February this year marked my entry into the ‘self-published’ ebook market. I put ‘self-published’ in quotes because the material I put up first were reprints, but I eventually increased the number of works available to nine, ranging from a full-length novel to a MG novel to a short story collection to individual short stories to non-fiction. While none of the books have been a runaway success so far, I am not unhappy about the results, and certainly not because these works will remain avialable for the forseeable future as I increase sales and writerly clout elsewhere. Like selling traditionally, ebook self-publishing is a matter of persistence. The difference is getting some income while you are shooting for the big deal that may never come or that may become less desirable as ebook sales rise.
But what about the all-self-pubbed-material-is-crap crowd?
For writer, trying to sell something is about validation. Published work has met a certain quality standard. Of course, crap will still be published–according to your standard, or mine, but my this-is-a-crap-book will be different from yours. The important thing for a writer is to say so-and-so bought my work so at least this person thought it was worth a professional level of payment. Validation. For me, that came in this past year by selling three stories to pro level magazines. The picture at the top of this post shows me with at the Writers of the Future ceremony. To the left of me is Eric Flint, the editor who bought my first pro story.
You cannot possibly over-estimate the importance of validation for a writer trying to justify hours in front of a computer or time away from family, or money spent going to cons. And wouldn’t it be nice if you get a little income from it as well? Again, income = validation.
You can’t, of course, live off $10 sales to token magazines, or even sales to pro magazines, but last financial year, my fiction sales broke well into the four figures just from selling short fiction (and that’s not counting the money I won at WOTF). There is money to be made, and it’s up to you to find it.
Short fiction sales are fun, quick and easy. You submit, wait up to three months for a reply, wait a further few months as your story is in the pipeline, and then either upon publishing or after a number of months (usually three or six) the story is yours again to sell as a reprint.
Novel sales… well, I’ve had a manuscript with an agent who requested it a year ago… six months after I sent the query. If I found an agent for this novel, it might take another year to sell it to a publisher, another two years before it sees the light of day, and another six months before I get to see any income from it. And that is if they publish as planned, and I’ve seen enough delays happen to friends’ novels to know that this doesn’t always happen. What would be more of a bummer being told that no, we won’t be publishing your book at the end of this year, but at the end of next year (if we’re still in business). This sort of stuff leaves you powerless. They’re sitting on your work, not doing anything, and you signed the contract that allows them to do so.
Authors are told to grin and bear it. It’s hard enough when you have ten other novels out, but for your first one… I don’t think I could put up with it. Four to five years is a huge chunk out of your life, a huge time slot in which you have to justify your writing and muster enthusiasm to keep doing it. Meanwhile, bills have to be paid and maybe you or your partner are considering working less or stopping work altogether. You do not have this much time to muck around and beg for income to justify time spent writing.
So, there you go. Here are reasons why, for the forseeable future, I will continue to send stories to regular markets but to release novels myself. In that vein, there will be some announcements soon.