There are a lot of myths about self-published authors that are generally accepted as conventional wisdom. And since myth-busting is one of my goals, I thought I’d share some of my personal story in the hopes of dispelling some of these pernicious falsehoods. Let’s start with the most common preconception: self-published authors are only self-published because they lack talent.
The most compelling argument I can make against this nonsense is the fact that I was once offered a contract by a traditional publishing house. A mid-sized Canadian publisher, but a traditional publisher nonetheless. I turned that offer down. Why?
One word: corruption.
The contract as written required me to give the publisher a right of first refusal on my next three manuscripts, and I would have to continue pitching manuscripts until they chose three they liked. That means I would have to pitch said manuscripts to their publishing house before I sent them anywhere else. Now why is that a problem? I’m a science-fiction writer, and I write novels with the intention of creating sequels. I pitched the first book of a supernatural thriller series to Publisher X – I’m legally forbidden from mentioning names; I’m sorry – and they loved it. However, I knew I wanted to do a space opera as well.
So let me pose a scenario.
Suppose I pitched the first book of my space opera to Publisher X, and they decided they weren’t interested. I would then have the right to take that manuscript to another publisher or to print it myself if I were so inclined. Let’s say I did so, and the novel was a hit. (Not an entirely unrealistic possibility.) What would happen when it came time to do the second book in my space opera?
Remember, I still owe Publisher X three more manuscripts, and they could very easily claim that they wanted rights to the sequel now that the first book had proven itself to be viable. No other publisher would want the first book in my space opera if I couldn’t also guarantee them access to the sequels. In effect, this contract would strong-arm me into working with Publisher X and only Publisher X. I wasn’t comfortable with that arrangement; so I turned it down.
That meant going back to square one. I had spent years trying to get my foot in the door, and the thought of starting from scratch wasn’t appealing. On top of that, I met with a friend of mine who sold several manuscripts to a Toronto-based publishing house. After listening to his story, I came to realize that the kind of dirty negotiating tactics I had just dealt with were common in the publishing industry. Publishers are the gatekeepers; they know they have the power, and they’re not afraid to use it. So I had a choice: go back to square one and hope that someone else liked my pitch (and that they would negotiate in good faith) or go independent.
I chose the latter.
I believe the quality of my writing is strong enough that if I can just build an audience and an online presence, my novels will do quite well. I’m a very skilled writer; I’m just not a very good capitalist. So if there’s one thing I’d have you take away from my story, it would be this: sometimes the problem isn’t the writer’s ability to write but rather his ability to jump over the hurtles that stand between him and his audience. Maybe we should examine whether those hurtles and the power structure they represent should be changed.
Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.
Now available on Kindle
And Kobo http://bit.ly/1Jb7NAo
It’s had some great reviews!