Okay, I thought I would take a moment away from pushing my Kickstarter fundraising page, and post on a topic that’s been interesting to me since I started this whole journey back in mid 2006: the various methods of publishing your work as a writer. This is going to be a long post, but it’s a subject I find fascinating even as my own attitudes have changed over the years.
Before I even finished writing The Door to Canellin, I began researching the process of getting published. I knew the basics. I had been interested before, but had never finished a novel, so back in the mid-90’s, I read a lot of books on the subject and researched markets. But over the years, the publishing landscape had changed drastically. When I first looked into all of this, way back when, there were really only two methods of getting your work in print. You either went through the arduous project of finding an agent, who would then help you find a publisher, or you went with a vanity press, which is basically a company you pay to print up copies of your work. Printing was extremely expensive, and there were few self-published authors at the time who were able to make a living that way, or even break even.
But fast forward to 2006. The rise of the Internet, ebooks, and print on demand technology was starting to gradually change the face of the publishing industry. People were able to put their work out there, and even sell their work, for a fraction of the cost, and so self-publishing began to gain a foothold.
That being said, even in 2006, self-publishing was the red headed stepchild of the publishing world. It ranked barely higher than a vanity press in many peoples’ minds. There were many reasons behind this, not least of which was the rise of companies like PublishAmerica.com, which claimed to be “traditional” publishing houses, but are generally seen as nothing more than vanity presses that will take literally anything you send them and “publish” it, essentially by making it possible for you to buy copies and sell them. Self-publishing still didn’t have a very good reputation. Today, that reputation is starting to change for the better.
So, what’s the difference between traditional publishing, self-publishing and a vanity press? We’ll start with traditional publishing.
In traditional publishing, the writer produces a manuscript and shops it around to either agents or publishers. Interested publishers read the manuscript (eventually) and respond to the writer with either interest or rejection. If they’re interested, it moves up the chain within the publishing house until it reaches the acquisitions board, where they make a final determination of whether they want to publish it or not. If they do, they (usually) pay the author an advance against future royalties and agree to a contract granting them rights to print the book. They then come back to the author with edits and changes they want made, and the author works with several editors to polish the manuscript to exactly what the publisher wants. They design the cover, the book jacket, even the font that will be used inside the book. The publisher foots the bill, prints up the books, and then they’re finally on the shelves of your local bookstore. This entire process can be expected to take a minimum of two years, and in many cases much longer. And that, in a nutshell, is the traditional publishing process.
The Door to Canellin has twice made it to the acquisitions board level, once for a major publisher, once for a medium-sized publisher. Both times, the decision was to pass on publication. Despite that, I’m glad I chose to try that route back in 2006. The Door to Canellin is a better book for it.
As far as self-publishing and vanity presses go, though, it’s a fine distinction, and really, it’s one that’s subjective to everyone who looks at the topic. And honestly, it’s true that even in self-publishing, you can pretty much put anything out there and call it published. There’s a lot of dreck in the marketplace. But there are also a lot of amazing, talented people choosing to put their work out there without the backing of a major publishing house. The way I see it, the difference between self-publishing and vanity presses comes down to who buys the printed book.
A vanity press expects you to handle all marketing, and even purchase the books to sell. Books from vanity presses are rarely if ever available in brick-and-mortar bookstores, even to be ordered from the catalog. Usually, the only place to buy them is from the vanity press’ own “storefront”, which they probably don’t advertise. There are usually many up-front costs involved, not all of which really make a lot of sense. It can really be boiled down to two things: the only person likely to buy your book from a vanity press is you, and the only person putting up any money or effort is you. There’s rarely any editing, and most times, the quality of the books that come out of a vanity press is decidedly sub-par in both the writing and the manufacturing. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but they're rare.
Self-publishing, on the surface, doesn’t seem a lot different than a vanity press, but the difference is in the methods used, especially for distribution. Yes, there is a cost to the author. TANSTAAFL, after all. But nowadays, an author is able to self-publish his or her book with minimal costs involved, and make it available to millions of people, either through Internet storefronts or ebook format. And the costs of print on demand technology have become so low these days that the per-book cost is almost (but not quite) competitive with the discounts major publishers can get on huge print runs in offset printing. In addition to that, there’s the lower risk with POD printing, because each copy of the book isn’t actually printed unless a customer orders it. And a few POD publishers have even made great strides toward getting your book available at the brick-and-mortar stores. For instance, if all goes as planned, you should be able to walk up to the counter at Barnes and Noble and ask them to order you a copy of The Door to Canellin.
The self-publishing world has evolved dramatically in the past few years. Authors are now able to take much more control of their work. And with the rise of Amazon, Barnes and Noble online, the Kindle and Nook, and even the iPad, authors have many more outlets available to them. To be honest, I’m thoroughly enjoying the work that is going into preparing The Door to Canellin to go to print. With a traditional publisher, I would have no say in things like layout and design, cover art, or even the book jacket blurb. But self-publishing is allowing me to control those things. For instance, I had a cover image in mind. I commissioned an artist to draw what I envisioned, and with feedback from me at several steps, I got exactly what I wanted. I also get to lay out the design, commission the logo and title designs, and even write the jacket blurb. Instead of surrendering my manuscript to a huge company that would make all those decisions (and, admittedly, pay all the associated costs), I get to craft my book to be exactly the way I want it.
Do I wish I had been successful going the traditional route? I’d have to cautiously say yes, but ask me again in a year, after The Door to Canellin has been on the market for a while. And while I can honestly say that I would have liked to nail that first publishing contract back in 2006, I can’t say that I am terribly disappointed going the self-publishing route. So far, it’s been a great ride, and I can’t wait to see how everything turns out!