You’re ready to publish your great novel, the one that took you eight years of agony to write, but no one’s interested. You even have an agent. Signing with her made you feel you were really on your way, but now she rarely returns your calls, and you don’t know exactly what she’s doing with your manuscript. You looked briefly at self-publishing options, but when you scanned the lists of self-published books on Amazon, your stomach became all fluttery, and you knew you could never be part of that pathetic loser crowd. Your book is different.
Every day you get up and you’re a day older, but that’s the only thing in your life that’s truly in motion. When you attended an expensive writer’s conference in a western city, you found that most of the other attendees were much like you, only their book was probably not as good, or in most cases not even finished. You felt superior to most of them because you already had a completed book and an agent.
The reality is this: it’s been a great run, but the old-line New York publishers are not what they were. Through bankruptcy and merger, their ranks have thinned. Although they position themselves as the gatekeepers of great writing, working to exclude the unworthy, they are mainly focused on a shrinking bottom line. They sense that the business model is changing, and next year will be even tougher than this one. Who’s next to go down? They are correct, because publishing technology has taken a left turn, while they continued in a straight line. After all, it worked so well in the past, why mess with success? Their favorite obscenity is Amazon Kindle. Reading this blog is now giving you a headache.
Let’s look at their product. The top two or three percent of the books they put out are excellent, top-quality work. The level below that, say about fifteen to twenty percent, are solid, workmanlike books that, although they may not be inspired, still deserve to find an audience.
The seventy-five percent or so below that is of little interest, and often a waste of the paper it’s printed on. Writers who have produced great books in the past are allowed to write drivel unchallenged. Others who sell well put their names on books they didn’t write, even when they’re dead. Look for the real author’s name in small print at the bottom of the cover. The old-line publishers are no longer serving either the reading public or the writers who seek to inspire it. Trying to get through this no man’s land is like navigating a logjam in a birch bark canoe––a chancy situation.
Worse, the alternative is chaos––the self-publishing world, where 96% of the output is worthless. It’s a place not different in kind, only in degree.
Yet there are similarities. In both places you will do all your own promotion. That’s right, all of it. The old–line publishers spend their entire promotional budget on their top five or six best sellers. Get ready to spend 70% of your time promoting. The reality about writing is that the actual placement of words on the page is less than half of the required effort. There is no barrier here to publishing trash, but in self-publishing, at least you’re sure to get it published, if you can pay the modest price.
Indie publishing, as it’s called, is like the Wild West. It’s a free-for-all, but one that is at least vigorous and exciting. It’s young, and things are happening in this wild place! You will need to stop worrying that being with all these other writers makes you look bad, and do what every writer needs to do––set yourself apart. Find a platform of people who might want to hear what you have to say, who share your interests. Anything goes now, and I like that. The old-line publishers have for too long masqueraded as the bastion of quality. Now the reader will make the choice again of what succeeds, and because there are so many inexpensive options for ebooks, with some even free, it’s possible that more people will be reading, since it's much more affordable now. When did the price of anything ever go down before?
No one will miss the old style bookstore more than I will, but the business model is changing, and they’re no longer competitive.
Here’s what to do: learn the indie publishing business. The Internet is full of sites that will tell you the detail. Decide whether you need a subsidy publisher. This is what most “self-publishing” companies really are. They will get your book in print for you for a fee in the low hundreds to the low thousands of dollars, depending on how elaborately you want it done. Most of them will then take a cut of every single book sale you make.
If you have only one book, and it’s not likely to sell well, this may make sense for you. You can be a published author, sell a few books to friends, and get on with your bucket list. If, however, you’re a serious author, whether you have only one book, or a series that could sell, you’re better off learning the nuts and bolts and doing it all yourself. Because once the pain of mastering the detail of putting out your book is over, you will own your book and control it forever. You will give no one else a cut.
That is the route I took. At first I found the process opaque, and I spent eight months mastering the publishing part. My wife learned the software, so she could design and format our interiors for print editions. Now she uses it to help others get into print. I’ve published thirteen of my own books so far, and I have three more coming out in the next year. My process now is to become more sophisticated about promotion, which has layers of nuance. With time, it yields to your effort.
The message is that it can be done, and done well. You don’t need all the New York people; they don’t want you anyway. Self-publishing requires the same things that other businesses require: determination and hard work. The information on how to approach it is easily available online.
Two years have passed since I started this venture. Please check my website and see how I did. I’d like to hear from you –– your comments will help me to improve it.
John’s website is www.sanmiguelallendebooks.com