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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Old-fashioned consignment publishing is struggling. The economy has everyone in big, highly leveraged businesses (like consignment publishers) running scared.
  5. 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.
  6. Publishing through a major publisher increases your chances of success only slightly, as little as 2%.
  7. 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.

These are some of the forces making print-on-demand and self-publishing such interesting options for authors and disruptive forces for book publishers.

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 . . .

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


21 Thoughts on "A Self-Publishing Adventure Begins"

Interesting post, Kent. It’s good to hear the experience of a satisfied self-published fiction author (though self-published authors almost always seem to be more satisfied than their counterparts who are with major publishers, don’t they?). Just curious how you arrived at the 2% figure with regard to how much a major publisher increases a book’s chances for success. I don’t doubt it–I’m just looking for as much hard evidence as I can get to support what I already believe!

I’ve been trying to track down this link again. One late night, Googling and browsing and pondering whether to dive into self-publishing, I came across a good article about self-publishing successes, in which the author quoted the figure that 6% of self-published authors are financially successful in their efforts compared to 8% of traditionally published authors. I’ll try to hunt this down, and will insert a link once I find it again. It’s been pretty elusive, though. I shouldn’t Google so late at night. However, reading it and a bunch of other things was only part of what convinced me to give it a try.

Gotcha. So the chances of success improve by two percentage points on the 100-point scale, though you increase your chances by roughly 33%. But since there’s certainly a lot more not-quite-competent content by self-published authors that doesn’t stand much of a chance in the first place, then the difference between self-pub and major pub is probably close to nil. The only difference, of course, is that self-published authors are financing the publication themselves. But I would consider getting the work out there and being able to move on to the next project, as you’ve done, to be far more important than the relatively modest associated costs of self-publication.

Agree. The costs amount to approximately a 3-5 credit hour course at a nice university. I can justify the costs almost through what I’ve learned, and there’s still a chance that I’ll earn them back. Some self-published stuff is pretty self-indulgent (memoirs, diatribes), but it is becoming more sophisticated as authors realize the options and as the self-publishing industry evolves.

Interesting Post!

My question though is this, you said:

“Publishing through a major publisher increases your chances of success only slightly, as little as 2%.”

Where do you get this number?



Oh crap, sorry. Someone already asked that. I should read comments first before I post.

Oh, and I swear I will stop posting fifty comments in a row on your blog, but… something else to consider, if those numbers are right, that 6% of self published authors and 8% of traditionally published authors are financially successful, the odds for self published authors may even be better than that, considering all the people who don’t research anything first, don’t know what they’re doing, don’t care to learn, and publish a completely unreadable book and have no idea about how to market it either.

Those people drag all averages down.

So when you sweep away those people and just look at the self published authors who A. actually have a good book, B. did all their research, and C. are marketing it well, then the percentage of successful people from that group might be even better.

As a small press publisher (ex, that is), I loved creating books for authors, but had a very hard time moving them.

Will you get this into Amazon?

How else will you market and distribute this?

The book will be available via Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, and others. The publisher I’m working with provides press release writing and email services. I have a blog that is getting some traffic. And I plan to do local signings and other events. I also have some friends with email lists and such who have pledged to help promote the book. We’ll see how it goes!

Some day, Kent, you’ll need to loan me the Time Turner you’re using that lets you do so many things at once . . .

All the best with your self-publishing endeavors! I had to complete a 35-page advertising plan for a business module, and saw that more opportunities lie in independent > traditional publishing (for a newbie fiction author like myself). Slowness and inefficiency are not advantages in the digital era.

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