Is there a more controversial topic among writers than the dreaded one about publishing your own work? Probably not. As little as 10 years ago it was unthinkable for anyone aspiring to commercial success to even consider vanity publishing. Of course, back then it was pretty dang expensive, unless you got tied up with a place like PublishAmerica.
Today? Well, there is still a stigma, but the practice is becoming more accepted. For those who haven’t caught on yet, my books published under the MoonHowler Press logo are self published. For the most part these are books that have been previously published in various small presses but the rights have come back to me. I want to recap my experience with the small press before continuing.
3F Publications — The original publisher of Shara. The company published around 200 copies, never paid me a dime other than some free copies, and went out of business within a couple of months after publishing my book.
Double Dragon Publishing — The original publisher of Seven Days in Benevolence as an ebook. To date I have not been paid anything by DDP because the book doesn’t sell. Bad book? No marketing?
Scrybe Press — Republished Shara and was the original publisher of Murdered by Human Wolves, Call to the Hunt, Ulrik, and Seven Days in Benevolence (in paperback). In the beginning they actually paid the Horror Writers Association minimum professional advance and royalties. Then they paid nothing, became unresponsive, and the company is finally gone.
Fine Tooth Press — Publisher of Darkscapes. I never know about sales unless I ask, sometimes multiple times. Not that there have been very many. I also think the book is overpriced. And I hate the cover. Many of the stories have been pulled out and self-published in various short ebooks.
Graveside Tales — Re-released Murdered by Human Wolves, but never paid royalties so I got the rights back. The company is on hiatus. In lieu of owed payment, I asked if the publisher had the rights to the cover art, was told he did, so I asked for those to be given to me. I self-published the book reusing Russell Dickerson’s great cover, only to find out GST didn’t own the rights to transfer to me. Fortunately Russell is okay with me using his work.
Bad Moon Books — Original publisher of Little Graveyard on the Prairie and Amara’s Prayer. Little Graveyard was a straight purchase for a limited edition book, no royalties or anything, and the purchase price was very generous for such a short book. Amara’s Prayer is a trade paperback that is only available through BMB because the company won’t allow a distributor to take a cut and so it has virtually no visibility and thus, very low sales. Plus it’s overpriced, in my opinion.
StoneThread Publishing — Was set to be the original publisher of Inheritance, but less than two months after requesting I send a manuscript, has decided to close its doors. See below for further details.
I’m not dredging this up to blast these publishers (again, in some cases). This has simply been my experience and has led me to recent decisions regarding self publishing. Other authors have worked in the small press with great results, and there are some small press publishers out there that do fantastic work in publishing, promoting, and paying their authors. There are a couple I’d still like to work with. For the most part, though, it just isn’t worth the hassle with the tools now available to anyone with a manuscript.
Amazon’s CreateSpace program is the best thing to happen to authors outside the major publishers. It can also be a slap to the reading public if the author doesn’t do his or her pre-publication work, but we’ll come back to that. CreateSpace makes publishing easy, and for a minimal cost of $10 you can put your own publishing imprint on the book, like I did with MoonHowler Press. For a while it cost $25 to get your print title wider distribution to make it available outside Amazon, but they’ve eliminated that cost now. Then you have Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords for ebooks, all of which is free.
Now, with all that said, self-publishing still churns out a lot of paper that could have been better used on a small roller hanging in a port-a-potty. As an author, you owe it to your readers to make sure your books are edited. If nobody in your critique group has ever worked in the publishing field as an editor, you need to hire someone who has. You also need to put out the money for a good cover artist. There are online sites where you can buy nice stock art for pretty low prices, but you have to consider you might not be the only one buying that piece of art.
The benefit of self-publishing is that I am in control. I set the prices on my books. I do the marketing, so if they fail, I can’t say it’s because so-and-so wouldn’t use a distributor or because the publisher slapped on a stupid cover or whatever. I get to track my own sales; there’s no begging the publisher for a late royalty statement only to find your 23 cents isn’t enough to trigger the minimum $5 payout. There’s also not the fear of waking up tomorrow to find out the company has gone out of business or is still refusing to answer your e-mail or didn’t run the ad they’d promised or has delayed publication because the wife’s car payment had to be made.
There are downsides. Many brick-and-mortar stores won’t carry your books. You won’t have the kind of editing you’ll get at a mainstream publisher, so your work might be published with mistakes (but trust me, people will tell you and it’s easy to correct those and upload an edited version). Your story might be garbage … but look at Twilight. You won’t get rich, but I do know some authors who make a nice second income off their self-published books.
Let’s get on thing straight, though. Traditional publishing with the major houses that pay big bucks is still my goal. I’m still thrilled Tor is releasing the next book from me and Carrie Jones, and I’m hopeful I’ll someday have my own solo contract with Tor, or another major player. I like to be paid and I like the many other benefits of working with a big established company.
NOTE: I’m going to stick with the April 1 release date for Inheritance, but instead of coming from StoneThread it will come from my MoonHowler Press; the owner of StoneThread is a stand-up guy and turned over the formatted manuscripts and the cover he designed for my use, so there are no hard feelings there and it will make my first venture into Smashwords much smoother.
NOTE 2: Nadia’s Children was my first self-published book that had not been previously published by someone else. Sales have been slow, but I am free to try any promotion I can dream up to boost those.