Monday, May 23, 2011

Your opinion is law… but is it good? by Guido Henkel

Guest Blogger: Guido Henkel

[I asked Guido Henkel to guest blog for me and what he gave me was beyond expectations.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.]
Used with permission of jscreationzs

One of the great things about self-publishing your work is the amount of control you have over your work. I’ve been essentially self-publishing for over 20 years — not only books, mind you, but computer games, initially. Back in 1990 I was getting tired and frustrated about being ripped off over and over again by unethical publishers, but when one of my publishers went into bankruptcy and I never saw a dime of about $100,000 dollars worth of monies, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. As long as I let someone collect the money for me there would always be a risk of that someone withholding the money from me one way or another, and it was a risk I was no longer willing to take.

Aside from some small inroads — such as my stint at Interplay where I produced the RPG Planescape: Torment — I’ve been master of my own destiny ever since. So, when the time came to get my Jason Dark supernatural mysteries into the market, I knew I would publish them myself. I wasn’t even aware of any indie movement at the time, the way you do today, I simply did what felt right and natural to me.

There was significant upfront cost for me, but I was ready to swallow that. Print-on-demand technology — evolved as it may be at this stage — didn’t work for me with the Jason Dark stories, mostly because none of the POD companies offers actual saddle-stitched dime novel formats. All they have are all sorts of paperback or hardback books, all of them tagged with outrageous base prices — by necessity, I must add in all fairness. From the beginning, however, I had a $2.99 price tag in mind for my stories, in print and in eBook form, and with POD there simply is no way to meet that price point. At the same time asking people to pay $8 or $10 for a novella seems outrageous to me, so the only way for me was to have them printed in quantities enough to bring the price down.

So I spent some tens of thousands of dollars to have proper cover artworks created, to have the books printed — I launched with three books ready at the time — and to create an array of promotional materials and merchandise. As a result I was fully in charge of every step of the operation and have been ever since.

But there’s a downside to all of this also. If you self-publish, your opinion is law. By definition. No matter how wrong it may be, what you decide is what will happen to your product. While we all have certain instincts and ideals, it is easy for us to forget that we are only one individual, and a very jaded one at that. Oftentimes there is no one to bounce ideas around off, no one to ask for opinions or serious criticism.

Sure, you can ask people on your social networks, you can ask fellow writers, — which in many cases are one and the same — but since all too often you do not know these people in person or well enough, it is hard to judge the validity of their opinions; how qualified they are? They could be every bit as off-base as you, and you wouldn’t even know it.

Apart from that, while writers are also readers, I found that they are never representative for an actual reader base, and I think every writer would be well advised to remember that. The intrinsic bias we writers have, because we are exercising and have been learning the craft to various degrees, is very different from that of an average reader. If you ask people on the street, very few will know right off the bat what a sentence modifier or even what an adverb is. They may have some sense of it, but not like a writer who is breathing these things on a daily basis.

The same is true for the presentation of your book. As a self-publisher you will have to decide on a cover, and honestly, how many of us are truly qualified to evaluate the creative and marketing aspects of a book cover? Most of us look at it and decide whether they like it or not. Not very scientific, is it? Unfortunately, cover and poster creation has been perfected into a science for years by book publishers, movie studios, record companies and just about every advertiser known to mankind. If you try to compete with them on the same level, you better know how and don’t let I-like-it be the ultimate guide of your decisions.

I admit that I sometimes miss the opportunity to bounce around ideas and talk to people face to face to get their reactions to some of my ideas right then and there. It truly is one of the biggest detriments to being a somewhat sedentary self-publisher, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I will, however, try to find ways and means how I can get feedback about my work and how it impacts others, no matter how disillusioning it may end up being.

I think serious self-criticism, along with the ability to accept and evaluate criticism from others, is the cornerstone of success, and it is part of the reason why over the past sixteen months I have massaged the Jason Dark supernatural mysteries occasionally to adjust the way people are perceiving these books. By now, I am sure it will not surprise you at all, that the perception I created initially upon the launch of the series, was not quite how I wanted people to see it. I think my bias got in the way somehow, but I am also proud to say that listening to readers has helped me nudge it in the right direction.

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