I shuddered at the thought of switching editors mid-stream, as many of my colleagues have been forced to do.
Editor’s Note: When news came that Bradley P. Beaulieu was leaving his publisher, Night Shade Books, and making the change to self-publishing, I was puzzled and intrigued. I’ve invited him here to talk about his experience, his decision and the changing landscape of publishing. If you’d like to support Beaulieu, he is currently running a Kickstarter to support the relaunch of his trilogy, The Lays of Anuskaya.
Several months back, I learned that my editor, Ross Lockhart, was let go from Night Shade Books. It had been very good to work with Ross up to that point. He was enthusiastic about the series, he kept the wheels of publishing (at least for my books) oiled and running smoothly, and he gave me some great advice on the series. I’m grateful he was there to help for all three of the books in The Lays of Anuskaya trilogy, and I shuddered at the thought of switching editors mid-stream, as many of my colleagues have been forced to do. Such a change can end up well in the end, but it can just as easily cause serious and permanent damage to an author’s career.
So Ross’s departure was worrying news, indeed. It comes as no surprise to any who have cared to look that Night Shade has been a cash-strapped business for some time. This is bad enough, worrying about where your future with them was headed, but the loss of my editor made me doubly worried about how my books would now be handled. Taking a pragmatic look at the change, cutting back on staff is normal in business. It can help a business survive. But when it happens it means that fewer people will be doing a lot more things, at least in the short- to medium-term. None of this boded well for the release of my third book, which frankly I hadn’t heard much about from my publisher. Not having heard anything different, I had assumed it would be coming out in April of 2013, as the first two books had been released that same month. Everything else—the initial editing, copy edits, and artwork—were all in works already, so things seemed good for an April release, even if it would be a bit rushed.
When I emailed and asked about it, however, I was told that it would not be until 2014 some time (no definitive date was given) that the book would come out. This meant I was looking at up to a one year delay. Perhaps more. Make no mistake. This is an absolute killer for a new author. I felt like I’d been making headway on building my fan base, but to then lose what momentum I had to a delay was, well, daunting. I’m trying to make a living at this, and to suffer a one year delay—a year in which no new novels would come out—would have an effect for years to come.
Suffice it to say that this worried me greatly. On Night Shade’s part, I guessed (a guess that was later confirmed) that they would be taking their existing books on contract and spreading them over a longer period of time. Basically, they were going from roughly three titles a month to two. This was understandable—it was, after all, part and parcel of why my editor was let go—and it’s a perfectly legitimate maneuver of a business to contract and stay in business. The alternative may very well have been to close the doors. So I don’t blame them for the decision. But it did have a very real effect on me. Night Shade’s (really, any publisher’s) goals are not the author’s goals. They can and often do align, but there are times when they don’t. Such was the case with me and my books.
Part of the picture here is that The Winds of Khalakovo and The Straits of Galahesh didn’t reach as wide an audience as we had hoped. This is somewhat natural. It’s common in publishing for debut books and trilogies to not earn out. Add to that Borders’ closing, the ever-increasing competition for our entertainment dollars, the challenge for publishers to leverage the constantly changing landscape in technology, and it makes for a treacherous climb for any publisher. Publishers are making all sorts of educated guesses along the way as to which titles will do well, which ones they should push harder, and which ones they’re going to be more cautious with. And those formulas change on a monthly basis as they get more data to work with. I was not privvy to all the data nor all the many conflicting goals they had to balance in order to come up with their decision to delay the third book in The Lays of Anuskaya, but in the end that’s what they decided. Fair enough.
But there are two parties in the negotiation. Just like the publisher has their decisions to make, so does the author. Night Shade was behind on payments. And in addition to this, they had offered to publish The Flames of Shadam Khoreh only if I took a smaller advance than was contractually agreed to. This was disconcerting to me, of course, but I might have been willing to consider a lower advance if I felt like Night Shade was truly behind these books and that they had the capacity to act on that enthusiasm. The trouble was, no matter how much they might like the series itself, I didn’t get the impression that they were going to push hard on it, nor that they even could if they’d wanted to. They were contracting, so what were the chances they really had the bandwidth to push the series hard? Not great. This isn’t to malign Night Shade Books. I was and am grateful they believed in my books enough to give them a chance. They got my first two books into many readers’ and reviewers’ hands. I achieved critical acclaim with those books. But just like Night Shade did, it was time to put my business hat on and weigh my options.
It’s a vastly different world in publishing than it was even five years ago.
But what were my options? It’s a vastly different world in publishing than it was even five years ago. You can write a book today and put it out as e-book tomorrow. You can have it printed and sold through many different channels next week. You can pre-sell books through places like Kickstarter. Which was exactly what I’d already done with my short story collection, Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten & Other Stories. That was a Kickstarter for a collection of stories that were already written. I didn’t need to make a lot of money off of them. I didn’t need to raise a lot of cash to make the project happen. So I kept it very bare bones. I was looking for only $1,500 to get the project off the ground. It funded in 5 hours and went on to raise nearly 4 times what I was looking for.
The Flames of Shadam Khoreh funded 48 hours after launch [...] I knew I could re-launch the trilogy and spread the word and keep a bigger share of the pie while doing so.
I was stunned, but it goes to show you what’s possible when you have a reasonably sized support network. If I could break $5,000 for a short story collection, I was pretty sure I could do at least that well for a novel, and not just any novel, but the concluding installment of a trilogy. (I was right, by the way. The Flames of Shadam Khoreh funded 48 hours after launch and is still going strong.) So when I was faced with the possibility of taking a lower advance, waiting for more than a year for the book to come out, dealing with an overworked staff at my publisher, there was hardly a decision to be made. To be fair, Night Shade made a generous offer of coming out with a print-on-demand version of the books to try to keep my fanbase alive and active, but for me, it just wasn’t enough. I knew I could re-launch the trilogy and spread the word and keep a bigger share of the pie while doing so.
That being said, there are some major considerations to weigh here. When you self-publish, you have to wear a lot of hats. Beyond the writing, the thing we’re best at, we have act as the art director, managing editor, layout editor, quality control. We have to handle the production schedules, distribution, marketing, fulfillment, and so much more. It was already difficult for today’s author to make headway, what with the time we’re supposed to spend on social networks and at conventions hawking our wares, and now we have a thousand other details to get right. This shouldn’t deter anyone. It will cost you time and money, but there’s nothing you can’t overcome. If you’re good at art and design, at book layout, at marketing and publicity, do those things yourself. If not, there are plenty of people who can help for a fee. Lay out a schedule, develop your contacts, and start working them to get your book out as soon as you can with the quality of the Big 5 publishers, and you’ll compete with anyone out there.
Funnily enough, the very week I made the decision to part ways with Night Shade, I got the offer from DAW Books to publish my next trilogy, The Song of the Shattered Sands, an epic tale that has echoes of both A Thousand and One Nights and Thieves’ World. I’m proud to be a DAW author. I’m very eager to be working with one of the top publishers of fantasy fiction in the world. But I’m also proud of what I’m doing with The Lays of Anuskaya. I know I can do a very good job with these books, and I’m eager to get them into as many hands as I can manage. The two are complementary, not adversarial. One will help the other, and vice versa. This is the reality of today’s hybrid author. Working with publishers where it makes sense for both parties, and working on your own when that makes sense.
I’m looking forward to what the future brings. In some ways things look daunting, but it’s my hope that the hybrid author approach will allow authors to make a good living and to reach out to previously unfound fans. And I hope the changes in technology and distribution will help bring more and more readers into the fold, because then we all win—authors, publishers, and readers.