Sheer Hubris?

Sheer hubris is what it takes to publish without the gatekeepers of the publishing world saying yes, you’re worth reading.

I decided to start this press years after a number of agents told me that my work was quite good, but not something they could market successfully to publishers in a “very tough fiction market.”

Meanwhile, other folks were telling me they stayed up all night reading it.

Since then, I’ve watched some very talented authors get published, only to see their literary careers founder. The big publishers are under enormous pressure to return strong profits to their stockholders. They often feel they can’t afford to wait for new authors to build a readership over time. So most debut novels — especially those that didn’t win huge advances — simply get thrown up at the wall like spaghetti to see if they’ll stick. And many good writers, especially if they are not also great marketers, soon discover that their publisher is no longer interested in them.

I know something about how to market other people’s books. I worked for over 18 years as a project editor, acquisitions editor, marketing manager, and copywriter/creative director at various publishing companies and freelanced at an ad agency. Still, the thought of doing that  for my own books was always kind of horrifying. So rather than persist — the number one requirement for successful traditional publishing — I moved on to other things. (It helps that I enjoy plenty of other things, especially teaching.)

In 2013 I considered hauling out the old rejection binder and trying one more round with agents and publishers, if only to cross it off my list of things to do.

Then I thought: Why?

Technology had made it easy to create your own publishing company. As noted above, I already had a lot of the skills required. It wouldn’t take a huge investment to e-publish. This way, I could afford to find my readers slowly, even if it took years.

And that’s what I’m doing now. This isn’t to say that I disparage traditional publishers or bookstores or any of the complicated, valuable work that they do. As a reader, I’m grateful for authors and booksellers who manage to prosper under the current system. That’s part of the reason I originally steered clear of a paper edition. But some of my readers only wanted to read paper, so I went ahead and did that, too.

200 pix pg13Something new that didn’t work

Borrowing a technique from the world of fanfic, I started out offering a PG-13 edition for readers who would prefer to avoid explicit sex and bad language. I still believe this is a good idea in a perfectly digital world. Unfortunately, it led to trouble with Amazon, which didn’t consider it different enough from the original edition. It also created twice the amount of product management, while producing only 2% of the sales. So I abandoned that idea.

So how’s it going?

TheAwfulMess_3DNot too shabby. Since publication in 2013, there have been over 50,000 free downloads during free days. I have to tally up the copies actually sold (mostly during promotions), but at this point I believe I’ve gotten past 3,000. I invested in a new cover by a real cover designer, which may or may not have helped. As of this update, “The Awful Mess: A Love Story” has over 100 5-star reviews at Amazon (4.3 average), made it into the five semi-finalists for general fiction in Amazon’s 2014 (and last) Breakthrough Novel Award, and was picked up as a highlighted selection in Library Journal’s SELF-e Program. In my second year, I actually turned a small profit on the business. For a first time indie author with no access to traditional bookstore channels, that’s pretty good.

My second novel, “The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire” has not done as well in sales yet, partly because I never offered it free, and partly because it’s a literary coming-of-age story rather than women’s fiction that crosses over into romance. (Critically, it has done fine.) Still, I feel I’m on track to eventually do fairly well with this, either sticking with Sheer Hubris Press or crossing over into traditional publication someday when I’ve built enough of an audience. In the meantime, I get the pleasure of hearing from new readers who are excited about my work. Who can beat that?

No, I haven’t been able to quit my day job yet. But few traditional authors can, either.

 

 

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Ribs is FREE this Thursday and Friday

By Sandra Hutchison

THE RIBS AND THIGH BONES OF DESIRE is free today (March 29, 2018) and at least in theory on Friday, too, before it leaves Kindle Select (and thus Kindle Unlimited.)

I’ve had a frustrating couple of months with Amazon. I raised my book prices to match some more literary titles I was hoping to compete with, and — to my delight — actually began to compete with them. My “also-boughts” began to include authors like Celeste Ng, Claire Messud, and Gabriel Tallent. My book sales rose steadily.

Then Amazon yanked the rug out from under me, and as a result I’m leaving Kindle Select and going wide again, after a number of years of being happily (sometimes VERY happily) exclusive to Kindle.

What happened? Amazon Marketing Services decided THE RIBS AND THIGH BONES OF DESIRE is too provocative for me to advertise on their platform. This is a literary title, mind you, not erotica. It doesn’t even have any explicit sex scenes. It does have edgy themes, though. This episode might not have raised my ire so much had it not required multiple unhelpful, mutually contradictory emails from their awful customer service over a long period of time for me to finally realize I was truly shut out and not just the accidental victim of some wayward algorithm.

NOT the cover, though I suppose it might be worth testing.

Their communications were so unclear that I assumed at first (as their email said) that it was just the cover that was an issue and designed a new one, thankfully without spending any money (thanks, Canva!). But that wasn’t it (as I finally resigned myself to after weeks of torturous customer service discussions), so I went back to the original.

Anyway, Amazon Marketing Services killed this book’s trajectory so effectively I figured I might as well take advantage of my last chance for easy “free” days and depart Kindle Select with a little burst of something. (Also, I spent Wednesday testing whether you can buy BookBub free downloads by using Bookbub ads without actually getting selected for a BookBub featured spot, which is now something akin to finding the Holy Grail. The short answer: No, not really.)

I also let my subscribers know yesterday, because they’re the ones who should get first dibs on any special deals.

Anyway, there it is. Feel free to tell your friends. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can download it through the 30th, and read it any time you want (I’ll even get paid for those page reads). But it won’t be available to download in Kindle Unlimited after the 30th. And the ebook will still be for sale on Kindle, but not exclusive to Kindle. (This is good news for those of you who’d prefer to buy it on Kobo or iBooks or whatever.)

And, as always, I’m hoping this will earn this book a few more reviews. Believe me: YOUR REVIEWS MATTER — A LOT — for me or any author.

In other news… I’m doing final polishing on DISORGANIZE ME, which the beta readers are excited about, but after this discouraging experience with Amazon I’m going to try to query that the traditional way, and that can take quite a while. I’m also making good progress on a sequel to THE AWFUL MESS called THE COMPLETE DISASTER. That one will, I hope, be available before the end of 2018 or very shortly into 2019.

Cheers,

Sandra

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