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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When Worlds Collide - Self and Traditional Publishing

I get the whole self/indie publishing - traditional publishing debate thing, I do! After all, I've been there. When I started out, it was all traditional, all the way. Of course, indie-publishing (or self-publishing), didn't really exist. Everyone considered that a vanity thing, not a viable path.
So, I did the agent/publisher query letters and collected my rejections, fought discouragement, the lack of support and the friends telling me it was a pipe-dream. I persisted. I had stories I needed to tell. It was an obsession. So I wrote the stories, and the query letters. I came this || close a time or two. An agent who called me at home on a Saturday (A SATURDAY) to tell me how much he liked my book... and then changed his mind. A publisher asked for a full...and didn't contact me for over a year and a half! Only to tell me it was rejected.
All the advice I was hearing also made my heart sink.
Like, 'Don't write in multiple genres.' I write in several.
'No publisher will take a chance on an epic fantasy by a nobody.' I had an epic fantasy series and a standalone. *ack!*
I ignored all that advice as I piled up new manuscripts, sent out queries and attended conferences.
At one of those conferences I did a one-on-one with the chief editor for a mid-level publisher in the process of branching out into other genres. She asked me to submit the novel I presented to her and I did. Nothing. But I checked out their website, saw the type of writing they normally handled - something I had never written - and took a shot at it. I wrote two novels and submitted them under a pen name. To my astonishment, they took both! I was thrilled.
Then reality reared it's ugly head. I knew going in that I'd have to compromise. I knew they would need to fit my novels into their style. I just didn't understand the industry, or how much compromise I'd need to make. I'd also hoped that success in one area would be a stepping stone to another. It wasn't.
In the meantime I'd been hearing about this Indie/Self-publishing thing. There was a division of Amazon called CreateSpace that would help you self-publish your book in print. I had read all the pros and cons (mostly cons), but what did I have to lose? From all the advice I was hearing, no one was going to buy a epic fantasy about a Fairy Queen and her efforts to put a human King back on his throne. And I wanted a book of mine in my hands before I died. Because face it, getting published traditionally is a crap shoot. 90% of all writers fail. You had to hit the right editor/agent at the right time on the right surface of the right wave. And if it didn't fit into the right genre niche? Forget it.
By then I was also hearing a lot more about this indie writing/self-publishing thing. A young woman by the name of Amanda Hocking had sold thousands of books that she'd published herself. She wasn't alone.
I was increasingly unhappy with my traditional publisher, and unbeknownst to me they weren't too happy with me, either. Unfortunately, I'd quit the day job on the strength of a book I was sure my traditional publisher would take, and the second book in a series. Instead they rejected the one and put the other on revise and resubmit. It also technically freed me from a clause in their contract.
Make no mistake about it, I sweated over the decision to try self-publishing. Make the leap, or not? I was scared. My whole writing career was at risk. There was so much negativity in some places - certainly among my traditionally published friends. I continued to try to make nice with my publisher on the one book but at the same time I self-published that book about the Fairy Queen, this time as an e-book. Again, what did I have to lose? Self-publishing offered the opportunity to publish ALL my books - the epic fantasies, the romance series, all of them, no matter the genre.
The Fairy Queen book began making a few sales.
My husband and I had an agreement. I had to be making money from my books by August of that year, or I'd  have to start job-hunting.
As the one book began to do well, I set myself a release schedule and started to put out the accumulated work of ten years of writing every few months or so.
Did I make the August deadline? Just. But I was making money... and it was increasing every month.
I took pains to make sure my books were edited the best I could, did much of the cover design myself (becoming the finalist in one major contest), all to counter the argument that Indie books were crap. An accusation I was starting to hear more and more.
Finally I made the commitment and stepped away from my traditional publisher as my income rose.
That Fairy book? It's one of my most popular. I have great reviews and I'm selling hundreds of copies each month. The epic fantasy series? It's doing well, too. And so is the romance series. And a particularly unique action-adventure. Plus a few more.
Now I'm Indie/Self-Published all the way. Using the income from my e-books I'm having editors go back over all my books to make certain they're the best they can be and hiring cover artists to do all but a few of my covers. (I get wonderful compliment on those covers. If it's not broke, don't fix it.)
The best part about it is that my editors work with me to make my novel better - rather than trying to shoehorn it, and me, into a niche. My cover artists do the same. I remember one instance where I felt a small change needed to be made on one of my traditional covers, something I could have done myself with a simple program like Paint. They told me it couldn't be changed. My cover artists and I work together to find the best covers for my books.
Oh, and the day job thing? I don't need it. I'm now making as much money from my writing as I have from any of my day jobs. Including my traditional publisher.
Now, as to that debate...
I understand why some traditional writers are unhappy. First, some of them must resent the fact that many self-publishers haven't paid the dues they have. Now almost anyone that wants to write can get published. That's got to be frustrating. On that I sympathize.
Second, there's the increasing demand on them for more output - reported recently in the New York Times - in response to the quick turnaround of e-books, and probably the output of self-publishers. Third? They now have competition, and LOTS of it. Readers have more choices. Soon they may have to compete against these new innovative writers who don't fit into the 'molds' for the attention and awards. More and more traditional writers, though, are also branching out into self-publishing, and not just for their back list. Some are doing it for those novels they wrote and loved but couldn't sell anywhere else. Even to their traditional publisher.
Times are changing, and that can be scary. However, the only constant is change, whether we like it or not. It's a great time to be an author, if you have the courage to make the leap.