Taking a little hiatus again to get back on top of my scheduling and to focus on some creative issues – like writing query letters to agents and finishing a new manuscript. So, while I’m tending to my business, I figured I’d repost a few of the early episodes. Today’s repost is my conversation with Emily St John Mandel, who recently made the long list for the National Book Award for her new novel Station Eleven.
This is the second installment of the Shoptalk series with Laura Hawley. We talk about her struggle with Lydia Davis, the travails of finding and keeping an agent, losing our way, and the further disintegration of my current project into disarray . . . But we still had a good time.
If you haven’t read the book yet, or listened to Episode 19 of The Outrider Podcast, you should.
Self-publishing is stalking me.
I sold my first novel to Unbridled Books without an agent and then, at my book release party at Watermark Books, during the Q&A section, someone asked me why I had self-published. I was crushed. I’d spent two years writing and rewriting the book, another six years trying to find an agent before giving up and submitting it to a few small presses. Most of the agents sent form rejections, and the ones who sent personalized notes loved the writing but didn’t think they could sell the story. One wanted me to rewrite it as a DaVinci Code kind of adventure set in Bosnia. I withdrew my manuscript and kept looking. During that time, people told me I should simply publish it myself and gave me all the same reasons I still hear from self-publishers: keep all your rights, keep more of the sales, publish the story you want to publish, etc. Self-publishing has never been an option for me. At first, the reason was simple considering I’d just completed my MFA and wanted to land a post as an Associate Professor of Creative Writing somewhere: people who self-publish (still) aren’t considered for those teaching positions. I’ve since given up on getting on at a university, but my dislike of self-publishing remains for many reasons.
In the years since the publication of The Evolution of Shadows, whenever I’ve been in mixed company and groused about how the vagaries of the publishing industry have returned me to the frustrating work of looking for an agent and publisher for my new manuscript, some earnest soul has again advised me to self-publish. Invariably there are the same old comments about keeping all my rights and getting to keep more of the money from sales. There have even been a few who have taken the semi-business based, utilitarian approach – just put your “product” out there and see if people will buy it. Most of the time, I let it slide because, frankly, I don’t have the energy to explain the publishing world to them, nor the difference between a utilitarian object – something used to accomplish other tasks and that has an objective, determinate value – and an object of art – something that is experienced for its own sake and has a subjective, indeterminate value.
But I’m going to give it a shot now because, honestly, some people just won’t shut up about it. So, here it goes. First with the obvious: When a writer decides to self-publish, that writer then stops being a writer and becomes a publisher, which requires an entirely different skill set . . . and money.
There are four basic things (not including Legal) that a publisher does whether that publisher is the largest publisher in the world, a small independent like my publisher, Unbridled Books, or Bob, from next door:
1) Editing and Proofreading
2) Book Design (yes, it’s even needed for ebooks)
3) Printing (optional if only doing ebooks)
4) Marketing and Publicity
How the self-publisher addresses that list will have at least some effect on how well the book does and if the book will find a sufficient and appropriate audience.
Now, my math in what follows is all based on a 60,000 word novel, which is between 240 to 250 manuscript pages, typed, double spaced. That word count is also the generally accepted count for the minimum length of a novel. Less than 60,000 and the book drops below 200 pages and it starts approaching novella status.
Some people may think they’re brilliant at spelling and punctuation, but how many times can someone read and reread a sixty-thousand word novel for misplaced commas without their eyes glazing over? Also, that’s just proofreading. Editing is a much larger, more complex task. The novel’s author has lived with the characters and their story for a fairly long time, and knows all the character’s backstories and all their inner details, even if only a fraction of those things make it onto the page.
That means the author is the worst person to edit her work and find unexplained narrative gaps, unexplained character inconsistencies, clumsy transitions, a weak or unsatisfactory ending, etc. After all, the author “knows” the story and her imagination can’t be wiped clean so, the author is likely to fill in the gaps mentally and never get around to really fixing them in the text. Other bad editors of a writer’s work are the writer’s mother, the writer’s best friend, or the writer’s girlfriend or boyfriend. All those people are invested in the writer for reasons other than the book, which makes them unreliable (they don’t want to hurt the writer’s feelings after all). They’ve probably also heard the writer talk about the story while it was being written, so they know what was intended and will, most likely, also be able to fill in the gaps.
