Publishing has never been easy. First, there’s writing the beast, be it a poem or a story or an essay or an entire book. A large accomplishment, pouring yourself onto the page. Let’s not lose sight of that.
From there, it used to be that f you wanted readers, you had to find a way into publishing. You might submit to a journal. Query an agent or editor. Work your way through the gates. The odds were small, but writers are a persistent bunch.
With the right combination of craft and talent and luck and possibly connections and definitely perseverance, you were in. You were golden.
Well, okay. It was a start. As any published author will tell you, all sorts of struggles and frustrations are visited on authors after a book is accepted for publication. The advance is too small, which means the publisher likely does little to promote the book. Or the advance is too large, which means the author’s chances of earning out (and getting a decent offer on the next book) are slim. The books aren’t in stores. Or they’re in stores, but not face out, because the publisher hadn’t bought co-op space. The book doesn’t get reviewed. Or it gets reviewed, but the reviews aren’t starred, or glowing, even. The editor leaves the press. The agent turns her interest from the now-midlist author to the hot new talent.
And so on.
For the most part, these difficulties are as troublesome today as they were sixteen years ago, when I started publishing—maybe even more so, as the market shifts and tightens. But now there are options.
Last summer, I met up with bestselling author Dana Stabenow at La Baleine, a little café on Alaska’s Homer Spit, owned by another writer, Kirsten Dixon. I’d read in the paper that through sales of independently published reprints of titles that had previously gone out of print, Dana had earned enough to pay off her mortgage. That’s right: after an agent and thirty books in print and time on the New York Times bestseller list, Dana was reaching more readers on her own, without going through a traditional publisher.
Ever since the first rumblings about the digital revolution in publishing, I’d been telling myself I needed to get my two out-of-print (OP) books back into print. When I met with Dana, I’d finally gotten to one of them—it had been out for precisely ten days. But already I was excited. The process had been easier than I’d expected. There were nice reviews from readers. I could track in real-time how the book was faring, an impossibility with traditional publishing, owing to a complicated system of distribution.
“We have to let authors know,” Dana said. “There’s another way. They have options.”
We came up with the idea for a workshop: “The Pressure is Off: Independent Publishing Options for Writers,” so titled because with the advent of digital publishing and print on demand, the pressure is now off for writers to be traditionally published and to strive for bestseller/blockbuster status.
These days, you can make a good living—maybe even a better living—as a writer who publishes independently. But is it for you? How does a writer decide whether to go the traditional route or strike out on her own? It’s a lot to sort through. In your search for answers, what you find are cheerleaders, authors firmly in one camp or the other.
I should know. If eighteen months ago, you’d told me I’d be leading a workshop on independent publishing options for writers, I’d have laughed you right out the door. I’d been lucky enough to get through the gates, to have not just one book but several published in the traditional way. Self-publishing—well, that was for people who couldn’t get published any other way.
Authors like Dana Stabenow changed the way I think about getting books to readers. One way of publishing is not part and parcel better than the other. Authors need to know their options—not in the form of cheerleading for one camp or the other, but through a reasoned and thorough understanding of what to expect from their adventures in publishing.
Dana will open our workshop with an informal discussion of today’s publishing options. I’ll follow up with resources and strategies for deciding whether independent publishing is the right way in for you. Among the topics we’ll cover: assessment of your goals and expectations; project readiness; digital and print production, distribution, and marketing; budgeting time and money; balancing art and business; and sustaining momentum. You’ll leave knowing whether independent publishing is right for your book, and if it is, you’ll know the basics of how to make it happen.
In the spirit of the workshop, I’m also in the process of assembling a comprehensive guide to publishing, tentatively titled What Every Author Should Know, No Matter How or Where You Publish, to be released later this year. Where to publish is a big decision, and every author needs the facts to make an informed choice.