One of the best things about being part of a community is that the whole has the potential for being self-correcting. It’s not a sure thing, as any example of mob rule or cultural intolerance can attest, but there is at least the potential for a group to help individuals overcome blind spots or obstacles. Individuals who do not belong to a group, or who do not have access to collective wisdom, may be doomed to reinvent the wheel or to repeatedly fail because of their own tendencies and shortcomings.
I’m not a big joiner. I just threw Facebook in the junk pile because the price of belonging to that group is self-deception, and like Sam Spade I’m not willing to be somebody’s sap.* More than wearing a team blazer or adopting a popular philosophy or expressing loyalty to a particular trendy brand, I value belonging to a community of ideas. This has always led to involvement with smaller groups of people who share my interests, but the benefit to me is that these more issue-oriented groups can both augment and check my own thoughts.
In order to derive such benefits, however, it’s not simply enough to belong to a group. Approaching someone to suggest that they may be incorrect about something is fraught with risk, and presumes that the individual is open to such communications. As we all learn at a very young age, this is usually not the case. Most people would rather feel right than be right, even at the expense of their own well being. There is also a tendency for people to be more interested in telling others how wrong than they are in hearing the same thing themselves, and this tendency is often (if not commonly) greater in people who are ignorant or uninformed than it is in people who are knowledgeable. As a result, even if we are open to hearing about our mistakes, the number of reliable advisers that anyone might hope to hear from is usually small.
To expand on the thesis above, if the size of any group interested in ideas is generally small, the size of a group of people who are interested in ideas above ego is exponentially smaller. I tend to form and hold firm opinions. I do this not as an aspect of ego, but as an extension of the process by which I analyze issues and form conclusions. I try to be rigorous and I try to drill down to bedrock, and I’m seldom if ever interested in fleeting trends. As a result, it is particularly important that others catch me when I get something wrong because I am used to trusting my own conclusions.
I mention all this because last week I wrote a post expressing frustration about the print-on-demand (POD) options available to me for The Year of the Elm, a collection of short stories I recently published on Smashwords. My main complaint was that the cost of printing a physical copy of my book seemed prohibitive, and that the potential providers of such services seemed determined to fleece me.
In subsequent comments to that post, and in private messages on the subject, I was pointed to more information, offered assistance, and encouraged to take another look at the question. And I can’t tell you how happy I was to have that kind of response and support. In that post my conclusions were hasty and I allowed my frustrations (and general fatigue) to get the better of me. Rather than simply ignore my post, however, people took the time to help me get my bearings, and that’s exactly the kind of group to which I want (and need) to belong.
After another week of reading and studying the POD question, I think I see a way to move forward with my collection. Lulu is clearly a mess, and as far as I am concerned it’s out of the running in almost every way.
LightningSource seems to have a solid set of services and options, but it also seems to be geared to people who want to pursue the production of books on a larger scale — even if that’s only 100 books at a time. As noted previously, I’m not interested in becoming my own brick-and-mortar publisher, or in trying to move quantities of books around myself. I’m trying to find a way to give readers the option of ordering a physical copy of any content I publish, and I prefer to have as little to do with the production, shipping and handling of that copy as possible.
Taking another look at CreateSpace has provided me with the answers I’ve been looking for. The sole remaining sticking point for me is the degree to which shipping costs seem both inflated and obscured, but that kind of deception is as old as the hills. The company does have the pared-back services I’m looking for, it seems healthy and focused, and in fairly short order I was able to answer most of my questions using either the site’s own FAQ or posts from community members.
I still have a lot to learn about POD. I still need to focus my goals. I still need to talk with others who are doing the same thing. Along those lines, Catherine, Caffeinated has an excellent and current CS timeline. Joel Friedlander put up a series of posts about publishing costs for self-published writers. And for a comparison of Lulu and CreateSpace that still resonates (and has proven quite prescient), see this post by April L. Hamilton. (Also see this post by April before you decide to pull the trigger on any publishing order.)
What I’m most thankful for, however, is that people simply took the time to urge me to take another look at the issue, and in so doing offered me their support. There’s no better feeling than knowing that someone has your back, even when you’re making an idiot out of yourself. That’s what a real community is supposed to be about. There will always be large social circles in which everyone validates everyone else as a means of ensuring their own validation, but I have never had an interest in that kind of society. I’m looking for people who are interested in working through ideas even at the expense of their own ego, and in living up to that standard myself.
* There are valid reasons for remaining active on Facebook even as Facebook clearly intends to profit from disclosing and selling your content and user data. Each user will have to make a value judgment, including risk over time, in order to know if Facebook is worth using. What is not in dispute, however, is that Facebook is lying to all of its users in order to increase the likelihood that users will make such judgments in Facebook’s favor.
— Mark Barrett
David Derrico says
I actually tried to post a similar comment, but your website gremlins wouldn’t allow me to post anything last week. What I was going to say is that, if you can handle making a PDF for the interior (easy) and wrap-around cover (harder, but doable), there’s no reason POD should be daunting or expensive. You can order a single copy through CreateSpace for under $10, including shipping, and the prices get better if you want 10 or 20 copies to sell or give to friends.
The benefits include: a cool conversation piece for your coffee table, the ability to provide review copies, and the book being for sale on Amazon (with Search Inside the Book).
As for ISBN: bottom line is, you don’t need one. You can safely ignore it, since you don’t care about selling in bookstores or libraries.
There are certainly companies out to fleece authors, but it is relatively easy to avoid them.
Thanks for persevering! 🙂
(Seriously, it hadn’t occurred to me that comments were affected as well. I simply assumed people weren’t commenting because the site had been made inaccessible to them. I apologize for your frustrations, and to anyone else who had a similar experience.)
