When I started writing the goal was to have, one day, a book in my hand with my name on it. Then I thought, if other people could also have it and enjoy it, that would be better.
But, I’m a realistic person by nature. I have some talent, but I’m no J.K. Rowling; I will never be able to buy a castle and guess what? I don’t care. A little flat in some nice neighbourhood will do just fine. I don’t care if I sell 100 copies, or 1000, or 10,000. I’ve always thought that if I can make one person happy with my work, then it was worth the pain and the sweat. I’m not in it for the money, or the fame. I couldn’t care less about it either. What I care about is my characters, my stories. To me, writing has always been a way to escape reality and experience someone else’s life, for a little while. And I thought that if I can do that, and take a few other people along with me for the ride, then I would have accomplished what I set out to do.
When I finished writing my first novel, Russian Dolls, I researched editors and publishers, and tried to figure out how that bloody system works. I bought my subscription with Writers’ and Artists’ and I started sending out query letters. And I waited, with fingers crossed, for a long time (to this day, some still haven’t answered).
I received rejections; lots and lots of them. They were all a variation of the same theme: “It’s not bad, but we just don’t quite like it enough — but heh, it’s just our opinion so… thanks for thinking of us, and good luck elsewhere.” The first rejection hurt, the second a little less, and, in the end, I just didn’t care anymore.
Some months later, a friend gave me this bright piece of insight: “For an agent, no is always the right answer.” And guess what? It’s true. Agents have clients already — lots. And they receive new submissions every day — lots. And yes, as completely bonkers as it sounds, no has become the standard answer for them. For them to want to say yes, you really have to either catch them on a day where they’ve just hit their head and they feel like saying hell yes to everything (even a VAT increase), or you have to offer them something absolutely wonderful — the most wonderful of all the wonderful books, and totally amazing on top of that — because going to them with a good book, is simply not enough. And even then… the whole process repeats itself a second time because, for publishers, no is also the right answer (although they do tend to say yes a bit more often than agents do).
And so, armed with that new piece of knowledge — and in a rather depressed state — I started to research the internet for alternate solutions because I firmly believed that there had to be one. I wanted to believe that all hope wasn’t lost, that I too could have a chance. That us, authors, weren’t mere pawns to be played with. There simply had to be some way for me to get my book out there and share it with others. And I found one: self-publishing.
At first, it sounded scary and complicated … but I researched it more and found it to be quite safe and simple. Yes, I could get my book out there and there were some perks too. Case in point…
Traditional Publishing: 2 years, minimum (to find an agent who finds you a publisher who then spends his sweat time to make your book ready).
Self-Publishing: 1 month (and I’m being really generous).
Traditional Publishing: It’s hard to find the right numbers, but something around 15-20% royalties — but then your agent takes 15% on that — so that leaves you with something around 12-15% in the end.
Self-Publishing: Depends on the deals, whether we’re talking eBooks or paperbacks, but we’re looking at something between 50-70%.
Traditional Publishing: next to none. Publisher gets to choose the cover, the book size, the interior design, and there’s also the dreaded editorial changes they can ask for.
Self-Publishing: full. You’re 100% in charge of your story. You are the big bad boss, and you decide on everything from cover to back cover. And if you have the least bit of know-how, you can even do everything yourself and have that great I did it myself feeling at the end (just like when you’ve finished building an Ikea shelf and that it actually looks like what you purchased).
Traditional Publishing: you’ve got help. Publishers have invested money on you, they want to make it back (tenfold if possible), and they have the means for it. But that big machine, however well-oiled, will only work at its best if your name is J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer or Stephen King. For newcomers, finding readers is going to be though and your book better be absolutely jaw-dropping awesome otherwise it will fall, like any other badly made soufflé. Oh, and don’t expect the publishers to do all the work for you either — you’re expected to help along, a lot.
Self-Publishing: you’re on your own. This is the major draw-back of self-publishing, but there are ways to spread the word. The Internet is a vast sea and we’re all connected. Word-of-mouth is your best tool; it’s the old tell your friend to tell his friend technique. If your book’s good (just good, not necessarily absolutely jaw-dropping awesome) people will help you spread the word and you can build a fan-base. On the other hand, if your book is absolutely jaw-dropping awesome, you’re going to make it big, keep your 50-70% royalties, and — cherry on top — you will make agents and trad-publishers everywhere cry.
As you can see, both systems have their pros and cons (and more could be added to each category). In my humble opinion, I believe that traditional publishing has outlived its glory. It’s a system that still works, but it’s become too rigid and way too money-oriented. Those people are so obsessed with dollar signs, they’ve forgotten how to care about the words they’re printing. Self-publishing still hasn’t fully earned a noble pedigree but it’s on the right path. It’s come a long way, and it’s adapting and evolving fast. It is now equal to freedom and control for authors.
Sure, not everything that is self-published is good (but couldn’t we say the same about traditional publishing?) and buyers are expected to take the time to separate the wheat from the chaff. But, most of what is self-published is cheaper to buy than what’s traditionally published and the quality (I’m talking material quality here, not content quality) is pretty much similar. And, if you really take the time to look, you will find that there are gems out there, and all you need to do is reach out for them.
In closure, I will say this: Ideally, I believe that we need a third option — a new system, created by the merger of the existing two — a better system where each author can have a chance, and find help on the way. That system doesn’t exist yet — maybe it will one day, maybe it won’t — but until then … I will stick with self-publishing.
From one author to another, with love,