Yes, some books in some genres can't get an agent's interest no matter how well written, but everything's cyclical. A few years ago, chick lit was poison to agents, but recently I've seen a lot of them asking for it. And lots of small romance publishers were eager for it the whole time.
2) Take a good long look at your own goals and talents.
Self-publishing is about becoming a small business owner. Were you born with the entrepreneurial spirit? Do you love playing with numbers and marketing statistics? Are you a self-starter who prefers working alone? Then you're a born indie. (And you might be interested in the post today at the Writers Guide to E-Publishing about how to set up your publishing business as an LLC
But if the thought of balance sheets, market analysis and accounting fill you with loathing, opening your own publishing business could be a nightmare.
A huge amount of a self-publisher's time is spent in promotions and marketing. Yes, traditional publishing involves putting in a lot of marketing time, too, but you'll usually have some guidance and help. If you're indie, you're on your own.
As Self-Publishing advocate Ruth Ann Nordin said last week at the Self-Pub Authors blog
"If you don’t feel like doing all the work that self-publishing requires, then you probably should pick another business to go into because it’s harder to do this than a lot of authors will tell you."
She also says in one of the comments: "I hate the blogs that preach overnight success. It’s doing so many authors a disservice. Those blogs make it sound like all you need to do is publish a book and watch the sales come in. If it was that easy, we’d all be hitting the bestselling charts."
But she also adds: "...if you don’t mind doing all the work, then I think it’s one of the most worthwhile professions a person can have. If you love it, it’ll be worth it."
Running a small business can be bliss for people who are bottom-line-savvy self-starters with a lot of patience. It also helps to have some capital saved up.
But if you work better with enforced deadlines, moral support, and a team to urge you on, consider alternatives:
- Consider a small digital press in your specific niche. I'm very happy with my boutique press. My editor works with me on every aspect of my writing and book marketing. And I'm not alone. A literary author I know has recently signed with JMS books, a LGBT press which does promos and helps with target advertising and has got him a great collection of reviews many Big 6-ers would envy.
- Join an authors' collective: Indie authors are banding together to hire editors and designers and do joint publicity. I was just followed on Twitter by an interesting one called Indie Visible
- Start your own affinity group. Author Claude Nougat is actively working on starting a new genre, Baby Boomer Lit, and has formed a Goodreads group to promote it. This is the kind of innovative thinking that will drive the new publishing business.
- Keep your eye on the new digital imprints from the bigger publishers.
But before you join any small press or collective, make sure you read some of their titles and contact their writers in order to make sure they are 100% legit and professional. And always check with Writer Beware
Finally take the current market into account.
Does your genre sell better in ebook or pbook format? Indies depend on ebooks for most of their sales.
- Right now, mostly adult genre fiction (especially thrillers, romance and erotica) and nonfiction books with a specific niche sell best as ebooks.
- People who buy pbooks (paper books) are more likely to buy literary (or literary women's) fiction and children's books.
- Children's books are finally starting to sell as ebooks, (up 300% in the last year) because of the new tablet technology. The black and white Kindle of a couple of years ago was no place for a children's picture book. But on the iPad or KindleFire, it's fantastic. Still, children's books do best in hardcover.
- Romance writers do best as self e-publishers. A survey last May said romance (especially erotic romance) did better than science-fiction, fantasy or literary fiction.
- Young Adult books are popular in both formats, and they are still the darling of agents and trad publishers. At the last writers' conference I attended, all the agents represented YA. Only one would even look at adult fiction. So if you write YA you've got a great array of choices.
Whatever path you take as you start to publish, it's important to keep in mind that you'll have a much better chance of making a career out of your writing if you do two things first:
1) Establish a strong online platform in your genre
This doesn't mean making a lot of writer friends you chat with. You do want to network with other writers, but don't count on them as your core readership. Your fellow authors are not your audience unless you write how-to-write books or novels about writers. Network with people who read your genre. That means it's much better to blog about films or review books in your genre than it is to blog about fighting writers block and how to write a query letter.
2) Build inventory
It's hard to start a business. And it's very, very hard to start a business when you have only one product to sell. There's a classic Saturday Night Live skit
from the late 1970s about a pathetic mall store that sells nothing but Scotch tape. It's hilarious. Fred Willard's clueless, doomed optimism is pure comic genius.
But do you want to be that guy?
If you're just finishing up your first or second book and all of this feels overwhelming, let me remind you that Catherine Ryan Hyde and I have written a handbook for beginning writers called HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY
Between us, we've got experience with Big Six publishers, small presses, boutique digital presses and self-publishing. We don't favor any one road and provide lots of advice for authors on all paths.
In honor of the holidays, Catherine and I are running a promotion this week of HOW TO BE A WRITER
. We are giving away:
THREE FREE PAPERBACK COPIES OF HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE
THREE FREE E-BOOKS OF HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE--for Kindle or Nook (and they come with free updates.)
Anybody who would like to be eligible for the free give-aways, just mention "free book" in the comments and your preference of pbook or ebook. If you go over to Catherine's blog
and comment on the give-away post
, you'll get your name in twice. The contest will go until 9 PM next Saturday, December 15th. Winners will be announced on this blog next Sunday.
Oh, yes, and I have a little bit of news of my own. NO PLACE LIKE HOME
, the fourth Camilla Randall mystery, is now available for purchase ("Likes" always appreciated.) And the boxed set of the first three Camilla books is now at a special holiday reduced price of $2.99.
(also available at the reduced price in the UK
It was suggested to me that I ask people to nominate this blog for WRITER'S DIGEST'S 101 BEST WEBSITES FOR WRITERS. If you felt like nominating us, Ruth and I would be ecstatic. Submit an email with the subject line "101 Websites" to firstname.lastname@example.org
to nominate http://annerallen.blogspot.com/
So what say you, scriveners? Do you aspire to a hybrid career at some point, or are you aiming to be 100% indie or 100% traditional? Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit? Or would you rather work with a team? Don't forget to say "free book" in the comments if you don't have a copy yet and you'd like to win one.
NEXT WEEK: We'll have a guest post from romance novelist and uber-blogger Roni Loren with some solid advice on using social media to promote your work.