And there will be gaps.
A professional editor can help a writer iron out the rough spots, find the inconsistencies, and tell the writer when the story takes a bad turn that might disappoint readers. Some editors are better than others, certainly, but even a so-so editor is better than no editor – and a number of self-published writers don’t invest in hiring a professional editor . . . and they should (hell, ok, even your mother would be a better editor than no editor as long as she does more that say “It was good, honey”).
Freelance editors can be expensive. Here’s a link to the Editorial Freelancers Association rates page to provide an idea of how much it’ll cost to have a book professionally edited. They even provide a handy estimated pace.
So, let’s do some public math. Let’s say we’ve got a 60,000 word manuscript. At the highest page per hour pace (6) for substantive or line editing and at the minimum pay rate of $40 per hour, a self-publisher can expect to pay about $1,640 (250 pages edited at 6 pages per hour will take roughly 41 hours. 41 hours billed at $40 per hour is $1,640). Now, I’m sure there are freelance editors who will work for less (and as we’ll see later a full-service company will knock a few hundred dollars off because you’re paying for other things in addition), but there are other things to consider (the editor’s experience, for one). Even a basic copyediting, which is only spelling, grammar, and punctuation will run about $750 (250 pages at 10 pages/hour is 25 hours at $30 an hour).
So, at this point, the self-publisher who wants a professionally edited manuscript has spent anywhere from $750 to $1,640, or more if they’re writing longer novels, and the writer hasn’t seen a penny of sales yet.
2) Book Design (including ebooks)
We may love to repeat the mantra “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but we do, in fact, negatively judge books with unappealing, sloppy, amateurish looking covers all the time. When a book is well designed – from the cover image to the font selection and the layout of the text on the page, the reader ends up having a much more pleasing experience – that is if it is even the kind of story the reader wants to read (for a non-book example, which toaster would you rather have? This one, or this one). Look at how enduring the cover of The Great Gatsby is and tell me a good cover isn’t important.
So, will the self-publisher pay for an original cover by a professional book designer, or use an image the author made himself, which will be free, or use a commercially available stock image (another expense but smaller and there’s the risk of someone else using the same image for their book), or find an image available in the public domain? What if the self-publisher uses an image that he believes to be public domain but it isn’t and gets sued for copyright infringement by the image’s owner (a whole slew of expenses)? Let’s say you have a friend who can draw and you pay that friend in beer and he draws you an image. Now your serious novel possibly has a comic book cover drawn by a skilled but obvious amateur who’s pretty good, but has a problem with perspective as well as how to draw people’s hands properly – or something along those lines. Believe me, as a former bookstore inventory manager who ran a consignment program, I saw a lot of cartoonish covers on self-published books and would cringe every time they were faced out. They looked so childish – and then I’d find out the story was about mental illness and sexual depravity. Not a good pairing.
So, at this point, the self-publisher who wants a professionally designed book that will be indistinguishable from the traditionally published books around it will have to spend another chunk of change. Those ebooks need to be designed, too, but if the self-publisher doesn’t want paper books at all some of these costs can be cut; however, I would want paper books to put in indie bookstores so I’m figuring that in because part of the audience I want is there.
Here’s a link to a book design service called Scribe Freelance (their editorial rates are a touch low, but a 60,000 word novel, billed at $4.75 per 250 words still comes to $1,140.00). For Scribe Freelance to design the interior (layout and typeface) of a 250 page book will cost $375. A cover design for a paperback only adds an additional $250 to $500.
