Begging for Permission vs. Making Things Happen

Here’s the kind of success story most people will tell you can’t happen.

“I launched my self-published book in the first week of September this year. In just over two months, I’ve landed some big publishing deals and a movie deal.”

Yes, that self-published travel/love story from Torre DeRoche, now to be known as Love With a Chance of Drowning, will be sold around the globe and be made into a film.

The one downside is that she has to wait until 2013 for everything to see the light of day (publishing houses move verrryy slowwwwwly). But the fat checks will make the year go by quickly.

New Market, Old System

What most authors don’t seem to realize when they are trying so hard to get an agent or get signed by a big publisher is this: those people don’t matter so much now for a launch. Borders is bankrupt. Indie bookstores are about as common now as record stores. Barnes & Noble is not pouring so much money into marketing the Nook because it’s a cool gadget; it’s their only chance to survive.

Books printed on paper still sell. They’ll continue to sell in sizable numbers for a very long time. But it’s a declining market that’s becoming less physical every quarter. So it’s a market where the distribution infrastructure of old matters less and less. Thus the big advances like Ms. DeRoche got: there’s a lot of desperation in publishing right now, so if they sniff a bestseller, everyone piles on and bids up the price. They badly need the big hits because that’s the only place they’re still needed. Just like the music biz.

What would have happened if she hadn’t taken the initiative and moved forward on her own?

“I spent the first half of 2011 either crafting queries letters to agents, or pounding my head against cold, hard surfaces as the rejections piled up. One agent told me that, while he loved my writing, it was probably going to be a long, uncertain road to landing a publishing deal. Apparently, memoirs don’t sell well to publishers unless your name is Hilton, Kennedy, or Fey.

Then, around mid-year, I decided to change course. Unwilling to be defeated, I followed the direction of my internal compass, which was pointing towards SELF-PUBLISH.”

After the book came out, then people started to notice. She couldn’t get an agent before, now she had one negotiating big international deals.

Amazon has 60% of the U.S. book market.

Yes, you read that right and no, there’s no asterisk. 60 percent! Six of every ten books sold goes through Amazon. That leaves 40% selling everywhere else you may or may not need a fancy New York publisher for. But a fair number of the digital 40% are sold via B&N, Apple, individual authors, and print-on-demand publishers who also sell PDF versions. In other words, also places you don’t need a fancy New York publisher for.

So why do you need permission from them?

There are three valid answers for that: 1) You need the prestige. You want to be taken seriously as a writer and you need to be on a well-known imprint. 2) You have no following and need them to create one for you. (That only works though if they think your book will be a smash. Otherwise you’ll do all the marketing anyway.) 3) Your book is a good candidate for foreign rights and/or movie rights.

Otherwise, unless you’re working on something with a lot of graphics or a book that needs to be in an odd shape, you’re not getting much out of that 90% (or more) you’re handing over to the publisher if you ever earn back your meager advance. If most copies will sell for e-readers, you’re really getting robbed.

So unless you’ve got an honest-to-goodness bestseller in you, the kind every book club around the country will start reading, just do it yourself. Go make it happen instead of waiting for permission.


Learn more about how you can make a book online.

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