A plea to authors who think about self-pubbing books they intend to later submit to traditional publishers. 

This week’s blog touches on a subject that didn’t exist five years ago. That’s how fast our industry is changing.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject as well, so please consider leaving a comment, below. Thanks!

I don’t generally look at submissions as they come in. Rather I wait till I get a window of time and a pile of MSS, then I review them all at once to separate the wheat from the chaff. Last week, as I went through about a month’s submissions, two things jumped out at me.

First, I was delighted to see that the word is obviously getting out about what we are looking for at the Pencil. Five MSS satisfied our criteria, and all of them were, at first glance, well written with interesting plots. I’m going to enjoy reading them.

Second, the number of writers who are self-pubbing books on Create Space and then sending them out to traditional publishers such as the Poisoned Pencil is becoming an issue. It’s gotten to the point that the first thing I do when I settle down to read a submission is to Google the book and writer.

I’m old school, in the sense that I was indoctrinated in the Sixties and Seventies about how the publishing industry works. I didn’t like it then any more than I like it now, but I understood its rigidity and heads-they-win, tails-you-lose mentality. Nothing like being told that you need an agent to sell a book, but that you can’t get a good agent unless you’ve sold a book. No, that hasn’t changed—there are just fewer publishers that will read an unagented MS now. But I digress.

Gutenburg printing press

Back in the day…..

Back in the day, self-pubbing wasn’t an option. The only alternative to submitting to a traditional publisher was paying what was known as a Vanity Press to print your book, usually a limited print run of a few hundred copies. The pre-POD per unit cost was astronomical ($12 to $20 per book) and the odds of making a dime or having anyone review your book were next to nil.

But these days, not only has the production of books changed, but the mindset of authors has changed too. According to the folks at Kindle, Create Space,  Lulu, and Smashwords it’s the norm to finish your book on Monday, format it on Tuesday, have it for sale as a Kindle title on Wednesday and a print POD on Thursday.

 As both an editor and a writer, the rush bugs the hell out of me. Who finishes a book and puts it up for sale the next day? I listen to writers talk about how they later take their books down for revision once or twice, as feedback come in. I wonder if they note the difference of edition on the title verso. Hey, I said I was old school.

 But I’m also modern enough to recognize the new publishing paradigm when I see it. So if it works for you, fair enough. Just don’t think that you can take then take your book and submit it to a traditional publisher as the next step. It’s not.

 Even agented submissions turn up on amazon.com as a Create Space title. This is just nuts. You are strangling your chances if you do this, especially if you get any professional reviews. One thing that hasn’t changed since the old days is that sales for traditional publishers depend in large part on good pre-press reviews that generate sales immediately before and for about six months after publication. But this time-honored review system only works with original titles. Reprints need not apply. If you’ve got an ISBN from Create Space attached to your title, it has a history that can only confuse the issue if a traditional publisher might want to buy it.

Sundial

Take your times….

Yes, I know; the world is full of stories of writers who hit the jackpot on Kindle and were picked up by a traditional publisher. That’s great, but my guess is for every one of those, there are a hundred books that a traditional publisher won’t even look at once they discover that the book is already in print.

So please, do yourself a favor. Take some time to think about what you’re doing. Decide which books are suitable for self-pubbing and which you’re want to submit to a traditional publisher. If you get an agent, tell her if the book she’s touting is already published. Better yet, deep-six the book before you start an agent search or submit to a publisher. It’s really hard to get amazon.com to remove a title, once it’s up there with an ISBN. In fact…if anyone can figure out how to do it, let me know.