EX-PERTISE

This article makes me feel a little weird because it runs counter to a longstanding peeve I’ve had with internet writing information. Namely the widespread impression that anybody with a keyboard is equally qualified to tell other people about how to write and publish, whether or not their degree of knowledge on that subject is greater than or equal to the average ass of the average rat.

I know of two blogs in which 13 year old writers give advice on how to write novels. Dozens with invaluable insights on writing from high school kids. How many more with scintillating tips from people who just wrote their first book, or are going to finish it any day now, except blogging writing advice takes up so much of their time? Many of the newbie forums like Writers Digest are packed with total wannabes who have no sense of irony when it comes to contradicting published authors, even best-selling authors. The equality of information seems to reduce experience to the quotidian.

You can imagine how fond I am of this sort of thing.

So it’s not without a certain sense of irony that I write a piece suggesting that the opposite can be a problem: that “experts” online are often worthy of being ignored because they are full of crap, or at least that their expertise in no way applies to the actual situation that contemporary writers face. I think you’ll admit this is a delicate subject to approach, so I intend to just barge into it and make a mess, as usual.

Let me start with a specific example: myself. I have published my own writing since, literarily, grade school. I’ve owned papers and publishers. My book Mexican Slang 101 has sold over 100,000 copies without benefit of publisher or ISBN or even the modern conveniences like POD and eBooks. I was a self-published hustler before it was cool. I sold an ebook on profitable self-publishing and have addressed writers’ conferences on the topic.

I don’t do that any more. Why? Because my information is no longer pertinent. My fortés are of little or no use to 99.99 percent of writers and much of what I was cluing people in on is now either common knowledge or has been obsoletized by more modern trends and technology. People ask me about it these days and I refer them to Dave Bricker or Kevin McLaughlin or Dean Wesley Smith.

So I take notice when I see discussions on Linked In or some other writers’ forum where people hold forth with total nonsense, backing it up with their experience. Which is what I want to talk about.

First of all, nobody alive has twenty years of experience doing what you want to learn how to do. It’s like somebody telling people shopping for trucks in 1911 that they should listen to them because they’ve been a teamster for 30 years. Sorry, Pops, but “horsepower” is just a figure of speech these days.

Likewise somebody who has been head of a university press for 30 years doesn’t necessarily know more than you do about publishing your book. If fact, the chances are good that they don’t know diddly. I’ve seen discussion like that so many times.

So here’s another specific example: Joel Friedlander. If you don’t know who he is, you should learn. And subscribe to his blogs where–among other things–he periodically has an excellent free cover contest and showcases writing blogs. He knows a great deal about book and cover design. He also gives webinars on self-publishing, where his expertise is a little harder to nail down. But what you notice over and over in his discussions, and to include his circle of editors and designers, is that they will go on and on about page design and font selection–when those topics are absolutely useless to somebody trying to put out an ebook on Kindle or iTunes. Sorry, but you just don’t have that kind of control.

I have recently been in discussions on that blog regarding the need to spend money on editors. Personally, I feel it’s not always necessary and the differences in current publishing technology and models allow some interesting work-arounds. Well, needless to say, people who earn a living editing tend not to care for that idea–but the interesting thing was that when they argued against it, you’d see them slipping into terminology that revealed they were talking about old-model publishing, nothing to do with what most of us are doing.

I see the same thing from publishing pros when challenged. They will start out stating “do’s” and “don’t’s” and cite their 25 years running the in-house press for Bob Jones University or Popular Hairbrush Books or whatever, but if questioned fall back on arguments that mean nothing to us. Suddenly they are talking about short print runs, ARC proofs (think about what Advanced Review Copies mean when you can publish a book over a weekend), and such concepts that aren’t really “outmoded”, but just no longer universally–or even greatly–applicable.

A favorite example of this is several discussions making the idiotic statement that ebooks are as expensive to produce as paperbacks. I’m not making that up. And when questioned end up spieling how it takes twenty people in their company to vet, re-edit, format, release and otherwise screw around with the ebook version of a title they have already paid for and edited. So you can see where you’d better go hire a bunch of people if you hope to achieve the need to produce $12 ebooks. And yet, and this is important, you see people browbeaten or pushed into accepting what they say based on their resume.

