When I published my first two novels in the 1980s, publishing was a very different business. A lunch with John Riley, a writer friend from high school, started the whole thing. I told him that, several years earlier, I had written an outline for what were then called “bodice rippers” but had never done anything with it. He encouraged me to complete it and said he would be happy to look at the finished manuscript. Instead, he gave it to his wife Judy to read, and she gave it a thumbs up. John gave it to an agent in his office building. Jane Jordan Browne liked it enough to contact me. Her basic message was to make it longer and make the sex scenes more graphic, and she would sign me. I did, and we signed. She sold my book to Avon Publishers. Avon signed me without changes, except for the name, which was changed to Sweet Abandon. Avon took out a full page in Cosmopolitan Magazine featuring the book and released posters of the book’s cover, where the hero is gently undoing (not ripping) the heroine’s bodice. My editor at Avon signed my second book, She Who Was King, although by that time, she had moved to Ballentine Books and it was published there. That book was accepted with no changes at all. One of the most exciting things that happened in those days was walking into a drug store in a little town Utah and seeing my novels for sale there on the bookrack. I got nice advances both times, enough to help pay for graduate school. Granted, graduate school was a lot cheaper then, but so was life. So I was under the mistaken impression that publishing was fairly easy, or that I was very good. I stopped writing fiction then to focus on my career as an academic.
Fast-forward to today. I am retired and have just finished my third novel. There used to be 4,000 independent bookstores in the country, now there are less than 2000. People buy books differently today. Amazon sold 65% of all new print and digital books in 2014, the most recent statistics I could find. Bet it is higher now. That year it listed 32.8 million books for sale. Jane Jordan Browne passed away years ago. Now, authors average writing 100 query letters to agents before signing with one, which usually takes about a year. Each query has to specially target each individual agent. I found it took me about 15 minutes to research and query one agent. No, I haven’t written 100 yet. If an author has an agent, it averages about two years from signing to seeing the book in print. There are five major publishers in the country, and they won’t consider a book unless it is presented by an agent. The advantage of traditional publishing this way is that this is the only way a book can be sold in big bookstores and it may get reviews. That means more readers. This has always been the gold standard. But, I’m not sure it is worth it. And at my age, I don’t want to wait three years. So I thought I would ask you your opinion. The other two options are independent (self) publishing or supported self-publishing: With independent publishing, the author is responsible for all editing, proofreading, formatting, cover design, actual publishing, and all marketing. Professionals can be hired to do most of the work except for marketing. The author makes better royalties with this option, but very few people make a living writing novels. For a novel of about 55,000 words, the cost to get it ready to publish would be approximately $1,500. This is also probably the most a novel will ever earn, unless you are J.K. Rowling. Hybrid or supported self-publishing companies, some affiliated with traditional publishers, sell packages that can cover all the publishing-related work that the author has to do in the first option. The packages range from $1,000 to $8,000. Typically, these companies also take a significant cut of royalties. The author’s choices over covers and other options are limited by the cost of the package purchased. Although the author has the copywriter, the company owns the ISBN, which controls the publishing rights. One thing some authors like is that the book will list the company as the publisher, so it doesn’t look like independent publishing, which used to be known as vanity press. In all three cases, the author has to do almost all the marketing. I have heard stories of authors budgeting $1,000 to give friends to buy their books on Amazon and write good reviews there. Half of all ebooks are published either independently or supported. Other ways these books sell are from the trunks of cars, through friends, and at any speaking engagements. I’m not asking you to buy anything. But I am curious as to which of these three options you might choose if you were in my position. And I’d like to know where you buy your pleasure reading. If you have anything to add, or if I am mistaken about something, I’d like to hear that too. Your comments will be posted below, unless you ask that they not be.
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