Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Year of Not Writing

In two weeks, it will be a year since I wrote any new fiction. For the twenty years before that, I did some writing on a new “work in progress” nearly every day of my life. I wrote on holidays, on vacations, on my birthday, when I was sick. I wrote whenever I could.
But a year ago I decided to enter the world of self-publishing. I started with putting up some of my backlist as ebooks. I had them scanned, then had to proof them and edit them (I’m a better writer than I was twenty years ago!) I paid to have them formatted, but I still had to find the stock photos for the cover art, write blurbs, set up accounts at the ebook vendors, upload them and do a little bit of promotion to let people know they were available.
A few months into it I decided to release two of my unpublished novels that I hadn’t been able to sell. These required a lot more proofing, as well as covers and blurbs and all the rest. A couple of months later, I decided to release one of the new books in print. I needed real cover art, decisions about size, price and format. When that book became available, I did some local promotion, including booksignings and bookmarks.
Self-publishing became my full-time, part-time job. (I have two other jobs, working at the library and helping with my husband’s business.) Editing my older books, which required rewriting in some places, kept me sane. But in my heart I longed for the day when I could really write again. (And also worried that I wouldn’t remember how!)
By the end of next month I will have ten ebooks available (including a “boxed set” of my Dragon of the Island series). I will also have two books available in print.
Was my decision worth it?
Creatively? Yes. It’s very satisfying to have readers again reading my stories. I’m no longer writing in a vacuum. And all that editing honed my writing skills even if it wasn’t as satisfying as “real” writing.
Financially? Yes. It cost me about $250 to produce each ebook, and there were additional expenses for the print copies. I have been making about $200 a month in sales, but the two Regency romances I put up earlier this month have really taken off, and with them it may take me less than a year to pay for my expenses. (If you don’t count my other writing expenses like my new computer, which I figure I would have bought anyway.) After that, I’ll finally be making a profit.
For me, adding the job of “publisher” to my already busy life was the right decision. I had a backlist that was relatively easy to re-publish. I also had several finished manuscripts mostly ready to go. Counting the rest of my backlist and completed (if still rough) manuscripts, I still have another nine books I could potentially put out as ebooks, not to mention a dozen partial manuscripts I could theoretically finish and publish.  
But even though self-publishing was the right choice for me, I don’t think it’s the best path for every writer. If you’re someone who struggles to write regularly, who has a love-hate relationship with the process and isn’t very productive, then self-publishing might end up being an excuse not to write.
If you’ve only finished one or two books, or even three or four, I would suggest you to spend your time writing instead of caught up in the self-publishing process. Unless the books are all in a series, which gives you a better base to work from. The more books an author has available, the easier it is to develop a presence in the ebook market.
The fact is, if you’ve never been published traditionally, I would think long and hard about going the “indie” publisher route. There are dozens of copies of my early print books available on Amazon, and have been for years. If you’re just starting out and nobody’s ever heard of you, it’s going to be more difficult to get readers to find your books.
I’ve spent the last ten years trying to sell the three new titles I’ve published. They’ve all been shopped around extensively. Indeed, I still have two manuscripts out with a publisher. I could release these books myself, but I believe having them published by a big-name house would help boost the sales of my other ebooks. For the great majority of authors, being traditionally published is a much faster, surer route to success (and profit) than self-publishing.
Finally, you have to consider whether your stories are in a popular genre. If they are, then going the indie route might make sense. If they’re not, well… you really might be wasting your time and money to self-publish.
For years I tried to sell the fourth book in my dark age historical romance series.  A lot of editors wouldn’t even look at the manuscript because of the time period. And it turns out they were right to doubt the salability of the book.  It’s my slowest selling ebook. However, I just put up two Regency romances and they’re selling amazingly well. They’ve been available for two weeks and I’ve already sold more copies of each of them than I’ve sold of all my other books combined (for the month). I still believe there are readers who would love my dark age series. But in the crowded marketplace it’s going to take a long time for those readers to find me.  If you’re writing in a popular genre/sub-genre, readers will discover your books much more quickly.
And finally, a word of warning. Although it’s happened and sometimes ends up being a fabulous Cinderella story, don’t expect that self-publishing will lead to a traditional publishing house discovering you and offering you a contract. This is in the very rare category, and probably requires extraordinary good luck and/or divine intervention.
Now, for me, back to writing!