As promised, here is my little tale of “Why I Might Have to Self Publish Whether I Like It or Not.”
As most of you know, I am currently actively seeking representation for “Moonlight and Moss,” which is not technically the sequel to Seven Turns, though it takes place in the same universe. And has the same main character. And happens chronologically just a few months after the end of Seven Turns. But still, it’s not a sequel, per se! I have been careful to make sure it could stand alone, if someone reads it who has not read Seven Turns. Beta readers have assured me it is in fact perfectly easy to follow even if they do not know what happened in Seven Turns.
Still… try explaining that to a literary agent. I mean without adding the above ninety or so words to an already-probably-too-long query.
Agents, as a rule, are not keen on picking up an author mid-series, and I can’t say I blame them. Some are OK with this, though, and I will continue to search for one.
But why not just publish Moonlight and Moss through my existing publisher, you ask? The one who published Seven Turns? Well, this is where it gets tricky. I like my existing publisher just fine, but they don’t have the capacity to give my work the kind of service I feel it deserves. They do not have a marketing department, for one thing, and yes. Yes, yes! I’ve already heard it a million times! “But today’s authors are expected to market themselves!” Yes, I know! And I do! I do All The Things. I’m not very good at it, but just look up at the top of this page and click the link to the previous post to find out why I am not interested in learning how to become good at marketing.
“Fine, then,” you say. “This means you are doomed to obscurity because unless you are published by the Big Five, the success of your writing is based solely on your marketing skills.” This is not completely accurate for two reasons: 1) There are more than five publishers who don’t expect their authors to be the only person on the marketing team and 2) my work is, in fact, good enough for the Big Five. (But that’s a different discussion all together.)
The thing is, it’s not just about marketing – it’s also about distribution.
I had never heard the word “Distribution” before Seven Turns came out. Well, not in the context of publishing. I didn’t realize, until after I started trying to market my work, that bookstores do not like having to deal with Amazon. My publisher – like many other small, independent publishers – distributes only through Amazon POD. I noticed early on in my marketing efforts that the minute I used “the A-word,” as they called it, bookstore managers would grimace and shake my hand and wish me luck. I didn’t understand what was going on until the owner of my own lovely local indie bookstore explained it to me.
Apparently, Amazon treats booksellers like crap. Amazon considers its colleagues in the publishing industry to be competition, and Amazon does not appreciate competition. It wants to be the only game in town. For this reason, it does not offer retailer discounts on books, nor does it offer a return policy on unsold copies, as do the book distributors who work for other publishing companies.
Mind you: your local bookstore will happily order a book for you from Amazon, but they will not make any profit on it, and they will have to eat the shipping costs, as well, but they will do it for you because they want to be your friendly neighborhood bookseller. They will not stock Amazon KDP-produced books on their shelves, though some do happily stock them for me if I order them myself with my author discount, then carry them to the store myself and hand them to them to sell on a commission basis.
This works fairly well for me, for my local booksellers, but I am not going to be able to physically carry or ship copies of my book to every bookstore in the country, and that’s where I want my books to be available: in every bookstore in the country. For that, I need a distributor.
So what I am searching for, now, is a publisher who works with an actual distributor, so that booksellers can obtain copies of my books the way they do the other books you see on their shelves. I may be able to find this publisher on my own, or I may need to obtain representation from a literary agent to find one for me. I’d much rather have an agent, if I can.
Except that “the serial problem” mentioned above is making this already daunting task several orders of magnitude more difficult.
I have been advised by industry professionals to just scrap the entire Callaghan McCarthy/Woodley, USA storyline and start over with a new series, which agents will be more willing to look at. But I’m not gonna do that, y’all. I’m not going to pull a George R. R. Martin on you! I promise I will finish Cally’s entire story arc before I start writing the stories of some of Woodley’s other denizens.
This means that if I do not get some more traditional nibbles for “Moonlight and Moss” soon, I will go ahead and self-publish it, so that people who are clamoring to find out what happens next with Cally and Ben and George and Emerald are not left hanging. I had originally intended to release about one volume a year, when I set out, and I am determined to remain as close as I can to this schedule. If this means I have to self-publish the next two volumes, so be it!
And then I’ll start in on the story of one of Woodley’s other quirky citizens. Who would you like it to be?