So you want to become an author? I hate to break it to you, but what you really want is to become a publisher. Relax, it’s not as impossible as you think.
While my last book, “Reelpolitik Ideologies in American Political Film,” achieved “respectable sales” (the average U.S. nonfiction book now sells fewer than 250 copies per year), I was little comforted when a royalty check for 66 cents arrived in the mail.
I then started researching self-publishing, which has tripled, according to Bowker since 2006.
Readers are being seduced by the lower cost. A traditionally published fiction trade paperback averages $16.92 and a fiction hardback at $28.73. Contrast that with an indie fiction paperback averaging $6.94 or an indie e-book at $3.18.
Moreover, self-publishing is no longer burdened with the negative vibes of the vanity press. Today, such established authors as Pulitzer-prize winner David Mamet or romance novelist Eloisa James have decided to publish themselves.
First, veteran writers are simply fed up with the lopsided division of royalties. While independent author/publishers get no advance, they now typically end up with 70 percent of sales. A standard contract with a traditional house not only stipulates that advances must be paid back, but also that royalties can only amount to 25 percent of digital sales or 7 percent to 12 percent of the bound book list price.
Second, there’s virtually no marketing for any but top-tier authors. Publishers stayed solvent in this deteriorating marketplace only by shifting more and more responsibility to authors. In fact, most book proposals now require an extensive section detailing the author’s platform, reader community and social media profile.
Third, traditional publishers insist that an author surrender too much creative control. A mystery house that shall remain nameless would have published “Oldest Cold Case in Port Cabrillo” had I deleted sections that reviewers now identify as the book’s most compelling scenes.
Luckily for folks like me, the Big Six New York publishers created a vacuum when they decided to price their e-books too high. Jeff Bezos, never one to muff a financial opportunity, stepped up with KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and Createspace (his print-on-demand operation).
Bezos’ dirty little secret? He demands that the author/publisher do all the work. But he also returns almost all of the profits.
So merely penning a 90,000-word manuscript is only the beginning, dear author. While Microsoft Word’s bells and whistles makes life easier for the amateur scribe, all those nifty shortcuts to style or structure must be manually removed before your magnum opus can morph into an e-book.
And while in a perfect world all e-readers would employ the same format, sadly this is not the case today. If you want to make your book available for the Nook, Kindle and Apple e-reader, your manuscript must be converted three ways — and flawlessly. Are you ready to tear your hair out yet?
Yet, no indie author/publisher stands alone in this brave new world. While I was laboring on “The Oldest Cold Case in Port Cabrillo,” I ran across a blog that doggedly argued for taking one’s Word manuscript down to bare bones before coding the paragraphing, italics, bold, diacritical marks, chapter headings, title page and photograph insertion into proper HTML.
While HTML was not the only four-letter word emanating from my mouth during the challenging procedure, Guido Henkel () was right. After my editing program ground out the final product — it was mistake-free. No gibberish appeared in the text, no gigantic print suddenly sprouted up, and all of the hyperlinks between chapters and the table of contents operated seamlessly.
Next, when my cover artist dropped out, I stumbled on step-by-step instructions for creating a single-image cover in an online post by Joleene Naylor.
My murder mystery takes place — don’t tell anybody — in a sleepy little beach town that coincidentally resembles Port Hueneme. All I had to do was dip into my iPhoto archives for a sunset shot of our pier, manipulate the color balance, superimpose the title and voilà, a sufficiently creepy cover at zero cost (not counting the Oreos I devoured to ease my ensuing frustration).
But no book can be a total DIY project. My best advice? At least hire a professional proofreader. Reviewers, you see, will call you on any typos or misspellings. Don’t let subsequent sales suffer for a few measly dollars.
If you decide to invest in a print version of your book, which the majority of author/publishers still forgo for reasons either philosophical (to harm no trees in the print process) or economic (print-on-demand setup costs can range from $300-$800), Createspace, the most popular player (57,602 titles), provides a viable option.
And just to let you know, my royalties from “The Oldest Cold Case in Port Cabrillo” have already exceeded 66 cents.
Beverly Kelley, PhD, who writes every other week for The Star, is professor emerita in the Communication Department of California Lutheran University in Thouand Oaks. Email firstname.lastname@example.org