Over the past couple of months I’ve had several people ask why I decided to go the self-publishing route with Athena’s Daughter when Crimson and Clover had been traditionally published. I began hearing the question a lot more when Crimson and Clover was part of Amazon’s Kindle Big Deal promotion in December and I praised my publisher, Crimson Romance, for helping to make that happen. People were curious to know why, if I was happy with my publisher, I went it on my own with the next book. Of course, since I’m an author, my answer to that was a well-crafted response designed to enlighten and explain why I self-published.
Yeah, right. What actually happened was that I stammered and stuttered and my tongue tripped all over itself. Not because I didn’t know why I did what I did, but because that’s what I do when presented with a question I’m not prepared to get. (I’m serious. Even an innocuous query like, “Hey, girl! What are you doing here?” is answered with, “Um. Well, uh … Oh, you know. Right?”)
Answering the question of why I self-published Athena’s Daughter (and later Song Without Words) is kind of writing a log line for a book. There are so many reasons and variables involved that condensing it down into a pat, concise answer is hard.
First of all, I had every intention of going the traditionally published route with Athena’s Daughter. I sent queries to quite a few publishers, including Crimson Romance, but the book was roundly rejected by all of them, and for the same reason: the editors all felt the plot was “unbelievable.” I have a stack of emails that say, in essence, “This misunderstanding between the hero and heroine could be resolved with a five minute conversation. No one’s going to buy into it the way it’s written.” Actually, the misunderstanding could have been cleared up in five minutes – in the 21st century. But when Athena left Derek it was 1968. She was in Memphis, Tennessee and he was in London, England. There were no cell phones with International plans, no phone companies that offered free calls to other countries, and no Skype. Making a Trans-Atlantic telephone call was a royal pain the hiney. It took forever, for one thing, and more importantly, it cost the earth. Athena was an 18-year-old kid fresh out of high school; where was she supposed to get the high dollars it took to make repeated calls to England until she could reach Derek? So I disagreed that the plot was unbelievable. I was backed up by my critique group, all of whom are authors and voracious readers, and all of whom declared that the plot not only worked, but worked well.
Not all of the publishers rejected it outright. Several of them offered to take another look at it if I did some rewrites. Now, I’m not one of those authors who thinks every word she writes is covered in gold and the tears of delight of angels. If something needs to be cut, changed, rewritten or otherwise changed, then I do it. But the way it was suggested I rewrite parts of Athena’s Daughter had me shaking my head. One editor wanted me to change the story to have Derek really engaged to another girl. This editor suggested that I have Derek sleep with Athena anyway, and to have Athena (who would be aware of the fiancée’s existence) just go along with it because “it’s just sex.” (The editor’s words, not mine.) When she discovered she was pregnant she wouldn’t tell Derek because, A) he was going to marry someone else, and B) what they had was “just sex.” To say that I was floored by these suggestions is the understatement of the year. I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe that a publisher wanted me to put out a romance novel where the hero and heroine were both cheating jerks. As a reader, I knew I could never root for such a couple, and I knew fans of romance novels wouldn’t like them either. A book like that would crash and burn, and it would destroy my reputation as a romance author.
This is when I began seriously looking into self-publishing the book. Not only could I leave the book as written without destroying the plot line and making the characters so unlikeable that they could never be redeemed, but I could also publish it as soon as it was ready to go without waiting on a publisher’s timeline. Furthermore, I would have control over the cover and way the contents looked, and I could set my own price and then change it as I saw fit. I decided to go for it.
There are all sorts of ways to go about self-publishing a book. You can hire a professional editor, and pay someone else to do the formatting. You can spend beaucoup bucks on the cover and even hire a distributor. I didn’t do any of that. First of all, I didn’t have the money to do it, and secondly, even if I did I’m too cheap to even think of hiring someone to do something I can do just as well myself.
I knew I could edit the book myself. I’m such a stickler that even the smallest mistakes drive me mad. I obsess over every word, every bit of punctuation, each and every line of my books. I’m pleased to note that several reviewers have mentioned how clean the editing is in my self-published books, so I know I’m doing a good job of it. But if you’re considering self-pubbing yourself and you’re worried about the editing, don’t hesitate to hire that part out. I can’t stress how important it is to have a well-edited book, so if you feel that editing isn’t your strong suit, hire yourself an editor.
I wasn’t as sure about the formatting. Kindle has its own format, Smashwords has a different format, and CreateSpace (for print books) has yet another. That meant I’d have to sweat through three different formatting sessions, each one with its own painstaking process. Luckily, there are all kinds of free manuals and tutorials to walk you through each one, and after I read them I knew I could format the book myself. While I won’t tell you that it was hard to do, it wasn’t a walk in the park, either. There were many long nights, and even some tears of frustration, especially with the CreateSpace formatting. For some reason MS Word is a total bitch about some things (the table of contents for CreateSpace being the main culprit), but if you follow each tutorial to the letter, you can format your book yourself. Of course, if you don’t want to tackle that job, there are plenty of reputable people you can hire who will make your book look fantastic. Just remember that if you hire out your formatting, you’ll have to pay again if you ever want to make any changes.
I also designed the cover myself, and paid a friend who is a whiz with Photoshop to create the actual covers for me. I love the way they turned out, but I’m going to change them soon. I’ve come to realize how important it is for each book by an author to have a unified look to them, and I’ll be hiring a professional cover artist for the new covers. Do I think it will make a huge difference to readers? I admit that I don’t know, but since I now have the money to do it, I think it’s worth a shot.
Speaking of money, you’re probably wondering about the royalties for self-published books vs. traditionally published. Yes, I make much more on Athena’s Daughter and Song Without Words than I do on Crimson and Clover. The world of publishing has changed a lot over the past couple of decades, and publishers rarely do a lot of promotion for a book unless it’s written by a J.K. Rowling or a Stephen King. Authors do the majority of their own promotion, and I figured since I was going to have to do all that work anyway then I should keep the majority of the profits. Self-publishing lets me do that.
So, was it worth it? Yes. Definitely yes. Athena’s Daughter outsold Crimson and Clover the day it was released and continues to do so to this day. I firmly believe that this wouldn’t have happened if I had made the changes suggested by the traditional publishers to whom I first submitted the book. I freely admit that Song Without Words hasn’t done as well, but I also admit that I haven’t pushed it as hard as I did Athena’s Daughter. Again, it’s an author’s responsibility to promote a book, and I’ve dropped the ball with Song Without Words. I’ve picked it up again, and hope readers will discover it soon. 🙂
Will I continue to self-publish my books? Again, yes. I enjoy the control I have over each book, and since I’m able to save money by editing and formatting them myself, I can’t see giving over my portion of the royalties to a publisher to do it instead.
So there you have it, un-pat and un-concise. 🙂
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