My Publishing Story
Just the title of this web site indicates the radical changes that have swept through publishing in the last few years. In 2010, just two years ago, at the DBW conference in New York City, many industry professionals were scoffing at the importance of eBooks, pointing out that they were only 3% of the bottom line. Since this is my first post here, I want to begin by briefly giving you my journey from being a 99% print author to a 99% digital one. Every blog post I read, the first thing I do is check the writer’s background, because the reality is, the post will usually be slanted to support the writer’s version of publishing. Thus, you need to know mine.
In January 2010 I was in the midst of a “major” deal in Publishers Lunch parlance to one of the Big 6. As I’ve always done, and perhaps the only reason I still have a writing career, I was writing ahead of my contract. In traditional publishing, I always stayed one “spec” manuscript ahead of my contracts, understanding that the capriciousness of publishing provided no guarantees.
I had the rights back to numerous backlist titles that the publishers no longer could physically distribute to the consignment outlets called bookstores. I was very frustrated that no publisher saw the merits of my backlist. My take was that if they helped me break out a new title, they’d have gold in my backlist. But that wasn’t the take in NY. So I met Jen Talty at an RWA conference (strangely, I’m the only male writer on the RWA Honor Roll) and she had been published by a small digital press. She suggested I bring my backlist out in eBook. We formed Who Dares Wins Publishing. For me, it was a backburner thing, as I was writing forward two manuscripts that I was very enthusiastic about to give to my agent to sell to a “real” publisher.
A year passed. In January 2011 I had The Jefferson Allegiance ready and I was close to finishing my epic Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & The Civil War. I looked hard at publishing, concerned not with the current state of things, but where it would be in two years, as I knew it would take that long for those manuscripts to make the journey from me to agent to editor, through the publishing process and eventually end up in the bookstore. Adding to that was the fact the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War was coming in April 2011. There was no way a traditional published could have my epic out by then. But I had my own little publishing company, where Jen was working basically for nothing as our sales were nominal at best: 347 eBooks in January 2011.
I had a very important decision to make. I’d made my living via traditional publishing since my first novel came out in 1991. My current digital numbers didn’t indicate I could sustain myself. But the reality of what I saw coming, and the history of the music and video industries, indicated that change was coming whether I liked it or not. That will be a recurring theme in my posts: reality doesn’t care about my feelings. My latest Write It Forward blog post is about the reality of Amazon. Sometimes people in the industry deride authors who go “indie” but for many of us, we put our entire career on the line to do so. Would more people in the industry would be willing to do so.
I did so.
In April 2011, after weekly emails badgering my editor at Random House over some rights that contractually should have reverted to me on my bestselling series of all time, Area 51 (over 1 million print sold), they threw in the towel and gave me the rights to all my titles. I had two reactions: I told my wife I believed I’d just been handed my retirement; and I was sad that Random House obviously still saw no value in backlist despite the ascent of eBooks.
I committed myself to indie publishing 100%. By July, I was selling over 60,000 eBooks a month, over 2,000 a day. Only two of my titles were .99, the rest between $2.99 and $4.99. In 18 months Jen and I have built Who Dares Wins Pubishing into a seven-figure business.
Something else I want to explore on this blog, and learn from others, is where we believe publishing is going. If anyone tells you they know, they lie. But we have to project.
A word I’m sure will constantly fill this page is discoverability. As I write this, my latest release, Black Ops: Section 8 is in the top 20 nationally on Nook, because it’s featured in Nook First. I also have six titles Free via Kindle Select.
I view myself as an author advocate. Yet, I am also a publisher as some of the other writers we’ve brought into the Who Dares Wins Publishing fold are beginning to gain real traction. We’re discussing with a major agency in NY whether we could be their ePub arm as we have the hard-earned and hard-learned expertise in the trenches of ePublishing. I don’t think there are “sides” to publishing because we all are in unique positions. I believe acting is better than reacting, mostly because of my years in Special Operations as a Green Beret. I apply that unique background to everything I do.
I look forward to interacting with everyone and as we say at Who Dares Wins Publishing: Write It Forward!