It’s important to consider the types of publishing platforms before releasing your novel. Rather than diving right into the different kinds, I’m going to tell you a story; the story of my writing career, or rather how it began.
I initially tried my hand at writing a novel many years ago. I was about 18, in college, and still playing Dungeons and Dragons on the weekends with a great group of guys. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to write a story based on some of our adventures.
I set about the task, and three pages in, I hit a wall. I wanted my story to be true to the game, and I didn’t have all the manuals, and I certainly didn’t own all the novels, and since I was 18, that meant that the year was 2001, which is before the internet really blew up; I mean, there were certainly millions of people on the internet even back then, but I don’t think Wikipedia (shouldn’t it be Wikipaedia?) existed at the time, and I have no clue if WoC or TSR or whoever ran DnD at the time had a website, but it didn’t matter; I didn’t even have a dial-up connection; there wasn’t a need for it (this was the golden age of e-mail subscriber lists, though).
I talked to my buddies about the idea, but the more we talked, the more it seemed it was a useless endeavor. I didn’t really care too much about it either; I just thought it was going to be cool to write a book, but the fact of the matter was that my passion didn’t outweigh the obstacles, so I just let it go.
Ten years later, I had such an idea for a story I decided I was just going to go ahead and write it, or try to. I sat down and simply described the series of events, which became my very first short story: Eudora.
At that time, I had no idea how to use punctuation. I knew grammar well enough, and I’ve always maintained an abundant repertoire of words, and have always been a decent raconteur, so in the end, all I tried to do was chronicle the events of the story, and it worked. I had no plans, though, but Hell, I knew that since I completed one story, I was certainly capable of completing another; publishing stories, however, was the farthest thing from my mind.
I wrote four stories over the course of two or three months just for fun, and then I showed some friends and family, but I claimed that I had found the stories online and just thought they were neat. No one really seemed to care, until I wrote one more story. I called it: Shadowman.
There was an older gentleman I knew by the name of Jarrett Slavin (sorry if I misspelled it, Coach), who upon learning of my newfound passion, he asked to read the stories, and he really enjoyed Eudora and Shadowman, and he suggested I find a way to get published. Had it not been for him, all of my other titles would not even exist…what might have been….
Nevertheless, I was then left the daunting task of achieving publication, so I got on the internets, Googled “publishing”, found the addresses of a few publishers, and sent out my stories, of course they were all short stories, and no publisher wants those, but I found other methods of publication. I found Xlibris, a print on demand (POD) company, and of course, no sooner had I e-mailed them that I received a call, and man, oh, man was I pumped. I really thought I had just made it big league. (Big league, not bigly.)
All POD companies want is your money. They’ll take anything, and you’re responsible for your content, for your quality, but they’ll certainly charge you for reviews, trailers, covers, promotional packages, you name it; they’ll charge you, and honestly, if you have the world’s greatest book, they may actually be helpful because they can certainly help you get your book in the right hands, but my book, my four, short stories called Shadowman, were far from good, far from quality writing.
Regardless, as I spent more and more money, and then ran out of money, I kept writing, and when I finished my first, full length novel, Lokians, I started my search for publication all over again, but I knew POD was not for me. I needed someone else to do all the legwork for me, but I didn’t think it was fair that I had to pay for the legwork. I just wanted to write, so I set about the task of mailing and e-mailing traditional publishers, and even smaller presses like Edge, and no one was interested, so I did more research on what was required to achieve publication, and learned about literary agents, but when I contacted them, they never replied.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your outlook on life, I found a press, which labeled itself an independent press, Eternal Press. For all intents and purposes, everything looked good. Their books were available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, so I figured that it was a good start. By then, I knew that mainstream publishers were purposefully keeping writers out until those writers made a name for themselves, so I knew I just needed to work hard and make a name for myself through a small, independent press.
Well, initially, I submitted my manuscript, and the acquisitions editor was kind enough to tell me that while my story seemed interesting, there was a great deal of information dumped onto the reader right at the very beginning, so I went through a round of what I thought was editing, and figured out that rather than telling the reader everything I thought they should know before the story started, it might be better to allow the world to unfold throughout the story. Then, I resubmitted, and they accepted it, and man, oh, man did I think I had hit it big. An actual publisher with editors, and marketers, and everything was going to polish my book and sell it, and all I had to do was sit back and write.
Well, when the contracts came, everything seemed legit. All they had asked was that I also made an effort to market and sell the book, and I thought that was only fair; it was my book after all, and I certainly wanted to talk about it, so I made social media accounts and started telling no one (because I had not built a fan base) that my book was coming out.
