Self-Publishing Part 2: Which Way to Go?

Hail and welcome to the second installment of the self-publishing Q&A series! Read Week 1’s post if you haven’t already. This week we are talking about that most formidable of challenges- deciding how exactly you will deliver books to readers once you’ve turned down traditional publishing (or vice versa).

Indie writer Ellyana asks:

Through talking with you I know you work through Createspace Amazon. (Please correct me if something has changed.)

This may be my most-asked publishing question: how exactly do you publish your books? Elly probably remembers asking it some months ago when she was just starting to publish her novel. Yes, I do use CreateSpace (I’ll explain that in a minute), but we have a variety of self-publishing options open to us, and we will look at all of them presently.

But have you ever considered using a Literary Agent for advertisement and the like? And if you know anything about Literary Agents that would be of assistance.

Ooh, here it is- the Agent Question. I confess that I have never been interested in working with one. I did some research and learned that most of them at least are experts who have done wonders for some people, but I also heard that other people have hired agents and regretted it. I decided that, since my goal was to get better at publishing my own books and not necessarily to make lots of money, I preferred to remain my own boss. So I will direct you to indie author Roger Colby: he knows a thing or two about literary agents. (Also check out the links at the bottom.)

Anyway, I happen to have a list of self-publishing options (which, of course, I certainly did not put together just for the sake of this post). We will go through that today and dive into the details next week. Get it? Got it? Good.

First, normal or “true” self-publishing requires you to do your own set-up work, including buying (or making) your own cover, formatting the book, paying for it to be printed, and promoting it yourself. At the same time, you retain all autonomy and control over the process. This, by the way, is what Christopher Paolini did with Eragon. True self-publishers hire a publishing company to print many copies of their book, and then they go around promoting and selling the book themselves. It’s hard and often quite expensive, but I know of some people who swear by this approach. 

Then there’s Print-On-Demand (POD) publishing. POD is a technology that allows the publisher to print books one at a time, as customers order them. This is what Amazon’s CreateSpace does. It’s less expensive than printing hundreds of books at once, but in most services the author has less control over the more detailed processes- after all, the POD company has to keep your files around to print them when necessary. 

Image result for self-publishingThen you have various eBook publishers, Amazon Kindle being the obvious one. Lots of indie authors love this approach. Ebooks eliminate the cost of paper and production entirely, only requiring you to get a book cover and upload your files. Lower production costs result in lower prices and no shipping fees, which means some people are more inclined to buy them. The downsides: Kindle books are cheaper, and while you may sell more of them, you earn less royalty money. And is it worth mentioning that you risk being rejected by a handful of book extremists like this guy?

Finally, some authors publish their works on writing networks like Wattpad or Figment. Even though a lot of people are inclined to overlook it, these networks are a legitimate option if you want to get the word out about your book. They’re basically online magazines crossed with forums. Writing networks allow writers to upload stories or chapters of books that they’re writing and get feedback on their plot structure, characterization, etc. from other authors and readers. And the best part? You can hear from a real audience and make changes even after publishing the story.

While we’re on the subject of options, though, beware of vanity publishers. They will buy the actual rights to your book, meaning that you retain little or no autonomy, and they will publish any book, so they are generally considered less credible. And some of them are downright sleazy, stealing your intellectual property for their own- which is very much illegal. If you do opt to publish with a vanity publisher (which may be fine), do some careful research, and be aware that you may not make as much money.

So… how do you pick just one option? When it comes down to it, you just have to set some goals for yourself. Are you trying to share a good book with other fantasy lovers? Build a following for your business? Become famous?  Once you know what you want to achieve, you can read up on the options and decide what works best for you. Read and research, read and research. My list of resources below should get you started.

Oh, and have fun. Because learning about how writers can speak to the world, increasing the number of wrinkles in your brain, gaining some business smarts, and maybe making new connections along the way isn’t exactly torture.

Do you have a self-publishing question? We all would like to hear it, no matter whether you’re about to publish a book or are simply curious about how your favorite authors do it. Share in the comments!

Want to know more?

AgentQuery. Not just for finding an agent; these professionals have all sorts of good advice on publishing.

A helpful article on all manner of self-publishing 

Costs: How much do you need to pay to self-publish?

