Why I decided to self-publish: Part Four: In the Driver’s Seat

I am not sure why I started the driving metaphor for these series of posts about why I decided to self publish my historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune, except for the fact that I was listening to the Beatles when I started, so the long and winding road came to mind. But, for this particular post, being in the driver’s seat certainly seems an apt description of the main reason I decided to self-publish.

I was well aware of the disadvantages of this decision, which I will discuss in subsequent posts, but the primary advantage of self-publishing for me was that I would be in control of everything-the writing, production, distribution, and marketing of my book.

It is important to point out that being in control doesn’t mean the same thing as doing everything myself. For example, for Maids of Misfortune, I had editorial input from a writer’s group and friends and colleagues, who form a kind of dream editorial board. I also had a number of good “how-to” books, plus the tech support of my husband, to help me figure out how to format the book for the electronic and print on demand editions. I hired a professional to design the book cover-front and back, and, finally, I am using all the varied resources of the internet to distribute and market my book. But in each case it is my decisions, not an agent’s or an editor’s or marketing department’s, or a bookseller’s decision, that will determine the fate of my work.

An example of the kind of control I didn’t want to give up comes from my experience negotiating with agent Ms. Y (see my last post Taken for a Ride) and this story will feel familiar to most of you who have gone the traditional route. Ms. Y said that she wanted me to make certain changes in my manuscript before she would decide whether or not to represent me. One of those changes was to shift the point of view of the book. I had written the book in third person with the multiple viewpoints of the two main protagonists-Annie Fuller and Nate Dawson-and she wanted me to shift to the single viewpoint of Annie Fuller. She said it would make it easier to sell the book. I disagreed because I felt that that this would weaken the development of the relationship between these two characters and make the action more static and dependent on dialog (Nate had to keep telling Annie what he had done and learned). But, I made the changes because that is what you do when you are trying to get published. Maybe, if Ms. Y had ended up representing me, I would have prevailed, or a subsequent editor might have backed me up, but I doubt it. And it would not have been as good a book. When I decided to self-publish, one of the first things I did was to return to the multiple view points, and my beta readers who have read both versions have commented on how much better the pacing is in this last and final version.

I am not saying that the suggestions of agents and editors aren’t helpful, and certainly my manuscript did benefit from the input of the two agents I worked with over time.  I also suspect that most books that are self-published without adequate editorial input are much weaker books than they could have been. However, I knew I had good editorial input, and, as a sefl-published author, I knew it would be my judgment of what was right for my story that determined the final product.

I also didn’t want to give up control of my rights over my book, which would certainly happen if I went the traditional route. For example, as described in my post Taken for a Ride, my earlier decision to give up my rights, even temporarily, had had very negative results. And while I can’t honestly say that I would turn down a contract from a traditional publishing house if one was suddenly offered me, I can say that I have consciously not pursued traditional houses this time around. and one of the reasons was because I didn’t want to put the decisions about how to price and distribute this book into the hands of someone else.

The recent struggle between MacMillan and Amazon over pricing and the decision by many publishing houses to delay ebook publication for their books are just two recent events that have validated my decision. Last week I didn’t have to sit by as MacMillan authors did and watch my books on Kindle vanish, or worry that a publishers decision to delay publication of my book in electronic format would lose me a significant segment of my potential readership.

Instead, I published an electronic copy of my book through Smashwords and Kindle, knowing that pretty much any person who wants to read my book can get it immediately in any format for any device. I don’t have to worry that the IPad will kill my book because I know that I will be able to publish on the IPad and keep my book up on Kindle. I was also able to publish my electronic and print editions simultaneously, so that I didn’t lose the reader who would never have gone out of their way to buy the higher priced print copy of a first time novelist, but were willing to take a chance on a $4 ebook.

And, given that 2/3’s of my sales these first two months have been electronic, that was a wise decision on my part-and not a decision I can trust a traditional publisher to have made for me. When it comes to the future direction of my own work, it turns out I like being in the driver’s seat, with my hands on the reins. It may be a bit scary, but not nearly as scary as being forced to sit on that tiny carriage seat as a passenger, watching the world of publishing whip by!  (See, I bet you thought I was using a 20th century metaphor -when anyone who has read my novel would know I was thinking in 19th terms!)

In my next series of posts, I will describe how I have tried to overcome some of the disadvantages of taking the self-published road.

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