Next, I had to write a blurb, and I didn’t know what that was, nor had I comprehended its importance, so I just wrote about what the story was. No one made an effort to correct me, so I thought I had nailed it. Then, I had to come up with a cover, and I am not really an artist; I’m not even a visual person, so I came up with some weird concept with a bunch of aliens and space ships, and they told me to try again because it was too flashy, too busy. Later, I realized the truth was that they didn’t actually employ artists, and I’ll get back to that later.
We settled on a cover, which I didn’t really like, but I was just so excited and so ready to start selling, I accepted. Then, we moved on to editing. The “editor” made very few comments, adjustments, and suggestions, and so again, I thought I had nailed it. I mean, if an editor doesn’t have much to say or change then the story must be near perfect, right? Well…not so much.
Finally, the release date came, and the book was finalized. I was invited to join some Yahoo groups and even participate in a live chat where I was to discuss my book with potential readers. It turned out that there were no readers, only other authors writing for the same press. That was a little disappointing, but I didn’t think anything of it because I knew the publisher was certainly going to sell my book. Selling books is their job, and if they don’t sell, they can’t stay in business, right?
Wrong again; they made their money by enticing their writers to purchase copies of their own books, just like a POD company, and then it became my job to go out and find places to set up and sell to people, but no one let me do such a thing. Barnes and Noble didn’t allow it. Books-a-Million didn’t allow it. There are no local bookstores where I live, so my best bet was a friend’s comic book store, which felt really awkward because his customers where there to buy comic books, and out of the hundred copies of my terribly written book, I sold three on my first attempt, and none on my second attempt.
In the meantime, my e-books were priced at nearly seven dollars. Who is going to spend seven dollars on an unheard of book by an unknown author when they can spend nine or ten dollars on Harry Potter? The answer? No one. In the three years that I was published through Eternal Press, and with the four books that I released through them, I may have earned as much as forty dollars. That meant that Eternal Press also earned about forty dollars off my sales, and about five hundred dollars off my purchasing my own, print copies. That meant that if every writer, and there were hundreds of us, each bought five hundred dollars worth of books each year, Eternal Press made some decent money, but the writers only ever spent money.
Consider that if I had sold all of my print copies at twenty dollars that’s only $2,000, and that sounds great, but then you have to subtract the $500 spent on purchasing the copies, and I think it was more than that, but we’ll keep the numbers round. That leaves a $1,500 profit, which is still nice, but then you have to factor in time, travel, gas, food, the posters I had made up, the business cards, and in the end, had I sold all of my copies, all one hundred in one day, I may have cleared $800. That’s still not terrible, but without the fan base to be able to move all hundred copies over the course of a day, a week, or even a month, that $800 not only dwindles from continuously traveling and setting up, but it starts looking worse and worse. Had I sold all hundred copies over the course of a year, which I didn’t, that’s still $800, and probably less, over the course of a year, hardly a success story, and as I stated, I didn’t sell more than three copies.
I kicked, I cried, I screamed, I complained, I begged; I wanted my prices lowered, so that the e-books would sell. I wanted to submit updated versions of my books, too, versions that didn’t have common errors and formatting errors; yeah, formatting errors. How retarded was Eternal Press? They weren’t even capable enough to format their books properly, and in the end, there was nothing to be done. The product was what the product was, and I had the option of peddling my crap and disappointing readers, or sitting idly by until the contracts expired; I mean, Eternal Press wasn’t selling anything.
During that time, I wrote a great deal more for two reasons. For one, I just really enjoyed it, and two, I felt a need to vindicate myself, or perhaps apologize to readers for having released dreck. Then, of course, I had to figure out what kind of publication I was going to try next; I certainly wasn’t going to go through Eternal Press again.
I spoke to a few, other, smaller presses, but I didn’t like what they had to say; they wanted money up front, they didn’t want to make the books available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, or anywhere apart from their site, or they wanted to keep too much off the top, so I went back through my old, short stories, cleaned ‘em up, and published free to Smashwords, entered those stories into their premium catalog, and bang! Those stories made it onto Barnes and Noble…and iBooks…and Kobo…and Nook, and you name it.
I also wrote fanfiction and published it to FanFiction.net, and with my newly released short stories, which were free, I started to build a fan base, but my titles with Eternal Press just rotted away, and I could not, in good faith, promote those titles because they were not the best of me. Finally, I hired a few editors for my new, full-length titles.
One editor, after paying for services, told me to re-write my book, and then resubmit, for another fee, of course. I did not hire them again. The second editor just re-wrote my whole book from start to finish in their own voice with their own views. I mean, it was a totally different book with different characters and different interactions at that point. I did not keep any of those changes. Then, I hired a real editor, Chuck Sambuchino, and he taught me how to edit my story for readers.
