As an attorney, a novelist, and an entrepreneur, I know I’m equipped to go independent with my next novel. I released my first novel, Compendium, under my own imprint, and it sold over 13,000 copies, in ebook, paperback and audiobook. It won multiple independent book awards, received over 140 reviews on Amazon and was even picked up for two Bookbub campaigns that actually made me money, since they were paid campaigns.
This result wasn’t easy, cheap, or quick. I expended resources to find and pay a great editor. I hired and paid an excellent voice artist for my audiobook. I worked with my now ex-spouse to design the cover jacket art, a trailer video, and additional branded materials. I spent money on a blog tour, Bookbub ads, and other less successful marketing dollars. I applied to contests and ran a Goodreads Giveaway to help bolster reviews. All of this effort and energy paid off. The book did well! At one point, it hit number 2 in the Amazon Best Seller list for Science Fiction & Fantasy, behind only Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and number 1 in the Science Fiction category. That day, I hit number 1 overall in Amazon authors for Science Fiction, right above George R.R. Martin and 6 overall in Fantasy and 71 overall on popular Authors. All of this was accomplished without a distribution deal or traditional publisher. I’m not throwing these numbers out there to brag, but rather to point out that with hard work, resources, and savvy, authors can be successful on their own.
So the question for me became, “Do I actually want to do this alone?”
There are many pros and cons of independent publishing.
Pros: (1) total control over output, materials, process, and deadlines; (2) pick and choose who you work with for editor, cover designer, audiobook, etc.; (3) control over marketing efforts and ability to run creative marketing campaigns because you control pricing and get author copies relatively cheaply; (4) can market your book indefinitely; and (5) aren’t stuck only publishing projects that the publisher gods have deemed trendy or marketable at the time that the book is completed.
Cons: (1) publishing a book costs money, and if you don’t have any, that severely limits investment in good editors, cover artists, voice actors, and marketing; (2) reach will depend entirely on your own efforts, and you need connections or luck but likely both, within the distribution chain to get the book into the hands of readers; (3) there may be a ton of time and legwork spent in building networks that traditional publishers will already have; (4) selling international and film rights means independently negotiating those agreements and also takes time, energy, and inclusion in platforms where you get exposure to those other markets; (5) the marketing window is indefinite, but it’s really hard to sustain ongoing marketing independently and build your backlist at the same time; and (6) you have to track your own deadlines and keep yourself on task.
I almost mentioned that, as writers, we want to write and not do all this ucky business stuff, but let’s face it. It doesn’t matter how your book gets to market. Increasingly, you as the author will be required either by yourself or by your publisher to engage consistently, directly, and tirelessly on the business and marketing side of your writing career. For the lucky few, some examples being Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Nora Roberts, brand recognition is all that’s needed to sell a new book. Even then, I would be willing to bet that behind the calm exteriors and personable public personas, those writers are very much like the rest of us. Constantly barraged with business decisions (albeit on a much larger and possibly envious scale), and having to juggle myriad commitments and still write books.
At this point, you may be thinking… OK, get to the point!
Well, here it is. As authors, we write books for people to read. Our domain expertise is in writing books and as mentioned above, in marketing our personal brand and books to readers. I’ve done a pretty good job at those two requirements, but how much better could I be doing if I leverage properly incentivized partners to expand my distribution? This might reduce my ability to run Bookbub ads at my leisure and mean that I have to answer to someone else on content edits and cover design, but perhaps the tradeoff of a larger distribution network, greater exposure to alternate markets, and a partner to keep me on schedule are worth that reduced control.
So why am I going with a crowd-funding literary agency and publisher matching program rather than just querying a thousand agents and selling my book traditionally?
One thing about the traditional publishing industry that bothers me A LOT is that it’s incredibly risk-averse. I understand why, but sometimes the result is a homogenous selection of books by the same tried and true authors in the same tried and true format. That’s a generalization by me, and I’m constantly reading truly compelling books. Really, though, the riskier books tend to be by already established authors that have proven out their value to publishers. Why is this?
Some internet research suggests that the average book sells 3000 copies total, with on average only about 250–300 of those copies coming in the first year. I expect these numbers change dramatically when you’re talking about one of the big five. Nevertheless, that 300 copies is what a small publisher is looking for to justify acquiring a book. They’d really like it to sell much more than 300 copies, but the risk they are taking on is that it won’t even hit that magic number, and they will have spent a lot of resources (see above) to put the book out there. This ties directly into my comments above about being risk averse. If you’re trying to hit a certain number, you want to pick what you think will get you there.
The economic argument for Publishizer
So what does this have to do with Publishizer? Well, crowd-funding a pre-order lets me show to publishers that (1) there is an audience for the book and (2) that if they offer me a contract, they are guaranteed sales, the amount of which start with the pre-orders I’ve already accepted during the campaign. If I pre-sell 300 copies, then they already have their projected first year of sales wrapped up. With that risk removed, they can afford to take on a project that might be new and interesting and scary for a traditional publisher. So, the more I pre-sell the book, the greater the likelihood that I will attract a publisher who sees value in marketing my book and building a long term relationship with me to ensure I succeed.
One of the primary benefits of Publishizer is that it properly incentivizes all of the parties to the transaction. Traditional publishing has an author struggling (or not) and querying to find an agent that “falls in love” with their work which translates to “I can sell this and make a living.” That agent then convinces a publisher to work with the author and takes 10–15% of the royalties during the life of the book for their efforts. The traditional publisher takes on all the risk of the book succeeding, so they offer contract terms that mitigate that risk. At the end of the day, both the publisher and the agent need to make money off of the author, and this need influences how they interact with each other and the author. It’s not a criticism, just an economic reality. And the author, terrified that their book won’t get published, accepts terms they may not be comfortable with or may not be strategically what they want for themselves.
Publishizer helps with the imperfections of this market by (1) removing the basic risk of publication for the publishing company, (2) incentivizing the agent to work with the author to directly create an audience for the book rather than just pitch the project to the publisher (since the agent is paid based on the pre-sales, not on the publishing contract itself), and (3) empowering the author to leverage their network, no matter how large or small, to create a readership that they can use to finance the publication regardless of whether they self-publish or use the pre-sales to negotiate a traditional contract. It is a win… win… WIN! This model encourages publishers to engage with more interesting authors, lets the literary agent make money without having to rely on nebulous future sales, and gives the author cash, choices, and a network they can use for the rest of their career. As a savvy business person and an author with a readership, I see Publishizer as much more likely to help my next novel meet the goals I’m setting for myself as an author.
Ocularum, the second book in my Artifacts of Lumin series launches on Publishizer on August 1. Check it out and subscribe to follow my publishing journey, or better yet, pre-order to support my success!