Or what are you waiting for?
What are the odds of the average aspiring writer to first land an agent, then have that agent land a publishing deal, and then have that publisher produce a hardback copy of the new author’s book? That is the dream that originally drove most of us still unpublished novelists. How much time does this take once your manuscript is finished? Up to a year to find an agent, another possible year to find a publisher, and at least another year to get an accepted manuscript printed and in stores.
Where will these books be sold besides in online mega-stores like Amazon or B&N? Borders is gone. Barnes and Noble brick and mortar stores are struggling. Are there any independents going to be around? Increasingly bestsellers are being sold at big box stores like WalMart and Costco. New authors, mid-listers and genre writers need not apply. I’ve read enough about diminishing advances, publishers’ insistence on owning and controlling all rights, including e-rights, forever, and other practices to worry me.
I originally had the dream of seeing my books in bookstores. Some part of me aspires to that still. But, what that dream really means is that I want readers for my stories. If I can put my stories into the hands of the readers via a convenient and timely mechanism, whatever you want to call it, then why wouldn’t I take the opportunity while the barriers to entry are still low? What is that old adage, “Fortune favors the bold?”
Yes, the whole industry is in flux and questions remain, but such transitions also create opportunities for those willing to take advantage. If we wait too long until things “settle” then many windows may close, some permanently.
I can’t predict the future, but I can predict that I’d rather start selling my novel the day it’s finished and develop a readership than finish my novel and wait up to three years for publication IF my book is deemed worthy of print by the gatekeepers at the big publishing houses.
What of the risk? Won’t self-publishing taint my reputation and cause traditional publishers to avoid me like a pariah?
What is the real risk for aspiring/unknown/unpublished authors?
We don’t have contracts that a slighted publisher can cancel. We don’t have agents who try to keep us traditional so they can get their 15% commission. We don’t have a reputation to harm by writing and publishing an unsuccessful book. If it doesn’t sell, is our career doomed?
Of course not.
A book that doesn’t sell is just a book that doesn’t sell. Write a better next book and sell more. Write an even better third book and sell even more. Sell enough and more opportunities present. If that concern is too high, use a pen name. Many famous and successful authors have used pseudonyms.
I don’t presume to advise anyone on the correct path. I haven’t gone far down either path to have much experience to share. But, I like the options, I like the potential, and I’ve waited too long in my own burgeoning career to keep waiting for either the industry to shake out or for the snail’s pace of the traditional process.
Who cares the most about my future writing career? An agent? An editor? The board of directors at a big publishing house? Or me?
What about Amazon? Aren’t they the big bad wolf?
I don’t care about Amazon. I’m not pro-Amazon or anti-publishers. Amazon digital publishing does currently offer the widest possible customer/potential reader base and that potential is tough to ignore. And ultimately, any successful business needs customers. Whether we like it or not, a writer is a business owner and the products are the written word.
I’ve had some recent conversations with those who have concerns about digital publishing and in many ways those comment threads felt like a few writers sitting in a coffee shop trying to convince each other of the best path to publication. There are many valid points on both sides, some more emotional and less founded in evidence or fact than others. I think we actually agree on more points than we disagree. That is the beauty of such conversations. All points can be explored and considered and every side of a topic can be covered.
Ultimately, the paths are many and each writer’s journey will be story until itself. We must each decide our course based on the winds, weather, seaworthiness of our vessel and the capabilities of our captain and crew. We must navigate towards the goal we have in mind.
Remember, though, when comparing traditional publishing to self/indie publishing, we can’t really compared traditional publishers directly to Amazon digital publishing because Amazon isn’t really a publisher for digital indie published works, they are a distributor.
