This is going to be kind of a “musing” post. I get this question all the time from people:
Why aren’t you trying to get a publishing contract with a traditional press?
It’s a good question. If you don’t know anything about independent publishing and how much it’s changed in the last 5-10 years, that is. When most people I meet in real life hear I’m a full-time author, we have a conversation that goes something like this:
“Oh, wow, you write romance novels? Like, are you published?”
“Yeah. I’ve published twelve books so far.”
“So, which publisher are you with?”
“I’m actually an independent author. I self-publish.”
“Oh.” Awkward silence. “So, do people actually buy your books?”
And it makes sense, really. Most people have little idea about the independent publishing revolution that’s taken place with the advent of ebooks. I think when most people think of self-publishing, they have a stereotypical image of an author shelling out thousands of dollars to a vanity press in order to publish a hundred copies of their magnum opus — which took them years of sweat and tears to write, and which no one but their mom and their Aunt Sylvia will ever read.
Most people don’t realize it is possible to make an actual living off writing and self-publishing.
They don’t realize that if they did a search of the top 100 best-selling books on Amazon right now in a lot of categories, half or more of those books would be self-published.
They don’t know that people like me never even attempted to get a contract with a publisher, because we knew it didn’t make sense to do so.
Imagine the number of aspiring authors per year who send their manuscripts to dozens of publishers — and how few of those people actually get their book accepted. I’m not going to go at length into how small the odds here, or how arbitrary the selection process is, or how many great, well-known authors were rejected over and over again before they finally managed to get their book published. And just imagine how many amazing books were passed over and never saw the light of day, just because they weren’t exactly what the publisher was looking for at that moment.
And consider how long the publishing process takes with a traditional press. And how, if your book doesn’t make a killing when it first comes out, it eventually gets pulled from bookstore shelves entirely and languishes in a box in the backroom, never again to see the light of day.
A typical author would get a 10% royalty net profit from a book published with a traditional press. The rest gets divvied up among all the other parties involved in publishing and marketing the book, whether they do a good job or not. And in exchange for having those other parties promote your book for the limited time they’re willing to do so, you give up an awful lot. You give up a fair amount of creative control in terms of edits to be made, the cover chosen, etc. You might have to change your title. You might have to change your plot. You might even have to change the ending. All because they want the book to conform to what other books are selling at the moment. And, you give the rights for your book away for the period of time specified in your contract.
I’m not saying being an independent author is easy. It isn’t. It’s still a hell of a lot of work. You have to have a lot of faith, a ton of discipline, and a willingness to learn and change as the market changes. There are days where you think you’ll never manage to be a success. It can be tough.
But honestly, in a way that’s kind of awesome.
Because you also have control.
You have control of how much you write. You have control of the marketing decisions. You can decide when a book is done, and no one is going to force you to change something you don’t want to. You are in charge of making sure your books stay visible. And in exchange, you keep a ton more of any profits you make.
Sure, you also have to work harder to learn the ins and outs of the business, instead of relying on a publishing house to do that stuff for you. But that’s good. As an author, you should know a lot about the business you’re in. And frankly, even though it can be daunting, it’s also really interesting.
Plus: since there’s no middle-man (except for the e-retailer where you’re selling your books), the way to success depends more on the actual readers, and not on some editor/gatekeeper deciding whether you’re any good or not. If you’re good, readers will buy your books. And then you’ll be successful.
And isn’t that a better system, over all? I kinda think it is.
Like I said above, I never even tried to get a traditional contract. And if by some crazy chance I got contacted by a publishing company today about one of my books, I have to tell you that the deal they offered me would have to be amazeballs for me to even consider it. Frankly, I’m not even sure what they could offer me. Maybe a million dollars and a baby unicorn. (If there are any publishing houses reading this right now, those are my terms. Take them or leave them.)
In the meantime, I’ll keep creative control of my work. I’ll continue to enjoy learning about the business, and having so much direct contact with my readers, my ARC team, and my awesome community of independent authors.
And even though I’m not rich by any means, whenever someone asks me in a dubious tone, “So, do people actually buy your books?” I’ll laugh and say…
“Honey, you have no idea.”