The Alchemist’s Theorem is my first book. I came up with the idea during the summer of 2012 and finished the story this summer 2015. The book’s official release date will be the first week of October 2015. My Kickstarter launched August 3rd. I am in the third week of the campaign and I have made more money than if I had received a typical advance from a publisher.
Nowhere in the process, from conception to completion, have I ever tried to traditionally publish my novel. I haven’t queried agents, I haven’t submitted the manuscript to any publisher slush piles. I did not choose to self-publish because I am sick of rejections. I chose this method because my anthropological training saw patterns, and within these patterns I discerned an exposed avenue in the shifting landscape of publishing. Though the path is risky, my ambitious and entrepreneurial side can’t help taking it.
What did I see? Well, it used to be that the writer just wrote the manuscript and queried publishers. When a publisher picked it up, the editors did the job of polishing it. They took care of designing the book, having it printed in large volumes, and worked with distributors. Once the book was ready for the market, the publishers dealt with promoting the book. That’s a lot of work on the publishers part, so it used to make sense that the writer only received 15% of the book’s revenue.
What I see now is quite different. These days, publishers usually won’t go near a manuscript unless the writer has finished it, has paid to have it professionally edited, has an agent, and has already built an audience around their own blog and/or YouTube channel etc. And even after the publisher has the book designed, printed and distributed, the author still has to do a lot of the marketing for their book. Because the process has shifted this way, authors are responsible for more than just writing the manuscript, they are also responsible for polishing and marketing it, which costs a good deal of their own time and money. What’s more, authors are still only receiving 15% of the revenue.
I saw this pattern and decided that if I have to write the book, have it polished, build an audience, and market it, then I might as well just figure out the design, print and distribution part and do the whole damn thing myself. At age 32, I have decided that my time and effort are valuable and I deserved to get paid accordingly. 15% isn’t enough for me. So now I am in the middle of figuring out the designing, printing, and distribution process. I have been working very hard this entire year trying to figure out a workable model for authors with an entrepreneurial side. And I am totally getting somewhere.
The four main entities that have become a valuable part of this model are Kickstarter/crowdfunding platforms, Thomson-Shore, Brooks Peck and me. I will write longer, more detailed blogposts about each one and how they contribute to the model later. For this post, I will talk about them in broad strokes.
First off, why Kickstarter? Everyone is aware of the crowdfunding boom that’s been going on. A variety of projects are getting funded this way, book publishing included. What exactly does Kickstarter provide for my self-publishing model? Number one, the funds I raise are my advance. In the genre world, if an author does manage to get picked up, they are lucky if they receive an advance of $5000. My campaign has a couple of days left and I have raised over $6000, $4000 of which will go towards offset printing and marketing for future sales. That is my advance, but in my model, the advance I get from Kickstarter doesn’t tie me down to a 15% revenue share.
Number two, Kickstarter is a great way to help build an audience. I launched in August of this year, but I started working on the campaign in January. I kept my community informed the whole time, posting updates and blogs every week. I also worked on an entertaining YouTube project that I posted weekly. The blog, the FB posting, and the YouTube channel slowly but surely drew people in, and everyone tuned into my campaign updates, getting more and more excited the closer we got to the launch date.
Number three, Kickstarter is marketing. I have built an audience and raised funds to print and promote the book, and I have also gained in visibility. Thanks to my community, my video has been viewed more than 800 times. My 100+ backers are now readers, too. Word of mouth is still one of the most effective ways to grow an audience. The more people who read my book and like it, the more people they will tell about it.
Thomson-Shore is a printing house that operates out of Michigan. When I did my initial research for print-on-demand, all I came across were the usuals: Amazon, Lulu and Lightning Source. I wasn’t thrilled about my options. Between cost and limitations on printing options, I was a little disgruntled. Then Brooks recommended I check out Thomson-Shore. He had worked with them back when he had his own small press. When I looked over their website I saw that they had specially tailored services for self-published authors. I used their contact form and asked if they worked with Kickstarter projects at all. And the wonderful Jerry emailed me back.
Jerry and I have exchanged a little over a hundred emails. Thomson-Shore (TS) has reasonable POD prices, great options (they offer clothbound hardback POD’s and luxurious post-consumer paper), and most importantly, Jerry has patiently answered my endless questions about printing and distribution. TS has accounts listed with Ingram and Baker & Taylor, which are the largest book distributors in the country. They work with Amazon and the Seattle Book Company as well. TS uses great tools, like a spine calculator that helps you determine the dimension of your book’s spine, which you need to know for design purposes. They also provide all of the necessary and important specs you need when submitting files for print. I love Jerry! In a professional way, of course.
And onto Brooks Peck. Brooks is my boyfriend, my editor, my book designer, and my morale officer (he is way better than Neelix). I definitely think the model I am trying to put together will be difficult for any one individual. So I recommend a partner-in-crime that can make up for what you lack. Brooks is definitely my partner. We exchange our skills among our individual projects. For his mobile game Tea Frenzy, I made the gameplay video and I will head up the marketing campaign once it is launched. So when you partner up with someone, make sure there is a mutual exchange of skills and support.
Brooks is a skilled editor and book designer. He has written hundreds of reviews of fantasy and science fiction books, films and games, and he has edited many hundreds more. Also, he has published about a dozen short stories and scripted two movies for cable TV. Currently, he is the science fiction curator at the EMP Museum in Seattle. The Alchemist’s Theorem is a polished, professional manuscript because of him. He did a helluva job with the layout, format and design of the book as well. It’s a great looking book, and I’ve been referring to it as our baby.
So what is my role in the model? I am the writer, the videographer, the outreach and marketer, the damn blogger, the business woman, the fundraiser, and the Kickstarter manager. My MFA taught me how to be a better writer, but everything else I taught myself. This model is not for everyone. The downside to it is that a ton of hard work is required for me to get widespread distribution that usually comes with traditional publishing, but many authors that receive smaller advances don’t tend to get much attention from their publisher anyways. The upshot is that I retain all of the rights and control for the lifespan of my book, I set my own deadlines, and instead of receiving 15% of the revenue I’ll get 70-80%.
Plenty of publishers are still doing a lot of work on their authors’ behalf. There are still also plenty of writers out there who just want to write the book and collect their 15%. And that’s cool. But I want more, and I am capable of doing it, so I might as well try. I guess we will see how it all works out. I am optimistic!