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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So I can meet other goals in 2018, this blog is going ad hoc

By Sandra Hutchison

My writing goals for this year:

  1. Write 1,000 words a (week) day on the next novel (or two)
  2. Revise and either query or publish DISORGANIZE ME
  3. Try some new promotional techniques
  4. Maybe publish an audio book or two — though it would help if I could stand to listen to audio books myself.

So far I’m succeeding with the first one, slowly getting through the second one, and learning what I need to for the third one. Fourth one may have to wait for next year.

The problem: these goals are not compatible with blogging regularly, even monthly, because it often takes me at least a good day of work to get a decent post up. (Also, I’m a fan of having weekends.)

Mary and Winslow are getting a sequel!

Other than putting up a post when I really need to share some big news, I may try to start a routine of updating old posts, or posting reviews I have up in other venues, or just leveraging what I’ve already got by sharing it better. But right now I’m maniacally focused on the next book, a sequel to THE AWFUL MESS called THE COMPLETE DISASTER, in which new arrivals test Winslow, Mary, and the little town of Lawson.

After that, hopefully, will come another sequel called THE FULL CATASTROPHE. (I don’t even know what that’s about yet.) If I can get them BOTH drafted before next fall, I’ll know I can push my productivity up to where it needs to be to make this writing gig something that could compete with a day job.

Maybe the cover. Maybe not. Either way, sign up for my mailing list if you want to hear when it’s available.

Of course, DISORGANIZE ME still needs (more)  revision and edits and then I have to decide once and for all whether to give the traditional route a try or just stick to my current indie strategy. I’d love the next novel to get wider distribution if it can, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to have an official credential, for whatever that might be worth. But to be honest, it feels like a gigantic gamble, like farming a child out to somebody else who claims they can raise it better. Can they really? I see an awful lot of neglected children out there. So this is really a tough one for me. (If you want to weigh in, feel free.)

Thanks to the new tax bill, I already estimated my taxes and discovered that 2017 was a surprisingly good year for Sheer Hubris Press, which complicates all this decision making. I priced the books up a bit and right now I’m reaching readers who don’t just read indie books or even just eBooks. Is this a fluke, or something I can build on? Is this a smart strategy for indie publishing, really, or only for gaining a traditional toehold? (If you know, tell me!)

Selling along with Celeste Ng

IN GOOD COMPANY: Ribs is currently selling with a literary title that has a cover I coveted from the moment I saw it.

Anyway, if you’re a subscriber who actually looks forward to these monthly blog posts, my apologies. I’d be happy to simply correspond via email with you. I’m also addicted to Facebook and Twitter, so you can find me there (but I don’t recommend Twitter unless you can stand the obnoxiously partisan version of me).

I’ll let you know when anything major happens, and I’ll be updating the subscriber freebies  fairly soon, too. So please stay tuned!

P.S. I’m also trying a new cover for BARDWELL’S FOLLY. This poor baby is my problem child. I know it needs more reviews, and I’ll be trying to do something to give it a better shot at success, eventually. If you have any suggestions, feel free to pass them along.

 

 

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