About ten years ago I decided to write a kid’s book.
I came up with various titles including:
Who Will Toss My Salad?
Polly Paints A Penis
Tommy Gets An STD
But it just wasn’t happening. I gave up on children’s books. I briefly considered a scratch & sniff book, but finally settled on a memoir.
I then proceeded down the only path available to me at the time- traditional publishing.
The road map was pretty simple- find an agent, have him agree to represent me, and then sit back while he shops my book to the major publishers. Pretty straightforward.
The first step was a query. Basically, querying meant sending an introduction letter and a sample chapter to an agent, and hoping that agent likes the sample enough to request the entire manuscript. Then, if he likes the complete book, he might offer to represent me and try to place my book with a publisher.
My first actual task then, was to come up with a list of agents. I purchased an online subscription to the Writer’s Market, a website that lists thousands of agents, and I began the search. I needed someone who handled humor, memoir, and accepted new writers. I managed to find 80 candidates.
Since electronic submissions (email) were not yet popular, I had to print 80 introduction letters, 80 sample chapters, and 80 envelopes. Then it was off to the post office to mail the stuff out.
Over the next two months, the rejection slips filtered in. I received responses from 78 of the 80 agents whom I contacted. While they all rejected me, most of the reasons for rejection were things like:
not a mainstream book
not a large enough audience
only celebrity memoirs are selling
Several of the agents included very nice responses, but it became obvious to me that it wasn’t my writing, or my subject matter, but a simple matter of economics. They didn’t think my book would sell.
So I took another two years and really tightened up my book- more focus, more stories, more foul language, and I submitted to 70 agents. It was a bit easier this time as most of the agents now accepted online submissions.
Again though, the same results:
no audience or platform
I was screwed.
One agent summed it up very nicely by saying, “You’re book is very funny and well-written, but you have no audience or platform. You have no way to sell your book. If Paris Hilton brought me a book today, I don’t care how bad it is, I could get it published because she has reach…”
And that was my dilemma; that is every new writer’s dilemma. No one is going to touch you when you are new.
Then something wonderful happened.
Amazon allowed anyone to publish a book and sell it on the Amazon website. Their only requirements were a well-written book, properly edited, and with a professional cover. In the first year, hundreds of thousands of new books appeared on Amazon.
People were making money and selling books!
And not only that, the commission structure was amazing. Unlike traditional publishing where some of the money goes to your agent and some of the money goes to your publisher, and you hope to keep 15% of the sales, Amazon was offering up to 70% commissions.
How did they offer such huge commissions? Well, since the physical books were printed on demand (after purchase), they had no inventories and required no warehousing. And the eBooks had no cost either since they were electronic- they just took up some hard drive space on the Amazon servers.
But best of all, no gatekeeper!
There were no agents deciding what is good and what is bad. You just put your book on Amazon, and let the public decide.
Today, traditional publishers usually give your book six months to sell. If it doesn’t, they are pretty much done with you- no more promotion, no more marketing, and your book quietly disappears from the bookstores. With Amazon, your book can stay on their site until it finds an audience. Forever if necessary.
My book, for which I couldn’t find an agent, currently has about 500 sales/borrows. More and more people discover it every day and I’m getting emails, texts, and tweets from fans. It’s certainly no best seller, but people are enjoying it. I’m good with that. I’m working on a second book, so who knows.
With traditional publishing though, I would have never had a chance.