How much do you get to control when you’re self-publishing? And how much do you stick to in terms of “industry standards” because they are good/established marketing even if you don’t agree with? Book length, fonts, cover type,”purity” of tropes, PG rating etc? Do you always listen to your agent or pub team if they feel strongly that you should/shouldn’t do something?
We control everything. The editing, the cover, the format, the distribution, everything. The power is maddening. Muhahahahaha!
Oy. To tell you the truth, yes, we do control everything, but human factor is a big thing. Sometimes you commission a cover and explain things in great detail, and what the artist creates doesn’t match your expectations. You request edits, and they do the edits, but it’s still not right. With self-publishing, just like with traditional publishing, there are deadlines, so you do the best you can to keep the book on schedule and you say things like, “Just make his hair look half-way decent.” Control ain’t all it cracked up to be.
But back to the question, industry standards evolved for a reason. Some of them are slightly more arbitrary, like length of the manuscript, but most of them exist because readers like them or they help sell the book. Common fonts make the book more readable.
Cover type helps the readers identify the genre of the book. Let’s do a quick quiz.
How did you do? Sometimes covers are a bit ambiguous. Mystery can easily look like Horror. Romance sometimes has a flower on the cover and nothing else. But readers become conditioned to recognize the type of cover over time, and it helps them to zero in on the type of books they usually enjoy.
Genre tropes, just like covers, help the reader select their favorite type of story. Romance genre is defined by Happily Ever After, or, in case of serial romance, Happily For Now. Break that trope and romance readers will scream blood murder. Mystery is defined by an incident of a shocking crime. It doesn’t have to be gory, but it has to be emotionally devastating to somebody, otherwise nobody cares if it gets solved.
The PG/R rating is a bit more nuanced. It depends heavily on who your audience is. We stick to lower R/higher end of PG for the Innkeeper, because it is posted online. Most parents curate books for their children. If you are buying the book or borrowing it from the library, you are making a choice to read it and therefore consent to whatever level of heat or violence it contains. We realized that a lot of relatively young kids read Innkeeper on our website, with or without parental permission, so we are a bit more mindful of the narrative.
On other hand, those of you who read IRON AND MAGIC, another self-published book, know it is not PG.
We do always take our agent’s advice into consideration. It carries a lot of weight, because we trust her and we’ve seen her prove to be right in many cases over our years at the agency. But ultimately, we are the clients, and there were times when we said, “We can’t do this” or “We feel better doing it this way.” It has never created a conflict, because ultimately all of us want for the book to succeed and find its audience.
To summarize: industry standards are standards for a reason. It’s good to break through them and do something unexpected once in a while, but it should always be done with a clear understanding of the potential risk. Learn the rules first, and they go smashing. 🙂