Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chapter 2: One Novelist’s Journey to Self-Publication

Publishing In A Changing World
By Mark Young
Editor’s Note: This week marks a major turning point in my writing career. My debut novel, REVENGE: A Travis Mays Novel, came out as an eBook ten days ago. Yes … I crossed that point of no return. Here are the four Ws— who, what, where and when—that led me to self-publish. I hope these articles encourage other writers who find themselves writing in this changing world of publishing. Writers and readers have every reason to be hopeful. Here are my reasons:

I knew my writing career veered down an uncharted highway the moment I pressed that button one week ago. While uploading Revenge: A Travis Mays Novel onto Kindle’s Direct Publishing platform, I gulped and thought, Where is that delete key? Maybe I should think about this for a moment.  Too late. It was gone. Vanished into that digital world where words become computer code. I knew a way to stop this process, but after a moment of reflection I continued to charge ahead, knowing this was the right thing to do. At least for me.

And then I felt a rush of excitement. Okay, let’s just see where this will go. It felt good. I knew I’d finally reached a point where I could take matters into my own hands. I paused just a moment before pushing onward, finally pressing a couple more buttons to send my baby coursing through Barnes & Noble’s PubIt for the Nook and Smashwords for everything else—Sony, Kobo, iBookstore and a bunch of other eReaders.

So, I am out there after more than five years of trying find my way in the traditional publishing world.  Now, I can go online to Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Smashwords web sites and see my book resting on their digital shelf. It is a good feeling.

My decision to self-publish came about three months ago as I re-evaluated my writing career. Maybe it had been festering in my subconscious for a while, waiting for just the right moment to coerce my hand. Certain events seemed to force it to the surface, demanding that I make a choice. Here are the reasons I shifted direction:

First, my last round of rejections compelled me to painfully examine what I was trying to accomplish as an author. As part of this uncomfortable reflection, I began to scrutinize everything that seemed to be occurring in the publishing worlda recession, layoffs, bankruptcies, and re-structure of companies back to their bare bones.  Couple this with the looming fact that I was facing the final months of my self-imposed five-year goal to be published—something had to give. My publishing career was going nowhere … fast.

There had been moments of hope. Several editors expressed a genuine interest and excitement (okay, maybe I mistook their excitement for stomach pains) when they read a couple chapters and looked over the book proposals without dropping them in the circular file. They were not those gatekeepers that tell you “send it to me and I’ll get back to you,” and are never heard from again until the next writing conference. These acquisition editors seemed to be expressing honest-to-goodness interest in my writing. They actually tucked my novels under their arms and carried them into the inner sanctum of their respective publishing houses. My manuscripts cleared the gatekeepers. I’d wait weeks and months, hoping to get that final word of approval. Then it would come. By letter or by email, I’d learned my novel died a painful death when some unidentified committee members gave it thumbs down, reminiscent of brutal Roman times. Reluctantly, I’d store those novels away on the shelf and start on the next.

The second reason I shifted direction away from the traditional approach was that major changes seemed to be occurring in the publishing world. These changes began to alter my perception of my writing world. I slowly changed my attitude toward self-publishing as I began to connect with a group of writers who had modified their own perceptions over time. They persuasively championed the idea that authors who self-publish need not be ashamed. That to self-publish did not mean you were a failure as a writer. They argued that those who switched now just might be ahead of the publishing curve.

To further reinforce this concept, I watched in amazement as the eBook revolution exploded over the last year while publishing giants and Amazon vied for price control over these digital marvels. We all watched as eReader sales drastically climbed to new heights, while eBook sales soared into the double-digit percentile of all books sold. Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and other eReader distributors struggled to meet consumer's voracious appetites for thise digital readers as Christmas loomed nearer. I believe both companies had to cut off sales, particularly in Europe and elsewhere, to meet buyer demands in the U.S., Canada and the U.K during this pre-Christmas rush.

Rumors began circulating when Amazon announced that their eBooks were significantly outselling their  hardcover prints. A few months later, Amazon announced that eBooks were outselling their paperbacks. Everything seemed to be shifting while hard economic times continued to attack. I could almost smell fear emanating from tradition publishers and literary agents, each eyeing a volatile market that seemed on the verge of collapsing at times.

