Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUICK START GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING and to be notified when the 3rd Edition of the Indie Author Survival Guide releases!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Investing in Your Writing Career, or Why I Decided to Self-Publish Open Minds

Thank you to everyone for the tremendous support and enthusiasm about my post announcing my young adult paranormal/SF novel Open Minds (releases Nov. 1st! Yay!). The love of the blogosphere left me a little choked up on Monday.

You guys are THE BEST!

(If you missed the post, please pop over to join us for the Virtual Launch Party!)

This is my first post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group that the awesome Alex Cavanaugh has started, and I wish I had known about it sooner. I've suffered through the struggles and insecurities that every author has, but today I'm offering encouragement to those who are trying to navigate the waters of the churning publishing world by giving a peek inside my decision to self-publish. My post last week, Taking the Road Less Traveled Redux, talks about embracing the path that works for me, even if I have to whack through weeds to get there. I came to believe that some things that seemed risky, weren't risky at all, while others that seemed "safe" were the biggest risk of all.

In short, like the inspiring Talli Roland, I decided to take control of my writing career and treat it like the business we're always told that it is. After careful consideration, that led me to cutting short an agent search in order to self-publish Open Mindsfor three reasons:
1) Publisher interest in paranormal is waning, even though paranormal YA novels are still burning up the charts
2) Price control
3) Writing investment diversification
(Plus I have to admit to a certain desire to try the shiny new gadget of self-publishing.)

When Your Genre is Too Hot
Big publishers have to look two years out to decide what to acquire. They take a pulse, try to read trends, divine the tea leaves...I'm not really sure how they decide, and I don't envy having to make the call on what the next big "thing" is going to be. But if big publishers decide that your genre is peaking (or won't be hot in two years) then your chances of publication go down. For paranormal, the rumor is that it's on the way "out", even though it's still selling like mad. Self-publishing has the advantage of getting a book on the (virtual) shelves fast, giving people something they want to buy now. I was inspired by Susan Ee's choice to self-publish her YA novel Angelfall after hearing that "angel books" had peaked. Her outstanding novel has been up and down the charts and is currently residing at #18 in the Kindle Store for Dark Fantasy - congrats to Susan Ee!

Open Minds is a paranormal novel with powers not creatures. And it has a lot of science fiction elements, which is why I call it paranormal/SF. Two years from now, that may or may not be a hot genre, but I decided to self-publish now to give the book its best chance at finding an audience that loves it. Plus, I really want to write the sequel Closed Hearts, and self-publishing ensures that won't be a wasted effort.

Price Control or Enticing the New Reader
One option for me was to go with my small publisher, Omnific Publishing. I am sure it would have fit in with the other YA novels they are publishing, and I will always be grateful to Omnific for believing in me enough to publish Life, Liberty, and Pursuit. I recommend Omnific all the time to writer friends - in fact, Cherie Colyer from my SCBWI writing group will be releasing her first novel this December through Omnific (yay, Cherie!). Being a small pub, Omnific certainly could have released my novel more quickly than a big pub. And having worked with Omnific, I knew that if I self-pubbed, I would have to invest in professional editing and cover design (which I did for Open Minds). Whether you go with small pub, large pub, or self-pub, those are costs that have to be considered in putting out a high quality product.

The advantage of self-publishing here is pricing control. As a self-published author, I could offer my readers a much lower price, hopefully enticing people to give the book a try. I see this as a great way for lesser known writers to build a base of fans of their work that might take longer, if price were more of an obstacle. There are great, wrangling debates over pricing right now, with throw-downs over devaluing the author or book vs. providing reasonable e-book prices for readers. I see it more as an established-author vs. new-author dynamic. I'm much more willing to pay top dollar for an author I know and love, and I'm more likely to try a new author if the price is low.

Diversifying My Writing Investments (Note: I'm not an investment adviser.)
Any financial adviser will tell you to diversify into bonds (for consistent small dividends) and stock mutual funds (for higher risk/return). They warn against having more than a tiny portion of your portfolio in high-flying individual stocks. For your writing investments, your options include: 1) publishing with a large publisher, 2) publishing with a small publisher, 3) self-publishing.

