This post is the first of many that will chronicle my journey in self-publishing…
Feel free to weigh in, if you have insight, or ask any questions about the process as I set out. I plan to layout the various steps I am taking, as I take them, from finding designers and editors, to marketing and mailing lists and ARCs and so on and so forth…
First of all, to start, I guess: why did I choose self-publishing?
Self-publishing is an idea I have toyed around with for the past few years, particularly since running across Hugh Howey’s blog posts a couple years ago about the benefits of it, particularly concerning royalties. When I first began posting my story to Wattpad, I did it with the idea of self-pubbing in mind. But once I finished my latest story, I felt the compulsion to test out the query waters again. My novel, The Shadow Watch, had seen relatively impressive success on Wattpad, and I still longed for the validation of the traditional community, so I sent out some queries.
For the past 8-ish months (I sent a couple test rounds, and then hit it hardest around July), I was in the query trenches. Around July, I got my query and first chapter to a point where I was getting full requests. Around the same time, I also entered in the Ink and Insights writing contest and was selected as one of the Top Master Winners, and received great feedback from the editors in the contest. Several said it was of publishable-quality. But nothing came of that, or the agent requests. But I began hearing a trend: “Your writing is great. I connect with the characters, but the project is not quite right for me.”
Now, I know some will say that I barely dipped my feet into the subbing process. And I know that is true. I was in the trenches with my last novel too. And honestly, I think I wasted too much time on the whole process, before finally shelving that project. It held me back from moving on. Ultimately, with this book, I grew tired of the process, and did not have the patience to spend a year, or more, in the trenches again, in hopes that my novel would land in the right hands (a good chunk of agents never even responded). I, by no means, say that to knock trad or the query process, but it just didn’t do it for me…
Meanwhile, I have watched the fantasy market a lot this year, and there are a couple things I’ve realized.
One: my story is not quite what the trad market seems to be after right now.
Two: my story seems to fit along well with indie titles that are performing well on Amazon.
So, after much deliberation, I decided to read the writing on the walls and accept that trad appears to be looking for other things right now, but that there is still a market for my type of story in the self-pub world. I could wait around and hope, or I could go for it with self-pub, and that’s what I decided to do…
Everyone decides to self-publish for slightly different reasons, but here are a few factors I weighed:
- Success (Trad): Trad publishing does not generate a lot of bestsellers for new authors. Advances are low and print runs are short for the typical author. In other words, I could wait a long time, revising and querying, and even if I landed an agent and a deal, the chances of it panning out are low. I heard recently the average advance is hovering around $6000…
- Success (Indie): While self-pub bears similarly low odds of success, there are some major differences. Most notably, print runs… if my book does not become a quick bestseller in the trad world, or at least enough to earn out the advance, plus some, after six months or so, it comes off shelves and that is the end. With self-pub, I don’t need to earn out an advance with book one. If I earn enough to pay for book 2, I will consider it a success. And it never leaves the shelf. And I maintain the rights.
- Control: With self-pub, I get lots of control. The more I have delved into the ins and outs of putting a book together, the more I like this. I choose my cover artist. I choose my editor. I choose the text layout. Etc. But even more importantly, I choose price. I choose when I want to run a discount promotion, or I want to buy an ad, or seek out a book review blogger. This is daunting to many, and it was for me too, but I have found that there are so many resources out there for indie authors, once you start looking for them.
- Royalties: Perhaps the biggest factor is royalties. I can price my books at a reasonable rate, sell fewer books through self-pub, and make more money. There are plenty of bloggers who have written far better explanations for this. But ultimately, this sold me. I believe there is a market for my type of story, and if I can tap into that market, I think I can sell a few books.
- The Fantasy Market: The more I’ve looked at the Amazon fantasy lists, the more I’ve realized how many of those top spots are staked out by indies. I’ve read some posts about how trad is doing a rather poor job at giving fantasy readers what they want, as they publish everything in fads (I think this is true for all genres, honestly), which don’t appeal to all readers. For example: trad is over dystopian, but there are dystopians doing just fine in the indie world. Take a look at the Fantasy ebook lists on Amazon (which even for heavyhitters composes about 50% of sales or more, I believe), and that certainly appears to be true. Yes, Sanderson and Martin and Rothfuss are atop those lists. But other than that, the scale seems to tilt far more towards indies. Not to say mine will join them, only that this seems to indicate that the industry is not the sole avenue to success, nor does a trad rejection (due to it not being “right for their list”) mean that the book won’t sell elsewhere.
- Small Publishers Don’t Cut It For Me: I considered subbing to several small publishers who accept subs from non-agented authors, but I decided against it, and here’s why: They don’t do anything I can’t do myself through putting a little money into it up front. There are plenty of publishers who offer a decent cover, basic editing, and if you’re lucky some decent marketing. Most these days don’t pay out an advance, though. Brandon Sanderson has cautioned against taking any deal that doesn’t include an advance, because essentially it shows that the publisher won’t be giving you all the things they should: strong editing, an impressive cover, and a solid marketing campaign. So I decided against any of these options. I can get a comparable cover artist and editor (if not better) for less than $1000 investment. But in exchange, I keep all the rights, and I get waaay better royalties.
- My Personal Preference: Ultimately, everyone has to weigh their own factors and determine what is best for them. But the more I thought about it, the more excited I felt about self-publishing, and the less excited I felt about continuing to query and wait.
So here goes nothing. I’m self-publishing…
Check out Part 2 of my journey here, where I discuss finding high quality freelance artists for a good price.