Two years ago, I tried a little experiment. I was lamenting the fact that I had several previously published stories of novella and novelette length that had appeared years ago but had long since dropped offline or out of print. They were some of the stories of which I am most proud; what I consider truly representative of my best work up to that point. I also hadn’t been writing too many new short stories, other than the occasional piece of flash fiction, as I had been engrossed in completing a couple of novels for the past few years.
When someone would ask me for some of my work, I could of course direct them to this blog, where there is a list with links to some of my shorter work and flash pieces still online, but I really wanted those novellas to be readily available when someone asked. I could of course have republished them here on this blog, but I find such a format lacks a good reading experience for prose fiction. The other option, of course, was to self-publish them on a something like Amazon’s Kindle or similar.
When I first got into writing professionally, about ten years ago, self-publishing was still a bit taboo for many writers. There was still a great deal of vanity presses in operation, tempered of course with legit self-publishing outfits like CreateSpace or Lulu.com. Yes, self-publishing then still had the mark of amateurism on it, and many of my fellow writer friends felt that to go this route would be to mar one’s future chances at traditional publication.
But things changed quite a bit over the next eight years, driven very likely by Amazon’s Kindle Direct publishing program, as well as other entities like Smashwords, Nook, Apple Books and many more. Indie publishing, to use the more friendly term, has now gone fully mainstream. There are indie authors out there with huge followings who sell hundreds of thousands of books a year, and there are many pro authors who are taking note. Some traditionally published writers are doing a sort of hybrid method wherein they sell some of their work to mainstream publishers and release a few indie works as well, perhaps shorter pieces set in the same world as their trad-published novels. Older authors are republishing their long out of print back catalogs on Amazon, reaping a tidy profit from old manuscripts that would otherwise languish in obscurity, available only in used paperback form. Amazon has allowed writers to take control of their work and their careers in a way that would have been unheard of even ten years ago, and I for one feel that is a good thing.
So, with all this in mind, I decided to test the waters of indie publishing. My goals were not too grand. I simply wanted to have an ongoing home for my own out of print work, with the tangential goals of learning the whole self-publishing process, from the Kindle interface to editing to cover creation. And yes, I could have paid someone to do all of this for me, but one, where’s the fun in that, and two, I didn’t want to drop a great deal of money into something that was basically an experiment.
I started with four of my old novellas in the summer of 2018. I made line edits on them, and also I couldn’t resist tweaking them here and there, as I like to think my skills as a writer had improved since these were originally released, so why not make them a little better? I also made my own covers, which is also somewhat taboo among indie writers, as such is another whole skill set from writing. But I do have a little bit of design experience, so I went for it. Of course, my first attempts were abysmal, as I will outline in another post. At this point I did seek the aid of a few pro designers I know, as well as writer friends, and I got some good pointers. I kept at it, and while what I came up with probably wasn’t one hundred percent Barnes & Noble shelf-worthy, I was satisfied with them.
The covers finished, I set about learning how to do layouts for both the E-book and paperback forms of the books. While the vast majority of an indie author’s sales are going to be E-book, I liked the idea of having a paperback available as well. It made for an overall more professional presence, and I like the idea of having a few nice paperback copies on hand to give out to friends when they ask. And, while I do read E-books from time to time, I still love the experience of kicking back and reading a physical book.
I released those four books toward the end of that summer, and initially, I did very little promoting or advertising. I just wanted to see how they would do on their own. Of course they did very little, sales wise. But they did sell a little bit. Not much, mind you, maybe enough to buy me an extra cup of coffee each month, and I’m not talking Starbucks. Probably more like Freeze Dried Taster’s Choice, but hey, it was more than nothing. Of the four books, the one called The Night Bigfoot Attacked Marville TX, June 15, 1977 sold the best. Apparently, there’s a sub-genre of Bigfoot fiction that attracts a niche following, and this seemed to catch on with those folks. It sells a few more copies a month than the other books, even though it’s more about the fascination with the legend of Bigfoot, than an actual creature on the screen so to speak. (oops, spoiler alert!)
The next summer I released four more novellas, which pretty much got all the old back catalog of my material out there. It was also around this time that I was nearing the completion of the two novels that I’d been working on for the past several years. And thus, I had a decision to make. The novellas had almost all been traditionally published—I’d been paid for them and the rights had returned to me. Indie publishing these books was really no big deal, as there wasn’t much else I could do with them, other than perhaps submit them to a reprint anthology, though the market for previously published works of novella length wasn’t that great. So indie pubbing them was really a no-brainer. But now, my novels. What to do, what to do?
The usual route for a writer at my stage of the game—that is, someone with some short story sales but nothing more—is to try to find a literary agent that will take on the novel(s) and market them to traditional publishing houses. Other than a few small presses, most trad-publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts from a writer at my level. And I have to admit, as I was writing these books, I had fully planned to seek out an agent and go the traditional route.
So what changed?
Well, first, there was my experience with indie pubbing the novellas. I really enjoyed it. I loved the whole process, and the total control that came with it. As I got closer and closer to finishing the novels, I thought more and more about going the indie route with them. Second, I did investigate retaining an agent, and I reviewed hundreds of agent profiles. The problem was, my novels don’t fit into neat little categories like these folks were seeking, and they were also a departure from my previously published work, which was mostly Sci-Fi and Fantasy. These new novels were mainstream fiction, but neither fit into concise genre categories, other than perhaps romance. And so transitioning from speculative fiction to a completely different genre probably wouldn't help my chances in going this route.
So this made up my mind for me. I do believe in these books, and I believe there is a readership out there for them. For this reason, I decided to go the indie route, as I now had experience with such, and I found I liked it very much. Unlike the novellas, which were basically old news, these novels are new, original works, and I plan to market them as heavily as I can. I’m working on a professional website, so I’ll have something other than this blog as a presence on the net, and I’m creating a media kit and have plans to contact reviewers and organizations that might have an interest in these works. It will probably be an uphill battle—traditional publishers still have the most muscle when it comes to marketing a writer’s work, but this is slowly changing. As evidenced by the hundreds of indie authors who are having great success, there is a chance to succeed in this crowded field. I actually think the quirky uniqueness of these novels can be an asset for me, for when I put my reader hat on, I’m always looking for something new and different. Hopefully, there are a great many more readers out there who feel the same. I just have to somehow boost my signal above the great noisy fugue that is all the other millions of works vying for readers’ attention.
And so, after a great deal of editing and planning, I released the two novels on Amazon this week, with plans to go wide onto other publishing platforms shortly. I also released two short story collections. One collects five of the related fantasy novellas, as well as five previously unpublished short stories, all of which are set in the same fantasy milieu. The other is a collection of forty odd short stories, about half of which were previous published over the last ten years, all unified by a central theme, though the stories themselves are quite diverse—many are mainstream and literary fiction, but there’s also some fantasy and SF, as that is the genre in which I cut my teeth, so to speak.
And now comes the hard part, spreading the word. It won’t be easy, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. Wish me luck, and check back here from time to time. I’ll be sure to update my progress as this little experiment continues.
My Two Novels and one of the Short Story Collections - Click the image for a link to them