Yesterday evening, I received an email from my friend and fellow indie author Terri Giuliano Long. She asked in support helping spread the word of her new Huffington Post piece entitled “Sticks and Stones: The Changing Politics of the Self-Publishing Stigma” (link TBA when post is up). It is cross-posted to IndieReader.com, though, so can be read here.
In her post, she discusses some of the harsh words that have been thrown back and forth in this changing landscape of the publishing industry. Some of them have not been so nice, on both sides of the aisle. I am not one to start or participate in verbal wars and try to remain a neutral party. As I posted on Terri’s blog a month ago, I believe that the joy in the new way of doing thing’s is that we now have more options. And by we, I mean both readers and authors. How can this be a bad thing?
As I don’t want to rehash Terri’s amazingly well-researched and cited article, I will simply share my own personal experience as to why I decided to self-publish and am extremely happy that I did.
When I first completed the manuscript of Toonopolis: Gemini in 2010 (the ‘final’ draft prior to professional editing), I started the process of querying agents and publishing houses. At the time, I knew the self-publishing market was opening quickly but I told myself I would try to go through the traditional route. After all, I had a very unique idea (a novel set in a cartoon universe) that, still to my knowledge, is the only story of its kind. Why wouldn’t someone want to jump on this concept?
I got a response from nearly every agent I queried. This, to me, was a good sign that the initial concept at least intrigued people to read my queries. However, every response came back with the same responses: “I don’t see a market for it”, “I don’t think I’m the agent for you”, and various speak which I have come to learn is very common in responses. I had an exchange with one New York agent that was promising but ultimately led to a polite rejection.
While I waited for this process to happen, I began researching self-publishing options. After reading JA Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide for Publishing, I knew that self-publishing would be my path. At this point, I had spent 3 months querying (not long at all by most standards). I decided to wait 3 more months for my last “if we don’t reply in 90 days” queries to expire and I started the process. By now, it was March of 2011.
Toonopolis: Gemini did not publish until May 30th, 2011. Why? Because I wasn’t going to let my debut novel be another greasy patch hurting the reputation of self-published authors. I paid for a professional editor (http://www.alphaediting.com/). I hired an illustrator to do custom cover art and internal chapter header illustrations. I researched like mad to understand formatting, printing, distribution, social marketing, and anything else I needed to understand. I formed a publishing company (http://portmanteaupress.com/). Then I published.
I understand that many people get leery of self-published books. I mean, any yahoo can upload a .doc file to Amazon now-a-days, but I didn’t want to be that yahoo. I have met a very large number of fellow indie/self-published authors who have put in just as much energy, if not more, than I have to being as professional as possible throughout this process.
It frustrates me and pains me that people lump all indie authors together based on a few bad experiences. I understand why, especially when traditional authors like Jodi Picault are going out of their way to badmouth us lowly upstarts, but it still pains me nonetheless.
Almost a year after Gemini first published, I have a much better understanding as to why it wouldn’t get picked up by an agent or a traditional publisher. It is far too unique of a concept. It can’t be pigeonholed into a marketing platform that already exists in traditional houses. I have had to create a platform for the Toonopolis books over the last year, including trying to create viral images to explain my world. It has been a lot of work. I have spent a lot of time creating this market, but it is very rewarding.
But in the end, I’ve sold over 300 copies of the book so far (not to mention about 5000 free downloads through KDP Select free days). Am I breaking records and making the NYT bestseller list? Absolutely not. But have hundreds and thousands of readers been exposed to a genuinely original concept thanks to the doors opened by self-publishers? Yeah.
And I’m proud to be one of them.
Thank you so much for this terrific – and informative – post, Jeremy!
As (literary agent) Jenny Bent points out, the inability to figure out how to categorize is one of the biggest reasons for rejection by agents and houses. Lucky readers that you decided to go ahead and publish GEMINI! The literary landscape is richer for unique books like yours. This, in my view, is the greatest achievement of the indie revolution!
I wholeheartedly agree, Terri. In some ways, it’s really just a practical thing. As indies, we have lower overhead overall and can literally afford to take chances on more fringe titles. With increased revenues and lower setup costs, we don’t need to sell a million copies to get a return on our investment.
This is what allows us to fill smaller niches in markets such as mine (humorous fantasy) or overlapping genre blends that get passed up because they are half thriller and half romance.
Thank you so much for mentioning the yahoos who put up their first drafts. Most of us aren’t doing that. Most of us WANT a good product. And all those agents were wrong. You have a market. Ninja has read it twice and is doing a book report on it.
Well, that’s where those of us that have been around a little bit longer can serve as ambassadors for our collective. I have guided numerous fellow authors through the process and had plenty of hands helping me up along the way as well.
Most authors I communicate with WANT to do things professionally, but just don’t know how to do it without mortgaging their houses. But there are options and ways. I always tell them that you need to invest either money or time to do it right (throughout the whole process, including marketing).
And that’s so awesome to hear! I’m glad Ninja enjoyed it enough to do a book report. I’d be quite interested in hearing about it when she’s done. 🙂
Whenever someone says ‘quality indie books’ ‘Toonopolis’ is pretty much the first thing that comes to mind. If it wasn’t for the indie movement I wouldn’t have read ‘Toonopolis’, or Jonathan Gould’s ‘Doodling’, or Terri’s ‘In Leah’s Wake’.
This has opened my eyes to amazing books and amazing opportunities.
So, yes, #indierocks! Great post!
Careful Donna, I already have a pretty big head… 😉
But yes, I agree that I have read some wonderful stuff that I know had a very small chance of finding a publisher (Jonathan’s work among them) due to quirkiness or lack of broad genre to market. Jonathan had to create his own TERM for his work (dag-lit) to even identify it.
Another thing I’ve enjoyed is the intimacy of the whole experience. Having Twitter conversations with folks who’ve read my work is really cool. How often can you reach out to the author of a fun book you just read in a direct manner?
#IndieRocks indeed. 🙂
Great post. That’s one thing I love about self publishing, the books that traditional publisher turned away finding readers. (I understand that publishers are businesses that are trying to make money, but any good business owner knows that sometimes you have to take risks on something uncertain and then cross your fingers that it pays off.) Before, those books would have sat in a drawer and gathered dust. Now, I get to enjoy them
Indeed. That’s why I think there’s no reason for the two sides in this situation to not get along. We both are offering something to readers. Indie and traditional publishing can coexist, especially in a world of digital where we’re not really “competing” for shelf space. 🙂
Informative and engaging, Jeremy. A well written jaunt through the literary school of hard knocks. Keep landing blows for the little guys and gals.
I agree that it is a trying, tedious and uphill task for all of us who first try the traditional route and realize it is not for them, then explore and read up and find out all they can to create an e book worthy to be published and read. Time and energy well spent. The fact that there are many who do not do their homework while e-publishing does not take away from the worth of those who do to create good books.
That’s awesome. I heard similar things about my books from agents and publishers, and have found self-publishing to be a real boon, not just for trying to reach readers but also boosting my creativity. Congratulations on your success!