By Guest Blogger Mary Andonian
It’s been quite the journey. My teen book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth, has just come out in both paperback and e-book after it spent nearly three years with a reputable agent, endured two revisions, garnered one movie deal, and now has finally seen the light of day at your favorite .com outlet. That’s because I decided to self-publish.
Here’s my story in case you’re considering this option.
Twenty five hundred dollars bought me: ten Bowker ISBN numbers, a state filing for personal incorporation, domains and web hosting for three unique names, book cover and interior design (the book, not my house), press logo, Print-on-Demand set-up fees, a post office box, and an announcement in Publishers Weekly.
Notice I didn’t mention books. That’s another few hundred.
These I can sell from my website, book signings, Amazon marketplace and eBay, but I also need to give them away to reviewers, the Library of Congress and any other entity that can help spread the word. I did receive from my designers all of the files to my book, including cover art, .ePub, .pdf and .mobi files (the latter file mandatory for Amazon’s Kindle). These are invaluable and I’ll tell you why a little later.
Also not listed in the figures are the opportunity costs of my time. I spent a good two months working with the designers, Lightning Source, and Godaddy.com to create a product and an on-line presence. This was time siphoned from my next writing project. I consider time spent on promotion a wash since you’d have to spend that time regardless of who publishes your book.
I chose to pay my own way because my agent and I noticed some alarming trends in the Publishing industry. To name a few:
- Even if you do get a book deal, the advance is paltry to none.
- You lose the rights to the look and feel of your book, including the title and sometimes even the way your name is displayed.
- Publication of your book can run anywhere from 12-24 months from time of acceptance. This is after rewrites and negotiations are finalized, which can run many months more.
- Houses are playing it safe. In my case, Young Adult books are only getting nods if they’re of the vampire, paranormal, romance, or dragon variety.
- You lose e-rights. My agent negotiated many book deals and not once could she secure e-book rights for the author. Why? Because Publishers know this is a lucrative market. According to Forrester Research, 10.3 million people owned e-book readers in 2010, up from 3.7 million in 2009. E-book downloads topped 100 million last year, over triple the amount from 2009.
So those e-book files I received? That was money well spent. I can post my book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in perpetuity and the revenue will always be mine.
Larry recently posted a question about whether you should put a story in a drawer or keep working at it. That’s the same question I faced when I decided to self-publish. Items to consider when self-publishing:
- Have you had any outside indicators that your book should be published? In my case, a movie producer read the manuscript and liked it well enough to ask for the screenplay, and then pursued money to get it filmed. My book was good enough to attract an agent, and my critique group encouraged me to publish. Do you have people telling you to go for it?
- Do you get nauseous at the thought of public failure and/or humiliation? I must admit this was the biggest reason why I held back for so long. You have to ask yourself, “Does playing it safe help me or hurt me?” For me, a chronic perfectionist, getting it out there was a liberating experience. I could finally say it was finished and I wouldn’t have to revise it ever again. But guess what? The beauty of self-publishing is that I can revise it again in the future. I own it. All of it.
- Do you need to spend this money elsewhere? I am fortunate. Investing $2500 into a dream was costly but didn’t break me financially. I could’ve easily spent the money on a vacation to Vegas.
At least here I might get a little something back on my investment.
- Speaking of investments, do you need to quantify your success with money? Initially I thought I would need to see $dollar signs$ in order for me to feel like Bitsy’s Labyrinth was a success, but I learned that wasn’t the case. (Although it still might happen!) The simple act of completing something –creating something out of nothing –was a good enough reward for me.
- Do you need validation from outside sources? This is a play off number two: Do you care what other people think of you? Yeah, me too. But over and over again I’m reminded of one of my favorite passages, and it goes like this:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
April 23rd, 1910
I love that speech. It gives me the freedom to know that even if I receive bad book reviews, I have already succeeded. I am in the arena. What about you? Do you believe you’re a gladiator?
More about financial success: Unless you’re the author of The Christmas Box or The Celestine Prophecy, you might not make a lot of money self-publishing fiction. The non-fiction market is different. A gazillion people have made serious money self-publishing non-fiction, but they usually have the credentials to back them up. The books In Search of Excellence or The One Minute Manager come to mind. The lesson here is your book should fill a niche if you’re going to make any money at self-publishing. Otherwise, it’s tough to compete against the traditional books that are already deeply discounted at Costco and Borders. For me, I’m betting that the Christian/Spiritual market needs a teen book that isn’t dripping with Jesus or G-rated issues. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) A huge THANK YOU to The Shack author William P. Young for paving the way!
I’ll wrap this up with some of the benefits, both tangible and intangible, of self-publishing:
- Your “break-even” point isn’t astronomical, especially if you have a lot of Facebook friends. After that, it’s a constant revenue stream.
- Your book is never remaindered so your revenue stream could possibly outlive you.
- You basically paid for a course in Publishing, Business, and Web Design, because you have to learn all of these skills during the course of self-publication.
- All of your future writing projects will be better because you‘ll evaluate them through the critical lens of a Publisher.
- You’ll no longer feel like you’re in limbo-land, waiting for a Publisher to bless you with her magic wand. Instead, you’ll be a nicer person to live with because YOU made it happen, and you’re moving forward in life. It’s good to be the King.
And so to summarize: I hope you secure a seven-figure contract with a respectable publishing house. But if you don’t, you just might want to consider self-publishing.
Mary Andonian’s book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth, is available in paperback and e-book at www.BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.com, and the author’s website: MaryAndonian.com
Larry’s comment: I’ve ready “Bitsy” and I have to say, the one word that comes to mind is “beautiful.” It’s a coming of age story of an early teen girl, recalling the voice John Grisham used in “A Painted House” (my favorite Grisham), and, as Mary mentions, the courage of “The Shack.” It’s a terrific read, and if you have a young woman in your life on the cusp of puberty, it makes a terrific gift. It isn’t “Twilight” by any means, it’s far more weighty and worthwhile as literature, yet just as entertaining. Let’s support Mary and give this book it’s well deserved shot, and show the world how a great book published by its author really does stand a chance in this emerging, evolving and uncharted market.