What Editors Think About Self-Publishing

Recently I attended the SLICE Conference, where I got to hear all about the ups and downs of self-publishing–from editors’ perspectives. 

One panel, moderated by Kirby Kim, an Agent at WME Entertainment, was called “Self-Publishing: A Path to Success, or Just Plain Desperate?” and consisted of the panelists Caitlin Alexander, freelance editor, Hana Landes, Associate Editor at Random House, and Jon Fine, from Amazon.

Basically, what I heard was Amazon is the new slush pile, and self-publishers have a tremendous amount of data. The key is to find a fan base and as an editor, to know, what are people writing? What do they need help with? When do they seek help? And who do they get help from?

One takeaway is that writers shouldn’t feel that just because they’ve written something it absolutely needs to be self-published.

For editors, it’s not always obvious upfront that there is an audience for the book. The editors also explained what publishers offer:

  • an advance
  • editing
  • penetration to foreign markets
  • physical distribution
  • connections to markets (such as schools, which is still hard to break in to)
  • other networks (for example, Random House has a lecture agency, which finds paid speaking gigs for authors)

As to whether or not to self-publish, these editors said it matters what you’re writing. Literary fiction is harder, because it’s harder to find that audience.

Agents are now helping more with self-publishing. They also encourage writers to self-publish shorter works in between novels to keep their audience apprised.

It’s important to find a target market/niche. Generally, easier to market books are genre books (romance, sci-fi and thrillers).

Customer reviews are like an annotated slush pile, and it’s still important to write quality content.

As for pricing, it’s important to see what’s working. For genre books, you can build an audience with a first low-priced book, and get volume. The velocity builds a fan base for future books. However, there is a fear of devaluing the work.

It’s also important to remember that authors are not just competing with books. Get more macro and understand you’re competing with movies, web, phones, and more for attention.

The more interesting authors are the ones who are trying everything. Each book may find itself in a different place, such as with Seth Godin, who self-published on Amazon, but also published through Penguin. Currently Amazon is working on bringing together CreateSpace and KDP to help out authors. Some interesting indie publishers also include Two Dollar Radio and Gray Wolf Press, according to these editors.

In the future, publishers will find more ways to add value for authors, such as through self-publishing services, and knowing what the customer wants.

Interestingly, Jon Fine, from Amazon warned authors to beware of exclusive agreements. When I asked him what he meant by that, since Amazon offers KDP Select, an exclusive agreement, he shrugged and said that it depends on your audience and where you’re already selling, plus “it’s only three months.”

Some writers still want to go the traditional publishing route, but this may not always work. And it’s not because you don’t write well, but it could be the publisher doesn’t know what market to sell it in, or some authors may have huge sales from a self-published title, so the publisher can’t come up with anything they can do better or anything more they can offer the author.


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