Online Publishing vs. TraditionalPublishing — A Personal Experience
By Kay Crist (author of “Araroon”)
Publishing a science fiction novel via the internet is a sure thing. No agent or editor can turn you down, and no one will demand you change your manuscript. In fact, there are numerous website publishers who will gladly shepherd your book every step of the way, from submission, cover design, and publicity to monitoring sales. However, the author’s going to have to pay for these services out of pocket — no advance money. And once your book is available online and/or in print, it’s going to be primarily up to you to see that it’s continually publicized.
Publishing a book the traditional way is at best difficult and at worst impossible. However, if accomplished, traditional publishing is certainly more prestigious and perhaps more profitable than internet publishing (note I say “perhaps”). And one can’t deny there’s also an air of legitimacy to traditional publishing that online publication has yet to achieve. However, submitting a manuscript to agents and publishers is not for the faint of heart — a steady stream of rejection letters in the mailbox can frustrate even the most confident author.
I’ve traveled both roads — traditional and online publishing — and found that each method has pros and cons.
Finding a literary agent and submitting your manuscript to one of the large publishing houses used to be the only way an author would ever see a book in print. I began my publishing odyssey in 1996, shortly after completing my science fiction novel “Araroon.” Internet publishing seemed to me to be mere vanity press and I was determined to go the “legitimate” route. I therefore dutifully purchased the latest issues of “Writers Market” and “Guide to Literary Agents” and began sending out packets of material, confident “Araroon” was good enough to attract the attention of an agent. I could have tried going “over the transom,” submitting directly to publishers. However, everything I’dread advised this was not wise, that having an agent represent your work greatly increased the chance of publication.
The rejection letters came quickly, a plethora of them beginning approximately two weeks after sending out my introduction letters and synopsis. Most agents gave no reason for turning down “Araroon,” a few had vague excuses such as the subject matter not being what they were currently looking for.
I waited patiently, every day crossing name after name off my list, holding onto the hope that one of those last few agents would actually be interested in reading my entire manuscript. Rejections come fast, I’d been told. Acceptances took a lot longer.
It was three months before I received a letter from a small literary agent who asked to read my entire book. He said he saw something in my writing and story, and felt I would be a good potential client. I was ecstatic. My first success! Then, a couple of days later, I received another acceptance letter from a large New York literary agency. They, too, wanted to read “Araroon.” In fact, the head of the agency had expressed an interestin it. My ego knew no bounds. I was going to be a published author! I even had a choice of agents!
I chose to send my book to the larger agency, writing a polite refusal to the small agent. Then I sat back to wait for a contract in the mail.
I was naive. Months passed and I heard nothing from the large literary agency. I occasionally called them and was always told “Araroon” was in the process of being evaluated. Then one day I called and was told no one had any record of my novel being submitted! They couldn’t even find the manuscript.There had been a personnel change and someone had messed up the filingsystem. A week later I received a rejection letter with no reason given.
Talk about a let down … All that time wasted …
However, I wasn’t ready to give up. I wrote another letter to the smaller agent, asking him if he might still beinterested in representing “Araroon.” He immediately wrote back and asked for the manuscript. A few days later I received a very nice phone call followed by a contract in the mail. I was on my way again.
In the meantime, I wrote a lengthy critical letter to the New York agency and told them I felt I had been treated shamefully. How dare they lose my work and then reject it while obviously never having even read it? Of course I knew I’d never receive a response, but it made me feel better to vent my anger.
The agent I’d signed with proceeded to help me with some editing details, then began submitting “Araroon” to the top publishing houses. More weeks went by that turned into months. You could only submit to one publisher at a time and each was given at least three months to respond — a very slow process.
Rejections began coming in with no useful notes attached. Budgets were tight, they’d used up their allotment for science fiction for the year, etc. Some even said “Araroon” was wonderful but there was always an excuse for not taking on the project. My agent went from being upbeat to abrupt. I knew he was losing interest in me because I wasn’t a “quick sale.”
Then my agent had a heart attack. I was informed he was greatly cutting back his client load, releasing all clients who didn’t already have books in print. Once again I was agentless, and my book was still an orphan. Nearly two years had now passed since I began my attempts at publication and I was back to square one. I was ready to quit, shoving “Araroon” into the back of my closet.