So, using the minimum numbers I’ve found so far, here’s the total investment the self-publisher is on the hook for at this point – and don’t forget, this is before the author has made any sales:
$1,140+ for editorial from the full service company,
$375 for interior layout
$250 for the cheapest cover design
In this model, using the Scribe Freelance’s in-house editor, you can save some money, but it looks like you won’t get to choose your editor. I prefer to have a personal relationship with my editor, so I’d go with a separate freelance editor whose references and work I could look up and I’d end up spending the following:
$1,640 +$375 + $250 = $2,265
Add in the additional expenses like ebook creation, editorial changes, LSI upload and Title set up, and this begins to surpass my monthly salary from the day job I have. And don’t forget, it’ll most likely cost money to get an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and to register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright office – If the self-publisher chooses to do those things. I would.
Indie authors singing the praises of always owning their own rights forever should know that registering the copyright will make it a lot easier to defend the work if someone decides to plagiarize it or use it for their own profit.
Now, I’m sure there are services out there that don’t charge the fees I’m racking up here, and others will do them on the self-publisher’s behalf – but I bet there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. I’ve not read the terms of service for services like Amazon’s Createspace and Kindle Direct or independent Smashwords because I have no desire to self-publish, but the self-publisher should read the terms of service carefully and make sure they understand it well. If you want someone’s opinion on the Amazon terms of service who’s actually read it, you might check out what John Scalzi has to say in this post about the Amazon versus Hachette spat. I think self-publishers should certainly balk at any agreement with Amazon that gives Amazon the unilateral power to alter the agreement made with the author/self-publisher. Hell, some of traditional publishing’s horror stories that self-publishers go on about probably came from authors who, more than likely, didn’t read, fully understand, or properly negotiate their contracts. That’s where having a good agent, or some legal savvy, at least, might come in. Plus, traditionally published authors can join The Authors Guild, which gives them access to contract review services among many other benefits.
This section, of course, won’t matter if the self-publisher only does e-books, but if the self-publisher does want paper books in order to get their “masterpiece” onto bookstore shelves, or have copies to sell at events they might want to attend as part of their marketing and publicity campaign, there are a couple of things to consider.
Self-publishing services generally offer print-on-demand. But POD books, even if the service offers them to bookstores at a standard industry discount (40 to 42%), are generally non-returnable because the selling point for POD is that there’s no need to warehouse printed books. Of course, without a warehouse, there is nowhere for the bookstore to return unsold copies. A POD book is only printed when it is ordered, and the sale is final. That’s fine if the reader is buying the book direct. However, bookstores, especially independent bookstores, don’t like non-returnable books and won’t order them except for a specific customer’s special order. If they buy three copies and those copies don’t sell, the bookstore is stuck with those books forever. It’s a lost expenditure and when a bookstore’s income is based on the 40% discount they get from almost every publisher, being able to return a book to its publisher or distributor, like Ingram or Baker & Taylor, for credit against future orders is extremely important to maintaining the financial bottom line. A self-publisher who’s doing POD should also consider the possibility that different companies may be contacted to fulfill an order, which can lead to variations in print quality, i.e. paper type, ink types, etc. – another design element the traditional publishers consider when putting together a book.
Ingram Spark offers some interesting services for the self-publisher, including some handy calculators for determining printing and shipping costs, as well as publisher compensation, and is a friend of the indie bookstores, offering POD and industry standard discounts. However, they don’t offer editing and design services, just printing and distribution.
So, with Ingram Spark, add $25 to $49 for title set-up, a minimum of about $98 to print and ship 20 copies of the book, plus a $12 per year, per title cost to make the book available through Ingram’s global markets.
At this point, I’m done doing the math because I’ve already reached the point where it’ll take me several months – maybe even a year or more – to save up the money needed, or I’ll have to take out a loan to publish my book, or launch a Kickstarter campaign.