One of the more, to me, infuriating examples of this comes from those who use a position to pretend to expertise. So you see a magazine editor offering webinars on how to get a literary agent when he has never done so in his life. Why would he? He’s a career magazine hack. Or a famous writing magazine publisher doing $90 webinars on self-publishing when she’d never published a book in her life, much less self-published one. These people are not just useless, and not just more of the parasites that feed on writing dreams, they are actually harmful to those who pay them for their lore. Example on that: one of the bullets of the SP webinar was, “How To Choose The Right Self-Publishing Company.” I wasn’t worth $90 to find out if it was “our magazine advertisers on parade”. I jumped to the conclusion. But people paid $90 to get informed.

Now let me take a more dangerous step here. What about the experts and gurus of modern self-publishing? Is what they say still valid? Is it sensible to suggest that much of what they said four years ago no longer makes sense? I’m speaking of the “classics” here: John Kremer, Dan Poynter, Aaron Shepherd. What we might call the “first generation” SP hotshots. Actually there has always been a skeptical take on that cottage industry. “Have they ever tried to sell a book other than a book on how to sell books?” But they established a sort of canon or core curriculum that still resonates. And some of their advice is still very strong. “Avoid bookstores” is one I frequently cite. But then you start looking at the marketing advice and start wondering.

Is a Facebook page really all that good a way to spend your time? Does blogging about writing really increase your sales? Does chasing Twitter followers bring you enough money to pay out?

One of my authors recently got into a discussion with an editor/author of the old school trying to adjust the new environment–and columnist for Writers Digest– who said that advertising doesn’t sell books. Big news to people who watched my first humor anthology soar up the amazon rankings and sell 600 copies in a few hours because of a $75 listing on eBook News Today. The very kinds of things that author/publishers are concerned with and trying to learn more about and evaluate every day–is Kindle Nation a better ROI than BookBud? How best to layer promos and ads around Select free days?–are completely beyond the understanding of people who spent decades in the old models–and see no need to unlearn and relearn because they are experts and already know it.

The people I mentioned, Kevin and David and Dean, came in under the eclipse of the older “experts”. This doesn’t normally happen in real life–or at least not this fast–because most endeavors don’t change that fast. But publishing is changing daily. Writers are re-examining what they learned earlier this year. As with any volatile field the difficult thing—as important and tricky as telling the truth from the BS–is being able to distinguish between what is fairly static or stable, and what is evolving. As merely one example, in light of developments over the past week or so, what do you think of the “time honored advice” (“time” meaning, “the last three years”) to build reviews by swapping with other authors?

Now this paragraph really hurts my teeth to write, but somebody has to do it. Here it is: if you’re a new writer trying to get out there and score, who should you take advice from: Neil Gaiman or Joe Konrath? Or, for that matter, Konrath or some hotshot who is selling stacks of a book very much like yours without doing any of the “right things”? A million-seller like Stephen King… or some housewife who just sold $45,000 worth of her dippy romance in a month? Or… here it comes… some guy who’s been writing professionally for 40 years or some 13 year old skater who’s selling $1100 a month of his lame spy adventure novel? Obviously the answer lies in a balance, in being able to lay off what is “known” and what sort of experience produces real-time, useful expertise. If you’re starting to think your blog is a waste of time, in other words, maybe the fact that all those experts say you have to have it doesn’t really apply. Maybe you’ll make more streaking Red Sox games waving a banner for your book. This is not a field in which, at the moment, longevity or time in grade counts for much. Kind of like dating.

63 thoughts on “EX-PERTISE

  1. Let me mention that there are links to Kevin and Dave and Dean the second time I mention them, by first names. Little hard to see, but links to some very extremely valuable resources if you haven’t already been there and bookmarked them.

  2. Thanks for covering this topic so thoroughly, Linton. How do authors maintain their sanity, let alone find the time to focus on writing, while wading through a sea of blogs written by “experts”? Joel Friedlander is one of three websites I subscribe to (including this one,) I’ve learned from him, but do not sign up for his expensive webinars and as you’ve said, not all of the info he provides is useful.

