Recently, Richard Lee Byers suggested that some of us trade blog posts. I gladly agreed, and he quickly posted a blog entry by me. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of getting the “So You Want to Write an eBook?” entries up, and so put off putting up his return post… and then something else happened, and then something else… You get the idea.
Which is a shame, because Richard wrote My Adventures in Nontraditional Publishing: The Saga So Far. It’s a nice, honest look at his experiences – and that’s what is really important. Be sure to check out the rest of Richard’s blog and his large backlist of work.
MY ADVENTURES IN NONTRADITIONAL PUBLISHING: THE SAGA SO FAR
When Steven and I discussed exchanging blog entries, he suggested that I write about my experiences with nontraditional publishing. Okay by me. Considering that there haven’t been that many of them, it shouldn’t take too long.
The first came about when the Symposium, a group of writers to which I belong, decided to publish an anthology of mostly reprint stories by the various members. (It’s called Stalking the Wild Hare, by the way, and full of good stuff; check it out.) If there’s one thing I’ve got, it’s old short stories from long out-of-print anthologies. So I dug one out of the vault.
Because someone else was doing the editing, as soon as I selected an old story, my work was done. For me, the process of contributing to the anthology absolutely could not have been easier.
That’s the good part. The bad is that the book never made me a penny and never will.
The reason is the financial arrangement under which the book was published. There was no advance and no royalty. The understanding was that the contributors would make money, or at least attempt to, by buying discounted copies of the book from the publisher and selling them for a higher price.
That let me out because I just don’t peddle paper-and-ink copies of my stuff, not through the mail and not sitting at a table at conventions, either. It’s not that I feel like I’m too much of a big shot to do it. God knows, I’m not, and I know some fine writers who go this route. But I wouldn’t enjoy doing it, and honestly, unless you’re already a star, I don’t see how you generate enough profit to make it worth your while. This is particularly true if you’re traveling away from home to peddle your stuff. You pay for a hotel, gas, food, possibly a dealer’s table, and you end up having to sell scores of books just to break even. Rather than even attempt it, I’d rather spend my time at a con introducing myself to potential readers by appearing on panels, networking, and just having fun.
I should note, though, that some writers swear to me they make a profit sitting at a table pushing their books at a con. Fair enough, but I sure don’t know how, and I suspect they must be the rare exceptions to the rule.
So that leads to the question, why did I contribute to Stalking the Wild Hare? Well, two reasons. One is that since my friends were keen to put the book together, I just felt like being a part of it. The other is that I hoped the story would introduce me to a few new readers who would then go on to buy my novels. And since the story I contributed was already written, sold, and paid for once, it didn’t seem like I had much to lose by sending it out into the world again for free.
Still, unless it was another friend or group of friends putting together a project, I wouldn’t contribute to a book on that basis again. That’s not a judgment on the business model itself. It’s a realization that the particular business model and I are a poor fit.
My second venture into nontraditional publishing came when Steven himself and Paul Genesse asked me to contribute to the spanking new Crimson Pact universe. (Also good: check it out, too.)
Once again, it was pleasantly easy for me to do this. I’d already published one story that Paul wanted to reprint in the first volume, and I had an already written but previously unsold story that fit into the second.
With this project, I was happy to be back in somewhat more familiar economic territory. When I contribute a story to an anthology from DAW or another big publishing house like that, I receive an advance and, in theory, royalties, although my experience has been that the majority of these books don’t sell well enough to generate royalties. The Crimson Pact anthologies don’t pay advances, but the contributors are in for a share of the royalties.
Obviously, from my selfish perspective, an advance would have nice, but I understand that wasn’t in the budget, and I’m okay with that. I also understand it’s important for the contributors to help get the word out about what starts life as a very low-profile project, and I’m okay with that, too. It’s salesmanship, but a different kind as sitting at a table in a dealer’s room behind a stack of books smiling hopefully as people wander past avoiding eye contact or, even worse, pick up a book, tell you that it looks “good,” “cool,” or “interesting,” then put it down and walk away without buying it.
Long story short, schedule permitting, I likely will contribute to further Crimson Pact volumes or other projects based on the same model, although financially speaking, it would be rough on me if none of my projects, novels included, paid advances.
My third foray into nontraditional publishing is one I can only discuss in generalities. There’s an app coming out that will sell short stories about a selection of ongoing characters. Writing one of these is comparable to writing a single issue of a superhero comic or a single episode of a cop show, and I’ve done two, each starring a different character.
Economically speaking, the work is the exact opposite of The Crimson Pact. There’s payment on acceptance, not awful but not lavish, and no royalties, ever, no matter what.
Some writers will tell you that if you have no hope of ever seeing royalties, that’s a bad deal, even if you’re working on a property you didn’t create. Which raises the same question Stalking the Wild Hare did: Why did I get involved?
Again, there are a couple reasons. I like and respect the man in charge, and I understand he’s putting together an experimental venture with limited resources. It’s an interesting experiment, and it should be fun to be a part of it and see how it goes. And if it turns out to be a spectacular success, I hope the terms for writers will improve, and the boss will remember the guys who were interested in working with him from the get-go.
Meanwhile, the work paid and paid promptly, and any professional writer will tell you that’s never a bad thing.
Which brings us to my most recent venture. I’ve electronically self-published a collection of my short fiction called The Q Word and Other Stories. I’ve already written about the process in detail on my blog; suffice it to say here that it’s been a pain in the ass as I’ve struggled to learn a lot of things quickly to get the project live on Amazon and Smashwords.
But I got it done for next to nothing (it turns out that e-publishing can be dirt cheap), every copy sold pays a sweet royalty rate of which I, as the author of the whole damn thing, keep every penny, and as with The Crimson Pact, I’m working in a paradigm I’m comfortable with. I don’t have to sit behind a table at a con or at my computer collecting money and dispensing copies of the book. Online stores are doing that for me.
But also as with The Crimson Pact, in another but no less critical sense, I still have to be my own salesman, only much, much more so, because this time, there isn’t a whole slew of contributors to trumpet the existence of the project. There’s just me, and no one will know the collection even exists unless I myself get the word out, even though I can’t afford advertising. I have to make up for that with energy and creativity, by doing things like trading blog posts and plugging the book on convention panels and social media sites.
But that’s all right. I can do that stuff, and since the book cost little to produce and I was never counting on it to be a major source of income, it won’t ruin my life if it doesn’t sell a zillion copies.
In fact, no matter how the book fares, creating and promoting it is turning out to be an interesting, enlightening experience. It also pleases me that after all my years in the business, there’s finally a collection of my short fiction. I like writing short stories, some of mine come out pretty decent if I do say so myself, and I want the work available to interested readers whether that turns out to be handful or a multitude. (Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)
So that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I’m not sure what conclusions one can draw from it, except that there’s more than one way to go about being a nontraditionally published author. Publishing is changing so quickly that I imagine there are many more than the four I mentioned. So it behooves all of us who don’t have the New York houses pounding on our doors with rolled-up seven-figure contracts to look around and find out what opportunities are available.
Now for the flagrant self-promotion I implicitly threatened earlier:
I’m Richard Lee Byers, the author of over thirty traditionally published fantasy and horror novels as well the ebook collection The Q Word and Other Stories. The book is priced to move at $2.99 and available for all platforms here:
I hope you’ll check out the free sample. If you like it, please consider buying the ebook, reviewing it, and recommending it to others.
The Kindle edition of the collection and all my other books are available here.
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