Can you guess which is the high-flying individual stock?

*dramatic pause* It's publishing with a large publisher.

This is no shock to anyone who has examined the odds of making it through the big pub gauntlet, which is really an all-or-nothing deal: either you win the lotto or you trunk your novel. The return is potentially large (or not - most traditionally pubbed authors don't outsell their advances), but there is a risk of losing years of time waiting to win (at least in writing you only lose your time, not your money).

My writing investment portfolio has a novel and an anthology with a small pub company, paying small monthly dividends (like bonds). I also have several unpublished novels in various states of "completeness," including a middle grade SF, middle grade fantasy, Open Minds (young adult paranormal/SF), and another project not listed on my WiP page (that will be going through the big pub route).

These have all been, or will be, queried to agents and/or big pub editors, making my portfolio very risk heavy.

Putting Self-Publishing in the Portfolio
With the successes of self-publishers making the news right and left, self-publishing seems more and more like a stock mutual fund - some risk, but also a good chance of a reasonable return (in fact, I imagine book sales in general look a lot like the DJIA). There is some investment required (professional editing and cover design), and the returns may be small, but there will be some. With luck (and books 2 & 3 in the series) those small sales could grow. Either way, I'll be getting books into the hands of readers and hopefully building a base of people who like to read my work.

(Legal disclaimer: Please see this excellent post about why you shouldn't self-publish your first novel. Also this post about self-publishing if you haven't published already.)

I still have a couple novels that I'm investing in traditional publishing - because I'm a risk-taker at heart and don't mind owning a few high-flying stocks. But self-publishing Open Minds offers the opportunity to build a portfolio of readers, enticing them to sample a new author at a low price, in a genre they might like to read anyway.

My Logic Brain thinks that's just prudent planning and my Creative Brain is jumping for joy over owning my writerly path and making it happen.

For me, overall, it's just the right path, right now.

89 comments:

  1. OK - I have to dash to work but I'll be back - just leapt over from Alex's insecure thumb-sucking misery group! Just kidding. I am reeling in insecurity some days - others I just sail along. I liked your ideas. Not sure I'm up to self-publishing but you never know. Jan Morrison

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  2. I just can't imagine paranormal fading, not with readers. It might shift from angels to something else but I just can't see it.

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  3. @Jan Thanks for stopping by!

    @Laura I hope you're right! :)

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  4. I like the portfolio analogy, but I feel like it's all more one giant ETF or mutual fund with a certain amount of interdependence. For example, if you go hotcakes via the small press or self-pub route, your ability to snag a agent/big pub contract/etc. will increase (conversely, low numbers might broadside your efforts). Likewise, if you start big pub and make a name for yourself, going self-pub will be easier and more lucrative (at the risk of seriously pissing off your agent and editor(s)).

    That being said, I think self-pubbing passed the tipping-point (or went into the black, as it were) a year or two ago, in that there's now more upside than detriment.

    And, yeah, as long as girls exist, paranormal will always have a place on the shelves :)

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  5. I've heard that books that would have been snatched up ten years ago by traditional publishers, are being rejected because they aren't "big" enough. But how do you know when you're investing the time in your novel if it's going to be big.

    I think your plan is smart, Susan. I don't think paranormals are a dying breed. But I do know agents are now looking for YA horror and thrillers. Maybe that's the next big thing.

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  6. @Bane I agree about the interdependence - it's all linked to YOU the author anyway, and that's part of the calculation that publishers (self and otherwise) make in the likelihood of success for any given project.

    And hey! It's not just girls that like paranormal. :)

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  7. @Stina I've heard that too (both the books being passed over and that thrillers are hot)! And that's just the thing - YOU don't know if what you're writing is going to be the "next big thing" - but honestly, publishers don't know either. They're making a calculated bet, like everyone else. But, like Warren Buffett, their bets count for more than the rest of us!

