Digital publishing, e-books, independent authors: There are many tags that describe taking your book directly to the reader and they all mean the same thing — producing your own content and championing your own work.
In September of last year (2010), after nearly a decade of successful academic publishing and polite rejections of commercial fiction, I decided to take action and join the e-book movement. A movement of self published authors sharing book length content online that many were calling a revolution.
Aided by the Kindle and other e-readers, the e-book revolution had everyone from executives to sales assistants at the big 6 traditional publishers running to update their resumes.
Since September I’ve published four e-books and learned a lot about writing, editing, designing, and marketing e-books. A collateral benefit has been a greater understanding of what it means to be an independent or “indie” author and a deep appreciation of how much work indies put into not only their own work but supporting the work of others.
If you’re starting out, or thinking about taking the e-book plunge, join me this Wednesday at 2pm EST (that’s Eastern Standard Time in the U.S.) to get the insider’s look at all things indie: Live Video Chat. (And no, this video chat is not that kind of live chat invite but a cool interactive feature authors everywhere will likely be using in the near future. A group of authors I know are early adapters and invited me to join: Just another great thing about being an indie!)
In September of 2010 I took the plunge and become an “independent” or self published author. I took short stories I wrote ten years ago during a Master’s program (never having found an agent) and two blogs in different genres, found a graphic designer, and created an Amazon.com author page as well as one on Smashwords.
The ensuing four months have been full of hard work. Work that is just as consuming as the writing itself if not more so: marketing. The old adage about a tree no having fallen if no one hears it may also be true about a book being published if no one knows about it. Likes, reviews, trailers on Youtube, book tours, all of these and any of them need to be in a writer’s portfolio, no matter if she is an indie or commercially published.
I’m a writer. It took me nearly ten years from my first creative writing course during my Masters program at North Carolina State University to say this with any degree of confidence or understanding what being a writer meant. It doesn’t mean that I make a living from writing (though one day in the not too distant future I hope it will). What it does mean is that I write every day, something: an article for a journal or magazine, edit an academic piece, fiddle with parts of a story, or pitch up to this blog to say something. Anything.
The truth is that publishing is undergoing a seismic shift and has been feeling the reverberations of technology in the ten years since I finished my first short story collection. Perhaps they became as the rumbles of blogs turned into books; here were people with a demonstrated audience of a few thousand. With help of a major publishing house to catapult their small audience onto the national or international stage and perhaps become bestsellers or even movies like the Julie and Julia cooking blog. These Cinderella like stories about bloggers turned writers may have been the logical step to another intervention that rocked publishing: the e-book.
Self publishing has existed for a long time; but these ‘vanity’ presses as they were known would charge a writer to provide several hundred copies of a book that likely languished in a garage — for those lucky enough to have space — or found themselves spilled on in the family den. Often this type of book didn’t work because it didn’t have the heft of the big publishers to market, distribute, and reach a wider audience. Nonetheless a few intrepid storytellers went the self published route as the budgets of major houses tightened and fewer marketing departments were willing to take a risk on new writers. These soldiers were the tail wagging the dog and one of the most famous examples is The Lace Reader which eventually went to an auction (where multiple publishers bid on a book) and then onto the bestsellers list.
The e-book is challenging the step-child nature of self publishing in relation to the commercial market. Because now readers can find new authors and new authors are often much cheaper than the established ones. As the John Locke — not of the LOST t.v. series fame — the first writer to sell a million copies on Amazon.com is (in)famous for saying: “When famous authors sell at $9.95 and my books are at 99c, I no longer have to prove my books are as good as theirs. They have to prove their books are ten times better than mine!” Royalties are also much better for authors in digital sales than on print books, mainly because digital books are significantly less expensive to produce.
After hearing about this for years, this summer I decided to think about all the content I’ve had piling up since that very first class in 2002. Many of the pieces have been placed in literary magazines around the United States but were turned away by agents for one reason or another. The collection seemed the perfect place to start an experiment on whether or not the e-book hype was something to get excited about.
Download a copy of Coloured and Other Stories and see for yourself. Do I deserve to be in print?
What are your thoughts on the self publishing industry? Have you read other self published authors or are you considering either print or digital self publishing?