I think it’s an indication of how far self publishing via e-book has come over the last few years that no one has asked me, “Hey, you self published that thing, why did you — a traditional bestselling author — do that?” No one from either the self pub camp or the traditional camp is pointing at me yelling “Splitter!” But for the sake of getting a few more data points out there, I thought I’d offer my answers anyway. Why self publish? Why now? Why this?
First, it’s a weird length, about 22,000 words. It’s tough to find markets at that length.
Second, I did a test submission to an established market to get feedback. The story was rejected, but with glowing comments accompanying it. This clarified some thoughts I’d had: the markets I know of that publish novellas are mostly straight-up science fiction and fantasy, and those markets don’t usually go near urban fantasy/paranormal fiction.
Third, and this is the important part, I realized that the audience most likely to want to read Paranormal Bromance doesn’t tend to read those novella-publishing SF&F markets. They do, however, tend to be really plugged in to the world of e-books.
E-publishing then seemed like the best way to get this book to the audience who would actually like to read it. And really, is there a better reason to self publish an e-book? (I’ve had a few people ask if this is coming out in print — but there’s that length problem. It’s not a full length novel, it’s not a short story. I’ll have to see about opportunities to put this into print. Maybe with a collection of other things. We’ll see what I can do.)
This was a bit of an experiment, and I’m happy to say the experiment is a success. I mostly wanted to see if I could earn back what I spent to produce this book in a reasonable amount of time — and I did, within a couple of weeks. The novella is selling steadily, at least few copies every day. I’m encouraged to do more of this kind of thing. I have dozens of short stories that only saw print in magazines that are no longer available, and I think this would be a good way to get them back in the world and make a little extra money doing it.
Other thoughts about where my brain’s been with this whole thing:
Some five or six years ago, everybody got a Kindle for Christmas and the e-book revolution took off. I remember feeling a great deal of anxiety at the time — not because I thought e-publishing was going to kill off “real” books or my career like so many pundits claimed, but because among various writing communities I’m keyed into there was a sudden, overwhelming pressure to jump on that bandwagon right now. The e-book revolution was going to save the midlist. Get your backlist up on Kindle (I don’t have an out of print backlist of novels), get all your short stories up on Kindle at 99 cents (I have 70+ short stories, many of which are already available online for free. Just no.). Do something, anything, or be left behind. It was a feeding frenzy. As if everyone had to get a piece of the action before it went away. There was a lot of flailing and panic.
This was the stretch of time where I had four books coming out a year, had overextended myself, and I just didn’t have time to do anything about e-publishing. Or need, really — did I mention four books a year? So I took a deep breath, sat back, and watched.
I’m really glad I waited.
Things have settled down a bit, and the consensus among writers is moving more toward “hybrid” publishing as being the most viable model. It’s about diversification, which is something writers like John Scalzi have been advocating for years. And for writers like me who have a bunch of old stories sitting around not doing anything, it offers yet another way to reach our audience. This publication was a success, but I’m going to keep focusing the majority of my efforts on the traditional model, because I’m absolutely certain that Paranormal Bromance would not be doing well at all if I didn’t already have an enthusiastic audience on my side. (Thank you, audience!)
I’m in a weird place — as a NYT bestseller I’m not exactly midlist. But as a consistently mid-teens NYT bestseller I’m not a big dog by any stretch. I’m not free and clear, and I can’t call shots with publishers. I still get book proposals rejected. So, I’m always looking for new opportunities.
The other benefit of waiting: It turns out I have smart, talented friends who jumped into that fray early on, learned a ton about it, and when the time came were happy to help me out. I reached out to E.M. Tippetts and her book design company. I’ve known Emily for a long time — we used to share a hotel room at MileHi Con when we were in our 20’s and poor and struggling. She’s very smart about e-books, and she’s in my corner. BTW, this is how networking works — it’s horizontal, not vertical. You meet people, and you all travel the road together, helping each other along the way.
I’d been working on this novella for a long time before publishing it, mostly because I dawdled, because I didn’t know what I was going to do with the thing. Even when I decided to go the e-publishing route, it took a long time to figure out the best way to make that happen. The best way for me ended up being hiring an editor, a cover artist, and a book designer. This is another reason why waiting was a good thing for me: right now, my time is better spent working on new content, not working to re-invent the wheel to get that content out to others. I can rely on other peoples’ expertise for that.
Something else I learned: all the sites have day by day, sometimes hour by hour stats on what you’ve sold and how much money you’ve made. This is kind of nuts. It can be super gratifying to log in a couple of times a day and watch those counters tick ever upward. And I also imagine it can be super discouraging if those tickers don’t move at all. As I understand it, this access to statistics has given rise to lots of ways to game the system — promotions, sales, changing the price, trying lots of different things to keep those tickers moving up. It feels a little like rats pushing the button to get the food pellet. At this time I’ve chosen not to engage in a lot of gaming of the system. I’m lucky in that I feel like I don’t have to. This is a side venture at the moment, and it behooves me not to spend great big chunks of time and money on it.
Once again: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. (This lesson keeps getting demonstrated in new and wonderful ways.) E-publishing is not a zero-sum game. It’s always going to be there, and I can take my time jumping into it thoughtfully, and not in a panic. I’ve spent 10 years building my reputation as an author — my brand, if you like — on the foundation of the Kitty series. Whatever direction I decide to go, as long as I write the best stories I can and keep pushing the envelope of my skill and creativity, it’s going to be okay. I can experiment. I can put stuff out in the world and see what happens.
It’s going to be okay.