Posted on September 28, 2018
I’ve never wanted to be self-published. Nothing against it, but personally my goal has been to do it the old fashioned way: get an agent, sell a book, get a contract. I know I’m a good writer, I’ve worked at it for years, but my sense of success will only be fulfilled when I am accepted by the profession.
But about ten years ago everyone was going crazy for Amazon digital publishing. It was the wave of the future. It was remaking the game. Publishing was on its heels. So I allowed myself to get talked into self-publishing four of my books that hadn’t sold. The four books advertised on this site.
This is the story of how that went down.
The Vengeance Season had been accepted verbally by Poisoned Pen Press and I was about to get my start as a writer of Detective Fiction. Then someone decided that since my book took place in 1946, they had too many “period pieces” and decided to let it go. This was after a year of false starts with my agent, then firing my agent and sending it directly to publishers, and working with PPP until the bottom dropped out. That’s not just a roller coaster, it’s the worst freaking ride at the park.
In a moment of blind disappointment, I spent a weekend getting the four manuscripts ready, creating cover art, and uploading them to Amazon. Then I went through advertising school and fired everything up.
At first, it seemed like the right choice. Books were selling — not quickly, though. I moved maybe 200 copies the first year — and five star reviews were trickling in. Then I sat down and did the math. I was spending five times as much on advertising as I was taking in from royalties. I was losing money on every book and quickly headed for the poorhouse.
I paused all advertising (which also paused all sales) and sat down to take a closer look at how other people were managing to keep their sales up. How did this one SF writer manage to move 10,000 copies a month? How did this fantasy writer sell twice that?
So I followed them around the internet and lurked in their mentions. Here’s what I found:
- Produce a ton of content on the order of a book or more a month
- Sell at 99 cents.
- Advertise like crazy
I was confounded. How do you write a book every month? It took me seven years to write The Vengeance Season. That’s why I keep multiple manuscripts in play all the time, but even then I couldn’t turn out more than a book a year.
Then I read a couple of their books and discovered they’re basically publishing first drafts. Some of the stories were so raw they read like the notes for a novel yet to be written. Story lines just spun out in all directions following a jagged train of thought. They weren’t even spellchecked sometimes. It was a river of drivel.
So that was the end of my self-publishing career. I keep the books for sale on Amazon because I basically burned them when I put them out. No publisher would touch them now. It’s a damn shame.
I then sort of took ten years off. I wrote constantly, working on five manuscripts in rotation, because I love writing and I love rewriting and I love editing, but I hate publishing. This year I finally got to the point where I am ready to go back out again. I hired a story editor (the marvelous Jessica De Bruyn) and began the process of working the five manuscripts into shape. One is ready to go and is out to agents now, one is ready to be edited based on editorial feedback, and one is about to go out to her in a month, two are on the shelf awaiting their turn.
It feels good to be back.