Thursday, January 19, 2012

So You Say You Want to Publish Your Own Book… by Jenny Gardiner

It's been nearing two years now since I decided to self-publish a novel. Back then it was in the early days of indie publishing, and I made the decision based on instinct, purely because I'd gotten a Kindle for my birthday that previous December and was so hooked on the convenience of it, the ability to acquire new books within a minute's time, the elimination of tons and tons of paper waste that was endemic with the publishing industry, etc. I just knew if I loved this cool, new (and then overpriced) gadget, then others would too. And I knew once the price came down on it lots of people would be on board. I'd decided the time was upon us when I heard that Apple would be launching this new product called an iPad soon. That was the magic bullet to bring the price down on e-readers so that people would buy them.

It was slow-going in the early days. That first year I hardly sold any books. Hardly anyone owned e-readers. Plus it was hard to determine the proper pricing--it made sense for an e-book to be cheaper than a book that is printed, but how much cheaper? Hard to know. And it seemed that those who owned Kindles were looking for free content. Maybe to save money after shelling out $350 for a Kindle? hehehe

Have I learned a lot in the past two years? Oh, if only you knew…

There was a time when I wanted to stay parked firmly in the camp of publishing with New York houses. That's the way it was supposed to be. But something happened along the way: times changed. New York houses changed (well, actually more like they failed to adapt, which led to their becoming much more irrelevant). It went from a reasonable proposition to an unrealistic one. More and more houses were putting all the demands on authors with little-to-no risk on their part. If a book didn't sell gangbusters, it was automatically because the author somehow failed. Which we all knew was baloney. But it was easiest to blame the most vulnerable in the trail: the writers. Advances became so small as to be almost insulting: once upon a time an advance would enable an author to write from book to book without quite starving to death. But advances were becoming so small that it was the equivalent of working a minimum wage job for about a week: clearly not enough to sustain someone. Authors were busily working their tails off, building a healthy mountain of debt and not ever seeing much money for their efforts (while readers falsely believed writers were living it up like the Kardashians!).

But then Amazon decided to offer authors what no one else had truly done: respect. In the form of a legitimate level of royalty payment. Enough to help pay for groceries! Imagine! Granted, it was part of their multi-pronged attack against the industry-slash-attempt-to-curry-favor-with-a-susceptible-population. But hey, I admit, I was completely vulnerable! Throw the possibility of actual wage-earning my way and I'll foam at the mouth! I have no pride!

But what I hadn't expected that I love about publishing myself is that I have control over my career again. No longer am I at the mercy of vagaries over which I have no control. No editors who leave in the middle of a book, leaving you essentially unrepresented for your book's publication and floundering in no-man's land. No houses who lose interest in the novel and neglect to promote it. No IOUs on royalties stuck in this mysterious accounting category known as "reserves", which means you'll never see a penny of it. Basically no one to blame but me if it doesn't do well. But now I have an artist's palette of options to try to fix that if it doesn't sell: change the cover. Change the descriptive jacket copy. Try various promotions both within Amazon and without. If the book doesn't sell, it's not dead in the water as it once was with a New York house. It just calls for some refining. Tweaking. This was a new concept: rather than sit passively by while my home was engulfed in weeds, with indie publishing I was able to take proactive measures to spruce up the curb appeal and ensure that people were interested. This is a great gift that Amazon has given authors. And one that benefits readers. For far too long authors were shut down with terrific books simply because they didn't fit within the narrowly prescripted terms of their genres and those of bricks-and-mortar stores: i.e. if it couldn't be easily categorized on a shelf, it wasn't going to find a home. But now if you write a book that transcends genre descriptions, one that might be part suspense, part women's fiction, and part sports narrative, well guess what? Somewhere on Amazon, you'll find your readership. Chick lit, once considered the graveyard for all eternity for writers, has returned with indie publishing: we knew the readers existed. It's just that publishing houses refused to take a chance to publish that type of novel after they'd killed the genre. It's a whole new world in publishing, and I'm so happy to be in the frontier of it, taking charge, owning my career again.

Over the past two years I've become a scholar of sorts, learning the ins and outs of independent publishing, trying to discern what works and what doesn't. There's a lot of trial and error, and there isn't always a simple answer. Plus it's true, rather than devote all of my time to writing, I'm having to divide it in order to focus also on trying to succeed in this New Publishing World Order. But hell, even if publishing through "legacy" New York publishers I was spending much of my time with marketing and publicity, sucking away time I'd otherwise spent creating worlds as a writer. At least now I'm doing it while earning an actual living, which is a good thing, if nothing else because it enables me to continue to be a writer. And that's a good thing.

So if you're interested in checking out my indie-published books, here they are!

and others I have with other publishing houses:

and coming very soon:

and please come visit me on twitter and Facebook here and here


Liz Fielding said...

Congratulations on seeing the wagon as it was coming towards you, Jenny! And for sharing your experiences.

Your covers are lovely, btw - such a failing with many self-pub'd books on the market.

ev said...

And you don't have to change a story line because some publisher or editor doesn't think it will sell. Heroine with kids? Go for it! Someone with a disability? Why not!

I wonder how long until there are a bunch of out of work editors and publishers, coming to the indie author's looking for a handout?

Jenny Gardiner said...

Thanks Liz! I've had several of my covers done by Kim Killion--she does a fabulous job! And yes, Ev, so true, you can keep your story true to your intent! it's lovely!