Saturday, February 25, 2012

Is It Vain to Indie Publish ebooks or apps?


Recently on an internet thread about self publishing ebooks a fellow illustrator wrote, "If I pay, it's vanity and I'm not that vain."

I thought it might make for a good blog post and create good dialog.

van·i·ty
   [van-i-tee] Show IPA noun, plural -ties, adjective
noun excessive pride in one's appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.....something worthless, trivial, or pointless.

So I'll start by asking a few questions:

1. If you're working with a traditional publisher don't you PAY with compromises? When we're asked to make changes that we don't agree with aren't we paying by agreeing?

2. If we accept a manuscript that we feel should have changes but must agree to illustrate "as is" aren't we again paying with more compromises?

3. When we sign a contract that stipulates that if a motion picture is ever produced from the manuscript we are ineligible to receive compensation - even though the movie director might use the illustrations as a spring board....are we paying again? (talk to me sometime about a friend of mine who had to watch the movie art director accept an academy award for the look of the movie which looked exactly like his illustrations - he received no compensation either.)

4. Are we paying when we give up 90% of the book revenues to the publisher?

5. And how much are we paying when we wait sometimes years to see our book finally published? (I have a friend who had to wait 9 years from when her book was first bought....didn't she pay?)

Most things that have value come at a cost...I don't mind paying.

A few more thoughts:

What if J.K. Rowling had stopped submitting her manuscript "Harry Potter and the and the Philosopher’s Stone after being rejected time and time again? Bloomsbury was basically her last chance...what if they had rejected it too? Would she have been vain if she self published it and it took off?

Publishers are often right and often wrong. Large publishers usually help make manuscripts and art better. Publishers overlook niche markets. Publishers find and exploit niche markets. Publishers make dumb decisions. Publishers make smart decisions.

Picasso said everyone is born and artist....are you going to let someone else validate your art with a simple thumbs up or down?

I love working with editors and art directors. I'm saddened that editors don't get their names on the front cover along with the author and illustrator. I have quite a few books where the art director or editor's suggestions, ideas, requests, or changes made a section go from good to great. Having said this we are all human and all make mistakes - even editors. I can't afford to allow my value as an artist to be determined by what one or two other people think about my work. We only get better through hard work - trial and error - success and failure. So why not publish it yourself if you can't sell it it to an editor? The market will let you know if you created something of value.

Publishers have many reasons why they turn down AMAZING manuscripts and artwork. I have heard editors give reasons such as: "Our house already had a book in the same genre scheduled to be published even though we liked the new manuscript better" or "All of the editors loved it but the marketing dept. shot it down" or "Our firm decided to work primarily with established authors and we ended up turning down some amazing work." Should all of this amazing work be forgotten about?

If you wait for the validation of a publisher you might be killing your artist, ideas, and genus that's waiting to be unleashed.

Can you have pride in your work without being vain? I think so. I think we all need to have enough pride to submit our work for publisher review. I think we need to take pride in our work to make it better. Without pride we'll cease to innovate. Without pride we'll stagnate. In order to see success in indie publishing you better have pride in your work - and a lot of it if you want to be noticed.

24 comments:

  1. Maybe she just said that because self-publishing has always been known as "Vanity Publishing" by the book trade? It's not a new thing, Vanity Publishing has been around for centuries and includes the Pamphleteers. It was traditionally regarded as a way those who had out of favour or radical opinions could get into print, as well as the self-regarding who had plenty of money but no real talent, hence the name. We are seeing a huge resurgence of it since e-books, blogs are also a form of vanity publishing I guess?

    I think it's not vain to believe in yourself, but you do have enough experience of working with traditional editors to be able to be strict with yourself and cut out any padding before you publish your work. I don't and think self-publishing would probably lead me to press "Go" on a flabby work that could do with some judicious pruning... I think that's the real danger of self-publishing.

