had caved and self-published. But that's me. I know others have made that decision and it works for them. :)

Richard Mabry said...

JR, Thanks for your comment and for sharing your own experience. My aim, in asking both Brandilyn and Daisy to voice their opinions, was to bring balance to an issue that is of significant interest to writers. Now it becomes a matter for each one to decide what's best for them. Glad things are working out for you.

Ane, I appreciate your comment. I agree--when we began, self-publishing was equated with "vanity publishing." All that has changed. You and I made our decision, others will make theirs. I wanted to present both sides of the equation. Thanks for coming by.

Trish said...

I've been studying the self-publishing industry for the past three years and find this statement (Self-publishing has tended to be most successful for authors who have an already established brand-awareness) to be completely untrue.

I myself had no traditional background and no fan base and sold 45,000 copies of one book in one year, earning close to $90K which allowed me to quit my day job months within months of publishing to write full time.

Just off the top of my head I can name many previously unpublished authors now making a very good living off self-publishing, or off previously self-published titles: Hugh Howie, Darcie Chan, Jamie McGuire, Theresa Regan,liliana hart, Denise Grover Swank, Tina Folson, Colleen Hoover, Ryan Whitfield, Ed Robertson, Sean Platt and Dave Wright, Johnny B. Truant, Debra Geary,Sharon Hamilton, Kathleen Brooks, Christy Snow, Joe Nobody, Robert James Bidinotto, Nikki Pink, Cristin Harber (who is a brand new, never before published author now self-publishing who sold 20K books in her first month of publishing. I think this was Sept.)

And these names are just off the top of my head, I could easily add a couple dozen more if I wanted to spend more time thinking- which I don't. :) If you want a true look at the success rate of previously unpublished authors, check out the Kindle Boards, Writers Cafe.

Everyone has heard of the outliners, like Hockings or Howie but few have heard of the other previously unpublished authors out there making $1000s a month, or 10-20K a month on their self-published titles. I know alot of traditional published authors now self-publishing, and the success rate between them and my non-traditional self-publishing friends is about equal.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying it's easy to make a living with self-publishing--it's getting harder every day. You have to provide a quality product and you have to be savvy when it comes to pricing and marketing. But from what I have seen and am still seeing-- previously unpublished authors have just as much a chance to make it as previously traditionally published ones.

Rich Bullock said...

Well said, Daisy. I, too, believe publishers put out some beautiful and amazing works. Generally, they are high quality (although some of these A-list authors put out some garbage just because they can), and I know the people in the industry work very hard.

My main complaint about traditional publishing is that the business model of making money and staying solvent (not a bad goal for a company!!) chokes the inflow of new writers to a bare trickle. Lots of good writers never get the chance.

I chose to go indie for many reasons (control of content, genre, pricing, my time). Yep, it's tough, but so is being under contract, and putting deadlines on creativity. It depends on the writer's goals. And my goal is the same as yours: to tell compelling stories that will draw the reader into a world so deeply that—when they reluctantly turn the last page—their lives will be changed for the better.

Traditional publishing does that very well; it's just limited by the business necessities. I want traditional publishing to flourish, and for the people working in it to be successful.

And I'm very glad that new doors are open now for so many aspiring authors to get their great stories (not the bad ones) out there when the opportunities by way of traditional publishing are throttled by the economic climate.

There is room for us all.

Richard Mabry said...

Trish, thanks for dropping by and leaving a detailed comment. I checked your blog and find that the last post was two years old, at which time you were quoting sales figures. It would be nice if you would update that, given your success. (And, by the way, congratulations on it). I'm glad you included the disclaimer that it's not easy to make a living with self-publishing. As I understand it, it's hard work but do-able. I appreciate your sharing your experience.

Rich, thank you for a very even-handed comment. Like, you, I think there's room for both sides. And for that very reason, I've chosen to try to give both sides a chance to speak their piece. I appreciate your sharing here.

Trish said...

Sorry, I signed in with the wrong Google account.