Print-On-Demand: CreateSpace’s website, forums and all

Ebooks: Good stuff on the variety of eBook companies

Ebooks: Amazon Kindle’s official site, complete with tutorials and FAQs

Vanity publishing: Get the lowdown on vanity/subsidy publishing

ISBN: Are you buying your own ISBN?

What’s the Problem With Exposition? (Part 1)

Let’s be honest, fellow fantasy writers. Plenty of authors have turned the word “exposition” almost into a curse word, and we’re the worst offenders.

Think about it. Epic plots, magic battles, worlds full of creatures unseen except in our imaginations… they make for a very long, very full, very expository sort of book. Telling rather than showing seems to be the way to go, even though we know that’s against the rule. Writers don’t like it, readers don’t like it. The mention of the “e” word makes all of us shudder, yet when readers pick up a new fantasy book, they almost expect us to throw a heap of backstory at them. And I too am guilty of writing unimaginative exposition.

Everything you ever needed to know.

But do we really want to settle for such low expectations? It’s time for us to break the chain and make our backstories interesting- and maybe exposition can help us do that if we do it right.

This week, I’m exploring the three biggest offenders in fantasy: prologues, infodumps, and villain monologues. Next week, I’ll share the ways that I avoid these three rascally problems. Ready? Here we go.

Starting with Act I, our first offender is the almost entirely dispensable prologue, and you could find it in almost any fantasy from The Lord of the Rings to Eragon. Now, in the rare event that your prologue actually is the perfect introduction to your book, most editors will tell you to make that your first chapter. However, the problem with most prologues is that they usually have very little to do with the rest of their respective books, except to summarize all the information we will need later (and then some).

While it might seem like the most efficient way to summarize a fascinating plot to a new reader, it is also the most yawn-worthy. First of all, as I mentioned earlier, many readers actually expect a boring prologue in a fantasy book; therefore, they will automatically skip the paragraphs under the heading “Prologue” and so miss any vital information that I might put in here. No way around it; people just don’t read prologues. Honestly, when was the last time you read the prologue?

The world is changed…

Secondly, the characters who get all the explaining done to them are quite likely to have heard it all before. Why would their mentor friend explain it over again? And for that matter, characters in a prologue are usually not so significant to the story that they deserve the first place in a book. Why not start with the main character in his or her daily life? The mentor and company can explain everything when they meet.

Our second troublemaker comes in the form of a big infodump, typically toward the beginning of Act I. This is in essence exactly the same as a prologue, only rewritten and placed in a new chapter. We overcome the temptation to write a prologue only to drop an encyclopaedia in another chapter. So there is of course a right way and a wrong way to do it; some books do explain huge chunks of history in such a way that keeps readers interested. But most new writers do it the wrong way by having the hero’s Mentor plunk down and explain the history of whatever fantasy world we have in our heads.

An infodump is simply too much, too fast. By definition, it dumps information on us all at once, devoid of elbow room or breathing space. Often this information isn’t even relevant to the plot. In an old draft of a story I never published, the hero is chosen for a quest (sound familiar? He even had a magical sword to go with it). But before he can go on that quest, he has to have the entire history of the world explained to him in a nice chunk of exposition. In one sitting. People just can’t read paragraphs like that. It’s not interesting to them, and they won’t need all this prior knowledge to enjoy the rest of the story.

If we can move past the prologue and infodumps, we might still end up throwing exposition at readers even in the third act of the story. I speak, of course, of the villain’s monologue. We have all seen this one before, especially in movies for kids. All the little kids watching Frozen (spoilers…?) just won’t understand why Hans wants to take over Arendelle- despite the fact that he already told Anna about his twelve elder brothers. When we encounter this illusion of a problem, we usually end up writing a scene in which the antagonist faces the protagonist in a moment of triumph and explains all the ins and outs of his or her complex plan- under the guise of “gloating”.

Frozen (2013)

Here’s the thing: some really despicable villains might be inclined to gloat, but most antagonists aren’t that foolish.  If you had your mortal enemy in your power and were just about to execute the final crushing move, would you reveal every part of your plan to them? Of course not. Hans, for example, has no reason to tell Anna that he deceived her- she knows that by now- or to explain that he’s going to kill Elsa.

And that, fellow writers, covers our three biggest enemies in exposition. Tune in next week for part two, and I’ll share a list of some techniques that might help work in the backstory.