On Friday, I was a guest at Writers In The Storm Blog. (Thanks, Laura, Jenny and crew!) I just self-published my first novel, Little Miss Lovesick, a couple weeks ago and we’ve been having an interesting conversation over there about self-publishing. I thought I’d reprint that blog here and we could continue the discussion…
When I started writing, I published a few articles and devotionals, and then I tried to figure out what kind of novel I wanted to write. I found out that romance novels accounted for about half of the paperback market. I thought, I like romance, Iâ€™m happily married, Iâ€™ll write one of those.
I wrote and wrote – Christian romances, category romances, stand-alone romances, first person, third person, contemporary, 1940s – whew! I tried everything looking for my voice. Then one day a friend asked me if Iâ€™d heard of chick lit. Suddenly, the light dawned and the heavens opened and I danced with angels for a while! Iâ€™d found myself!
Back in the 1990s, I heard a woman speak at our writers group about all her rejections and how she finally decided to self-publish her book. By the time she spoke to our group, sheâ€™d sold over 100,000 copies of her childrenâ€™s picture book on her own. A couple publishers who had rejected it earlier called her up and offered her 12% royalties to take over. She said no.
So here I was, thinking about my career – or lack thereof – knowing Iâ€™d found my voice, and finding everywhere I researched that â€œeveryoneâ€ was saying that a humorous voice in a â€œwith romantic elementsâ€ story was hard to sell. I went to grad school to get my MA in Creative Writing thinking I would simply become a better writer and then Iâ€™d start getting contracts. But I kept hearing that publishers were buying less than ever due to the economy, and I was getting tired of waiting.
During my final semester in early 2011, I decided to do some more research into digital self-publishing. Things had really started to take off in that arena, but I understood that the biggest obstacle would be finding my audience. What kind of person would like what I wrote enough to buy it, and how would I reach her?
I flew to New York for the Romance Writers of America conference and pitched my superhero book to editors and agents there. Regardless of where the industry was headed, most revenue in books was still being generated by print copies from big publishers and distributors. But I only heard more of the same – â€œIt sounds fun, but I donâ€™t know how to sell it,â€ and â€œI like your story idea, but romantic comedy doesnâ€™t sell well. How much sex is in it?â€
By the time my plane landed back home in Sydney, Iâ€™d decided to self-publish that already-completed book from 2004. It wasnâ€™t doing anything sitting on my computer, and worst case scenario Iâ€™d be out about $600. Iâ€™d already made notes about some edits I wanted to make to my book and then I was going forward! Itâ€™s true that your friends and family can only buy so many copies of your book, but Iâ€™d been hearing potential readers tell me for years, â€œI just love how you write! When can I buy your book?â€ If I could find my audience, I could at least make a living, even if it was only barely enough to get by.
I signed up for a 10-day online class about how to format your book for Kindle. Let me just say, this is not a process for the technologically challenged or the faint of heart! I worked all day, every day for those ten days and barely got my book up on the last day of class.
But it was up! My novel, Little Miss Lovesick, was available for sale on Amazon!
More confusing hard work got the book up on Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Appleâ€™s iTunes/iBookstore. In 2 Â½ weeks, Iâ€™ve sold 58 copies and have three reviews posted (one, not even written by a friend!). I have a three-page To Do list that is probably missing a lot of things I need to do that I donâ€™t even know about yet. I had a couple days this week where I got very little done because I was so overwhelmed by both the amount of work and the newness of it all. How do I do this or that?
But Iâ€™ve never felt better about my career in my life! Even though I have to move to a different country next month, I donâ€™t want to stop. Iâ€™m creating business strategies for pricing, for finding my audience, for the publishing order of future books. Iâ€™ve got our DBA name registered with the state of California, and Iâ€™m working on getting a separate checking account. Iâ€™m researching all the small business paperwork that needs to be done, and Iâ€™m preparing to write an ebook on that, too!
Self-publishing is a time-consuming and difficult job, and a lot of the work eats away at your writing time. But I talked to a friend who got her first publishing contract this year, and her publisher is asking her to do about 75% of the stuff Iâ€™m doing! She doesnâ€™t lounge on her deck writing her next book every day. She, too, is rushing to meet the next deadline while also creating a Facebook presence, a Twitter presence, building a better web site, brainstorming how to blog differently/better, etc., etc.
Neither of us thinks we have it easier than the other. Publishing your book – no matter how you do it – is more time-consuming in 2011 than it was when the authors we grew up with were doing it. I encourage you to do your research no matter which direction you go. Itâ€™s a rewarding process either way. But itâ€™s also a lot of work. So do the research, choose a path – or take both paths with two different books! – and then remind yourself every day, I love my job!