Kent Anderson works in scholarly publishing, runs the blog The Scholarly Kitchen, and writes the Johnny Denovo Mysteries under the pen name Andrew Kent.
I’ve always been a publishing person, from the time I spent studying copyright pages in books around age 8 to creating what still look like sophisticated magazines as an adolescent using only a typewriter, pen and ink drawings, and Scotch tape, then photocopying the resulting layouts. I’ve worked in bookstores, typeset professionally, written for newspapers, compiled indexes (or indices if you so prefer), launched titles, designed and created reference works, redesigned magazines and journals, created web sites, and done a myriad other things in the realm of publishing.
And now, I’ve self-published my first novel.
I didn’t self-publish because the publishing process confuses, baffles, or overwhelms me. I don’t need a publisher to figure out discounting, rights retention, royalties, or the mechanics of publishing.
I did it precisely because I understand the traditional publishing process, and I didn’t want it or need it. Not for a work of fiction, at any rate.
I’d been trying to write fiction off and on ever since high school, but university, work, family, and other interests made the efforts sporadic at best. A couple of years ago, I began writing yet another novel. Very quickly, I discovered the characters, plot devices, and time I needed for the work to really flow. Finally, in 2008, I finished my first complete novel, a mystery-thriller entitled, Spam & Eggs: A Johnny Denovo Mystery, which was published in February 2009 under the pen name Andrew Kent.
Because I liked the book so much, I decided to try the traditional publishing route for a few weeks to see if I could make a quick score, all the while lining everything up to begin self-publishing. It only took a little more evidence for me to decide to self-publish exclusively:
- There’s not much money in traditional publishing. Traditional publishing inserts layers of people between you and the customer, and each layer wants a cut. By the time you get your share, it’s a percentage of a percentage. And as far as having a bestseller or blockbuster goes, publishing through a major publisher increases your chances only slightly, by as little as 2%.
- Wanting a traditional publisher’s acceptance is probably even more vanity-driven than self-publishing (“Look at me! Harcourt accepted my manuscript!”). In fact, after separating the author from the commercial realities, vanity is largely the only thing left. Self-publishing is about really engaging the audience. There’s less vanity when you have skin in the game.
- Email has accelerated the submission and rejection game so much that neither agents nor authors are getting a true read on commercial opportunities this way. And, too often they’re looking for “the next [fill in the blank].”
- Even with a faster query process, it takes too long to get published through a traditional publisher. Authors have to wait anywhere from 2-7 years from an agent accepting them as a client to the publication of a first book — assuming a book emerges at all.
- New authors in this economy are low on the totem pole, especially for fiction titles. Agents and publishers want to bet on thoroughbreds. Few want to raise ponies.
- Old-fashioned consignment publishing is struggling. The economy has everyone in big, highly leveraged businesses (like consignment publishers) running scared.
- Amazon.com is the 700-pound gorilla in book sales these days. If it isn’t on Amazon, it has no commercial potential. Bookstores are only a piece of the puzzle.
- Even if a commercial publisher picks up your book, you’re still a small fish in a vast ocean, and the chances of success rest largely with you, yet with little chance of commensurate reward. And you close off important options a self-published author retains.
If I were to publish my novel with a publisher, the book’s chances for success would be slim and would be entirely dependent upon my own actions. If I were to self-publish my novel, the book’s chances for success would still be slim and would still be entirely dependent upon my own actions. Therefore, I wonder, rather than spending potentially years searching for an agent and/or publisher, might I be wiser simply to self-publish and give it my best shot.
I wanted a book, not a process. With self-publishing, there’s the sense of control — over the artwork, the rights, and the amount of effort expended. And then there’s the fun of doing the publishing work (I’m in the publishing business because I like doing these things). Self-publishing made a lot of sense.
I found a reputable self-publishing company, one of many out there. Their model is straightforward, and their owners and staff have the right attitude. You pay a fee for services, price your book and set the discount rate, and keep the margins. I don’t expect to make much money, but given the odds with other investments, this one has about as good a chance as any of working.
Is self-publishing the future? The Urban Elitist thinks it hints at changes in the industry. Consignment publishing emerged with the Great Depression so that bookstores could carry inventory without risk. Nowadays, anywhere from 10% to 50% of books are returned to their publishers. Returns are the bane of the consignment publishing industry. We’re familiar with this model, but there are major weaknesses in it. Amazon.com is exploiting these with the way it can fulfill orders, with its own print-on-demand services, and with the Kindle.
What about the stigma of self-publishing? Isn’t it just vanity publishing? It sure can be, and I avoid those books just as scrupulously as anyone. But more and more often, self-publishing is commercial publishing. More authors have calculated the risk:return ratio and are making the right choices. More authors have access to and know how to use the tools available. The stigma won’t last.
So, rather than dealing with rejections, negotiations, delays, long publisher contracts, or a bureaucratic and indifferent management of my account, in a matter of months (not years), I have a book that has garnered incredibly positive reviews, a readership base of acknowledged fans that spans many countries in the English-speaking world, and some interest in subsidiary rights, all within 2-3 months of publication. Best of all, I can concentrate on the sequel.
And guess what? I’m starting the process of publishing the sequel this week, and will have the book out by early Fall 2009. Beat that, consignment publisher!-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------