Friday, July 28, 2017

Accepting the Changing (already changed, actually, years ago) Publishing Industry

Today's blog was inspired by the Debut Author's page of the monthly RWR magazine. I've been watching it for years and, though I haven't compiled the data into a cool pie chart or anything (I should, but I'll bet RWA have this information already) it looks like the larger percentage of debut authors publish independently and the very few that have publishers are with a small, boutique press. This confirmed what I already knew, that not only did e-readers change the publishing industry, they changed publishing houses need to risk investing in untried writers.

This is not new news.

That said, I've had a hard time adapting my own expectations of the road to publication. I started out with my query letters to agents and the few big names that accepted unagented submissions. I pictured my novels on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. I'm not a total dinosaur, so most of my queries were sent via e-mail, but when I first started some agents still required hard copies. This was ten(ish) years ago.

Now, when it comes to the querying, most agents and publishers have an online submission process. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Convenience aside, it is symbolic of their hands-off approach to new submissions. It's probably much easier to dismiss a file than pile of pages that was carefully prepared to specifications.

I've really struggled with the fact that the big publishers do not accept debut authors. It seems like the industry expects and WANTS authors to self publish first.This really messed with my long term plan and it's taken me awhile to come to grips with the change. I hate it, but have to get over myself and work within these parameters.

Besides, the change makes sense. It's like that job at McDonald's that you had during high school so you could show work experience as you interviewed your way up the employment ladder. An example from the genre would be the well loved trope of the reformed rogue who's been around the block and knows what to do in bed. You rarely see a virginal hero in romance and, I guess, publishers don't want a virgin author either. Self published authors have sales numbers, reviews, a readership waiting so when the publisher picks them up, they're a sure thing. It cuts down on the risk of investing in a newbie.

I have pitched to a few boutique publishers that are simply a label away from being self-published. They'll provide you with editing and a cover, but you do all the marketing. It may be worth it to some rather than pay the roughly $500 it will cost for professional editing and an okay cover, but to me, the only good thing about self publishing is lost in this deal--autonomy.

My biggest hurdle in choosing the self-pub route (and I still haven't committed to it) is that I really need the validation that acceptance by an agent/publisher provides. There are so, so, so many poor quality books and I'm afraid to join their ranks. If my books are not good enough for a publisher to stand behind, they're not ready for publication.

The good news (for authors like me) is that most of the major publishers have smaller, niche imprints that publish in e-only. This removes the risk of investing in a print run, but still offers the professional editing/cover/marketing services of a major publisher. This route won't put me in a brick and mortar book store, but it's a step in the right direction and will save me from myself and the possibility of putting a low-quality book out there with my name on it.

Of course, I am warming up to self publishing. I'm really almost there. It's only taken a bunch of near misses to make me feel my books might be good enough combined with hundreds of flat out rejections that have made me tired of playing the game. I'm even at that point where I waste time looking up book cover art.

I am currently waiting on a yea or nay from another interested party. I'm not optimistic, but must have some hope or I'd be more invested in the steps toward self-publishing. I am getting myself ready for that eventuality because pitching has become something like banging my head against a wall and, really, I should be writing.

I will finish up this post by telling you that accepting self-publishing as a viable option has really freed my writing. I'm not writing to anyone's formula. I can tell an authentic story without bending it to meet genre norms ( I wrote a virgin hero and I'm not worried about it).

If you are interested, here is a link to data compiled for RWA 2016 showing trends in sales. It may just be my translation, but the data really promotes self-publishing.  


Stacy McKitrick said...

I don't believe big publishers aren't looking for debut authors. They're just looking for good stories. But if you self-publish, the only way to get the attention of a big publisher (without having an agent) is to have HUGE sales. Best-selling sales. And let me tell you, that is not easy for an indie. Heck, it's not easy for anyone. I feel like a drop in the ocean (and I'm sure a lot of other authors do too).

As for promotion and marketing, publishers do very little (gets you some reviews), but not the bulk. Authors are expected to do the heavy lifting there. Well, unless you become one of those best-selling authors. Then the publisher will put some money behind you.

So, if you're the kind of person who wants to control every aspect of your publishing career, then self-publish. But do it after you have several books ready to release (or even a series completed).

If you want to LEARN what publishing is all about first, go with a small-press publisher. That's what I did and boy, did it open my eyes. I learned so much about my own writing and frankly, I'm not all that much of a control freak, so it was a relief not to have to look for editors or cover artists. Just make sure you read the contract carefully. Don't let them have control of your world or characters.

And if you still want an agent to get you into a big publisher, well then, query. And keep writing. The more books you have, the better. I still don't think I have enough out there yet to be noticed.

Susan Kane said...

This is impressive, Erin. Seeing the work that you have done to research and understand what is needed just amazes me. What happens next will be even more exciting, even if it takes longer than hoped for.

Hero,virgin or not, will still have what is he needs to get going.

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