Have you ever wondered about whether or not to self-publish your writing? Today, I’m sharing a guest post from writer Ron Vitale, who has self-published several books and discusses his decision to bypass the traditional publishing industry.
Back in 2009 I made a decision to self-publish my books on Amazon. Now I look back and am so happy that I made that choice. Why? There has been a major power shift in the publishing industry and those authors who are entrepreneurial are seeing great opportunities being made available to them. And over the last few years, the unfair terms of standard traditional publishing contracts are being shared by authors to the world. Such contracts are asking authors to sign deals that essentially gives the copyright of their works to the publisher for the length of the author’s life plus 70 years.
Let’s stop and look at that for a moment. If an author signs one of these standard contracts, then the copyright becomes the property of the publisher for not only the author’s entire life but then 70 more years. Such a contract does not mean that the work will remain in print. No, just that the work itself will essentially be leased to the publisher for a tremendous amount of time and neither the author nor the author’s heirs could resell those rights until the contract terms are complete.
But I didn’t know any of this in 2009. Instead I had different concerns about traditional publishing and asked myself: If a publisher isn’t doing the marketing or social media for a new author and I’m doing all the work, why would I want to give away my profits to the publisher? What does a publisher really do for me? The answer: Not much. Advances for a first-time author might be $5,000, but I would still need to build my own online presence, engage with readers, and if I did all of that, why wouldn’t I simply want to go my own way?
Another big reason why I decided to branch out on my own was in seeing Amanda Hocking’s story in the news a few years ago. She self-published a book during the golden age of ebooks on Amazon in 2010. Back then you could offer a book for free on Amazon for a few days as a promotion and your downloads would shoot through the roof because your book would land on Amazon’s bestseller lists. Once your book was no longer free, readers would kept on buying (since your book would still be in the charts). Amanda Hocking made $2.5 million selling her books on her own and many authors stopped to question why they were working with traditional publishers. The shift in power went from agents and publishers, who had always been gatekeepers, directly to an author to build her own platform and take home as much as 75% of all ebook sales. Once again, Amazon became a disruptor of an industry.
Unfortunately, by the time my book Lost: Cinderella’s Secret Witch Diaries went on sale late in 2011, Amazon had changed its algorithms so free ebook promotions didn’t cause your book to skyrocket up the bestseller list. When I look back and see how much the publishing industry has changed since 2009 and reflect on what I’ve accomplished in the last seven years, sometimes my head spins.
My first book in my Cinderella’s Secret Witch Diaries series took me 18 months to write. I worked full-time, had two small children at the time and spent my early morning hours before work writing and editing. I taught myself how to convert my novel into the proper ebook format, and when I had a question about formatting, I reached out to Guido Henkel, a fellow indie author, who helped answer the ebook conversion questions I had. I found an editor who proofread my book and networked with a graphic designer who created my cover. Without an agent or a publisher, I essentially created my own business as well as my brand. I built out my website, social media channels and started learning as much as I could about online marketing.
The second book in the series took me 15 months to write, my third 16 months and my first two books in A Witch’s Coven series were both published in 2015. I learned a lot while writing those books and I’ve come to a point in which I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m still working on building the business to earn a profit. The first few years I did make some money, but have begun to take the profits and invest them into more professional looking covers for my novels, paying professional proofreaders, website hosting fees as well as advertising fees. With the major shift in Amazon algorithms, the challenge with indie publishing is overcoming the problem of being discovered by readers. Hundreds of thousands of books are now flooding Amazon and other online stores (Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble to name a few). Competition is extremely high and some indie authors are becoming burned out after realizing that the heyday of making millions has come and gone.
Yes, there are still certain genres that are selling well (romance and thrillers), but with so much disruption and an ever shifting playing field, building a readership is challenging. However, the other side of the coin is that not only have I learned new skills that are transferable to my day job (understanding Google Tag Manager, Facebook ads, creating an email list, etc.), but the most rewarding aspect of being a writer is that I have direct contact with my readers. I’ve received the most amazing praise for my work (and also the worst condemnation). Thankfully, the positive reviews and emails outweigh the negative.
If you’re an author and are questioning whether you should write a book, I will simply say this: Write because it’s in your blood. The stories roll off of you and the creation of worlds and books could not be separated from your cells because the desire is infused in every fiber of your being.
Writing and self-publishing is not for those who want to make a quick buck. I say that because writing the book is the easiest part. The challenge is running the business to support your work. Understanding copyright, taxes, working with freelancers, and a hundred other such tasks and interactions. But I found that aligning my desire to write along with learning the business of writing is a wonderful match. I not only have the ability to share my books with a global audience, but I am also learning new marketable skills and am becoming a part of the changing industry.
I do not know what the future will bring with the publishing industry, but I intend to take it slow and write the best books I possibly can along with the best quality that I can afford. The more my backlist grows, the more I’m discovered by readers. The more I learn online marketing, the better my engagement with new potential readers. And the more that I challenge myself to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new, the more I grow as a person.
The journey I am on is a lifelong one. I may not have instant success today, but when I look back at where I started and where I am today, I’m humbled and honored for all who have helped me along the way. As for my craft, with each book I write, I become better, able to weave the magic of words through an electronic book to inspire and entertain readers from all across the world. From the time I was a little boy writing stories in my notebook, drawing pictures of aliens with crayons, I accomplished something that I never thought possible back then. I’ve unlocked my own power within. In the past, I looked to the publishing world to legitimize me as a writer, but now I realize that I’ve never needed that. I’ve finally awakened to understand and accept my own abilities and I cannot tell you how good that feels.
Ron Vitale was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Influenced by the likes of Tolkien and Margaret Atwood, he began writing at an early age, creating short fiction from his Dungeons & Dragons role-playing sessions.
His writing has appeared in various places from elephant journal, SFWA’s The Bulletin and SEARCH magazine. When not writing articles, he also is the author of the Cinderella’s Secret Witch Diaries series geared toward new adults. Currently, he is keeping himself busy by writing his blog, and on learning how to be a good father to his kids all while working on his next novel. Read more at www.ronvitale.com/blog