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Monday, July 4, 2016

Launching Children of Sophista Publishing Company

Launching a new #publishing company, even if you want to just publish books you have written, is a very difficult affair. Isn't that self-publishing? Well, not really.

In self-publishing, you use a number of vendors of over-priced services to create your book and make your book visible to the world. The services that you use have no interest in your success. They want large amounts of money upfront because they don't expect to see you around for very long. Mostly it's an ego game between ego's and ego strokers. You are promised mass exposure. You are promised the mythical "distribution". Amazon will promise to put your book on your their site (10,000 books below the top listings). 

Some people have found a way to make a bit of money doing the self-publishing dance. My favorite is the author that claims they left traditional publishing to make a fortune in self-publishing. That's a cool way to do it. The author lets the traditional publishing pay to promote them a bit to get some limited name recognition. Then you self-publish and claim you did it all. You claim the publisher never did anything for you. The secret story behind that is that most readers reached by the traditional publisher never said a word and probably never bought a book. That's the way advertising works. Mostly the publisher spends lots of money and sees no results. But do that for a decade or two and people will recognizes their brand. The cumulative years of hard work advertising, finding the channels that work, and then not only targeting those channels but pressing the flesh with those that influence those channels finally pays off. So if you are a traditionally published writer gone independent, whether or not you want to admit it, the PR helped you start above zero. It tagged you as someone worth reading---that and lots of blogs where you tell people that you built your following from zero using your impressive skills.

Another way to make some money self-publishing is to learn to avoid the ripoff services and to practice writing a lot. Eventually a lot of small sales can add up to a meaningful amount of money. Practicing by writing large quantities can improve your writing enough to where people want to read you. The weight of your enormous volume of written material promotes add credence that you might be someone worth reading. If you get skillful at gaming the Amazon sales system, you can almost make a living, if you call that living.

Or you can publish your stuff for real. It just requires lots of time and money. More than you can possibly imagine, if you are just starting out. One of the expenses you will likely pay first is learning how to write. It is possible that you were born with most of the talent of a good writer. But not likely. You go to school or you pay someone really good to repeatedly edit your stuff. In some ways, it is about the same price. Then you can play the crap-shoot  agent, publisher game and perhaps get your stuff out there. It probably won't sell initially and the publisher will likely pocket most of the money on your early novels. Everything, but the quality of your writing will be beyond your control.

Or you can take control, become the real publisher, and be a real publisher of your books (and possibly other people's books if you get good enough). You can let humiliation shape your career. Of all the businesses you could choose to go into, publishing is one the crapiest legitimate businesses. Any bozo can be taught like a monkey how to program and can make more money. Come to Silicon Valley and you can learn how much money it is really possible to make (you can also learn how outrageously expensive the cost of living can be). Write earnestly for years and get professionals, not writer friends, to edit your writing repeatedly ($$$). Learn (and continue to learn everyday) the nuts and bolts of the of the publishing industry (most of it involves raising large sums of money and losing large sums of money when you screw-up and you will screw-up).  Learn about logistics, crowdsource funding, and about how the bookstore/publisher relationship was forged during the Great Depression (starvation economics). Learn how to sell (a product which is less appealing than a fancy cup of coffee).

I, having been forged in Silicon Valley, where long death marches on projects with low probabilities of success are the status quo, have chosen the "become a publisher route" as my impossible challenge. In choosing this route, I have had to think about things in a strategic way which the writer side of me finds very uncomfortable. I've spent about 8 years writing. Though I meant to sell books, I have given away huge volumes of actual print books. And I have received considerable feedback. I have been screwed by countless self-publishing service companies, promoters... I have called up my scientific side to analyze the bleak economics of publishing to find out how people really make money in this business. And now I have a strategy. For one thing, pure science fiction has very few readers and the publishing business only makes meaningful money in large volumes of low margin items. Think about that for a minute. For anyone wondering what all that means, I suggest reading the blog of the founder of Baen, a successful science fiction publisher. If you think about the implications of what he actually says, it's pretty depressing. I tend to write stuff with lots of embedded philosophy, so it is even more so.

What I am doing is this: I am taking my genre novels (science fiction/fantasy) and rewriting them into a #literary #fiction style. Rather than laying out a cool plot with lots of deep philosophical thoughts and saying "Look at my cool book", I am rewriting them into a character focussed novel, where the characters' lives, personalities, and thoughts play a very important role. I also illustrate these new novels myself, not with with wonderfully expansive gee-whizz, detail scifi drawings but with simple #illustrations involving the characters that highlight an emotion of the character described in the book (I'm not good enough to do gee-whiz scifi-scapes anyway). I am set up to write, illustrate, and layout for publication, print books.  I have done the basic initial financial plumbing for a business.

I have two books in the pipe right now: "Sophistan Children of Earth" and "The Owl from Oblivion". Currently, a version of "The Owl from Oblivion" has been self-published. This version has one professional edit. I need to raise money to get it at least two more edits. Before publishing, I usually do three professional edits but "The Owl from Oblivion" is such a different book that has such a strong emotional impact, I decided to put out an early version to get a little feedback and understand how it affects people. Now I would like to take what I have learned in addition to folding in changes inflicted on the series by the "Sophistan Children of Earth" #book, and put the changes into "The Owl from Oblivion", increasing its impact even more. There are two more pools of money I will need to raise: a pool to do a mass offset printing run of the book to get it down to the price bookstores like and another pool to plumb the business for orders from and promotions directly to bookstores. There is software that basically links me as a publisher in the book ordering network, manages the inventory and logistics of the books, and keeps track of who needs to pay, etc.

#Bookstores not #Amazon are a central part of my new strategy. Why? It's simple: I am writing deeply thoughtful, long books which a reader will want to spend a long time with. They are not fast reads. No one can tell if they want to read such a book from a quick read of a blurb on an Amazon page. They need to pick up the book and flip through it to get to know it. This will not be a cheap Kindle read but a hardcover. Before someone forks out a larger amount of money, I think they should get to know the book first, like a friend. 

Maybe this will be a challenge I can meet and maybe it won't. All I can do is give it my best effort and learn from my mistakes. In the process, maybe I will make books that readers will remember for the rest of their lives. If you want to contribute, look for my #crowdsource campaigns, contribute, and win some neat #rewards!

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