When it came time to look for a publisher for my first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, I had no doubt that I’d go the traditional route. I was working as a journalist at the time and every few days the UPS man would bring in a box of books for review. I’d sit at my desk, barely able to contain myself. Browsing through those books, so new, so untouched, was the highlight of my week. I loved the feel of the bindings, loved opening the first pages and reading the dedications, the acknowledgments, loved turning to the first chapter and not knowing how the voice would sound, if it would be lyrical and lovely or brisk and matter-of-fact.
In my mind, traditional publishing was the only way to go. I wanted the verification, the approval. I wanted to know that editors in New York (who all wore, I was sure, expensive shoes and sleek, tailored suits) were impressed by my writing, and my book. I wanted to feel as if I had made it.
Dolls Behaving Badly released last week through New York based Grand Central Books/Hachette Book Group. I have the verification, the approval, and though I’ve never met her, I imagine my editor wears expensive shoes and wears smart dark suits.
Yet, looking back, the whole process hasn’t been as seamless as expected. My book is out, yes, but the world isn’t mine. My life is basically the same. Except that now I must promote my book. And that means competing with self-published authors who have the freedom to set prices as they see fit.
Indie on the rise
Years ago, self-published books were viewed as a last resort for people without the writing or story skills to nab a traditional publisher, and most books were badly edited, badly written and badly produced.
That’s changed, however, and the past few years have seen since more self-published books hitting the New York Times bestseller list. In fact, one weekend last summer saw four independent authors snag seven New York Times bestseller spots.
Self-publishing is no longer reserved for old ladies writing their memoirs or housewives penning poetry about flowers and trees. Authors are producing professionally edited books with slick covers and clever marketing campaigns, and they’re edging ahead of higher priced traditionally published books.
This hurts. I know. My book sells for around $14 in bookstores and $10 for eBook format. That’s reasonable, or used to be reasonable.
Yet, I’m an unknown author and while there’s a good chance of people picking up my novel in a bookstore, there’s less chance of that same person buying it online for $10 when there are hosts of others selling for $5.99 and less.
Like all of us, readers want a bargain. They want a good read, yes, but they want to spend a reasonable price. They want to feel as if they’ve made a smart choice. They want to feel smart. We all do. Yet how smart is it to spend twice as much for one book than another?
Good news, bad news
The price differential between indie and traditional books is bad news for authors backed by publishing houses. The good news is that traditional publishers offer invaluable information and support when it comes to promotion. I’ve been lucky enough to garner positive reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review, Booklist and Library Journal Review. The weight of these reviews, along with the reputation of an established publishing house, could take me far.
Could, that is.
When it comes down to it, we are all, traditional and self-published authors alike, fighting against thousands of other authors and thousands of other books for readers. It’s a daunting process, and many of us will lose.
Years ago Mark Doty gave a talk at my graduate school. He looked around at the forty or so of us gathered in that room and said (and here I paraphrase): “Only one of you will make it. It won’t be the best writer, but the most determined.”
This, I believe, holds true for post-publication authors as well.
Cinthia Ritchie is a former journalist who lives and runs mountains and marathons in Alaska. Her work can be found at New York Times Magazine, Sport Literate, Water-Stone Review, Under the Sun, Memoir, damselfly press, Slow Trains, 42opus, Evening Street Review and over 45 literary magazines. Her first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, released Feb. 5 from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group.
Next week, I’ll be blogging about how my daughter and I made headline news around the world and my family’s connection to the Titanic.