Over the last couple weeks in the workshops here, a number of professional writers and I have been trying (during side discussions) to come up with reasons why an idea won’t work. Novelist Scott William Carter (who was my co-instructor at the New Tech workshop) and I talked this over and then I started to ask others about it and the discussions continued with no result other than positive. So I figured I would open it up here and see what comes. Since this group is diverse and at all levels in both belief in myths and also the impact of the changes of this new world of publishing, I figure this might get interesting.
At the moment neither Scott or I are saying that this is the way to do it. Just opening to feedback on the idea.
Step One: Novelist finished a new manuscript that is NOT under contract, NOT an option book in any way for an existing contract. Just a brand new book for the writer. (Again, this is a novel.)
Step Two: Novelist gets the manuscript into shape with some first readers and maybe a good copyedit, then launches it on electronic sites and gets it through a POD publisher such as CreateSpace, which will give you cheap author’s copies in their $39 pro program. (Step two could take up to three months or so, especially with the proofing and the time involved in the POD process.)
Step Three: Do a short three page synopsis of the book, then put a copy of the trade paperback book with the synopsis and a cover letter into a flat rate priority envelope and mail to an editor with a #10 SASE. Be clear to the editor that the book is up on both electronic publishing and POD under your own press name, but you would be glad to pull it down if the publisher is interested in making an offer. (Do NOT say sales numbers or any such thing like that. And if you book doesn’t look professional and have good back cover copy, don’t bother.)
Step Four: If the publisher makes an offer, by then you will have some sales history on the book to see how it is selling. (Traditional publishers offers often take six months to a year to come to an author after submission.)
If an offer does come in you have some math to do. Figure if a traditional publisher makes an offer and you can work a good contract, you will sign over control of the book for about eight years. You will get the traditional publisher’s push, sure, but figure what your book would make in electronic and POD if you kept it for eight years and then balance the offer from the publisher with the projected income you will make over eight years on your own. (Easy math. For example, if your book is selling for $4.99 electronically and selling 25 copies per month TOTAL across ALL electronic sites, and also selling 5 copies POD per month at a $3.00 average income, your income per month is about $102.50. Or about $1,230.00 per year or just under $10,000 for eight years. If a publisher offers you $10,000 or anything close, you have a real decision to make.)
Note: Many fiction authors are going to feel they want to be published by a traditional publishing house no matter how well their book is selling through their own press. Fine, this idea does not block that either. Just don’t do the math and go with the traditional publisher.
Upside #1: You are making some money while your novel is under submission. And growing readers. Maybe not many, but some, and if all traditional publishers turn you down, you are still making money even at very, very low levels of sales and gaining a readership. (This solves the biggest complaint I have heard about publishing these days, how editors are so slow to respond or never respond, which is beyond rude in my opinion, but seems to be almost normal now.)
Upside #2: Editors hate to toss a book away, so instead of tossing your submission away if it doesn’t fit (all you have sent along is a #10 SASE for a response and you say in your cover letter they can keep the book), they will toss your book into a free pile in the office. Those books are there for anyone to take. Someone in the office picks it up, likes it and either becomes a fan, or writes you about the book. Both are positive. Or they donate it to a used bookstore and a fan finds it there. And buys more of your other work. Again, positive. Again, anyone working as an editor hates tossing away a book. So your free copy to the editor will find a home eventually.
Upside #3: If you are good at blurbs and back cover copy, the editor will see it on your book and be able to use what you have written, which will save them time in writing them (Yes, editors write blurbs and back cover copy). If your book looks professional, she can use it to convince the sales force and others. (Don’t expect or demand they use your cover or anything. Again, be willing and say so in the cover letter that if they want the book, you will be willing to pull your edition down before their edition appears if you can come to an agreement in the contract.)
Upside #4: Editors are more willing to read books over manuscripts any day, and if you have it up electronically, tell the editor in the cover letter that if she is interested, you will also be glad to send her the book electronically, either by download or a coupon system. You will have also done a copyedit and some cleaning on the book before publishing it, so the editor will be reading in her world what seems to be a very clean submission copy.
Upside #5: Your book might start selling more copies than you imagined. If that happened, no offer from New York short of six figures would offset your income. If you book is selling very well and an editor makes an offer, you tell them your numbers and their offer might just go up. If the offer doesn’t, just keep selling it yourself and turn down the traditional offer. Again, both sides of that are positive for the writer.
There are more upsides on this, but those are the major ones.
Downside #1: Running into an editor who still thinks that all self-published or small-published books are garbage. There are still a few left since this new world is changing so fast. The editor won’t remember you, so that won’t matter. The editor will then just toss the book into the free pile and ignore your submission. Your book might find another editor in the building from that pile, or worst case a new fan in a used bookstore. Not much of a downside. Very minor.
Downside #2: Slightly more cost per submission. When you figure toner costs and paper costs for a regular submission and compare them to the price of an author copy through CreateSpace, your costs will be about $1.50 more per submission. Minor downside considering that a fan will find the book at some point in the process if the book is rejected and you might make more sales.
Downside #3: If you suck at cover design and back cover copy, and I mean really suck, it might hurt your submission to editors instead of help by presenting them a clean and professional product. That is a controllable downside and again minor. Just make sure you have someone who can help you with understanding covers and blurbs.
That’s all that a bunch of us, all selling professional writers, could see on the downside, which bothers me a great deal. I keep thinking there should be more downside to this. Anyone?
Everything is Changing Fast
This might be one of the ways of the future world of submissions. In fact, unless someone can come up with more downsides on this, I sure can’t see why this wouldn’t be a major way of doing things in the future. It allows writers to make some money on their novel while it is under submission and while editors in large publishers are going through their long process in buying a book. It allows authors to test-run a book to see response and judge the value over a long haul for the book. And it allows editors to use some of the package to help in their sales if you are good at putting a book together in a professional manner.
It is a balanced approach that uses both your own publishing venture and traditional publishers, without any real waste of time. Win/win as far as I can see for novelists.
Comments? Problems? More upsides?
This new world of publishing has certainly become a great deal of fun.