The do-it-yourself mentality is thriving. Websites like Pinterest offer everyday people the chance to create something all by themselves; from cute snacks and decorations for parties to necessary home improvements after that party. But what about that ambitious novel you’ve almost completed?
Writers have stories inside them, which they turn into coherent words and sentences (a substantial accomplishment on its own), but that’s only half the struggle. For their stories to reach an audience, they need to find a publisher. And finding a publisher is difficult, especially for first-time authors.
Enter self-publishing. It’s not a new concept, but technology makes it easier. Many authors are choosing this route to get their stories out to the world. According to a report by the website Author Earnings, as of September 2015, 58% of Kindle e-books sold in the U.S. are “nontraditionally-published,” which the site defines as e-books from indie self-publishers and Amazon publishing imprints. Eighteen months earlier, in February of 2014, nontraditionally-published e-books accounted for just about 40% of sales. Granted, these statistics are specific to e-books, but that’s where our world is moving and the self-publishing trend is evident. But does it actually work?
My former high school English teacher Heather Ehrman Krill recently self-published her first novel, True North. She worked with AuthorHouse, a division of Author Solutions, which was owned by Penguin Random House at the time.
The self-publishing process was difficult for Krill; as it often is for writers who’d rather write their next story than try to sell what they already have. “AuthorHouse is good for many reasons, but there’s so much about publishing I still don’t understand,” Krill said. “Talking on the phone with people is difficult, especially with a full time job and two young children who don’t understand my need for 15 minutes of quiet to conduct a professional conversation on the phone.”
Then, once the final product came out, it wasn’t exactly what Krill had envisioned. There are still a few grammatical errors that bother Krill and, as a former student, I know too well her relationship with correct grammar. In addition to that, the front cover wasn’t what she had in mind, but she was restricted by AuthorHouse’s photo choices and her budget. She only got one free revision of the cover art in her chosen package.
The budget was the largest hurdle Krill had to overcome. She was fortunate enough to get a grant from her local Rotary Club to finish her novel, but the publishing package from AuthorHouse cost an additional $7,300 and, unless your name is Walter White (Breaking Bad), most high school teachers don’t have that kind of cash lying around.
“Then the idea for the Go Fund Me page occurred to me in July of this past summer,” Krill said. “I knew people wanted to help me reach this dream of a published book, so why not just ask. It also felt like I had this huge fan club – not huge like Madonna or Beckham – but huge for a regular person.”
In the end, 150 fans helped Krill reach her $7,300 goal in just over a month. Full disclosure, I was one of those people and donated $25. The point though, is this: if you have a story you want people to read, there are options to get that done. And if you need money to get it done, count on the goodness of other people to help you out because even a recent college grad waiting tables in Chicago is willing to shell out $25 to read a good story.
Of course, the point of any publishing effort is to make back that investment with sales. According to that same Author Earnings report, self-published indie authors earned almost 60% of all Kindle e-book royalties paid in September 2015. When looked at from an individual author’s standpoint, it’s not much. “I don’t make a lot of money from each book AuthorHouse sells, which is disappointing,” Krill said. “It’s around 10% of each book which sells on Amazon, and for a $3.99 Kindle copy, what’s the point?”
But for Krill – and for many writers – money isn’t the only motivator. They write because they have stories to tell and want people to read them.
“[Self-publishing] has been a learning curve, indeed, but I don’t have any regrets,” Krill said. “Watching my students read my book in the hallway and seeing it on the shelf in our school library is very cool. Our four-year-old tells people she’s also writing a book like her mom. Having an actual book with my name on it is definitely a professional goal achieved, and I’m exceedingly proud of myself.”
That sense of accomplishment is the final result of most do-it-yourself projects, and writing is no different. It’s like building a shelf all on your own but instead of a hammer and nails it’s a pen and paper. And with the many resources available to help us self-publish, it’s an achievable, and worthwhile, do-it-yourself endeavor. The first step is to write.