In the old days, before the publishing industry fell apart, writers had to pass two gatekeepers before they could hold a book in their hands. A writer would submit a novel to an agent. Once accepted by an agent, the writer would then give 10% of any profits to the agent in return for a first edit and advice, and to be introduced to the publishers with whom the agent worked. Once accepted by a publisher, an author then would assign his or her copyright to the publisher for the author’s lifetime plus 70 years (the standard length of time of a copyright). The novel would then go to an editor specializing in a specific genre. The publisher would pay for the design, printing, promotion and distribution of the book, and give the writer a small advance against future profits, which the writer would then split with the agent. If the book sold enough to make back production costs and the advance, the publisher would then take 70% to 85% of the profits, with the balance going to the writer (and again the agent). These days there are far fewer legitimate agents and only 5 big publishers left in the U.S. Getting an agent to view your work, let alone to be published by a traditional publisher, is exceedingly rare. It’s also not very profitable. Publishers these days are notorious for giving scant support to authors who do not churn out bestsellers on a regular basis.
When I finished With Artistic License I spent a year sending targeted query letters to 62 agents. Two requested the first five pages and failed to get back to me, which I could only take as tacit rejection. One requested ten pages, then another 50, and finally the whole manuscript. I gave her a month to read it before toggling her email for a response, only to find that she’d left the agency.
Meanwhile the publishing business was evolving. E-books and print-on-demand books cost virtually nothing to produce and distribute, and independent (indie) authors are competing with thousands of other authors to sell their work for next to nothing on the Internet. In the current digital distribution system the author has no agent, gets no advance, and keeps up to 70% of the profit. The upside for authors is that they keep control of the copyright and their books never go out of print. The downside is that the gatekeepers served a purpose not only for readers, but for the authors as well. Under the traditional system, a book saw at least two professional edits by specialists before it was ever presented to the public. Now writers are left to hire an editor with questionable credentials for an exorbitant fee, or do the editing themselves.
The way around this dilemma is the Beta Reader. Beta Readers test the product and give a critique to help the author improve it. Beta Readers may not be professional editors, but they can tell an author if the story is compelling enough to keep them turning the pages, which is all a fiction writer really needs to know. With that in mind, I enlisted the help of Beta Readers to improve With Artistic License, and subsequently had it distributed through Amazon.com.
I also enlisted Beta Readers to let me know what was working and what needed improvement in Time Management, a novel. It’s ready to publish but, as I found out after publishing With Artistic License, that’s when the hard work of marketing begins. Time that I would have spent writing a new novel is now devoted to selling the old one. That’s frustrating. But it’s a necessity. You might spend years writing a novel, and put all you’ve learned into it, but it counts for nothing if no one reads it. In the past traditional publishers arranged for book tours and advertising. Today, for all but the top selling genre writers, marketing falls on the shoulders of the authors. So this time, before releasing Time Management to the public, I’m going to spend a month or two building up my mailing list so I’ll have a targeted audience ready to spread the word. If readers are willing to leave reviews over the first week after publication, Amazon’s algorithms will kick in and start to market the book. Wish me luck.