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  2. There is vanity publishing, and there is self publishing. The two can be very different, both in quality, and reason. Publishing has changed considerably, so that what was considered Vanity Publishing a decade ago is becoming blurred with other kinds of more current self production ( eBooks, Apps, POD etc.) which are options that can be managed professionally. The Vanity Publishers are still out there though.

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    1. yes!...times are changing fast...probably faster than any one of us can comprehend....exciting!

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  3. Thanks Will. There is a difference between being vain and full of yourself and working hard, believing in yourself, and taking control of your destiny if you are able. Too many people are taught to think that believing in yourself is being vain. It's definitely been a big issue in my life. One thing I'm realizing in life, is the better you get at your craft, the more you realize how much you don't know. It's a catch-22 and it never ends and as frustrating as it can be, I think it's good that it doesn't. It teaches us to embrace the process and not the product of what we do. It can be the frustrating part of becoming good at anything and I think this is where "the vain" cease to try. I think the new possibilities of self-publishing are great for the people who understand this and those that don't, will get frustrated with it like everything else and move on to something else. You have stated before how important it is to have outside critique with groups or editors before and I think that is a good piece of advice if you decide to go the self-publishing route. I think the bottom line is if you believe what you do can make a difference in other peoples lives (as simple as a smile) you have to keep trying in whatever way suits you best. You are a great promoter in that department and your insights are always appreciated!

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  4. I have spent the past several years sending postcards and flyers to publishers with virtually no response. I was on the verge of giving up on having an art career. Thanks to Will, and this blog, I have to come to realize that I still have a chance! The idea of self publishing has brought me back from the brink! Who knows how well my books will sell, but I'm not going to stop putting them out there. I feel that self publishing is my best chance to have my work (potentially) seen.

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    1. Crystal - I think you're awesome! My first published book was horrible - it's out of print thankfully! I think the idea that publishing should only be reserved for certain people is baloney. We learn from our mistakes and without the ability to make and fail - make and fail we'll never rise above.

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  5. I love this post Will :) I don't think that it's vanity. I think that whether some people believe that it's vain or not is irrelevant. You have to do what works for you and what you think is best for your project.

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  6. I don't think the "payment" we give to the traditional publishers is the same as payment to a self-publishing company. I'd agree that the emotional, physical, and time-consuming payments are the same, though.

    There's a saying I like that goes "Water always finds its own level." While I'm annoyed that just anyone, regardless of training, attitude, or experience can publish anything they want and clutter the marketplace, I think a really good product will shine and rise above it all regardless.

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    1. I agree but at the same time still feel that paying is paying. True, when we publish with a traditional publisher we don't go upside down with actual dollars - in other words we don't have to come out of pocket with our own money. BUT - I feed my family on my illustration income. I go upside down with my time on each book project and since time IS money I have to disagree. I'm paying just like someone who pays for a vanity press. I think the difference is basically one of invitation - but I still pay financially because I'm gambling that my time will pay off with future royalties.

      As far as cluttering up the marketplace - it's been cluttered up with publisher books for a long time. How many publisher books do you read in a year vs the publisher books you don't have time to read or never see because for what ever reason they never made it to your local bookstore? The caldecott committee gets between 600 - 800 submissions every year - and those are the publishers best books. There are thousands of publisher books published every year - very cluttered. You and I have figured out how to view and purchase the best or the books that interest us. We'll continue to do the same even if there are 10 or 100 times as many. Review sites will shine a light on the best just like they currently do.

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    2. YES the invitation aspect is exactly what I was thinking. Thanks for putting a finger on it.

      I've been touting the merits of self-publishing on my own blog, FB, and to folks I meet in person for years, so I really do agree with you that you can't look to a traditional publishing house to validate your work (I've even tried to coordinate self-pubbed panel discussions with SCBWI but they had a policy against it or something). I love things like Kickstarter because you're self-publishing, but you're also getting advance orders, so the market is saying "YES I want this made!" and so you're getting the invitation aspect as well. A friend of mine in MPLS has a graphic novel coming out that way (I think I mentioned this on FB before), and I love it. That's how I'll do it someday since I won't have the funds to self publish otherwise.

