Thankfully, that series was again cancelled after only a few episodes this year, but that’s not what inspired this blog today. As most of you know already, quite a few authors have been getting rights back and self publishing their out of print backlist books. I see more and more familiar names every day joining the ranks. I belong to a couple of yahoo email groups and once a week or so a new member is welcomed into the fold, usually someone who was in print way back and ran into the same roadblocks as the rest of us: lines cancelled, budgets cut, authors set adrift with no where else to go because all the publishers were cutting back and cutting writers loose.
Some of the most prominent names in romance (because those are the ones I’m most familiar with, naturally) have peeked out from behind doorways and inched up toward the strange glowing light in the center of the room. They’ve reached out a tentative hand and touched the sparkly aura, felt the warmth and seen the possibilities and potential that is self publishing. Some of these authors have 10, 20 backlist books that they haven’t known what to do with. Some only have two or three. But the glowing light has intrigued them and they want to step forward and venture into the unknown, but fear of that unknown is holding some of them back.
I admit to having a whole bunch of fears and doubts in the beginning. I’m an original troglodyte who started writing on an old Underwood typewriter, banging out words like they were gunshots, using gallons of whiteout to correct mistakes. I hammered out four manuscripts, each of them between 5 and 600 pages long and sent them all through the full circuit of publishing houses hoping that maybe this one, or that one would catch the brass ring and win a contract. It wasn’t until the 5th manuscript was accepted that I closed the thick file of rejection letters. I actually thought many times about burning it in effigy to all the nasty mean editors who couldn’t see that they had pure gold in their hands, but every now and then I read a few pages of each mss and realize the editors were right and I was wrong. The books were definitely not good enough. Each one got better, got tighter, got more focused as I found my “voice” but none of them deserved to see the light of day.
Zoom forward 25 years. Had I written those books today I might have had the hubris to self publish them because at the time I wrote them, I thought they were brilliant. It’s only now, looking back with the unforgivingly harsh, self-critical eye developed over the years, that I can see how truly amateur they were.
Twenty five years ago there were no readily available options to getting your book published. There was print and there was print. No ebooks. No internet. There *was* a little thing called Vanity Press, which was usually (in my mind anyway) reserved for poets and writers of short stories, diet and how-to self improve, and books filled with personal angst. There wasn’t a wide market for that sort of stuff and there still isn’t, I don’t imagine. But Vanity Press was more or less the bottom run on the ladder, the last resort if someone really really really wanted to see their book in print. It wasn’t cheap and you had order in volume. The books arrived on a truck and your garage got filled with boxes that you had to take around and try to flog to bookstores by yourself. Not very appealing and again, something only those with diehard convictions would resort to.
Zoom forward again. Writers now not only have the option to self publish a digital ebook, but they have Print On Demand through Amazon and other outlets. It allows authors to upload a book and have it sold either as an ebook or, with the click of a button from the reader, it can be ordered in print. No huge massive printings like those done by publishing houses. One click, one purchase, one book is printed, shipped and delivered.
I could digress here and air another pet peeve of mine to do with publishing, that being the process of printing 100,000 copies of a book, shipping them out to bookstores where a dozen or so sit on a shelf for three weeks to see if they sell. If only one copy sells, the rest are stripped of their covers and incinerated or otherwise shredded and shipped to landfill sites. The bookstore sends the ripped cover back to the publisher for a credit and the process starts all over again with the next books that are shipped out. Can you even fathom the waste involved in that system? Multiply that one book by a thousand, multiply that by fifty, sixty years…
Anyway, getting back on track here, and back to the title Fear Factor. There are still some authors out there who are in the “wait and see” mode. They have watched the ebook wave steamroll through the publishing houses and bookstores knocking some off their feet. They’ve seen the price-fixing lawsuits, they’ve heard of the mostly modest but sometimes resounding successes of authors who have taken the initiative and dusted off those out of print books hoping to find a new generation of readers. So why are they still in “wait and see” mode?
It is, after all, a brave new world out there. Self publishing takes a lot of time and effort and chutzpah. More and more services are cropping up that will take a print book and digitize it for the author, then clean it up and format it for an ebook. There are cover designers and freelance editors, even people who will do some of the marketting for you.
But to some, there is still that stigma of vanity press attached to self publishing. There are still some books out there that should never see the light of day. They are poorly written, not edited, nary a sign that spellcheck was even used, they have crappy covers slapped together with crayons… In the past year the ebook market has exploded and while I don’t have any numbers at hand, I’m guessing of all the ebooks published a good 75% or more are by Indies. Independent writers who have never been in print before but have a yearning to write…and there is nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. But while most of them have come to realize that publishing a good ebook is just as critical as publishing a good print book, there is still that percentage who think they don’t have to edit because their book is brilliant as is, even without spellcheck.
Wrong, my lovelies.
So, added to the fear of being associated with vanity press is the fear of stepping into that circle of glowing light. Both the author and the author’s work is exposed to the criticisms of readers and reviewers alike. A twenty year old book is just that: a twenty year old book. Historicals stand up modestly better than contemporary books (and again I’m talking romance, which is the genre I know best) simply because they don’t have to get updated from wall phones to cell phones, from telex machines to computers. I have one piddly little contemporary romance published by the Evil Empire some twenty years ago and I started reading through it after I wrangled the rights back, but to reissue it now would require a whole new rewrite. It practically reads like a historical, right down to the model and make of cars, hotel facilities, modes of transport and communication. I quietly tucked it away in a drawer knowing I would never have the time or energy to give it the attention it needs. If I published it as is…yikes. I wouldn’t even want to guess what the reviews would say. I’m in the process of updating a historical and that is proving to be monumental enough. Doing the contemp would be sheer terror.
There is also the fear of having been forgotten. I know that one first hand. I went into a seven year hiatus, which, for a writer is like dog years, about seventy. I wasn’t exactly hugely well known when I was writing full time; I was a comfortable midlist writer, always given promises that I would get moved up but, like so many promises publishers made, that never happened. So, a double whammy. Midlist author vanishes for seven years. Yikes.
Midlist author who vanished for seven years, went through a horrible divorce, was ignored by her agent and lost all sense of confidence, hauling out and revising backlist books in the hopes that somewhere out there someone might remember her…double yikes.
Formatting? Covers? Marketing?
Midlist author who vanished for seven years, went through a horrible divorce, was ignored by her agent and lost all sense of confidence, revising backlist books, having to learn how to format, how to make covers, how to upload and market the thing once it was live and in the public eye….yikes, yikes, yikes.
Yes, I can definitely see why there are some authors still peeking out from the doorway, still afraid to approach the glowing light. The thing is, if you don’t approach it, you’ll never know what happens when you touch those sparkly edges. It isn’t Vanity Press. It’s freedom. It’s regaining a sense of worth and creativity.
It’s getting your chutzpah back.