Back in September or October, Heidi and I really started kicking around the idea of flipping the Big 6 the bird (more my idea, I don't think Heidi approves of flipping of said bird) and following the course Joe Konrath, David Morrell and others are plotting.
We spent a week or two trying to figure out what criteria we'd use to ultimately make the decision to publish on our own, and came up with 5 rules or guideline we'd use to aid in our decision-making.
Here they are (count 'em, kids) for your perusing pleasure:
1. Know why you're publishing independently
This is a no-brainer. Independent publishing can not be a last resort after years spent collecting rejections from agents, big publishers, small publishers, ePublishers, etc.. The decision has to be--HAS TO BE--the writer's first choice.
If you are not going to treat your book the way a publisher--who'd spend thousands of dollars to print, market and distribute--is going to treat it, then independent publishing probably isn't going to be for you. You have to love it enough to make sure it receives the attention it deserves and have to be 100% committed to selling the crap out of it and believing in it. You have to believe you know what's best for your book.
It's your baby. Don't leave it locked up in a hot car while you drink beer.
2. Know risk to gain ratio
Our experience with a major travel publisher taught us a few things. It taught us that a publisher isn't always going to do the things it says it's going to do. Our publicist's campaign for our book consisted of sending .jpgs of our cover to bookstores prior to signings that we'd set up ourselves. Our publicist contacted no local media and couldn't even get us postcards or promotional material to take to conferences and conventions we'd attended on our own dime. We didn't expect subway posters and bus stops, but c'mon. Don't pee on my leg and tell me that's what I paid for.
Then the publisher printed a second edition of our book while continuing to call it a first edition and we haven't seen a royalty statement in months.
I know that some people have great experience with publishers. We haven't.
I'll gladly collect 70% instead of 12% to do the work my wife and I have been doing since our book was released--to promote a book that I've sweated and lost more sleep over than a publisher ever would. And I know that if I fail, the failure is my own.
But I'd rather fail on my own than fail because my query wasn't good enough, because a publisher cut my print run, because I got a contract for a print run I could never sell out, because marketing decided my book was urban fantasy instead of supernatural suspense, because the release date coincided with a release by Snooki or Nicole Richie.
And I'd rather take 70% of $2.99 for a book I spent 10,000 hours on than take 10% of $19.99 for a book a publisher spent a week on.
3. Know what you're compromising
->I'm losing the valuable experience of thousands of cumulative hours shared by the agents, editors and marketing departments who'd have a hand in publishing my book.
But I trust my associates from Seton Hill and the friends I've made at conferences and conventions to give me the same type of support. I know the relationships wouldn't be the same--some would be less personal, some more--but it's a price I pay. (And I wouldn't trust some of the professionals I've met at conferences and conventions with a laundry list or a recipe, let alone a manuscript. I'm looking at you, ------ -----------!)
->I'm losing national distribution.
We know that's not true anymore.
->I'm losing credibility.
I'm not sure that a Big 6 contract guarantees credibility either. I have a master's degree, am adjunct faculty at a distinguished university and am a member of The Authors Guild. I've worked with a major publisher on a big non-fiction project. I'm not Stephen King. But neither is Snooki.
4. Know that you are the company
You pick your release date. You choose a cover. You market it. You go to conferences and signings to represent yourself and the book. You are responsible for your own finances. You deal with complaints from readers. You contact local media. You set up signings and purchase all of your own promotional material. You pay somebody to format the book or you format it yourself. You get the pat on the back. You hang your head when readers point out typos and plot holes that you've missed.
5. Know if you have the time and energy
In addition to writing the book, you do all of the things mentioned above. And then you have to write another book. There's a lot of discussion on Konrath's blog about authors with multiple books doing better than authors with only one. Check out http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/ to read what people who have a hell of a lot more experience in independent publishing (and 'real' publishing) than me have to say about it.
I don't know if independent publishing is for the faint of heart. But seeing that I'd have the freedom to write what I want instead of writing what I hope an agent would want is a very liberating experience. And if it bombs it bombs. I change my name and write something else. Or not. I can do whatever I want.
As the writer I should've always had that power--not the marketing department or a CFO. Sometime I get the impression that a lot of editors and agents and publishers put writers at the bottom of a very tall ladder. I think independent publishing puts writers at the top.
And look, I wrote this whole post barely mentioning the way the publishing industry has eaten itself into a very awkward and ugly corner. Let the agents have Snooki. I think the readers are smart enough to follow the writing.