An Insider's Look at Indie Publishing: A Guest Post by Dermot Davis
As a playwright and screenwriter, I was not considering writing novels until a friend of mine started her own publishing imprint (eXu Publishing) and asked me if I had any unpublished manuscripts that she could take a look at. When she told me that she could have an approved novel of mine published and listed for sale on Amazon within a few short months, I decided to write a short novel and submit it to her for consideration. Within a few weeks, she had the book edited, proofread, and once a cover was designed, true to her word, the book was listed on Amazon for sale to the world.
When I say that I was not considering novels, I mean to say that despite the fact that it was my secret dream and that I always knew I would eventually write novels, I figured that the time was not yet right. I had assumed that, just like the field of play-writing and screenwriting, it would be a long drawn out process involving a whole series of submissions and rejections that would take years of hard work and painful slogging to finally get something approved and maybe, just maybe into print. I had had enough of such heartache with my existing fields of endeavor and I knew that I just wasn't up for another fight, just yet. What I didn't realize was that advances in digital technology were reinventing how books get published and turning the traditional publishing world upside down.
I can't tell you what an amazing thrill it was to hold my first published book in my hand! I could have wallpapered my apartment with the mass of rejection letters that I had received over the years, yet, here I stood, published book in hand and I was over the moon. It was like all the years of hard work and pursuing a dream, despite almost daily rejection, was now finally paying off. I couldn't wait to write my next one!
What the new publishing model provides for writers is nothing short of amazing! To be able to completely bypass the middlemen - the gatekeepers - and present my work directly to the public makes me thank the stars that I was born at the right time. Although the concept of writers publishing their own works and presenting them directly to the public is not a new one (Mark Twain and James Joyce come to mind), the very notion that I can sit at my computer, write a story of my choosing and without leaving my desk, my book can get printed and sent out to anyone in any country of the world is... astounding.
I now have three books in print and there's no stopping me now!
Okay, having said all that... there is a downside, which I could probably sum up in one word: marketing. It's all very well to have your work published and put out for sale but what if no one sees it or even knows that it exists? Sure, my books look terrific sitting along with Dickens and Homer on my bookshelves but if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it... did it really make a noise?
What I've quickly come to realize is that to have books published under the new Print On Demand (POD) model is that to be successful and actually sell some books, you must become your own promoter and marketer, which is something most writers would wish to avoid like the plague. To be a success in the new model, you effectively take on all the duties that the traditional publisher has been doing for decades and it is here that ultimately determines the indie author's success.
The biggest hurdle for me and most other writers that I talk to is getting people to read the work. It was a champagne popping, celebratory moment when my first book came out and friends and family duly bought the book and inundated me with congratulatory best wishes. When my third book was printed it got greeted with mostly silence and maybe one or two friends bought the book and added it to their to-be-read stack. According to some recent studies it was found that over 80% of published books will sell less than 50 books in their lifetime. Selling books is hard, hard work and ironically, it has given me a greater appreciation of how much effort the traditional publishers need to put in to get their authors noticed and get their books sold.
Because study after study has found that people buy books based on recommendations from friends or from people that they trust, it is crucial to have your book be talked about and receive such positive recommendations. Publishers know who the influencers are and they have a system in place where they get their author's titles to the right people at the right time in order to effect a successful roll out of a new work. Publishers begin selling a book long before it actually gets printed and sending Advance Readers Copies (ARCs) to book reviewers and bloggers is a main part of their strategy, for instance.
This is where it starts getting tricky for the POD author: many doors that are open to traditional publishers are closed to the indie author. Most major newspapers and literary journals will only accept pre-publication works for review, which rules out POD titles (most public libraries will not accept books that have not been reviewed in the major literary journals). Most bookstores will not stack their shelves with POD books but customers may be able to order books through them as long as they accept that they cannot return or exchange the book. As many influential book review bloggers have been burned in the past by either authors behaving badly or being inundated with sub-standard, error-strewn self-published books, many of them will now only accept review copies from publishers or publicists. Most major literary prizes and awards do not accept self-published titles, which is traditionally an arena where new authors in particular can receive breakout recognition... and the list goes on.
Because in some ways, this is a new frontier for book publishing, things are shifting constantly and the rules of the game are changing almost on a daily basis. What is true for today may not be true tomorrow. If you or someone you know is contemplating taking the self-publishing route, bear in mind that a degree in marketing may benefit you more than your literary skills, at least as far as actually selling what you write is concerned.
Dermot, thank you for very much for eloquently sharing your experience and thoughts about self-publishing. Best of luck with your new book, Brain: The Man Who Wrote the Book That Changed the World. It's received many terrific reviews on Amazon and other sites. Bookfool calls Brain "a delightful, humorous satire that pokes fun at the world of publishing". I'm super excited to read it!
Your comments are welcomed, as always.