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  8. Great post Susan. I like how you compare the different types of publishing.

    I have heard a little differently about publishers' interest in paranormal. At the SCBWI conference this summer the publishers on the panel commented that paranormal is hard because there are those leading the pack, but the genre will not die. Readers are still reading paranormal. I do think for a new author, it is very hard to break into the business with a paranormal.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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  9. What a fantastic post - I love how you've laid out all your thoughts. I can so relate! And, like you, I'm still open to traditional publishing. I'm not going to be one of those who slate it, because I think it *is* good to diversify and try different things. It does have its benefits, for sure.

    I wish you all the best, and I can't wait to read 'Open Minds'!

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  10. @Cherie Yeah, the "paranormal is dead" prediction has seen a few waves up and down, but I have to agree with what you all are saying here - that it's far from dead. At least I hope so! :)

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  11. @Talli Thanks for stopping by! I think everyone (authors and publishers alike) need to keep open minds (sorry about the pun) about what works (or won't) in the industry as it churns and changes. I'm certainly willing to give things a try, even if they're untraditional, but that doesn't mean I don't see the value of a traditional publisher.(P.s. I can't wait for you to read it too!)

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  12. I meant to also say that no matter which way a writer goes, big publishing house, small publishing company, or self-publishing, they are investing in themself and there are costs involved no matter which way you go.

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  13. It's so funny that you and Talli announced your decision on the same day! I like your follow up post here, and like Jan I'm going to come back and peruse it when I have more time. I totally agree with your focus on doing what's best for your career. Like you, I'm not of the "publishers are dead and irrelevant" take because I don't believe that for a minute. However I do believe that bookstores and print sales distribution models that were so crucial for the publishing market are fast becoming irrelevant.

    Good luck, Susan! I know you will do very well regardless of what path your career takes you. Or you take it :)

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  14. @Cherie That's a great point! And I'd add that the best investment a writer can make is in themselves via improving their craft. That pays dividends no matter what you do! :)

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  15. @KarenG Thank you, Karen! For your confidence (I don't always have it!) and for all your support along the way. :) I think anyone on any of these paths is a brave writer, putting themselves out there. Go us!

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  16. Interesting stuff, Susan! I like looking at the risks and benefits of each path and making a decision that works best for you, which you seem to have done. The price points are a stumbling block and you now know so much more after working with a small publisher the first time around. I think self-pubbing your first novel would be way too daunting.

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  17. @Jennifer (and fellow Omnific author!) I completely agree that self-pubbing the first time would have been much, MUCH more difficult. In many ways. I've learned so much from publishing with Omnific, and I think everyone goes through a learning process with their first novel.

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  18. Great post Susan. And congratulations!! :)

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  19. I recently chose the same path. I think it's the best shot I have of earning a decent wage. Not at the beginning, but later it's possible. After a lot of hard work. But traditional publishing is the same amount of hard work. I've found I like being in complete control.

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  20. Best of luck! I love your 'investment portfolio' analogy! Too great. ~ Nadja

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  21. @MPax Having creative control really wasn't one of the reasons I decided to go this route, but I have to say ... I love it! And best of luck to you with your books!!

    @Nadja Thanks so much for stopping by! :)

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  22. First congrats on taking the plunge and the very best wishes that it become an uber success story. You're a great author and an even greater human being, so you deserve it.

    I'm so intrigued w/how quickly publishing is changing. I think you nailed it when you said to expand your portfolio. Just because you are doing this doesn't mean you're stuck doing this forever and that is a huge change in itself. Now writers are able to branch out and have choices. Choices are so yummy!

    I'm here to support you. Let me know what I can do to help.

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  23. @Kai Your comment is making me tear up again, like I did on Monday! I've made such amazing friends in this process. I would love it if you would party with us on launch day! It's going to be fun (promise!) and it wouldn't be a party without you! :)

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  24. Really appreciate your perspective on this one. I wish you the best with your new investment.

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  25. Great post. Your decision to self-publish makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this!