That book was released under the title The Dragon of Time, Gods and Dragons, and it has gone on to do quite well. Through CreateSpace, I made print copies available, and they are much cheaper to sell, and purchase for my own uses, than the print copies released by Eternal Press or Xlibris. I also e-published, for free, to Amazon, which I then pulled for reasons that are not yet pertinent, and since I had hired my own cover artist for five dollars through Fiverr.com, I had a banging cover, a cover that blew the covers made by Eternal Press to dust.
I also uploaded the book to Smashwords, which meant it made it to all, online retailers, and get this, I got to keep almost all of the money earned from sales, and other people can also sell my book via an affiliate link, so we all make money. I must admit, though, that I did try to use Gods and Dragons to land an agent and achieve major publication, and while numerous agents replied, and with admiration, no one felt it was “marketable”, but that isn’t accurate; the truth is that they didn’t think I had enough fans, which meant the mainstream publishers wouldn’t touch it because, remember, they want your fans, not the other way around.
This is precisely why I want you to build a fan base before writing your debut novel. Then, you can prove to the agent that you’re the real deal!
At any rate, Eternal Press wound up being purchased by another company and became Caliburn Press. No one told me for the longest time, but then an old friend from Eternal Press happened to ask me how I liked the new owners, so I went and found out that my books weren’t even available on Caliburn’s website, but they were still available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, so I got in touch with Caliburn over the discrepancy to learn that my contracts had been “lost in transition”. After some arguing, I simply stated that if that was the case, and there were no copies of my contracts, then the rights were mine, and I demanded all my titles pulled.
At this stage, while writing this very post, I have gone back and recreated all four of those books. Three are part of the Lokians series, and the fourth book was Shadowman, which has been totally overhauled, and is now titled: Otherside. I mention this to show that it has been nothing short of a long and arduous journey, and I am discussing it because I am trying to show you all the possible pitfalls of publishing. The short of this: go big or go home.
What I mean is; either do not stop trying to achieve major publication, or just go the self published route. You might get lucky with an actual, independent press like Edge Publishing, Rocking Horse Publishing, or Baen, but you had better be careful. Do your research. Look at their books on their site, on Amazon, on Barnes and Noble, on iBooks. Look at their prices, if there’s an option, look inside and read some of the titles. Don’t be shy; go and track down the authors, too, and ask them how they like being published through that press.
Now, the nitty-gritty:
If you have a fan base, if you have a bangin’ title, cover, and blurb, and if your book is expertly polished, self publishing is a fantastic way to go. Not only do you have complete control—Hell, even King self publishes some titles—but you get to keep almost all of your money, except the money Amazon will steal from you. I’m not even kidding, they will steal from you ten and twelve cents at a time, and they will often not pay you for Kindle pages read through KOLL, or KULL, or KENP, or whatever the Hell it is now. That’s why I pulled my e-titles from Amazon, but Smashwords has been a paragon of self publishing.
If your book isn’t up to snuff, though, self publishing can kill your career before it begins. Basically, the thing to note is that your book must be near perfect to land a literary agent or be taken seriously by a real, indie press, and if your book is that good and well written, you can use it to just make a name for yourself by self publishing, but self publishing requires so much friggin’ work because all of the responsibility falls on you, but then if you’ve built your fan base by following the advice from these posts, and your book is stellar, and you do self publish, and you do sell, you will be approached by agents or even publishers. Of course, if you’re already successful, for what do you need them?
That’s up to you. You may need them to help you get movie options, or you may just want them to sell for you. It’s your call, but you need to consider everything before writing your novel.
Stay away from POD companies like Friesen Press or Xlibris; everything they do, you can do, or you can hire someone to do it for you, and for a much lower price than they charge. Yes, you will have to spend some money and do some serious legwork, but even if you decide to self publish you can hire someone to turn your book into a movie, you can hire artists to turn your book into a graphic novel, you might even find some indie, game developers and sweet talk them into turning your book into a game; the possibilities are there.
Avoid hybrid presses. Some of them are obvious; they charge you upfront, or they’re really just a crowdfunding platform that charges you to use their services in the hopes that enough people will pay to publish your book; utter nonsense. While I’m against crowdfunding to publish a book, you can do it on your own without using a hybrid press. There’s also a ton of information out there on how to crowdfund successfully.
It’s just my personal opinion that charging people to publish your book is wrong since you can publish for free. You’ll only need money for a cover ($6 now on Fiverr, so it should be Sixerr) and to hire an editor, but if you shop for editors, you can probably get away with spending less than $1,000, so…crowdfund if you want to; no one is putting a gun to peoples’ head and forcing them to donate, so if you’re comfortable crowdfunding, asking people to give you money so you can produce content for which you charge…go for it.