The author is actually the publisher and that is a different business model. Author as publisher requires new and different skills and demands on the author’s time and that path is not for everyone. Although many famous and historical authors self-published (as was not uncommon in the 19th and early 20th century), the latter 20th century publishing culture turned self-publishing into a negative connotation dubbing the process “vanity” publishing. That culture has changed and the technology is now available for an author to write and publish an eBook for literally no cash investment, if he/she can do all the publishing tasks themselves. This again a valid and increasingly respected path for writers. Not a better path, another path.
What about the quality of work? Don’t writer’s need an editor to maximize their stories?
The quality of work published varies with both traditional publishing and indie publishing. The overall level of quality is arguably better with traditional publishing due to over a century of professionals investing their careers into the industry. But even that doesn’t guarantee quality.
How would you as author feel if your big break into traditional publishing came with assignment of either a neophyte editor or musical chairs of editors, each less invested in your story than the previous? I don’t have data to support, just enough anecdotal evidence to validate that it does happen. This partially invested editor navigates the publishing process poorly and your book gets a rushed copy edit, a cover you hate, a title change you don’t agree with and publication with little or now marketing push. Your book is published, it’s on a few bookshelves? But now what? How do you sell enough to earn out your tiny advance? Especially in genre fiction? This isn’t the only possibility, many authors have great experiences, but getting through the gatekeepers as new/unknown author doesn’t get you the attention of the publisher’s A team, either.
But aren’t self-published eBooks mostly garbage?
With the low barriers to entry with digital publishing, dreck will be published by authors who are not ready and haven’t honed their craft enough. To me, poor sales and poor reviews are in some ways more timely and more useful feedback for a prematurely published author than several months worth of form rejection letters from agents or editors. With digital, you can take the book down, rewrite it, re-title it, recover it and repost it. With little or no cost. If you hate the title or cover of your traditionally published book, good luck getting it changed.
As David Gaughran espouses in his “Let’s Get Digital” eBook, even self-published authors should hire a professional editor to raise the story quality publishable levels.
In fact, anyone even remotely considering self-publishing eBooks via Amazon or other outlets would be wise to read Gaughran’s entire book on the subject. I’ve read it twice and it paints a crystal clear picture of both why and how to publish digitally.
My goal is not to debate with those who really want to follow the traditional publishing route, but to counter what I perceive as a wariness and caution by many writers and bloggers of the digital publication process and the current players. I went through that cycle of doubt awhile back and can no longer remember the exact moment I decided to go digital.
Actually I do.
Almost a year ago, a member of my writer’s group came back from a conference and reported to us that editors and agents were communicating to new authors that fantasy manuscripts over 125K words were no longer being considered. I confirmed this with an email to the editor of Pyr books. I was at 90K words and only halfway through an epic fantasy novel meant for a trilogy. The estimated total would be 180K plus. I spent ten months on this manuscript and was now being told the market wouldn’t accept it, regardless of the quality. (For a great analysis of word count for epic fantasy, see this post on The Undiscovered Author.)
So, I put my novel on hold and went back to the drawing board, drafted a prequel that would be a shorter, more compact introduction to the trilogy (in the same way The Hobbit is a shorter, more linear, simpler story that introduces Middle Earth and key players).
To my shock and surprise, after using the Snowflake Method as advised by Randy Ingermanson, my scene list and outline estimated my supposedly shorter prequel to be 175K words to tell the story right.
It was then back in February of this year, I think , that I decided the books could be as long as I wanted if I published digitally. So, having made the decision, I started researching how to do that successfully.
What does that all mean?
Consider my thoughts a presentation of the concerns and fears some aspiring writers have about the current traditional publishing model and the great opportunity I see for creating, as an author, my own a publishing company and distributing my works via available channels, Amazon, B&N PubIt, Smashwords, Overdrive, and possibly LightningSource for printed copies of my books.
I like the future, as uncertain as it may be. I will have more wisdom and insight once I’ve actually gone through the process, but for now, I’m willing to try. I feel the risk is worth the attempt right now. That may change if the whole thing shakes up again, but for now, this new model seems to be an open window.
A window I’m willing to not only look through, but climb through.