The post was first published on DailyO in February 2016.
If you are one of those reaching the end of your precious manuscript, you are most probably passing through this big dilemma. I am someone who decided to Self-publish the story closest to my heart. My leap of faith was guided by a number of factors, both emotional and logical.
The decision of mine has given me valuable lessons for life and I cherish it. This does not mean I hold a grudge against the traditional publishing houses or the best-selling books or authors propped up by these. In truth, these literary pop stars are one of the motivating reasons behind people like me choosing to pursue the passion.
I want to attempt a dispassionate comparison between traditional publishing and self-publishing. I am consciously excluding vanity publishing from the scope of this post. I am a big time dissenter of vanity publishing and would passionately discourage you from paying to get published. Instead it is worth waiting to get published or spending to develop and market your own manuscript than paying someone for the “favour” of publishing you. To know more about the unethical truth of vanity publishing, do refer Rasana Atreya’s post.
Chances are more (hell, lot more) that your initial attempts to reach out to them are met with an impersonal rejection mailer. Truth: an average professional working with a traditional publishing house has to evaluate way too many manuscripts in a week. He or she can’t be blamed for not sharing the same passion you have for your manuscript.
I have worked as an analyst in an early stage venture capital firm and had to screen over so many business plans in a week and I can sense the similar level of pressure and constraints that a traditional publishing house faces. There would be limitations with respect to genres, style of writing and number of books to be taken to market, not to speak of working with already selected manuscripts and authors in various stages of marketing. So, a rejection mailer only means that the manuscript does not fit the present requirement of the publishing house. Nothing less, nothing more. It could also mean that the guy or girl could not afford more time to read your manuscript with an empathising eye.
It is still not a cakewalk if your manuscript has had a bit of beginner’s luck. I have interacted with well-known authors who have had endless complaints about the level of control that the editorial teams exert on their manuscripts. It is often, quite a battle to retain those parts of the manuscript which is really close to the author and is considered redundant by the editor.
A publisher in the UK revealed to me that they expect one out of ten to fifteen books that they publish to make it to the best seller list. They deliberate over this a lot before they invest into the marketing of each book. Yes, all the books don’t get equal money and resources for marketing. It is often the two or three books that are probable to become blockbusters. Realise that there is a 70 per cent probability that your books are not pushed as much as those of the “star” author’s books are. (I would be delighted to be proven wrong here). Remember, the publishing houses have to sustain on the revenues made on these books so that they can also publish others. Tough call.
That, my friend, is the arduous journey with a traditional publishing house. It could be immensely fruitful if you have the gods on your side. Also, it could be equally frustrating for no mistake of yours. It is advisable to develop that proverbial “buffalo skin”. (You would need to develop it anyway).
It is the road that I have taken. Do expect me to bat for it. You are the owner. I repeat you are the owner of this manuscript. This means you have the rights and responsibilities to ensure the quality of the content that hits the market. You have to scout for a good editor who can nurture this baby into a fine book. You have to sit through the tough hours of multiple levels of tough editing and most importantly, you have to pay your editor his or her worth. In the other case, the economics is taken care of by the publishing house. But the good news, you get to decide what stays and what goes. Bad news, you are responsible for your decisions and you and you alone would be to blame if it does not work out.
It does take a lot of insight and research from your side to learn or speculate what could work and what couldn’t as far as future sales are concerned. Here is where being outgoing and assertive (read shameless self-promotion) works.
Seek out honest opinions from enthusiastic beta readers, previewers and reviewers. It is natural to feel defensive when they disagree with what you’ve written. But do sleep over the feedback and you would definitely find it worthy to ponder over.
You might also succeed in realising what could make your manuscript better while not necessarily incorporating the exact feedback. The combination of having the stake, ownership and facing the uncertainty requires you to cultivate an open mind and also get out into the market to learn. In other words, Self-Publishing is definitely not the route to take if you are one of those who prefer to write and not socialize.
It requires hard work with a keen eye to upload your draft on various portals. You must be ready to go through your manuscript n number of times and if you hate the process, this is not the road you should take. Kindle Direct Publishing (and may be other portals) do make life easy in allowing you to update your manuscript. If you or your proofreader missed a typo and a reader catches it, you could always accept it with dignity and correct it. But yes, you lost the chance to make the perfect impression. (We can still live with it, though. Perfection is always a journey).
Marketing your own book. Yes, there is no shame in being the “digital doo- to-door salesman” or in turning your book into “another Bangalore start-up”. There cannot be a more misleading advice than something as condescending as this post batting for traditional publishing. If you cannot proudly market the story close to your heart, then you probably should not have penned it down in the first place. I repeat there is no shame in exhorting your network and the rest of the world to buy the product of your hard work. Go ahead and do it.
There is another whole process of building a follower/reader base which makes it a tad easier for you to sell and showcase your work. It takes time and is worth it. Market is a hard taskmaster but never an unfair one. Slow and steady way of building and pushing content, networking with platforms that prop you up, talking to reviewers, taking time to build your profile and getting to know newer ways is an altogether a process of a life time.
This road of self-publishing is not by any measure, a “short-cut”. It needs your time, sweat, money and most importantly, an open mind. Learning never disappoints. I assume all of us think of our writing as a long haul decision and are willing to stand by it, irrespective of the early returns over our first books. If you have it in you to take this road, do go ahead and take it.