Then, there are other, hybrid presses, like Eternal Press, Caliburn, or whatever they call themselves now. They are a bit more surreptitious in their behavior. They act like a small, independent press, but their staff is crap; their artists can’t make decent covers short of Photoshopping, they know nothing of blurbs, marketing, or selling books, they won’t help you get reviews, they want you to buy your books, so they can profit, and they won’t even edit your book properly.
I even had an argument with the previous owner about how to sell books, and she told me she had a business management degree and didn’t need my opinion. Well, I’m not stupid or uneducated. I know what a business management degree is, and it has nothing to do with economics, marketing, branding, or selling, and is obviously why she ended up selling the failing business.
So, if you stay away from hybrid presses and PODs, that only leaves major publication, really. It’s just as hard to get picked up by the real, independent presses as the major houses, so you’re better off trying to land an agent, which means learning how to query, how to write a synopsis, and knowing that you need to already be successful in order to be taken seriously by an agent…so, again, you might as well go self published for your debut novel, but don’t feel pressured to, either.
It’s up to you; go big or go home. Mainstream presses will certainly do their utmost to sell your book. There is no doubt about that, but that doesn’t mean that your book will sell. It doesn’t mean that your book will be expertly polished, either; I have written extensively about how terrible mainstream editors are nowadays, but hey, even crap sells, am I right? Not to mention that you can still hire a freelance editor —and will probably have to in order to be taken seriously by an agent.
The thing to consider when going mainstream is their modus operandi. Yes, if you get picked up, they may give you a small advance; debut advances are generally $2,000, but you will not earn a dime in royalties until said press earns back their $2,000, and you generally have only six months to achieve this, and if you don’t, they’ll release your contract, and not only are you back at step one, but you’ll need a new cover, a new editor (the press will still own the cover and their rewritten version of your book), and you’ll never get another shot at mainstream publication.
On the other hand, you may sell quite well, and then they will tell you to go ahead and buy 5,000 copies of your own book in order to fake your way onto the New York Time’s Best Seller list. Yup, not even kidding, so forget that $2,000 you earned; you’re about spend ten-plus grand, and then, they’ll want you to go out gallivanting from store to store across the country, and sell your books on your dime, and you may sell…you may not sell, so it really boils down to what kind of life you want.
Perhaps, you have always dreamed of traveling the country, visiting book stores, selling and signing copies, performing readings in front of adoring fans. There’s nothing wrong with that. If that’s your dream, follow it, do absolutely everything required to achieve mainstream publication. Avoid absolutely everything that doesn’t lead you to mainstream publication. Do understand that it may take years, and years, and years after completing your novel for you to find an agent and actually get published, so again, there’s no reason not to self publish your first title, prove you can sell, and then reach for mainstream publication with your second title.
Here’s why. Assume you finish your novel today, and it’s perfect, and edited, and whatever else. You contact an agent, and since you are not supposed to contact multiple agents at once, you wait, and you wait, and you wait, but you never get a reply, so after three months, you figure you can query another agent…but they don’t reply, so you wait another three month, query another agent, and a month later, they are kind enough to tell they are not interested. It’s a hassle, so you figure you’ll send your manuscript to Baen Books, but you are not supposed to query more than one publisher at a time, so you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and a whole year goes by, and they don’t reply, so you figure it’s safe to query Rocking Horse, and after eight months, they are kind enough to let you know that they are not interested…. It’s a lot of wasted time, right? You can certainly keep writing in the meantime, and should keep writing, but if you released your debut novel on your own, during your two or three year wait period, you could be making some sales, enjoying your life as a writer, and making a name for yourself. Of course this means self publishing the first book, and writing the second book with the goal of achieving mainstream publication.
Now, do you remember the first few posts where it was stated that success means something different to different people? Do you remember where it was stated that being a successful writer is a lifestyle? Some people don’t want to parade across the country, selling books; some people just want to sit at home and write, and self publishing is great for that, but really, there is no reason to avoid trying one or the other.
If you can achieve major publication, that’s a surefire way to build a fan base, and then you can release whatever you want on your own, and keep all the money, but beware, there are some instances in some contracts where this is not allowed, so it may better to start off self publishing, and then trying the mainstream route.
Whatever you do; learn to write, build a fan base, hire an editor, and then do your research. For more information visit my Quora blogs, or check out my Editing Services Tab. You can also flip through numerous posts right here, which will help you outline a strategy for achieving long term success through the consistent release of quality content. Thanks, I’ve been great.