Rumblings I picked up online and at writers conferences about the impact of Kindles, Nooks, and iPads continued to gain momentum as the digital revolution rolled on. I began to understand market potential for authors in this digital age, particularly for new writers trying to develop and expand a readership. I began reading Joe Konrath’s great blog A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing, as he continually compared the two opposing markets—tradition versus self-published—while hammering away at long-held perceptions about publishing, age-old ideas that may not longer be valid in the current market. I came across Aaron Patterson’s The Worst Book Ever blog, where this young man—emerging from the construction trade to create his own writing career and publishing company for authors—joined Konrath and other writers, urging authors to step out and take a chance in this self-publishing tidal wave. I saw several unknown author’s eBook sales reach a level that would make NYT bestselling authors jealous.

I watched hand-to-hand combat between Amazon and Macmillan over what they termed the Agency Model, a concept pushed by traditional publishers where they—not the authors or Amazon—set the price for books. Macmillan won the first battle in that war, but I feel many more battles will be forthcoming and traditional publisher may lose that war unless they pay attention to the desires of their readers. Even before the ink dried on that first skirmishing agreement, Amazon began courting authors with tempting royalty offers—up to 70 percent if self-publishers kept their eBooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Match that offer with traditional publishing royalties in which most authors make only a fraction of their book sales. Or that authors can roll out their novels onto this growing market within 48 hours compared to eighteen months or longer. Where self-published prices, digital distribution and POD printing options actually match readers’ and authors’ pocketbook.

I saw the rise in eReader purchases, and the gradual climb of eBook sales from low single-digit percentages to escalating double-digits. Amazon spokesperson Russ Grandinetti, vice-president for Kindle, told a Digital Book World panel several weeks ago: “However fast you think this change is happening, it’s probably happening faster than you think.” Kindle’s Nation writes, “Publishers continue to set new release prices reflexively in the $12-$15 range, but only two of the top twenty bestselling eBooks in the Kindle Store are priced above $9.99.” Others—like self-publishing guru Joe Konrath—believe that the “sweet price” for eBooks might be around $2.99. Authors opting into the traditional publishing Agency Model have no control over these price points, while traditional publishers continue to offer their eBooks equal to or slightly below their print book prices. Publishers continue to assume readers will continue to pay higher eBook prices for NYT bestselling authors.

I believe they are wrong.

Fissures are emerging in the old castle walls of publishing. The old paradigm—query, submission, agent, publisher, contract—has begun to shift as writers begin to take more control over all aspects of their writing—editorial, production, price point settings, advertising, distribution, and marketing. Maybe this is in response to a growing trend over the last ten years where many traditionally-published authors were forced to take on a large portion of  the responsibility for marketing and promotion, paying for self-promotion to boost their sales out of their own pockets while struggling to find time to write.

Pushing this even further, a growing number of traditionally-published novelists and unpublished authors began paying for freelance editing out of their own pockets in order to be competitive, even before publishers got their hands on the manuscript. I began to  wondered if acquisition editors even know whether that newbie writer's manuscript—after being processed through so many freelance editors' handstruly represented that new writer's voice, that new writer's actually level of writing skill. After watching writers pay for editing, marketing, publicity, I began to question whether the traditional route made sense. 

I even began to buy into this trend, paying for limited editing services on novels that eventually landed on the dusty shelf while I continued to struggle to find traction somewhere among publishers. In this process, I began to learn how to improve my craft as editors and other writers provided me  guidance over time. A thought began to nag at me: Why don't I make use of these services I paid for and publish my own work. Pride and my focus on a traditional publishing path killed this thought.

It was a thought that would not go away. I watched the industry begin to shift like volcanic tremors as former editors and agents—let go by traditional publishing companies and literary agencies, or voluntarily packing their own bags—began offering freelance services at reasonable rates in growing numbers. I began to wonder—after all this paid-for editing—why authors would turn their manuscript over to traditional publishers and receive a fraction of what they might receive as self publishers, since they already paid for all this upfront. Self-published writers—diligently working alongside these seasoned free lance editors—can financially afford to make their works match the quality of those books coursing through traditional publishing rivers.

Not all self-pub writers, of course, are going to strive for quality, nor will they have the skill set for writing that would attract readership. But I believe there are a number of great independent writers/publishers out there who are willing to make the sacrifice to offer great novels equal to any in traditional publishing. Those independent authors, willing to strive for the very best quality, will rise to the top as their readership gradually grows. At least, this is what I think will happen.