    Blogging is time consuming, and I don’t encourage people to subscribe to mine. I use it mostly for updating posts on the now-useless Facebook author page. That is, their new policy “pay to reach more of your fans” is from my p.o.v., outrageous. They are hoping to appease their investors by producing adequate revenue to justify the inflated cost of their stock offerings. FB now interferes with our ability to message anyone without “friending” them first. My posts there are now reaching a fraction of those who received my updates regularly. So much manipulation and con-artistry everywhere ‘out there’ has become downright depressing. How many webinars have proven to be worthy of the time spent? Not many!

  3. Lin, thanks for saying what I’ve been thinking for awhile, but hadn’t managed to pull together into a coherent rant.

    As an aside, I have a friend who’s a graphic artist. A few months back, she told me she was interested in getting into e-book design. I blinked and asked if she was talking about book covers. And she said no, she was talking about interior design — you know, page design and font selection. And I blinked again and said that it doesn’t work that way — the conversion software formats the book, and the Kindle owner picks the font. And she said there were still “things you can do.” At that point, I just smiled and nodded.

  4. So refreshing! Thanks for speaking up — and for providing plenty of food for thought! I’ve wondered about the creative drain it must be to blog while trying to seriously write, but “everybody does it” and look at all the blog-hops I’ve missed because I don’t, LOL.

    Would love to hear your opinion or even a whole article on paid advertising. Worth it? Where? How about some guidelines for determining whether a site deserves my hard-earned Indie dollars? Perhaps, given the fluidity of Indie publishing, such information would be obsolete by next month, but oh, what a resource!

    Please come back soon?

  5. Excellent article, Lin, very to the point. The pace if change in the industry is very difficult to keep up with. Even if you make an effort to keep yourself informed, it still seems a complete lottery to me whether any book is going to make sales.

  6. “Or… here it comes… some guy who’s been writing professionally for 40 years or some 13 year old skater who’s selling $1100 a month of his lame spy adventure novel?” I guess it’s like the old nail soup story. Everyone has something to add to the pot and hopefully we can weed through the rotting vegetables and create world class goulash.

  7. An old Jewish proverb says, “Never farm the land. Always farm the farmers.” Never was anything more true than in Indie publishing. Thousands upon thousands of grifters farming us wannabee writers.

    • Exactly, Bill. It’s kind of like the way to get rich in gold rushes is open a tavern.
      That’s my main purpose in writing this. We can cope with the rapid shifts in the game.
      But i really hate to see all these coaches and consultants and webinazis out there raking in money off people. Well, OK, people too stupid to check things out. But still.

  8. Good, common sense, as usual, Lin. I’ve learned some things over the past three years, mostly by trial and error, but I’m certainly not an expert. At least, I don’t pay money for any of these webinars anymore, and I have learned to do a lot of things myself, instead of paying others to do it, so that I can pretty much get a book out for close to free right now. I do spring for Create Space’s $25 distribution chain, although I don’t think it has sold a lot of books for me. Anyway, I agree. There are not experts, and I just keep plugging along. I will have a new book on retirement coming out in 2 or 3 weeks titled “Retirement: A Memoir and Guide.” Maybe that will interest a few people. Thanks again for the article.

  9. New book published today and going, for the next few months, totally Amazon and CreateSpace. All a big experiment. I have followed Linton and Boyd and most especially Joel for years and you guys are my heroes. And yes publishing has changed and will continue to change. The killer is the marketplace and finding readers and most especially buyers. I have gone traditional and now exclusively self-publish, and every book (one every six months or so) is handled differently, the target keeps moving. Experts – schmetperts, each book is a challenge and a blessing. For us who love to tell stories it can be frustrating, but the reward is in the tale spun, but damn it I would still love to make a buck or two. Thanks Linton for the post, I may frame it. BTW I wonder how it will read a year from now.

    • So true, Gregory. I take my hat off to Lin (again … and again) and marvel at the clarity of his vision. And damn – I wish I was the one to say “Experts – schmetperts”, but you got in first. Still, I feel the occasional twinge of guilt when I hold forth on a subject I think I know something about… and then it changes the following week. But such is life.

