A couple of years ago, I began writing yet another novel. I’d started a few during and after college, but invariably I lost interest in the characters, encountered plot complications I didn’t care enough to solve, or exhausted my available time and energy. Finally, in 2008, I finished my first novel, a mystery-thriller entitled, “Spam & Eggs: A Johnny Denovo Mystery,” which will be published in 2009 under the pen name Andrew Kent.
Writing the book was a lot of fun, but soon after I finished a decent draft, I had to turn my attention to the business of publishing a book-length, commercial manuscript.
Even though this was going to be a new type of adventure, I started down the traditional path.
First came the grind of writing query letters, submitting these to agents, and getting rejections. I quickly discovered a few things that made me question the traditional route:
- Email has accelerated the submission and rejection game so much that I’ll bet neither agents nor authors are getting a true read on commercial opportunities this way.
- Even with a faster query process, it takes too long to get published through a traditional publisher. Authors have to wait anywhere from 2-7 years from an agent accepting them as a client to the publication of a first book — assuming a book emerges at all.
- New authors in this economy are low on the totem pole, especially for fiction titles. Agents and publishers want to bet on thoroughbreds. Few want to raise ponies.
- Old-fashioned consignment publishing is struggling. The economy has everyone in big, highly leveraged businesses (like consignment publishers) running scared.
- Amazon.com is the 700-pound gorilla in book sales these days. If it isn’t on Amazon, it has no commercial potential. Bookstores are only a piece of the puzzle.
- Publishing through a major publisher increases your chances of success only slightly, as little as 2%.
- Even if a commercial publisher picks up your book, you’re still a small fish in a vast ocean, and the chances of success rest largely with you, yet with little chance of commensurate reward. And you close off important options.
But what ultimately diverted me from the traditional path was hypocrisy. One evening, I sat back and considered the hypocrisy behind pursuing traditional publishing status for myself while in my professional life I’ve been focusing on the changes that are underway — user-generated content, the disintermediation of authority, the network effect, the emergence of efficient technological alternatives — and I thought, heck, I should self-publish, if only for the karma and the experience.
So I began to explore it, and soon became convinced it could be an attractive way to go. There’s the expediency — I wanted a book, not a process. There’s the sense of control — over the artwork, the rights, and the amount of effort expended. And then there’s the fun of doing the publishing work (I am in this business for a reason). Soon, self-publishing made a lot of sense.
After looking around, I found a reputable self-publishing company, one of many out there. Their model is straightforward, and their owners and staff have the right attitude. You pay a fee for services, price your book and set the discount rate, and keep the margins. I don’t expect to make much money, but given the odds with other investments, this one has about as good a chance as any of working.
There is a lot of information out there about self-publishing. (The best-selling self-published books are about self-publishing, after all!) One very good article by an author using Amazon’s BookSurge service talks about the process and approach in frank terms.
Is self-publishing the future? The Urban Elitist thinks it hints at changes in the industry. Consignment publishing emerged with the Great Depression so that bookstores could carry inventory without risk. Nowadays, anywhere from 10% to 50% of books are returned to their publishers. Returns are the bane of the consignment publishing industry. We’re familiar with this model, but there are major weaknesses in it. Amazon.com is exploiting these with the way it can fulfill orders, with its own print-on-demand services, and with the Kindle.
What about the stigma of self-publishing? Isn’t it just vanity publishing? It sure can be. But more and more often these days, it’s not. More authors have calculated the risk:return ratio and are making the right choices. The stigma won’t last. Print-on-demand is more common than you think (Lightning Source, a major provider, has nearly 500,000 titles), and an author with real skin in the game might actually be more motivated than a risk-free counterpart at Major Publisher.
Is this the right time to self-publish? Nothing may come from my little novel — readers will be the ones to determine its fate. But in today’s world, there are so many tools for self-published authors, now that I’ve been on the inside, so to speak, I can’t imagine going with a traditional publisher.
So, rather than dealing with rejections, negotiations, delays, or long publisher contracts, I’ll get a book and a great experience trying to make a go of it. Best of all, I can concentrate on the sequel.
And guess what? That sequel’s already in its third draft . . .