I did not want to join the independent publishing revolution. No, I wanted New York to discover my genius and send my books on to bestsellerdom.
I sent my novels to editors and garnered some interest, including one editor who asked for a three-book proposal so she could sell it to her boss and many, many other editors who asked for partial or full manuscripts.
Funny thing, though. These hard-working, intelligent editors were disappearing. Losing their jobs. Mutating into agents. Being replaced by junior editors who didn’t respond to my queries, probably because they’d just taken over two people’s jobs and didn’t have time.
Two of my writing mentors, Kris Rusch and Dean Smith, had written extensively about indie publishing. It seemed like all of my Oregon friends had joined the revolution but, to be perfectly honest, I was afraid it would be like a Tupperware party where we all tried to sell to one another.
I resisted. I wanted a “real” book. But I kept seeing good editors vanish. Magic 8 ball said: bad sign.
So, in 2010, I said, This is my last-ditch effort to do it the old-fashioned way. I attended three major conferences: NJ SCWBI (3 months pregnant), RWA Nationals (5 1/2 months), and the Rutgers One-on-One (eight months–my new friend Karen was secretly afraid I’d go into labor). I shook hands, I attended panels, I made friends with an agent or two. I also marketed two of my books as radio dramas.
On November 19th, I delivered my baby girl, Anastasia.
In January 2011, I got a deal for a radio drama pilot with the potential to go national. Aaagh! Two major dreams coming true almost simultaneously. I was so happy, I could hardly sleep. Matt looked after Anastasia while I wrote and developed my radio drama.
I kept an eye on indie publishing, sort of. But when the CBC decided not to pick up my series, I had to sit down and take a serious look.
This is what I understood, filtered through Kris and Dean and The Passive Guy:
1. Borders has collapsed, taking down 10 percent of the bookselling market in the U.S.
Other big box bookstores have moved away from selling physical books, e.g. more than one person has said, “Chapters now seems to specialize in gift wrap.”
Ergo, even if publishers are willing to gamble on my book, book-selling space is fast disappearing.
2. The publishing industry survives on about 4-5 percent profit (and just lost 10% of its physical sales in the U.S.).
Publishing is now run by bean counters and sales teams who want a quick profit on a book instead of letting editors choose books they love and keeping books around to build word of mouth.
So it’s increasingly difficult to sell your book and to get a decent contract (they want rights in all media; 25% of ebook sales is a non-negotiable term; royalty statements need auditing, etc.).
3. Readers still want to read.
Thanks to the miracle of the Internet and other new-fangled technology, I can now sell my work directly to readers and keep most of the profit myself by acting as publisher and writer. Sure, the perpetual party question will still be “Are you a real writer?” but as Dean points out, as long as I’m a good writer putting out a good product, willing to wait for years of small sales instead of getting it as an advance, at least I’m in control over the content, cover, and to some extent, the distribution. Truthfully, I love doing my own covers. I think of it as an extension of my creativity. But if I ever decide they are too primitive, I can just hire someone to redo them. I have also hired proofreaders.
(BTW, now that I think about it, the who ask me “But are you a real writer” tend not to be readers. They tend to more interested in status.)
4. I believe we are at, or near, the tipping point for e-publication. The space for physical books is dropping while the e-reading audience is growing. For obvious reasons, I want some of my children’s stuff out on the market before J.K. Rowling makes her debut in October.
5. I no longer need New York or anyone else to tell me if my work is good enough.
What the CBC really did for me was give me confidence in my own writing.
As Rumi wrote,
Something opens our wings. Something
makes boredom and hurt disappear.
Someone fills the cup in front of us.
We taste only sacredness.
Full poem here.
What is important to me is not so much the form (paper or pixels) or the prestige. I just want people to have access to my stories. When the CBC paid me thousands of dollars to develop a pilot, it soothed my hurt and insecurity. I no longer thought “I’ve only published short stories and non-fiction. I’m not a real writer until these novels hit the shelves.” I thought, “We’re all real writers. I just need to get to the real readers/listeners/customers.”
And that, my friends, is why I have joined the independent book publishing revolution.
Copyright 2011, Melissa Yuan-Innes