Thanks also for seconding some of my own conclusions. It always helps to know when you’re on the right path.
The ability to provide review copies is — for me — the most important immediate advantage, simply because some (many?) people will not review an e-book. After that, Amazon access (and distribution) is obviously a big deal, given how much of the book-buying in the world is done through their doors.
Debbie Stier says
Have you ever tried Blurb as one option? I know they seem super expensive, but they are BEAUTIFUL books…..like art objects…..and if one is going to go to the trouble of print out a book, they might as well make it a beautiful one, I think. That said, I think you need some kind of visual to make it worth it for Blurb.
As an aside, I have been speaking with a few agents lately who are considering looking into creating a self-publishing option for authors so that they can offer their clients an alternative to the traditional model.
I included mention of Blurb in a recent post (somewhere — or maybe it was a comment reply), and I did note that it was tailored more for image-intensive works. I agree they do a good job. Andrew Sullivan produced a small book based on his site’s recurring The View From Your Window feature, and I purchased a copy mostly just to see the result. The image quality is very good, and although I worry about the binding (glue) it does seem to be well-constructed.
As to agents helping their own authors with options like this, I think it’s a good idea in theory. The devil is always in the details, of course, and as someone whose Hollywood agent was capped at 10% commissions by law, I’m leery of the way even some AAR agents are moving toward services for their own clients.
The criticality of being able to provide or direct authors to such services, however, seems obvious. If I as a writer independent from any agent or publisher can produce and distribute a work, and if we assume that someone will at eventually break out using that same model, the question of what an author needs an agent or publisher for will become central in a way that will make current debates on these points seem obscure and academic.
Everyone in the publishing pipeline needs to be able to demonstrate current relevance to the people who are creating the content. At a large publishing house, much of the content creation may be done in-house (through contracted projects), but that simply means that publishing houses need to be able to provide these same services to themselves.
One thing I can tell you about putting The Year of the Elm on Smashwords is that I already know I would rather spend more of my time writing and less of it publishing. That I gain freedom and control by investing that time is clear, and worth it to me right now, but down the road I can imagine that the ability to offload some of those responsibilities would be appealing. At a minimum, this means that anyone I do business with should be prepared to at least offer me some sort of relief in this regard, either for a price or simply as an inducement to sign with them.
If I had two options in front of me, and one included access to an in-house e-book production pipeline at little or no additional cost, the decision would be a no-brainer (all other things being equal). And I think the same holds for signing with an agent, particularly if I had less-commercial works that I still cared to make available to readers. (And what author doesn’t meet that criterion?)
Debbie Stier says
I completely agree with everything you say above. We all need to bring value, or forget it. And I also agree that most writers don’t want to deal with all of these logistics and would rather be writing. The agents I have spoken with about this are high value agents, in my opinion….and I speak as someone who deals with many many agents, most of whom are low value.
I think self-publishing is simply a new area of knowledge that agents should be able to help writers with. Agents already know something about tax implications, rights (here and abroad), etc., and this is just another area where they can provide a helping hand to their clients.
Some agents may not want to do this, and some agents may try to profit by it, but between those extremes will be the greater majority of agents who simply recognize this as a need they can meet. By adding value in this way — and in particular by doing it responsibly — agents can also raise their own profile in the community.
(Had I been drinking something I would have blown it out my nose when I read your last line.)
Well said Mark.
I’m excited to see how it goes and i look forward to the usual informative and well thought out posts on the process.
I’m excited to see how it goes, too. 🙂
I am considering http://www.completelynovel.com/ for publishing my first humble novel. I like the idea of being part of a community of (new) authors, publishers and agents, and the possibility to recieve comments and reviews from readers.
Supposedly the print-on-demand service is not that expensive and you earn more compared to lulu.com.
Another plus, is that you can choose between three publishing plans – for the two advanced options you pay a monthly fee – and can upgrade or end the subscription whenever you want to.
What is your view on Completely Novel / do you have any experience with this company?
With warm regards,
I’ve never heard of Completely Novel, but that doesn’t surprise me and it shouldn’t be considered a mark against them. There are a lot of people trying to do this kind of thing today — far too many to keep track of.
In looking at any site which offers this kind of community and service, here is what I would want to know:
* Are they open about who they are and what they are doing? In looking at CN’s ‘About’ page, I can’t even determine where they’re located. Same goes for their ‘Contact Us’ page. (They seem to be in the UK, but I had to dig through some articles on their ‘Press’ page to find that out.)
* How much do they charge, and what do they charge for? In looking at the site, most of the pricing information seems to be behind their registration wall. In my world that qualifies as Not Cool.
* What legal rights do they hold to your content, if any? Their FAQ says you retain ownership of your content, which is always the right answer, but you really need to read everything as you go through the publication process to make sure that doesn’t change.
* How vibrant and stable is the community? Do they share your interests? Are the reviewers serious about their opinions, or is it simply a popularity contest?
I think Lulu is falling apart, so I wouldn’t compare CN to that site. Take a look at LightningSource and CreateSpace for better comparisons in terms of publishing costs. Ideally you should be able to join the CN site and put your work up without incurring any costs. That would help you find out if it’s a place you want to be, but it would also allow you to join other communities without committing any money to the process.
Which brings me to my last suggestion. Whatever else you do, take a long serious look at spending even 1 Euro on services, products and fees. The most important part of self-publishing is keeping your costs under control, particularly until you have some sense of your potential demand.
Good luck. 🙂
Thanks for your reply! I will study CN – and your two suggestions – more thoroughly 🙂