When I worked at Watermark Books & Cafe some self-published writers who’d taken advantage of our consignment program would berate my booksellers for not selling their books. If I got called in on the matter, I asked the author, very pointedly but politely, if they’d done anything to advertise their own book. Had they told all their family and friends that the book was available at Watermark, or did they sell copies directly to their friends and family (or worse give them away)? Had they told their church group? Their friends at work? Their bridge partners? Their writing group? Did they try to get their book reviewed in any of the local weekly papers or neighborhood newsletters around town? Invariably, their answer was no. I never asked them if they’d read the material we gave them with their consignment contract because I knew they hadn’t: we almost never sold any of the books on how to successfully self-publish that I specifically stocked in the store and listed on the consignment letter and contract. They also balked at spending the money on Watermark’s publicity and event packages, which would have helped with their marketing. After making those decisions, they’d still try to blame the booksellers for, basically, not reading every single book in the store and recommending the author’s book to everyone through the doors (it was after all, a masterpiece don’t you know?), or they’d accuse us of lying about our support of local writers.
And worst of all, it didn’t seem to bother them that the only time we ever saw them in the store was when they signed the contract and dropped off 3 to 5 copies of their book, and again when they picked up those 3 to 5 unsold copies 90 days later when their contract was up. Personally, I find it disturbing that independent authors are so disdainful of independent bookstores. When I signed the contract for my first book, my editor and my publicist told me to make friends with my local independent bookstore. That was easy, I was already working there, and so was my then girlfriend. I’ve often joked that not only did I make friends with my local indie bookstore, I took her to bed. Consequently, that relationship helped my book when it was first released. Authors, even indie authors, would do well to spend time in their local independent bookstores, get to know the staff, buy some paper books there . . . or, if the indie bookstore is an ABA member, and part of the Indibound.org Kobo program, buy a Kobo reader or put the Kobo app on their iPad or Windows reading device and buy e-books through that local indie bookstore’s website.
When I was a kid growing up in the Lutheran church, I always heard this old nugget – “God helps those who help themselves.” Well, independent bookstores are like that god in this way: they help sell books by writers who help sell themselves. An average indie bookstore stocks thousands and thousands of titles and new books are released every month. Every quarter, sales representatives from the Big Five publishers, as well as independent sales reps who work for an assortment of small and mid-sized publishers (agencies like Abraham Associates who represent publishers like Chronicle Books and W.W. Norton) visit bookstores to get booksellers interested in the next batch of books to be released. Helpfully, the publisher’s catalogues include information on each book’s marketing campaign, which gives the bookseller an idea of how much demand there is likely to be for a particular book. The bookseller also has their store’s own sales data and, in the case of the indie bookstores, personal knowledge of their regular customer’s interests. Bookstores then order books they believe will sell to their audience and devote their efforts to selling those books. Even then, however, ordering is a gamble, and a self-published book they didn’t order is even more of a gamble (some bookstore don’t even bother with a consignment program).
A self-published book with no marketing campaign and no publicity? That’s just wasted shelf space to independent bookstores. If self-publishers want their books in bookstores, the first sale they have to make is to the bookseller, and it has to be more detailed than signing a consignment contract and disappearing for 90 days. The self-publisher has to get people to come into that store looking for that book. Seriously. There are hundreds of brand new books with marketing plans from the Big Five publishers as well as the hundreds of small publishers that arrive in the bookstore, get shelved, never sell, and 90 days later get returned for credit against future orders – and those are only a fraction of what each publisher actually publishes every year. What’s so special about a self-published book that the author herself doesn’t take the time to promote?
The fact is, even when a writer is published by a big traditional house with its own in-house marketing department, the writer has to be deeply engaged in the marketing and publicity of the book. The biggest expense in this area, whether traditionally published or self-published, is going to be time and creativity – especially if the self-publisher only does ebooks. How else will a writer get noticed on Amazon among the millions of books it lists unless the author promotes himself?
That doesn’t mean you can 100% skip paying money, especially if the self-publisher is honest with himself and knows he’s not very good at marketing. I’m not very good at marketing, so, if I self-published, I’d want to hire a publicist. There are a lot of freelance book marketers and publicists out there like my friend, Caitlin, who runs Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity who can help authors with their marketing plans. But Caitlin’s time is worth money, too, so break out that checkbook again – that is, if she likes the book enough to want to promote it (you do not want a publicist who doesn’t feel passionate about your book…seriously).
