Self-publish, Kindle Single, or publish traditionally?
January 16, 2013 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Am considering publishing an unusual philosophical self-help tract written in a fiery, contrarian tone. Think Hegel meets Deepak Chopra, for lack of a less weird description. Right now the manuscript is short. I'd like it to provoke conversation, make a reputation, and build an audience. I lack these currently. Am I better off a) self-publishing, b) creating a Kindle Single, or c) publishing traditionally? C would require me to expand my manuscript to 5x its current length, but give me prestige, a (likely small) advance, wider distribution, and perhaps more publicity. The other options would be far faster and might allow me to iterate my ideas / write other pieces based on audience reaction. Any advice on which option (feel free to add options) would best serve my goals?
posted by shivohum to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Go with option B.

A would cost you money with no guarantee of return on your investment, and C would require someone to decide to publish your manuscript, of which there is even less guarantee. Publish it as an e-book.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 4:47 PM on January 16, 2013

when it comes to self-publishing, even as an ebook, the hard part is finding that audience in the first place. without a publisher, 100% of the promotion will be on you (or somebody you pay to assist you). promotion is tremendously hard work, even with a traditional publisher backing you. however, an "unusual philosophical self-help tract written in a fiery, contrarian tone" is going to have a very hard time finding a publisher without a pre-existing audience.

if I were you, I'd look into starting a website and serializing/making available much of your content on a blog or something; and then considering the ebook option once you've gathered an audience that way.
posted by changeling at 4:52 PM on January 16, 2013 [12 favorites]

I am a traditional bookseller, biased toward traditional publishing. I am not your intended audience. Use or discard my opinion as you will. I do not read self-published books, because I see firsthand the hundreds of mind-numbingly terrible books that are published every day in the traditional manner by respectable, well-known traditional publishers with editors and proofreaders and advance payments. My reading life is too short to brave the unpruned wilderness of books subjected to no editorial selection process whatsoever.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:54 PM on January 16, 2013 [12 favorites]

The thing about traditional publishing is that with nonfiction, of which philosophical self-help falls under, you must have an audience first. Your nonfiction submission package would include the first few chapters as a writing sample, but more importantly, a list of numbers: your followers across all social media (blog, twitter, facebook), how many times you spoke in public/how many events you were invited to present at and how big the audiences were, the number of subscribers to your newsletter, etc. Without good numbers, the specifics of which vary depending upon your topic--philosophy needs bigger numbers whereas a topic with a built-in audience like home improvement can have fewer--no traditional publisher is going to offer on it. There's a reason so many celebs and politicians sell non-fiction: audience!

So my suggestion, which would be to the benefit of whichever publishing path you choose, is to set the book aside for now and organize a strategy to build a following. Build a website and blog, start tweeting your "brand," and begin networking with others in the same field. Then revisit the book idea. If you must get your book out there now, serialize it on a blog. For free.
posted by weeyin at 6:05 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

b1tr0t's suggestion is excellent. Why not build a blog, sharing chunks of what you're writing there as you expand and/or refine the work?
posted by 2oh1 at 6:56 PM on January 16, 2013

If you want to provoke a conversation and build an audience, use a blog/Twitter/Pinterest/Tumblr/etc.

Ideally, hook up with somebody that already has readers hanging around: Huffington Post or whatever. Try and make sure to talk about things that people search for a lot. You will not go amiss if you occasionally go about tying your unusual fiery philosophical ideas to One Direction, Katy Perry, or whatever action movies are coming out soon.

(You maybe don't want to have a conversation with those people who would click on your link for that kind of reason. I'll tell you right now: it is next to impossible to get noticed by the people you want to talk with, unless some of those other people see you first. This is why they put restaurants in shopping malls.)

When you reach the point of having an audience (and I mean "hundreds of clicks a week, minimum, with lots of repeat visitors") then start thinking about publishing books.

You're talking a multi-year process, here. I can't remember how long it took for Frank J. Fleming to move from "goofy blog" to "selling books" and "writing for major periodicals" but I know it was nine years before I ran into a person who bought one of his books without liking the blog first (I think of him every time someone I know thinks they can make a ton of money writing non-fiction.) And his most popular and reblogged/promoted post was written within a few months of him starting the blog (a massive stroke of good fortune.) If you can get big names in philosophy blogging to promote your stuff, you can quite possibly expect the process to only take four or five years instead of more.

At that point, you're going to find is that relatively few people are looking for what you're describing. They're looking for this stuff.

Blog, submit articles to online magazines, etc. - and meanwhile figure out a better way to describe what you are writing, than what you said up there. Make it the answer to a question. Ideally, the question will be "how can I lose weight," "how can I be more successful at getting/having sex," or "how can I make more money doing less work." That's the difference between being the random dude who thinks he can be the next Thoreau (or Hegel,) and being Deepak Chopra.

(Under no circumstances personally put "unusual" in your title or the main part of your description. Wait for a really awesome reviewer to write that down, and then put it in the blurbs on your Amazon page. If it turns out that it's obviously complimentary, anyway.)

Also, for what it's worth, I refuse to buy Kindle non-fiction items (from authors I'm not already thrilled with) at prices higher than the bare minimum, and I don't think I'm alone in that. If you want me to pay you $10 for your non-fiction Kindle book, it had better be by Hugh Nibley or Shelby Foote or someone who I know is extremely readable.

In other words: Deepak Chopra makes his money off of selling books. You are not likely to do that anytime soon.
posted by SMPA at 7:00 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would not self-publish because personally, I roll my eyes at every self-published book that comes across my table. I go to university, and we get people handing out free copies of self-published books all the time. My friends and I avoid them and if we still manage to get a copy, we recycle them immediately. Self-published books do not have a good reputation and it's an uphill battle to promote and find an audience for.

I would go through the traditional way of publishing. If you must self-publish, find an audience for it first through online communities or other clubs and associations. It will lessen the difficulties of promoting.
posted by cyml at 7:05 PM on January 16, 2013

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