By Lisabet Sarai
Our topic for the coming fortnight is “Realizing Goals (or not)”. The theme could hardly be more timely, for me. This past weekend, I realized a goal that had been on my list for a quite a while. Finally, I self-published a book.
It’s not much of a book, mind you – just a 5K holiday short story – but I’m still feeling pretty proud of myself. For years I have been trying to avoid the whole self-publishing issue. I told myself that I didn’t have the time to futz around with formatting and cover creation. That I should be spending my time writing new fiction as opposed to worrying about mechanics. That I needed a publisher to support me via marketing, promotions and cross-over from other authors. That nobody would read my indie books anyway because the whole world knows that self-published fiction is crap.
Excuses, plain and simple. The main reason I didn’t self-publish earlier is that I was scared it would be too much work.
I was wrong. Aside from the inevitable frustration of trying to beat Microsoft Word into submission, everything went smoothly. The Smashwords platform turned out to be amazingly intuitive, with lots of information and guidelines for newbies. Amazon KDP isn’t nearly as well-designed, but after getting things set up for Smashwords, the extra effort required to convert the book for upload to Amazon was almost trivial. The whole process, for both sites, took about half a day, including creation of my cover.
Of course there were extenuating circumstances. I’d already written and edited the story. I’m confident enough in my technical writing skills that I don’t worry too much about grammar and spelling issues. I’d previously found a cover image, too, a single photo that I knew would be easy to convert to a cover simply by adding the title and author text. (When it comes to graphic arts, I know my limitations!)
Other factors helped me realize this goal, too, especially my recent experience publishing through Excessica. The Excessica co-op is halfway between a traditional publisher and self-publishing. The author is responsible for her own editing, formatting and cover. On the other hand, Excessica handles the format vetting, uploading, distribution and financial arrangements.
I started working with Excessica when several of my erotic titles went out of print due to a split with the previous publisher. Both Bangkok Noir and Exposure don’t fit the mold of erotic romance. The first, in particular, is one of my darker, more extreme works. Excessica seemed like the perfect venue.
So I’ve done some book formatting in the past few months, and I’ve made a few simple covers. To go from there to full self-publishing wasn’t such a major step.
However, more important than these concrete experiences, I’ve undergone a change of attitude. I’ve been pretty annoyed over the past year as my erotic romance royalties have dwindled, to the point where they didn’t even cover my marketing expenses. Meanwhile, I often find romance conventions a Procrustean bed; I’m forced to slash, stretch and contort my initial ideas in order to make them acceptable to the romance audience (or the publisher’s perception thereof). The process of editing my most recent romance novel, The Ingredients of Bliss, was especially painful, as the editor required me to suppress my heroine’s (admittedly rampant) sexuality in order to make her more faithful and committed. I did more rewrites on that book than on anything else I’ve written in my entire career.
The book was released in September. I wrote dozens of blog posts. I had articles on national news sites. I did two blog tours. I gave away gift certificates and even a few free copies.
A few days ago, I received my royalty statement for October. Want to know how many copies of The Ingredients of Bliss I sold?
Zero. Zilch. Nada.
As I’ve joked on the ERWA Writer’s list, I’m thinking of changing my tag line. My new slogan? “Too raw for romance, too sweet for smut.”
In any case, I’m ready to try some new approaches, because I’m not getting the benefits I expect from working with a traditional publisher.
Does that mean I’m going to self-publish everything from now on? Probably not. The amount of work involved in self-editing and self-publishing a novel far exceeds what I spent on Slush: A holiday romance. To some extent, this story was a throw-away effort, an experiment. I’d originally planned to give it away free, in fact, a kind of gift to my readers. Then I figured, why not give self-pubbing a go?
I don’t expect to get rich from this. In fact, the royalty percentages in self-publishing are not much different from what I get from publishers. (The only way to get 70% from Amazon is to publish with them exclusively.) I plan to promo this story like crazy, though, then see if it affects my other sales.
Probably my current feeling of self-satisfaction is my greatest reward from this endeavor. I managed to overcome my internal resistance and do it.
The next goal up? Trying to write a series, something else I’ve deferred for a long time due to laziness and fear.
Wish me luck!
[I don’t want to turn this post into promo, but if you’re interested you can see the cover I created for Slush, and read an excerpt, on my blog.]