Thursday, September 24, 2009

Self or Commercial Publication - Is There a Difference Anymore?

Editor's Note: We have a guest blog by best selling author Jeremy Robinson, who I refer to as the author's author. I followed Jeremy's career when he started as a self-published author, watched him create ingeniously unique marketing events for his books and finally land a lucrative three-book contract with a traditional publisher, Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press. He is an inspiration to all aspiring and just-published authors.- Anthony

By Jeremy Robinson

So what is the difference between being a self-published author and an author with a commercial publisher. Being a self-publisher for three years, this was a question I often wondered about. NY publishers and authors are very quiet about the inner workings of publishing and in some ways it felt like this secret society that you had to become a part of to learn the truth. In a way, that's true, because I didn't really know until I was in the club, so to speak.

I should mention that this is MY experience. I am a professional interior and cover designer and have hired editors for my books. Because I tried to treat the process of self-publishing as much like a publisher as I could (going so far as to start a small press), you will not find those typical self-publishing/big gun publishing differences in my perspective.

But I'm happy to talk about it and let YOU in on the secret. First, I'll start with the differences, because there aren't that many and, honestly, they're not nearly as important as the similarities.

1. You get paid an advance. Most of the time. Which is nice. It says, "Hey, we think your book is going to sell X amount of copies and we're so sure of it, we're going to pay you in advance for those copies". Wow! What a shot in the arm. But its not as grand as it sounds. Odds are, as a first time author your advance will be far less than you need to live on for a year, so don't quit your day job. And then there is the pressure to actually sell what was expected of you...which can be a lot harder than you think.

2. This is the big one, distribution. Your books, if the publisher is doing their job, will not only be available to brick and mortar stores, it will also be on the shelf without you having to lift a finger. Deep breath, smile, and sigh. Ahhhh.

3. Royalties. As a self-publisher I was accustomed to making $4.00 per book sold. That's now at $2.50 for hard covers and something like $.65 for mass markets. So to make the same amount of money, I need to sell roughly double the amount of books, which is, again, harder than you think.

And that's about it. There are other obvious differences, like working with an editor that's been in the business for a while, and a team of artists at a publishing house, but that experience is totally different from person to person, and for me, hasn't been too different than what I'm used to in my own self-imposed system of publishing.

As for what has not changed (despite how much I wish it would) is this: marketing. When I got the catalog from the publisher with PULSE in it, I looked at the list of marketing that was going to be done for the book...and you know what I saw? Everything I have always done for my books. Meaning, I would still be doing them...and that was it. There would be no marketing beyond what I could manage on my own.

If you're an author, you might be aghast right now. But you shouldn't be. This is life for most newbie authors. Many choose to do nothing and let the book sell from the shelf on its own, but I wouldn't suggest this.

You must act like you're still trying to prove yourself as an author, because you are! Getting a big publisher is just the first step in having a career as an author. What happens after that, once again, largely depends on the author's action or inaction. So, what hasn't changed is that I am still spending insane amounts of hours marketing. I created my video trailer. I hired a narrator to podcast my previous novel, Kronos, an inserted ads for PULSE. I'm active on my blog, website, Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Youtube and Goodreads. I had multiple contests. Wrote and released press releases. Booked radio shows. Scheduled signings. And a slew of other things I have mentally blocked.

In fact, I would suggest you not think about what is different between self-publishing and commercial publishing. If you get a publishing deal, great, but don't think you've "made it." You're still a long way from that. I'm still a long way from that. So stay focused on what remains the same. Keep your desperation. Your drive. And maybe you'll get a second book deal when the first is done.
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PULSE is now available.

"Jeremy Robinson's latest novel, PULSE, ratchets his writing to the next level.  Rocket-boosted action, brilliant speculation, and the recreation of a horror out of the mythologic past, all seamlessly blend into a rollercoaster ride of suspense and adventure.  Who knew chess could be this much fun!"
-- James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of THE LAST ORACLE

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