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  26. You have three very good reasons to self-publish. I'm also intrigued by your diversification plan. I know you still want to publish with the commercial houses, but what else do you do intend to do?

    Anyway, best of luck on your novel. It sounds like you have a good start with your sound business approach.

    Jodi

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  27. I think there are pros and cons to each publishing option, I like that you took the time to consider your options and made an educated decision to self-publish.

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  28. Great post and sounds like you thoroughly thought it through (yay!) I recently self published my first novel because as a vampire story I knew the big publishers likely wouldn't be interested. Plus, I liked the idea of being in control of it all (especially the cover art lol) But I don't think I'd go traditional, even with a small publisher. Even struggling along as a noob self pubbed author I'm enjoying myself (mostly. there are days) and I don't regret one decision.

    Also, I am going to have the check out Angelfall, sounds like a book I'd like.

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  29. Congrats, Susan, my take on this topic is similar to yours. I've taken both the traditional and self publishing route for a number of reasons. I know that to have a chance at success, writing has to be looked at as seriously as any other business.

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  30. Wow, that was all very logical and businesslike. Sometimes I can tell that part of you is a math-science person! LOL. :-)

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  31. @Tricia and @Ghenet Thank you and thanks for stopping by!

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  32. @Sphinx Thank you - my Logic Brain really likes your comment about a sound business plan! :)

    @Rick I know you did the same (the sound planning part)! :)

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  33. @Patricia I can totally see that, with a vampire book especially! And I've heard many self-pub authors say they wouldn't consider pursuing traditional pub after dipping their toes into self-pub. I may yet change my mind, but for now I'm going with lots of options. :) Thanks for sharing and best of luck with your book!!

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  34. @JL I know you mean it! Thanks for stopping by! :)

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  35. @Shannon Eep! My UberGeek is showing again. :) I promise I'm doing creative work all afternoon. :)

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  36. I really love your investment portfolio analogy! I'm totally going to use that someday.

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  37. @Cynthia Thanks! I'm surprised it took my Logic Brain this long to come up with it. She's just glad she can be in charge of something. :)

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  38. Susan, the hardest part so far for us is getting the word out there about our YA Thriller, Liberty. So far the people that have read it have given us great feedback, but it's just a slow start up getting the word out there. I feel as though we are dealing with a crank start engine and I would rather use a push button rocket ship.
    Either way, congrats, I can't wait to read your book.

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  39. @MA It's hard for any book to stand out, and I include traditionally published ones in that.

    BTW, friends, you can buy MA's YA thriller novel Liberty on Amazon for only 99cents!

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  40. What a great post, and a very logical, business-centered discussion. I'll be bookmarking this and picking your brain as I look at my "writing portfolio" further down the line.

    And I'll be checking out Open Minds...my daughter is always looking for good books to read.

    Congratulations!

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  41. Hey, in my former life I was an investment consultant showing these pie charts to institutional investors all the time -- so this post was perfect for me! You lay it out so amazingly well.

    What you have going for you in addition to brains is creativity + a strong & focused work ethic so if anyone can make all this diversifying work, it's you.

    I just signed up for the launch party. Looking forward to it. :D

    P.S. Thanks for watching the squirrel video! I was so hoping someone would. And you even tweeted, haha. I've seen that thing probably a hundred times and it still makes me laugh.

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  42. @Nicki You're making me blush with all those nice words! Thank you. And that squirrel video was too good to keep quiet...and then I read a FB post about a friend who is battling squirrels in her back yard. Naturally, I had to share. LOL! (p.s. Thanks for signing up for the Launch Party! Yay!)

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  43. Like you, Susan, I'm glad I was able to publish my first book with a traditional publisher. They were great. Thanks to them in a way, I now feel I can jump into self-publishing, and for the reasons you mention here. I keep reading that your first book will self better and keep selling if you have another one out there, too. It is all very exciting, isn't it? I'm very excited for you and eager to read your new book!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

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  44. Exciting! I look forward to seeing how it all goes. I can't remember - did you say if there would be a print edition at some point?