Here's a quick run down on my book. On Sept 7th, 2011 I self-pubbed a romantic thriller titled Forged in Fire. It was the first book in series. About half way through the October the book took off and spent the following year on the Kindle Store's romantic suspense best sellers lists. In Jan, I got an offer for the series from Montlake Romance/Amazon publishing. In August of 2012--11.5 months after self-publishing it, I pulled my version of the book. Montlake published their edition on Sept of 2012.

During the year it was self published it sold 45,780 copies. Most of these were priced at 2.99, although I raised the price to 3.99 toward the end. Royalties for those 11.5 months totaled $88,945.32. You can find more info here,

I do need to update the post. The final stats I quoted there didn't include sales or royalties for the last month it was for sale, and after I bought Quick books and started inputting the royalty statements I discovered I'd under reported one of the earlier months.

I haven't self-pubbed anything since, because I've been working to finish the rest of the books under my contract. But I've been tracking the industry since I intend to self-publish again next year.

A couple of things I want to make clear. I am not knocking traditional publishing- there are valid reasons to look in that direction. I just have an issue with the statement that traditionally published authors sell stronger in the self-publishing market than authors without that background. I am fully immersed in both the traditional and the indie markets (although mainly in romance)and I haven't found this to be true.

It should also be noted that it is much, Much, MUCH harder to make any kind of a splash in the self-publishing pool now. I doubt my book would do the same thing in today's climate as it did two years ago. The industry is much tighter and harder to break into, but this is true for traditionally published authors, non-traditionally published authors and hybrid authors. It's simply harder across the board.

But it's harder to make a go of it in publishing in general, including through the traditional houses.

I still think, as of now, and depending on your genre, that it can be easier to break out, and make some decent money through self-publishing vs traditional publishing. But this could change at any moment. The price of traditional books are dropping, and the traditional houses are starting to implement Indie strategies to move their books. It wouldn't surprise me if things do a total reversal in the near future.

Trish said...

Btw Richard,

I really appreciate how open minded and impartial you are with your blog and responses. It's so refreshing to see both sides of this argument. So often this kind of discussion is painted as either black or white. It's great to see someone exposing the shades of gray. :)

Richard Mabry said...

Trish, thanks for coming back with more detailed information. I applaud your success, both in the self-pub market and with a traditional publisher. Your journey is an interesting one.

I think Daisy's statement with which you and others have taken exception is meant as a generalization. My own statement should be that authors with an established brand awareness have a leg up on unknowns in the self-pub market. And whichever path the writer goes down, there's work to be done to achieve success. Congratulations on doing that.

Amanda Dykes said...

What I love in this post most is Daisy's heart. When she shared her passion here: "I still believe that stories can change people’s lives and ... I want to be a part of helping our authors make their stories as powerful and persuasive as they can be."

When God gifts someone with a set of skills, a desire, a passion, He has a plan for it, and that fact won't change, whatever else does or does not change around us. Whatever it may be, in an important and beautiful form, He has a plan and a purpose for that person. It's passion like this, desire like this, people living out their calling like this, that fills and inspires me.

Thank you for hosting a look at each viewpoint, Richard, and for the way you write for our Lord.

And thank you to Daisy for sharing her heart for touching lives through story.

Trish said...

That's the thing though- Richard, I don't think the established authors do have a leg up. I say this for two reasons.

1/ By all accounts 70% of readers still read print, although I think in genre fiction this statistic is much closer to 60% maybe even 55%. Regardless, this means most of a traditional author's audience are reading paper, not ebook. And while they can self-publish through createspace or LuLu, the price is usually much higher, high enough to stop readers who are used to the cheaper mass market prices. Also, alot of traditional authors don't know how to tap into their audience and let them know they have Indie titles out--so they are unable to reach out to their audience.

2/ but even more importantly, so many traditional authors are still viewing publishing through traditional eyes. They don't adapt well to the tactics Indie authors find successful. They may drop their prices a bit from the prices their publishers set, but they keep their prices much higher than the prices that are actually selling. They refuse to use perma free or .99 cent loss leaders or many of the other pricing strategies that can prove hugely successful.

