By now, everyone who reads and writes LGBT romance will have heard the news about publisher Samhain winding down their business. They’re doing it gracefully and with care, but there’s no indication in their announcement to suggest there might come a moment when Samhain can stop and say, we’re sustainable again from here on out.
And that’s not a good thing, for many of us and for many reasons.
As a reader, I cherish variety. Each publisher brings their own unique slant to the way they select stories to publish, adding variety to a genre that is often described as predictable and repetitive. Losing even one publisher means less choice in reading material.
As an author, I am comparatively new to the whole publishing carousel. I’m an apprentice in this game and I’m grateful for my publisher, Dreamspinner Press. Writing, after all, isn’t the tricky thing here. I’m a writer, so I write. But being able to write a story doesn’t mean I have the confidence, the knowledge or the skill to publish it myself.
Why don’t you self-publish?
Over the last year I’ve heard that question about as many times as the ubiquitous I’m gonna write a book as soon as I’ve retired / got the kids out of the house / changed jobs / brushed the cat etc.
And while the latter is easy to handle with a polite nod and smile, the first question always leaves me to explain all the many things my publisher, Dreamspinner Press, is taking care of for me. And why, at this point in my publishing career, I like it that way.
Some of those things are obvious, can be counted and measured, while others are more subtle, intangible but no less important. Let’s start with those intangible things that I value very much.
One thing I know for sure. If I had to rely on self-publishing my books right now… it just wouldn’t happen. Some writers are confident about their work and their ability to judge its quality. They have a knack for knowing exactly when a book is done. When all the dialogue is sharp, when the plot sings and the descriptions take the reader away into fictional realms. I’m not one of them. I have days where I feel incapable of writing a shopping list, let alone tell a story. If left to my own devices I go back to a manuscript over and over, I change and fiddle until I can’t stand the sight of the thing. And then… I’ll put it away. Just in case I think of something else to improve a few weeks down the line.
The need to put together a submission pack and send it off stops my gyrations as promptly as signing a contract. It offers me a chance to fiddle with the story until production starts, after which there’s a strict limit on the hours of re-writing and redoing.
For me, that’s as liberating as having an editing team to work with. It’s soothing to a quaking confidence to be told – by someone who knows their stuff and is invested in a product – that something is done and good enough, while also being pointed at parts of the manuscript that really could benefit from being worked on.
While second opinions, a defined production process and editing deadlines help me move past my need to fiddle and mess with a story, there is plenty of other, much more tangible help that my publisher provides.
Book covers are a biggie here. Graphic art isn’t a strength of mine. I can’t draw anything but maps, so having to create my own covers would be another huge obstacle to self-publishing for me. Of course I can hire a cover artist, but would I be able to adequately explain what kind of cover I wanted? Would they know the market well enough to be able to create a cover that appeals to my target audience? When I’m a novice at all this myself?
Blurbs are another thing that trips a lot of newbies. A blurb is sales copy, pure and simple. There’s a knack to writing a blurb and learning how to do this right takes time. Watching how the experts do it helps cut that learning curve.
Then there’s editing, proof-reading, formatting the story for print and ebook, pricing, audiobooks, dealing with ISBNs, multiple sales channels and platforms, assistance with marketing and blog tours, advertising… the list gets longer the more I think about it.
Yes, of course, I could learn how to do all this myself. It’s not rocket science and while it would most likely take me longer than it takes the Dreamspinner team, I’m reasonably confident I’d get a handle on the tech stuff and the sales process. It would happen, but at the cost of writing time. I’m not a full-time author (yet) and while the day job pays the bills, I’m not able to compromise that by doing other things.
By taking care of the stuff I’ve yet to learn, and by letting me learn the publishing process at my pace, Dreamspinner Press literally allows me to have the time to write. So the next time someone asks why I don’t self publish yet… here’s why.
I know that many newbie authors are in a similar boat. Many established authors still have jobs. So losing Samhain is a blow. There’s now one place less for newbie authors to learn the ropes, one place less for stories to find a home. And in the end, in the longer term, that’s something that hurts all of us.