Back in the old days – the wild and woolly days of book publishing – the big guns were so intimidating. I’m talking about mainstream publishers, those who lunch at Delmonico’s in New York (I pulled that one out of the air because I love that place!), and drive cars that cost more than their acquisition editors’ salaries.
Those titans of publishing, actually spread all over the country, from Manhattan to Grand Rapids to San Francisco, were some of the most powerful men and women in the country. Gatekeepers not only to profits for the shareholders, they were also gatekeepers to many thousands of aspiring writers (and established writers), who had limited options.
If one were Truman Capote, or, for heaven’s sake, Louis L’Amour, one could expect to be wined and dined and handed a fat royalty contract.
That was old-school.
It wasn’t that a new writer couldn’t break in – that’s obvious – but for the legions who wanted to become published authors, the alternative to a mainstream publisher was the extremely expensive route of self-publishing.
I came into the industry on the dying edge of that reality. I well remember as a young editor listening to the horror stories of writers who had 5,000 books in their garages.
Those stories, legendary and now possessing almost a mythical quality, were all too real. In those days, people who self-published were akin to nerds with pocket protectors. Or worse.
Whenever mainstream publishing fat cats had to pass a leper colony of self-published authors, huddled in an alley a few blocks from Delmonico’s … well, it was all so unpleasant. The cries of “alms for the poor” (translation: “Can I pass you my manuscript?”) and horrid odor of rotting writer’s dreams were too much for book titans.
Self-published authors were considered in some circles to be freaks.
I’ve written about self-publishing before, but the topic will be a recurring one for us, as that industry, like smart phones, changes every 40 seconds or so, given the burgeoning technology we are blessed – or cursed – with.
In preparing for this week’s column, I spent the better part of two weeks researching the self-publishing world. I don’t want to make this piece an advertisement for anyone in particular, so I won’t slather several companies’ names on this biscuit, but if you have questions about self-publishing, email me.
First, there are plenty of reasons to continue to pursue publishing with established houses. It is, of course, a perfectly wonderful option.
You see, it all depends on your goals. Many writers want to write; the mainstream house that publishes them handle everything else, such as marketing and distribution.
Distribution is the golden key for anyone who writes or publishes. There is a distribution network for bookstore sales (Ingram, STL, etc.), and if one has aspirations of hanging around bookstores like a sore thumb and indiscreetly pointing patrons to one’s own books (“Oh, look, the latest must-read by Floyd Hinterworper!”), then mainstream publishing is functional. Established houses have long and deep relationships with distributors.
There is also the matter of warehousing and order fulfillment. Then there is publicity, a sticky wicket if there ever was one. A great publicist can make or break a book, but most publishers have limited resources for garnering real publicity for a large stable of authors. Notice I said large stable. They can get the needed publicity for a Sean Hannity, but lesser-known authors are often on their own.
There is also the possibility of a decent advance and potential for royalties over the next few years.
This last point is where we’ve arrived at the self-publishing train station. The money to be made is one of the chief reasons I advocate self-publishing for certain authors.
Confession: I’ve never self-published, but I’m not opposed to it. At all.
In the last few days, I spoke to four self-publishing companies and a couple authors who’ve gone that route. Fascinating!
One self-publishing company I talked with has a deluxe system of packages … for deluxe prices. One who wishes to go this route – and even in this economy, there are still plenty of people who want to be published for whom money is no barrier – can have success. You just have to pay very close attention to each service being offered and determine if A) it fits your needs and B) is it valuable?
Another company I spoke with offers more of a “Motel 6” approach. They get your book in print, it looks good and there is access to a distribution system. Best of all, you can go more a “print-on-demand” route, meaning, you can order just a few books at a time. That is really revolutionary.
Another company offers really good cover designs and some specialized help in getting into niche markets within the Christian community.
Another offers less in terms of cover quality and attention to those details, but more in the publicity realm.
Again, it all depends on what you’re after.
As to individuals who’ve self-published, they are most definitely not freaks, and their success would cause all those mainstream fat cats to sit up and take envious notice.
Only last night, a friend emailed me and said that within six months, he had made a quarter-million dollars from his self-published book. I believe him. This guy has a nose for publicity, he maintains a focus on what he does and he aggressively markets himself.
In short, I am bullish on the self-publishing market. The achievement is there for practically any budget. Web development, a sound marketing plan and tenacity is yielding very nice results for self-published authors.
It is said today of athletes like LeBron James that they are “freaks,” as in, “Wow, that guy is incredible.”
With the right topic and right publishing plan, you too can be a freak!