My novel, futureproof, was published this Tuesday by Harper Perennial. It took me five years, countless revisions, a learned-on-the-fly marketing savvy, and finally a self-published version of this novel before I was ultimately successful in obtaining a Big Publishing book deal. Just this week, both Time Magazine and the New York Times have posted articles highlighting the growing visibility and viability of self-publishing. While self-publishing has long been considered nothing more than a vanity endeavor undertaken by no-talent would-be writers with no other means of seeing their work in print, the time is fast approaching, and indeed has already arrived, when this way of looking at an ever-growing market is not only a prehistoric fallacy, but also a potentially fatal oversight by the publishing industry at large.
While futureproof is being trumpeted as a self-published success that found a big enough audience to warrant a chance for a larger audience, the truth is that my experience of living this authors’ dream is far from isolated. I’m not the first writer to have found his way into mainstream publishing by using the self-publishing route. But more important than that, I will not be the last; not by a long-shot. In fact, it would be more than safe to say that as the entire publishing industry is shaken to its core by the current shitty economic climate, a completely new publishing paradigm is taking root. Just as the music industry has seen a similar seismic occurrence, publishing has not been immune to the shifting sands that are inevitable as a society mutates in concurrence with the technologies of the day.
Harper, and specifically its paperback imprint Harper Perennial, have strived to stay ahead of the curve in this new publishing environment. Writers like Tony O’Neill (Down and Out On Murder Mile) and Lance Reynald (Pop Salvation) have either already been picked up and published by Perennial or are slated to be published within the next year (and both are writers who I struggled alongside to find the ever-elusive publishing contract). But these are only the writers with whom I am personally acquainted.
Harper has extensively begun mining the infinite and continually expanding universe of self-published books that are dotting different corners of the internet with ever-growing regularity. Writers such as Brunonia Barry, an author at Harper’s William Morrow imprint (The Lace Reader), Kevin Sampsell (The Suitcase), and Justin Taylor (Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever) also had big online platforms, which ultimately played the lynchpin in Harper’s decision to acquire them. This web presence would not have been possible even a decade ago, let alone the existence of such easily accessible means to self-publishing technology.
Think about this: every year more and more books are being published by those who are discovering the ease and merit of self-publishing. Ten years ago my own self-publishing venture would never have had a chance to gestate, let alone find itself a fully formed book that could be bought by anyone on any corner of the globe. If one wanted to self-publish, there would have to be exorbitant costs expended by any wanna-be writer. You would go to a printer and pay him up front for the cost of materials to cover the cost of printing and binding a specific number of copies of a book. You would receive, in numerous boxes, however many copies of the book that you could afford to print, which would then be stored in your garage or basement until you found a way to coerce people into buying copies of your baby. More often than not the books you scraped together the money to print would end up moldy and forgotten—the ditched pet project of an author who, like his last foray into the world of model trains, turned out to be just another fad that had to be discarded in favor of more realistic pursuits.
But not anymore.
No matter how shitty your writing is, ANYBODY can write and publish a book, paying out little to nothing up front. How this is possible is that the technology has caught up with the demand of would-be writers. The term “print on demand” means just what it sounds like. You electronically submit a pdf of your personal dream project and all that remains is a dedication to finding an audience for your book. This potential audience has never been easier to connect with. Yes, I carried copies of my self-published book around in the trunk of my car, but the great majority of my book sales came from people buying it off of Amazon and other electronically-connected book sellers. The books were only printed when a reader ordered a copy. Gone was the need for warehouse space. Gone was the risk of monies expended on materials needed to actually print the book. Supply and demand were one and the same.
This is the new paradigm to which publishers around the world are struggling to adapt. Those publishers that stay ahead of the curve are the ones that will flourish. Those that refuse to adapt or simply cannot figure out how to are going to wither and die on the vine.
Never have the keys to the gates of publishing been placed directly in the hands of readers. If you write a book and do the legwork to get your writing in front of readers (and most importantly have a decent writing ability), the chances are higher than ever that a publisher like Harper Perennial is going to take notice. You are the great democratizers now. You are who determines what you want to read, in a more direct manner than ever before. So get out there and start reading and promoting those books that you find have merit. And if you are currently in pursuit of The Dream yourself, check out the resources out there specifically designed to make the reality more of a possibility. I’ll get you started: Self Publishing Review is a great site containing numerous tips and tricks to getting your writing noticed, and all written by writers who have themselves achieved success in this exploding market.