I know. Me, giving serious consideration to self-publishing. Who’d’a thunk it?
Given that I’ve previously been dead-set against it, why the big change? First of all, I should clarify – I’m only referring to self-publishing erotic romance ebooks. I have plottering and scheminating going on behind the scenes with regard to another genre that I plan to sub to agents and publishers under another name. But when it comes to erotic romance, I’m happy to experiment with self-publishing. Why?
Length of books.
Erotic romance comes in all shapes and sizes. And I’m told novellas sell pretty well. However, novellas just aren’t cost effective to print, so e-format is good for them. And when it comes to longer books, 80k words plus, the same applies, in a way. Novellas would mean shelling out for cover art, editing and so on, and seeing very little return on your investment unless you price the book way above what its word count is worth. And with long novels, obviously you’d have to pay for more paper and ink. Consumables.
With ebooks? Your book can be any length you want it to be. Or should I say, any length it needs to be.
But okay, ebooks are a matter of format, not publication. Why self-publish erotic romance in ebook format when there are plenty of publishers around who’ll take care of all the technicalities for you?
30%, 35%, 40% royalties are pretty common in this game. But wouldn’t 100% of the profits be better? Sure it would!
Hold on. Editing would come out of that 100%, wouldn’t it? And cover art. And publicity. Wouldn’t it be better to let a digital-first publisher cover all of that?
Maybe. If you could be sure you’d get a fair return.
Let’s talk about editing first. I’ve had the experience of an editor defining a word to me, and getting that definition wrong. In case you’re curious, the word in question was anodyne. Eventually I deleted it from the manuscript because said editor said that publisher’s readers wouldn’t know what it meant. Fair enough, seeing as even the editor didn’t. But I thought it was rather patronising of her, to assume readers wouldn’t be familiar with a word she had defined incorrectly.
Why not get another editor? Well, with a publishing house, you can’t. You work with the one you’re assigned and that’s it. When you self-publish, you get to choose who you work with. And if you end up working with an editor who knows less about the English language than you do, well…that’s your lookout!
(Seriously. I’ve had to educate editors about punctuation. If I’m telling them how to do their job in line with the English language and correct grammar and punctuation, there’s something wrong. Might as well do it myself.)
Some authors do their own. I wouldn’t, because photoshop sucks cheesy donkey dick in the hands of yours truly. Besides, I know of a site that sells polished cover art for very much cheapness and I’d be happy to use it. Less than fifty bucks apiece, and judging by the samples I’ve seen, that’s a bargain.
Publicity. Oh, this is a good one.
Even a small, digital-first press would have more of an ability to publicise my books than I would alone, right? Because they’d have more contacts. They’d have the ear of review bloggers and such. Well, you’d think.
However, I’ve worked with a publisher which didn’t seem to do anything for its authors except tweet once in a blue moon, and even then, they didn’t do it for each book the house released. When asked exactly what they did to promote each individual book release and where said books were sent for review, I was met with a stony silence, broken only by the “Rah rah rah!” of cheerleaders who’d drunk the Kool-Aid. Oh, maybe if writers were lucky, we had it suggested to us that we could do this or that online to promote our books.
Spot the problem, there? What we could do to promote our books. Well, if I have to do all the promotion work myself, why on Earth would I sign away more than half the profits? What exactly is the difference between publishing at Publishing House X, and just doing it myself anyway?
I’ve had the formatting of my work all mucked up one week before publication and had to drop everything to correct it according to someone else’s schedule. If I were self-publishing, I could see to such things according to my own timescale. Of course, I very much doubt I’d take great chunks of my novel and fuck about with the formatting just for shits and giggles anyway. And I wouldn’t have to worry about rapid staff turnover destroying lines of communication between people who are working on a book – or were supposed to work on a book.