Right now, I perceive this industry as helter-skeltered, much like the old Wild Wild West, where past rules and laws of publication are gradually eroding. In their place, a new era of readers will emerge as technological breakthroughs continue. The old sheriff—traditional publishers and gatekeepers—are losing control. There are new guns in town. Writers like Amanda Hocking, who sold 240,000 eBooks in one month this year; Joe Konrath and Victorine Lieke, selling over 18,000 books per month; or writer B. V. Larsen, who sold over 100,000 last years, 26,000 eBooks alone in January as those numbers continue to rise. Writers reaping seventy percent of those sales as compared to traditional royalty agreements. Stack these self-publishing sales—by basically midlist or no-list writers—against some of NYT’s bestselling authors, whose works are pushed with all the power large publishing houses can muster. At times, these new guns in town must feel like they’re waging a David and Goliath contest, but we all know how that story ended.

The future may lie somewhere between these two different worlds of publishing. Maybe we will reach a common ground of understanding, where authors, agents, and publishers work to create a new publishing paradigm, where authors begin to have more of a voice in their own futures coupled with greater profits. Unless something gives, I believe there will be a completely new world out there that the Big 6 never envisioned. And they may not be sitting at the table of power much longer.

Joe Konrath wrote a compelling article, “The End Of The Bestseller” on his blog, in which he attacks the high price point of books demanded by traditional  publishers. Joe believes the readers are fed up, and will register their anger by way of the pocket book. Here is how he sees things playing out:


In the future, we will no longer have the same bestsellers we have now. People will be buying more books, but more of them will be going unread. There won't be competition, because no one goes to a buffet and gets the pizza or the lasagna--they get the pizza AND the lasagna, even if they don't eat one of them.

EBooks will continue to gobble up market share once held by print books. Chain bookstores will close. Publishers will have to downsize or go bankrupt. Big name authors will self-publish, making less money than they did before, but having more control and getting a larger percentage of royalties. The playing field will truly be even, readers will find what they want to read without having it crammed down their throats by NY, and the cream will rise to the top.

And that, my friends, is a fairy tale ending in every sense of the term.

Just this last week we learned that Borders finally succumbed to Chapter 11 and Canada’s major book distribution company went belly up. One of the finest mystery books stores in Southern California closed their doors at the end of January. These occurrences seem to be replicating themselves in the publishing world faster than the U.S. national debt.

Authors need to learn to survive in this changing evolution of publishing. And so I must change along with everyone else. I’ve thrown my hat into the ring of self-publishing with my first novel, Revenge: A Travis Mays Novel.  Two other novels are waiting in the wings, while I finish my current WIP—Off  The Grid: A Garret O’Rourke Novel. Lord willing, four novels will be published by the end of 2012. I must adapt to change within this new publishing paradigm.

I think writers and readers should be excited about these changes. Sure, we will regret when some of our well-loved bookstores close their door, or we witness the passing of time-honored book signings—where authors get face time with their readers—as these events become fewer and farther between. Maybe the future will be a blend of the new and the old, but this will depend upon whether traditional publishers, distributors, and booksellers learn to adapt to this changing world along with their writers.

In a few weeks, I will be posting Chapter 3: The Nitty-Gritty of Self-Publishing, as I share some of the details learned as I published my first novel. Continue to travel with me on this journey and let’s see what the future holds for all of us—readers, writers and publishers.

Q:  How about you? What do you make of this publishing revolution?


  1. Mark, Your journey to self-publication via the e-book route mirrors the struggle experienced by a number of other authors. The times are truly changing. Good luck on this journey.
    I'm looking forward to having you post on my blog in the future to give an update on how things have gone since you pushed the button that fateful day.For now, my best wishes go with you.

  2. Thanks, Richard. Look forward to sharing this journey, and watching your writing path as well. Best wishes.

  3. Appreciate the visit, Paula. Thanks.

  4. Our situations sound quite similar. My MS spent three months with a big-three house here in Canada, and they said that while they really liked it, they were overruled because it was too similar to another title in their list. Crushing blow. I am one in a sea of a million now, as are you, preparing to move into a realm we sort of never hoped we'd have to go into. But this post proves that we are indeed sailing in a different direction. Self-publishing is no longer only for the nerdy kid who lives in his parents' cluttered basement and writes about elves and dragons. (Hell, it worked for Christopher Paolini...he's a bazillionaire now! Long live nerdy dragon guys!) Self-publishing, via print and e-books, is reaching a new level of legitimacy, and as more and more quality comes into the marketplace, good writing and careful presentation will rise above the chaff. Folks worry about the less-than-par writing that is often found in self-pub'd books (truth hurts), but it's not hard to find garbage nestled in the shelves of those brick-and-mortars, either. Thanks for the great post! One of these days, I will figure out this whole guest post thing and hit you up for a trade. (My novel is coming out in April...)

