As a follow-up to yesterday's Reading Rants about self-published books and traditionally published authors who are now turning to e-publishing, here is an interview with Jack Blaine, author of Helper12, which is self-published, and other YA books that have been traditionally published.
JB: I wanted to explore the new technology available to authors. I think that given the way publishing is changing (less and less midlist authors surviving, more and more marketing emphasis only on tried and true, big name authors or high concept ideas), and some of the ways it’s NOT changing (ebook royalty rates that are fair to authors don’t seem to be happening, there is still a lot of throw it at the wall with little to no marketing support and see if it sticks mentality for midlist titles), it’s important to try to understand all the options.
TCR: In what formats and where on the web can Helper12 be found?
JB: Helper12 is available in Kindle format and in Nook format. It’s priced at $3.99 and is getting very positive reviews.
TCR: What did you hope to achieve with self-publishing Helper12?
JB: I wanted to see what the process was like—how difficult it might be, and how long it took. I also wanted to be able to have complete control of the entire publishing process, to see how that went.
TCR: Do you feel as if you have achieved those goals?
JB: Yes and yes. In addition, I’ve had a really fun time, and have enjoyed seeing Helper12 find enthusiastic readers. Jack Blaine is a very happy guy!
TCR: What was the hardest part about the publication process for Helper12?
JB: The hardest part for me was designing and creating the cover. I’m not a graphics program whiz, but I wanted to create a very specific tattoo (Helper12 has this tattoo, and her arm is on the cover). I love covers that realistically depict some element from a book that doesn’t actually exist in real world, so I was thrilled when I was able to do it! I’m so proud of the cover, which I think is also a great, simple design that lends itself to the thumbnail display ebooks have online.
TCR: How did it compare to publishing your other two novels?
JB: It was more fun, in some ways. It was faster. And it was freeing, in the sense that I didn’t have to bow to any sort of market-motivated pressure.
TCR: In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
JB: I think the pro is that the author has more control, and I think the con is that the author has more control. Control over editing, cover, and marketing.
Editing can be a very important, and wonderful, part of the traditional publishing process, if you are lucky enough to have an editor who cares about your book and who knows what s/he is doing. If you don’t get that, it can be a really bad, really disheartening part of the traditional publishing process. With self-publishing, the same holds true, whether that editor is you yourself, or someone you hire for a one-time fee to edit for you.
Your books’ covers can be a great thing or a terrible thing in terms of how they help sell your books. If you are traditionally published you have no control over it at all, and you have to just hope that the designers do your book a favor. I've been so happy (ecstatic, really) with my traditionally published books’ covers. The design department at my publishing house always does a fabulous job. But I have writer friends for whom this has not been so true, and there is nothing they can do about it at all—they have virtually no say in the matter. With self-publishing, you can control everything about your cover. If you have a good eye for design and what makes a cover jump out at people, that’s great. If you’re not technically skilled enough to envision one or create one, you can hire the process out for a one-time fee.
Marketing is crucial for books to succeed. It used to be thought that traditional publishing afforded writers great marketing and publicity, but I hear more and more stories from midlisters where the full extent of the marketing done for their books was to print ARCs, which were then sent to bloggers and set out at various conferences like ABA with no fanfare whatsoever. This is not great marketing. It’s the often used throw it at the wall sort of approach that can kill a book when with a little support, a little care, it could have been a contender. If that’s the sort of support one can expect from a publishing house (and again, from what I hear from many, many writers, it is) why not strike out on your own?
TCR: Was self-publishing Helper12 a greater or lesser time commitment than traditionally publishing your other books?
JB: I would say it was about the same time commitment on my part, but it took about 12 months less time overall to get the book to market. Most of my time in the traditional publishing process is spent waiting. Waiting for editorial notes, waiting for response to revisions, waiting for copyedits, waiting for final pass pages, waiting, waiting, waiting. With self-publishing, the only thing I’m waiting on is myself. I may have to wait some time if I choose an outside editor, or need an outside cover artist, but it’s minimal. And I don’t have to remain on a strict, one-book-a-year schedule, where with many publishing houses, I’m stuck with that. Also, with self-publishing, I get a fair royalty rate. That is a BIG deal.
TCR: Given the choice, would you rather self-publish your future books, or look for a traditional publisher?
JB: I think I want to continue doing both. They each have advantages and disadvantages.
TCR: Why did you choose to publish Helper12 under a pseudonym?
JB: I wanted the freedom that a pseudonym affords me. I don’t have to worry about whether my publishing house approves of what I write under a pseudonym—it doesn’t have to be the same genre I write in for them.
TCR: For a lot of readers, there is the mindset that inexpensive, self-published e-books means lesser quality stories. How would you respond to someone with that opinion, and what advice would give to someone looking to find high-quality, inexpensive, self-published e-books?
JB: You know, to be honest, I’ve seen plenty of really awful self-published books, ebook or not. And I’ve seen plenty of really awful traditionally published books. The idea that publishers, who are motivated by money (granted, they have to be), are somehow controlling the quality of what gets out there seems ludicrous to me. They put out great books, but they also put out crap that will turn a profit, and we all know it.
I think the best thing readers can do is sample, either electronically (the “look inside” feature is now available on Kindle self-published books on Amazon), or in the bookstore. See if what you read sounds promising to you. You are the best judge of whether a book is quality material or not.
TCR: Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to decide how to publish their novels?
JB: I think that is a highly personal decision. I’m glad I have been traditionally published and hope to continue to be, but self-publishing has been a great thing for me so far. I don’t think I would have ever considered self-publishing a year ago, but I’m not sorry to have done it at all, now.
Thanks so much to Jack for all the great food for thought. What do you think about the issue and the responses provided?