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  45. Jan's comment made me laugh!
    I admire your for taking it on by yourself. You and Talli both. Bet you are both successful!

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  46. Wishing you all the very best for your novel. How brilliant. It really does sound like the right decision for you to self-publish. Self-publishing is becoming more and more attractive these days.

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  47. congratulations on your news! Your book sounds great and I look forward to reading it. Is it an e-book or print release?

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  48. Good reasoning, Susan, and I think there will be plenty of readers for your book.

    Investing in your writing career is always a good decision, and each of us must decide what to do and when.

    Bravo for you, and the support you offer to your readers. It's appreciated.

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  49. @Robin Thank you! I hope your daughter enjoys Open Minds! And you can pick my brain anytime! :)

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  50. @Ann Thank you for your well wishes and I hope your second book as great success! I've heard that too, that bringing out another book is one of the most important things an author can do. And I keep writing them! :)

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  51. @Alex Thanks for stopping by!

    @Lynda There seems to be a lot of people coming to these same conclusions these last few months! :)

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  52. @DG Thank you for your kind words! And I'm so excited that people want to read the story. #thatswhatitsallabout!

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  53. There's a lot here. I Bookmarked the page to go over it again tomorrow morning. I need sleep. Yawn. But these article looks like a keeper.

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  54. Great post Susan it answers lots of my questions. I'd love to know how easy it is to self publish and what headaches you may have had along the way with getting to grps with the self publishing software etc.

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  55. @Stephen I tend to get a bit detailed sometimes! LOL But it was a big decision and I wanted to pay forward all the times other writers have shared their decision making process - because it helped me! :) #hopeyougetsomesleep :)

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  56. @Madeleine I talk a bit about my self-pub experience on the Mindjack Trilogy website, if you want to check it out. Thanks for stopping by! ;)

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  57. I have my ms of Story for a Shipwright out on submission with a small press right now--the longer I wait to hear back and the more I research about self-publishing, the more I wonder if that's the way to go. It looks increasingly appealing, especially since I have the cover design and interior formatting pretty much ready to go. I wonder what's really the advantage of having a small press over self-publishing when my goal is simply to see this project to completion. I'll still be the one primarily responsible for marketing anyway.

    See there, you got me all fired up and rambling...Reading this post just makes me want to jump on the bandwagon!

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  58. I'm so glad to see this, Susan! I think you're making a fabulous decision. You are taking the bull by the horns, in charge of your own destiny. I'm giving it to the end of the year and then I'll probably be doing the same thing with my recent MG. :)

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  59. Congratulations Susan! We are all so proud of you!! I really want to get your novel :) Cheers!

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  60. this is a great post about self-pubbing, Sue, and having read LL&P, I can believe your book is great. Plus it's got an engaging cover and a hooky premise. All ingredients for SUCCESS! Best of luck w/it, and I can't wait to grab it~ :o) <3

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  61. @JB Good luck on your submission! Small presses have the advantage of a team of support (cover artists, editors) and they are the ones investing in your book (i.e. you don't have to pay for those services). Depending on the small pub, they can also have some distribution and marketing advantages. But I do see more authors (myself, Talli) moving away from small pubs and into self-pubs, once they have a book or two out. I think that may be when the advantage starts to tip (but not for all authors - most authors I know with small pubs intend to stay for several books, at least). Good luck with your choices! :)

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  62. @PK Keeping me in the loop on your MG decision! I'd love to see where you go with that! I think the market is coming for MG in e-books (which is where self-pub has it's best hold) but it's not quite here yet. Maybe this Christmas! Good luck!!

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  63. @Fantastic Thank you so much for your enthusiasm! You have no idea how much that means (well you probably do, as a writer!!). :)

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  64. @LT Thank you so much for all your support - now and all along the way! :)

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  65. EVERYONE IS TAKING THE PLUNGE! Yikes. We're going to put publishers out of business one day. =)

    Susan, I am super stoked for you. I LOVE the cover for Open Minds, and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy. It might have to wait for Christmas though. *sigh*

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  66. @Crystal I happen to know a few book bloggers that will be giving away copies during the book blog tour... :) And hopefully it won't be too expensive (that's part of the plan with self-pub)! Thanks for stopping by!

