That e-book might make you rich. Or not.
We've all supposedly got a book inside us. For many, as the old quip goes, that's just where the book should stay. But for writers who've been trying in vain to get a publisher to accept a manuscript, or even for an agent to agree to represent them, self-publishing has become an increasingly attractive proposition. You may have produced a novel that everyone, from your old English teacher to your critique partners in your writers' group, tells you should be published. But it hasn't been. By now you've queried almost every agent you can think of, plus the smaller or independent publishers which still look at unagented work.
Self-publishing has been around in one form or another for some time. What's changed in the last few years is the rise of the e-book. In the US e-book sales increased by a greater amount than did traditionally published books in the last year. Whereas self-publishing with a traditional publisher meant you had to fork out for print copies of your books, e-publishing takes a lot of the sting out of the tail. No piles of books need amass in your garage if you go this route.
And if you did, you'd be in some pretty good company. Authors such as Joe Konrath of the Whiskey Sour series now publishes e-books. Recently Barry Eisler announced that he'd be doing something similar with future titles. If it's good enough for the likes of Konrath and Eisler, surely it's good enough for the rest of us? Well, yes and no. Both Konrath and Eisler have years and years of publishing experience behind them. They have fans who will follow them. Imagine a newbie author with a debut novel. Who, outside their circle of family, friends and work colleagues, knows them? At this point people start mentioning the name of Amanda Hocking. Amanda Hocking is the author of paranormal romance YA (young adult) fiction. In March 2010 she published some of the stack of novels she'd been writing in her spare time as e-books. It's a little hard to keep up with exactly how many of the stack she's now published but it was nine by March 2011. By that time Amanda was said to be selling 100,000 copies a MONTH and earning around $2 million a year. She's now been offered a traditional deal by publisher St Martin's, which she's accepted, to the surprise of many.
It didn't entirely surprise me. Amanda herself gives a lot of information about just how hard she worked to market her books to help them reach these amazing sales heights. Book marketing is hard, hard work. Even if you're young and bright and media-savvy, like Amanda. Traditional publishing houses may not always get it right (authors I know will tell you about PRs who don't seem to send out review copies and marketing departments who pour cold water on books before they've even been printed) but usually they will at least try to get advance review copies out to book reviewers. If you self-publish it's up to you do this. It's also up to you to market your book once it's out. At this point, some traditionally published authors will tell you that they have to do that for their books, too. This is perfectly true.
Perhaps the more serious point comes when distribution is concerned. This is especially true for print self-published books. Somehow you've got to persuade an awful lot of book shops to take your book. If you were traditionally published it would be the sales reps who'd be trudging around the country selling you in. You may well be able to persuade your local independent to take your book, but what about the chains? With e-books, of course, this isn't an issue. But you still have to find a way for people to notice you and your book. Social networking makes this easier. It's also easier if you have some kind of platform, usually more likely to be the case for a non-fiction writer. One of my friends is a dog agility whizz. She competes her dogs and also judges classes, as well as teaching dog agility. If she published an e-book or any other kind of book based on her experience she'd have an immediate audience for it. But if you're a debut novelist how are you going to make enough of the right kind of noise? Again you might tell me that Amanda Hocking managed. Amanda Hocking did indeed manage, but as she points out in her own blog, it was quite a lot of effort.
Other things to remember if you go this route are the importance of finding a good editor. Your novel may be wonderful but if it's not polished people may well give up reading it after the first chapter. Worse, they may leave you bad reviews and put off other readers. Find a good freelance editor. Take advice on this; it's probably one of the most important things you'll do in your writing career. Take the editor's suggestions very seriously. If your editor isn't going to do a final proof read of the ms. find someone else who will. I do some proof-reading work as a side-line to my novel-writing but still miss some mistakes when I proof my novels. Luckily my publisher also employs a proof-reader to do the same thing and I also ask a family member with a very good eye for detail to go through my ms. with a toothpick. You have to be fussy, fussy, fussy.
Equally when it comes to choosing the artwork for your cover take time to ask around other authors. I've seen some very striking covers for e-books by authors E J Knapp and Ian Barker, both Rebel E Publishers authors.
Whatever route you go, take time to understand the business. Think about joining a writers' forum such as Backspace, probably the best of the bunch and with a lot of e-writers among its members.