In 2014 I was an angry author. I’d just parted company with a literary agent I absolutely adored (because I was writing stuff she couldn’t sell) and then my publisher, Strange Chemistry Books, went the way of the dinosaur less than three years after arriving on the publishing scene with much fanfare. I had a perfectly fantastic young adult post apocalyptic thriller ready to rock and so I began to query the project. After near universal replies stating that what I had written was written well but that “zombie books were a hard sell these days”, I said screw it. I’m going to try this self-publishing gig.
And so I formatted the book. (Pressbooks – I highly recommend it) Found good cover art. Uploaded to Kindle Direct Publishing and Create Space. Then … I waited.
The book is called THE NORTH, it’s about a band of teens in the Canadian militia who’ve just heard a weak broadcast on shortwave from a place called Sanctuary Base, and it’s supposed to be zombie free. They bust out of their armory and commence a perilous journey eastward across the cold Canadian prairie. They encounter more than they’d bargained for and do battle with survivalists as well as the living dead. Everything changes when they cross over into claimed land by former military elements led by somebody called SUNRAY and now the real battle for survival begins.
The book received fantastic Amazon reviews and sold quite well. I didn’t conduct a blog tour because blog tours don’t work. (Seriously, they don’t translate into sales. Waste of time.) I was unable to secure reviews from bloggers who had reviewed my earlier stuff – perhaps it was because the book was self-pubbed, who knows? I promoted the best I could online and the sales were very strong for about a year. Strong enough that I was generating a couple of hundred bucks a month in royalties from Amazon – I wasn’t going to complain. That was like … my car payment! From a zombie book!
After that first year, the sales began to dry up and for the past twelve months the book seemed stuck at around 300K in the Amazon rankings for YA Post Apocalyptic books. (That’s like a small handful of sales each month, btw.)
I could have let the book linger on in the Smashwords/Amazon e-book sales purgatory, but I decided to contact Severed Press – a small publisher of ZOMPOC fiction with a very strong following. (And damned good cover art not to mention an excellent website) They’d actually offered to publish THE NORTH back when I was an angry author but I turned them down. That said, they were a class act about it, suggesting that I contact them if I ever decide I want to have the book published as a reprint.
Well, that’s what I did. Thanks to Severed Press, THE NORTH has a new lease on life. It’s available now on Amazon.
So … why did I go from self-published back to traditionally published? It was simple: the issue was discoverability. Severed Press has a strong, loyal following of readers and most of their books rank quite well on Amazon. As a self-pubbed author I had to compete against ZOMPOC books from the big traditional publishers AND independent publishers AND self-publishing types like me. The common denominator for the traditional publishers and the indies who do ZOMPOC is their existing fan base. To me, it seemed that it would be much harder to discover my book when the market is fairly flooded with self-pubbed ZOMPOC books but maybe I could see the book rebound if I was able to tap into a publisher’s fan base. We shall see, but I suspect I will be right on this and THE NORTH will experience a bump in sales, I might pick up some new fans and I can get down to writing more ZOMPOC stuff.
In short, for me, self-publishing worked … for a while. And then it didn’t, largely because of the discoverability issue. This isn’t to say that self-publishing failed me or I failed it. Every book sells for a while and then the sales drop. And I still have three other books that were traditionally published, now self-pubbed. I haven’t given up on self-publishing even though many experts in publishing thinks that ebook sales are declining. This is a must read for anyone who truly believes the ebook is dead, because it ain’t. Not by a long-shot.
Recently, my agent has suggested that Urban Fantasy is dead. (We’ve been trying to sell a project and we’re basically at the end of the journey for this particular novel.) I have been spending some time looking at self-published urban fantasy on Amazon and it looks to me like many self-published books are doing fine, thank you very much. Perhaps UF is a hard sell for traditional publishers because they are competing against a lot of very good self-published UF. Don’t get me wrong; the big five are still publishing UF, but they’re taking very few chances on new or mid-list authors. It’s business. I get it.
And I might just self-publish this urban fantasy. It’s still out with one Canadian publisher and I’m waiting to hear back. Time will tell.
So, the journey continues. Traditional publishing is not better than self-publishing and self-publishing is not better than traditional. The moral of this story is today’s author has to be mindful of what is selling and where. He/she has to be prepared to think outside the book when it comes to placing a completed project. The biggest lesson for me is never to discount the fan base for genre-specific indie publishers. They’re loyal. Oh, and one last thing. E-books are far from dead. All the industry hype about the drop in e-book sales DISCOUNTS the self-published books and those of independent publishers like Severed Press. In short: the publishing industry is not the big five. It’s all of us: self-published authors, indies and all the rest.