About two years ago, I wrote about my decision to self-publish my first novel, the mystery-thriller “Spam & Eggs: A Johnny Denovo Mystery.” I chose to self-publish for a few reasons — to cut the time to publication; because I’m a publisher in my regular job; and because I’m supposed to be an innovator, so I felt better about doing something new, and print-on-demand and self-publishing seemed like emerging forces in book publishing. Over the intervening 20+ months, e-books have become a very powerful presence in fiction publishing, self-publishing’s stigma has faded to a large degree (you are now an “indie author,” like indie films and indie rock), and print-on-demand has continued its march to the mainstream. For me as an author, a few notable benefits emerged, as well:
- I received an inquiry from a movie producer (it turned out to be a nibble)
- I published my second novel, “The Green Monster: A Johnny Denovo Mystery“
- My first novel was chosen as a Top 10 Book for the Holidays 2010 by More.com and IndieReader.com
- I sold a few thousand books, many of them e-books, and watched as the e-book channel grew and grew in importance
- I learned how to do book signings and author talks, sometimes the hard way
Now, with the publication of my third novel, “Entanglement: A Johnny Denovo Mystery,” the apparently natural boundary of a trilogy has emerged, and I feel the story has been told. The main characters have reached a point of repose, and 240,000+ words seems like enough for now.
This point allows me to look back and assess the self-publishing experience — and ask, Am I glad I did it?
The short answer is, Yes.
As a learning experience, it was excellent. I now know other self-published authors (often award-winning authors with strong sales). I know firsthand how Smashwords, Scribd, Facebook Ads, Google AdWords, PR.com, and many other bookstore and promotional systems work. And I know what it feels like to get ready for a book signing and an author’s talk.
Am I making money hand over fist? No, but I’m making more than I thought I would. And in addition to a steady stream of royalties, I have a little set of my novels on my desk at home and the satisfaction of having written and published three viable novels in the span of two years.
What have I learned?
- I learned I couldn’t have done anything like this with a traditional publisher.
- I learned that the “platform” matters — having more than one book in the field is better.
- I learned that dropping your price can increase your revenues. When I lowered the price of the e-book version of my first novel to $0.99, my sales took off, and I’ve made hundreds of sales per month this way, while feeding sales of my higher-priced sequels.
- I learned that the “stigma” of self-publishing is not a strong force if the books are decent and well-produced.
- I learned that a gracious cover designer is a gift.
Recently, I was asked what a publisher could have provided to attract me, and the clear answer is, “Marketing.” But as Simon Waldman points out in his excellent book, “Creative Disruption,” publishers still think of themselves as filters, editors, and distributors. They don’t think of themselves as marketers, and define marketing in very restrictive ways. For instance, Waldman relates a story about a publisher who couldn’t offer an advance but said the author would make a lot of money giving talks. However, the publisher didn’t have an agency function to market the author as a speaker and take a fee for providing this service. Why not? Because publishers don’t think of themselves as marketers. They think they’re editors and distributors. And their marketing functions have ossified.
The problem for publishers is that editing and design can be purchased, distribution is at everyone’s fingertips (and bookstores were the only channel publishers had, and they’re being disrupted), and publisher brands never really mattered much to the general reader.
And so, as this self-publishing adventure began here, so it shall end. For now. Until another story gives me the itch again.
When it does, I’ll know how to satisfy that itch, and it won’t involve a traditional publisher.