Last time, I talked about how I came to the decision to self-publish my first novel, Midlife Mouse. (I could mention that the book is currently on sale for only $1.99 at the Kindle Store, but that would compromise my integrity as a blogger. So, I won’t.) Today, let’s take a look at what that choice meant.
The first question any self-publishing author must ask himself is: What was I thinking? If the answer to that question leads him to continue along the indie publishing path, the second question he must ask is this: What kind of self-publisher am I? These days, the possible answers to that question seem limitless.
It used to be that if one wanted to self-publish, he would employ a so-called vanity publisher. And they are called that because that’s exactly what the traditional publishing industry (and their traditionally published authors) thought of anyone who dared to forego the system. For the most part, they were right. Many vanity published authors were simply rich guys with little to no talent who have decided the world needs to hear what they have to say.
They stand in stark contrast to authors like myself, who are part of the new indie publishing revolution brought about by emerging technologies like e-books and print-on-demand services. We’re poor guys with a modicum of talent who are absolutely certain the world needs to hear what we have to say. Clearly, we have the moral high ground.
There were the occasional success stories from the old world of vanity publishing (the tale of John Grisham peddling a trunkful of copies of A Time to Kill before he was picked up by a publisher comes to mind), but they were few and far between. These days, however, the media jump on every story of a supposedly self-made bestselling author. It would seem that publishing for e-books is this century’s equivalent to the California Gold Rush. Truth be told, those stories are few and far between, too. Most successful self-published authors are like my colleagues Rob Kroese and Stant Litore. Both started out self-publishing and were later picked up by Amazon imprint 47 North. Stant (which is a pen name, by the way) still works his day job while pursuing his epic Zombie Bible series in his spare time. Rob was recently able to leave his old career as a software developer and focus on writing full-time.
Then there are guys like Leonard Kinsey. Leonard made a name for himself as an urban explorer known for his unauthorized “backstage” tours of the Disney parks. He turned his misadventures first into a self-published non-fiction book, The Dark Side of Disney, and then a novel based on some of those ideas. That novel, Our Kingdom of Dust, is like the dark, evil twin of Midlife Mouse … but in a good way. (While Leonard is considered persona non grata by some in the Disney community for his exploits, I should point out he has been nothing but a gentleman toward me: generous, helpful, enthusiastic and supportive of my efforts to publish Midlife Mouse, now on sale for $1.99 on the Kindle Store.) Leonard set up his own publishing imprint and is now publishing the works of other indie authors.
Working from the advice and example of these three authors in particular, I set out on my journey. There were still a multitude of choices to make. Whether or not to publish in e-book format was not one of them. E-books have been the biggest catalyst to the indie publishing revolution. It’s the ultimate democratization of literature, allowing an author to distribute his work to the entire world via the Internet without having to grovel, beg or heel at the boots of publishing industry gatekeepers. More importantly, it’s cheap — cheap for the author and cheap for the reader. So, you just write your book, click a few links and voila! Book published! Right? Not exactly.
First, you must decide which e-book formats to embrace. Stant and Rob, because they are signed with 47 North, are exclusive to the Kindle. That’s not really a problem for them, because the Kindle format is now accessible to so many more devices than just the Kindle e-reader itself. With Barnes & Noble now opening up their NOOK e-reader to Google Play, you can even install the Kindle reader app for Android on that competing device. (So, really there’s no reason any of you should not take advantage of the $1.99 sale on Midlife Mouse. Is there?)
With Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, authors can keep 70% of every sale priced between $2.99 and $6.99. Compare that the to the single-digit percentages first-time authors get with the Big Six publishers, and self-publishing makes even more sense. However, I wanted to make my book available to as many people as possible — and some people just don’t like Amazon. That meant in addition to formatting a version of the book especially for the Kindle, I had to format it for other e-books as well. I also had to figure out the best way to make that happen.
The answer was a service called Smashwords. The name doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. It’s as if the Big Six named this thing themselves, poking fun at vanity publishers’ penchant for pulverizing the language. Visiting the Smashwords store doesn’t help much, either. It’s mostly bad erotica. Midlife Mouse, a family-friendly satirical fantasy, is definitely not erotica. However, Smashwords provides an incredibly valuable service: they distribute your e-book to Kobo, Sony, Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Store and others. I just had to remind myself not to send people to the Smashwords site indiscriminately. (Seriously, a whole lot of erotica. It’s embarrassing.)
So it was settled. I would publish for the Kindle through KDP and for everything else electronic via Smashwords. (The only major player left out of this equation is the Google Play store, but I’m working on that soon.) Then there were the print editions. Once again, Amazon was the first stop. Through their CreateSpace service, publishing a a paperback is surprisingly easy. Once published, your book is available alongside every other title on Amazon. In my case, I’ve been featured alongside the likes of Carl Hiaasen, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and Helen Fielding’s latest tome about that minx Bridget Jones.
However, if you want to get your book into brick-and-mortar bookstores, that could be a problem. Many independent bookstores, unhappy with what they consider unfair practices by Amazon, are refusing to stock CreateSpace-published books. The shortest way around this obstacle is to set yourself up as a publishing company and purchase your own ISBNs. ISBNs are the 10- or 13-digit numbers associated with a particular edition of a particular book. It’s like a cross between a fingerprint and DNA for your book. The ISBN not only tells someone the title and edition of the book, but also the author, publisher and other key metadata. If you get a free ISBN through CreateSpace, then CreateSpace is forever listed as the publisher of that edition. Get an ISBN through your own imprint, and you might have a little more luck getting the local bookstore to stock your title. Is it silly? Yes. Is it arbitrary? Absolutely. Is it something I did? You betcha.
With my paperback and e-book editions all squared away, I began to do some light promotion for the book. I created a Twitter handle and a Facebook page for the book. I created a website with a blog. I started to invite friends to the Facebook page and engage with Disney fans on Twitter. And what was the first question I got? It wasn’t about where to get the paperbacks or what e-book editions I would offer.
It was, “Where can I get a signed hardcover?” Sigh…
And with that, I was off on yet another mission in trying to bring this book to reality. Next time, we’ll talk about what I had to do to create a hardcover edition that didn’t end up losing money, and we’ll also take a look at the many missteps I’ve made along the way. In the meantime, buy yourself an entertaining summer read. I could suggest one that is called
“hilarious and brilliantly executed”
“part Big Fish, part Disney lore and all heart”
“filled to the brim with charm and graceful humor”
I could even tell you that it’s only $1.99 for the next week. But that would be in poor taste, so I won’t.