Back in the old days (I'm talking the late 1990s here), when I wrote my first book for Delacorte Press, there was only one way to publish. Traditionally. You submitted the manuscript you'd been agonizing over for the past two to three years (or in writing school, like I did) to an agent, and when and if they agreed to shop it, you'd then wait another period of months until it was sold.
More than likely however, it would have been rejected. But...Big ol' booty BUT here...if you were one of the lucky ones, said agent fielded an offer for you. Or two. The more the better because that meant the book was entering into an auction and that would drive the price up. That happened to me with that first book and I ended up with a pretty hefty advance.
Fast forward to the early 2000s and the advent of indie publishing and suddenly authors have options like never before. We can publish the old fashioned way and hope, or we can publish with smaller more digitally based presses, or we can form our own publishing companies and self-publish our books (so long as they are rigorously edited...this of course, takes investment money). A fourth option is the one I prefer which is hybrid authorship, or a combination of all the above.
I've been at the hybrid game for about three years now, and at this point I've been able to make some interesting observations (these are personal observations and by no means the rule...what works/doesn't work for me, might be different for another author).
1. Small independent presses can't move units. Simple as that. In other words, if you sign with a small imprint, regardless of their quality, author stable, and distribution, it's hard for them to move as many units as a big publisher can. They simply don't have the resources to make it happen. Now if you're publishing with the small press for the honor of doing so (maybe you have another job or you teach), and not relying on the money, then by all means, indulge. Some beautiful books are being produced by more than a few of these companies.
2. The big publishers, and I include Amazon Publishing imprints in this group, can indeed move a lot of units, but only when they are paying strict attention to you and your library pretty much all of the time, or at least, a lot of the time. Which, of course, is impossible. Big publishers have a ton of authors vying for their attention and not everyone can get a big bite of it all the time. Ironically, it's the authors who sell the best who are going to demand the most attention. That's the way it's always worked and that's the way it will remain. I personally like to use big publishers, especially Amazon Imprints like Thomas & Mercer, for my stand-alones since they have an aptitude for marketing like no other.
2A. Big Publishers still move a lot of paper (I exclude Amazon Publishing imprints in this one, since they rely almost exclusively on Kindle and audio).
3. Indie or self-publishing is all about the math. What I mean is, having now been publishing one entire series, The Chase Baker action/adventure pulp series for three years now under my own imprint, Bear Media, I can see that the best marketing tool for succeeding independently is to write more books. Five books sell more than one book. 10 books sell more than 5, 20 books sell more than 10, and so on, rinse, repeat. However, to be a successful indie writer, you need to market aside from writing more books. This means paying for FB ads, BookBubs, KNDs, and any one of a multitude of advertising sites that are presently available. There are days I am so confused and overwhelmed by marketing opportunities that I find myself having to lie down and take a nap. Also, has anyone tried to figure out precisely how Facebook ads work? You need to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. But wait, you can now hire other outside firms to do this kind of thing for you. In turn you're free to write while they build up your subscriber list which in time, will result in increased sales.
To sum it up (this was supposed to be a short blog), numerous options still exist for all fiction writers, especially genre writers like me. It's all about personal choice and comfort and how much control you're willing or not willing to give up. If you make your living as a writer, like I do, you'll probably find yourself shying away from small presses and concentrating on bigger trades for certain books (like stand-alones for instance) while spending a significant amount of time building up your indie list of series books.
One day, I foresee one's own website acting as a one-stop bookshop for an author's personal list of subscribers who need only tap their smartphone (or wristwatch) for the books they wish to read, digitally, audibly, or in good old fashioned paper. That day is coming rather quickly. But not yet.
Note: I'll be speaking on this exact topic at the annual Writer's Digest Conference 2016 taking place August 12-14 in New York City. Click HERE for details. Please come, introduce yourself to me, and perhaps we can have a drink and chat it up.
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