Self-Publishing -- the Black Sheep of the Industry

A few years back, I was a guest at various Renaissance Fairs. It was a wonderful way to sell my books. I didn’t have to pay the 40-50% fee that bookstores charge for putting my books on the shelf, so I kept more of the profits. The only drawback was that they like you to be in costume.

John, one of the other vendors who had also purchased a copy of my books, mentioned that he thought Prophecy of the Flame would be perfect at a convention called ConCarolina. He knew the director and promised to put in a good word for me. Not knowing what a “Con” was, I went home and began researching.

Cons are what fans are referred to at Sci-Fi conventions. At the time, the ConCarolina home page proudly announced that both Star Fleet and the Klingons would be attending. They also had Stargate, and many other Science Fiction and Fantasy shows, whose fans would be setting up booths.

The price for a convention table was a little steep so I decided to bring a friend who could sell her jewelry from my table in order to share expenses - after all, I only had one book, and it didn’t take up that much space.

I used my usual book signing techniques: 

  • I never sat unless I was signing
  • I approached people as the walked past and handed them a flyer
  • I introduced myself and let them know I was doing a signing

I approached a group of normal looking people, flyer in hand, “Hi, I’m Lynn Hardy. Do you happen…” was as far as I got in my spiel. The group shook their heads vigorously, backing quickly away. Surprised, I shrugged off the reaction – it was the first time anyone seemed offended by my mild approach.

A few minutes later I approached a pretty blonde, flyer in hand. “Hi, I’m Lynn Hardy. I’m doing a book signing…” Again, I got the same type of reaction as she thrust out her hands, hustling to the far side of the room to join the others who had shunned me.

A few minutes later, a table was set up right next to mine with its own assortment of books. I tried making conversation with the guy doing the work but he wasn’t very talkative: he even refused to tell me what he did for a living!

As the event coordinator came by, I learned that the people who had avoided me were traditionally published authors, and the closed-mouth fellow next to me was the husband of one of those authors. Apparently, it seemed that they didn’t want to associate themselves with a self-published author, such as myself.

On the last day of this three-day convention, the guest of honor (a very prolific and well-known author), sat down at the table next to me in order to do his own book signing.  Absolutely no fans were around.
Bored, he picked up one of my books and asked me who had published it. I told him that I had started my own publishing company. He tossed it on the table dismissively, "You're not published--no one is paying you to write, you are paying yourself." 

I nodded my head, agreeing with him, wishing I was published at Tor, Baen or Daw.  It was slow, so we began chatting. As an icon of the science fiction written word, he let me in on some of the proper ways of getting published:

  • ·      Find an agent (a difficult task).
  • ·      Have them submit you to publishing companies (usually takes 1-2 years).
  • ·      Attend conventions and get to know agents, publishers, and other authors in order to find sponsors. 

About this time, it occurred to me that I hadn't returned my room keys for checkout. I politely excused myself. Before racing back into the convention, I waited for a moment at the door in order to catch my breath.  

I strode calmly toward my table, as the author hurriedly put my book back down.  He turned to me and proclaimed, "You have a typo in your first paragraph."

I nodded my head in agreement.  "I'm mortified by this book. I paid an editor $1800, and it’s still loaded with typos." 

This led to a half hour lecture on how, as an author, we are responsible for our own work. I picked up the first edition of the teen version of my book and opened it to the first page. "I feel the same way; it is, after all, my name on the cover.  I have already corrected that mistake and many others." 

After reading to make sure I had caught it, he looked at me and said, "You should submit your book to my publisher; they publish a lot of stuff along these lines." 

After that, I sent my book (along with a nice query letter) to one of the largest publishers of Science Fiction and Fantasy in the nation. The owner had actually asked to see it! Seven months later, at another convention, I was disappointed to learn that this publishing company was struggling to stay afloat. They weren’t printing anything that wasn’t written by a bestselling author. The nice “not at this time” letter I receive two months latter was not a huge surprise.

Let me close by saying this:

I have read many self-published books, kind of like Authonomy’s policy of trading reviews.  Many are great, many lack a good edit (mine included) and many should have never been printed. Is self-publishing worth it?

The key word in self-publishing is "self."  You must not only be a good businessman, but a good marketing agent as well. It's a full time job, and if by some small miracle you do get the attention of the nationwide publishers, make sure you are ready. There is a format you have to follow.

When “Eragon” was picked up after self-publishing. At that time, trade publishers wanted to see if a book could sell 5,000-10000 copies before they would take a look. A couple of years ago, an author I know was rejected because she had sold 7,000 copies and had “saturated the market.”

Because of this, and many more experiences, I have decided a new type of publishing is needed. BAM! Publishing – founded by an author, for authors. We have signed traditionally published authors, looking for more control and more profits from their books. Some of our books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, just like the Big Five publishers. Stop by and see if BAM! Publishing is the right fit for you and your book.