At the end of May, 2016, my publisher, Booktrope, will be out of business. It didn’t go bankrupt but had to discontinue operations as it was not profitable. The announcement was sudden, unexpected, and took the wind out of the sails of a number of authors, editors, cover designers, book managers, and proofreaders.
I’m partially to blame.
The publisher took on a number of new and unestablished writers like myself. Before signing my first novel “A Beginner’s Guide to Invading Earth” with them, my prior writing experience consisted of some community television pieces and a handful of short stories published in print and online. One of the first things I had to do was to learn to work with a creative team, including a book manager, a project manager and a cover designer. A book manager assumes the role a self-published author would have to wrangle, including coming up with a marketing strategy. Much of this is exploratory in nature. The author’s property has to be thrown out there. This job includes contacting bloggers for review, libraries, book promotion web sites, and book groups. When an author is unknown, some of these efforts stick while others don’t.
To say the author is involved in marketing their book is an understatement. The publisher handles some of the load. Booktrope granted access to certain listing and advertising resources that aren’t easily available to an independent. Some of these avenues were optional. Some cost money. I had to work with my manager to come up with the best use of my budget to decide what to pursue. There are many book promotion products out there waiting for an eager author with a fat wallet to come along. Some of these are worthwhile, while others are places to waste hard-earned cash. Many things can be done for free. Growing your Twitter followers only takes time and effort, and the tens of thousands of followers you will buy from the many services offering them aren’t the sort that will do much more than stroke your ego in thinking you have this many fans out there waiting for your next “Buy my book” tweet. Deciding where and how much money to spend on advertising and working with a budget is key.
This leads to the third thing I learned, which is the least romantic part of writing. It’s a business. Booktrope is an object lesson to aspiring publishers and writers alike. It has to make money so the people involved can eat and pay rent. If it doesn’t make enough to cover the bills, it has to quit. A writer (as any sole proprietor of a business knows) comes to understand that when one’s income is completely reliant on generating customers (that’s code for paying readers, in this case), the highs are high and the lows are low. There’s some level of flexibility for an individual or a business with one or two employees. A corporation larger than a few people doesn’t enjoy the ability to absorb too many months in the red. Most writers like myself have day jobs that support our writing habit. An independent author has to have enough cash to spend on basics like a working computer and internet, while also absorbing the lost opportunity of time which could be spent working hours at a paying job.
Opportunity isn’t success. Actually getting my book out into the market took longer than expected. Waiting seemed to be the hardest part, as the man sang. My publisher helped with formatting. My job from that moment forward was to build my author platform, which is secret writer code for working social media, blogging, and pursuing other avenues of promotion. This becomes a balancing act of talking just enough about yourself that your real friends and family and your internet friends and family don’t wish you would take your precious science fiction book and put it somewhere less visible. A one-note author who only promotes him or herself will get ignored, sometimes literally. Making the most of the opportunity to publish is very much a learning experience, and often there doesn’t feel like there’s enough time in the world to master Twitter, Hootsuite, Flipboard, Stumbleupon, Median, Pinterest, Linkedin, Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, and a dozen other social media engines with missing vowels. But getting comfortable with many of these and using them to the proper degree still doesn’t mean anyone will read your book.
The fifth (if my math is right) thing I learned is that giving up is an option, but not one that I’m exercising at the moment. As sad as the news is, companies fail. Many of the editors, proofreaders, writers, and designers are soldiering on and supporting one another in their endeavors. This is my goal. A key element to having a thick skin is to separate oneself from a situation and view it from a detached point-of-view. An irrational and irate customer can get you flummoxed if you let her, but if you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, your blood pressure will stay in the safe zone and you will learn to identify what the next step is objectively to resolve the situation. You learn from the process. After a deep breath, forward motion becomes possible. In my case with Booktrope’s closing, this involves regaining the full rights to my first book and finding another publisher. It also means getting the sequel House of the Galactic Elevator through post-production and into the hands of those readers who actually liked my first book.
Thanks for reading. I’m truly humbled and grateful that some like what I write.. My deepest hope is that those working at and with Booktrope will find success in whatever they next try to achieve, as I’m indebted to many of them.