Several people have asked me why I've recently self-published two ebooks, Spanish Jones and Dark Tides. In the past, I've been dead set against self-publishing. Vanity publishing (where you pay a company to publish your book) is mostly an expensive dead-end, and self-publishing (where you DIY) requires much product promotion, can also be pricey, and in the past wasn't taken seriously. The given wisdom was that people only self-publish when no-one will buy their book.
Is that still true in 2011? If readers didn't take self-published ebooks seriously, they wouldn't be buying them. And they are, in ever increasing numbers, to the point that ebook sales are now apparently overtaking paperback sales.
Producing an ebook can cost nothing but time if an author can create their own eye-catching front covers and do their own editing. In my case, I went to art school where I studied art and design; I've worked as a photographer and an editor; and I also get practical feedback from fellow members of Riverside Writers. I undertook some research into what constitutes a good front cover. Most ebook catalogues display lists of covers which are around the same size as a postage stamp, so the design needs to be clear, bold, concise yet relevant to the book's contents. Text needs to be simple, and to tell a viewer what the product is. Do my two front covers work? I'll let you decide.
And of course the book needs to be well written. If a reader thinks an ebook was shoddy they'll be unlikely to buy another by the same author. That's hardly a revelation - or at least it shouldn't be - but one of the arguments against ebook self-publishing is that the quality can be low. It will be sometimes, but for the reason I've just given such work will be quickly dismissed. It's a matter of stratification; the good stuff will rise to the top.
Traditionally published authors have to do an increasing amount of promotion themselves. I've been traditionally published many times, and much of this work fell to me. So no change there! So how do you promote a product without yelling "Buy My Book!" in a world that is thoroughly bored with people trying to sell stuff? Whole books have been written about this subject, called something like How To Yell Buy My Book Without Yelling Buy My Book!
Another issue: Why settle for around 15% profit when you can have the 70% offered by self-publishing via Smashwords? I recently read through the submission guidelines for an anthology, and if the editors accepted your work they'd pay $0.01 USD per word. Wow. And we're supposed to jump through hoops for that, and be grateful.
Spanish Jones had been sitting on my office shelf for too long. In 2007 it had been accepted for inclusion in an anthology, which was to have been edited by Raven Digitalis, but this project came to nothing. This is not so unusual in the writing world. Plus I had a whole bunch of other short stories floating about; some of these had previously been published by Amazon Shorts and so First Rights had already been sold. Very few markets want material which has previously been published. What use are 'second rights' when just sat on a shelf? All these stories were merely providing a home for dust mites.
And along came ebooks. Horns. The. Grab. Bull. The. By.
And thus my ebook experiment begins. I've more releases already planned, with the intention that each ebook will help to support the others. I've been told that ebook novels sell better than shorts or collections, but I'll see how things go. Watch this space, hmm?