Almost Super, my middle grade superhero book, is nearly complete. My wonderful writing group has been giving excellent feedback, finding holes, and helping me really polish it up. I'm roughly 6 weeks from having it complete. It's now decision time. My book is done . . . what now?
Five years ago there wouldn't have been a decision to make. Brush off the ol' query letter, and start sending it out. But today, with Kindles, iPads, e-books, and the neo self-publishing movement, I'm torn.
Here are a few of the things I'm thinking about. I'd love your thoughts and opinions.
Print: E-books are in the news but print still rules the day. Amazon may sell more e-books than print books, but most of the money is still in paper. E-books only make up a little over 10 percent of total book sales. That percentage is growing, but no one seriously thinks that the printed book is going away.
The internet has helped with the two costs facing every author—up-front costs, and distributions. Print on demand means you don't need thousands of dollars to print your book. And e-books give you global distribution . . . sort of. In the end, you're still facing an uphill battle. You want your books to get into the hands of people who love to read, and where do those people hang out? The bookstore. You can sell your paper book online, but you'll never get the big sales until you're being pushed by Barnes and Noble, and you'll never get that until you have a publishing company behind you.
E-books and the internet are bringing about a lot of changes, but I think it's premature (and silly) to simply declare the old model dead. Changed? Yes. Dead? No.
Street Cred: Okay, I say this half in jest, but it's something that authors should consider. Finding an agent, and landing a good contract buys you credibility that is very difficult, if not impossible, to get if you self-publish. How important is this credibility? Six years ago I wrote a book. Writing a book did nothing for me. It wasn't until I landed a contract that things changed. I joined a writer's guild, I spoke at a local writers conference, and then was invited to emcee the event the following year. Now I'm doing a podcast with two other awesome authors. None of this would have happened if I hadn't landed that publishing contract. The book would have been just as good, but I would have had none of those experiences.
What if I self-publish my book and sell 1,000 books a month. What does that mean? Do I have a good book, or did I just get lucky? Maybe I'm just good at marketing. Self-publishing has always had a stigma, and that is something you have to consider. If I land a contract with one of the big six, then that brings credibility.
It's kind of like a diploma. I know really smart people who never got a degree. And I know a lot of folks with degrees that could really benefit from a strong dose of common sense. But businesses still use the degree as a litmus test for who they hire. It's an easy way to measure. If I self-publish, it's not clear. If I land a traditional contract, it is.
Focus: If I land a contract, guess what I get to do? Write. I get to write more. I don't have to worry about covers, marketing, moving my book through the editing process. I can write the sequel I've already got outlined. My agent can negotiate rights, my publisher can work their magic, and I can continue to do what I love best--write fun and funny books.
If I self publish, I'll have less time to write. Or I'll have the same amount, but the other areas will suffer. I've written Almost Super and I want people to read it. I'd also like to make a little bit of money. I'll do neither if I neglect these other aspects of the process.
Rights: When you sign away your copyright, it's for a potentially long time. Technically, it's 70 years after my death. I don't think I'll be in much of a state to do anything with my rights when they enter the public domain. You have to remember that a publisher is not in the business of publishing good books. They are in the business of making money. Once they've thrown my book over the fence, there often is not a lot of incentive for them to do much more with it. They may print a few copies here and there to keep it "in print", and then pull in a few hundred dollars a year on e-books. If I want to try anything interested (drop the price, give away half the book for free, etc.), I have to get their permission. And if I get a small advance, the publisher may not really put that much effort into marketing my book. They'll do just enough to earn the money back, make a profit, and then they'll move on to the next big thing (Like Rob Well's book Variant, available for pre-order RIGHT NOW).
Royalties: Royalties for new authors are pretty low. 10-15%. Royalties for authors on Amazon are 70%. Big difference, but again, you must do your own marketing, cover, editing, etc. However, 70% royalties on a $2.99 book are better than 15% royalties on a $10 book. But 15% royalties on 10,000 sales are better than 70% royalties on 100 sales.
So there you have it. These are just a few of the thoughts I've had. I assume other authors out there are having similar issues. I'd love your thoughts and opinions.
I've commissioned a friend to make me a cover, so in some sense I've already taken the first step on the route of self-publishing. On the other hand, I keep itching to send this to agents. I want to find out if the book really is good enough to land a solid contract.
I guess I can keep polishing it, and then I don't have to make a decision.