  10. I get dozens, literally dozens of self help letters a day, which includes newsletters from companies wanting to sell me something. Indies Unlimited is the only one I read on a consistent basis. The advice in here, your advice, seems solid and based on the changing internet. Plus you haven’t asked me for money yet. ;) Thanks so much for this article and the advice in it.

    I’ve wondered for a while how people do all those blog hops and author events and find time to write. I did one event, just one, and it wore me out and made me less than I would have made to work for McDonalds for a few hours. For the stress involved, including complaints from people who did not know how to change the fb default settings, I’d rather have worked at McDonalds. In fact at the end I felt I could have made more money selling my services to set up people’s fb accounts than writing the books I’ve worked on for four years.

    Interesting fact though, one I have not yet wrapped my head around: Somehow, in my prep for the event, and all the other activities of the last month I’ve managed to get 70,000 visits to my website in just three days. Now if I can just figure out how to turn that into money…

  11. I write romance and lol nothing dippy about it. However, I do follow certain blogs, such as this one, Konraths, Friedlanders, and about 4 others that I can take snippets from, keep what I like, try what I want, and see where the heck it all ends up. I don’t think anyone really knows where any of this ebook phenom is going, so we’re all on a level playing field. I’ve been in this game on many fronts, since about 40 years ago. Submitting to publishers, being traditionally pubbed, pubbing my own ebooks in the 90’s and now today. I’m loving the today market the best! Blogging, facebook, twitter, pinterest, etc….who knows? Some people hit it really big and some of them admit they did no marketing, nada, just put the books out there and they found their way. So…thanks for the post. As usual, I’m taking what I like and leaving the rest and doing my thing, not jumping on any shaky bandwagons and I’m just thinking it’s a glorious, glorious ride. yee haw.

  12. Thanks, Lin, for the kind words about http://theworldsgreatestbook.com As you suggest, the world of publishing is changing rapidly. All of us bloggers are self-professed “experts;” having self-published a number of books, we write from experience. But my experience won’t necessarily dovetail 100% with anyone else’s; smart writers get their information from a variety of sources and they read between the lines.

    Wherever you get your information, take the time to read a number of opinions. Form your own conclusions (as Lin has in this article). Choose a publishing path based on knowledge of your options—not because you got a rejection letter from Penguin. And however you ultimately choose to publish, don’t skimp on quality; every book is a portrait of its author and (unfortunately) a representation of the larger indie publishing community. After all those hours spent researching and writing, why not produce something excellent?

    • I belong to that club too, Dave. And it feels like I’m an expert sometimes, I must admit – only I’m shown reality by the next kid who comes on the block.

      Like with everything else I do, I get three opinions or estimates on everything.

      Like with everything I say, I make sure the listener or reader knows it’s just what I think – nothing else.

  13. Excellent post, Lin. So much is changing and we just have to roll with it. It was so hard for my fellow graphic designers to give up control when we went from print to web. Live long enough and you’ll see a number of technologies go extinct, as you noted. Even though I’ve left design for writing and editing years ago, there is great value in getting human eyeballs on your manuscript before you publish. I’d say that even if I didn’t do it professionally. ;)

    • Don’t make me describe what’s stuck to my fridge.

      Thanks for your comments, Ros, and everybody here who had kind words. This has been on my mind for awhile and I’m glad it struck a chord with so many of you.

  14. Lin, this is a great post! You make some really valid points! I’ve often thought some of these things without saying them! Take care!

