Wednesday, October 17, 2018
WRITER 2 WRITER: SHOULD I SELF-PUBLISH?
SUCCESSFUL SELF-PUBLISHING, PART I
In 2012, my first of three traditionally published books was released. When I was first offered the contract, I was thrilled. Who wouldn’t be? I’d spent over two years submitting to agents and publishers with nothing but a stack of rejection letters to show for it. All I needed was one YES! So, when that YES arrived in my inbox, I jumped at the chance to finally see my book in print.
My experience mirrors that of thousands upon thousands of anxious new writers who dream of getting published and seeing their books on a prominent display in Barnes & Noble. Like so many others, I poured a lot of time and money into attending writers’ conferences and workshops where speakers assured us that if we learned our craft and kept persevering, our dreams would one day come true. And I believed it.
Now that I’ve been in the writing industry for a while (both as a writer and professional editor), I’ve come to see publishing from a different point of view. First, when it comes to traditional publishing, there are limited spots at the top. For example, I write children’s books. In a given year, about 3400 books for kids (toddler through teen) are traditionally published. This includes titles produced by the Big 5, as well as independent and small presses. For every published book, dozens and dozens of other manuscripts are rejected or ignored.
Second, even if you are lucky enough to land an agent or find a publisher, success is not guaranteed. There are plenty of authors who have agents who still never get published, and plenty of published authors whose books don’t sell well. The reality is, the traditional book market is saturated. There are a limited number of spots on publishers’ new release lists, and a limited number of consumers who will buy them.
The reality is that no matter how good a writer you are, your chance at getting published and becoming a successful author is a lot like winning the lottery. If you attend enough conferences, meet enough agents, connect enough on social media, write a good enough book, or if you’re just really, really lucky, then you MIGHT get a publishing contract. And sure, every year thousands of authors do end up with that winning ticket, which keeps the rest of us running on the treadmill hoping we will be next.
I was one of those lucky few who got published. Not just once, but three times. The publisher of my first two books was a small press from Indiana. I loved working with the owner. Loved the personal attention I got, and loved participating in the process of seeing my book come into being. I worked my butt off promoting it: visiting 70+ schools, establishing a strong online presence, attending events, etc. In the end, however, the experience was disappointing, to say the least. To date, I’ve sold around a thousand copies, which is a lot more than some authors but not nearly enough to make a profit. Then,when the publisher decided not to publish the third book in the series, I ended up right back where I started.
I had an even worse experience with my first YA novel. The first publisher to pick it up did a great job, but six months later the publisher closed its doors, leaving me with an orphan book. Fortunately, a second publisher took it on, but marketing has been minimal, and in two years I’ve sold less than a dozen copies, yet I’m trapped in a five year contract from which I cannot escape.
Why am I telling you all this? Why all the doom and gloom about traditional publishing? For those of you who are still nourishing the dream of getting published the traditional way, I say go for it. As long as you understand what you’re up against and what the stakes really are, then by all means, I wish you the best of luck. I want to be the next John Green or Marissa Meyer as much as anyone. Who wouldn’t want to be a best-seller? And for those who make it, the wait and the sacrifice are worth it.
But for those of you who are disillusioned by the always-just-out-of-reach promises of traditional publishing, or for those who are new at this game and want to avoid the rat race altogether, there are alternatives. We happen to live in the day of self-publishing. But before you dive head first into the pool, there are pros and cons to self-publishing, and there are steps to follow in order to self-publish successfully.
In part two of this series, I’ll talk about why authors should and should not consider going the independent route. In part three, I’ll share the Keys to Successful Self-Publishing. In the meantime, I recommend reading Susan Kaye Quinn’s 10 Step Self-Publishing Boot Camp, one of the best titles on the subject by one of today’s most successful self-published authors.
See you next week!