Sunday, July 18, 2010

Agent->Publisher->Self publisher->E-publisher

About a year ago I was polishing off my manuscript. I had made a deal with a small self-publishing house with years of experience and an excellent reputation. Friends with agents and professional editors who had been published by major publishing companies warned me: "Don't do it! Self publishing is the death knell of a successful writing career. Once you're self published," they said, "you will never be taken seriously in the industry."

Since my book was a memoir of Leroy 'Hog' Cooper, bandleader and baritone saxophone player for Ray Charles, I knew that it would only appeal to a niche audience. My market was limited and the likelihood that an agent or major publisher would be interested was miniscule. I had no writing career to ruin so I was going forward with the project as a labor of love. I would probably print only 1,000 copies and be happy to sell those.

I repeat, that was about a year ago. My manuscript was due at the publisher's on September 1. The wheels were in motion (I hate cliches), I had a professional cover design, had used an editor who was a friend and the book release party had been scheduled to take place at B.B. King's Orlando Blues Club. Over 300 people had RSVP'd and I had 3 bands scheduled to play in Leroy's honor for free. And then someone put the breaks on and the wheels came to a screeching halt. Since then, needless to say, the book did not get published. due to legal issues with the verbal contract (boy was I stupid--verbal contract with a 78 year old man whom I loved, expecting his word to follow after his death).

Back to the point. By the end of the year, self-publishing was becoming so popular that the NY publishers were starting their own imprints for writers without agents to take advantage of the market. Why lose out on their cut? If we were going to publish our books anyway, they wanted in on the action. Ah, but perhaps they were too late.

The fire behind Kindle had already started burning soon to be followed by Sony's e-reader and Nook and others. E-publishing became the new way medium. People can download books by Pulitzer Prize winning authors as well as those with niche markets for a relatively small amount of money. For a few bucks you might find a book that an agent would never have paid attention to but SHOULD have.

Let me recap. One year ago I was told that self-publishing was the worst thing a new author could do. Then I was told it was the best way for me to get my book published as long as I was willing to market it, which I would have to do even if an agent sold it to a publisher.

And then came e-publishing. Could it be that the green movement got to somebody high up in the government and convinced whichever czar is in charge of such things that printing books was destructive to our planet? To create books you have to cut down trees, create inky chemicals and glues. Surely this is bad for the environment. And so the story goes, like so many others, technology has solved another problem and will save the baby seals near the polar ice caps.

Gee, I wonder how many forests were leveled to print Al's book. Hmmm. Al, how could you? His publisher printed and sold a whole lot more than mine would have. What an 'inconvenient truth.'


Jai Joshi said...

The publishing industry will say whatever they want to try to retain control but what they don't realise is that they don't have control anymore. People are taking matters into their own hands and putting their work out there and readers are responding. It's only natural progress.


PS: the books printed by trafford - the company I went with - are on 40% recycled paper and their print shop runs on green electricity. That was one of the reasons I went with them.

J. M. Strother said...

I read a study done recently (I wish I could give you the URL) that indicated ebooks are not any greener than dead tree books, when you take all the energy, chemicals, and electronic component waste of old ereaders going to landfills. I think the real benny of ebooks is the freedom of choice they afford, both to readers and to authors. It's a revolution still in the very early stages. We have a wild ride ahead of us.

Susan Cross said...

Jai and Jon, I'm sure you're both right about the green thing. If so, doesn't it seem like the 'greenies' would be fighting the e-book revolution?

The publishing industry is evolving so fast that it's no longer about stories but it's become the story itself. Where will it lead? I guess we'll have to wait to see where Apple will drive us.

J. M. Strother said...

It's sort of a break even proposition, from I've read. It just goes to show there are no easy answers.

I don't have an ebook reader yet, other than my laptop (which is less than ideal). But I'm sure I'll have an Android equivalent to the iPad before too much longer.