Friday, October 12, 2012

Mindy McGinnis Tackles A Tricky Truth

by Mindy McGinnis

Today I'm going to jump in over my head and address a Truth from follower Alyssa Susanna. She asks:

All of the authors [here] have books that are being published by major publishing companies. How do you feel about the self-publishing world? Wouldn't it be easier to have your work out, by yourself? On the other hand, would it be harder to market your self-published book? Thoughts on self-publishing!

It's a great question, and one that can turn the tension factor up a notch in a room that's populated by both traditionally-published authors and self-published authors. Even internet chat rooms aren't immune to the feeling of gee-I-hope-this-goes-okay when the topic comes up.

Inevitably there's always someone who says that we all have to do what is "right for us as individuals," or what "fits our own career paths and goals." I think such phrases were probably bandied about at Hatfield and McCoy family picnics right before the six-shooters came out.

Does this mean I think that's an incorrect statement? No.

I absolutely and totally think that every author does need to do what is best for them, but I would add that every author needs to be completely and totally aware of what each path holds before they go running down it.

Alyssa asked: Wouldn't it be easier to have your work out, by yourself?

Easier in some senses, yes. There's the gratification of getting your work "out there" much faster than in the trad-pub world. And - a major selling point for self-pubs - the revenue generated by your sales are yours. Not a publishing house's. Not an agent's. Yours. And hey, that's great.

Yet it's also harder in some senses. Cover design? Up to you. Copyediting? Pay somebody. And - the big one - Marketing? That's on you, too. And that's what trips me up, bigtime. Like I landed on my face and ended up with my two front teeth down in my lower intestine.

Marketing is HARD. I mean hard like learning how to ice skate on your nose-hairs is hard. I've been blogging over at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire for two years. I do book reviews, author interviews, ARC giveaways, query critiques, agent features and offer oh-so-interesting-snippets of my real life. I blog at least five days a week. It's work of the brain-squeezing type. And I have less than 500 followers (and I love all less-than-500 of you, don't get me wrong).

I tweet. I have a Facebook author page. I'm a volunteer moderator at AgentQuery Connect. I participate in the group blogs The Lucky 13s, our own Friday the Thirteeners, From the Write Angle and Book Pregnant. I have a Pinterest board for NOT A DROP TO DRINK comprised of my own photography. I make vlogs. I do everything any socially-networking minded person can do and still have time to write.

And I'm not a household name by any stretch of the imagination. Granted - I don't have a product to actually sell at the moment. DRINK won't be releasing until Fall 2013.

But I did participate in a group anthology called SPRING FEVERS from the independent publisher The Elephant's Bookshelf. I can come off as not flattering myself when I say that it's pretty darn good, as I'm not the only author in the book. I used every avenue mentioned above to help promote SPRING FEVERS, as did my fellow authors in the collection. The e-book is even offered for free on Kindle.

I'm not going to tell you how many downloads we have, but I will say that it breaks my heart and leaves me in awe of people that succeed in self-publishing. Truly in awe.

This is why going the trad-pub route was right for me. I can't think outside the box when it comes to promotion and marketing. The sheer number of blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and self-published books available makes me want to burrow into a hole and hope for the best as opposed to standing up and proving that I'm different from them in a really new and awesome way.

With the marketing department of a traditional publishing house behind me I don't have to do that. And that's good because I can't do that. It's not what I'm made for.

I don't mind signing away the money (and yes, the rights too!) that I gave my house when we went into contract because they're offering me something I don't have - a massive built-in following, shelf space in major retailers, an art department to make my cover, and who knows what kind of marketing that I couldn't finance in a million years of working as a high-school librarian.

And I'm offering them something they don't have - my book. I look at is as win-win.

But other people cringe at exactly the same thing I welcome with open arms, and that's why self-publishing exists, and why it's very popular. It's also lucrative... for some.

I can't remember who, but awhile back an agent tweeted that self-publishing is not a guaranteed money-making success anymore than being trad-pubbed automatically means you're going to be the next Stephen King. The vast majority of trad-pubbed authors also have a day job. I'm willing to bet the same is true for self-pubs.

We're not all that different. And I really wish all of us could just go ahead and accept that. Some authors are willing to make certain sacrifices, while others would rather sacrifice something else.

And that's totally cool. We don't get to tell each other which sacrifices are the right ones.

I see a lot of polite head-butting, a lot of agreeing to disagree. What bothers me is that if we all insist that the grass is greener on our side of the fence, pretty soon the vast amount of bile that's being spread on both sides is going to kill all the grass, everywhere.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut dystopian, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins Fall, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs From the Write AngleBook PregnantFriday the Thirteeners and The Lucky 13s. You can also find her on Twitter Facebook.


  1. Well said, Mindy! Thank you for addressing my question! :)

  2. Mindy, you tackled such a difficult question so well. Thanks for putting this out there!

  3. Mindy, I love this answer. You said it so well.

  4. Thanks everyone - yes, it's a tricky one, I'm glad I can answer it honestly without stepping on toes.

  5. Thanks for adressing this question bbc. I agree with you to some extent. I think it all depends on the author advance. If they offer you 50k+, I think everything you said above is valid. However, if all they offer is a 5k advance, I'm pretty sure I've got a better chance of earning some money through self-publishing than traditional publishing. With such a small advance, they will not spend too much marketing resources on me simply because it makes more sense for them to spend their efforts on books they invested more money in.

  6. Excellent response, Mindy. You handled a difficult subject masterfully. :)

  7. Anon - (you must be an AQC'er, you called me BBC ;) - true, *but* if you don't want to (or aren't able) to invest in yourself financially, time wise, and out-of-the-box creative for marketing, you might be better off going with a smaller advance just for the reach of the publicity from the established press. One of their tweets with your name on it might reach thousands, whereas thousands of tweets from you might reach hundreds, and turn a few off. On the other hand, if you think you've got what it takes to sell yourself and have the reach - then yes, by all means!

  8. JRJ - Yes, I'm just so damned deft, you know? ;)

  9. Well done, Mindy! I totally agree with everything you said. I can see why it works for some people, but the people who make it work have exceptional business acumen and charisma and creativity when it comes to marketing. I have none of those things! So for me, an agent and a big house was the way to go, because for me, it is well worth it to sign away some of the money for all the editorial and marketing help. I think I'm getting the better end of the bargain, honestly :)

  10. Very well said, Mindy, and I agree. Traditional publishing is the path for me—I hope!

  11. Bethany - I feel the same. I know where my strengths lie, and while I probably could sell myself if I had to (erp, don't misinterpret) it's worth it to my to let someone else have a piece of my $$ pie so that I don't have to.

    Mimi- hang in there!!!

  12. The thing about the grass, on either side of the fence, is it takes *tending* (and sometimes luck) to make it green and keep it healthy. I think a lot of people don't recognize the level of work involved in taking either path when from the outside what they see are the results, and when the greenest grass gets all the publicity.

  13. Good point, Cara - I think there are a lot of misconceptions on both sides about what's involved for the other. The demonizing is what gets me - their grass is green! DAMMIT!! ;)