Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Still Swimming Like a Shark ( or "I Wish I'd Known This Before I Started")

By Percival Constantine

Ever since the age of 10, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Every aspiring writer has a medium they aspire to—for me, it was comic books. But getting published was a different story. Since 10, I continued to write just about every single day. Before my family got a computer, it would be stories scribbled in notebooks and then later typed up on an old typewriter. Throughout high school and college, I would devote most of my energy to writing comic book fan fiction and also comic scripts for my own original ideas.

While in college, I first heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). And under the advice of my friend Derrick Ferguson, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. The first attempt went nowhere. As did the second. The third time I actually managed to meet the 50,000-word goal with a few days to spare.

The next step was trying to see if I could get it published. I revised the manuscript and then handed it over to a friend for editing before doing further revisions. And then I began querying agents, following their submission guidelines to the letter. Of the fifty or so agents I queried, I received about twenty responses. Of those twenty responses, around three were more than form letter rejections. And those three all basically said the same thing—a good start, but I’m not sure how I’d sell this in today’s market.

This was in late 2006, so it was long before the self-publishing revolution Amazon kick-started with the advent of the KDP platform. Ebooks were very much in their infancy at this point—there was no Kindle and an ebook was essentially a PDF you read on your computer or PDA (anyone remember those?). Self-publishing did exist, but it was virtually indistinguishable from vanity publishing.

Derrick had published his first book, Dillon and the Voice of Odin, through iUniverse (now a subsidiary of the very shady Author Solutions) a few years before this. So I consulted him for advice. He told me about his experiences with iUniverse and I looked them up. And I have never been so happy to be a broke college student, because the prices were so far out of my range that there was no way I could have afforded their services. I almost got suckered by the PublishAmerica scam, but fortunately I had done my research and found out what a predatory company they were.

Derrick recommended I speak to Joel Jenkins, who told me about Lulu. Unlike many of the other services out there, Lulu’s print on demand service didn’t charge any upfront fees. You had to purchase a proof copy of your book and there was a fee for expanded distribution to get an ISBN and have your book available for purchase on websites like Amazon (and it could be requested at bookstores), but altogether, that brought the total cost to less than $50, definitely within my range.

Of course, Lulu offered other services for book layout and cover design, but these were optional, not mandatory. I had some knowledge of Photoshop and InDesign, so I made the cover and formatted the book myself in those programs (which required a massive learning curve). After approving the proof, my first novel, Fallen, was available.

My marketing consisted of telling friends. I started a Facebook group called “Help make my book a bestseller” and included the link to Amazon and how people could find the book. Despite virtually everyone on my friends list joining the group, only a small fraction of them bought the book. I published in March of 2007 and in that first year, I sold a grand total of 28 copies.

When I talk about my first publishing experience, I actually consider the first seven years of my writing career to be my first publishing experience, because I really didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t discover the ebook revolution until around 2011 or 2012 and my efforts at that point consisted of relying solely on Smashwords. Up until that point, I was only doing paperbacks. I didn’t know anything about the Kindle. I didn’t know about the self-publishing success stories like Hugh Howey or Amanda Hocking. I completely missed the Kindle gold rush and the glory days when KDP Select actually helped you sell books. I didn’t know a thing about mailing lists or series branding or anything like that.

By the time I did learn about all these things, I had a much steeper climb, one that I’ve only started to make. It’s been said that a shark has to keep swimming or else it dies and the same is true of authors.

I’d advise everyone to learn from the mistake I made and do your research on the market. Even if you think you know everything, keep researching. And learn about marketing because there are so many titles out there that you have to figure out a way to get the word out that isn’t spammy or just asking your friends. The world of publishing is in such a state of flux these days that things are changing every day. The current market is very different from the market in 2007 or even the market just a year ago.

Percival Constantine is a pulp action author responsible for several series, including The Myth Hunter, Vanguard, and Luther Cross. Visit PercivalConstantine.com for more information on him and to find out how to get free books and stories.