Enjoy this guest post by Sean McLachlan who blogs about travel for Gadling and writes history books for three different publishers. He recently released his Civil War novel, A Fine Likeness, and a collection of short stories titled The Night the Nazis Came to Dinner and other dark tales. For more about Sean, see his blog Civil War Horror.
Self-publishing and traditional publishing: why doing both could be good for your career
By Sean McLachlan
I’ve been working in this crazy business for twelve years now. In that time I’ve landed a gig at the world’s most popular travel blog, written for national magazines, and had nine nonfiction books published with two more on the way. Now I’m self-publishing my fiction.
Huh? Why am I “taking a step back” by self-publishing? Because publishing is changing and I need to change with it if I’m going to keep this craziness going for another twelve years. I’m not alone. Plenty of hardworking midlisters are self-publishing their backlist and new material in electronic and POD editions. As far as I know, though, I’m the only writer with one business model for nonfiction and another for fiction.
My reasons for self-publishing fiction are both personal and professional. There’s a bottleneck in the submissions process that’s keeping books in the slush pile for months, even years. Big publishers are scaling back on lines and not taking any risks. My rejections from editors and agents all have one thing in common—they love my work but don’t think it will be as profitable as whatever book they accepted that week. Fair enough. They’re in business to make money and they have a right to their opinion.
But consider this. If I got accepted by a major publishing house, as a first-time genre novelist I’d get an average $5,000 advance and virtually no marketing. Well, if the money is poor and I have to do all the marketing myself, why don’t I just get 35-70% royalties via Amazon instead of 6% via some publisher? If I went to the small press the situation would be the same except there’d be little or no advance. After years of positively worded rejections, it made economic sense for me to self-publish. Better a small profit on the novels I’ve written than no profit at all.
Plus I already have a platform—other published books, a recognizable readership, internet visibility, knowledge of the business, professional contacts, etc. I’m well placed to do this myself.
First I published my historical novel, A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri. I’ve had two books on the Civil War and three on Missouri published. I also have many contacts with the mainstream media in that state and for that subject. Instant marketing platform. Having a number of titles increases visibility, so a month later I came out with a short story collection The Night theNazis Came to Dinner, and other dark tales. I priced it at 99 cents to draw in readers who might not take the chance on my $4.99 Civil War novel. Now I’m busy doing guest blogs, tweeting, press release writing, and other marketing that I’d have had to do if I’d been traditionally published.
From a strictly professional point of view I should stick to what’s making money and put my fiction on the back burner. That’s not going to happen because fiction is half the reason I got into writing in the first place. Until now I was only living half my dream. Oh, I got a short story published every now and then, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy me. The death of a closefriend who was only twenty years older than I am and the near-fatal heart attack of a colleague only ten years older than I am reminded me that I won’t be around forever. I want my legacy to include a bunch of novels. I have things to say in fictional form and I want the chance to say them.
Now I’m living my entire dream. It’s scary, exhausting, fun, and deeply satisfying. But most of all it’s a relief. The bottleneck in publishing was being mirrored by a bottleneck in my own production. Three novels in the hopper and more on the way and all I got from publishers were rejectionletters saying how good my work was. Publishing my fiction has given my fiction writing new life. I’m being more productive and inspired now than ever before. My fiction matters now, it’s out before the public eye.
And increasing your productivity and inspiration are the best career moves you can make.