A Year of Being Published

a short-term retrospective

 This past week marked the one-year anniversary of my novella, A Greater Strength, being available as an ebook. Reaching this anniversary of being a published author has given me the opportunity to examine my own performance, my books, and the market, and formulate some opinions. Whether these opinions are astute or short-sighted, we shall see, but I thought I’d share a few of my reflections with those of you who frequent NAF, seeing as most of you are either in the same boat as me or looking to hop on-board if that particular gangplank lowers for you.

So, what has this first year taught me?

1. You will be surprised by what your readers love

Curse Bearer is the book I set out to polish and sell as my “first novel.” I started it on the last day of 2007, and it stepped into the public eye in October of 2012. It has always been my “larger work,” the one I revised over and over and over. In the meantime, my second-born series, The Windrider Saga, snuck in and found its way to publication last year, admittedly to my slight surprise. I will make no secret of the fact that Windrider has always been my sandbox. A place where I experimented with ideas and techniques. And apparently, especially with A Greater Strength, this freeness of experimentation has a unique quality that my readers are enthusiastic about.

It’s not to say that Curse Bearer has not gained its share of accolades from those who have read it. Whether owing to a shorter time to gather readers or a quality difference, I have no way to tell from my myopic point of view, but it does seem clear that Windrider illustrates my voice with better clarity. And I’m beginning to see why acquisitions people are hard-core about voice. Windrider simply took me by surprise how much people liked it, when I constantly doubted. I’ve hardly revised this. I’m trying all kinds of oddball stuff. Is it really ready?

Ready to have enthusiastic fans, apparently.

2. Small publishing is a complicated creature whose future is murky, even in the best crystal ball

We all know that the big publishing model is in peril. Big New York publishers are consuming one another, brick-and-mortar stores are struggling to remain relevant, and the ease of access to self-publishing and print-on-demand tools are causing authors new and veteran to re-examine the business surrounding books.

Enter small publishing—delightful in the way it can help unknown authors, like me, carve out a corner in the marketplace. But the fact is, so many small publishers operate on love and not-so-much on profit.

The question I have is this: can small publishing continue for the long term, selling only a few hundred copies per year, per book they release, or is this an equation for  burn out and disillusionment? I’ve seen no shortage of authors become fettered in that swamp of frustration. Fortunately, most of those authors also eventually shake it off and get moving on the next project.

Publishing is a killer time-sucker of a business. I want to see the operators of the many small presses that have taken root in the last five years grow and thrive. But I worry about the question we call can’t ignore: does the return justify the investment?

3. And my final point for today: For relatively unknown authors like me, cheap ebooks serve better than expensive print copies.

I don’t think I can ever go to an all-digital model on my book releases, at least not yet, as there are still those folks who don’t and won’t read that way until the book industry forces them to. But in terms of profits, low-priced ebooks are SO much easier to sell than fifteen dollar hard copies. My lowest priced ebooks sell themselves. My hard copies go fast in the first month, and then I watch the Amazon ranking plummet into obscurity. (I know, I’m not supposed to be looking at that…or reviews, but I can’t help it.) But the fact is, until I can work my way out of the couple-hundred-copies-a-year corner that most of us in Christian Speculative Fiction occupy, I believe I need to focus on books priced at a point that makes readers feel like giving my work a chance is low-risk. It would be an interesting conversation to have with the people at large publishing houses who look at a published authors’ numbers on previous books when evaluating whether that author is a worthwhile risk. Do print copies and less expensive e-copies carry the same weight in that analysis?

All these ruminations notwithstanding, my end goal remains the same: I want to be read. Going forward, I hope to take what I’ve learned this last year and put it to work in driving my future books toward that goal.

About Rebecca Minor

Rebecca P Minor draws perspective from her pursuit of various art forms, including writing, drawing, and music (singing mostly, though there was a time when a trombone figured in.) A 1997 graduate from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Becky earned a BFA in animation. Since then, she has worked as a character animator, a freelance artist, an art teacher, and most importantly, a wife to her husband Scott and mother of three boys. She is in the process of republishing her current body of work. The first installment of The Windrider Saga, Divine Summons, is available as an ebook novella on Amazon. She also has short stories available under the umbrella of The Windrider Canticles.

7 comments on “A Year of Being Published

  1. Um….ditto? I’ve had a lot of these same thoughts about small press and publishing.

    And as for Curse Bearer vs. Windrider, I’d say I agree completely about the “voice” assessment. I think it takes time to find our voice and learn how to take risks. The cool thing is…you’re starting off good and will only get better. Looking forward to new writing from you!

    • For the record, my thoughts were a little more strongly worded in the previous draft of this post, but my hubby talked me down and said I ought to choose more temperate language. 😀 He’s right, of course. I do thank you for your words of encouragement. I’m glad to have you as a contemporary, Kat. 🙂

      • Hah! Yeah, we have to temper those thoughts online, don’t we? The frustrations we feel can come across as bitterness, and I know that is not what either you or I feel–but rather we feel a need to figure out why the publishing system so often breaks down at the small press, and either fix it or find away around it.

        For you and I, it may boil down to being with rather young presses. Some small presses have had more time to grow, and hopefully the ones we’re with will too. But patience is not my strong point :P.

        I’m honored to have you as a contemporary as well!

  2. Dumb question time… Are your hard copies not print on demand? My noob impression is that books were printed as ordered?

    • Yes, Mundy, my books are POD–which is in itself a blessing and a curse. No large print runs means less risk to the publisher, which gives them the freedom to take chances on new authors. However, the cost per book is higher on POD books, so it makes it impractical for most authors to enter into consignment relationships with independent book stores. The indy book stores I’ve talked to won’t order small press/POD books to stock because they can’t get a good enough wholesale discount on the books to make them worth their while to sell. So that’s where pushing online sales and ebooks becomes the only strategy available.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Don’t feel shy about your “noob” questions. Asking is the first step of learning, right? 🙂

  3. Becky, your question about return on investment is one I think about a lot. (There’s probably a whole other post in there.) To get great product quality — especially cover illustration — requires a hefty up-front investment. Most of the DIY self-pubbers overlook this when they blog about how “easy” it is to self-pub. Sure, if you’re publishing a nonfiction book and can get away with a stock photo and some simple typography on the cover. But to get the kind of quality cover art Fantasy readers expect, something that will compete with the big players, you have to pay up front. And if you don’t know for sure you’re going to earn that investment back, then you’re taking a gamble.

    • Ah, Kristen, you touch on a very hot topic for me, which I have posted about before. I completely agree that fantasy readers have very specific expectations about cover art, and this is not an area where you can dress up your neighbor in a two-bit Ren Fair costume, take a picture, and ‘shop it up. It’s the immediate scarlet letter for fantasy books that says “Hack!” even if the innards of the book are fabulous.

      And illustrators absolutely deserve to be paid well for their work. A painting of the right caliber for a cover could easily take 40, 60, 80 hours to finish, depending on the artist. That’s why my blood boils when people offer artists $50 for a painting and then get all bent out of shape when the artist won’t take the job. But say you do pay an artist the four figures they deserve for a painting (provided the artist isn’t Michael Whelan or someone similarly high profile…then the numbers get crazier.) It takes a book that sells in the thousands to tens of thousands of copies to earn that back.

      OK, now I’m just ranting,so I’ll stop. But cover art is definitely an area where small presses don’t have the resources to go big budget. I’ve decided I need to just keep my mouth shut on other people’s covers, since authors rarely have any control over it.

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