Novellas, Self-Publishing, and Our Crazy Big Very Scary Bet (part 2)
Last week I got to talk about how Mark and I got started on our crazy new venture, switching up our childhood dream of writing fantasy novels for the great fantasy publishers of our youth, to deciding to self-publish fantasy novellas.
I covered novellas and why they’re the great new sexy thing you just got to have, but never knew you even wanted. This, week, I’m going to talk about the number one topic at raves, clubs, and dinner parties – traditional publishing. Alright!
A long time ago, there were bookstores on every corner, and bookstands at malls, airports, and on the street. Yes, I’m talking about those wistful days before Amazon and the eBook changed, well, pretty much everything about publishing. Kristen Lamb has a wonderful, fuller history of these times and changes in her book, Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World, but I’ll do my best to distill down parts of it here.
In those days, the only way for an author to get a book to his readers was to get onto those bookshelves. And the only way onto those very narrow and competitive shelves was through the publishing houses.
Needless to say, these publishing houses were inundated with the masses of aspiring authors who were desperate to get their passion and words out to their waiting fans. But with only a limited amount of shelf space, the publishing houses had to turn the majority of these authors away, creating the most ubiquitous, most feared, badge of honor and tears, the accursed rejection letter.
In that way, the publishing houses, and the literary agents that worked with the publishing houses, were considered the gatekeepers of what was Good Enough and Not Good Enough to be published. Or, they were, as I like to call them, the kingmakers.
And for a long time, I bought into the myth that the publishing houses were the true validators of what was good writing or bad writing. That if you were published by The Bigs, then you were a good writer, and, if not, well, then don’t quit your day job.
But is that really the truth? What was really going on beyond that almost sacred, mystic publishing veil? We knew they evaluated each manuscript that came in and asked is this good enough? But good enough for what?
It turns out, they were using the only metric that should matter for an organization whose job, whose very livelihood, is to sell books – they asked, for each and every manuscript that came in, is this book going to sell enough to make our money back? After all the costs of printing, shipping, stocking, returning, marketing the books, on top of all the administration and other fees, was the book going to make money. And not just for the publisher, but for everyone involved, including the author!
And in order to ensure it had the best chance to sell enough to make money, it wasn’t enough to be well-written or well-researched, it had to be topical, popular, or a dozen other factors that go into the salability of a product.
So it was never really that your work was just Not Good Enough Period. It was just not good enough to make money with the current publishing model.
Yes, I am oversimplifying a bit here because I know, like movie studios, the publishers would use the profits from the big names – Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, JK Rowling, to take obvious losses on the better writers of niche subjects. And God bless them for that.
I am in no way demonizing the publishing houses. They are doing what they are supposed to do.
But by and large, what became true is this. If you had written something that only a thousand or even a few hundred people would enjoy, your book would never see the light of day. Not because it was poorly written, but because it made no “dollars sense” to publish it. The publishing houses weren’t going to publish something they would take an obvious loss on.
And that’s how the publishing world has been for a long time now. Until, of course, and I’m sure you saw this one coming….
The eBook, and all its digital distributors (Amazon, iTunes, etc), have now made it, not only possible, but profitable to publish and distribute books to any number of readers – be it 100 or 100,000.
You can now write that specialized niche or genre novel that is designed for a smaller subset of readers, and make some money doing it!
Sure you have to do a lot of the work the publishing houses used to do – editing, cover, layout, and marketing, to name a few, but instead of getting only staunch rejections, your work can and will get out to the public. And it’s all in your hands.
And that’s the beautiful thing. It’s not just that you have to do the whole list of the above, you GET to do it. It’s completely in your hands. It’s now your cover, your layout, your editing, your marketing.
Now I am in no way advocating you should draw your own covers or do your own editing. Anyone who has suffered through my horrible world maps and sketches would be all but picketing the streets in protest. But you have the control to find and hire the right person to do the job, the way you want it to get done. And this is true for each and every part of your final work.
A novel, or novella, or book of any kind is no longer just about the author’s words inside. It is the entire package, the entire product. In that, we are no longer just authors. We are creators. And what we want to share is the entirety of our vision and our passion, from the cover, to the layout, and of course to the words and story and worlds within.
OUR CRAZY BIG VERY SCARY BET
The eBook and digital distribution has changed more than just the potential and responsibilities of the authors. Now that almost anyone can self-publish their works, the publishing houses of old are no longer the kingmakers of dreams and authors.
And that’s where our crazy big very scary bet comes in. Our decision to go with traditional publishing or self-publishing came down to this. Who did we trust more with our works, the traditional publishers, or you?
I think you know our answer.
Thanks for sticking around through this long 2-parter. I’ll be back next week. Til then.
Stay tuned. Stay frosty.