Then, after you’re done with that, clear your writing calendar and replace it with your marketing calendar because whether you’re self-published or traditionally published, the initial publicity push for a new book will mean a writer has less writing time.
As I’ve said, some of these things can be ignored if the self-published writer is happy to do only ebooks and be beholden to Amazon. Also, everything except the editing can be minimized and short-changed if the self-published writer is writing a serial story for a niche audience and can write quickly. Science fiction, mystery, romance, fantasy, thrillers, horror, (dinosaur porn, yeti porn), etc. all lend themselves very easily to certain things that make self-publishing attractive to some writers: first, an easy to follow formula, and second, serialization. Basically, niche genre writers are doing a text version of serial television. If they can accomplish the third requirement and produce a new installment on a predictable and frequent schedule, they can make an ass-load of money. That’s undeniable. It’s the drug pusher model. Get a core of die-hard fans hooked on a particular world, and feed their fix as quickly as possible with familiar characters in (ostensibly) surprising situations. If a writer is geared to writing this way (formulaic and fast), it can indeed be a cash cow. The self-publishing mythology is full of people who’ve purportedly quit their day jobs to write their sexy vampire series, or their epic space opera series, or whatever.
This article from Boing-Boing by Cory Doctorow is a good place to start if you really want to spend time digging into the technical data of self-published writer’s earnings reports. But, keep in mind, the author of the report that Doctorow links to, Hugh Howey, is an earnings outlier and writes a science fiction series that is ebook only. So, read Doctorow’s piece first (Doctorow has published traditionally and on his own, has worked with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and is a proponent of the Creative Commons so he gets mad respect for knowing the publishing industry inside and out). Then, when you read Howey’s site, try to pay attention to the methodology and remember Howey’s focus is solely on genre fiction sold via Amazon; he states he is leaving out works that don’t fall into one of the genres like Mystery, Romance, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy and works that aren’t sold through Amazon.
So, where does that leave those of us who don’t write in the genres like science fiction, mystery, romance, etc., and who, even at our best speed, can’t crank out a finished book on an annual basis? Should we try to force ourselves to write faster? Should we stop writing the kinds of stories that interest us and, instead, take up writing formula genre stories? This is quite possibly the thing that most irritates me; these well intentioned but ultimately naive or willfully delusional people who are essentially, telling me I should stop writing the way I do and write in some fashion that is conducive to the self-publishing milieu. I make that assumption because, most of the time, but not always, the self-publishing champion biting at my heels is a big fan of, or a writer of, one of those genres and hasn’t read anything of mine (I even once had a guy who proudly proclaimed that he never reads novels, tell me I should just self-publish a novel of mine I’d abandoned and see what happens). It’s as if they seem to think their experience in the world of annual model updates and junkie-like addictive audiences applies to everything – and if you’re not writing for money and “fame” then you’re just jerking off, right?
Maybe I’m assuming too much. Who knows.
I’ve been neck deep in trying to understand the publishing industry ever since I knew I wanted to be a writer (it started in high school with a subscription to Writers Digest – 25+ years ago). One of the first lessons I learned was to never chase a trend because chances are, by the time that supposedly “trendy” book is finished, the trend will have passed. So, write what you want to write and don’t worry about what anyone else is writing. Also, when I was a baby writer in high school, I was, in fact, writing “science fiction.” I then went off to college and found I could major in English creative writing. Very quickly I realized that, although I liked good science fiction, I liked “literature” even more – Hemingway, Kerouac, Fitzgerald, Roth, Kesey, Nabakov, Rushdie, etc. Those were the early guys who hit a deep resonance with me. What those writers wrote about, and how they wrote about it, thrilled and moved me in a way sci-fi never has. Science Fiction isn’t the appropriate genre for the kind of story that naturally wants to come out of me. I tend to tell tightly focused, historically inspired stories about people who’ve been broken by that history, beaten by their own weaknesses and failures, and the desperate things they’ll do to find some kind of redemption or salvation. The mystery of the world as it is, is enough for me. I don’t need to invent “strange new worlds.”
