Indie Publishing Has Come a Long Way
Gather ‘round dear readers!
Curl up by the fire and listen as I tell you a tale…
Sweet reader, do you remember ‘print on demand’ books?’
Some of you smile, but the kids don’t know what I’m talking about.
They live a charmed life with their internet and their YouTunes and their video iPods.
Us veteran writers had to walk 200 miles in bare feet to the nearest quill store to scribble our books onto papyrus…
For the youngin’s who don’t know of which I speak, listen as I tell tale of the dark times.
There was once a time when writers would risk hundreds of dollars and countless sense to write and self publish a book.
Back then you had to pay to have it printed, bound, then posted to your physical address.
First came the writing.
Hundreds of hours spent staring at a flickering monitor.
Microsoft Word 95 blared hospital white into your eyes. Clickitt danced maddeningly in the corner of your eyeline.
“No I don’t need anything! Buzz off!”
Once the book was written it would be uploaded page by page, then formatted into a theoretical book design.
I say theoretical, because you needed to order a proof-copy that would be sent to your house.
This would arrive within a couple weeks for your proofing pleasure.
You would then inspect the book and make sure it measured up to your low-as-the-floor standards before clicking Approve on the site.
A cover for your book would need to be made. You could do it yourself, or pay a professional.
If you wanted, you could choose one of the designs the ‘print on demand’ (POD) service had in storage.
They ranged from horrifyingly stretched stock images, to plain black.
Once your book was ready and the proof approved, it was time to order.
Back in those days, dozens or even hundreds of copies would be ordered by eager writers looking to make their mark on the world.
POD websites offered deals on bulk orders that would increase in value per dollar spent.
Some services would also bundle in professional editing and even industry contacts.
If the writer was willing and able to part with their credit card, the sky was truly the limit for exploitation possibilities.
Once ordered, writers would wait eagerly by the front door for weeks on end, hoping to catch a glimpse of their creation.
After having arrived, POD books would stack neatly in packing boxes, side by side but not symmetrical.
These monstrosities were cut crudely by careless machines, each one a slightly different shape to the other.
Pages would jut out in weird triangles, others would fall out entirely.
These strange, unnatural pages prompted the first round of cuts.
The second round of cuts would be made carefully.
Each book had to be quickly skimmed for mistakes.
Some pages were missing print, others were folded harshly down the middle. Still others would be printed entirely in black.
Those books would be set aside, but never forgotten.
It was so difficult to bring yourself to throw out these Frankenstein’s monsters. They were ugly, but they were still your babies.
After the cull, roughly 80% of the ordered books would remain, but they weren’t all sellable. You knew you had to select the best 10% for reviewers.
You knew the rules.
Bloggers who’d be reviewing your books had to be sent the very best copies of the print run.
They certainly weren’t to be sent e-books for god sake. Those PDF nightmares would never catch on.
No, they were to be sent physical and perfect editions.
Despite knowing the rules, the temptation was to send them the culled ones.
They were just sitting there after all, waiting for the fire.
They weren’t doing anything else!
Why couldn’t that pimply reviewer just read a crappy reject copy? He was getting it for free after all.
You asked yourself these questions, but you knew the answer.
You needed the review, and he/she had the platform to give it to you.
After sorting ends, the review copies go into the post. The rejected copies go into the…… drawer.
The staring shelf
One copy, the very best one, goes onto the staring shelf.
The staring shelf is where the very best books live. The very best editions written by the very best authors.
Your book is displayed among the real books. If they could talk, your book would be mocked relentlessly.
Regardless, you stand there and gaze lovingly. You remind yourself that you’re this close to your dreams.
In reality you’re only killing time until the worst part of the whole process is upon you.
Pitching to a book shop
Nothing could be worse than the book shop pitch.
This is the moment when you stand in an independent bookshop, cap in hand, staring into the eyes of a book seller.
You’re holding a tissue-box that’s been repurposed into a concealed cage for your monstrosity book-children.
You open your mouth to make your pitch aaaaand…
Choose your own adventure!
a. Tells you that her shop doesn’t carry those kinds of books.
b. Recommends a shop downtown that might be more interested.
c. Takes it and places it on a shelf that has been marked “local arthors” in black sharpie.
You can’t help but notice that aside from the incorrect spelling, the shelf is harbouring a particularly aggressive spiderweb. Customers would have to risk their lives to become your reader.
This part of the store is also somehow completely devoid of light and love.
d. The shopkeeper pulls off her wig. It’s J.K Rowling and you were the lucky 100th indie author of the day.
She agrees to publish your book and print a 100,000 book run. She needs you in London right away to sign the contract, do you mind flying first class?
Those were the days, dear reader
So the next time you’re cursing the day you first picked up a pen, remember us.
Remember those that built the path on which you now walk. Remember the trials that were fought, and the blood that was spilled.
Try to realise that things really aren’t that bad, and the mountain really may not be that high.
Success can be achieved by any that are willing to try. And especially by those who are willing to take the chance that their local bookseller is really J.K Rowling.
There are no rules to this game. There are winners, and there are independent booksellers.