Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stross on Self-Publishing

Over at his blog, Charles Stross (Accelerando) discusses why he doesn't self-publish. Excerpts:
Left to my own devices, in a good year with no major disruptions (which, alas, don't come along as often as I'd like) I can write around 200-240,000 words of finished fiction — a pair of 330 page novels or one big doorstep plus a novella. This assumes I'm working on lightweight novels that flow easily, or that my drill sergeant muse is standing on my shoulder shouting "gimme chapters, worm!" in my ear through a megaphone. ...

The specialist SF trade fiction publishers I know have a production ratio of roughly 6 novels/year for direct employed members of staff. That is: Baen (10 folks) produce 60-odd novels, Tor (50 folks) produce 300-odd books. ...

So, I estimate a book takes roughly 2 months of publishing company employee labour to produce. Plus another 4 weeks of author eyeball time (which is that part of the publisher workflow the author undertakes — see previous paragraph).

When you add it all up: if I'm as efficient as a trade publisher, it would take me roughly 3 months to produce a book that also took me 6 months to write.
Read the whole thing, especially if you want all of Stross' nuances about what it takes to get a book from your word processor into readers' hands. Myself, I'm not a traditional publishing snob. The advent of the Kindle has meant that some worthy writers who've gotten the short end of the publishing stick now have audiences. I like that. I like it a lot. In the end, though, the whole discussion comes back to core competencies. I'm glad some folks can wear multiple hats, but I'm not one of them. Give me my Microsoft Word, three inches of scratch paper, and an inexhaustible supply of pencils. With such I will content myself.

(Picture: CC 2010 by pretendtious; Hat Tip: @JRVogt)


Chestertonian Rambler said...

This is exactly my feeling. I suck as a publisher (I've tried it, and once I get beyond middle-level work my lack of networking and logistics skills really shows its face.) If I can't publish and promote *other* people's work (where my view isn't clouded by my self-doubt/self-aggrandizement), why would I ever think I could publish my own work? And even if I could--why do a second-rate job at work far from my proficiency, when I could (if published) do work that I'm good at (to wit: writing) while letting another person take over marketing/cover design/ISBN-buying/bookseller-placing/editing/investing money up-front/making sure the guys producing the physical book don't do a shoddy job?

That said, I'm also a bit of a publication snob. I'll read a self-published book, if it comes highly recommended enough. But self-publication is likely to put a book lower on my wishlists, while a reputable publishing company will make me more likely to buy a book.

(Exception 1: when an author has already established himself through traditional publishing. Exception 2: anthologies edited by author who fulfills Exception 1.)

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am always amazed at how quickly some can write. Today I did 1600 words, close to a record for me.

Loren Eaton said...


It seems we're almost entirely agreed. Self-publishing seems to work great for three groups -- the hyper-competent (who can and don't mind wearing all of the hats); the talented-but-marginalized author (who could appeal to niche markets if only the big publishing houses had a clue about them); and the already-successful writer (who gets a bigger cut of the pie and can leverage an already existing market). If know of folks in camps two and three. I know of none in camp one.

Loren Eaton said...


Sadly, I top out at about 600 per day. It's like I hit the proverbial wall.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

I suppose the best example of #1 would be Howard Taylor, who self-publishes, self-markets, and self-ships his webcomic Schlock Mercenary. The works consistently get nominated for (but have yet to win) Hugos, and sell quite nicely despite their lack of a main publishing company.

His blogs on the subject are rather fascinating. His take was unique, since he has an exceptionally strong business sense, and is married to a stay-at-home mother whose business sense, creativity, and work ethic surpass even his own. They apparently talked to a number of publishers, and while they had offers for publication the offers simply didn't have a large enough PR push. His sense was that he didn't want a publisher to cash in on the goodwill he'd already generated, but to expand his markets. No one made him a good enough offer.

His story is also an interesting case in crowd-marketing, and of the idiosyncratic associations required for success in such ventures. He is very active among SF writers, promoting his friends' work on his blog and grabbing a diverse number of popular authors to write introductions for his collections. But he's also never forgotten that his strip's second name is "Mercenary," and has sold t-shirts (twice capitalizing, quite literally, on major characters' deaths), dice, reusable shopping bags, pins, challenge coins, refrigerator magnets, a board game (in association with people who actually knew how to make such games fun), &c. Additionally, he sends out a hand-signed Christmas card to each customer every year, partly out of gratitude and partly because he knows that fostering goodwill and word-of-mouth is the best business practice.

Thankfully, however, the world has room for writers who do not have his particular (and bizarre) blend of talents. Still...he's got a rather interesting career path, worth taking a look at.

Loren Eaton said...

Yeah, I remember listening to Howard explain that decision on an episode of Writing Excuses. I think he said that Schlock had to hit some incredibly high sales figure within the first year or he was going to go broke. With self-publishing, he could lower the sum to a much more manageable figure. It worked for him, and I'm glad. His is kind of the ideal example.