Monday, April 25, 2016

Rumour Has It

by Vicki Delany

I’ve started hearing this a lot. I heard it again just yesterday.

Beginning writers are being told that major, traditional publishers are now only interested in publishing authors who have self-published their first book. Something like, “to prove they can write a book” or “to show that they’re serious about writing.”

I suspect this rumor is being circulated by the sort of vanity presses or self-publishing companies that are, shall we say, less than honest about their business dealings.

Because it simply isn’t true.

I was at a book signing about a year ago, and a woman came up to me and started telling me all about this article she’d read in the paper about some self-published author who’d gotten a major book contract. What did I think about that? I said that the reason it was in the newspaper was because it was so unusual.

They’ve all heard about Fifty Shades of Gray, or similar books that were self-published and only then did the author get a big contract. Fair enough. Nothing wrong with having something to attempt to emulate.

But these cases are extremely rare.

Unless the book really does break through big-time, a traditional publisher isn’t the least bit interested. For one thing, the author has destroyed their marketability as a first time author. First books get reviewed more often, and they are eligible for major awards in the first novel category. The competition is a heck of a lot more intense for second and later books.

Most of all, publishing is a numbers game. Publishers look at an author’s sales numbers when wondering whether or not to take on an author with at least one book published. Good sales = chance of a contract.  Anything less = pretty much out of luck. The publisher you were with, the distribution they had means nothing. They are only looking at the number.

Without excellent bookstore distribution (for print books) or a big promotional effort for e-books, an astronomical amount of luck, or tens of thousands of dollars to promote the book, most self-published books, particularly a first novel, can’t make the grade.

Agents and publishers have enormous slush-piles: stacks of manuscripts that are sent to them in the hopes of being picked up. The last thing they are going to do is wade through all the self-published books out there looking for next big thing.

There's nothing wrong with self-publishing, and I knew some people who are happy with their decision to take that path. But please, do your homework first. You wouldn’t embark on a career in medicine without knowing the pitfalls and the down side. So don’t do it with your writing career either.

Oh, and one more thing. Perhaps the LAST THING you want to do with your first book is “just get it out there”. I’ve heard that too. You have exactly one chance in your life to publish a first book. Are you prepared to do the work it takes to make the book the best it can be and to give it the best chance it has of being read? 

Or do you want to just “get it out there”?


Unknown said...

Excellent thoughts and advice today, Vicky.

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Well stated!

Eileen Goudge said...

It needs to be said and thank you for saying it. I am a traditionally published author of 15 titles who decided to try self-pubbing one title as an experiment. Bad move! It sold horribly, because it turns out I'm only good at writing and not marketing and promotion, and even if you ARE good at it, you'd have to be one of those lucky few who only need three hours of sleep a day or can churn out three books a year. Not only that,these days traditional publishers are shying from even the indie titles that have sold well and/or made the NY Times list. Lackluster sales with subsequent titles from said authors indicate that the public who might have been eager to buy their self-pubbed titles at $1.99 aren't so eager when they're listed at $6.99. Thankfully, I kept my existing publisher and have since returned fully and gratefully to the fold.

Vicki Delany said...

Glad it worked out for you, Eileen.