Furthermore, it generally takes me about three years to get a manuscript to the point where I’m confident enough with it to want to put it out in the world – and even then it’s not ready. I want an editor. Hell, I need a good editor – a Maxwell Perkins type would be best – or at least one who gets what I’m trying to do (Hi, Fred). Since 1999, I’ve written four complete novels, plus one 70,000 word manuscript that became such a mess I abandoned it. Two were, simply, unpublishable (one even saw an editor’s desk). One was The Evolution of Shadows, and the other one is the novel I’m shopping around now, The Palace of Winds (yes, I stole the title from a book).
All of that is to get to this point, and it’s a point that even Hugh Howey mentions: self-publishing, just like traditional publishing, is not right for everyone for a lot of different reasons. With an initial investment of between $2,000 to $3,000 just to produce a professional looking self-published ebook that can be sold on multiple platforms rather than exclusively on (fucking) Amazon, followed by the time and creative energy needed to market and publicize that book (i.e. find its audience) it helps to have an easily classifiable genre to put on it: cozy mystery, military sci-fi, post-apocalyptic sci-fi, vampire, vampire romance . . . yeti porn . . . I think the picture’s pretty clear. An easy to classify genre helps the book find its proper audience quickly. Whether the book is written as a series or as a stand-alone story, as long as the writer gets new books out at least every year, there’s a chance of making real money.
That model doesn’t work very well for one-off literary novels by writers who like to play with form, style, and even elements of genre (think of Michael Chabon or Italo Calvino among others). Some may argue that “literary” isn’t a genre, and there’s certainly some part of me that agrees. However, in a publishing world where classification by “genre” is the first step to finding an audience, the phrase “literary fiction” has indeed become a genre, even if it’s one defined mostly by what it’s “sorta-not.” Literary writers actually pull things from all over the genre map just by virtue of their situation. As my friend, romance writer Theresa Romain, once said (and I’m paraphrasing here – check out Episode 14 of The Outrider Podcast) almost every story where two characters are in love or fall in love has an element of the romance story in it. Consequently, if there’s an active, external plot, there’s a bit of the adventure story there. If the characters are trying to figure out who did what to whom, there’s a bit of the mystery story. And so it goes. Specific genres simply emphasize a particular characteristic over all other story forms, and although other elements might be included there always remains that core element of the author’s chosen genre. A writer who choses to identify his work as “science fiction” will always have some technological conceit at the center of the story no matter what else is included, or where the focus lands.
Before the publishing industry – and this especially includes self-publishers – became super-obsessed with using “genre” as a way to identify and market a book to a specific audience, “genre” was broken down more by form: poetry, novel, or short story. Then there were the content genres: tragedy, comedy, satire, romance (think Shakespeare’s The Tempest or Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur rather than say, Judith McNaught). It wasn’t really until the 20th Century that publishers began expanding “sub-genres” like science fiction, fantasy, thriller, etc. as clearly defined categories where readers would willfully ghettoize themselves. Fortuitous or not, it took off and seemed to work. Unfortunately, the people it hurt the most were the writers who didn’t want to be pigeonholed and confined into one of those sub-genre ghettos, and it lead eventually to all the sins perpetrated by “literary fiction” – plotlessness being chief among them. Of course there have been sins perpetrated by the other genres as well – mainly thoughtless formulaic storytelling (think of the scene in the movie Goldfinger where Bond is strapped to a table and a slowly moving laser is supposed to cut him in half. “Do you expect me to talk?” he asks. “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.” And then Goldfinger walks out of the room leaving Bond enough time and freedom to escape. There’s some variation of that scenario in every Bond movie and in nearly every spy thriller).
