When Patricia and I started making our “comeback” plans, we spent a lot of time discussing whether or not to pursue submitting our book to traditional publishers as we had done in the past with our other novels. There were a few new players out there to consider, e-publishers included, but all-in-all, the business hadn’t changed much over the years. The more we talked about the pros and cons, the more we came to realize our experiences were not so great that either one of us wanted to go down that road again.
Now, the truth is it would have probably been an easier way to go; you write a book and if it’s bought, you hand it over into their capable hands. But, from then on, you have little to say about your book. You’re given a minimal advance when you sign the contract, giving them all rights to your work, sometimes for as long as seven to ten years or more. They can change the title, they design the cover (your approval and often even your input is rarely invited), and they edit the manuscript, asking for revisions to meet the editor’s requirements. The process from contract to bookshelf can take up to two years. Royalties are paid thereafter every six months, and publishers hold back a large amount for reserves against returns, sometimes taking up to five years or more to pay-out on a book.
The shelf life of a mass-market paperback book is generally thirty days, and shorter if they are late releasing your book; sometimes the next release shows up on the heels of yours. Marketing for mid-list books is pretty much nonexistent; you’re sent out to sink or swim on your own merit. You may never know the actual print-run; you may never see an accounting, just a number on your statement showing what you are being paid for. Of course, that’s minus your advance. I know some books never earn a pay-out beyond their advance.
Then there are special sales, finding your books under a different imprint, or bulk sales for pennies. And, there are thousands of wanna-be writers willing to do anything to see their books in print. So, similar to rotating an experienced, aging workforce out for younger and cheaper employees, publishers seem to do the same. And for many authors, getting their rights back can take forever, because some publishers ignore return-right requests like their former authors are the ugly stepchildren in a bad fairy tale.
The more we thought about it, the more we leaned toward self-publishing. We actually started thinking about self-publishing years ago, when we originally teamed up. But the timing wasn’t right, and the technology hadn’t progressed to the point it was viable. In the last couple years, though, there has been a tremendous change, and with the advent of many platforms that make it easier for authors, now is the time. The future is slanting toward electronic books and less toward printed ones. And we want to be a part of that revolution.
Yet, the biggest reward has been in having complete control of our work; from word length, to content, to cover design and marketing. It’s been a huge learning curve for the both of us, having to meet many new challenges as we’ve waded through this process. Thankfully, we both have a bit of techno-wizard deep inside and we each have tackled different aspects of the business. Is it worth it? Time will tell, and in the meantime, we’re learning a lot.