As battle-tested veterans of e-publishing (having done this now for a whopping month!) we’d like to take a moment to discuss what we like about it.
Quick note here that we’ve only published on Amazon (partly because we’ve published all our titles under Kindle Select, partly because Amazon makes up a major portion of all e-book downloads), so we can’t speak to any other platforms. This will be Amazon exclusive.
Great thing number 1) Holy #@!%, people are actually reading our books and stories!
We’ve been writing now for seven years. It’s a bit difficult to know how many stories/novels we’ve actually “completed.” Let’s say thirty short stories, and three (soon to be four!) novels. With the stories, we sent them off to literary magazines and competitions, hoping to get published. With the novels, you do the whole query thing, and maybe one agent out of twenty asks to see the book. Assuming each of our short stories was read once (by the gatekeepers of magazines), and maybe six agents/assistants read our novel manuscripts, that amounts to 36 people reading our writing. Over seven years.
Not so great.
In a little over one month, we’ve tripled that through e-publishing. Granted, the majority of those were free downloads (although technically, so were those thirty-six we sent to agents and magazines). For a lot of people, our e-publishing numbers might seem pretty weak. But for us, the goal has always been to have people read our work. Getting a review is icing on the cake. Having someone actually buy one of our novels or stories is like getting a frosting enema…in a good way.
Great thing number 2) The process is pretty easy…and fast
Back to the whole contest/querying thing: writing a good query letter is actually really difficult and time consuming. Not only do you have to write a good letter, but you have to spend a lot of time researching agents and tailoring the letter for them. When you finally send it off, maybe forty percent respond with a “no, thanks,” ten percent wish you well in your future as a waste-management employee, 49% don’t respond at all, and 1% ask for the first fifty pages.
Just to be clear, here: we hold no grudges toward agents who don’t respond, or agents who respond with one line denials. We get it. We can’t even imagine the deluge of emails agents receive on a day-to-day basis–on top of all their other work. It’s just the nature of the beast. At the same time, we think it’s fair to say that it’s frustrating to spend hours on a letter and have to wait several months–if you’re lucky–for a response. Neither of us really sees a solution to this problem (outside of self-publishing): it’s just the way things are.
Assuming you do get a request, it can take several more months of waiting as the agent reads your work. Again, no grudges toward agents (frankly, you probably want them to take a while to read your work, just to make sure the two of you are compatible).
If the agent loves your book and agrees to sign you (which is a stage we never reached), it can often take several months to place your book with a publisher (if you manage to accomplish this at all), at which point it can take several more months for the book to be released.
With Amazon, it’s a swift process to upload your book and have it available for download. We’ve never had to wait longer than eight hours from the time we uploaded our work to the time it went live on Amazon’s website.
It goes without saying that landing an agent comes with innumerable (and potentially incalculable) benefits. Self-publishing is just that: self-publishing. You’re on your own, sister. With an agent and a publisher you get an editor, marketing materials, etc. With self-publishing, if you want to actually build your brand, you have to do everything. But frankly, after barking up the agent tree for seven years, we’re just happy to finally have some of our work out there. We’ve actually come to find that we really enjoy working on promotional stuff. We’ve met a lot of great people and learned a lot of new things. Is it a lot of work? Sure. But it feels like we’re actually getting somewhere with it, versus spending hours on query letters that more often than not probably don’t even get read.
Great thing number 3) You’re in control
This sort of goes along with number 2, and at first it was a little frightening. But the more time we’ve invested in say, finding book cover designers, or making book trailers, or writing posts for this blog, or doing interviews, the more we’ve found that the amount of control we have in the development process is extremely liberating.
There’s an incredible feeling of powerlessness in approaching the traditional publishing process. Really the only control you have is to make your writing the best it can possibly be-but for any serious writer, this is a given. There are all these feel good articles online about how only a small percentage of people actually finish writing a novel, and how an even a smaller percentage of those people actually write something halfway coherent and entertaining. But the truth of the matter is that even that small fraction of writers completely dwarfs the number of agents taking on new clients any given year, and it towers over the number of novels that actually get accepted by a publisher.
Breaking through by getting published in a magazine or finding an agent might (?) be the most difficult part, although we’ve read horror stories of writers whose first books didn’t make back their advance, essentially barring them from publishing anything again.
For now, we’re happy to invest some time into building our brand and having our work actually get read. That’s not to say that we’ll never query an agent again, or that we’ve abandoned the traditional publishing process. As a matter of fact, if someone was just starting out, we’d heartily recommend they try and land an agent over self-publishing. We’d counsel them to send hundreds of story submissions to literary magazines. You might be an amazing writer and actually get an agent or get published. Worst case scenario, you get a lot of rejections, and dealing with rejections not only forces you to develop some emotional muscles, it forces you to improve. It’s a rite of passage. It’ll help you decide if writing is something you truly love to do.
If you’re like us, though, and have written for a while, it might be worthwhile to put some of your stuff out there. Without being too sentimental, it was an incredible feeling when our first short story was downloaded. It helped to remind us why we write in the first place:
Because it’s an amazing feeling to have your work read.
Thanks for stopping by. We hope you enjoyed this piece,
W & W Sawday