However, I do agree that those traditionally published authors who can tap into their fan-base and can adapted to Indie tactics would have a huge advantage.

Richard Mabry said...

Amanda, Thanks so much for your comment and your compliments. Appreciate your being here.

Trish, Again, thanks for contributing to the discussion. I'll remind readers that some authors are bound by contracts to traditional publishers that prevent their "going indie" so long as they produce work their publisher has a first option on. Truly, things are a'changing.

And now, it's bedtime here in Texas. See you all tomorrow.

Trish said...

Happy dreams, Richard and thanks for a great discussion! :)

Michael K. Reynolds said...

As a traditionally published author myself I will start by declaring my prejudices.

With that said I think in posting the "success stories" of indie authors, it's critical to include all of the numbers. With an estimated 300 million published works this year alone, there are some 299 million authors who fall far short of those examples of "success". Numbers aren't the full measure of quality by any means, but the truth is that the vast, vast majority of self-published authors never sell more than a hundred copies.

There is no denying that traditionally published authors, with the support of experienced, dedicated professionals are going to have a radically higher success rate than going the non-traditional route.

That is because of the most important benefit of being traditionally published. Something Daisy was too humble to emphasize.

As difficult as it is to get a traditional publishing contract, it is even more challenging to earn and retain a full-time position in the publishing industry.

I've met Daisy in person and she is brilliant and extraordinarily gifted. As is Brandilyn Collins, who was one of my early mentors. As are many of the people I've met in the business. Not just in editorial, but in marketing, sales and production.

In my opinion, going indie can be a great choice and the right one for many, many authors.

But don't discount the merits and value of having access to the tremendous talent and support available through the traditional model. If those walls ever do crumble, as some seem to favor, it will be a dark day for authors and readers.

Richard Mabry said...

Michael, Welcome to Random Jottings, and thanks for your comments. As this discussion winds down, I think it's evident that in some regards there's still a gulf between traditionally published authors and those who self-publish, but I think the gap may be closing as each group comes to better understand the other. At least, I hope so.
Come back often.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Contrary to what has been said here, there are countless indies authors who had never had a traditional publishing deal and absolutely no track record who are now selling quite well and making a living at writing books. Many of these authors can be found at the forums, where they go to discuss issues related to self-publishing.

These are authors who understand the importance of content as well as presentation, but rise to these challenges every day.

But, honestly, the hardest part of self-publishing is writing a great book. The rest can be handled for a small amount of money (cover art, editing, etc.)—fixed costs that don't require you to give up a percentage of your royalties.

And please don't fall for the "publishers will market your book" myth. Most authors in traditional publishing have quickly discovered that marketing usually consists of advice to get active on social networks and sending out a number of advance reader copies to potential reviewers.

What publishers don't tell you is that only the authors who have been afforded very large advances really get the publicity/marketing treatment we all hope to get. Those with low advances are rarely given much attention above what I mentioned above. Don't believe that? Ask any midlist author out there.

And now that publishers are creating ebook-only imprints and offering no advance at all, do the math on how much publicity your book will get.

I would argue that you can benefit from the experience of traditional publishing because of the experience itself, which is a learning one. It teaches you about the editing process and gives you confidence in your work.

But when you have the ability to do everything a publisher can, why would you want to give up 60-90% of your book sales for what amounts to simple editing and cover art services?

The truth is, self-publishing is a business like any other and discoverability is ALWAYS a problem, no matter how you publish. Most books fail—both self-published AND traditionally published, and most authors never publish more than a couple books.

But in self-publishing YOU make the choice not to continue. In traditional publishing, if your book doesn't perform, you will be gone in a heartbeat, whether you like it or not.

Richard Mabry said...

Rob, Thanks for speaking from your own experience. As I continue to say, there's room for authors in both camps, so long as we don't spend our time throwing hand grenades across the lines at those who've gone the other direction.
I appreciate your comment, and good luck with your own writing.