Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Truth About Indie Publishing

Most people who write feel this knowledge in their fingernails and the roots of their hair; it moves in their blood like too much caffeine on a hung-over morning.
But no one says it because it's too depressing.
So I will: if you take that book you've been laboring over for (fill in the blank) year(s), which (list ten) friends and family members totally loved and thought was awesome, and spend $300 dollars or so for a clean elegant e-book conversion at someplace like (as I did), and post on the Kindle and Nook stores (ditto), and unleash the full force of your 'social media' (in my case, a handful of OSers, 285 Facebook friends, my e-mail list and my three twitter followers), here's what will happen:
Get ready for it  ...
Well, not exactly nothing, I guess. Somewhere between two and two hundred people might buy the book at $3.99, giving you a maximum income of under five hundred dollars. So what will you have done? You will have added a tiny, straw colored (That's cruel, but it's the only color they come in) needle to one of the biggest haystacks in the world. Or is it a grain silo roughly the size of that building in Dubai that Tom Cruise was playing around on this Christmas?
Who will find your hay-tinted needle in those millions of metric tons of hay?  Your friends and family, basically. So how is it different from the old "Vanity Press" days, where beady-eyed delusionoids spent $30,000 to fill their basements with dozens of boxes of books that no one would ever read? Well ... no $30,000, no boxes, no books.  So that's an improvement.
But otherwise, it's pretty much the same. No offence. Hey, I'm the delusionoid who just did it! See for yourself:
So who can succeed in this new e-book world?
From my study of the current situation, I'd say, the succeessful authors fall into three categories:
1 - The already published author with a huge backlist of out of print titles which his (or her) publisher thinks are worthless (Like J.A. Konrath). Guess again, stupid publishers!
A subset of this group would be just plain successful authors who choose to go e-book, like Konrath's pal and top-ranking thriller-meister Barry Eisler. Or at the top of the heap, JK Rowling, who will be selling all her e-books through her own website.
2 - Authors of the kind of books that teen-age impulse-buying girls can't seem to get enough of. Essential ingredients: hormones, angst and vampires. Also: werewolves witches, fairies, zombies or dragons. Mix and match:  A teen age werewolf zombie dragon, hopelessly in love with a vampire fairie? Start counting your  money! (Amanda Hocking leads this category, for the moment).
3 - Celebrities. I'm sure Kim Kardashian sold a lot of e-books last year.  Yes, she wrote a novel, in case you weren't depressed enough.
So the best move -- if you don't write young adult urban fantasy --  is to get successful either at writing or something else, first. And this is where traditional publishers enter the picture. Well, actually they never left, though some of them are feeling slightly left-behind.  Alas, the best way to become a professional writer is still to  just ... get published. And that remains as hard as it ever was.
It means finding an agent (As I did);  or submitting to smaller houses that don't require  an agent (Did that too). It means your work will be evaluated by exigent strangers, mostly rejected; and if someone wants to go into business with you, rewrites (Some of which you will find distasteful) will have to be done. For one thing, they'll make you get rid of the passive voice, which I just used in that last sentence.
So let me correct it: YOU will have to do rewrites you find distasteful. Lots of them. And you probably won't like the cover they choose, either.
Self publishing is so much more fun! And Monopoly is so much more fun than real capitalism. But it's just a game, and you can't spend the money and nobody really wins.   
The problem for publishers is people like Barry Eisler, who turned down a $500,000 contract to go it alone, though he later hooked up with Amazon. Another problem for publishers is Amazon itself, which is stealing authors right left and center by offering them much better deals, hoping for a monopoly position, at which point I'm sure their deal will become just as horrible as the one old-school publishers are offering today. The primary reason for these new contracts -- in which you sign over your life and future work, much as musicians did in the ninteen-forties and fifties -- is that publishers want to make sure they earn the most from the writers that remain, and hold onto them for as long as possible.
Because the fact is that although a published book is the primary way to establish the readership you need to 'go indie' and publish e-books on your own, the publishers know that once you're established you'll be gone. they're just a stepping stone, now ... a convenience like the soon-t0-be extinct bookstores which threten to become little more than showrooms for your e-reader. People are even using in-store wireless to buy the books they like for their Kindles and their Nooks, right in front of appalled clerks and other customers.
 I don't have much sympathy for publishers, though I will mourn the bookstores if they ever fade away completelely. Still, for the moment, the stubborn fact remains: writers need Hachette and Simon and Shuster and the rest just as much as those companies need their authors .
I need a publisher. I've finally come to admit it.
I'm one 'read' away from a small house taking one of my books. The Editor-in-Chief is reading it this weekend. If she likes it, I'll be delighted. If they publish it, I'll be thrilled. If they want me to edit it, I'll oblige. If they want the e-book rights, they can have them.
If they're reading this, I mean it.
I'm sick of being part of the hopelessly obscure DIY riff-raff, finished with pretending that an e-book at the Kindle store makes me a published author. I'm tired of Monoploy money. I'm ready for the real world. I want an actual career with an actual publisher.
I just hope they want me.

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