If you follow this blog (or me on twitter and facebook) you know I recently self-published a duet of short stories.The general response from my non-writer followers has been excitement and support. The general response from my writers friends has been mixed. Yes, there has been support and congratulations but there has also been the unsaid. The writers that have self-published say welcome aboard get ready for freedom and a lot of hard work. The traditionally publish writers say congratulations on the hard work but then there is this unsaid thing. All us writers know it and live with it. This post is for all my non-writer followers so that they might understand that unsaid thing. I am going to set this up as a Q&A. Yes, I am both interviewer and interviewee—- just suspend your disbelief and play along.
Why did you decide to self-publish?
I have been writing in the mystery genre for almost ten years. I have been submitting to agents throughout that time. It is a looooong wait between your first e-mail query, the follow-up request for full manuscript (if you are lucky), and the final yes or no reply. (like 3-6 months) I have had several requests for full manuscripts and many thanks but no thanks replies. These replies come as a form letter with no constructive criticism or comments. As a writer active in many writer communities, I know that agents are overwhelmed and can not comment on every manuscript they read. That’s fine. I get it. Yet—- comments are crucial to a writer and yes, we get them via critique groups but, there comes a moment when a story/character needs wings. It just needs to fly and show itself to the bigger world. In a nutshell, I self-published because my writing needed to see and be seen. (Oh, and also, #weneeddiversebooks.)
Doesn’t self-publishing have a stigma?
It certainly used to! But now that the self-publishing market is so big, the writers that polish their work and produce a professional product rise to the top and get the respect they are due.
What do you mean by professional product? Can’t I just write something and upload it to Amazon?
Yes, you can. If I published the first draft or first edit of my work I would lose credibility with agents and readers. (You have noticed my typos and errors in this blog, right?! I am very aware of the grammar-knowledge holes in my writing. I try to catch them as best I can but often fail to even see them until 3rd or 4th reading after I have let the writing sit awhile.) The Ossie Piñero Short Stories I self-published have been through critique and professional paid editing. I, then, used a formatting agency to upload to Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo and other companies. Amazon I did by myself. Oh and don’t forget a good cover image is critical. Thankfully, I have an in house artist that does pro bono work.
So, what are the costs?
A professional editor will charge between $3 and $5 per page. A cover will cost as little as $40 for a stock cover. Or $99 to $340 for a custom cover.
My expenses to date are:
Editing two short stories (appox. 37pgs): $145
Cover design: $0 but for the sake of argument let’s $99
Total expenses to self-publish a short story volume of 40 odd pages: $244
How much money will you make from sales?
I am selling for 99 cents. The agency I used to upload to B&N, Kobo, and Apple tracks my sales, takes a small royalty, and sends out a monthly check. I chose to go with them because of the ease of tracking sales and getting paid via one outlet instead of three. For each 99 cent e-book sold by them I will receive about 59 cents in revenue.
On Amazon, I will receive .35 per unit sold.
So, how are sales?
I published on Sept 29th and today is Oct 5th. In one week I have sold 15 books. My expected profits from the week will be $6.71. So to recoup my $145 investment I will have to sell a lot more books! 322 on amazon or 245 on the other outlets.
That doesn’t seem impossible if you market and advertise, right?
Absolutely. I do have a marketing plan. It is called a street team. That translates to –> my blog, twitter, and facebook followers. Every time they share or retweet my posts my audience grows. I bet my followers didn’t know how vital a component to my success they were. I do hope they know I appreciate the help. I try to thank every new twitter follower and retweet. It is a little harder to acknowledge who reposts on facebook but for the record — Thank you!
That seems like a lot of work and energy.
It is but I would have to do it even if I was published in the traditional way.
What?! Don’t publishers and agents do that for you?
In the past they did but now not so much. There is minimal advertising budgets for first time authors. Many agents (at least in genre publishing) want to see you have a social media presences before considering partnering with you as a client. Yes, I said partnering. Both you and the agent are working to get a publishing contract. The writer’s job is to present a polished product. The agent’s job is to sell it to a publishing house.
Well, if you are already doing the polishing and promoting part of the equation why pursue traditional publishing at all?
A lot of reasons! 1. The hybrid (self and traditional) author is most successful 2. Every authors dream is to walk into a bookstore or library and see their book on the shelves 3. It still carries the status of authenticity (that is the unsaid thing I referred to earlier) 4. I want to see diversity in my genre 5. Because reading a novel that speaks to you can change your life. (For me, it was Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut.) I want as wide of an audience as possible to be that for someone else.
What do you mean diversity?
I write stories with Latina main characters. In the genre I read and write there is not a lot of diversity. Most of the stories revolve around small towns with largely white American heroines. I love the storytelling that happens in them but I do not see myself in the stories. It is like a child of color walking down the toy store aisle and seeing only blonde hair and blue eyed dolls and figurines. Or a science-y girl wanting more choice than a kit that is pink, perfumed, and flowered. I want to see myself reflected in some of the cozy and mystery stories I read.
It is hard to get traditionally published. Some agents get as many as 500 submissions a week! Imagine wading through all of those e-mails — anybody would get tired and go with a proven formula. So, when the gatekeepers of the traditional publishing are so overwhelmed and profit driven (come on we all know the reality of this 2014 economy), it is harder for a culturally different voice to be heard.
Read this article on NPR’s Code Switch “To Achieve Diversity in Publishing, a Difficult Dialogue Beats Silence”.
Last question, can you elaborate on the unsaid thing? Has self-publishing limited you or helped you?
Both. I was not able to submit to a prestigious writing competition because I had self-published. If I had won or placed as a finalist in that contest it would have given me a leg up in getting noticed by the traditional publishing world. But, the road to self-publishing has also done me a lot of good. I have chosen to get serious and invest money in my writing career. I am actively building my reader base and learning all kinds of social media skills and know-how. I was always fearless in regards to believing in my ability to tell a story well and from a distinct point of view. What has changed is that I am now fearless in promoting my distinct voice because self-publishing is giving me direct feed back and real-time encouragement.
Pardon the theatre major humor.
I hope that I have pulled back the curtain on the publishing process for my non-writer followers. If you want to be a part of my street team please let me know via e-mail or twitter. #RVRstTeam . You can also help by leaving a review on Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble. Thanks.