Over the past year, I’ve been asked by many people, both writers and non-writers, why I chose to self-publish my book Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove. My answers depended on which stage of publishing I had been in at the time. With the project completed and only marketing left, I can provide better, more thorough answers.
As promised in a post a short time ago, here is the first in a series of posts about my self-publishing journey.
Did you submit to traditional publishers?
Yes. I’ve submitted about ten different manuscripts since 1999. The majority were children picture books. Although I’d received many positive comments, each submission was rejected. One story which received generous comments from several editors made its rounds to about a dozen publishers. One editor replied that she’d accept it if they weren’t already booked for three years with similar stories.
The cost of sending manuscripts depended on the size and if the publisher required the first three chapters and a synopsis or the entire manuscript. On the low side, that meant about three dollars. On the high side, it was eighty dollar . . . that’s right: $80.
The time spent preparing a submission depended on the same factors. After completing a few submissions, I had a query format in which I could simply replace the name of the publisher, name of the manuscript and a few other details and hit print. Using this method, a submission could be ready in about 30 to 45 minutes. That included addressing the envelopes (both the one to the publisher and the SASE).
However, one submission had taken about six hours because the US publisher wanted the entire manuscript, and after 400 pages, I ran out of ink. With no local store selling my printer ink, I was forced to drive to the nearest shop – 40 minutes away – to purchase a cartridge. But the fun didn’t end there. When I arrived at Canada Post to mail the package, I learned they no longer offered International Reply Coupons, and they hadn’t yet decided how to fill the void. In other words, I had no way to pay the return postage for a reply to my query.
In a fit of determination, I raced home, dug through the drawers and found an American five dollar that hadn’t been used on a trip the previous year. I included a short note: “Please, accept cash to purchase a stamp for a reply since Canada Post lacks in many things, including International Reply Coupons. Use the change to have a tea or coffee on me.”
Early on in the process, I wasn’t deterred. Hand-written comments from editors were good; everyone said so. The positive comments were like throwing a bone to a dog, dangling a carrot in front of a horse. But after ten years, the novelty of those penned comments wore off. I still didn’t have a manuscript accepted, a book on store shelves.
The facts – which I’d told other writers and which had lingered on the edge of my thoughts – began speaking loud and clear: Only 1% of all picture book manuscripts are accepted. Publishers don’t want to take chances on new writers. Publishers bank on authors who have already sold well. If your manuscript isn’t going to be a ‘best seller’, publishers won’t consider you.
Other facts began seeping into my brain:
Fact 1: The time frame from acceptance to publication was a year, more like two, possibly three. This doesn’t take in to consideration the months (or years) to write the book and send it to a dozen other publishers for their rejection. In other words, you could be anywhere – a fantastic paying job, some beach somewhere, the grave – by the time you finally got a book published.
Fact 2: Writers lose a lot of control once a manuscript is accepted. That includes cover design. First time authors must accept what the publisher deems marketable, regardless if they hate it. I’ve also heard publishers call all the shots when it comes to layout design, format, print run, etc. Rumour has it, recording artists are fully involved in album covers and many other aspects of getting a record prepared. Perhaps authors aren’t creative enough to help in this process. And singers are because . . . because they can belt-out a good tune.
Fact 3: Authors, in general – from what I’ve read and heard – receive only 10% (if they’re lucky) from sales. I’m not sure if this amount is lowered if books are discounted to the distributor (read Chapters and other large book stores here). Regardless, the lower the price, the less the author receives. That means a book selling for $15 garners the author $1.50. If a hundred books are sold, the author makes $150. And if a book sells well, perhaps 1,000 copies in the first year, the author makes $1,500. Question: Who can live on $1,500 a years? Never mind, don’t answer that.
Here’s a great place to mention the writing/money circle. My fiction writing time is limited because I work at two jobs to make a living. If I made money from fiction, I could work less at the other jobs. If I could earn a modest living from my fiction, I’d be able to dedicated 40 to 60 hours a week to it. So to write more, I have to make money from it. So although I write because I love to write, not for the money, the money is what keeps me doing what I love to do: write.
Before anyone jumps in and says writers should be grateful to make any sum of money doing what they love, then perhaps they, too, should consider working for free. My brother loves building house. Perhaps he should consider building a house for just the cost of the material. Another brother replaces and repairs windshields. Perhaps he should cut the cost to include only material and travelling expenses. After all, he must really enjoy the glass business because he’s been in for almost forty years.
Fact 4: Publishers are unwilling to spend time or money marketing books for new authors. More and more, this job is falling onto the authors’ laps. This doesn’t mean authors earn more for doing extra work; it means authors are doing more for the same 10% of sales and have less time to work on future projects.
All these facts came to a head last May when I attended a writer’s roundtable and met several writers who shared their self-publishing experience. On my way home from that meeting, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What the heck was I waiting for?”
In one morning I had gone from a writer building a rejection pile to an indie author on the road to publishing her first book.