Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Why I Might Have to Self-Publish
You don’t need to read this entry. This is mostly me talking to myself. I’ve pretty much reached a decision, but I still have some hesitations to work through. Most are financial, but the most important deal with copyright and doing the right thing by others.
I’ve been reading up on self-publishing since it became a thing. Specifically, a profitable thing. The writers’ site I frequent features dozens of stories of people who took the plunge and put their own books out there when regular publishers said no. Some have had abysmal sales; others do quite well. The best sellers appear to be mysteries, romances or cheap porn featuring women being ravished by Bigfoot. There’s the biggest plus of the Internet: no narrow, publisher-dictated categories. You can write whatever you can imagine and put it out there. Somebody’s bound to read it. If you pub it, they will come. Maybe not in huge numbers, but with the higher royalty rates offered by self-publishing venues, you get more of the take. A dollar’s still a dollar, after all.
Dollars are my biggest hangup. So far my epublishing adventures have been limited to regular publishers. They handle all the stuff that comes after you finish the book: the editing, the proofreading, the cover, the ISBN number, the distribution, part of the promotion. Without a regular publisher, you have to do all that. You can rely on beta readers to help you catch plot holes and typos, but if you want your book to look and read like something put out by a pro, you’re going to have to pay for an editor and pay an artist to come up with a decent cover. Oh, and get somebody to format your file correctly so it uploads. Then hope you sell enough copies to cover these expenses. The more your book looks like something put out by a New York publisher, the better your chances of that.
Yes, you can edit your own work and find a free stock photo for the cover, and wade through Smashword’s formatting manual if that’s how you want to spend your time. Other people do that. Hundreds of others. You want your book to stand out. Look at it this way, though: if your book has fewer than ten typos on the first page, you’re already ahead of the pack.
Hard, time-consuming work with no guarantee of reward shouldn’t bother me. I’m a writer. I’m used to that. I’m also used to others handling all the back-end business stuff that goes into publishing. That alone scares me, never mind the expenses. Okay, I mind the expenses too. I’d rather leave all this to a publisher and let them send me checks.
That’s another thing. In return for doing all the scut work on your book, the publisher wants a cut of the take. That’s just business. Those editors, proofreaders and cover artists don’t work for free. Because there aren’t any printing costs, epublishers can pay anywhere from 35% to 45% royalties. However, that’s not always percentage of cover price. Sometimes it can be percentage of net, and “net” can include all kinds of hidden expenses to drive your take down and theirs up. Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting before you sign the contract.
With self-publishing, there are no other hands snatching slices of your cake. You get everything. You get your cake and eat it too. Better still, some venues like Amazon pay monthly, and let you track your sales. No more waiting four months for a paltry check. Now you get a paltry check every 30 days. This may be why some self-pubbers upload a new story every week. There’s another advantage. With no publisher, there are no publishers’ schedules. The book can go out when it’s ready, not when somebody else says it’s ready. You’re free to flood your own market if you’re prolific enough. It’s a good way to build and keep a readership.
None of this has anything to do with my reasons to consider self-publishing. Glad now you read down this far?
Here’s my hangup: copyright and fairness. I’m on another blog with four other writers. We’re starting to write and publish stories set in our fictional world. I’ve got two in the works right now. Once they’re done, what do I do with them? I’d like to go to a regular publisher, for the time, work, and cost reasons mentioned above. However, some of the characters appearing in my stories are creations of the other writers. I don’t own them. I also can’t claim full ownership of the concept, setting or background. All that was a group effort. What happens if the book takes off? Are my fellow writers, without whom the book wouldn’t exist in the first place even if they didn’t take part in the writing, still entitled to a piece of the royalties?
What about copyright in general? Publishers like exclusivity. If you sell them the first book in a series, they’ll naturally want the rest of the series. Depending on the contract and the wording of right-of-first-refusal clauses, they might own the series. What happens if one of my fellow writers self-pubs a book using the same characters I did? Two of my sister authors have already self-published stories set in our shared world. My right to sell these stories to a publisher may be gone already. Could a publisher sue any of us for plagiarism? Would they try to crack down on the self-pubbed stories to protect “their” intellectual property?
I’m not a lawyer. I don’t even play one on the Internet. Seems to me the best solution, the one least likely to cause any grief, would be for me to bite the bullet, pony up the cash, and dive into the self-publishing waters. At least I wouldn’t be doing it alone. I can pick the others’ brains for tips on formatting and how to make a cover. Without a publisher hovering over me, I can cross-promote all our books and link to the other entries without fear of reprisal. If one sells, it could increase sales of the others. Win-win all around.
Who knows? We could end up starting our own micro-publishing company. However, I don’t think any of us are that crazy. First and foremost, though, it would help if I actually finished the books. The time to worry is when you have something concrete to worry about. Step one in making rabbit stew: catch the rabbit. Back to work, alas.