      Anyway, Will, you put out a quality product whether you're working with a traditional publisher or doing it yourself. You respect the craft and it shows and there is no "vanity" in that. I just wish that we didn't have to compete with the throngs of self-publishers who pump out crummy work with hubris, ON TOP OF all the other work out there.

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    3. Very good points - I also like the kickstarter idea. Thank you!

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  7. Lots of good points here. In respect to the idea of not being vain enough to do self publishing wouldn't the fact that we are in the business of putting images out there to be seen be considered vain as well? I do think we want to make our product the best quality possible and work at our craft .we're in the business of getting it in front of other eyes. The market has changed so much in the last couple years and there are some really wonderful self published works out there. That's what it comes down to.

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  8. Spot on - I think that in the next few decades the stigma of self publishing will be a forgotten memory. Instead of being getting clout from a company people will get clout from volume of downloads and awards.

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  9. The only problem I have with self-publishing is, just because you think you have a brilliant idea and have managed to get a book out of it, doesn't mean the book is readable. Writers and illustrators who've been working in the field for years mostly know what they're doing and can be trusted to put out a decent product. But what about all the resentful wannabes who weren't accepted by traditional publishers for good reason? I dread the idea of having to wade through tons of crap to find something self-published that's truly good. Now, maybe the good will rise to the top and the bad will fall away. But if not, I already don't have much spare time on my hands, and I don't want to waste some of it slogging through a wasteland of e-books.

    What I'm trying to say is not everything about traditional publishing is bad. Editors (especially copy editors) and designers exist for a reason. They help create a quality product.

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    1. Good points Jeff - some aren't ready but like you said - I think the market will take care of that. I believe that many people won't take the necessary steps to get better unless they treat it like a real job and start publishing. I don't think we have to worry about wading through a ton of books we don't like because most people will get their content from trusted sites more than willing to tell you what to buy. In fact that's been going on for decades. When you walk into a Barnes and Noble you see lots of books - however I'll bet that what they carry at any one time is less than 1% of all the books ever published. So you could say that B&N has taken some of the hassles of finding a good book out of your hands. Web sites are already doing this with ebooks and apps so no worries - your book just has to be awesome to get the attention of reviewers.

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    2. I think you're right, Will. At least, I hope so.

      I feel compelled to tell you, after discovering your blog just a couple of days ago, I'm now planning to quit the day job and plunge into full time cartooning. That may sound foolhardy, but I've been mulling it for a while and have a solid base to launch from. Reading you and, at your suggestion, Seth Godin's 'Linchpin' has fired me up like never before. I can DO this!

      If it's not too presumptuous, here's a link to my first book, to be released next month: http://www.amazon.com/Cartoons-Maine-Hows-Water-Bob/dp/1608930424/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320153912&sr=8-1

      Though this is from a traditional publisher, I'm going to study your posts on creating e-books for some future projects.

      Thanks for the inspiration!

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  10. Hi Jeff, I'm out of town right now going presentations at Ringling design college- cant get to your book right now but if I get the chance I'll check it out...I applaud your decision but be careful- all of the success hinges on creating products that people love...not an easy task but very doable! Good luck! Make it different than the standard fare.

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  11. Will,

    Small World Dept.: the son of a good friend of mine is a student in Ringling's animation program. It sounds like a good school, and after reading your entry on it I'm more convinced. That's some great work in the photos you took!

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    1. Yes Jeff - they are definitely getting results down there - I toured about 3 of the classes as they were in session and the drawing skills were very high.

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  12. You have terrific insights here on your blog. Thank you for posting about these topics- it is very encouraging and clearly backed up by a lot of experience in the field. As a beginning illustrator I find these things very helpful.

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