Outside of the world of writers and book bloggers, I don’t know how much the Amazon/Hachette kerfuffle has made it to the mainstream (aka, friends and family who might read this via Facebook/Google+). Okay, you’ve probably seen the Stephen Colbert thing by now… Most of what I’ve seen in the media is very anti-Amazon and very black and white. The issue, of course, has a few shades of gray. I thought about posting something about these subtleties, but other people have done a better job of it:
- Winning at Monopoly
- The war on Amazon is Big Publishing’s 1% moment. What about other writers?
- Amazon Is NOT the Vladimir Putin of the Publishing World
Now, obviously, both sides have interested parties. There are the likes of Colbert and James Patterson on one side, Hugh Howey and Joe Konrath on the other. In reality, this corporate conflict is highlighting the conflict between legacy publishing and the self-/indie publisher. Instead of going into that in a broad sense, I figured it might be more entertaining and useful to me if I gather my thoughts on why I am now a self-published author.
I’ve been writing since 1998. Well, if you count some literary short stories, longer than that. When I was ready to query Lucinda at the Window in 2000, there really wasn’t any legitimate way to self-publish. Most self-pub schemes ca. 2000 relied on authors paying exorbitant prices for poor quality products which the author would then try to sell to family/friends/extended family/passing strangers. Querying editors and agents was what you did. And it’s what I did. I did it with five novels over the course of 13 years.
By 2007, when I signed with Stone Garden to publish Lucinda, small presses had become viable, but still had difficulties. Due to advances in print-on-demand technology, small presses could put out affordable quality books without huge print runs. Unfortunately, what most of them didn’t have was budget or personnel. In 2007, I wasn’t ready to “sell” my own book and the one-man outfit of Stone Garden Publishing wasn’t going to do it for me.
I continued to be a proponent of legacy publishing. To me that was still the legit way to be published. I still believed that a good book would get published if it encountered the right agent on the right day. In the meantime, there were authors gaining audiences and making money through self-publishing ebooks through new services, but they weren’t just writers anymore. They had to be their own marketing and promotional department. That sounded utterly distasteful to me, but more and more new and mid-list writers were being required to do that even if they were signed by one of the Big 6 (now Big 5) publishers.
Social media was really the catalyst that changed my opinion of the legacy publishing game. It became easier to get to know agents and to find out what they wanted through their blogs and tweets. The #MSWL (ManuScript Wish List) tag on Twitter gave agents a way to share exactly what they wanted in real time. And it became fairly obvious that what they wanted wasn’t what I had to give them.
Math isn’t hard, but in this case it is depressing, so I won’t count up the number of rejections I garnered in 13 years of submissions. I’ll be honest, two of the novels I subbed weren’t ready. One of them has been set aside; one of them became a totally different novel. It could be that maybe, painfully, I’m just not a good writer. Maybe I’m stupid for spending 13 (now 14) years in an industry I’m not suited for. I’m going to disagree. I think the books I’ve written and that Eric and I have written are pretty darn good. (The book Eric has written alone is PDG too, although I might be biased.) It sounds cliche but I write books I would want to read.
The notion that I am now relying on is this: Even if agents (a small group of people with tastes that differ from mine) don’t want to sell my novels, there might be other people like me that would want to read them. Why not get the books directly to them?
Obviously, it’s not that simple. Promo and marketing is, as I suspected, as much work as writing. Eric and I are trying to cultivate an audience with the hopes that our efforts will pay dividends later. I will be honest, Amazon is pretty central to what we’re doing. They are one of our primary distribution channels. Amazon is giving me, and so many other authors outside of legacy publishing, an outlet to deliver product to readers who might want that product.
Math isn’t hard, but it is annoying when it comes to counting up how many copies of my and Eric’s novels have been downloaded. (Smashwords gives me a total number. Amazon gives me a choice of reports, but none include total numbers for the entirety of a book’s life…) Sure, not every person will read the books they’ve downloaded or enjoy them. But the number of readers I have today is certainly greater than the number I’ve had for the first 13 years of my career. For the moment, I’m pretty happy with that.