Thursday, September 01, 2011

Adventures in publishing

Photos of people reading my books in relaxing settings keep popping up on the Web. I admit I love it. This one is from Andrew Welch.

Just as I was mulling whether or not I should take more of a break in my running routine, I came down with what appears to be a mild stomach flu. It's crept up on me over the last three days of little food and less energy. On Monday I attempted one cramp-plagued run that included a mad dash to an outhouse. I haven't run again since. I think August is not a good month for me. I am glad it's over.

During my down time, I've been browsing the blogs of other authors who have shared their self-publishing stories. I thought I'd share my own story to provide another insight beyond the "How I Sold A Million eBooks" hype, but that I feel has been successful nonetheless. I also hope to entice other aspiring authors to join me at Arctic Glass Press. If you have any interest in independent publishing, please send me an e-mail at jillhomer@arcticglasspress.com and I'll explain more in detail my ideas for an indie author cooperative.

I fell into indie publishing by accident in November 2008. I spent the summer typing up the "long version" of my 2008 Iditarod Trail Invitational experience, woven together with the back-story of how I found myself in such a strange situation. I didn't write it with publication in mind, but by August I had a piece of writing I was excited about and wanted to share with others. I mulled how I could go about posting an 80,000-word story on my blog when I had a better idea: I should just publish a book, and maybe my blog readers will buy it to help me fund my 2009 Iditarod attempt.

I researched a few options and put together "Ghost Trails," then publicly released it on November 13, 2008. At the time, I was extremely shy about my project and hadn't even told my then-boyfriend that I planned to release a book. I was so uncertain about it that I convinced myself I had no choice but to cut the rope and hope for the best. So it came as a surprise to everyone. I made plenty of rookie mistakes in the execution and the book went through several drafts after that official release. But overall, I had a good experience with my first foray into self-publishing, in a time that is now considered the cusp of when self-publishing moved from its "vanity" stigma to the more widely accepted entrepreneurial endeavor that it is today. It's impossible to know how many copies of "Ghost Trails" I've sold. I didn't keep track of any of the books I sold from home, which number in the hundreds, and I didn't track sales when I first put the book on Amazon Kindle, thinking no one actually read eBooks. (ha!) But based on what I can track, I figure I sold roughly 2,000 copies of "Ghost Trails" from November 2008 to May 2011.

Fast forward to April 2010, when I had another book I felt was worthy of readers and wanted to look into the traditional publishing route. I worked a considerable number of hours during the months of April and May 2010 crafting a book proposal, writing query letters to agents, fielding calls, and trying to polish my manuscript. Feedback was just positive enough to keep me trying, but I never received any hard offers from agents or publishers. Most eventually fed me what appears to be a common response to authors, all along the lines of "I read your proposal and enjoyed your sample chapters, but your book doesn't fit my market right now." Reading between the lines, I gathered my book was too niche (basically, bikey) to attract a large enough audience to justify publication.

I completed a few freelance projects, but mostly I just lived off my savings during those months despite the fact I felt I was putting in a decent amount of actual work time. I figured I might as well just pay myself to travel around Alaska and ride my bike for a living, which was more fun than contacting publishers and had about the same odds of future financial success. I did this for a month in May and June, and then I got a real job at a magazine in Missoula, Montana.

When I moved to California in March 2011, I decided I wanted to pursue a career more focused on writing and didn't want to waste any more time with the book that had been hanging over my head for a year. I decided to venture down the self-publishing route again, and found the waters to be much friendlier than they were three years ago. For starters, there is a huge network of indie publishers out there these days, offering support and advice. Their sales are starting to match the numbers achieved by professional publishing houses. I don't feel shy about this anymore. I realize that I can create a good product, and I can sell it, without help from the "gatekeepers." I genuinely believe that traditional publishing is not a viable option for me. I wouldn't turn down any opportunity that had more potential than my current efforts, but at the same time, I'm not sure the publishing industry could offer me a better deal, at least not if I continue to write the kind of books I want to write.

My efforts, in my view, have been successful. While crunching my end-of-month numbers the other day, I determined I've sold about 800 copies of "Be Brave, Be Strong" and 300 copies of "Ghost Trails" since the initial release of my second book on June 15, paperback and eBook sales combined. Add to this my magazine and newspaper freelance projects, and it has not been a wholly useless summer. I'd go so far as to say that I'm almost making a living as a writer. Not enough to live un-subsidized in the San Francisco Bay area, no doubt, but if I went back to the frugal life I led when I lived in a small room in Juneau, I'd be set.

I feel that the best thing I can do right now is continue to pursue new projects, and also work to advance my publishing effort. Right now I'm conversing with two authors who are interested in working with me. I'm also consistently tapping away at a new project I'm really excited about. It surpassed 25,000 words today. I'll expound on my book project soon; that is, if I'm still too sick and injured to bike or run. Stay tuned.