Most struggling authors trying to get published think that anyone with a publishing deal has got it made. I know I used to.
While that can be true in rare cases, most often the life of an author – especially the type often tagged as “first-time” or “emerging” – is still a frustrating grind, just on another level. Occasionally we here stories about bidding wars on first novels – but only occasionally, with all the publishing going on around the globe.

Here’s my story, about my story.

Step 1: Realise that Publishers Just Aren’t that into You

OK, you have your very small advance, but you’ll burn through that in a few months and you know the big publisher that took a chance on you won’t bother again if you don’t move some books. In Australia, where I am, the threshold is about 4-5000 copies before a publisher will think about book number two. In the US, due to the much higher population it will be a lot more.
And with 15% royalties the norm, it’s not like you’re going to earn out your advance, right?
This was the situation I was in. In 2005, I’d just published Baby Steps: A Bloke’s-Eye View of IVF. It’s a funny novel-length memoir about the bizarre journey of IVF, and the crazy situations you find yourself in as a guy – running hither and thither with a jar of your own DNA in a bag. Ben Elton wrote a similar book called Inconceivable, which was made into a movie with Hugh Grant in it. Don’t blame me (or him) for that.

So I was published and on the publicity trail. Actually, I busted my arse up and down the trail and organized much more publicity myself than my publisher did, including extracts of the book in newspaper insert magazines around Australia.

If your book sells great – great! But if it only does middling numbers – like mine did – don’t expect your publisher to come to the rescue with an amazing marketing plan. They’ve already moved on. It’s a bit of a cookie-cutter business – to an extent it has to be. Publishers’ margins aren’t sky-high, and their overheads are. In a digital age, their production and distributions systems haven’t changed much from the 19th century. A lot of paper, a lot of printing and a lot of transport to a lot of far-flung bookshops. So they aren’t going to throw good money after (as they consider it) bad by re-marketing your book. You’ve lived and breathed your book, usually for years – they’re off looking for the next J.K. Rowling.

Step 2: If You Really Believe in Your Book, Get Your Rights Back

If your following along at home … this part is gonna hurt.

So after about three years, I realised they weren’t going to reprint my book, or do anything at all with it. In fact, I hadn’t been able to get my  publisher on the phone for more than 12 months. A very bad sign. My agent had left the business, so that was that.

I was extremely frustrated, because I believed in the book – still do. So I pored over my contract to check out whether I’d signed over my e-rights. Yes I had – it was 2005 and I didn’t know much about ebooks then. My publisher even released an ePub version, and somehow chose to list it in an obscure ebookstore, rather than Amazon.

I asked my publisher for all my rights back. No answer from my publisher. Note to new authors: every publishing contract – if you feel the need for such things anymore – should have a clause that details when, after a period of inactivity from your publisher (no reprints, different editions), rights revert back to the author. Mine was very vague, just like the publishers like their contracts. It covered all rights from here to rapture for a period at least until all the unicorns grow fins and return home to Atlantis.

So I did what all mature, considered writers do these days – I spilled my guts online. I blogged about exactly what had happened and told it like it is. After a particularly long and detailed post centering on my publisher’s failings, I got a threatening letter in the mail. More of a proposal, actually. It talked in general about my lies and spreading untruths, without naming any specifically in my posts, and said that I should remove all references to them. That’s why they’re not named here. If I did that, they would return all my rights. If I didn’t take the offer, the letter talked in general terms about taking the matter further.

Forget that – I jumped at the chance. I’d been reading about Konrath and co seeing real results (read: big sales) out of their hard work, and in Joe’s case, obviously having a hellava lot more time to write, rather than market. (Seriously – the guy is a machine.) Hell, I run an ebook blog, I’m a self-publishing fanboy, I’d written a couple of books, but I hadn’t done it myself yet. Can you say “seriously frustrated”, kids?

The point I’m trying to make is that it’s going to be a bitch to get your rights back. They’re an asset of indeterminate worth. Publishers would rather sit on them “just in case” than give them back to authors to do something with. Lovely people, huh?

It doesn’t matter – do whatever you have to do to get ‘em. They are your golden ticket.

Step 3: Sell Your Own Damn Book

Within a couple of weeks, I had my own cover designed and – here’s a great tip – found a pirated copy of my own ebook and downloaded it. Why? Because my publisher had never given me a copy of my book in any digital format. Thanks, guys.

So I tweaked the frontmatter of the book – but the layout and proofing was already done. I added the new cover – the old cover design is copyright – so you can’t use it.

Using the world’s greatest FREE ePub editor – Sigil – I remade the ePub file and awa-aa-ay we go.

Optional step 3.5: I started my own website called AuthorDirect. Having already been burned by being locked in to other’s schedules, platforms, and processes, I wanted a failsafe place where I was always in control – just in case everyone else went tits-up. Hey – it happened to Borders.

It’s called, and all published authors are welcome. Quite simple, we give a shit about authors. Check it out – it’s straight-up, transparent and non-exclusive, so you can sell your books elsewhere too. Places like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, which was my next port of call.

By now I’d had another cover designed for a comedy crime novella that I wrote for serialisation in a major metro newspaper. It’s called The Curly Situation. That was ready to go too. And the best part was, the KDP sign-up and upload process took about half an hour for the two books. Sweet.

A day later, I had my two books selling on my site, Amazon US, Amazon UK and they’ll be on Smashwords too, as soon as I get to it. Sadly, you have to live in the US to use Pubit!

If you haven’t had the thrill of typing in your book title into Amazon and seeing your book poop up – try it. Even better, the sales started the next day.

If you’re after a fairlytale ending, um, sorry. I’ve only sold a handful of copies – but it’s only been a couple of days.

Sure they are in the single digits, but I’m making 70 per cent, and I can tweak, market, reformat, combine or expand them whenever I want. I’m making 70% on each and I’m controlling my own destiny.

It feels pretty good.

Via Jason Davis’ Book Bee


The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail