Last weekend I was in Florida and had the joy of eating dinner with my cousin, Joel Goldman. Joel is a successful mid-list author in the mystery/thriller genre. Funny thing, though. His publisher is getting less and less interested in furthering his career. It’s happening to a lot of mid-list writers lately. So, as his old books go out of print, he’s snatching back his rights and will be releasing them as self-published ebooks over the coming months.
For decades, the phrase Self-Publishing was a dirty, ugly word used by those who couldn’t get published in even the smallest of presses. Nobody in the industry would touch those works except on the very rare occasion that said work began selling enormously. But the publishing world is changing lightning fast (which is terrifying to an industry known for its glacial pace). And the last 20 months has changed things dramatically.
Several factors in the ebook world rewrote what was possible. Obviously, cost and access are two of the biggest factors. Another huge factor was the creation of the Kindle (and later the nook and other e-readers). Suddenly, reading on a screen no longer sucked. That was all nice and good, but the real game-changing factor came when Amazon began its e-publishing program which gave the author a whopping 70% royalty off the cover price of any book sold for $2.99 or higher. The result: over the last 20 months, as many major publishers are tightening their belts, squeezing the mid-list harder and harder, a new avenue burst open. For many established mid-listers, significantly more money can now be made selling a book themselves rather than via a publisher.
Here’s where this is all going (this being this post) — I’m putting together a collection of short stories called 10 Bits of My Brain which will include seven previously published stories and three new ones. Later this summer, I’ll be releasing it as a self-published ebook. And throughout the process, I will report back here as to how the whole thing works out. I’ll even include my sales numbers — no matter how impressive or embarrassing.
So, what’s with the whole Almost thing?
Well, while I do believe the new concept of self-publishing can be far different from the old, the old concept still exists for many writers. If you’re a beginning writer, self-publishing should still be a dirty word. To make that clear, let me show you what I have going that makes it a legitimate choice for me (and many mid-list writers) and not for a beginner:
- I’ve been published. Many times. Notice that my short story collection contains mostly previously published material — work that’s been vetted and edited already. I could easily have made the collection entirely of previously published material, but I wanted to include some new work for those who already have read my stuff. And as much as I may still go through moments of self-doubt, the fact is that deep-down inside, I know I can write. I’ve been validated before. I know that the product I put out as an ebook will be written at a professional quality level.
- I’m well-connected. I’ve been in this business eighteen years and I’ve networked. Serious self-publishing requires, at the very least, a good editor and a good graphic designer — both of whom understand books. Depending on your skills, you may also need a copy-editor, promotional people, formatting specialists, and a host of others. I have the connections to get quality people for those roles. Like all publishing, serious self-publishing requires strong marketing and promotion — and that is made far easier by being well-connected.
- I have a platform. Between Magical Words and my podcast, The Eclectic Review, I have a weekly audience that can reach close to 10,000 people. I also have my website, a Facebook fan page, and a Goodreads page. While not all of those people are going to buy my book when it’s released, if I’ve done my job right, a significant portion will (that would be you all!).
- I’ve been to the top already (and fell). I’ve been published. I’ve had an agent. My books have been read by the top editors of the top publishers, and I’ve been told over and over that I’m a great writer but that they weren’t going to buy what I had to offer. It took me years to decipher that one. It means, I can write but that they don’t think they can sell 20,000 copies of it and don’t want to take the financial risk (self-publishing in today’s e-world, however, costs very little, so what would be a big risk to them can be a small risk to me). The point here is that there’s no connection I can network that will get my books any higher up the food chain. I’ve gone to the top of the traditional publishing world, and they weren’t interested.
If any of the above points does not fit your situation (especially the last point), then I believe you should still be trying to go the traditional route. Because if you don’t, then you’re cutting your chances down without a valid reason. Somebody is going to be the next Neil Gaiman or Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. It could be you, and you won’t discover that by self-publishing. Not yet. Things have changed a lot in the last two years but ebooks are not there yet.
Almost, but not yet.
To add a little more perspective — This past Wednesday, I had lunch with our own Ed Schubert. Like me, Ed is putting out a short story collection, but his is being published through a small press. We had a fascinating talk on the subject of self-publishing vs small press and where, in the coming new age of publishing, the small press will fit. Tomorrow, Ed will be picking up this topic and, if you all are interested enough, we’ll continue the dialog as our projects continue.
And to add even a little more perspective — I’m still trying to get an agent, still trying to get published traditionally. If the next run fails, then I’ll be considering publishing my novels via ebooks (depending on my experience with the upcoming 10 Bits of My Brain), but only because of the above points. Without those things in place, it truly would be vanity publishing, and that will always be a dirty word.