As you may know, I write thrillers under the pseudonym Marcus Cameron. It's not meant to be a secret - I just didn't want to confuse readers by dipping into two different genres when it might not be what they wanted to read themselves. So I write in different genres under different names.
When it came to my first book, due out July this year (2014), the first professional to look at it, even when I was still very much learning the craft and when it was only 30,000 words old, suggested I’d have little difficulty finding an agent on the back of it. That’s where I’ve been aiming for around a year now. They don't call it traditional publishing for nothing. Up until now, that was the model.
I read a novel some time ago by J A Konrath and it led to me reading a few blog posts by him and then an article he contributed to an anthology about writing. The novel was Whiskey Sour and I'll review it shortly on Marcus Cameron's site. The article he wrote led me to another possibility, which I recently began to look at more carefully - self-publishing. I mean, sure, I'd heard about it but generally, it didn't seem like what I was really looking for.
Then I read an article by Hugh Howey. It led me to his blog which I then read from start to finish. There are few more helpful and selfless authors around than Hugh. On his advice, I mooched around the KBoards a little. Same applies to the Writers Cafe there too. I read a couple of books on self-publishing and the realisation hit me. Self-publishing suited my personal circumstances far more than tradpub ever could. Why publish traditionally? Persuade an agent I’m good enough, then wait while they persuade a publisher? Hope the manuscript gets through the various boards within the publisher and then gets picked up by a distributor? Chew the hell out of my nails as it spends a few hopeless weeks on a back shelf somewhere with only a little marketing probably not ideally suited to the work anyway? Then gets pulped? And all that takes a couple of years. C J Lyons had a salutary experience which should inform new authors and give them pause. I liked the idea of getting my work out there quickly. I liked the idea of controlling my own brand, my own marketing, my own voice. Most of all, I liked the idea of being able to engage freely and abundantly with the people who enjoy my work.
Self-publishing gives me the freedom I need. I can market the book myself to the readers I think will enjoy it and in a way which suits them as a readers. I can market it as much or as little as I like. I have complete editorial oversight into the cover. It's out there right away - laid bare for readers to enjoy (or not) and, in a way, there's nothing better than the fear engendered by that sort of immediacy. It also means I can get my work out more quickly and regularly.
But one of the most significant benefits is serialisation. It costs publishers to print. So they aren't going to want to print lots of shorter, novella-style books, or even short stories (outside of collections). Only magazines will do that effectively. Yet, some authors like me would genuinely like to tell shorter, punchier stories - perhaps only 20,000 words - as well as longer, full-length novels, and there are masses of readers who love that sort of experience. If I self publish on Amazon, for example, I'll be able to filter in some novellas or longer short stories into my collection. That must be good for the reader.
And since it all started on a Kindle, it seems fitting people should be reading my work there too. But there is nothing quite so uniquely beautiful as a book. A wealth of possibility lies between the covers and holding it makes my heart hum. I'll bet there are few writers who didn't dream of one day holding a tome with their name on it. So, maybe the key is being flexible. For example, Amazon's CreateSpace allows me to print hardcopies of my books on demand with no upfront costs and very good profit margins. They are delivered just as other Amazon books are. It's a no-brainer, surely? In fact, I'll be frequently giving away limited numbers of signed copies for people who subscribe to my newsletter.
Sure, it's risky and it's possible a great book will get lost in the morass of not-so-great books. The same might be said of traditional publishing. Anyone working in publishing (or bookstores) will tell you that the mid-listers are frequently not earning enough to give up their day jobs. But more and more people are reading ebooks. As Howey points out, we live in perhaps the most literate age there has ever been. There are so many stories to tell and ways to tell them. So many points of view to make things fresh and exciting.
There is far less buyer's guilt in cramming your e-reader full of titles you might never read. Readers are more willing to experiment when the first 10% is free (the Kindle sample) or the first book is free, as many indies are offering. Cynics and doomsayers have always pointed out the risks. Pointed to the fact there are more failures than successes. Has that stopped those who have been successful from trying in the first place? Of course not. Write a great book, get a great cover, get a pro to edit it so it's perfect and then tell people about it. Maybe, just maybe, you'll pick up some fans and they'll want you to write some more. But don't throw everything into one project - keep something back so that you have a little security. Be sensible. These seem like obvious things to me but I've always taken a few risks and gone after what I wanted. Life's more fun that way.
Where is self-publishing now? What are the problems? How successful could I be? How hard is it? All questions I know the answers to. How successful will I be? Only time will tell, but let's be honest - it'll be fun trying.