There’s a mantra you read all the time on sites like Writer Beware (and while I will be taking minor issue with this one thing they say, I don’t take issue with them–they are a great resource with a lot of valuable advice): “money always flows to the writer.”
The mantra is used in the context of publishing through vanity presses. Basically, if anyone asks you to pay money to publish your book, run away. They are ripping you off. The “real” publishing industry always pays you.
That model is starting to break down a little with the spreading practice of self-pubbed ebooks. But before I published my latest e-book, Hero Go Home, I published a novel titled Blue Falcon through vanity publisher iUniverse. It didn’t make me any money, and it’s far from my best work now, but I don’t regret it a bit.
Blue Falcon was the first book I ever finished, a sprawling, complex novel about a modern Korean war with several viewpoint characters on both sides of the conflict. When it was done, I queried several agencies and almost immediately got a request for a full manuscript from a major one. I sent it and waited. Several months later, I got a reply saying no thanks with no other real feedback.
I tried other queries and also joined up with a program through Penguin Putnam which would get you an “in-depth critique” from an editor at the company, with a shot at a publishing deal. After over a year of waiting, my in-depth critique consisted of “it’s too long and the foreign characters’ names are hard to keep straight.”
So after years of futile effort, unable to bring myself to write anything else until I had this book out of my system, I decided to go with iUniverse. At the time, their prices were very reasonable (they’ve increased considerably since then), they were Print on Demand so I didn’t have to buy a ton of copies, and they offered several other valuable services. I sat down to prepare my manuscript for publishing with them and ran into a problem.
The POD model trades the convenience of only publishing a few copies of a book at a time with the inconvenience of a higher cover price. My manuscript was so long that the book would cost $25.00 as a trade paperback. In order to get it down to a reasonable price I thought people would pay, I would have to cut at least 10% out of the manuscript.
That was the single most valuable lesson I think I ever received in writing. When I was writing the book, I was afraid to cut things out, because I had no idea what worked and what didn’t. I hoped I would have an editor or agent who could nudge me through a rewrite and help me get it more focused. But now I was my own publisher, and thinking like a publisher rather than a writer enabled me to cut out a lot of needless material. Blue Falcon as published was a much better book than the one I originally wrote, and I owe it all to the decision to self-publish. For me, the experience was worth the money I paid.
I had a similar experience with Hero Go Home. Early drafts wandered and waffled. It wasn’t until I decided to put it out on the web and started reworking it as a publisher with an audience in mind that I really got the story working the way it was supposed to. I’m pretty happy with the final result.
We’ve all heard horror stories about authors so successful that publishers were afraid or perhaps contractually unable to edit their work anymore. The result was flabby, overwritten stories that weren’t nearly as good as they should have been. For me, self-publishing and thinking in terms of the experience of the final product on the audience has greatly improved my storytelling. And with modern self-publishing services, you don’t even have to risk your own money upfront. All money flows to the writer again, so I can even stay on Writer Beware’s good side.
Tony Frazier’s short stories have been published in Jim Baen’s Universe, Strange Horizons and the anthology, Daikaiju! 3: Giant Monsters vs. the World. He is currently serializing a new story 5 days a week at www.herogohome.com. Enjoy your daily dose of super-adventure with Hero Go Home: Run Digger Run! starting October 3!