Dear Most August Superior Person, Bringer of Order and Reason, Enemy of Chaos and Mean People:
I have an imaginary (read: "cart before the horse") problem. I have a romance manuscript featuring a trendy-type main character. I did not do this on purpose, it just turned out that way because I can't write about vampires and werewolves without feeling silly and I don't like zombies so I wrote about something else, thereby sidestepping the tail end of the last trend. The timing is very good for the manuscript so long as the manuscript itself is very good. Let's assume it is, since where's the fun in assuming it's crap? That's like PLANNING to lose every time you play Lotto.
Now, with all the chatter from self-pubbers going traditional and traditional going self-pub, I am confused. Perplexed. Flummoxed. I would love to have control over my release date, make a higher percentage of royalties, blahbitty-blah. I don't object to paying for professional editing, formatting, etc. In short, I have no plans to pump a first draft Word document into the Amazon Oompah-Loompah machine and try to sell lukewarm word soup.
But I'm nobody special. I have no special platform and I'm not a marketing self-promo genius. What are my realistic choices? Pursue traditional publishing for the extra push and plan on going self-pub after I have some career momentum? Try to build momentum with other projects through smaller ePubs and then put it out there? Could I use the self-pub possibility as a nuclear option if I get offered a contract with unattractive royalty rates?
I also hate to lose the opportunity to capitalize on a trend. That has never happened to me ever before never not even once.
Your Most Loyal Servant and Ardent Admirer,
WHAT AN EXCELLENT QUESTION, DEAR AUTHOR-FRIEND! EXCELLENT INDEED!
The advantages and disadvantages of traditional publishing versus self-publishing have been presented at great length by other persons far more qualified than us (may we direct you immediately to our bosom companion Nathan Bransford's recent, very excellent post on the dollars breakdown of self-publishing versus traditional publishing). Keep in mind we are talking about The Future of the Book, and nobody knows fuckall about what will happen in The Future of the Book, and possibly if the Antarctic ice shelf collapses/most of the world is prevented from accessing drinking water/Monsanto destroys all of our food sources we will all be a lot more concerned about other things than books, in The Future. (You can come hang out and read print books on our secret farm in Maine, guarded by a small army of rescue pitbulls and ourself bearing a shotgun, in the event The Future gets Really Bad.) ANYWAY. Our point is, you can only make decisions with the information you have at the time.
It is our personal opinion that, while there is still a lot of resistance to self-published work from people who are looking for nonfiction and more literary-minded fiction, people who read genre fiction tend to be much more open to it. Which means you are in an excellent position, if you have a book that is potentially a Hot Commodity, to put it out and market it yourself, and possibly see delightful results. Romance in particular is a great genre to be working in, because not only do you have the option of self-publishing; you also have the option of publishing with an online publisher who takes unagented submissions. With most e-publishers, you get the benefit of significantly higher royalty rates than traditional print publishers, while still enjoying the splendid luxury of professional editing. (Advances from e-publishers are usually very small.) A lot of the marketing will still be up to you; but that's true with traditional print publishers these days, too.
Just a couple such publishers include Carina Press and Ellora's Cave (the latter publishes romances of a Scandalous Nature, with Technical Details, if you get our drift; Carina publishes Scandalous and Less Scandalous romances as well as non-romance genre fiction; both places publish shorter pieces as well as full-length novels). The editors of Ellora's Cave produce the fabulous blog Redlines and Deadlines, which is a great place to bone up (HURR HURR) on writing romance and the industry in general. Carina Press also has a blog. It is worth noting that romance e-publishers are infinitely more open to work by and about queer writers and writers of color than traditional print publishers.
If you think your book will appeal to the pros, and you'd like the push of a traditional publisher, by all means send the book out to agents. In the meantime, whilst you wait patiently for the Glacial Wheel of Publishing to turn, you can build your platform by sending work out to places like Carina or Ellora's Cave (e-publishers tend to move significantly faster, and you also get to skip the whole getting-an-agent part). Social media is, obviously, your friend; we personally feel it is totally unimportant whether or not an author blogs (YES WE DO, WE SAID IT) but having at least a website is pretty useful in this day and age, and having a tweeter is a great way to find friends and influence people. The best way to build a platform is, frankly, to make people like you; people tend to want to do nice things for people they like.
Romance Writers of America is a good resource for, er, romance writers of America. Check out networking sites like She Writes, Goodreads, and Absolute Write as well--those are great places to start creating a potentially supportive online community. There are a lot of different ways to build a platform. Figure out which ones do not make you want to put out your own eye, and run with 'em. More friends means more options--if traditional publishers pass on your book, you have the option of putting it out yourself, and the advantage of the ready-made market you've been winning over with your charm and wit. If a traditional publisher does put out your book, that's a great platform builder, too--and you'll be in an even better place to put out your next book yourself, if you decide the appeal of higher royalties and more control outweighs the advantages of an advance and working with an editorial and marketing department. Obviously, if you write romance under a pseudonym, you will want to conduct all of these platform-building and book-publishing activities under the same moniker.
Basically, dear Author-friend, the world of today is your oyster. It is a turbulent time we live in, for sure, and who the fuck knows what will happen to the book or the world at large. Open your little Author-hearts to the unknown and leap with fervor into the abyss! You know what they say: nothing ventured, nothing gained.
We would be delighted to hear from both traditionally and self-published authors who have more useful advice garnered from experience! Comment away, dear creatures!
The Great Questions of Our Time may be directed to rejectionistandyourmom[at]gmail.com.