With everything else that is going on in my life at the moment it is often easy to lose sight of my real ambition as an author. Quite apart from my interest in magick and my involvement with a number of occult groups and various witches which has inspired, and continues to inspire a series of books and articles on a variety of esoteric matters, my original intention was always to write fiction. As useful and, I hope, as interesting as these treatises are I still hope to make my fame and fortune on the fiction bestseller lists but it isn’t always easy to find the time that it takes to write a novel. Somehow, in between my other commitments last year I managed to write another novel that was inspired by a mix of horror and steampunk and to which I gave the title Master of the Crossroads.
During the past year I have investigated the brave new world of Print on Demand (POD) and e-book publishing that are emerging and posing a real threat to the traditional publishing houses that have, for a long time, had a stranglehold on which books do and don’t make it to the presses. I have learned that most of the books that appear in the bestseller lists are there not because the grassroots book buying punters have rushed out and bought copies but because the big publishing houses produce tens of thousands of books to then push onto booksellers and that artificially inflate the sales numbers of their most successful authors. This makes the most popular bestsellers lists nothing more than the most printed list and it transpires that a large percentage of the books produced in this way never make it off of the shelves, get returned and consequently make little or no profit for the writers
An author that has made the New York Times bestseller list may find that with paying for returns and accounting for the meager advance that they may get for their book from a traditional publisher, sales of around 50,000 books is just enough to break even. To put this into perspective, the bestselling books for 2011 that weren’t part of a film promotion or the latest glossy cookbook by a favorite celebrity chef sold around 250,000 copies as a rough average. This means that the authors of the highest selling novels for the year made around $60,000 for what often amounts to years of work. At the same time the publishing houses that produced those books made a return of over five times that much from each of their successful authors while dumping most of the financial risks for those books onto the retailers that are contracted to take the books that are being pushed onto their franchises by their suppliers. No wonder the traditional publishing houses are sweating bullets over the current changes in the publishing industry with the rise of e-book and POD publishers that put the power to publish into the hands of the people that are writing the books and that offers authors the opportunity to take the lion’s share of the royalties from their work.
My own experience of publishers and the pittance that they have paid me for the privilege of publishing my books with them has made me look at POD options as being the most financially viable path to publication, especially for relatively unknown writers like myself. Keen to get in on the earliest waves of self published authors that will produce books this way I knew that I needed a manuscript before I could publish anything and so with that in mind I set to writing Master of the Crossroads to be my first self published POD novel. I had done extensive research into my publishing options and, after weighing up as many of the pros and cons as I could, I decided to use Lulu.com to produce my print copies and Smashwords.com to create the equivalent in the various e-book formats that are currently in use. So, with my manuscript written, proofread and edited I set off to see what the POD process involved and what kind of book I could produce.
Lulu.com offers a wide variety of book format and binding options and I chose to go with the US Trade Paperback format that my previous books have been printed in, using regular stock paper and perfect binding. Lulu makes the formatting easy by supplying document templates for MS Word as well as detailed instructions for creating covers and for producing a professional book. The formatting that I had set aside a few days to get right was as easy as a bit of cut and paste, adding a title page and the usual front matter (copyright notice, ISBN and license notification) to the book and finally compositing the table of contents so that the page numbers matched correctly, and the book was ready to upload and be converted into a printable file all within a day. Of course because I was publishing myself it meant that I had to come up with a cover but as I already had a good idea of what I wanted the book to look like it was a simple matter of playing with Photoshop to produce the image that I wanted and which was surprisingly easy to format correctly using Lulu’s online software. In the end I was pleased with how good the cover looks and with that last detail in place Lulu.com put together my book so quickly that it seemed almost too easy.
For the e-book version of my new novel I chose to use Smashwords.com which I had already used to publish an e-book of my blog posts called Give Us This Day Our Daily Blog and which had produced a great product. Getting the formatting right is a bit tricky but Smashwords’ Mark Coker has written an excellent style guide for publishing with Smashwords and my earlier experience made my second effort at publishing an e-book using the Meatgrinder software at Smashwords much easier. The important lesson that I have learned is that an e-book is not the same beast as a print book and so the formatting has to be done independently for both.
So how did this compare to my previous experience of publishing books? Once the hard work was over and the book was actually written it took only a day to format and upload it to Lulu.com and Smashwords. At the end of that one day process I was able to order hardcopies and download e-copies and within a couple of weeks my novel will be available for sale in all of the same places that my previous books are being sold. Going the route of traditional publishers that process took at least 3 months or longer if the formatting details required more attention. Master of the Crossroads is a 6 by 9 inch paperback just like my other books but the overall design and format of the book are exactly as I chose them rather than what I was given. I set the cover price and get paid directly for any copies that are sold rather than having to wait for the biannual royalty payment that the traditional publishers offer. Comparing all of this to the standard deal that is being offered to authors by the traditional publishing houses it soon becomes clear why they are all so worried about their relevance into the future.