June 12

Next update DELAYED UNTIL JULY 4!!

Nothing ever goes as planned.

Okay, time for me to rant a little bit. Not anything big or important in the grand scheme; just a minor annoyance in my otherwise very acceptable life. As many of my readers know, I recently released an anthology of horror/fantasy/sci-fi stories called A Minor Malevolent Spirit and Other Tales.

Unlike my other books, I decided to self-publish this collection. Partly because short story collections don’t interest big name publishers, and partly because I was curious to see how the self-publishing game worked. Let’s just say so far I’m not impressed. :(

Way back in my Feb 27 update, I blogged about all the little things that need to be done when self-publishing; things my publisher had previously handled that I had taken for granted. When you self-publish, however, all of those little things need to be handled by you. (Or by someone you hire/work with.) I get that, and I’m actually okay with it. It was a bit of a shocking revelation, but as an author it’s good to be reminded of how much work actually goes into getting a book together.

At the time I was a bit frustrated at how long everything was taking, but eventually it all came together and the anthology was published as a Kindle e-book on May 14. Sales started to build, and a few reviews rolled in – overall, readers seem very happy with it so far. But my market was initially limited to folks with an Amazon Kindle.

I didn’t plan it that way, of course. I actually want my book to be available in all digital formats, as well as available in print form for those of us who still like to hold an actual book in our hands. In the past, the only way this could happen was to have a small print run done up – maybe 500 or 1,000 books – that you, the author, paid for in advance. That could be expensive, and then you had to start trying to sell those books somehow. If you don’t sell them, you don’t recoup your expenses.

Even if you do sell them, you have a very limited inventory. Once you run out of those 500 or 1,000 books, you need to order another print run. And pay for it out of pocket. Financially, it’s not a great model for making a living off your writing. That’s why traditional publishing was so much better for most authors (assuming they were lucky enough to get a contract). The publisher absorbs all those upfront costs; there’s basically no financial risk to you as the author. Sure, they take a hefty chunk of the sales to recoup their costs, but personally I thought that was reasonable – they assumed all the risk. They also handled things like promoting the book, and making sure it was available to retailers.

Over the past decade or so, however, the entry cost of self publishing has gone way down. Digital books don’t cost anything to produce once the initial layout is finished, and even that doesn’t demand expensive resources like paper. But the big revolution  – at least in my eyes – is the rise of “print on demand” services. These companies, like Create Space or Lightning Press, work with authors to design a print version of the book. But instead of printing hundreds of copies up front, they only print a copy after a customer has ordered it. They can print individual copies for a very low cost, meaning if your book only sells a few dozen copies you aren’t on the hook for all the leftover inventory. And if you have a huge hit and you need another 1,000 (or 5,000, or 10,000) copies, they can keep churning them out over and over with no extra cost or financial risk to the author.

It’s a pretty interesting way to do it, and it really opens up the market to anyone who wants to spend the time and effort to put a book together. (Some might argue self-publishing has removed publishers from the gatekeeper role that made sure books were worthwhile before being made, resulting in a market crowded with a glut of terrible, terrible books that could potentially drown out a true masterpiece, but that’s a whole discussion for another day.) The more I looked into it, the more I decided self-publish was something I wanted to try… at least for A Minor Malevolent Spirit and Other Tales.

But here’s the thing about “self-publish”: it really isn’t. You still need someone else to help you print your physical books. You still need someone to format it properly for each of the various digital platforms. (You can’t read a Kindle book on a Nook, for example… you need different versions of each one.) You need someone to get those digital formats to the respective retailers so they can offer them to consumers. Similarly, you need the print on demand versions to be listed somewhere so folks can buy it, and you need a company that can ship it to the customer and handle all the payments and issues that go with any retail sale.

And that’s where I’m at now. The book is out on Kindle; has been for some time. Create Space – the company I’m using to get my book ready for print and digital formats – is actually owned by Amazon, so if you use them Amazon gets a two-week Kindle exclusive on your book before it comes out in print or in other formats. At least, that’s what I was led to believe.

But now we’re almost a month since the initial Kindle launch, and I’m still waiting for those other formats to appear. I want to tell folks “buy my book here, here and here!”. But unless you have a Kindle, I can’t do that right now. The print versions and other digital formats aren’t ready to go yet; for whatever reason they aren’t done. I thought they would be ready last week; my big plan was to have a blog post announcing my anthology was available to everyone. I was going to have a big contest to promote it. But the book is still sitting in limbo. So I pushed my blog update a week, figuring “Surely that will be enough time!”. Only, it wasn’t.

So I’m sitting here, waiting. Waiting. Waiting. There’s really not much I can do. My agency is gently nudging Create Space to get on it, but you don’t want to push too hard and piss them off… that would only lead to more delays, I suspect. Hell, it’s even possible this blog will piss someone off and the book will end up taking even longer. (Though I honestly doubt my little project is important enough for them to really care what I say on my personal blog.)

Maybe that’s the problem. Even in the world of self-publishing, there are big fish and little fish, and I’m no Great White. Or maybe this is a symptom of a systemic conflict of interest. Since Create Space is owned by Amazon, the longer they take to get my book out to other retailers, the longer Kindle has an exclusive on this work. The faster they do this, the sooner they make competition for their parent company. (That seems inherently wrong to me, but I guess that’s just the way the industry works.) 

I’m sure the book will be available soon. Hell, it will probably come out a day or two after I post this blog, just to make this all irrelevant. But if nothing else, I’ve realized that “self-publishing” isn’t quite the independent free-for-all it’s often made out to be. The barrier to entry is much, much lower than it used to be, but it’s still there in some way. I don’t control the printing/formatting/creation of the book. I don’t control the distribution. You still need a middleman, it’s just that instead of a traditional publisher the middleman is now a company like Create Space. It’s easier, but it sure ain’t easy.

Given all this, I’m very curious to see how the tracking/reporting of sales goes. In traditional publishing, it’s very hard to get any up-to-date sales info for your books. There are some ways to track stuff that I have access to as a Random House/Penguin author, but it’s mostly only accurate for digital sales. And most of my sales are still printed books, not e-books. (It varies from title to title, but I’d say somewhere between 80-90% of my sales are print copies.) To get numbers on your printed sales, you have to wait for your the royalty statement that comes out every six months. And that statement is always for the previous 6 month period, so you’re always behind almost half a year. There just isn’t a good way to get accurate, current information.

My hope was that with self publishing, I’d be able to see the sales in real time. Or at least every month. Now, however, I’m not so sure it will work that way. I guess I’ll find out over the next month or so.

Luckily for me this is more of an experiment than anything else; I don’t expect to make a lot of money off this, and I’m not going to end up losing my house because of lost or delayed sales. It’s mostly a learning experience. But I’m still disappointed that many of my fans still can’t get a copy of A Minor Malevolent Spirit and Other Tales yet.

On the bright side, it gave me lots of material to vent about in this blog!

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