So while I was going through the Great Uncertainty over the past two months — the will-they-or-won’t-they of the Skyhorse/Night Shade deal — a few folks opined that I should just grab my rights and self-publish The Daedalus Incident on my own. Some were simply being encouraging and wanted to see the book published somehow and anyhow.
But there were a few ready to raise the tricolor over the battlements and sing out in defiance of traditional publishing. Why did I even go down the traditional publishing route, bowing in subservience to the Great Capitalist Machine instead of embracing both Art and Personal Freedom by self-publishing? Surely, the Night Shade near-debacle was a warning sign of the Terror to come.
Obviously, I’m being somewhat snarky here, not to mention a bit too referential of Les Miserables. And in fact, I’m not anti-self-publishing at all. As you may see in the weeks and months ahead, I personally believe a hybrid model of traditional and self-publishing may serve myself and other authors quite well.
But I did go the traditional route for my debut, The Daedalus Incident, and I actually liked working my way through the “gatekeepers” of the publishing business. Here’s why.
There are a lot of self-published titles out there — more than 200,000 in 2011 alone, the last reasonably accurate figures I could Google, and those were just the ones that bothered to get IBSNs. And while there were 17 self-published titles on the 2012 Top 100 Kindle sales list, they were nearly all romance titles.
Now, surf on over to io9.com, Locus, Tor.com, Fantasy Faction or whatever your favorite source of SF/F literature news and reviews happens to be. Find a review of a self-published debut SF/F author, or news about a pending release from such an author. Go ahead…I’ll wait. It’ll be a while. Rightly or wrongly, self-published SF/F authors have a very hard time breaking out from the pack. Only Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking come to mind as very successful SF/F authors who got their start via self-publishing.
Well, OK…but hey, you might publish less, but you get to keep more, right? Isn’t that worth something?
Sorry, but I’m fairly certain that the math won’t work in my case. Let’s say I self-pubbed The Daedalus Incident and sold, oh, 500 copies at $8 each. That would qualify it as a modest success in self-publishing terms. Now, Amazon’s gonna grab $2.40 of that, leaving me with $5.60 each, or $2,800. Less art and editing costs of, say $1,000, and that leaves me with a net of $1,800.
Given that I was able to join SFWA, which requires a minimum $2,000 novel sale for membership, you can figure out easily that I’m already ahead of the game in traditional publishing…even before the book’s out.
Of course, there’s no guarantee I’ll sell more than 500 copies of Daedalus now, even with Skyhorse behind me. Except…let’s go back to that search I talked about earlier. Now search each of those sites for the title of my book. If you don’t feel like doing that, just click on the media tab above.
Because I ran through the gauntlet of agents and publishers, acquiring one of each successfully, people listened to me and paid attention to my book. Library Journal would not have reviewed a self-published title, but because Night Shade sent them a copy, they reviewed mine…and gave it a starred review. A more established author told me that pretty much guaranteed a heap of sales from libraries alone. Fantasy Faction and Tor.com wouldn’t have reviewed Daedalus as a self-published title, either.
You’re going to see a lot more media coming out in the weeks and months ahead, now that the Night Shade deal is completed. Yes, I hustled to get that, but if I was self-publishing Daedalus, how many of these outlets would’ve listened? In fact, I would venture to say that the Night Shade/Skyhorse delay will actually benefit my book in the long run. Skyhorse’s decision to include my quote in its press release announcing the sale closure led to the single biggest week of traffic this site has ever seen, and my Amazon pre-order numbers climbed noticeably as well.
Again, rightly or not, fairly or unfairly, the books that go through the traditional publishing process get noticed. That’s because professional agents and publishers — people who judge books for a living — find books to be worthy of their time and financial backing. Anybody with a couple hundred bucks and time on their hands can put a book out on Amazon, but a book has to have a baseline of competency to be published traditionally.
As someone who wants to be successful in the business of being an author, this is important. It’s not how much I’ll make on the sale of each book, but how many people will hear about it, see it on shelves, read about it on their favorite sites, and pull the trigger to buy it. And as someone who wants to be successful in the art of being an author, going the traditional route has garnered me reviews (and positive ones) from some major reviewers, and brought my writing to more people.
I’m not looking to be a breakout author here, though that would be nice. I’m just looking to place my book in as many hands as possible, both for business and artistic reasons. And as a first-timer, I think traditional publishing’s gatekeepers did that for me admirably. I’ve gotten far more traction than I would have self-publishing, and the results of my foray into fiction will be more readily apparent, and sooner, than if I had self published.
In the (possibly near) future, I may embrace a hybrid model of publishing, in which I’ll write novels and other major works for traditional publishers, and self-publish much smaller works on my own for whatever fan-base I acquire. But for my debut, I’m very happy I went the traditional route, because frankly…we wouldn’t be here talking about great reviews and release dates and seeing my name on press releases.
For all the kerfuffle around the Skyhorse/Night Shade deal, I wouldn’t have it any other way.