  15. Sharing this piece, by David Rory O’Neil

    To be read, or not to be read, that is the question:
    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous obscurity,
    Or to take arms against a sea of gatekeepers
    And by opposing end them. To dream—to hope,
    No more; and by a rejection slip to say we end
    The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
    That writers are heir to: ’tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish’d. To self publish, to print;
    To be in print, perchance to be read—ay, there’s the rub:
    For in that print of death what dreams may come,
    When we have shuffled off this old publishers way,
    Must give us pause—there’s the respect
    That makes calamity for those who wait acceptance.
    For who would bear the whips and scorns of agents,
    Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
    The pangs of dispriz’d rejection, the publishers delay,
    The insolence of office, and the spurns
    That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,
    When he himself might his quietus make
    With a Kindle Fire? Who would rejection slips hundreds bear,
    To grunt and sweat under a weary keyboard,
    But that the dread of something after failure,
    The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
    No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
    And makes us rather print our self and sell
    Than fly to booksellers that we know not of?
    Thus rejection does make cowards of us all,
    And thus the native hue of endless waiting
    Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
    And enterprises of great pitch and moment
    With this regard their currents turn awry
    And lose the name of Random House for the devil that is Amazon.
    This was done for a friend who was worrying about publising wars that so many are fretting about now.
    With only mild appologies to Will.

  16. Wonderful to see the alternative view. It holds up to examination and reflects my own deepest concerns while I am struggling with FB page-management illogicalities and wondering how anyone could possibly READ all those tweets. It is screamingly obvious that I should be revising that plodding middle section of my novel instead, but a beginner feels he needs to get published before he can challenge conventional wisdom. Thanks for a voice of sanity in the wilderness!

  17. We all owe it to ourselves to take as much care in whose advice we take as we do in writing our tales. It would be like having your romantice hero beat his dog! The bad can cancel out all the good. We hear the voices…take my advice…no, take mine…no, mine! When it’s all over and done, best listen to those who have a proven track record using their own techniques. Since that can be difficult to determine.

    So take MY advice, Oops, it’s tough sitting atop a buttered pedestal! Aw, forget it!

  18. First off, thanks for the kind mention. And apologies for the dated material on my blog, for those who visited there. I’ve been working to close on a house near Boston the last few months, and it left less time for blogging than I’d have liked!

    For what it’s worth, I concur with Lin. Folks, analyze *everything* in the context of what you know and what you are trying to achieve. Actively question what you are doing on a regular basis. What was great six months ago might be a waste of time or even detrimental today. We’re in a time of massive upheaval. Some old things are as relevant today as ever. Many have changed. More will change all the time. Stay informed, stay alert, work hard at learning your trade and being educated.

    PS: check out Dean’s wife’s blog at kriswrite.com, too. Her weekly posts every Thursday are well worth the read.

  19. Lin, I spent years in conventional publishing–with two of the Big Six publishers. I still came into indie publishing feeling like I’d just landed on another planet.

    I tend to refer to Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith or the Self-Publishing Authors Lounge for answers. I haven’t seen Dave Bricker’s site but will be checking it out now. Thanks!

      • The WDC was the first writer’s forum I joined. They spent most of their energy fighting among themselves over who was being too brutal in their critiques. I didn’t last long there.

  20. Excellent article, Linton. Before getting into ePublishing I researched pretty thoroughly, I thought. However, as you say, the industry evolves and morphs so quickly; by the time I began putting all that I had researched into action, most of it was no longer current or applicable.

  21. I have read every word of the article and every comment. Some really intelligent people here. Thanks Lin for your work saying what I have thought all the time. I’m struggling for a foot hold in the market, and so far have only gotten to hold a greasy string. My expert opinion…is write well and often.
    James M. Copeland

    • Thanks Randy.
      Randy, by the way folks, is a very funny writer. His blog is an interesting one because he hasn’t published anything yet, but his explorations of the routes are worth reading—and if nothing else will make you laugh.

  22. […]It is not too often that I use TIPM to draw attention to an opinion piece elsewhere on self-publishing, but Lin Robinson’s article this week on Indies Unlimited is worthy of it.[…]

  23. A very interesting article that should give everyone pause for reflection. The worst are people who claim to be marketing or social media experts. Everything is changing so rapidly that it’s difficult to “guarantee” that a marketing strategy will work for a book. Thanks, Lin.

  24. Lin:

    First, great article.

    You have great credibility with me, simply because of your comment:

    “My book Mexican Slang 101 has sold over 100,000 copies without benefit of publisher or ISBN or even the modern conveniences like POD and eBooks. I was a self-published hustler before it was cool. I sold an ebook on profitable self-publishing and have addressed writers’ conferences on the topic.”

