It was one week ago tomorrow morning that I went “live” with my book on Amazon and Createspace. In the intervening time since I’ve sold a few units, ended up in a few more e-stores, worked a bear of a week in my “real” job (according to my wife, Nicole, writing is still just a hobby until I make a profit doing it) and endured not one, not two but three solo Bath Nights with my daughters, each one progressively more hectic than the one before it. Survey says? It’s been a heck of a week.
Looking back, I don’t think I would have done anything differently than I did. Within the next few days, I’ll have a good gauge of just how well ENDWORLD – A NOVEL is selling. I’m not expecting to be blown away. From what I can tell, the results so far have been modest, at best. But that’s okay. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I didn’t do this to make money. If I end up making money? Terrific. But I’m a realist, and I don’t expect to see my name at the top of any top 10 or even top 20 lists yet. Maybe one day but for now? I’m having fun. I’m getting a “feel” for how the market works. The lessons that I’m learning, both good and bad, will benefit me in the long term. ‘Cause as I’ve said a couple of times, I’m don’t plan on this being a “one and done” thing. If everything goes according to plan, I may even have something else ready to go a bit later this year. But that is a story… stories for another time (hint, hint).
I’ve been asked a lot of questions this week from people I know and people I don’t know. The most common one? “What’s this book of yours about?” In no uncertain terms. Different people have phrased the question differently. I give them roughly the same summation that you can find on the back of the print copy, on the last page of the e-copies and on every product page ENDWORLD – A NOVEL is currently being featured on. Whether they want to read it afterwards is up to them.
But there’s another question that I’ve had to field on a couple of occasions. It usually comes after the requisite congratulatory handshake, or a reply to a status post on Facebook, or one to a Tweet. The “conversation” can be paraphrased like this:
Potential Consumer: “Congratulations on your book, Frank!”
Me: “Thank you very much!”
Potential Consumer: “W ho published it? Random House? Penguin? Tor?”
Me: “Frank Marsh.”
Potential Consumer (after a pause): “Um, you? You mean you self-published it?”
Me: “Yes. Yes I did.”
Potential Consumer (after another pause): “Oh. Well, congratulations anyway.”
End scene. Admittedly? I was aware of the stigma about self-publication when I opted to do so. Now, I’m still new to this whole “thing” so my opinion may not matter a lick or two to those of you that have been at this for a couple of years, but the impression that I get is that people? Potential Consumers like the one I mentioned above? They see self-publication as a cop out: An easy avenue to make your book available for the least amount of cost in the shortest amount of time. They may even see self-publication as a product of paranoia about your product, i.e. you don’t think a major publishing house would pick it up so you just do it yourself. Those people? They are entitled to their opinions, just like I’m entitled to mine. But in reality?
In reality, self-publication is anything but an easy avenue. Sure, you can publish your laundry list to Kindle Direct or NOOK Press if you really want to but any self-respecting author that writes because he or she enjoys writing and not because they want to make a quick buck doing it? They put an immense amount of time, work and money into not only polishing and publishing their product, but marketing it after it has appeared on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes et al. They spend hours networking with other indie authors. They shamelessly self-promote their product on Facebook, on Twitter, on Linkedin and even on Google + (at least the one or two people that actively use Google + do) to the extent that they begin questioning how many of the people they’re “reaching” they’re actually reaching and not pissing off.
They start ad campaigns on social media sites to boost their product. Maybe not high dollar ones, but 15 bucks here or 30 bucks there. Those campaigns may result in a handful of additional sales. They join establishments like Goodkindles or IAN (both of which rock, by the way) because they want to increase their exposure without paying 500 plus dollars to a “reputable” company to publish a paragraph long review of their book. They order business cards from sites like Vistaprint and a dozen print copies of their book which they use to “cold call” bookstores. Maybe one Mom and Pop bookstore agrees to sell their book. They create book trailers or have book trailers created for them. Heck, I created one. Do you want to see it? Okay, then. Brace yourself. Here it is:
You can stop laughing now. C’mon: It was free. What do you expect? Admittedly, I would have preferred Stabbing Westward’s “I Won’t Become The Thing I Hate” or Alice in Chain’s “Nutshell” as opposed to the techno-esque music that I chose for the soundtrack, but I went through Hell enough trying to get Bartelby.com to let me use “The Wasteland” in the book. Who knows how many hoops I would have had to jump through to get an actual band’s music, even a band that’s been broken up for almost a decade or one that hasn’t been the same since the early 1990’s.
In a nutshell (no pun intended)? Self-publishing isn’t easy. It’s hard. Damn hard. And I guarantee you it’s not for everyone. But anyone who thinks that just because a self-published author doesn’t have an agent or the backing of a reputable publishing establishment they won’t put out a spit-shined and quality product is off their proverbial rocker. Some will. I’ve encountered self-published books over the last couple of years, ever since I decided to do this, that were rife with typos and formatting issues. Those issues? They stood in the way of me, sublimely enjoying what in most cases was a good story.
That’s not to say that ENDWORLD – A NOVEL doesn’t have a typo or two. It might. But I and my editor were diligent about catching as many as we could. In reality? Most books have one or two, major house published or self-published. That’s not to say that one or two people won’t object to how the print copy is formatted. They might. But I decided to put out a 448 page, 6X9 trade paperback with a readable text and not a 5X8, 667 page industry standard paperback that you would need a magnifying glass to read. Yes, the outside margin is a bit tighter than the inside but guess what? It looks good. And clean. At least I think it does. I’ll let those of you that have it in paperback be the judge of that.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again with a bit more surety than I said it last time: Self-publishing is a for the most part thankless process. There are no contracts to sign. No signing bonuses. No marketing blitzkriegs to coincide with the book’s release. You won’t get featured in the New York Times Book Review unless your name is Stefan King from Denmark and they mistake you for Stephen. You won’t be invited to do a book signing at Barnes and Noble and you won’t have a black tie, book release party. In short? You get nothing. Nothing handed to you. Everything that you get you need to earn on your own. That is the definition of “thankless.”
Then why do it? If you believe that your book is good enough to be picked up by a major publishing house, why not go out, sign yourself an agent and let him or her do all of the work for you while you write the next book in your trilogy? ‘Cause really, you’re a writer, right? Not a business person. Not a marketing person. Writers write, they don’t sell. Why, why, why?
Because some people… people like myself, we want full control over the finished product. We want the tagline on the copyright page to say “Copyright 1997, 2013 by Frank Marsh.” We want to pick the cover that we want, not have it picked for us. We want to format it the way we want to format it in the font that we want to format it in (I’m actually quite partial to Bank Gothic, though the one that I and my designer eventually decided on is not, you will notice, Bank Gothic). We want the satisfaction of knowing that the book will succeed or fail per the merit of our efforts, not the efforts of a monkey-suited businessman or woman that we may or may not ever meet. Every positive review that it gets? We can smile and say that we earned it. Every negative one that it gets? We can own it, and use it as a tool to do better next time. And if the book eventually does turn a profit? We can rest assured in the knowledge that we deserve every red cent…
Even if said profit only amounts to one red cent.
In summation? Self-publishing is about as daunting an undertaking as solo Bath Night. But its also as rewarding as sitting with one, clean child on each of your laps watching “Wibbly Pig” at the end of a bear of a work week in your “real” job.