Sunday 11 November 2007

Navigating the Treacherous Waters of Publishing - Part 2


Self-publishing used to be frowned upon as the rejected child of the publishing industry, only to now be celebrated as one of its prodigal children. Many bestselling and well-known authors first undertook the self-publishing road, such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce and, on a more recent note, Christopher Paolini with Eragon.

Mind you, using these authors as examples portrays the self-publishing industry as simply a road to the world of traditional publishing. And yes, it can be that. But it can also be so much more.

Judge a book by its cover lately? Well, in self-publishing, you get to decide what exactly it is people will be judging. I love this idea. My roomy is a wicked artist (as can be witnessed in the “About the Header” blog entry), and she could make such a wonderful cover. Another of my best friends is an amazing graphic designer, and she could take care of the lay-out, and I’m sure it would be kick some serious butt.

And inside there would be some pictures, like in the old fantasy days. Just quick black and white pen-type sketches. I’ve always loved them, and miss them so in modern fantasy novels.

My sister-in-law is a photographer, so we’re talking book jacket picture right there. And any necessary Photoshop-ing (let’s not fool ourselves here). (See the blog pic? That’s her stuff. Cool, eh?)

So it would be a nice product, something that would stand out on the shelves (should the book get on the shelves). No need for the same old, same old.

And of course they’d all do this for free until I can repay them somehow. I’d throw a party for them, though. With lots of snack foods and properly-themed googly-eyed creatures.

Printing the books would require some capital, which is a bit of a problem for most. But you start with a small run and re-print once you’ve proven to yourself you can sell. There’s not need to go into complete debt over this. And you can set your own cover price, though it’s wiser to aim for the lower end (meaning cutting into your royalties). Customers don’t like taking chances on unknown authors, and they’re more likely to pick up something cheaper and that ends in “.99” (silly, but true).

Then, once the book is out, well, you need to market the little sucker. You prepare your website, and sell your book from there, maybe posting a teaser chapter for fun. You go to talks, bring your printed bookmarks for your book (every author seems to have those), and you become your book’s best champion (you and your mom).

Online marketing is the fastest and cheapest method to start off with, though not necessarily the most efficient at times. Author signings in bookstores are of limited popularity, but I figure one sold book could mean ten, since the best selling method is word of mouth. So time to get out there.

Of course, you also need to distribute it. Online stores are willing to post self-published books, as long as you take the necessary steps with them and pay your fees. Not too shabby, but remember, keep in mind shipping costs! Those will devour your profits real fast!

Even after all that shining on your part, your sales might still not be that great. And you’re having a hard time breaking into even local independent stores. And your mom can only buy so many copies. The cure? Keep writing, keep taking out more stuff, and keep marketing like mad.

It seems that to be successful, self-publishing has to become a full-time gig. Or you wait to be discovered by a traditional publisher. But if that’s your only goal, save yourself the hassle and go straight to the source. Or, if your only goal is to call yourself a published author, well, quit writing. That's just sad. Besides, self-published authors are not technically "published," they're "self-published."

If your goal, however, is to have a product you’re proud to call your own, from every word to every art stroke, and you don’t care about the quantity of sales so much as the quality of the book (or you’re a marketing guru with lots of capital), then this is the road for you.

And during the course of your self-publishing journey, remember that, in the end, it’s the echoes your story will manage to leave in your readers’ minds that will sale your next book.
So make sure, amongst all the marketing and number crunching, that you don’t forget that first and foremost, your job is to write.