In the past months, I’ve been seriously considering taking a bold and different approach to how I get published. Not necessarily bold and different for a lot of people, as you’ll see if you keep reading this, but bold and different for me. I have a friend named Stephanie Thornton - a hugely talented writer of romantic and erotic fantasy and science fiction, a woman who has been courted by agents and editors for years and yet has not been published to the extent she deserves. I remember sitting down with her early last year and saying,"You know, I have the infrastructure in place to publish you. You might not have the backing of a large and well known publishing house, but you’d be out there. You could make it work." And Stephanie agreed: we’d see how things developed with her work, with my work, and with the publishing industry as a whole, and then we’d either make a go of it or not.
That was last year, and we haven’t taken the plunge yet. THEN, last week I saw this article by literary agent Richard Curtis, and I was immediately discouraged. It was as if Curtis had been reading my mind for the last year, and taken an active interest in dissuading me from taking a chance at both publishing myself AND publishing some of my associates who deserve to be published and haven’t been. In particular, what he said about Cory Doctorow and Seth Godin hit home. How WOULD I juggle the intricacies of publishing, editing, uploading content, marketing, and sales - for myself as well as for others - and still have time to write every day?
If you look down at the comments, though, author J. A. Konrath - one of the people Curtis cited in his article - wrote a response. And if you click the link in Konrath’s response, it’ll take you to THIS article .
Wow. It’s almost the opposite of Curtis’s conclusions regarding authors as publishers, and the numbers Konrath cites for all those self-published writers is staggering. Sure, I haven’t heard of two thirds of them, and neither have you. But they’re reaching 5 figures in sales volume a month - that means that SOMEBODY’S heard of them.
So, after reading Konrath’s response and stewing over Curtis’s original post, I’ve come to some conclusions, and that’s what I want to share with you today.
1) Did you know that Kindle sales exceeded expectations last year, and that over 10 million of the devices are now out there in the hands of consumers, just WAITING to download books that you and I and Konrath and Stephanie have written? Now, sales of hardcover books also rose last year, according to this article , and ebooks still only constitute a portion of the overall market. But Kindle sales and downloads outpaced traditional books nonetheless, and the gap is widening.
2) The difference for me, however, isn’t in sales. It’s in accessibility to my potential audience. In his article, Curtis stated that "Talent and hard work will out, but they must be leavened over time." This is the same line I’ve heard for years - if you’re good, and you’re tenacious, then eventually you will get an agent and the publishing credit that you deserve. This is simply not true. RIGHT NOW, without even thinking about it, I could name over 20 people that I’ve encountered over the last 15 years who are mega-talented, mega-dedicated to their craft, and as hard-working as they come, who have not for whatever reason found success in the publishing world.
Let’s face it, agents and editors are people, not gods. They have individual tastes that influence what they pick, and they need to make money off of their choices. And they make mistakes. The trouble is, they don’t suffer from their mistakes as much as the people they pass over do, because they’re on the inside looking out, while the people they turn down are on the outside, looking in.
With the advent of ebooks, writers have a growing opportunity to bypass the watchdogs of the publishing industry and take their product - because that’s what writing is, a product - directly to their audience. Oh, and I know there’s a bunch of terrible, terrible writers out there, and that their work will be available for Kindle and Nook and iPad downloads, too. But as I stated here in a previous post , the cream WILL rise. I just don’t think it’s accurate to say that the cream will rise with the traditional publishing model - because from what I’ve seen, there’s some cream that hasn’t even been given a chance.
3) Something that troubled me on my second and third read of Curtis’s article is the tone of condescension I detect. Sure, I’m probably overly sensitive to it given my position, but let’s take a few of Curtis’s statements and look at them, shall we? About Konrath, he says "He packages his own works but unlike Godin he’s smart enough to be disinclined to publish the work of others." If I were Seth Godin, I’d be a little put off by this. Wouldn’t you? And as you may recall, I was considering not just publishing my own work via ebooks - I was considering publishing Stephanie’s, too. Am I "not smart?" If you know me, either personally or via this site and my social media outlets, you know this isn’t true. And yet. And yet.
He says "If your name is not familiar to the reading public, however, emulating [Konrath] will flop. You will become a publisher, yes: a vanity publisher." Vanity publishing is one of those phrases traditional publishers like to flout around, and 10 years ago, it meant something. Now though, with egress to solid self-publishing tools that are beginning to prove superior to traditional models, it means nothing. Those authors Konrath listed self-published. Out of vanity? Perhaps. But with 10,000 or more in sales EACH in just December alone, it hardly seems that vain to me.
4) I was at a writing workshop last summer, and in a Q&A, one agent more or less toed the same line that Curtis does. She adamantly opposed self-publishing, again stating that whole thing about how if you’re good enough, you’ll eventually find representation. She also railed against investing in social media - Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, blogging - although in the next breath she admitted that she was relatively unfamiliar with how all those things worked. So… why do agents and publishers so ardently oppose self-publishing and self-marketing? Curtis implies that we shouldn’t engage in it because we won’t be good at it. That might be absolutely valid in a number of instances; we writers are by and large artists, not business people. Some of us are even horrible editors.
But I think there’s something else at work. I don’t know for certain what it is - I can only guess. Is it fear of perceived competition? Is it clinging to an increasingly antiquated model because of an unwillingness to learn new paradigms? Is it a final ploy to hold onto something that might be slipping out of their hands? Is it uncertainty about the future of the publishing industry? Is it uncertainty about ALL OF THIS?
5) Finally, given what I know about ME, I’ve decided to go ahead with my plan. Let me lay portions of it out for you in brief: I have several books already written that just need a good editor. Therefore I don’t lack product to "sell." I know a few good editors who’ll work with me. I know several graphic artists who will as well. I also have friends who are good with computer databases and the like, who can help me with uploads, downloads, and programming. I myself have an extensive background in marketing and PR, and I’m good with social media. I know a few things about sales - online, in stores, and at conventions. I have loose capital that will pay for stuff. I have excellent credit. I’m already incorporated and I have a good accountant.
So why not give it shot? If I wait too long, out of fear of failure, out of concern that the things Curtis suggested might come true, then I believe it highly likely that the ebook boat will pass me by. The old model of doing things certainly hasn’t worked for me, so why not try out the new model? Even if I DON’T sell 5 digits worth of books - even if I sell only 1000, then that’s a 1000 more than I would have sold doing it the way Richard Curtis wants me to.