Monday, April 30, 2018

Publishing Options Today

Free Speech Week

-from Susan

I’m at yet another crossroads with my writing, which prompts me to wonder: Is it time to re-consider the alternative to traditionally published books?

I have not yet self-published, but I’ve had large and small publishers, successes and set-backs, seen my books picked up, passed along, published in many formats, and passed over. I have two series out right now, the Dani O’Rourke contemporary mysteries set in San Francisco’s art world; and a French village mystery series set in Burgundy. But they’re short as series go. In fairness, I only started writing full time in late 2006 and I’m not a fast writer: I’ve only written five books. 

The history of the Dani series taught me a lot, but maybe not enough. The first book went to market through my agent just as the economy tanked big in 2008. The agent at the major house who loved it said, sorry, we have been told we can’t buy anything for at least three months. So, it got sold to a well-known niche house, but for hard cover, which sounded good. Also to a large-print publisher. Also to a paperback mystery book publisher. Also to Audible. 

Good, huh? Well, not for me or my agent because the contract gave the first publisher all the rights to license it out without our approval or royalties. In each case, a one-time payment to the author/agent. Then, a year later, as the second book in my two-book contract as about to go to that publisher, they announced rather breezily that, oh by the way, they were selling all the rights to their books in print to another publisher. That publisher printed a new edition of my first book but had neither the contract rights nor the interest in book number two. Agent went scrambling to find me a publisher who wouldn’t mind that book number one wouldn’t come to them with the new book.

I could go on. Eventually the three Dani’s got to print and e-book and all are now gathered in a small publisher’s list, but I came to realize that getting them printed wasn’t the key. Getting them marketed and distributed so a bookstore would a) carry them; b) be willing to order them; and c) be able to order them was the really big deal. The other thing I learned is that the dream of living off royalties is pretty thin until and unless you sell a whole lot of books in a conventional publishing deal. A whole lot.

Knowing what I know now and seeing how platforms like Amazon have cracked open the distribution channels and social media has given writers marketing options, I pause. Am I too set in my ways, too lazy, or not well enough off financially to take on the extraordinary work of today’s successful self-published author? I look at people like the writing couple Bette and JJ Lamb, and I’m awed at their commitment to it and at the success they have had going this route.

It isn’t easy, as Bette has told me more than once. But they have built an audience for their novels, as have other writers I know, like Simon Wood and Cindy Sample.

The glamor of being able to say you’re published by so-and-so may not be there, but 100 percent of the royalties are!


Unknown said...

There do seem to be better ways of going about self-publishing these days, and the pros are starting to level off with the cons. Will be interesting to see if you go that direction and how you like it.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

You make some interesting points, Susan. Great post.

Cynthia Sample said...

My first publisher experience is similar to yours, except when they closed suddenly right before the release of my third book, they gave me the rights back. I already had a huge luau launch for DYING FOR A DAIQUIRI, which I'd been promoting, supposed to take place in less than two months. But never one to cancel a party, I jumped in and published all three books in that short time period, and I've never looked back. Running your own publishing company is work, but having control over every aspect of publishing and marketing: price, release date, your own editorial team, is so worth it.

PS - I love both your series!