QUIBBLES & BITS
I live in a small town on Vancouver Island, where the night life is watching Jeopardy at 7:30.
The people I hang with think it's cool that I'm a published author, but uncool that they can't buy my books at the bookstore.
Let me tell you about the bookstore. Once upon a time it was owned by a very nice man who supported local authors. The store had a full wall of crime fiction. It also had a knowledgeable staff, all of whom loved books. The nice man grew a wee bit older and, eventually, sold his store to a man I'll call Chester.
When Chester took over the store, he had an Open House to introduce himself. I attended, of course, to introduce myself. I asked Chester what kind of books he liked. He said, "I don't read."
Chester, admittedly, bought the store as an investment. Sadly, it now carries a few bestsellers, some newspapers and magazines, lottery tickets, and coffee table books. No more touting local authors and there's only one small corner devoted to crime fiction. The knowledgeable staff moved on (probably to bookstores owned and/or run by people who read).
Which brings me back to my friends who think it's cool that I'm an author. Except, they have no conception of the work involved, the high tolerance for silence, the angst of rejection. And they kinda wonder why I'm not...oh, say Mary Higgins Clark. Or Stephen King.
Which justifies, at least in my mind, the reason why I belong to so many Internet writers loops. Way too many. But I can't give them up. They are my links to the outside world, and, in my case, the real world.
Every 3 or so months, at least one of my loops brings up the subject of self-publishing.
Recently a list member tried to explain that her self-publishing outfit wasn't a vanity press. She said, "There are a few outfits which charge a token fee to cover the case that the book sells no copies at all."
To me, that's like saying, "This agent is okay because she only charges a token fee, just in case s/he can't sell your book."
Deni's Rule: Never pay a fee, and only use tokens on busses or subways!
But, just for grins, here's my self-publishing story. In 1997 I self-published THE RAINBOW'S FOOT, an 1893 -1925 saga (a'la Lonesome Dove), with an emphasis on Colorado's silent film industry. My novel also encompasses the Cripple Creek gold rush, the Ludlow Massacre, and the rise of Denver's KKK. I contracted a printing company and each book cost me just under $2.00 (Trade paperback). It was a straight business deal. I turned in a formatted manuscript and the cover art, and the printing company gave me copies of my book. In boxes. Cartons, actually.
But first, I established a press called "Voices," along with Mary Ellen Johnson, author of The Lion and the Leopard (Crown). Her self-published true crime, THE KILLING OF JACOB, is still being used for pre law courses.
As for my book, I used "niche marketing," touting the saga to Colorado libraries and bookstores (also, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas and California). At the time, POD technology was wearing diapers and learning to crawl. At the time, Ingram handled small, indie presses. So did Baker & Taylor.
At the time, I was traditionally published: two hardcover mysteries (Walker) and a mass market historical romance (Kensington: Pinnacle), with a contract for two more. I had an agent who had tried to market Rainbow but kept getting turn-downs that stated: "Although the writing is outstanding, no one buys sagas." My agent wished me luck (with my self-publishing) and continued to rep me.
My press run was 2500 copies, more or less. I did as much promotion as I could afford, then lucked out. A Florida (Florida?!) Borders manager read Rainbow and gave it a BINC number: a review-recommendation that runs in Borders' corporate newsletter, and except for three cartons (approx 75 books), I sold out. My profit was $10,000, more or less, mostly more.
I didn't do a second press run because I wanted to write books, not run a business, and I hated dealing with distributors, who are as sleazy as scummy, scammy, SPAMmy vanity publishers. For example, B&T would order 100 books, wait 90 days (when payment was due), and send back 75 (Ingram would do the same). The very next day, they'd order 75-100 more. For that "service," they took 55% of the retail price, and I paid postage. Remember Norm on Cheers? When I walked into the post office, everyone shouted, "Hi, Deni!"
Am I sorry I self-published Rainbow? No. Would I do it again, today? Not a chance. Voices doesn't exist anymore, but I have all my rights to The Rainbow's Foot, and maybe someday a publisher will reprint the novel in mass market paperback.
Another list member (on the same loop) said, "A self publishing outfit will publish ANYTHING you PAY them to publish no matter how amateurish or downright awful it is."
This is true, but I think the confusion is "self-publishing outfit." For Rainbow I used the same printing company that prints the Canadian editions of the Harry Potter books. Obviously, that company is NOT a vanity press in the sense the above poster means, unless you consider Rowlings a self-published author.
I've often said my novels have no socially redeeming values whatsoever, that they're written merely to entertain. I fibbed. In The Rainbow's Foot I address social issues that are dear to my heart, and I have another historical I'm marketing today - JENNY - where I address similar issues. But I won't self-publish Jenny. Been there,done that, and I have no intention of doing it again. It's too much damn work, and for Jenny there's no niche market.
The whole world is its niche.