Self-publishing was long considered “vanity press” and the mark of a frustrated amateur, but as more established authors release their own backlists as e-books and a new generation of authors embrace the do-it-yourself indie spirit, it’s no longer a dirty word in the literary world.
Vicky Tyley, an Australian mystery writer, finished her novel Thin Blood four years ago. After numerous rejections on two earlier novels, she found an agent, who then approached all the major mystery publishers. After he kept hearing “we can’t consider an Australian mystery,” he encouraged Tyley to put it on Amazon for Kindle and see what happened.
What happened was the book hit #1 on the Kindle mystery bestseller list. It has since sold more than 20,000 copies.
“First, I wanted to have the best manuscript I could,” Tyley said. “I invested in an editor and, whilst the changes she suggested weren’t major, they added a polish that the novel wouldn’t have otherwise had.Her agent, Robert Fleck of Professional Media Services, said he took a somewhat unusual step in an industry where self-publishing is still largely suspect.
“For people like me, and honestly a huge proportion of the editors and agents in publishing, the joy of finding that one book out of the pile is a huge part of what drives us, but it's also why these jobs aren't for everyone,” Fleck said. “Vicki and I chose to test her first book through self-publishing precisely because it was a very good book that wasn't being read many places because of a stupid marketing belief. That's a very different thing than many of the would-be authors out there who think they're being rejected because nobody understands their brilliance.”Some indie authors have piled up numerous agency rejections, and some have had agents who couldn’t sell their work. Other authors, like Zoe Winters, started out with the idea of building their own audiences, not even bothering to waste the years typically involved in querying agents.
Some, like Boyd Morrison, do well enough that they are then able to sell their work in New York even if it was previously rejected.
“To me, the electronic publishing frontier is probably best for breaking in an author who can't get a reading for specious reasons, or for maintaining the careers of midlist authors who have a lot of quality product but never quite ‘broke through’ in traditional publishing,” Fleck said.As one of those authors with modest sales numbers, I embraced self-publishing after a year of struggle, in which I had left an agent and was a couple of years removed from a book on the store shelves. I was writing steadily but with a sense of discouragement, because I was schooled in the old lesson that “professionals don’t self-publish.”
Six months into my experiment, I still work with agents but I see indie publishing as the foundation of my career, especially as e-books expand and bookstores diminish. New York is still the lottery ticket, but more and more writers are drawn to the idea of a steady, albeit often small, revenue stream. It’s also very appealing to know readers are just one click away from connecting with your words, but that can also breed an impatience that leads writers into bad habits and a slack approach to craft. A book needs careful editing now more than ever, simply because it must swim even harder to rise above the tide. In the next installment, we’ll crunch some numbers and compare the practical benefits of both traditional and independent publishing.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Scott Nicholson is the author of nine novels, four comic book series, three story collections, and six screenplays. He’s a freelance editor and journalist living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. More writing tips are available at http://www.hauntedcomputer.com.