    Why you have credibility with me is that you have a book that has sold over 100,000 copies. To me, a true best-seller is one that has sold over 100,000 copies. Anything that has sold fewer copies than that is a fraud – it is not a best-seller.

    In fact, I was about to post a comment similar to your post here on Joel F.’s blog in regards to the number of people claiming to be “best-selling authors” and “book marketing experts” whose books have sold fewer than 5,000 copies, and in a lot of cases as few as 150 or 100 copies.

    What a bunch of deceitful liars and frauds!

    For the record, I too started at this self-publishing game before it became trendy and long before the trendy and cool people started calling it the “indie revolution” (which I find revolting). Have you ever noticed how the vast majority of trendy and cool people are broke big-time and will be continue to be broke big-time.

    If you ever want me to contribute to a blog post or collorate with on one as guest on Joel’s blog about what makes a true best-seller, I will be willing to do so.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 165,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  25. Boy Lin, all the experts over at LinkedIn will be apoplectic when they read this. Heh. I might just post it over there (if you haven’t already).

    Kevin – when you get settled in Boston, we should have a pint somewhere.

  26. Ahh! Frank discussion of the credentials of the experts! I love Joel Friedlander’s blog, but when he speaks of hiring an army of experts (cover designers, layout, editors, etc) to self-publish, claiming himself as an expert, and then mentions his years working within the traditional publishing model, you realize he has no idea what it’s like to be just starting out, today, without all those inside connections. If traditional publishing houses have 10 books fail for every one that makes money, then why would a self-pubbed author dish out those thousands? Not that self-pubs don’t need to become knowledgable about editing, cover design and fonts, but the guru’s need to acknowledge telling indies to cough up thousands of dollars on a questionable financial investment is like teaching abstinence-only sex-education to high school kids. Ain’t gonna happen!

    Always be wary of guru’s urging you to sign up for this seminar or that unless the price is truly dirt cheap. The information is usually available elsewhere for free these days if you only look for it. I’m tired of getting my inbox spammed by so-called ‘experts’ trying to sell me services, often based on publishing strategies that my own real-life book selling efforts are showing don’t bear fruit. Thank you for your frank honesty!

    • Anna,

      Like Joel Friedlander, I write a blog for self-publishers. I work as a typesetter and designer, and the advice I offer brings in a trickle of clients who want book coaching and design work.

      It would be easy for anyone to assume that the only reason I encourage writers to invest money in editing and design is because I make my living doing these things, but I’m quite up-front with prospective clients that they’ll likely never sell enough books to recover my fees.

      For most writers, publishing is not a “questionable investment”—it’s not an investment at all. Let’s say you sell a book for $15. The retailer leaves you $7.50 and the printer takes another $3.50. In most cases, you’ll make more money picking trash and selling stuff on eBay. If you have a nonfiction book to offer to a niche market or some good marketing connections, you may do significantly better, but let’s put to rest this whole concept of self-publishing for profit. Books are a terrible retail product and most people with the skill to write a book are better served to write another one than to become second-rate marketers.

      And yet, I encourage any serious writer to hire an editor and a designer. Why? Because that’s what mainstream publishers do—even though they buy manuscripts from some of the most talented people imaginable. If indie writers want to compete with trade publishers, they need to EXCEED their standards. Writing books for profit is borderline delusional for most people, but creating a beautiful, quality book to the highest possible standard is a perfectly valid artistic, expressive goal. I doubt my books will ever sell well, but neither will they serve as portraits of an author who had no budget and no taste (and I pay top $$$ for a good editor even though I think I’m a pretty good one because that’s what it takes to do things right). Any serious artist somehow finds the bronze to cast her sculpture.

      So, inasmuch as Lin has cleared me here as perhaps one of the good “experts, (though I never called myself an “expert”)” not everyone is trying to sell you something, and if they are, what they’re selling may be of value.

      Rather than dismiss everyone who offers services to indie publishers, do your homework, learn the business, read between the lines . Form well-founded opinions about what bloggers recommend, and at the same time, be brutally honest about what you can expect to get out of the publishing business. I lose a lot of clients when I tell people they probably won’t make money on their books, but that makes neither my advice nor my services less valuable, and it leaves me with clients who want to do the best work they can. I’m happy with that arrangement.

