This post, from Rob Walker, originally appeared on the ACME AUTHORS LINK blog on 7/9/09.
Sure every author wishes to be discovered by Random House or another of the biggies of NYC but since my first publication in 1979 the pinnacle of publication has gotten thinner, higher, spikier, snarkier, and harder and harder to manage.
In fact, since the early eighties, getting a novel published has only become more difficult to the point of its being like making the NBA or NASA or winning an Oscar™ or the Lottery. It has gotten further and further out of reach and every author is nowadays faced with brick walls, even a well published author—and often he or she is finding it harder than the new kid on the block.
As a result, over the past several years, I – like so many others who must write – have turned to smaller press venues. First with Echelon Press with PSI Blue a number of years ago. More recently, I have signed with Five Star for DEAD ON coming out this month. Between these two publications, I published three books with HarperCollins, my Inspector Alastair Ransom series. So I have a unique view on what it is like to be publishing with large and small presses. Recently, too, I have submitted a book, Cuba Blue, to yet another small press.
I don’t have to enumerate the advantages and disadvantages of going large or going small, but I do feel a lot more Zen with the smaller presses; with them it is far more about the work and far less about the sales figures, although everyone wants to see good, healthy sales. I have published titles with Dorchester, Zebra, St. Martins, Pinnacle, Berkley, and a few imprints no longer in business along with my early YA publisher Oak Tree Publications, as well as HarperCollins, and family, friends, fans who read me can simply not fathom why I am not far, far more successful in this business, and why my work has not landed on the major bestseller lists.
Aggravation fills my days and nights if I give it much thought and that negative energy can swamp you, so I try to remain positive and have damned the torpedoes and have always written the book that I wanted to write, the one I was most passionate about, and I have never written a book with the direct intent of becoming rich and filthily wealthy but I have hoped to have an income, to have some return on the huge effort or time and energy one puts in but it has not always worked out so.
I do know that I have had the worst representation in the business, and that due to the bottom-line mentality that ties the hands of editors at major houses, editors who love to work with me but can’t, that I am in a sense black-balled. Not overtly so but one look at my last sales numbers and that is all it takes to have an agent or editor run screaming from me. And as this is how the business truly operates, I have turned to other means of getting the work in print, so I thank God for small presses and publishers that have come into being since the early eighties.
Then comes a pale rider called the eBook. I was fascinated with the idea way back when Stephen King experimented with it and found it rather a failure so far as he was concerned, but I kept the faith and have always kept my eye on the evolution of eBooks and the hardware from the hefty Palm Pilot of the early days to the slim, light, lovely state of the art Kindle now set at $299. Keeping close tabs on the Kindle, reading about it in every article I could find, I kept close watch for its success and I predicted it would go large—which it has!
I put up free pdf files on my website and I offered free chapters and whole books on my site, and on chat groups I offered simply to send downloads. I got my toes wet doing this sort of thing. Information kept coming in that the big publishers were experimenting now as well and sure enough HarperCollins asked for an addendum to my contract to place the Ransom Series on Kindle and that was a major spark. After seeing these on kindle at the Kindle Store, I was hooked, and about then Joe Konrath informed me that he had placed a number of books up for Kindle readers and that he was controlling it all from his computer—and making money! A rare thing for most writers! I mean we are expected to give back an honorarium to anyone who allows us to speak about our writing right? We’re expected to give it away, right?