I’m publishing my books myself—as my first choice, not as a last resort. To be honest, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with self-publishing as a last resort. Just because NY didn’t want to publish your book doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. It doesn’t mean no one wants to read it. Many indie authors have proven that to be fact. A few have even proven it to the point of making millions on their own. (And, if you recall, J.K. Rowling got turned down by all the big publishers when she shopped Harry Potter around. A small press took her on, but advised her to get a day job because she’d never make a living as a children’s book writer. So, the big publishers aren’t always right. In fact, they’re not usually right, if you think about how many books are published every year and how few of them are stellar works or fabulous successes. It’s a guessing game for them.)
I’m not going indie because I couldn’t get published traditionally. I’ve not been rejected by anyone. I’m going indie because I decided that going traditional wasn’t the smartest way to be published. For me.
Publishing traditionally was my goal when I started writing this book a year and a half ago. (Yes, it’s taken me a looooong time. I have four kids. It takes a long time to write and polish 98,000 words when I have no time.) In between writing times, I obsessively researched agents and querying. I wrote my query. Trashed it. Rewrote it. Trashed it. Rewrote it. Over and over again until I had a solid, well-written query.
In all my publishing research I came across Joe Konrath’s blog. I read a few things, noted his view on traditional vs. indie/self-publishing, but didn’t really think about it. That is, until this March when he and Barry Eisler put out this discussion, right after Barry had turned down a $500,000 two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press to publish the books himself. (Yes, you read that right.)
That got me thinking. At that point I wasn’t convinced it was the way for me to go, to self-publish, but it gave me a plan B. If it turned out no one wanted to buy and publish my book, then I could do it myself. It would be my last resort. Felt like a good plan to me.
Then, a month later, Konrath and Eisler put up part 2 of the discussion. My research took a new direction at that time. Instead of agents and queries, I started looking up indie authors and self-publishing. And bit by bit it sunk in: the future of publishing is ebooks, not paper. Someday everyone will be reading books on ereaders. Already textbooks are coming out as ebooks, more and more people are buying ereaders and sales of ebooks are rising exponentially. (Did you see this chart on the growth of ebooks Jeff Bezos of Amazon put up at the recent press conference? Scroll down. It’s under number 3.)
That is the future. No matter how much I personally love paper books, the future is decidedly digital. (There is a part 3 of the Konrath-Eisler discussion, if you’ve made it all the way through parts 1 and 2, and are interested to read more. It’s here.)
And I realized that what traditional publishers do best (and really the only thing I cannot do myself) is to get paper books into stores. But as bookstores go out of business and people start buying more and more of their books online, that function of a traditional publisher becomes less necessary or even useful.
The more I thought and read about it, the more I realized that publishing the book myself was by far the better business decision. And this is a business to me. I am not writing books for the sake of art—my books are not that artful. I’m not trying to write the great American novel. They are popular fiction meant to sell popularly. I’m writing with the hopes of making a living. And, at this point, the best way to do that is to publish it myself.
Just look at the math: A traditionally published author’s cut of an ebook is 14.9% of the price. For a $9.99 ebook an author gets $1.49 for each sale. An indie author’s cut of a $9.99 ebook is $6.99. That’s quite a difference. Factor in that ebooks never disappear from the virtual shelf to make room for new titles, as paper books do in a physical bookstore. So a publisher gets a huge cut of an author’s book forever. An indie author (and his/her children, grandchildren) gets the huge cut forever. As Joe Konrath is fond of saying, forever is a long time.
I have an advantage going into this, I will admit. I worked as a freelance copy editor and proofreader for the big NY publishers for a few years, as well as a writer and editor of educational texts for 12 or 13 years. I know all the steps a book must go through before it’s in print. I know how many times it gets checked over for mistakes or typos. I can reproduce that chain of production, find the people I need to produce a professional, high quality book. I’m lucky to have this knowledge and experience.
I have also been traditionally published before. I co-authored a couple of parenting books. My experience with the first publisher was generally horrible. They cut out huge chunks of important text without asking, without telling us, and refused to put it back in. You can bet I won’t work with that publisher again. Working with the second publisher, on the other hand, was an overall lovely experience, but it came with one large frustration—that my name, because I am not an MD and my co-author is, could not be listed first. My co-author, a very generous, intelligent, and sweet man, even lobbied for the name order. But to no avail.
I guess my biggest frustration with the whole process was the lack of say I had in most things. And that was one of my biggest concerns as I thought about traditionally publishing my novel. What if I hated the cover? What if they changed the title to something I didn’t like? What if they wanted me to change the story in a way I wasn’t thrilled about? I’d have no actual power as the author. Sure, the publisher might listen to my concerns, might be willing to compromise or see things my way, but they also might not. They don’t have to.
Plus, so much of the work I will do as an indie author to get the word out about my book (blog, Facebook, Twitter) is work I’d have to do as a traditionally published author as well. So, if I’m having to do all this work anyway, the future of publishing is ebooks, as an indie I get a significantly larger percentage of the purchase price and I maintain creative control, why would I go traditional? Turns out, I wouldn’t.
So, here I am. A new indie author. Will I ever consider going traditional? Honestly, I don’t know. If someone makes me an offer I can’t refuse, then I suppose I won’t be able to refuse it. But that would have to be quite an offer.
In the meantime, I’m happy doing it myself. I like doing things myself. And I’m a little excited to be on the cutting edge of the future.