      Thanks for sharing your comments,

      Dave Bricker

      • How about just “one of the good guys”, Dave?
        As you know, I recommend your advice on publishing.
        But disagree with the idea of spending a lot of money in order to lose it. I don’t see any reason why writers have to EXCEED what publishers are doing. You offer a cheaper, more focused product…you catch some slack.

        Personally, my ebooks are superior to what I see from big houses. And it’s not hard to do, frankly. I didn’t go to school for it, and it wasn’t hard to pick up.

        But I think you’re focusing on a minor point here–that a lot of advice from book service vendors is self-serving–when my main point deals with relevance of experience to the current practice. Back before you made the clever morph into the Worlds Best eBook, you were the One Hour Publish dude. What you have been telling people about publishing was learned starting from scratch and publishing your book. That’s what I’m talking about.

        • Thanks, Lin. I don’t think there’s a disagreement here (and I’d be well-satisfied with being “one of the good guys”).

          I still believe in getting your book out—no matter how limited your budget is. Some people can’t afford to hire an “expert,” and their words shouldn’t sit in a drawer because of it.

          At the same time, nobody should be advised that it’s okay to skimp on quality—whatever you produce is a direct reflection of your own values, tastes and standards. As to why indies have to exceed the standards of trade publishers, that’s easy:

          1. Big publishers design books with tiny type and thin margins to save $ over ginormous print runs. POD publishers can produce elegant books at an additional cost of pennies per unit. Why not seize that advantage?

          2. Self-published books are universally derided as “crappy.” We can either reinforce that stereotype or break it. The latter choice serves both the author and the larger self-publishing community.

          3. Publishing is part art and part business. For the majority of writers, especially fiction writers, successful creative expression will bring more satisfaction than retail returns do. A slapdash product that makes money and accomplishes its ends without pretense is fine from a capitalist perspective, but there’s nothing more pathetic than shoddy art. Writers who confuse their goals and prospects often produce works that neither sell well nor read well.

          As for eBooks, you’re right, Lin. Most eReader devices butcher typography to a point where producing a “good eBook” isn’t a challenge that’s over anyone’s head. Big publishers are stuck trying to convert their huge catalogs of backlisted books to eBook form; a typical indie writer can focus on doing a good job on a single book with free tools like Sigil. Ebooks are aesthetically challenged to begin with so follow Lin’s lead and jump on this.

          Anna said:
          —“but the gurus need to acknowledge telling indies to cough up thousands of dollars on a questionable financial investment is like teaching abstinence-only sex-education to high school kids. Ain’t gonna happen!”—

          To return to Anna’s point, I started out with design experience, but I learned about publishing one book at a time. I still encourage indies to invest in the best resources possible. I just spent $1800 on a brilliant editor because I want my next book to be that much better. I had the manuscript 99% together; Steven helped me with the other 99%—and even though that’s a big financial burden for me, I’m thrilled with the results. If you look at that expenditure from the standpoint of financial investment, it makes me a damned fool. If you look at it from the standpoint of what it takes to do the job right, it suggests other values. The “gurus” telling indies to invest thousands—if they’re being honest and realistic—aren’t telling them to do it as a business investment, but they’re encouraging them nonetheless. And actually, it DOES happen; many excellent books come from that process and many excellent writers are satisfied with what they get out of it.

      • Us Indies need to realize that writing is a hobby. If we receive any recognition or money for it, we should be truely amazed.

        • Well said, Bill.
          That’s the secret antidote to a lot of the worst hype: realizing that we’re doing what we want to do and if we make money at it, it’s like a license to steal.
          It’s kind of like the concept of “you can’t con an honest man.”
          Nobody goes out for little league or starts painting pictures with the idea of getting rich at it.

  27. Really good point Anna. Joel is a classic example that although their advice on many aspects of SP might not be based in current reality for most writers, their undisputed vision and guidance in certain aspects can be really valuable.
    I’d set that “dirt cheap” bar at “Free”. And even then, you have to consider your time.

