As a reader whose tastes typically fall "left of center", I've always been a supporter of independent/small presses and self-published authors. It's no secret that some of my favorite books have come from these underdogs of the publishing world.
Sure, the choice to self-publish has never been an easy one. It carries with it a stigma that is sometimes difficult to shake - one of poor grammar and editing; a book that traditional publishers were not willing to represent; a writer with work that was un-agentable. However, as more and more people embrace e-Reading and writers become more business-savvy, for many the new advantages that come with the decision to self-publish appear to far outweigh the negatives.
David Simpson, author of the 2009 release Post-Human and more recently released titles Trans-Human and The God Killers, decided to take control of his novels' destinies by publishing them himself. In the following guest post, David explains the many reasons he believes self-publishing is the right move for him:
Times, they are a changing.
Last week, the trajectory of my writing career, at least for the foreseeable future, finally changed with the times. Late Saturday night, I was about to hit the sack and get some much needed sleep when I made the fateful decision to click on yahoo news (an almost zombie-like habit I have formed) to see what was happening in the world. On the front page was a story about Amanda Hocking, a “paranormal romance” author who, despite being rejected over fifty times by traditional publishers, was talented, hardworking, and self-published on Kindle.
And she had just sold one million books.
One million. All with no publisher or agent. My heart was pounding as I read the article. I researched her, read her blog, watched news reports about her on Youtube, and knew immediately that the path she took was the one for me too.
In her first month as a self-published author on Kindle, Amanda sold a few hundred stories for only 99 cents a piece; Kindle only lets the author keep 35 cents on every sale at that price point, so Amanda didn’t make much money, but she was proud that she had sold so many copies (and so she should have been) and was encouraged to pass her book along to book blogs not unlike this one. In only her second month, her sales had climbed to over six thousand. The following month (July) she crossed ten thousand. In November, twenty thousand. And in December, she reports that she sold 169 000 copies! In less than a year, she had transformed herself from a woman living paycheck to paycheck, into a millionaire.
I should have seen this coming. I still teach, and one of my favorite subjects to teach my students about is future trends, especially in technology. I’d been expecting e-readers to revolutionize the book industry for a couple of years now. In 2009, when I published my first novel, Post-Human, my publisher (who is owned by Barnes and Noble) didn’t care about e-books, because they only made up 3% of total sales. By the end of 2010, however, the number had climbed to 9%. I remember reading industry “experts” who looked at that 6% jump and assumed 2011 would be the year e-sales might reach 15%. I predicted that the trend would be exponential rather than linear, and that sales should hover close to 30% for 2011. Depending on which source you’re relying on, in 2011 e-book sales make up between 30% and 55% of total book sales in the U.S.. Holy...
Despite all of this foreknowledge, I still clung to the “old” way of doing things, hanging onto tradition during this phenomenal and revolutionary transitionary time period in the profession of novel-writing. I still can’t really understand what I was thinking. Maybe I was just being a defeatist. I had published 3 books by that point and though I had a fiercely (and I do mean fierce... try writing a bad review for me online and see how many people jump out of the woodwork to defend my books) loyal readership, it was a readership that was small, and after a month or so, all of my books wandered off into the publishing abyss and pretty much died. I figured that was just the way it was. Best-selling authors are like lottery winners. You just need a lucky break, and most of us were going to have to wait a really long time to get it.
That was until I read Amanda’s story. Suddenly, I realized that I was living in the first ever era in which a writer had the power to take his or her destiny into their own hands, out of the hands of the number-crunching publishers, and take their work directly to the reader for a price that readers would think was fair. I still owned the copyright to my novels, and I was going to resurrect them, dust them off, and put them back in the game, but at my price point, not my publisher’s.
I went to work making my own Kindle versions of my books (with a lot of help from my tech-savy wife) and, after struggling for most of the week to get the books formatted and ready for prime time, I put them up on Amazon, all for 99 cents. Post-Human, my first novel, is actually free on my website, and will be from now on.
You see, my books were never going to be big sellers traditionally, because the price point was too damn high! I still can’t do anything to control the prices of my paperback editions, but that doesn’t matter, because the book world is going digital in a hurry. At 99 cents, people who liked Post-Human can snap up a copy of Trans-Human and The God Killers without having to think about it twice. My publisher’s e-copy was going for $9.99. Needless to say, few sold.
Publishers and traditional big box book retailers are finished. There. I said it. In Canada, Chapters Indigo, the country’s biggest big box book retailer started the year reacting to the closing of Borders in the U.S. by saying that Borders was a badly run company and that Chapters Indigo was poised for a big year and would be sticking around. Their e-reader, the Kobo, was flying off the shelf, but a peaceful coexistence between paper books and traditional publishing and e-books could be struck. 2 weeks ago, after announcing 3rd quarter losses of 40 million dollars, Chapters Indigo sold the Kobo to a Japanese company and announced plans to become a “cultural department store.” Good luck with that.
Barnes and Noble is putting up a great fight, and their sheer size might help them battle it out with Amazon and transition into a terrific online competitor, but there is no way that they’re going to be able to remain in their physical form all the way through to 2013, especially with their new Nook tablet and the Kindle Fire sure to send e-book sales soaring to the 80% marketshare threshold early in 2012.
And so where will the publishers be? There is a gap from the old way to the new way that I do not think they will be able to cross. I know I am probably ruffling a lot of feathers by saying that, and I take no joy in the idea that small publishing firms that truly love helping authors will probably suffer. I am, however, pretty happy that the monolithic middlemen are being squeezed out.
If you are a writer, then you are a publisher from now on. Thanks to Amazon (and hopefully Barnes and Noble soon once they open up to Canadian authors) I am now in control of my own destiny. My books are dirt cheap, and whether they fly or not won’t have as much do with luck or someone believing in me and giving me a chance, as much as it will have to do with whether they are any good. It’s just me, the retailer, and the reader, and that’s the way I like it.
As I write this, my new Kindle versions have only been online for about 36 hours, but I’ve sold over a dozen and my free Post-Human edition has been downloaded hundreds of times. Even the 99 cent Post-Human is selling on Amazon for some reason... maybe people recognize what I’m doing and just want to lay down their buck in support? I also scored a major interview with a technology blog that gets 100 000 hits a month that I did earlier today via Skype. And then there is Lori, encouraging and supporting authors as usual by suggesting that I write this guest post. Thank you, Lori. All in all, not a bad start. Modest, but not bad, and a hell of a lot better than sticking with the traditional way!
If you’re an unpublished writer reading this, or you’re published but your book is dead in the water (but you still own the copyright) I highly recommend reclaiming control over your own destiny and taking your book right to the readers! Amazon gives you the platform, and your readers will be your judge from now on... not the middlemen.
DAVID SIMPSON is the author of Post-Human, his 2009 debut novel, as well as Trans-Human and The God Killers. He has a master's degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia. He currently lives in West Vancouver, British Columbia, with his wife Jennifer.
He's currently working on a fourth book while teaching English Literature and developing numerous writing projects. If he has any spare time, he watches the Vancouver Canucks not winning the Stanley Cup and breaking his heart or goes to a movie... IF he has any spare time.
Visit David's website to learn more about him and to download a free copy of his first novel Post-Human.
Purchase its follow-up Trans-Human here.
Purchase The God Killers here.