Here it is: “Are you published?”
Believe it or not, that question can be taken several different ways.
It could mean, “Are you good enough that someone actually printed what you wrote?”
Or it could mean, “Cool! Does that mean your books are available to be read by the public?”
I’m sure it could mean other things, but we’ll look at those for a moment. For years, if you wanted to be able to have the masses have access to your books, you had to go through a publishing company. There are pros and cons in doing that.
On the positive side, generally publishing houses make sure the book is free of errors, the cover is nice, the formatting is inviting and the book is distributed.
On the not so positive side, publishing houses are businesses. A big factor in deciding if they are going to publish a book is “will this sell?” Even if they accept a book, they might “encourage” the author to change parts of the story.
This happened to me. When I first started shopping around The Hidden Sun, one response I received was basically, “we like it, but you need to add some sex and swearing.” Yeah—that wasn’t going to happen.
This next part is a bit thick, but hang in there a moment. In one of my recent classes for my Master’s degree I learned about literary criticism. There is something called “The Frankfurt School” critical theory which basically says that the flow of information is being controlled by governments and large corporations and thereby is influencing cultures. They also lamented that because of this, it was “the end of individualism.”
I told you it was thick. I’ll break it down: the belief is that the common person can’t share their views because information is controlled by governments and corporations.
That may have been true several years ago, but I think that isn’t the case as of this moment. What social media can do is amazing. Seriously. After all, a person could type a blog like this in his room and it could be read by millions of people.
As with any form of technology, it can be used for good or bad. So, how does this relate to people asking me if I’m published?
The fact is, anyone, really, can publish a book and have it available for millions of people to buy with services like Amazon, Smashwords, Wattpad, and so on. No longer are publishing houses acting as gate keepers on what information is shared.
Yet, at the same time, because the process to spread information is so easy, it can make a person leery about quality or credibility of what is being shared.
And that is where I find myself today.
My first two books and my first two short stories were traditionally published. I didn’t pay a dime out of my pocket for them to be available to the masses. In fact, I got paid—a very small amount.
Guess how much I made for my first short story? Just over $5. I’m serious. And that’s all I’ll get from it.
As for published books? This is a ballpark figure, but for a book that retailed for $17.99, I earned less than a dollar a book. And I had to give the publisher the rights to the book to get even that—and I had to make changes the publisher requested.
As I studied the trends and options, I elected that creating my own publishing company and using Amazon as my distributor made the most sense from both a creative and financial position.
Since then, I’ve made a lot more money and I feel I’ve been able to tell the stories I’ve wanted to tell. The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, so I know that what I’m doing is connecting with my intended audience.
My biggest challenge now is how to stand out from the hoard of people who are publishing books using non-traditional routes.
I’ve done several things like become active with author groups, have a professional website, write a blog, do school visits, and other types of promotion. Yet those aren’t the biggest things I’ve done.
There are four tips I’d offer for anyone who wants to do what I’ve done.
1. Read, read, read and read some more.
2. Write, write, write and write some more.
3. Hire a professional editor.
4. Hire a professional cover designer.
The first two may seem like they don’t connect to the last two, but they do. If you want to be a good writer, you need to read good writing. Then you need to practice—a lot.
And then? Get help! Yes, you’ll have to invest some money, but trust me: people do judge a book by its cover and if your book is full of mistakes, word will spread.
Just for giggles, here are two other questions I’ve been asked when people find out I’m an author:
“Are your books any good?”
“Why would you waste your time doing that?”