The first thing I did when I completed the manuscript for Midnight in Rome was buy Writer’s Market. I spent hours reading their techniques for query letters, digging through the listings to highlight relevant agents and publishers, and compiling a massive list of contacts, one of which I was sure had to accept my submission. But the effort fell flat on its face.
In retrospect the reasons were obvious. The first chapter of the memoir-which is often the only thing a potential agent or publisher will see-needed tightening. My query letter was too long and contained too many adjectives. Agents don’t want to read a book’s back jacket-they want to read a book’s sales pitch. They want to know what the hook of the story is within the first paragraph of your query and know why the concept is saleable by the fourth. The publishing business is, after all, a business.
After six months of unanswered queries, I started exploring options to publish the book myself. I landed on iUniverse as the best fit and my experience with them has been first-rate. I used their editorial feedback to streamline my story; I purchased their copyediting services to polish my manuscript; I was awarded their Editor’s Choice designation and received an upgraded design team that created a gorgeous front cover. They handle digital distribution and royalties and were really able to put my story into a complete, professional package. But that was definitely where the buck stopped.
As far as marketing-and therefore selling-of iUniverse titles was concerned, however: that burden was entirely absorbed by the author. I believe this is not something any self-publishing company would dispute. I physically visited over thirty bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area and pitched the buyers myself. I was on Skype calls to Italy at 3:00am pitching bookstores there. I mailed out dozens of copies to local papers and book reviewers-all on my own dime. The marketing costs were probably three to four times as expensive as the publishing package itself. And every magazine or newspaper of any weight that I contacted-even papers that covered the county I went to High School in-refused to review the book because it was not with a major publisher.
I cannot blame media outlets for having a major-publisher bias. Publishers put their own prestige and reputation behind the titles they represent, and that acts as a quality filter. For that reason, I definitely would publish traditionally if I had the choice come my next title. iUniverse did a spectacular job at packaging and printing Midnight in Rome; the quality of the book could not have been any better coming from a traditional publishing house. But the investment of time and money after the publishing process was simply too great a burden to shoulder individually. I will need a team to help catalyze and magnify my exposure efforts next time around.
That said, I am extremely excited to see writing contests and websites-such as IndieReader.com-geared toward filtering and finding that top-tier of self-published books that are of professional quality and craftsmanship. And I think as the track record of these communities grow, and their endorsements carry more weight, they will open new doors, and present new opportunities, for ambitious independent authors to earn readerships… major publisher or not.