  5. Great comments, Jen. I feel your pain--waiting all those months only to have your hopes dashed.

    Editors, themselves, must get very frustrated. I know instances where the acquisition editor was very excited about a new manuscript, only to have the in-house committee turn it down months later. They seem to start by trying to find all the reasons why a novel will not succeed, rather than trying to find ways to overcome those objections in order to make the novel a success. Granted, it is a big financial risk for these publishers, with all the overhead, staffing and related costs that they must maintain.

    Indi authors/publishers, on the other hand, can produce a product and give a price point that consumers find very attractive. Traditional publishers just cannot compete with these indie-priced products and still remain solvent. Typically, traditional publishers price their eBook at $9.95 or higher. Unless they come up with a way to lower the costs of doing business, I just don't see how they will survive.

    Consumers want a quality product that is competitively priced. I believe consumers are not going to accept eBooks priced at $9.99 or higher much longer.

    I feel that writers finally have more options that ever before to get out there and get their writing before the reading public.

    Congratulation, Jen, on having the courage to get your novel out there. Let us know how it goes. Regarding guest blogs, shoot me an email when the time is right for you and we can discuss details.

  6. Good post, Mark, you make many good points. The publishing world is changing faster than all of us can keep up with. I think platforms like Amazon will bring us many exciting new authors, ones we would not normally be exposed to. Keep up the good work.

    John Wills

  7. Thanks, John. And I'm looking forward to posting your guest article here when you're ready.

  8. Heart felt and deliberative (as you are)observation.
    Do you use a Kindle?
    We like ours.
    Any hits yet?
    Mark Ryan

  9. Mark: We purchased both the Kindle and the Nook (to make sure REVENGE was formatted properly). My prefernce is Kindle, because it seems to load and function faster that the Nook.

    Re: "Hits", do you mean people buy the novel? If so, yes, people are buying it but not in the numbers to rank REVENGE in Amazon's top 100 yet. But I have hope. That is why it is important for readers, who like the novel, to let other readers know about it. This is really were today's novels survive, with many reviews and word-of-mouth. Not high-priced New York advertising blitzes. This is where everything is changing in publishing--at the grassroots level,where authors and readers can interact and communicate.

  10. Great post, and I think you're absolutely right, Mark. It's finally time.

    I got fed up with the waiting and the rejections and decided to self-publish a novel as an e-book back in 1998. I was even one of the few who beta tested the Rocket eBook, the precursor to the modern-day Nooks and Kindles. I asked a few well-known authors to read my novel with the hopes they would offer endorsements, and to my delight several of them did, including an author who is a NY Times bestseller.

    But in 1998 it wasn't time. I was treated like a leper by many fellow writers, so I tried the traditional route once again, and finally succeeded in 2004 with a "legitimate" publisher, though not one located in NY. That did open some doors for me. I got an agent and some more really good rejections and an "almost" from an executive editor at Del Rey. If one of their bestselling authors hadn't just submitted a book somewhat similar to mine, I think they would have bought my manuscript.

    It was finally just too much and I turned my creative attention to my art and jewelry. But lately that writing bug has been nibbling again, so I might just have to go this route if I decide to start writing again. I like the thought of going straight to the reader with my work and letting them make the decision regarding its value, just as I do with my jewelry and artwork.

    Best of luck to you!

  11. Mark,

    I chose Hook 'em and Book 'em for the "I love this blog!" Award. Check out Redwood's Medical Edge tomorrow (2/26/11).

  12. Kelly: You are not alone. Many writers have faced similar frustrations, never learning the specifics as to why their story was rejected. Take hope and try again, only become your own publisher or partner with a group that will come along side you. Craft a good story, hire quality editing, wrap it a good design cover, and see where it takes you. Let us know when this new journey begins.

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  14. Jordyn: I feel honored that you selected this blog. Thanks you.

    It may be late before I can visit your blog tomorrow. Just heading out the door with my better half (it is our wedding anniversary) and I'm taking no electronics but my Kindle. She deserves my full attention, after all she puts up with.LOL. I try to check in with you tomorrow night. Have a great weekend.

  15. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the glimpse into your publishing journey! My nephew, who is a techy nut, just recently encouraged me to consider Kindle as a publishing option when my first book is down. It certainly seems a very viable option.

    I hope to keep up with you and wish you all the best!

  16. Elaine: Appreciate your comments. I wish the very best for you in your writing career.

    When the time comes, you will be encouraged at the options open to you as an author. Meanwhile, travel with us on this journey. I hope these articles will be an encouragement to you and other writers.