This blog was originally written on 14 May 2012.
I started writing at the age of eleven. Shortly thereafter, I just knew that to have a published work was my destiny, that to have my name on a book was my calling. By the age of thirteen, I had grabbed hold of a book that my dad had been looking at that listed several markets to which aspiring authors should pitch their books. When I would need inspiration to write, I would look at that book and think of being able to finally submit a finished manuscript, and surely, they would read what I offered and know like I did that Steven Hildreth was serious business and that every second I wasn’t published was an affront to everything that was holy and just.
Then I got older and started to get the impression that perhaps the established publishing industry wouldn’t be as receptive as I initially thought. The first step was back before I joined the Army, when I was cruising my old stomping grounds, a Mack Bolan fan site. Linda Pendleton, widow of Mack Bolan creator Don Pendleton, was promoting the website iUniverse as a means to publish one self. The concept was completely new to me, and I was intrigued. It cost a pretty penny, but surely I could save up and get it done. I even sought out the man who made the covers for the Mack Bolan series and solicited a quote ($2,000 for a cover). That seemed like the route to take.
Next came when I returned from Iraq and was going through the post-deployment briefings. One of the guys I talked to during that process had wanted to publish, and even carried a manuscript with him everywhere he went to show it off. It was some sort of space drama that wasn’t very well written, but I will never forget that man because of something he showed me (which we’ll get to in a moment). He told me not to go with iUniverse when I mentioned it, which is advice I am very glad he gave me, as he saved me several hundred dollars.
The final steps came shortly before I finished writing The First Bayonet. Firstly, I saw a colleague of mine, Josh Howell, attempting to publish his own novel traditionally, and I watched him get shot down from all angles by the establishment, which was a prospect I did not look forward to facing. In turn, I turned to self-publishing. I was exploring publishing avenues for my now shelved novel, The African Catalyst, and I stumbled across Lulu. I verified that it was a legitimate website, saw what they had as far as both print and eBooks, and ran with it. However, after The First Bayonet‘s publication, I learned so much more that I wish I’d known back then.
Recently, I was asked by a reader about my experiences in self publishing on behalf of her mother, who is looking to write and publish a work. Instead of responding directly, I thought that this would be a good blog topic, since my blog not only covers my work, but blurbs about writing in general.
Traditionally, as mentioned before, one had to publish through a company, and one’s chances were increased if they had an agent. However, as time has moved on, breaking into traditional publishing has become something of a catch-22: you can’t get published without having been published before, and the traditional publishing companies frown upon self published authors. With the genesis of the internet has come the genesis of self-publishing, which has granted unparalleled access to aspiring authors to publish their works. This has also granted the author an autonomy in their work not unlike that of an independent musician or filmmaker in that there is no corporate interest that curbs their creativity in the name of profits.
But this leads to the downside–anyone can publish now. You have no idea how many sub-par works I have found on self publishing markets. There’s no editor, there’s no standard to be met. It’s literary anarchy–anything goes. This leads to the negative reputation that self publishing has in the eyes of the traditional industry and in the eyes of many readers, myself included. You have to wade through a sea of garbage to find quality work, much like FictionPress, a website I used to post on regularly. Thankfully, most of these “authors” aren’t encouraged as they are on FP. They publish one work, manage to sell maybe two or three copies, and then hang it up for good in a classic example of capitalism at work.
For the purposes of this analysis, I have selected two websites I am familiar with: CreateSpace and Lulu. But for a moment, let’s backtrack to the man at the post-deployment center. The website he told me about is called Preditors and Editors. This website has a fairly comprehensive list of publishers, and has made a bit of a name for itself by putting publishers who screw writers over on blast. Regardless of who you choose to publish through, I would recommend running their name against their list. P&E will note recommended and highly recommended editors, but so long as there is nothing next to the publisher’s name, they’re acceptable. When you see the red words “Not recommended” next to a publisher’s name, then steer clear–these people will screw you over.
Now, for Lulu. This came recommended to me by way of P&E. How Lulu works is that it prints on demand. It does not cost you a dime to publish books and eBooks through Lulu initially. How they make their money is off of sales. They get a percentage of every book sold. You select your cover and paper type, and Lulu sets a minimum price at which the book must be sold to cover production costs. They also offer eBook publication. Lulu will distribute your book or eBook through their own bookstore. For eBooks, they’ll distribute it through Barnes & Noble, the Apple iBookstore, and their own website for free. For print books, it costs additional money to distribute it through other channels (off the top of my head, it’s $70 to secure publishing through Amazon, which is the largest online book website). They’ll also provide you with a free ISBN for your book, though this limits who you can publish the manuscript with.
The downside to Lulu is that for the cheap route, all of the heavy lifting is on you–the editing, cover creation, and marketing. They offer services for that, but they range from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars for the package. Also–their customer service is horrendous. I attempted to contact them to make an inquiry about distributing The First Bayonet on Amazon, and they basically told me to bugger off and figure it out myself. Your experience with them may be different from mine, but that particular incident drove me away from Lulu and to the website I will be publishing The Rocinha Syndicate through, and the second website in this analysis.
CreateSpace is a company owned by Amazon. This immediately gives them an edge over Lulu in that your book will be published on Amazon for free. This means more exposure and more accessibility. They will also make a Kindle version of your book, which guarantees the eBook market, as well, as the Kindle sells more than B&N’s Nook. While I have not published through them yet and have yet to deal with their customer service, their publishing interface is easy to navigate. My friend and literary colleague Jack Murphy published his work, Reflexive Fire, through CreateSpace, which is what turned me onto it, and after plenty of sales, he has no major complaints. They also assign an ISBN to your book, which allows bookstores to order your book, but like Lulu, it also limits your publication options unless you buy and use your own ISBN. For another $25, there are additional avenues to distribute the book, which adds to an already large distribution channel.
From my standpoint, CreateSpace seems like the much better option, which is why I am leaning to them. However, something to keep in mind–while I have not been able to find the source I heard it from, I had heard that Amazon can change the price of your book at any time, for any reason, without consulting you. This would be one area where Lulu comes out on top, as you set the price and it stays at that price unless you deign to change it yourself. If I come across the link for that, I shall post it here, but that is something to keep in mind.
One last point to touch on. Self publishing has forced traditional publishers to adapt, particularly with the rise of the eBook. If you have been paying attention to business news, then you might have heard that Apple has gotten itself in a bit of hot water over colluding with some major publishers to fix eBook prices. This is a sign that the traditional publishing entities are threatened by self publishing. This brings up the final point–if you self publish, be prepared to commit to it for the long haul, as no publishing company will pick you up unless your book becomes a national bestselling phenomenon. By self publishing, you are telling the establishment that you do not need to be a member of the good old boy network to share your work, and that is the last thing they want to hear.
In conclusion, self publishing is a bit of a labor of love. You have to write the book (obviously), edit it yourself, and market it yourself. In this way, it’s sort of weeding out those who are not truly meant to write. The aspiring author should be wary, though, as there are those out there who would seek to exploit their desire to be published for their own means. CreateSpace and Lulu, with their strengths and flaws, are two reputable publishers, but if you’re an aspiring author reading this, you don’t have to take my word for it. Do some research and find the publisher that works for you as a writer, and then run with it.
Keep fighting the good fight and let your words flow!