One of the classic questions of life which every kid gets asked by a grownup more than once in their life is: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Most kids seem like they have an answer while others honestly admit they have no idea.
Growing up I had several answers, but the only one I repeatedly held onto was this answer: an author. I spent from age six to age eleven reading more books than I could possibly remember! Retrospectively I refer to those as my “research years”. I began writing stories when I was eleven, mostly about superheroes I made up, or stories about my favorite book and TV show characters: an early version of ‘fan fiction’, so to speak.
Once I started writing stories I moved to other venues: poetry, skits, even tried my hand at song writing in High School, but I was too lazy to learn an instrument; a side effect of my quitter-itis.
When I turned 20 I was still writing, but only for fun and almost never shared anything with anyone. I did, however, decide that I was going to get published (at least once) before I turned 40. I’m glad to say that I made this goal, but the venue that I chose is the real point of me writing this post. I decided to go the self-publishing route.
This was not an instantaneous decision; I did try traditional publishing, and when I first heard about self-publishing back in the 1990s it was heralded as a quicksand trap where the author ended up with several low-grade copies of their book sitting around their garage with no way to get them into bookstores, and no hopes of getting their money back. Albeit that was mostly talk from traditional publishing houses and their authors.
Fast forward along the timeline to when I thought about the issue again a few years ago: self-publishing, like virtually everything else, had been enhanced with technology. Now self-publishing companies can provide the same level of product and the services of a traditional publishing house. They even have levels of quality print and ebooks available to the author, depending on how well-known you want your book to become.
Some of you out there are wondering, “Isn’t this a bit far fetched? How could a self-publishing company provide the same PR as a traditional publishing company?” To answer that we need to think about the average number of books published by the traditional publishing houses out there right now that have the funding to launch a marketing machine behind each book. For more specific information you could read this blog post from Matt Wilkens.
Of all the hundreds of thousands of new books that come out each year, how many do you hear about on TV news? How many are written about on Internet news sites, or show up in your social media feeds? Assuming that big box bookstores are consistently staying current, how many books get front door, full face, jacket cover exposure vs. the books where all you can see is the spine? Answer: very few.
Traditional publishing doesn’t realistically push most of their titles into the faces of the consumers, which brings them to a stalemate (statistically speaking) with self-published companies. On top of that: most traditional publishing companies won’t even touch your book unless they have some type of guarantee that your book will sell! These days this is based on how large your social media following is, which is why some social media sites are basically turning into a virtual flea market where everyone under the sun is trying to sell you their book. I feel like we are losing a lot of good stories from some great authors because they don’t have enough social media followers. Self-publishing seems to be a great alternative to get those stories out there!
I am a librarian in my regular job so I get a close look at the book publishing process. I’ve met several book authors of various age groups for traditional publishing houses. These poor people, who only wanted to write a book (much like many of us), spend a good portion of their time living the life of a travelling salesperson, away from their family and friends! So as soon as you finish your book, essentially, you are your own marketing machine both to the publisher and every potential customer in the world for the rest of your life, or at least as long as you keep writing books.
Now, if you want to be a famous celebrity author keep plugging away at it! You’ll work hard, and might eventually get the front row, face-to-face bookstore deal, TV news, bestseller list status. I have nothing against any of that! Most of the books I read come from authors who’ve struggled to get their foot in the door of the traditional publishing houses and the big box stores. Me? All I want to do is be an author, not a travelling PR machine.