It was a hot, dry morning in early October when I paced the floor of my office at work, checking my cell phone obsessively.
My agent had just texted. It’s an auction.
Two New York editors were going head to head over my debut novel, AT ANY PRICE and they had requested a “best bids” auction. This meant that they were given two days to prepare their offers, complete with marketing plans, to submit for my consideration.
I was nervous. Excited. For three nights during this event I couldn’t sleep and I sure as heck couldn’t work on my novel-in-progress, the follow up which would become AT ANY TURN, during this time. All I could do was obsess over what was going to happen and what I was going to decide.
Because at the back of my mind I still had that third option. And that morning, as I texted with my agent, I reminded her of that.
I’m sure the editors are aware of the success that indie NAs are having right now but you just might let them know that the 3rd bidder in this auction is me. I hope you are okay with that. I just want them to know that I’m aware of what this book is worth.
We’d had this discussion before we’d even gone on submission. She knew this was a possibility. It ended up that that third bidder, me, was the winner. I had many reasons for that.
Am I sorry for that choice? Not currently. No. As it happened, I had a successful start.
But when I originally blogged about my choice, I had no idea that blog would go viral within the publishing community. That my decision would be held up, both for good and ill, to make a statement about other authors’ choices about how to publish their own work. This was not my intention.
I’m fortunate to be publishing in a time when authors have so many choices. But my decision was the best decision for me, at this time and for this work. A choice is always a decision to pursue one path and turn away from another. And it was no easy choice.
That Sunday night, days after the auction had ended, after I’d had a weekend to mull over the offers and the options and consult other authors and experts, I sat in my recliner sobbing as I told my agent that I was going to pass.
Because I knew what I’d be giving up and I had no true idea what I’d be gaining.
So I’ve blogged a bit about what I gained for that first month. Now I want to discuss what I gave up. Because in this “publishing war” we find ourselves in, that seems too often get overlooked. I believe traditional publishing will endure.
And when I turned down those offers (and some have told me that by being so open about my publishing journey, I have materially damaged my chances of ever publishing with a traditional house), I did give up some important things.
What I gave up by deciding to independently publish my novels:
An advance against royalties.
I gave up sure money paid to me regardless of the performance of my novels, sales wise. When publishing independently, money is never guaranteed and you have to invest your own money into your work up front with no guarantee of ever making it back again. Just as with being published traditionally, if you go the indie route, you could do everything right and the book could still tank.
I was offered trade paperback print distribution for my books. As an independent author, my choices are now to offer print books via print on demand (POD) publishing from the various online outlets. As a consequence of that…
My books will not be in bookstores.
I won’t see a stack of paperbacks of AT ANY PRICE sitting on a nicely appointed premium display inside a Barnes and Noble, or even at the newly-created New Adult Romance section at the Books-A-Million. They won’t be at Walmart or Target or the grocery store. And I have no hope of seeing them on a rack at the airport, either.
My books are not likely to be found in a library.
Independently-published POD books are rarely ordered to fill library shelves. And my ebooks will not be distributed to the Overdrive, ebook provider for libraries across the country.
I will never have an editor who will work with me to develop the book and the follow-ups because she loved it enough to acquire it for her house.
As an indie author, any editor that I hire will be working with me because I approached them. They will be freelancers who are amazing at their work but who may or may not be in love with my writing and my story concepts. I turned down the opportunity to work with two talented and knowledgeable New York editors who loved my book enough to go to auction for it and offer high amounts of money out of their budget in order to secure it. In so doing, I gave up the chance to grow as an author under their tutelage.
A team of marketing and publicity experts with contacts in the literary world, the press, and other outlets. The branding a big name publisher can provide.
I gave up the opportunity to learn from marketing and publicity experts as well. And I gave up being branded alongside bestselling authors who have been publishing for many years and have many readers.
I am less likely to ever make a national bestseller list.
While self-published authors do hit bestselling lists often, it is much harder for them for many reasons. A lot of indie authors sell enough or more than their traditional counterparts and yet are virtually ignored by certain establishments who safeguard these important lists.
I am less likely to sell my other rights, such as audio and foreign translation.
Some might counter that I can self publish my books in audio form but this is now much more difficult due to recent changes in royalties provided the primary providers of indie Audiobooks, ACX. It is unlikely I will use this provider for my audio books and until another option crops up, my books may never make it into audio format. Foreign editions of indie books, as well, are hard sells to the foreign rights market unless the books have hit national bestseller lists.
I have most likely lost the chance to sell movie rights.
Indie books are seldom noticed by Hollywood. Some authors get lucky and manage to sell their movie rights. Even though I’ve been told by many readers that AT ANY PRICE would make a great movie, I’m not sure how I’d even go about pursuing such an offer should I ever get one. And being noticed by the movie establishment seems like it would be a long shot. Many more movies are made from traditionally published novels (some of the most anticipated movies this year, in fact, were traditionally published novels at one time) because those looking out for new story prospects for the movie industry are primarily looking at traditionally published books.
I may have damaged my chances to become a hybrid author.
When I walked away from my auction offers, I was told, point-blank, that I would be a “hard sell” to any New York editor after this. I’m not sure whether this is true or whether this was pressure to conform. No one from that establishment has approached me in any way since the auction and my subsequent blog posts. And I wasn’t really expecting that to happen. However, I may have given the impression that I would never be interested in publishing traditionally. This is simply not true. Someday I’d like to be a hybrid author.
The cachet of being associated with a big publisher. Being invited to publisher parties at big writers conferences. Networking with industry professionals in a concentrated setting and with a common goal in mind. Being sent on book tours or participating in book signings.
Some of these things still happen for traditional authors. Some of them don’t. Some of them are very rare, especially for a debut author. Nevertheless, these things get listed amongst the things I gave up, because they do have value to many authors.
Structure and deadlines laid out for me.
In a short amount of time, I’ve had to learn this business from the ground up and have become my own time management expert. I’ve had to schedule cover art and editors myself and set my own deadlines for each phase of development. My process involves drafting the book at least 4 or 5 times with critique partners and beta readers who are involved at different points along the way. Then there are the editors: for content and copy. And formatting. And then proofreading. After that comes the scheduling for publicity and distribution of ARCs, etc.
I have to keep all this in mind and know instinctively when to have what part of which phase done and which time in order to have it ready for the other people that are involved in the production of my book. Had I sold my rights, these deadlines would have been set for me and I would know exactly when I’d need to be done with which phase of my manuscript without me worrying about scheduling separate parts of the whole.
If I ever accept a NY contract, I’ll never be marketed as a “debut author.”
I have lost the opportunity for a traditional publishing house to establish a brand for me and market me as a debut author. When I publish AT ANY TURN in April, I will no longer be a debut author and will have lost the shiny newness associated with it.
Despite the list above, I do not regret my decision.
In my opinion, there has never been a more exciting time to be an author. There are difficult choices to make on the path toward publication. The road you take is your decision alone.
I wish you the best of luck in making those choices, whatever they may be.
*The title of this post was shamelessly swiped from the title of a favorite poem of mine by Robert Frost, one of my most favorite poets. I posted his poem on my Facebook page the day after I made my decision to self publish.
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN by Robert Frost