Unfortunately, it’s not like literary writers have total freedom either. At a Laura Moriarty reading I attended, she explained to the audience that one of her biggest frustrations was wanting to write certain stories that interested her, but her agent and editor discouraged that exploration and pushed her to write more mother/daughter conflict books like her first one, The Center of Everything. A number of literary writers get this kind of pressure if they’ve had a tremendous amount of success with their first book. There’s this unspoken belief it seems that if a writer gets known for one kind of story, then that’s all people will want from them, and if they do anything else, they’ll lose their audience and sales won’t go up. It’s a definite fault in the traditional publishing system, especially since the conglomeration of the 1980s when the business majors and accountants took over the publishing industry. The writer, I think, is more accurate to believe that by establishing themselves as an explorer and experimenter, they’ll actually reach a wider, more diverse audience, but it’s a hard place to live when the accountant who only reads serial mysteries is looking over the editor’s shoulder.
If my first novel had been represented by an agent and sold to a big house and then been a runaway bestseller, I’d be feeling pressure to write another one like it, even though my interests have moved on. Allowing for experimentation may, perhaps, be an advantage to self-publishing for “literary” writers, but, again, I feel there’s a requirement for the writer to become expertly skilled at the minutia of marketing and publicity, as well as being able to produce books at a speed faster than I am capable of writing well. Also, considering the amount of money it takes to get one self-published book into the marketplace with enough of a professional presence that it is indistinguishable from a traditionally published book, followed by the cost of marketing and publicity efforts just to get the “word-of-mouth” train chugging along, speed is important to recovering and capitalizing on that first significant investment.
It’s already been five years since The Evolution of Shadows was published. I had a second novel in the wings, but, thanks to my editor, Fred Ramey, and his excellent sense for what is good, that book was torpedoed. I resisted at first, of course. Thought I’d save it. But after wasting half a year trying to rewrite it, I finally saw what he saw and junked it. In the middle of 2010, I started what became The Palace of Winds, and finished it in mid-2013.
A big gap between books like that restricts the self-publisher’s ability to make a single investment, then immediately turn the profits around to produce a second book. Publishing my failed novel “By The Still, Still Water” on the heels of my first book would have been disastrous – even for a self-publishing writer. But, more to the point, I don’t have $3,000+ lying around to produce a professionally edited and designed book (TPOW is 122,298 words, 376 pages – that would mean hiring a professional editor would cost me $2,520 (376 pages edited at 6 pages per hour is 63 hrs at $40 per hour is $2520), plus have paper copies printed then hire my friend Caitlin to help me find my audience. Also, with a full-time job and the slow, methodical way that I write, I simply don’t have the time to drop everything and publicize full time for however long it takes to make back my investment. Furthermore, if I do make back the investment on my first book, it takes me so long to write another that the money earned from the first would have already been spent on, well, the rest of my life. So, I’d have to find another $2,000 to $3,000+ to publish the next book.
It would be financially irresponsible for me to take out loans to self-publish a book. I’m already going to be paying off my student loans until I’m in my seventies, so, adding more debt means I’m even less likely to ever get married or have a family, buy a house or a new car. So, I work full time to pay off my loans, and I get up every morning at 5am or so to write for an hour on the kind of complex, human stories that interest me (or essays like this). Then, when the newest story is finished, I send it out to agents and publishers who, coincidentally, have families and student loans and employees to pay and are looking to publish a book that just may make them some money that will allow them to do those things.
It’s an ecosystem after all, isn’t it? And in that ecosystem, I’d rather work with a traditional publisher than work for Amazon because really, if you’re self-publishing through Amazon you may be keeping more of your sales, but the chunk Amazon keeps goes toward padding and supporting their loss-leader strategy on books, the very strategy that is undermining brick and mortar independent stores, turning them into showrooms or putting them out of business, and enabling Amazon to unfairly monopolize the ebook market. That means you may think you’re working for yourself, but you’re really working for Amazon, providing plentiful cheap content to get people to buy a Kindle, thus locking them solely to Amazon’s ebook format.
And the first step to killing something is collecting all of that something in one place.