Today, I’m happy to introduce eminent blogger Andrew McAllister. I hope you all enjoy Andrew’s article.
My name is Andrew, and I am insane.
I say this because of that famous quote. You’ve probably heard it — the one about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Straitjacket city, right? Well let me tell you a bit of personal history and you can decide if you agree with my diagnosis.
I’ve been a writer for many years and I’ve written a few things I feel reasonably good about. I started with a novel (think Grisham with programmers instead of lawyers), for which I spent considerable time collecting hundreds of rejection letters. One prominentNew Yorkagent came close to signing me. In the end, though, he voted with the rest of his colleagues and decided to pass.
How about a blog, I thought, maybe something where my Ph.D. wouldn’t hurt. Within a year http://lovehonoranddismay.blogspot.com was rated among the top 1% of blogs worldwide. I was interviewed on syndicated radio and invited to be a magazine columnist.
One topic that generated an amazing amount of discussion among my mostly female readership was housework sharing (or http://lovehonoranddismay.blogspot.com/2006/08/dismaying-story-41-traditional-work.html ). “Aha!” I thought. “A book idea!” This brought me closer to the golden gates of the fabled Publishing Kingdom. I diligently researched how to present a non-fiction proposal, then with great hope I sent off a dozen email queries. I had been playing the query game for years so I knew not to expect responses for weeks, if not months. Imagine my surprise when three of the agents got back to me within the hour asking to see the full proposal.
“Holy publishing potential, Batman! Ka-blammo!”
And imagine my complete shock when one of those agents phoned an hour later. He loved the book and would like to represent me. My head swam. It was completely surreal. That day I signed a representation contract.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to the bookstore – the publishers didn’t buy it. Back to the word processor. A few more years passed where I grew tired of the rejection game. I wrote little and queried not at all. The blog sat idle for long stretches of time.
Now it feels like the game has changed. A variety of self-publishing services offer viable ways for authors to offer their work directly to potential readers. That realization brought my blood back up to full boil. I took another couple of passes through that first novel (the re-writing is never done) and started on some new fiction. The blog is up and running again. I even had a few ideas for what I believe is a more contemporary and marketable non-fiction offering.
I thought if the game has changed, maybe I should change along with it. Could I pitch the novel to agents and self-publish a non-fiction book? Or perhaps I could do it the other way around. What if I self-publish both books? What are the pros and cons? This led to some investigation into today’s publishing options, and I figured sharing my resulting thoughts might be interesting for others facing similar decisions.
Here are some factors that make me consider self-publishing:
Control over genre: I currently have two very different offerings. Agents tend to insist on going with only one project at a time. They are hesitant to support subsequent offerings in different genres. By self-publishing I can pursue a variety of projects and let reader push me in whatever directions make the most sense.
It will actually happen: It is quite a challenge for debut authors to break into the traditional publishing industry right now. I’ve been querying for a long time and have yet to publish a book. This may be the time to take control of my own destiny.
It can keep on happening: Even for authors fortunate enough to publish one or more titles through the big houses, they are often one bad sales cycle away from having their next book rejected. If one of my self-published titles turns out to be less popular, that just gives me the feedback I need to make my next project even more successful.
Time to market: I saw a book deal announcement yesterday where the publication date is slated for Summer 2013. This is a typical time lag for a traditional deal. By comparison, highly automated self-publishing platforms allow me to have my book fully available for sale in anywhere from five minutes to a week or so. I honestly wonder whether this tremendous disparity will soon force the publishing industry to change their business model.
Marketing and promotion: Authors are responsible for virtually all of their own promotion, regardless of how the book is published, so why not self publish?
Revenue share: Typical royalty rates for first-time novelists are in the range of 8 to 12 percent of “net” revenue (after taking out printing and distribution costs), which means you are getting 4 to 6 percent of the cover price. But only for non-discounted sales, and by the way all sales to the big boys like Amazon and Barnes and Noble are discounted, so a lower rate applies to the largest volume of sales. Then the publisher holds back a mysterious amount against future returns. And then there’s 15 percent deducted for your agent. And then … you get the idea. Your share of the pie is tiny. By comparison Amazon offers self-publishers an option to receive 70% of an author-specified price. Smashwords pays 60 to 85 percent depending on the particulars of the sale. You’ve got the whole question of “A large piece of a small pie” versus “A small piece of a potentially larger pie” … but still, the difference in revenue share for the author is considerable. Some highly successful self-publishers are hesitating to accept big advances from traditional publishers because in the end they will make less money.
Changing perceptions: “Real” publishers used to consider self publishing as a vanity press, where desperate authors pay to have unworthy books foisted upon their friends and relatives. Now self publishing has become a viable option even among some longtime heavyweight novelists.
Another possible path to the big leagues: Query letters are no longer the only way in the front door of the publishing industry. Agents and publishers will take a hard look at self-published books that sell several thousand copies. And why not? Such a title is now a proven commodity and the author has usually shown a significant commitment and ability to promote.
Now here are a few factors in favour of chasing a conventional publishing deal:
Prestige: When you say “I published a book” to most people, they expect this to mean through a traditional publisher so physical copies show up on the shelves of the bookstores. While eBooks are becoming more and more prevalent, there is still a “buzz” about having that traditional imprint mentioned at the beginning of your book.
Up-front money: There is no guarantee that a self-published book will make dime one. If you land a book deal with an advance, you at least have that up-front money.
Promotion opportunities: Some of my writer friends self-published, while others put out books through tiny start-up publishers. They ran into challenges when local bookstores refused to host book signings, saying they would only do so for books released by publishers on their list. The same can be true for arranging interviews and other promotional activities.
Distribution deals: One way book sales are generated is when potential buyers browse the bookstore shelves and physical copies of your book are on display. The bigger publishers can make this happen for your book … if you are lucky enough to be one of the chosen few authors to receive such treatment.
Have I missed some important factors? Probably. Are there counter-arguments for the points I raised. Undoubtedly. Have I made up my mind yet? No, but you can help. What would you do? Do you have any experiences that shed light on the issues discussed above? If so, feel free to chip in with a comment. And feel free to drop by http://lovehonoranddismay.blogspot.com and continue the discussion.
Good luck with whatever projects you may have underway!