Two questions are asked when I say I’ve published a novel. #1 “What is the book about?” and #2 “How did you get published?” To which I respond: “I published it myself.”
“Oh,” is a typical response, the tone varies.
I’ve already written about the self-publishing stigma and ways to overcome it. But the fact remains that the stigma is there. People tend to turn up their noses to self-published books (especially people who work in big corporate bookstores, at least that’s been my experience thus far), because they assume a self-published book was denied traditional publication, and the author self-published as a last ditch effort to get their book out there. Read: they think the book is worthless.
I cannot speak for all self-published novels, but being turned down was not the reason I decided to publish my book myself. In fact I never tried to get an agent and jump through all those fiery hoops. I had a local publisher who wanted to publish it. So, why did I do it all on my own?
Because I could.
Going through the maze of publishing has been the only option for authors for hundreds of years. Technology has changed that, and self-publishing has become easy (if you know what you’re doing). Like I discuss in this post, publishing the traditional way is romantic. It’s the classic struggle of the lone author fighting to get her book onto a shelf. For all these years, the traditional publishing process has been the same: Author submits manuscript to literary agents. She’s rejected many times before acceptance. Agent peddles book to publishers, hoping one will pick it up. Publishers reject, until finally one accepts it. Publisher buys rights from the author. Publisher edits, typesets, and prints books. Publisher sells books to bookstores. Publisher, agent take out chunk of the royalty. Author receives a small royalty on the sales of her book.
After conducting research into traditional publishing, reading success stories and unsuccessful stories, some of the romance I’d initially associated with traditional publishing was lost. I turned my nose up to it. I had worked on my novel for a long time. No one helped me write it, no one helped me organize it, no one helped me solve plot issues, develop characters. Despite that, a publisher would take an enormous cut from the sales of my book.
A publisher takes a financial risk in printing the novel and selling it to bookstores. They design the cover, edit the manuscript, typeset the book. They absolutely provide a valuable service and are gambling that they’ll make money on an author’s work. That’s why they take such a large chunk out of the royalty. But they also buy the rights.
A publisher is in the business to make money. Do not delude yourself into thinking a publisher wants to share literature with the world. A publisher (and any business) wants to make as much money as possible. There’s not a darn thing wrong with that! As an author, I want to make as much money as possible, too. If I wanted the world to read my story for free, I could post it online. But I’d like to make money off of my idea.
Since my book is my intellectual property, I’d also like to keep my rights to the work. All of my rights. 100 percent of my rights. Film rights, foreign rights, merchandise, the whole enchilada with green sauce. A publisher, because they want to make as much cash as possible, want those rights, or at least a chunk of them, too. A conflict of interest. I want to make the most, a publisher wants to make the most. Hmmm…
After a lot of thinking, I decided that being able to answer question #2 with “Random House/Putnam/Penguin published my book,” which would be well received, wasn’t worth the “Oooooooh!” response. Because even though the “Oooooooh!” response might be fun, losing my rights to my book and getting a fraction of the profits would not be fun. I’m a Do It Yourself kind of gal in general, and since I knew I could typeset it and design a cover for the book, I didn’t see why I should struggle for a few years, just trying to get the book to a publisher, when I could simply do it on my own and spend those few years spreading the word.
Marketing a novel is always left to the author, no matter who publishes it. I’ll go further and say it’s not even the author, it’s the book itself. A good book will do well, a poor one will sink, no matter how much it’s hyped. The trick is getting the good book to enough people to start a spark and allow it to catch fire.
Friends and family read the book first, then if they like it, they tell their friends and family, until one day a complete stranger reads the book. I’m already there, just months after publication. Total strangers have contacted me through this very website to tell me they enjoyed my book and have asked when another is coming. Yes indeed, this is me patting my own back and thanking my friends for passing the word along! It’s working, slowly, but surely, it’s working.
Have you published your own book? Why did you do it, and what have you learned?