Which is when I received a letter from the legal department of the New York publishing agent — the one who’d lost my manuscript so long ago in their filing system. They were apologizing profusely and asking to see “Araroon” again. Happy days were here again! I was being given another chance!
“Araroon” went out express mail, at their expense, and less than a week later a contract came via special delivery. They wanted to represent me! Once again I felt like a legitimate author.
This part of the story, however, does nothave a happy ending. “Araroon” was supposedly submitted to various publishers, but a year later had still not sold and the contract was terminated. I later learned that this agency probably never really tried to sell my book but only offered the contract to keep me from pursuing legal action due to their negligence with my manuscript the first time around.
“Araroon” went back into the closet for another year, which is when I began to notice that serious, already published authors were making books available through internet websites. On a whim, I investigated some of those sites, and couldn’t believe that for a fairly small sum of money I could not only see”Araroon” available as an eBook, but have it published as a paperback that would be available through bookstores throughout the world. The deal sounded too good to be true.
However, I made a phone call to www.1stbooks.com and received a packet of material outlining the costs and services available. For a few hundred dollars my book would be put up forsale online, and a few hundred more would make it available as a POD (publish on demand) paperback or hardback that could be purchased through brick and mortar stores as well. The internet publisher also offered publicity services, for an additional fee of course, sending out press releases, and arranging interviews and book signings. And best of all, a contract with the online publisher was not mutually exclusive. If, in the future, a regular publisher expressed an interest in “Araroon,” I could be published in the traditional manner as well.
I still felt, deep down inside, that this was a form of vanity press and not legitimate publication, but I knew “Araroon” was good and deserved to see print. I also thought I might end up making money. The royalties for online publishing are a lot better than those offered through traditional publishing houses. Plus, I suspected many authors use advance money from publishers to hire publicists to promote their books. (Only sure-fire best selling books, not mid level books, get the royal treatment when it comes to bookstores — front shelf placement, press releases, interviews, etc.) I could have some of that kind of publicity myself with the help of my online publisher.
To make this long story shorter, I paid the money and “Araroon” is now available through www.1stbooks.com and various other online book stores as a downloadable book and POD paperback. The entire process, from manuscript submission to holding the book in my hands, took only three months — a far cry from the years I’d spent pursuing traditional publishing. I absolutely love the cover their artist designed for “Araroon,” and have been very pleased with the interviews and press they arranged for me.
There were, of course, a few pitfalls during my internet publishing experience. I didn’t read the proof galley carefully enough and ended up paying an additional fee to correct an error in “Araroon” after it had already been set for POD format. (On the other hand, I consoled myself by remembering that if a traditional publisher had printed 10,000 copies of “Araroon” there would have been no way to correct the mistake.) Also, although I initially was set for four book signings, two were canceled when the book store chain’s parent company issued an order that they would no longer do signings with POD authors due to the fact that the books, once in the store, couldn’t be returned if they went unsold. And, one of the remaining book signings required I purchase the books myself and bring them to the store –another large out-of-pocket expense if they don’t sell. In addition, I’ve had little success getting book reviewers to look at “Araroon.” One newspaper editor even told me that they never review eBooks because there’s “no screening process” which is a bit like being declared “guilty” without a trial — they’ve never even looked at my book! I’m still trying, however, sending out copies to various reviewers and hoping someone will give me a break.
On a brighter note, “Araroon” is available not only from www.1stbooks.com, but also from Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Borders.com, and any book store in the world via its ISBN number, which makes sales easy once people know about its existence.
And, I’ve got to admit, holding an actual copy of “Araroon” in my hands makes me feel really good.
Would I publish via the internet again? Possibly … probably. Resources for authors in this area seem to be getting better all the time. Although, I can’t help but feel that this form of publishing is better fitted for “how-to” books or books relating to a specific subject when it comes to publicity. A book about quilt making could be placed in sewing stores, but a sciencefiction novel has no such ready-made niche.
Will I pursue traditional publishing for my future books? At this time, I’m doubtful. Those two years of rejection, followed by high hopes, followed by more rejection really battered my ego.At least with online publishing I’m totally in control of the initial product and my book can never go out of print. The publicity, for better or worse, is in my hands as well.
Now, if only people would discover and buy “Araroon” at www.1stbooks.com.
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Kay Crist, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.