“What do you do?”
“I’m an author.”
“Oh? Who is your publisher?”
I wrestled long and hard with myself about going the self-publishing route. I’ve been in the business a long time (since 1987) and it was hard for me to get past the self-pubbed stigma. Personally, I couldn’t shake the reminder of “Vanity Press” publishers that were the bane of the writer’s existence back in the day.
For the low cost of around $3,000 way back when, you could send your manuscript to a publisher (printer really) who would slap a lame cover on and send you back a slick-looking, but completely amateur product. There was a certain type of person who did that. They were considered by the reputably published as no-talent, wannabe hacks who couldn’t get published any other way.
Vanity press publishing was the kiss of death to any hope of having a “REAL” writer’s career. If you mentioned in a cover letter to a publisher that you’d self-published previously, I’m pretty sure they would laugh cruelly and toss your submission — unread — into the return pile, if not the circular file, depending on whether you’d included a return SASE, (that’s Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope for you whipper-snappers.)
It was a brutal industry with high and demanding standards. I got out of the publishing industry in 1999 and threw myself headlong into my television career out of financial necessity. I knew I could rely on a steady paycheck in television. Freelance writing can be an iffy proposition, especially when you’d rather devote your full attention to fiction and not articles about dogs, apartment living, and dating. So I only wrote to supplement my paycheck on occasion.
In the time I was out of publishing, Amazon rose from a novelty online bookseller to the mega-giant of publishing that it is today.
“E-books will never take off,” I said. “They’re a passing fad. People who read love physical books, not to mention the screens are hard on the eyes.”
I’ve never been good with investments either. Self-publishing surged and I resisted. Several friends encouraged me to look into it. I used to brag that I’d been rejected by some of the finest publishing houses in the industry, which is true. Del Rey, Avon, Tor, Ballantine have all rejected my early manuscripts. (Re-reading them now, I can’t blame them.) I stubbornly clung to my old-school ways. Self-published means you’re not a “REAL” writer and you can’t get published any other way.
Ten years rolled on. I was content to remain in retirement from publishing. I’d married and was raising a family at long last. One day, a friend emailed me one of those fun chain letters in which the sender has answered a bunch of questions and spammed their friends with them and now it’s your turn to replace their answers with your own and spam your own friends. One of her answers lit a spark inside me.
“I wish I could meet Darien Roarke for the first time all over again…”
Outside of my local RWA chapter and the slush pile readers, only a precious handful of friends had ever read any of my fiction. She was my biggest and most devoted fan. I had a manuscript she hadn’t read, so I sent it to her. I hadn’t touched it in ten years. She gave me the kick in the butt I needed, and I started rewriting with an eye towards publishing once again.
I looked into e-publishers and small houses figuring I’d be most likely to find acceptance there. Angela James of Harlequin’s Carina Press put out a submission call, so I put my rewrites aside and took the backstory notes and knocked out a novella to send to her. I never sent it. During the process of writing, I did a lot of research into small press e-publishers, and finally, into self-publishing itself. What I learned changed my perspective completely.
Ultimately, I chose to self-publish the novella which became SOVRAN’S PAWN because:
- It offered me more creative control over my brand,
- I wouldn’t feel pressured to compromise my core values to satisfy a publisher
- Looking at the smaller publishers from a publisher’s perspective (I edited and published a lifestyle magazine in my youth) I knew that if my sales didn’t meet their expectations, I could be dropped like a hot rock. Nothing personal, it is the ONLY way they could make their numbers work. High turnover is the only way to quickly build a back catalog and visible presence among customers. Keep what sells well and drop what doesn’t pay the bills. Never mind the fact the burden for marketing and networking was squarely on the author’s shoulders and not the publisher’s. I also knew that no publisher would believe in my series as much as I did, and wouldn’t feel as driven to market it. And lastly,
- The quality of editing in far too many of the smaller press e-books that I was reading would NEVER have made it over the transom let alone out the door back in the day. Having aspired to being published by the lofty, “big” houses with their exacting standards, I wouldn’t allow my name to be associated with a publisher who turned out less than quality work. If there are editing errors in my books, they are solely MY responsibility, but I can promise my readers that I have done everything possible to turn out the best quality product it is within my ability to produce. I couldn’t guarantee the same from some of the smaller e-publishers whose books I was reading.
If I hadn’t had so much experience in the industry already under my belt, I may not have opted to go the self-publishing route. As it was, I knew what was involved before I started. I had done the writing, editing, layout, design, art, and marketing before. I couldn’t see where a small press or digital first publisher could do anything for me that I couldn’t do for myself. I knew that I could turn out a product that was at least as good as any digital first publisher, if not better than most.
I’m old school. Quality and integrity are of paramount importance. I want readers to know that if they pick up a book with JC Cassels’ name on it, I am providing them with the best book it is within my power to produce, technically as well as creatively. Smaller press e-publishers couldn’t guarantee that, not from the quality of products that I’ve seen out there.
For me, the biggest learning curve was unlearning everything I knew about traditional publishing. It’s not the same industry it was back in the late 80’s. On one hand, that’s good for authors who write outside the mainstream. On the other, the ease of self-publishing has relegated some damn fine authors to a different kind of slush pile in which they vie for readers rather than publishing contracts.
Ultimately, I believe a quality product will find its niche in the marketplace. The current environment means authors, self-pubbed or otherwise, just have to work harder to get the attention of readers slogging through the virtual slush pile on Amazon. This means to succeed, you can’t skimp on editing or packaging. The longer you can hang in there, and the more quality books you can get OUT in front of readers, the more likely you are to survive, self-pubbed or otherwise.
So when I’m asked who my publisher is, and I answer that I am my own publisher, I do so proudly. I bring nearly thirty years experience in the publishing industry, several awards for excellence in writing and editing, and a reputation for high standards and a quality product. It doesn’t get more professional or reputable than that.
Oh, and as for my friend, the book she was referring to in her email is ARCANA DOUBLE CROSS in which I introduced Darien Roarke as the gambling alias of the one and only Blade Devon. It is a much darker, grittier story and more of a “James Bond in space” than a romantic adventure. As for the manuscript I sent her to read, the backstory notes for that became SOVRAN’S PAWN and HERO’S END. The “new” manuscript I sent to her is still being rewritten and will be released under the title it has always had: BARRON’S LAST STAND.