Since the beginning of January, I’ve made about $650 in royalties from my novel, A Murder in Mount Moriah. That’s a little over $100/month, on average, for the arithmetically challenged. While that’s not exactly “quit your day job” money, I’m proud of it. It represented hundreds of sales (at $2.99 or .99 cents each for the Kindle title, which represents the vast majority of purchases). This doesn’t, of course, include the many thousands (10,000+) of free downloads via Amazon marketing schemes. I’m hopeful that once I have two or three more titles in the Reverend Lindsay Harding series, my writing income stream will grow considerably and provide a little contribution toward my daughter’s college fund/bail money.
In addition to deriving satisfaction from gaining an audience from my book, I feel that this income bolsters my belief that I made the right choice by aligning myself with Little Spot for Stories. Little Spot is essentially a platform for self-publishing. The editor, Nicole Loughan, is herself a successful indie author whose “Saints” series became an Amazon bestseller. Nicole vets the books she publishes under her imprint and provides marketing advice. What she does not do is play the dysfunctional game that most literary agents and book publishers do.
Why do I call it a dysfunctional game? The best-selling indie writer Hillary Rettig explained this beautifully in her recent article about the current Amazon vs. Hachette standoff. She explains how, for her, me, and many others, there is no contest between Amazon and traditional publishing. Amazon has giving writers all the tools they need to reach audiences, and they compensate writers at a reasonable rate for their efforts. Writers have control of the quality of their work, and control over marketing decisions. Meanwhile, traditional publishing is, for a writer, frequently fraught with peril and disappointment.
Here’s my experience with the world of traditional publishing, as an illustration. I finished writing A Murder in Mount Moriah about three years ago. Hopeful little author that I was, I duly submitted query letters, using the wonderful website Query Tracker, to the major agents representing my genre (cozy mystery). I was overjoyed when my very first letter, to a BIG TIME AGENT, yielded an immediate request for a full manuscript and a period of exclusivity. After months of nervous waiting, the BIG TIME AGENT came back with a “thanks, but no thanks.” My next round of letters (and I sent multiple this time, because that whole exclusivity thing is a load of bullocks), scored me my very own BIG TIME AGENT, someone with several titles on bestseller lists and an impressive client list. Now, this agent knows her stuff and has all the right (write?) connections. She was excited about my manuscript, and I was over the moon.
Then began another round of waiting. She sent the book to the Big 5 publishers (e.g. Penguin, Kensington, Minotaur, etc.). The responses, when they eventually came after many, many months, were positive, but no one wanted to take on the series. Here’s a snippet from one:
“I thought the writing was very strong and I greatly enjoyed Lindsay’s character-she has a wonderful voice for a protagonist-funny, down to earth, and instantly endearing. I had a few second reads and the overall feeling was that the hospital setting was just too difficult to make work for our line.”
I also had editors say it wasn’t “cute” enough, wasn’t “crafty” enough (lots of cozies involve baking, knitting, etc.), or that their marketing team couldn’t figure out how to “visually convey” hospital chaplaincy.
Ultimately, my agent strongly encouraged me to give up on the hospital chaplain book and write something grittier and more hard-boiled. I don’t blame her for giving up. Publishing is a business, and the sooner a writer understands that, the better. The problem is, though, that I don’t want to write about some latter-day Josef Mengele psycho killer who spends his days stroking a cruel-eyed Persian cat while plotting out the details of his next gruesome rape or murder. (He is, obviously, laughing maniacally all the while). I don’t want to describe how this killer then wove a macramé owl out of the intestines of his unfortunate victim and fed the victim’s toes, one by one, to the cat (who is also laughing maniacally all the while).
Self-publishing has given me the freedom to tell the stories that I want to tell, and to try to find an audience that wants to hear them.
All of this is not to say that I wouldn’t consider traditional publishing. I’d still love to do that. But self publishing on Amazon has given me a basis for negotiation. I don’t have to take any old offer that I get. If traditional publishing can score me better than $100/month, I’m all ears.