I’ve also met with hiccups with regard to series/books with recurring characters. Some publishers believe (incorrectly, in my view) that readers won’t cross over from M/F to M/M and vice versa. A series should either be hetero or gay. (Bisexuality doesn’t even come into the picture; make of that what you will.) If I were self-publishing? I wouldn’t have to worry whether or not Character X’s sexuality fit in with the rest of the series or my readership, because there’d be no-one to say I couldn’t. Would that put some readers off? Undoubtedly. But I believe for each reader who was put off by the “wrong” genitalia in “their” series, I’d gain another who accepts sexuality isn’t something any human being can regulate. We might be hetero, we might be gay, we might be bi. And guess what? Whatever your sexuality, I bet in your everyday life you associate with people who aren’t exactly the same as you. So too I want it to be in my books.
Aside from all of the above, I’d just have less of a headache when it comes to contracts and payments. One publisher introduced a restrictive non-compete clause into their contracts so I left, because I didn’t want my manuscripts to be promised to one particular publisher before they were even written. (And I didn’t want to have to wait for them to knock a book back before I could even consider self-publishing.) I know of other publishers who expect you to gift them ROFR (right of first refusal) on any books rather than just those which are part of a series, and they are not publishers I would ever want to work with.
Payments? One publisher sent the cheques later and later each month until they’d have been as well not sending them at all. Indeed, the money person admitted to forgetting to send my payments out more than once. Yep, you read that right. Forgetting. Each month I had to nag to get my money, until I was told by one of the higher-ups that I’d agreed to being paid quarterly. I hadn’t. I mentioned this on a public forum and the publisher emailed me privately to ask me to say it had all been a misunderstanding.
Yes, again, you read that right. A publisher who wasn’t paying me, asked me to lie in public to cover it up.
I kept those emails. Still have them.
No matter how good the royalties statements look, that doesn’t mean Jack shit if the cheques never show up.
(Funnily enough, they started paying up after that, but I’m never writing for the publisher concerned again. If your day-job boss kept “forgetting” to pay you, you’d walk out, and don’t tell me you wouldn’t.)
It’s my belief that a lot of digital-first publishers are getting worried, knowing that authors now have other options. So they panic, and introduce clauses into their contracts that don’t favour the authors. ROFR clauses that cover all works, not just series/recurring characters. Clauses that forbid you from self-publishing while with this publisher. (Yes, really; I’ve seen this and walked away, thinking “Oh do fuck off.”) Clauses that lay claim to meta-data, and by that I mean the blurb the author wrote him- or herself. I mean, what use is a blurb to a publishing house if the author pulls their book and leaves? Are they going to use the same blurb on another book? I think not. Plus, it’s the intellectual property of the person who wrote it, a bit like the book itself is. Now, apparently you can negotiate that clause out, but…why would you do that, when you can go elsewhere, either to another publisher, or down the self-publishing road?
One publisher (which invited me to submit a manuscript to them HA HA HA NO I DON’T FUCKING THINK SO) doesn’t offer an author’s rights back after a set length of time. No, they do so when sales drop below a certain level. So what do they do? Put their books on sale, which bumps up sales of said books, thereby taking them above the level specified in the contract. So the authors can’t get their manuscripts back, because their novels and novellas are selling “too many copies to invoke the rights reversion clause”.
So, if an author writes erotic romance, it seems to me that such a genre is made for epublishing. But the world of epublishing is riddled with corrupt practices that simply aren’t fair for the author.
Am I saying all publishers are like that? Good God, no. Some are excellent when it comes to editing, promo, paying up what’s due when it’s due. It’s just very difficult finding one publisher that covers all of those bases at the same time. And what puts me off a particular publishing house might not bother someone else.
So really, my reasons for considering self-publishing boil down to “Bad experiences with publishers, and a desire for more freedom when it comes to what I write about, and how much money I charge for my stories.”
That’s it, really. At first, it’ll be an experiment. Just seeing how it goes. (I couldn’t earn much less doing it myself, put it that way.) Will report my progress as I go along.
Then again, I may not make any progress – or money! – at all. But at least I’ll have tried.
Wish me luck! And buy my books. I really need some new furniture and a holiday. :D