It used to be that the label “self-published author” was loser-speak for “I couldn’t get published anywhere else.” Nobody likes to be rejected, but in the supply and demand crapshoot market of book publishing, hand selecting the next sure thing is an intuitive gamble that publishers must take. Many self-published authors step out on their own in the first place because they believe in their projects, and get butterflies in their stomachs, deep gut feelings that the New York publishing houses were flat wrong when dismissing their creations.
For most authors, publishing a book is not about the money, and wisely so. But negotiating a lucrative, or even a flimsy book deal is good business after all, and self-published authors are now investing more, and hoping for a little recognition. And compensation. Today, self-publishing can be a profitable investment in not only nurturing your entrepreneurial spirit, but in catching the attention of big publishers.
The name “Zane” is a pseudonym, but the woman behind the literary mask has uncovered a gold mine. Her novel Addicted is in a bookstore near you thanks to Pocket Books. But ironically, even before the book deal Zane’s unusual brand of erotic and off-balanced, comedic fiction spread throughout the country with blazing word of mouth advertising and shrewd marketing.
“After my first two rejection letters, I made an immediate decision to self-publish and even thought it was funny [that my work was rejected],” said Zane, who is based in Maryland. “I was 100% positive that my books would sell.”
Zane has sold well over 300,000 copies of her three fiction titles combined, all on her own. The sales and name recognition put her in a position to establish her company, Strebor Books International, which now publishes several other authors. Her sales success also gave her leverage in negotiating a three-book deal with Pocket Books, the winner of an intense bidding war.
MJ Rose, author of the novel Lip Service, insists that the type of attention paid to Zane is very atypical for most self-publishers, especially since Zane is an African-American author, and since the black book market is full of writers who similarly start out self-publishing.
“Since 1998, other than African-American novelists, if 10 self-published fiction titles were picked up [by a major publisher], that’s a lot.”
Rose herself is somewhat of a self-publishing poster child, as Lip Service was the first e-book discovered online and picked up by Pocket Books & The Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club. She parlayed her self-publishing success into an enduring career, but acknowledges that an author’s achievements depend on acute business sense.
“Self-publishing is not a way to make money for about 90% of those who do it. But regardless of that, a successful self-published book, fiction or non-fiction, is one that reaches a specific audience and is aimed at a niche, or target audience.”
But for non-fiction authors especially, regardless of ethnic market and book topic, successfully self-publishing your book can not only fulfill your dream of sharing yourself with the world, but can also introduce your foot to the door of a major publisher. As in any business, investors want proof that there is a legitimate demand for the product or service being pushed. And in publishing, nothing spells proof more than a dead-on marketing attack and a loud and clear Cha-ching!
Self-published authors who sell 10,000 copies of their books in a year, on limited distribution and capital, will impress Christine Belleris, Editorial Director at Health Communications, Inc., the publishing house that bought the originally self-published, and insanely popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
“It means a great deal to publishers if you’ve been out there and sold “X” amount of books and successfully marketed it on your own,” she says. “It shows you have a track record for bookselling.”
HCI publishes about one self-published title per season, but does not recruit the authors. They come to HCI. Belleris has a few tips for self-published authors looking to hand the reigns of their work over to a publisher:
* Get an agent. HCI accepts unsolicited manuscripts, but most houses won’t touch it without the stamp of approval from an agent.
* Query publishers just like you did before self-publishing. Send in a professional looking packet of materials, including your book, information on how many books you have sold, and explain your marketing plan. “That tells a publisher whether or not your book has legs or not,” Belleris explains.
* Convince the publisher that you have a built in audience. That translates into a demand for your book and a reason for the publisher to invest in your work.
But is selling out to a big publisher the bottom line?
“I actually have encouraged people to continue to self-publish because they seemed to have found their niche,” admits Zane. Two of her books are still self-published. She is published by a major house and is a publisher of other books. With that multi-dimensioned perspective she concludes that her profit from self-publishing is about dead even with the pay back from Pocket Books. But she contends that selling your brainchild is not always a viable option.
“If you have to compromise your beliefs or change your style, selling out is not worth it. Nothing is worth that.”
Kim Rose has worked at ABC News in New York for two years. She also serves as Wire Editor for Hype News Service, and is a contributor to an untitled anthology about daughters and fathers. Email Kim at: email@example.com