On February 18th of this year, I came home after a long, busy and somewhat stressful day, and I did a quick search on Amazon.com. Suddenly, I was a published author.
There, in all its subtle glory was a book I wrote, edited and produced, for sale in a real live public place.
Published. Me. Twenty years of waiting and trying and bawling and hoping beyond all hope; then all of a sudden, I was a published author.
I used to dream of a day when I’d get a phone call out of the blue with some ultra-famous agent squeeing on the line, saying, “They love it! They can’t get enough! Here’s a contract for 5 books, and the first one is going to come out in 6 months from now.”
Except, for a lot of years, my dream had been a lot more complex and insidious than that.
“Once I’m published…” had been the prefix to myriad expected life changes. “Once I’m published…people will respect me. Once I’m published…I’ll be able to finally start making real money! Once I’m published…I won’t have to fight with these computers and servers and databases anymore! Once I’m published, life will stop being so boring!”
Fortunately, my “Once I’m published…” delusions vanished as soon as I started digging into publishing and the writer’s life. I had a better idea of the workload involved, the humble return on investment, the sting of a bad review and how to deal with it…So, if there’s one thing about waiting 20-odd years to be published, it’s that I’m getting into this whole “am published” thing with both eyes wide open. And disillusioned or not, I’m still optimistic.
So I knew I would start out as a published wage slave. I wouldn’t start off with royalties enough to keep writing full-time.
And not only would I be working full-time, but I would be working part-time on top of that, marketing, networking, selling, etc. So, little change in income, big change in workload.
But if I could get that one break, it would all be worth it. All the effort would pay off. My foot would be in the door. It would be just a matter of time before I could transition from day worker to full-time story teller.
It will be a matter of time. My foot is in the door, because I do have a book on the market now.
But “in the meantime” is fast becoming “in the Mean and Nasty Time.”
I’ve never been good at math, and I have little concept of “finite time”. Full-time job + part-time job = less time for writing. So now I have to make a conscious adjustment to devote time to writing. If I don’t, I won’t be writing at all. And that would be bad. Publishing was the goal, but the writing should remain my passion.
The real problem is, I have yet to accept the concept of “finite energy”. So far this year, I’ve been using my free time for sleep, and for sitting in the living room drooling like some stunned animal.
I knew I’d be responsible for marketing and the like. The workload does not come as a surprise, but the fatigue does. As tired as I have been, you’d think I’d spent the last two years moving a castle from one county to the other, one stone at a time, only to find out I reassembled it on the wrong hill.
It’s killing my sense of inspiration.
And if I were to go back in time to encourage a younger me, I think “Me The Younger” would be surprised and somewhat disappointed: my first book, as awesome as it is, is self-published.
Well, technically, my client paid for all the production costs, and I am a paid author, because publication or not, he’s paid me in advance for the writing and the editing of his story. So it’s not so much “self-published” as “he-paid” or “we-published”.
No breathless phone call out of the blue, no “Are you sitting down?” emails. Hard work, dogged attention to detail, step-by-step instructions, overcoming technological glitches, methodical approach to marketing, and bob’s your uncle: publication.
I was expecting more cherubim and fanfare.
There are two parts of me that are at war right now: Pride and Pragmatism.
Pride is snuffling, because I didn’t get my big start by having a book accepted by a recognized, well-paying publisher. No trumpets, no sparklers, no confetti. Pride is also cringing, having read so much vitriol by a handful of snobbish “real” authors, who claim that self-published or independently published authors are somehow poseurs and frauds. To be a “real” author, someone – a publisher – needs to confer the magical state of authorhood upon you.
But Pragmatism has a laundry list of reasons why we went the direct-to-reader route.
Traditionally published or not, I would still have to do a lot of marketing – so no big savings in terms of workload.
Also, if I’m doing the majority of sales work, success is dependent entirely on my efforts. If I fail, that publishing house will likely not pick up another book of mine again – not unless I agree to write under a different name.
And publishing is a big, spidery industry. There are many people on the payroll: editors, designers, proof readers, market analysts, distributors, advertisers – the list is long. And every one of those people likes to get paid. So when a book is bought by a consumer, the revenue goes to the book seller, to the distributor, and then to the publishing house to be divvied appropriately, before the remains filter down to the writer – often by way of an agent, who also takes a cut.
I’ll be honest with you: if sold by traditional means, I’d probably see what, an advance and maybe 6-12% of the profits? With self-publishing, we can see a profit of anywhere between 20% and 45% of the sale price, depending on the list price we set, the sales channel and any discounts we’ve put in place. The rest goes to the cost of manufacture, server maintenance, that kind of thing.
Higher profits mean we can sell fewer books before we see a return on investment. And if the book goes viral and sells well, all the better!
Direct-to-reader also allows us to control the price of our product, so if we feel like marking down the price, or offering a special discount, we can. If I’m at an event and I run out of hard copies, I can always give out a discount code to anyone who wanted to buy a copy but couldn’t. They can then go online and purchase a copy to be shipped directly to their address.
And then there’s a question of time and patience. Some may argue that I’m too impatient to get a real pro to manufacture this book. I say, for a project like this – a story about someone relatively unknown, written by an unknown – it would be very difficult to sell to an agent, let alone to a publishing house.
Pragmatism says: if you have a way to make more money for the same effort, do it; and if you can do all that now, why wait? In a phrase: “If you want something done, do it yourself.”
Pragmatism also asks: how is self-publish “cheating”?
Self-publishing badly – yes, that’s cheating. That’s just plain old vanity.
But to produce a book that is indistinguishable from one that is “professionally” produced, to market it as if I was a one-woman professional publishing house, I have to wear all my hats at once.
To self-publish successfully, you have to be an expert writer and a professional editor and a cover designer, a marketer, a negotiator, an administrator and a tax specialist – and in my case, you have to know your way around a collaboration contract, too. That’s a lot of skillsets learned and put to the test, with money – a financial investment – on the line.
So if you ask me, getting a publishing house to do all that for you, that’s cheating.
And how about accountability? If there’s an error in this book – be it typographical or grammatical – I can’t blame it as an oversight on the part of my editor or the printer. There’s only one person who can take that blame. Me.
And if sales are poor, I can’t blame it on lazy publicists. Well, I can, but there’s only one lazy publicist I can blame. Me.
But if sales are doing well, I can reinvest profits into expanding our advertisement initiatives, or setting up book launches, funding the odd reading out of town, whatever. Reinvesting profits is, y’know, good business sense.
But cheating? Laziness? Impatience? No, I don’t think so. I call it good old fashioned industrialism.
“There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible.” Henry Ford.
So sure, it’s not how I expected to get my start. But you know, in some ways, this is a little bit better. I’m not just selling a book here. I’m not just selling myself as an author, either. I’m selling myself as a one-person publishing house, as an entrepreneur and as a professional editor.
And when I remember all that, Pride wipes its nose, lifts its chin and grins.
So what now?
While I do have a couple of irons in the fire, I’m seriously considering doing more of this. Maybe I’ll take my share of the profits from this book and use it to fund my next big project.
So, one dream accomplished. What’s next?
Sky’s the limit.