Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Publishing: My Thoughts

It's somewhere in the back of our minds. All the time, we feel it. That maybe, someday, we'll complete this novel, revise it to perfection, and publish it.

Maybe you're writing the novel. Maybe you're revising it. Maybe you're looking to publish it. Or maybe you're just a writer trying to get better. Nevertheless, we always have that little dream that we'll get our story out there. It won't be a print-and-send-to-relatives tale, but a genuine published work of art.

That's why I wrote this post. This isn't a guide to success, but rather an analysis of where and how you should publish.

In a way, you could refer to this post as another in the teeming multitude of posts on what many of us call the Great Publishing Debate.

Because really, for the young writers, there's two options. You try the hard route of getting published traditionally, which requires rejections, queries, agents, and all of that jazz. Or you self-publish, which is increasingly becoming a viable do-it-yourself option. You could even do eBook-only, which just requires basic computer knowledge.

In a way, I might seem biased. After all, I already went the self-publishing route, right? The War Horn is already on the market for any reader who wants to check it out. But still, the debate goes on, and the forces are evenly matched. For the young, unpublished writer, it's a hard decision.

Why? Listen up and I'll tell you.

At first, self-publishing looks better. After all, you get tons of money (which is debatable), you do it yourself, and more importantly, you don't have to go through the lengthy process of actually getting noticed. Getting published traditionally looks like a lot of work!

Nevertheless, traditional publishing has several advantages. First, they have reach. They're trusted. They're well-known. They can reach audiences you can never get to on your own. Christian fiction authors Donita K. Paul and Wayne Thomas Batson have each sold over a quarter million copies of their books. That's a ton of readers!

Traditional publishers also have the advantage of bookstores, which, despite online retailers like Amazon, are still a fantastic source of advertising. Even if the books aren't bought, they're seen. Physical books on a physical shelf in a physical store seem somewhat more compelling. Some people I know buy their books primarily through bookstores.

Okay, now the publishing scene sways in favor of the traditional publishers. But there's one huge problem with traditional publishers: money.

Let me show you.

On, the average digital Christian fiction eBook costs ten dollars to buy.

Also on Amazon, my own eBook (The War Horn) costs three dollars to buy.

Okay, so traditional books are more expensive. But wait, there's more.

One Christian author once stated that he averages about fifty cents per book he sells. That's a twentieth of the list price.

When I sell one book on Amazon, I get about two dollars. That's seventy percent of the list price. So that author's book is three times more expensive than mine, but I would make four times as much money as he does per book. Those are tough statistics!

Using those stats, it also means that even if this guy sells four times as many books as I do, we'd be making the same amount of money. If I sell a hundred books, I'd get two hundred dollars. If a this author's book sells a hundred copies, he'd get fifty dollars.

That's a big difference, and now it looks like self-publishing is in the lead.

But he makes more money than I do. Why? Because he has a big following. How did he get that? Through traditional publishing.

And just to stir things up, a third paradigm is emerging: independent publishers with high royalty rates, unlike traditional publishers. Marcher Lord Press is a high-quality Christian speculative fiction publisher that releases tons of great books. If a book has Marcher Lord Press's name on it, I'd read it. Their name is almost synonymous with great Christian fiction.

Independent publishers are spreading, too. Scott Appleton is a Christian fantasy author who started Flaming Pen Press. It's published several great books thus far, such as J. R. Parker's Kestrel's Midnight Song and the soon-to-be-released Out of Darkness Rising by Gillian Adams. Another publisher to watch is the newly-launched Magpie Eclectic Press, which was started by Nichole White, who did the cover art for The War Horn.

This is the Great Publishing Debate, and it's highly confusing and controversial. It's constantly being changed by innovations in the market, such as Amazon's Kindle Select.

Now that you've seen it, here's my stance.

Marketing is a huge advantage. I've learned that for myself. The War Horn occasionally picks up a few sales, but without a sizable following or a big name behind it, its progress is slow. Unless you've written something that has an insanely awesome plot (and an equally good synopsis) that makes it as compelling as the newest thrillers from traditional publishers, chances are, you'll have a hard time attracting random people to your books.

Still, it can be done. I know a writer named Gregory Downs who has sold thousands of copies of his eBooks after self-publishing with KDP. Again, I know another Christian writer who put his eBook up as free for one day and had ten thousand downloads. Getting your book out there takes a lot of commitment, though.

My thoughts? I've self-published The War Horn, but I had several reasons for this. First, the book is just a bit longer than a hundred pages, hardly a publishable size. Second, it's a pretty normal historical fiction with an Arthurian twist. Not the most interesting genre.

I'm going to continue my self-publishing experiment with my science fiction short stories, but again, a collection of short stories is less-than-marketable. Novels are much better for publishers.

Once I've written a book that I consider good enough - I'm hoping that Tornado C will be "the one" - I'm going to test out the waters of traditional publishing. Who knows what'll happen? Marcher Lord Press now appears to be accepting YA, and AMG Publishers is also looking open. It's worth a try. Publishers can get you an audience, and once you have an audience, self-publishing suddenly looks good again.

My recommendation to you? Wait until your book is ready to think about publishing. But once you're ready, I'd suggest trying out traditional publishing first. It has the advantage of a wide market.

So what's your opinion on the publishing debate? What do you think about this whole thing? What are you planning to do once your novel is finished and ready to be taken to the world? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Writer4Christ said...

There is also another fact to list.
Traditional publishers can make your book go out of print if it doesn't sell enough. If it doesn't sell enough, it doesn't necessarily mean that what you've written is terrible, it means that perhaps the publishers didn't do their job to spread the word about the book. This is what happened for two great authors that I have read from.
Sharon Hinck and Professor Briggs.
So yeah, whether or not you publish traditionally or self publish or create your own publishing house and only publish stuff you and people in your family write(like another author, Andrew Peterson), you still need to advertise your book/s like every day in some way.

Eruantien Nenharma said...

This is really helpful, especially since I'm considering traditionally publishing (or attempting, anyway) a novel this year. Thanks for the insightful post!

Also: I was wondering if you would mind much if I posted a review of "The War Horn" on one of my blogs?

Writer4Christ said...

Oh... and another fact to list is that in the contract, you may or may not have to publish your next books under the same publisher whether or not the first book gets out of print. So if you do get published, don't sign the contract till you look it over and make sure there aren't any tricks in it.
And publishers can demand in the contract that you publish a book a year by their publishing house, so that may do harm to your developing writing skills.

Jake said...

Eruantian: absolutely!