There is an undeniable thrill to seeing your own work in print; your name on the spine of a book on the shelf of a bookstore or library. Which is why suckers like me spend a few k’s to get our literary vomit immortalized. Well, if immortality includes silverfish, spiderwebs and a bunch of dead trees.
A few years ago I went through the self-publishing route and quickly found out that in Singapore at least, it’s insanely hard to sell leisure fiction—that is, fiction which was written for the sake of the story and not because someone was trying to push an agenda or tell their chicken soup story. Singaporeans JUST DON’T READ! I could tell some stories about that…later.
So I have most of a thousand books mouldering away in cupboards or under my desk, still wrapped in the scrap magazine sheets the printer used.
So I’ve annoyed a number of fans who were waiting for my next glorious release, because the debacle of that self-publishing effort took all the steam out of my writing.
So I’m trying to revive my literary career (career like a car with blown brakes on a steep Genting Highlands curve) and, out of all of that, I’ve decided that print is out, also because of the dead trees. Web is in, never mind that booting up a computer and accessing the Internet for five minutes can be estimated to produce up to 3kg of carbon dioxide. Go Web, here’s why:
1. Save Your Pocket
Printing with emulsion films costs in the area of $3k-$15k depending on how many copies and how many pages a copy. Happily, emulsion printing is on the way out and digital printing, aka print-on-demand, is in, and it’s cheaper—but it still costs.
On the other hand, other than the electricity and Internet bill which you’d rack up anyway, it costs practically nothing to turn your work of art into a nice little jpeg, pdf or html and then upload it to your website or blogsite of choice. Or if you’re lazy and don’t mind people stealing and editing your work, upload the raw text document. The software is available—open source—and you have a computer, or you wouldn’t be reading this. And you have technical skills, or if you want to get this done, you’d better acquire some. Save your pocket!
2. Save Your Readers’ Pockets
Face it, people aren’t likely to go buy your book unless they’re a fan of yours. Books are just so damn expensive these days unless you frequent the annual NLB sale. As to why, I can point to distribution as the main culprit, but more anon. At any rate, people are used to getting things free on the Internet, and they like that a lot better than paying for the hard copy. If you can’t beat them, join them! Nine Inch Nails preceded you. Or are you going to nitpick over not being paid? If you are, you’re in the wrong part of the industry. Go join the chicken soup sellers. Just through that door and turn right, mind the precipice, oops did you go splat? So sorry. Better luck next time.
3. Spread It Round
With a big shovel. No, seriously, it’s a lot easier to reach your readers over the Internet. You can plaster links to your stuff all over social networking sites, your friends’ blogs and websites, Google or Yahoo! groups, etc etc etc. Compare that to the actual hard work of going round drumming up publicity in person, giving talks and putting up posters and holding events and stuff that actually needs real world application. Your time’s limited, or you’d be a full-time writer already…go figure.
And of course, there’s the fact that hard copy distributors take a gigantic markup of up to 60-80% of the book’s retail price. Believe it. I have a contract rotting somewhere. Don’t slam them for greed. They handle the storage, the logistics and occasionally the marketing. But it’s a hell of a big premium to pay for seeing your book in (some) bookstores, and while you may get your money, readers get a big turnoff. Especially after GST.
4. Erase And Rewind
It’s called “new edition” or it’s called “this is a terrible book! I want to recall it!” What it actually means is that you spotted some typos or retrospective review showed you that your ramblings are so horrendous you’re now embarrassed to have them out there. With hard copy—good luck. With soft copy—do as the open-source developers do, and put a corrected, edited version of your file up with a neat label saying it was altered on such and such a date. All for nothing more than a bit of your time, and your happy readers can take it or leave it as they choose, also for free.
5. Coming And Going
If, like me, you’re crazy enough to write off $3,000 and leave the now-unwanted books to rot, then you already know what this part of the argument is about. If you aren’t, then you’d better keep reading. Everything I wrote above boils down to one thing: minimal investment of time/money/effort, which is perfect for people who can’t keep at the writing thing 24/7. A big stack of unsold books is an accusation, a ball and chain, a weight warping the fabric of space-time and a testimonial to the hole burned through your pocket and probably your leg as well. (Let’s not talk about breast pockets.) You’re forced to do something about it, if only to alleviate the guilt of having spent so much tangible money on something that’s only generating intangible returns.
You can put in time, effort and money, and get something out of it. (What percentage of people manage that?) Or you can put in time, effort and money, and get nothing much anyway. Or, you can put in less time, less effort and almost no money, and get approximately the same results. All you lose is the thrill of seeing your name on the spine on the shelf, which, to be frank about it, wears off after the hundredth or so futile marketing attempt.
Don’t let me discourage you. But I, I go Web.
When I have something to go with, that is.
Moon’s note:For those who are interested in buying Mint’s book, 6 Years of Parrot, you can order from her site. =3