When I wrote my blog titled Ah, that Dickens some time ago, I planned to expound upon it. Time has passed, and I have finally gotten around to it in this blog post about self-publishing and episodic releases. I hope you find it informative.
Inspired by Dickens in so many ways…
Charles Dickens has always been one of my favorite authors and certainly a man ahead of his time. In Victorian England, Dickens funded a periodical in which literature of the day appeared in serial installments, including Dickens’ debut serial release of A Tale of Two Cities. Self-publishing at its earliest and finest!
He even opted to self-publish A Christmas Carol, not as a serial release, but in its entirety. He hired an illustrator and had this beloved book printed to very high standards, although it was later published by the publisher. The realization that a man as talented as Dickens decided to break from his publisher and circulate his own works gives authors hope in a changing publishing world. I’m not comparing every author to Dickens by any means, but in the entrepreneurial sense I would like to think we are all in good company.
I consider myself a hybrid author. I have heretofore and continue to be traditionally published. The rights to one of my historical novels were purchased by foreign markets and translated into five languages, which never ceases to make me pinch myself. But I also self-publish, which earns me the “hybrid” designation.
In the present publishing environment, the fact one has the freedom to release one’s own works greatly expands a writer’s opportunity for creativity. Authors are able to pen (or should I say keyboard) stories that might not interest editors at the moment due to the company’s money constraints, editorial wish lists, or a variety of other factors. As an author, you are still able to offers those stories to your readers, as well as to a whole new batch of new readers looking to be entertained or instructed. Self-publishing can be the best of both worlds, although it is, quite honestly, a heck of a lot of work, a true labor of love with profits—and losses—your own to claim.
I have writer friends who have opted for the self-publishing route, or who have come to it after the rights to traditionally published books have reverted to them. As for the latter, releasing books digitally for which you now own exclusive rights can be a godsend. Books in physical bookstores have a very short shelf-life and will only appear on the shelves for approximately six months before they are cleared for the next batch to be displayed. This does not, of course, relate to best-selling works, but there are far less of those than there are books that don’t, for whatever reason, hit it big.
As far as the episodic version of writing—the serial—it seems to be making a comeback. People today tend to like everything in quick bites, sneaking their entertainment into moments during their commute, waiting at a doctor’s office, enjoying a bit of fresh air on a park bench. Years ago, my own work, Emerald Twilight, was released in just such a serial fashion, but the small and wonderful publisher did not outlast the downturn in the market and the complete novel was later released by a small press. As the rights to the book are now mine, I have been eyeballing a company who publishes five-hundred-words-at-a-time “bites” to the reading market. It might be a perfect new home for this story of hope and survival, redemption and, well, yes, love in a distant world inhabited by a variety of characters and frightening creatures.
We watch episodic television, so why not read in the same manner? How many of us watch our favorite shows through streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu? And for the bingers among us, a writer could easily make the book available again as a whole in a digital release. The possibilities are definitely worth investigation.
There is, however, a drawback manifested in the ease of self-publishing. Not all self-published books have gone through the rigors that traditionally published works have. And it’s very important that self-published books are treated with the same professionalism as traditionally pubbed books. Self-publishing is a business venture, not just a fast track to seeing one’s book in print. Too many of the latter exist, sometimes giving self-published books a bad rap.
So, if you’re considering the Dickens’ way to releasing the work you’ve struggled long and hard to complete, remember the following:
- Self-publishing should always be approached as a business, and therefore expenses will be incurred.
- Unless you are adept at standing back from your own work to check for errors (both typographical and grammatical), continuity, unnecessary prose, etc., seek out a professional editor for both copy and content. This is a service you will have to pay for, but it is worth the expense.
- Locate some beta readers. Not family or friends, because their excitement at your accomplishment may encourage them to overlook even obvious flaws in the story.
- The cover of your book is the first thing a person sees when searching for something to read. Make certain it is up to snuff. So many covers scream self-published, or are just so poorly rendered that they turn a reader off. A properly (preferably professionally) crafted cover can entice a reader to buy your book even if the content is not necessarily their usual fare.
- When you’ve secured the best end product, generate some buzz before its release. This is true no matter how you are published and is something I have struggled with. Social media is not my thing, but it is an important marketing tool (and a free one). Even traditional publishers, whether small pub or the big NY, encourage this aspect of marketing. It will bite you where you sit if you don’t generate readership through social interaction, which means interaction not a lot of tooting your own horn (although you’ll have to do a bit of that, too). There are many books available to guide your through the social media jungle (many of which are self-published!).
- A downfall of print-on-demand (if you go this route) is the struggle to get your books into brick-and-mortar bookstores. Even if a writer finds themselves published by a house who release books as digital with print-on-demand physical copies, your books will not make it in that form into a bookstore. It’s a matter or profit for the bookstores, and they can’t be blamed for that. However, if you self-publish digitally and also provide print-on-demand, the costs to you for POD is often low enough that you may be able to convince your local bookstore to allow you to stage a book signing in their establishment. They will still make their profit on the sales of your book at retail cost, and you should realize a lesser profit, but a profit nonetheless. So, remember that as well. Price your books realistically and according to market practices.
Well, that’s my two-cents…for now. I’ll be back with more tips and discussion. In the meantime, happy writing everyone!