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  67. You are officially my e-pubbing guru. I so appreciate all the info. you share. Can't wait for the launch of OPEN MINDS. *jumps up and down clapping hands quickly*

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  68. @Leslie My pleasure! (especially when you call me guru :) )

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  69. Congratulations on your brave step into self-publishing!

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  70. writing is like music... a genre might be hot now, then it cools, but then its hot again........ i think the writers who have done best have always just written what they like,regardless of genre (dean koontz comes to mind.....)

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  71. @Alex Thank you! And thanks for stopping by!

    @Jeremy Agreed. Chasing trends isn't a great strategy for a writer. But if you have a book that people want to read, it seems like getting it in their hands is a good idea. :)

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  72. Self-publishing also allows you to jump into the immediate market, rather than the market of two years from now. I can appreciate publishers being skeptical that enthusiasm will last, or at least last for things within the genre similar to as they are now. And I enjoyed your portfolio analogy. Good luck!

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  73. Just jumped over here and read your blog. Good luck with Open Minds; it sounds good. I've been waiting for big publishing, but I may be changing my mind. I've read a lot of good blogs lately that have shifted my thoughts on the subject. You are right about one thing: People need to invest in editing if they want to be taken seriously in the self-published world.

    Draven Ames

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  74. @John Exactly! There's an immediacy to self-pubbing that allows many things that trad-pub does not... much more like businesses that can get their products to market quickly. Thanks for the great comment!

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  75. @Draven Yes, investing in editing is important! It's the one thing I consistently hear from self-pubbers that didn't - that they wished they had.

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  76. Interesting, Susan. Thanks for posting.

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  77. Wow, thanks for going into so much detail on this Susan.
    And yay! Congratulations on your upcoming release!! Confetti shower!

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  78. @Carl Thanks for stopping by all the way from the UK! :)

    @Deniz I just wanted to pay forward a little of all that I've learned from other writers about their decisions - those posts have been so helpful to me! Thanks for stopping by! :)

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  79. Hi Susan .. Risk is the same in all areas of life .. be it physics, writing, money (help!) .. or even love .. you've given us such a wonderful expose here ..

    Good luck with the various baskets and I think you're right to try self-publishing .. you're learning and giving yourself another opportunity or way forward.

    Cheers and have a good weekend .. Hilary

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  80. I just loved the way you broke that all down...
    I went with the Independent Publisher for my 'first' book. I would love to self publish a few short stories. Posts like this are taking the fear out.
    Oh and I am in your group for the Campaign:)

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  81. @Hilary Thanks for all your well wishes and support!

    @Doreen So many posts and discussions with other writers have helped to take the fear out for me too - so I'm glad this is helpful to you! :)

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  82. Good luck with the book! It sounds great :)

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  83. Gosh, look at all those links down there! It is a great post. I like your thought process. I like the diversification aspect and I am going to check out your links as well. I very much appreciate it when authors are straight-forward about why they are doing what they did. Thanks. We have to learn from each other.

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  84. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for your great input for our blog ring! I'm kind of bummed that the link for this post isn't highlighted in my post for people to know to click on it. It's highlighted in my drafts, so I'm not sure how to fix that, but your post is such an excellent one and goes perfect with our blog ring. I think I'll try something else to get your link to be noticed. Wish me luck!

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  85. Okay, fixed it! And now the first link is highlighted, so it's on my post twice. Crazy Blogger!

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  86. Somehow I thought I had commented on this post. I blame blogger for everything evil in the world. *evil grin*

    Sue, What I notice about you from this post is your confidence that this was the right path for you. It oozes that. So in fact it was. Open Minds is an awesome book. The first sentence had me pulled in. The first paragraph was one of the best first paragraphs I have ever read. The entire book was like that. PS: I was the invisible girl. :-) (((hugs)))

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