So I don’t know quite where its been all my life, but I’ve recently discovered the website io9, and I highly recommend it for all things geek and chic.
One of the most interesting articles I’ve seen there recently is a list of the most successful self-published sci-fi and fantasy authors.
You’ll note that for most of these books we’re not talking New York Times Bestseller kind of numbers: most of the figures–though impressive and in the hundreds of thousands–are cumulative. When you breakdown the individual sales of these authors books they could probably be realistically considered mid-list authors or lower. But considering they’re doing this on their own and without the infrastructure of a traditional publisher its nothing to sneeze at. Likewise, when you consider the much higher royalty rate that they would be making off these copies than what they would make from a traditional publishing contract’s share of e-book sales then they might even be coming out even with a lot of mid-list authors with traditional books.
And why would people choose to self-publish, despite the statistically likely chances of limited (or zero) success?
You can see Cory Doctorow’s photo of the (terrifying) Tor slush pile here. If you scroll down you’ll see an exchange between a commenter and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, one of the editors at Tor. She’s quite right that most self-published authors will never sell many copies of their books, and rarely beyond their circle of friends and family (kind of like selling only to those in attendance at your book launch, which tend to be friends and family anyway). If you want a real, physical book that’s widely available at bookstores then you need a traditional publisher and the sales force and distribution system that go along with a traditional publisher.
And that’s what I want, more than almost anything–a traditional publishing deal.
And yet if you listen to most successful authors it seems to take, on average, about ten years of trying to become an overnight success and get a book publishing deal. That’s usually a lot of novels written, rewritten, and then abandoned and shoved in a bottom drawer (or trunk), never to be seen again.
So it brings me some comfort to know that if it takes me ten years to succeed–and I feel like I’m committed to that marathon, if that’s what it takes–then at least in that time, should no agent or editor be interested in novel after novel that I write until I write The One that gets me representation or a book deal, then I can at least be posting my developmental novels in the meantime in hopes of perhaps building some kind of following–a built-in audience that will anxiously rush out and buy (or more likely order from Amazon) my first ‘real’ novel from a traditional publisher once its available.
Or I can hope that lightning strikes and I become the next Amanda Hocking. You know–one of the two.
My friend (and an excellent writer) Michael Andre McPherson has a great blog about his online self-publishing efforts that you should all check out–Beyond the Slush Pile. He’s out there in the brave new world, plying his wares, and his insights are always interesting. Check out ‘Beyond the Slush Pile’ here.