Just about every unpublished, or little published, author wants to know “the Secret,” that combination of actions that results in “the call” from the publisher offering to publish their baby. Those of us who belong to writing organizations or who go regularly to conferences (in order to learn the secret, of course) have heard many times that there is no secret. None. Zippo. Nada.
We hear over an over again that the only way to succeed is to write the best book we can, format it correctly, and then keep sending it out to publishers and agents until it finds the right person who will fall in love with it and offer a glass slipper in return.
We hear rumors of authors who have defied the words of the wise ones and left the beaten track to strike off on their own into the woods, but something in us holds us back. The wise ones tell us that leaving the tried and true path will result in disaster. Self-publishing will cost us money we’ll never recover. Digital publishing is still in its infancy. Only traditional publishers can give your book the exposure it needs to succeed.
I’ve been reading the blogs of Michael Stackpole and J.A. Konrath. These guys are serious about their careers and hyper-aware of what works and what doesn’t. They’ve been in the game for a long time, and both of them are embracing digital publishing. (In particular, check out Konrath’s post, “You aren’t J.A. Konrath” of 10/3/10.)
Yes, as Tim Ferris points out, his Kindle sales are only a fraction of his total book sales. But I’ll point out that his book is non-fiction (which generally enjoys larger sales numbers than fiction), and his Kindle sales are still significant. Low sales numbers don’t seem to be a problem for J.A. Konrath, however. If an author can approach even a fraction of what Konrath has acheived through digital sales, then that’s still a pretty good career, and you aren’t waiting around for the gatekeepers to bestow their blessing.
Does this mean I’m going to pull my books from the traditional publishers who are considering them?
No. As Stackpole advises, I’m pursuing all options. Does this mean I’ll self-publish future books? Quite probably.
Here is the truth as I see it:
You need to be brutally honest with yourself, and you need to find readers who will be brutally honest with you so you can make your book really, really good. That is the ONLY hard and fast, immutable truth. Your book must be the very best you can make it. No typos. No awkward phrases. Consider hiring a professional editor if you don’t know readers up to the task. Yes, it takes time, and possibly money, but you’re planning a marathon here, not a sprint. Don’t stumble in the blocks.
If you want to self-publish fiction (either Print On Demand or digital) you need to have a good cover. Aaron Shepard makes a living off his non-fiction, independently published books and they have plain white covers with just the title and his name, but I believe (with no evidence to support my belief other than an informal unscientific survey) that for fiction, a good cover is helpful to capture the eye of the reader cruising down a list of thumbnails online.
Be smart. Take your time. Educate yourself. Learn from others.
Hold on to your dreams.