Recently, Robert Swartwood and Mari Mancusi have both written guest blogs (here and here) about their transition from traditional publishing to self-publishing. Today, Glen Krisch is here to offer another perspective. He’s the author of The Nightmare Within, Where Darkness Dwells, Loss, and more. He’s also an editor for Morrigan Books, and has worked on books by Tim Lebbon, Lawrence Block, and others. Visit his official website, Twitter, or Facebook. When he and I talked about this essay, I had no idea he’d call me out in front of you. Let us know what you think in the comments.
I have long been a Brian Keene fanboy. It hasn’t been just his stories that have drawn me in over the years, but his perseverance, his prodigious production, and his guardianship of the horror genre itself. I first encountered Brian’s writing with his Jobs in Hell column. Right away I knew he had a gift with words. I’ve always enjoyed his nonfiction voice; it has a similar strength and resonance as Stephen King’s when he addresses his Constant Readers. What makes Brian so successful as a writer is his ability to make it feel like he’s having a conversation with you, whether with his nonfiction, his blog, or his many works of fiction.
Anyway, as a newbie writer in the early 2000s, Brian’s work ethic became something I wanted to emulate. When I was first discovering Brian’s work, I was also writing the first novel I would finish, The Nightmare Within. During that time, and for the better part of the next decade, I worked hard to land an agent or traditional publishing deal. I may not be as productive as Brian, but during those formative years, I wrote two more novels, a handful of novellas, and a few dozen short stories.
For years I chased that dream. For years it became my obsession. For years, as I learned the ins and outs of writing and submitting, I convinced myself (or should I say, I listened to every reputable author’s opinion on the subject) that the traditional path was the only path. Any other path was the path of failure. Any other path was vanity publishing, and that stigma, once submitted to, was hard to escape.
I don’t know the exact reason I never landed a traditional deal. Publishing can be such a crapshoot at times, with plenty of talented writers never coming close to landing a deal. I came close to landing an agent with my second novel, Where Darkness Dwells. This agent is highly respected in the Big 6 of publishing (think sparkly vampires). My story got as far as a thorough read of the full manuscript, but in the end, the agent didn’t think she could sell it. Who would want to read about an undead society living in the caves and tunnels below a Great Depression mining town? Well, I thought plenty.
Around this time a small press publisher asked me if he could publish The Nightmare Within. I was nearly overcome with joy at finally receiving that fateful email. Once the contracts were signed, I was set to rake in an advance of $200. I was so happy at the time that I didn’t even blink at that insulting number. The publisher held the work, always showing interest in publishing it, but the contract never materialized. I had put my faith in someone other than myself to make my dreams come true. And you know what? I wasted three years waiting.
This confluence of rejection and dejection came to pass in the Fall of 2010. I was drained and unable to imagine another multi-year wait of submission hell. I began to think the unimaginable. I started to doubt my own beliefs that the traditional path was the only acceptable one for me.
I had heard about the brewing ebook craze from the beginning. I had been a reader of JA Konrath’s books and blog since he sold his first published novel, Whiskey Sour. Though I’ve never met Joe Konrath in person, he lived nearby and taught at the local community college. When I was trying to decide about the direction of my publishing future, Joe was selling hundreds (if not thousands) of digital copies of his work per month.
In December 2010, I took the plunge into self-publishing territory. I felt like a total loser when I hit the publish button and uploaded The Nightmare Within to the Amazon store.
I decided I would upload just the one title, and if nothing happened, if it was just one more failure in the long line before it, I would give up on that avenue and return my attentions to landing a traditional deal. I didn’t sell much at first, as expected, but the strong early reviews were enough to keep me going. And as 2010 became 2011, I decided to also upload Where Darkness Dwells. I still wasn’t selling much, usually only enough sales to keep my family in pizza once a week.
As 2011 neared its end, I decided to enroll my works (which now includes six titles) in Amazon Select. This program allows the author to market five free promo days in the 90 day enrollment period. I thought, What the heck? What did I have to lose?
Many authors get riled up about Amazon Select and the authors who offer readers the chance to download their work for free. Usually these people are entrenched in the ways of traditional publishing. They are invested in keeping the status quo, even if they are a small press or midlist author. Some people feel like it’s cheating, that the authors who are enrolled in Select are taking short cuts and not paying their dues. I see Select in a different light. Select is a marketing platform, a tool for reaching readers you wouldn’t have otherwise. How is someone like me, a hard working nobody, supposed to reach the masses?
Since enrolling in Select six months ago, my monthly sales have gone from around $50/per month, to surpassing my day job income in three of the last four months. I’ve reached thousands of new readers by enrolling in this program, and these readers have, in turn, bought my other works. I have an actual readership that has written 100 Amazon reviews (Glen’s Amazon author page). I feel like I have the freedom to write whatever I want, without the restrictions that come along with trying to land a traditional deal. It’s my goal to be a full-time writer by the end of 2012. Yes, I just typed that for the world to see. While 2012 shows me glimpses of what can be, when 2013 rolls around, I want to be in my office every day, writing stories, and living my dream.
So, you might be asking yourself, “Why is this guy rambling on about self-publishing on Brian Keene’s blog?”
When Dorchester – Leisure collapsed I wrote to Brian to ask him about his future and if he would consider the indie path. He obviously didn’t go that route, and I’m happy to see that he was a good thing going with Deadite Press. However, I think it’s about time for Brian to self-publish something. God, how far I’ve come from all those years chasing my traditional publishing dreams! The way I see it, if a nobody such as myself can realistically see a time when I can become a full-time writer, there’s no reason someone like Brian can’t substantially increase his income based on one indie release. No one deserves success more than Brian. For everything he’s done in the wake of Leisure’s collapse alone, he deserves the best.
I know Brian has many commitments and plenty of publishers willing to work with him. But in this new publishing world, authors need to be agile, flexible, and willing to move with the tide. I’d love to hear what readers of Brian’s blog have to say about it.