    They chip away at our time and attention. Why the hell make a video to get across something that’s totally verbal in nature? So you have to take it in at their pace, not your own, and can’t skim to see if it’s worth it.

    Why give them your emall address (or worse, your mail address and phone) to get some pdf or pamphlet you haven’t been able to evaluate?

    It;s almost a rule that the bigger and slicker the offering, the less likely it is to be worth even a click.

  28. I’d like to mention something here. I kind of hoped Joel would drop in and say something, like Kevin and Dave and Mick, but I didn’t assume he hadn’t because he was miffed at my mention of him here.

    That was borne out in spades when he added this discussion to his outstanding blog’s weekly roundup
    http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2012/11/this-week-in-the-blogs-november-11-17-2012/

    Subtext–we’ve all seen “experts” go ballistic on LI or FB or whatever if anybody challenges their title, or their latest stupid “X Number of Ways To XXX” posts.
    Contrast that to Joel and Dave’s response to my comments.
    The real ones, who actually know what they’re doing, are not insecure.

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  30. Great article. Self-publishing is sort of a booming frontier market, and booming frontier markets tend to bring out a lot of very talented, independent people—and also a lot of charlatans and hucksters. It’s nice to read something insightful like this and get a clearer view through the smoke.

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  33. Thanks for a wonderful, like-it-really-is post. There is so much dogmatism about writing, as if every how-to book and professional author’s blog is a bible, to be obeyed without question. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut on discussion boards rather than be stomped on or ignored as if I hadn’t even said anything. When I blog about my experience as a writer and a self-publisher, the emphasis is on learning and flexibility, not rules. Incidentally, blogging is part of my own learning process. It encourages me to think more deeply about the process of writing, and it results in comment conversations with people whose insights are worth paying attention to.

  34. There are indie-authors who know alot more than I do about e-publishing, but overall, the playing field is pretty level. That’s what appeals to me. We’re all trying to find our way. The industry is too new for there to be any real experts. The instant anyone tells me they have the key to my success and it will only cost me $5.99, I go on to something else.
    Thanks for posting this discussion!

  35. Great post, Lin.

    I followed print/e conventions for sensual/erotic romance for years (5+) and sales were so consistently meager that the only thing keeping me going was a compulsion to create. I started a new pen name last year and eliminated all the things I didn’t like on the marketing side that clearly weren’t working for me (frequent social media, seeking blogger reviews, etc.) and focused instead on frequent production. I wrote weekly shorts to build a base for the first few months then went to longer releases twice a month to keep that base and grow it. In less than a year, I replaced my six-figure salary from my day job (that I abhorred) with a new (admittedly smaller) six-figure salary doing something I absolutely love.

    I only recently stopped checking in on the internal loops of my old publishers (which included major traditional publishers and the most popular epublishers for my genre). Last check, they were still pushing conventional wisdom on authors that you cannot succeed without being a media w***e, doing giveaways (of other than your books), etc. All this helps promote the publisher, but is a loss for most of the authors I know.

    Aside from buying stock photography, my content is 100% self-produced. Obviously, my time has a value and represents my most significant investment by far, but the only “hard” financial investment I make in a book is usually under $20. Consequently, I must sell about 10 copies across all venues before I turn a profit. That’s usually the first few hours of a title being on sale and (along with the focus on novella-length or shorter work) provides considerable latitude to experiment that hard financial investments would limit. Additionally, hard financial investments are far less feasible for the length I write in.

    Obviously, the years I spent having my fiction published by others (and essentially being a nonfiction publisher in my own right under the day job) have given me a knowledge advantage over many other self-publishers. Additionally, my genre is somewhat special in the broad opportunity it provides for success. I’m posting this, however, as a counterpoint to a theme running through some of the replies that people really shouldn’t expect to make money as a writer. Time spent writing (fiction or non) has real value – great value – and if a competent writer treats what s/he is doing as a business and not just an art form, profit will follow.

    Oddly, the most success-inducing thing about self-publishing for me has been that it removed all scapegoats. With no one but myself to blame, I shed many bad habits and an “artiste” perspective that did nothing to improve my work or my bank account.

    JC

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