Really, anyone is welcome to read this, I didn’t mean to put you off by the title, which feels like a click-bait title. Maybe it is, and I imagine that at this point you’re wondering what’s not going to happen. To put it super-bluntly, Wine Bottles and Broomsticks is not going to happen. More importantly, though this post isn’t about the book, it’s about about the process of getting it published, or to be more accurate, failing to get it published.
There are more than a few ways to get published – the various flavors of traditional, through small indie outfits or big publishing houses, then you’ve got full-on self-publishing, and lastly, you’ve got this odd-ball in-between crowd-funded option, which blends the two up.
The basic difference between a traditional approach and a fully self-published approach is that on one hand you have professionals, experienced in the business, help you though each step of the process. These folks can get you into places you can’t realistically do on your own. On the other hand, with self-publishing, you’re completely on your own for every single step of the book publishing, marketing, and sales process. It’s my perspective that traditional publishing is pretty much the ideal way to go. You can argue with me on that point if you wish, I understand the counter arguments and very many appeal to me. It’s not that I refuse to go fully self-published, it’s just a very hard road to go down and if you can get professional help, well, that’d be just peachy.
I tried the traditional route and got 0 response after 40+ queries, no partials, no fulls, no comments, just form rejections or silence. Normally, this should be a warning sign that the book is not commercially viable, or so poorly written as to be not worth the photons required to carry the words to someone’s eyes. I’m one of my own worst critics, and if it were that bad, I think I’d know it deep in my gut, even if I didn’t want to admit it. I don’t feel that way about Wine Bottles and Broomsticks. Yes, it probably needs one more really good revision before I’d call it final, but on the whole, I think it hangs together. As a person reading the book and not the writer, I actually really enjoy it. It even catches me off guard and makes me smile on reading through -and I wrote the thing. It made me decide that the problem isn’t the book, necessarily, it’s something else – market forces? misalignment of platform? Really badly done query letters? A basic misinterpretation that the work is misogynistic shit?
Anyhow, rather than simply shelve it, because I’m stubborn that way, I put it up on inkshares.com to try and crowd-fund it. The basic idea was to reach at least 250 copies to get it published, though it wouldn’t really be published in the traditional sense until it hit 750 copies. With less than 1 week to go, I got to 56 pre-orders. Personally, I regard this as an extremely respectable performance, but it’s far from enough to even hit that vanity or quill goal. When I started, I entered the Geek & Sundry Fantasy contest as part off this and I landed at 28th place out of 400 entries. Not bad, I wasn’t expecting to be in even the top 10, so I’m pleased with that, but I’m still feeling disappointed in not having done better in general. I’m disappointed not because I didn’t have tremendous support, but because I just wasn’t able to convince enough readers that this book was for them. This is a failure I hold personally, after all of the people who purchased or retweeted or shared or just offered feedback to help me get there, I still managed to fail them. To badly mangle a sports analogy, they threw the ball, and I fumbled on the 1-yard line and now I’m watching the opposing team make an amazing 99-yard return run.
When I look at this critically, like a computer programmer debugging a particularly nasty memory leak, it seems to vindicate the response from the agents I queried. The market just isn’t super interested, or something like that. However, I’m still not 100% convinced that’s it either (I’m at 72% convinced, I think). Many of the readers who did support and began reading along really connected with the book. Last night, I had some friends over and one of the topics of conversation was the book and it’s sequel, which I’ve plotted, and sketched a few scenes for, but haven’t actually written. It was intensely gratifying to find myself in a conversation about the characters and where they are going in book 2 – and getting some pretty good advice on the structure of book two in the process. The conversation also reinforced the idea to me that there are readers out there for this book, and I need to think about book two and really re-consider where I am with publishing and where I go when the inkshares campaign runs out next week.
The one thing I can say with certainty about inkshares is that I’ve learned a lot about the process of marketing a book. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that this publishing platform works really well if you’re already a well known person, whether it be as an author or in some other realm. If you already have ‘fans’, you’re probably going to do alright. If you’re like me and still trying to make a name for yourself and connect with readers who will find your work entertaining and interesting, you will have a lot more trouble (your friends and family will probably buy, but don’t expect a tremendous amount of interest from folks you haven’t engaged with in some way.) I also learned that just like with self-publishing, you’ve got to advertise. I did a lot of this with wine-bottles and the return on that investment was fairly minimal. I managed to get 2 articles in different newspapers, and paid for some advertising on social media. The newspapers were great because of local exposure and for ads, Facebook ads worked the best, Twitter adds were like throwing money into a black hole – organic reach is better than paid reach there. In all likelihood the overall failure to pull this off on inkshares has to do with the fact that books from new authors tend to be impulse purchases and if you have to pre-order then wait for a book from an author you don’t know, you’re probably not going to do that.
I suppose this article could have been an angry or frustrated rant about who bought copies and who didn’t and authors needing a pay-check. I’ve seen them, and can see it from the perspective of the frustrated author, but that is NOT how I feel. Sure, I’ve missed the mark, but it’s not for lack of trying. Nor, and this is important, is it for the lack of so many individuals across the internet. Everyone I know has been incredibly helpful in getting my campaign out to as many potential readers as possible. I look at this as having failed them. Someone asked me if I’d consider doing this again. My response was pretty wish-washy at the time, as that was fairly early in the campaign, but right now, at this point, the answer is an emphatic no. Not because inkshares was bad or anything like that, in time it might prove to be a vehicle for getting something else published. The NO is because after all that effort on the part of so many people, there’s no product. Not because I didn’t write it, but because I couldn’t sell it. It’s an interesting perspective on crowd-funding that I hadn’t truly appreciated until now. Anyhow, that’s where things are at, I’m off to go see about the daily Sunday dose of the domestic arts.