Thursday, February 11, 2016

Why I Decided to Self-Publish

Last year, I was at a crossroads. I knew The Vengeful Half needed to be my next book, one way or another. I've been revising this book for years (that's a story for another day) and I had gotten it to a place where I really loved it, and more than anything, I just wanted to stop keeping it a secret project.

But the tough question was whether to pursue traditional publication or self-publish, and that was HARD. I have been hearing for a while that hybrid authors make the most money in general...but on the writer forums I follow, there is definitely still a whiff of "last resort" to self-publishing. It's a choice you might make with sad resignation after shopping a book around for a while. And if you've had books traditionally published, there are experiences you tend to expect and enjoy from the publication process, like seeing a deal announcement in Publisher's Weekly, working with a great editor who fell in love with your book, and seeing your books at BEA or ALA, that you may feel sad to give up.

Then I started poking around some self-publishing forums and got a very different picture. The first thing I noticed was that self-published writers seemed less depressed. I'm sure there are sad, unsuccessful self-published writers who end up not really participating in forums and just give up, and there is surely commiseration in more private spaces. But...I definitely noticed a change of vibe, especially with the more successful writers. Traditionally published writers are...kind of depressed a lot, even when they're hitting bestseller lists. I also noted that some people were making a lot of money, and they weren't always writing romance or erotica, as I had previously assumed.

However, the self-published authors who are doing well seem to have many of these elements in common:
--Good covers and descriptions (obviously)
--Solid writing
--A long series of books, at least three but oftentimes more
--Writing in a popular genre
--A romantic element in the story (unless the genre is very masculine)
--The ability to put out more than one book a year (sometimes WAY more)

So I can see why it's not for everyone. But if you do have these elements in place, it seems to me that success might be just as likely with self-publishing as it is with traditional publishing, given a particular boost by the fact of higher royalties and control over publication schedule. I can certainly write two books a year and maybe even more, but I haven't published two books a year, because it's been hard enough getting publishers to put out one book a year from me, and I have also sometimes been contracted for projects I was less enthused about, and therefore wrote more slowly and reluctantly, while passion projects were set aside.

If I published twice as many books, for twice the royalties, then I would only have to sell 1/4 the copies...in a theoretical world.

In the real world, many ebooks are sold at a huge discount in 99 cent sales and the like, and my advances have been much higher than the amount of copies sold, BUT, I can't expect that to continue. 

Still, I wrestled with the decision. I had a hard time letting go of traditional publishing. It didn't feel to me like a "real book" without it. And yet, what is really more important to me? Putting out the book I want, in the way I want? Or just seeing it on the shelf of Barnes & Noble? (...I don't even live near a large bookstore anymore.) Why should I think this, when some of the stories that influenced me the most were indie comic books/graphic novels? I made some lists to help clarify:

Reasons to Publish Traditionally:
--Advance money
--No upfront expenses on my part
--Working with professional editor/copyeditor
--Potential to be on bookstore shelves
--Potential for reviews in trade publications, starred reviews, state lists
--Greater library sales
--More likely to be invited to events or eligible to apply for book festivals
--Publisher handles formatting, cover, distribution, some marketing
--If book "hits", publisher marketing machine can be amazing
--Sales rely less heavily on Amazon & potentially support indie bookstores

Reasons to Self-Publish:
--Income is more evenly distributed, not a lump sum
--No potential for getting a horrible cover and having to pretend to like it
--Can get books out faster
--Can publish a longer series
--More direct line to readers; i.e., can tell fans "the sequel comes out in fall" and know this is absolutely in your hands, no need to get permission to publish extra novellas, etc.
--Marketing has more of a "long game" aspect
--Can add artwork and "omake" (that's Japanese for extras...and if you've ever read manga you know what I mean)
--No fear of sudden, absurd deadline
--No fear of editor leaving, book getting pushed back, or other common roadblocks

There are some very valid points on both lists. On both lists, a lot are also more theoretical. Traditional publishing has the potential for a lot of cool things: the starred reviews, invitations to BEA, etc. But...it has been very rare that any of that stuff happens to me, and that's true for a large portion of authors. Even bookstore presence is by no means guaranteed these days.

A lot of the pros for self-publishing are simply avoidance of the more unpleasant potentials in traditional publishing. They're only potentials, but they do happen. I've never had a bad editor, but I have had an editor leave...luckily she was great, too, but I've known others that didn't have as much luck. I have had books pushed back. I've had crazy deadlines. It is pretty likely that if you have a few books, you'll end up having some kind of crisis moment. Most of these events are not a huge deal in the scheme of things...but with this book, which is so much a part of me, the dread of some unexpected unpleasantness increases exponentially.

These lists made one thing clear to me: the best thing about self-publishing is the control over the story and its presentation. In the case of this book, it was especially important because I wanted to do something very different with it. 

The other factor I considered...what does moderate success look like, in both cases? Let's say I was making $20,000 a year as an author. As an indie publisher, this means two books a year making $10k each over time, or about 4,000 full price copies. I'm a pretty happy girl. I'm not rich by any means, but the mortgage is paid, there's food in the fridge, and I'm doing what I love. As a traditionally published author, this means selling a book a year for an advance of $23,000, to allow for agent fees. This doesn't sound impossible either. Plenty of people manage this. But it does feel more unpredictable. Taxes certainly don't help. You're not on a salary, so if you average $23k a year, it might be more likely to come as, say, a large advance one year and nothing the next, shoving you into a higher tax bracket in that one year, sucking up a larger chunk of your money, and then leaving you with nothing the next year. This happened to me when I made $70k in one lucky year...had to pay $23k in taxes...and then made a mere $6k the next year. If I'd lived in a state with state tax at the time, as I do now, it would've been even worse! I would have kept more money if the amount had been averaged. 

At this point, it's all conjecture for me. I have no idea how well my books will do, if I'll sell 4,000 copies, or 400, or 40,000. But I can certainly see how some hybrid authors could enjoy great success...and 100% indie published authors as well.

As for which route is best, I think it is highly dependent on the type of book, your individual skills...such as writing speed or ability to conceive of a cover and/or hire a talented cover designer, and your personal dreams. I have no regrets about my five traditional published books, that's for sure. But I hope I can say the same about this series as well.

2 comments:

  1. Preordered! :) I like the romances you write. Your male leads are so sweet and real and vulnerable. I sometimes feel like a lot of romance - especially paranormal romance, for whatever reason - features arrogant, pushy, "dangerous" male leads. I can't be the only reader who prefers a gentler guy!

    Even when your male leads actually are dangerous (like Ifra), or brooding (like Erris, sometimes), they feel complex and sympathetic. They're not "that scary guy" or "that brooding guy." They're good, lovable people who happen to have those other traits as well for understandable reasons.

    So, you know, kudos! And thanks! I'm excited for the new book!

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  2. Thank you so much for preordering!!!

    And that is the nicest compliment. =) It's true, so many people love the bad boys...but I like to write good relationships. Or sometimes, bad relationships that are obviously complicated and the characters need to grow out of, whether together or apart...but anyway. Controlling jerks are not attractive to me!

    I hope you'll like Alfred. He is my faaavorite. Although there are a lot of guys in these books.

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