Transition from Author to Publisher

I stumbled across a forgotten electronic filing cabinet in Eudora, one which holds correspondence from earlier years. I probably have correspondence dating back to the mid-90's on CD back-up somewhere which would include my original venture in self publishing, but this particular batch of correspondence is from 2001 - 2002. I was becoming disillusioned with working as a trade author and was in the process of stubbing my toes badly as a small offset based publisher, and I was also at my height of joining professional authors organizations and participating in online groups. Back then, this blog was the contents page of my writing related articles, which I'd titled "Cornered Writers," which explains where the blog file name came from. Most of the out-of-the-blue correspondence I got back then was related to reverse engineering of Amazon sales ranks, since this was in the pre-Neilsen era, when Amazon and Ingram were pretty much the only public indicators of book sales. Does anybody else remember the Category Bestseller Lists Ingram used to publicly report for a dozen genres? I also got some interesting correspondence related to articles I'd written about book contracts and breaking into trade publishing by way of the Internet.

What surprises me looking back on this nearly forgotten period is that I recognize many of the names from the correspondence as people who have gone on to success as authors or publishers. One e-mail from September 2002 was from a publisher correcting me on a decimal point problem with an article I'd written about Lightning Source before publishing with them. Included in his e-mail was the line, "It is a hell of a lot of work to make a book be successful." One of the titles he published was later sold to a NY trade and went on to become a bestseller and a major feature film. Another author concluded an e-mail with "Needless to say, publishers think I am daft. A crank." I saw no reason to disagree.

Quite a bit of correspondence was related to the Authors Guild, where my Amazon Sales Ranks analysis had created a little notoriety for me at the two meetings I attended. Everybody was watching ranks back then, and while I was hardly a celebrity, I was sort of known. I only lasted two years in the Guild before quitting over their politics, and had one letter published in their newsletter before going. I wrote it in response to a mailing they sent out in April, 2002 titled, "Time to De-Link from Amazon." Their contention was that sales of used books in Amazon marketplace was something evil, though I wouldn't be surprised if they all shopped at the Strand. The key sentence was "We believe it is in our members' best interests to de-link their websites from Amazon. There's no good reason for authors to be complicit in undermining their own sales. It just takes a minute, and it's the right thing to do." I just found my response in my out-box, the key line of which was "Look, I once watched seven used copies of a book of mine sell in a single day, but most of that will occur whether or not I link the site. You're asking authors to cut off their noses to spite their faces."

There was quite a bit of correspondence from people trying to sell me something, or trying to sell me on something, which is even worse. There were requests from trade publishers to write books for them, or to participate in the editorial process of books they'd already acquired. Initially, I was pretty polite because I was honored they were contacting me, later I came to see some of the requests as financially insulting. They could afford to write nice things to potential slave labor. I was also amused to come across a couple letters where people misquoted me and then agreed with the misquote!

The only bad feelings I got from looking through all of the publishing related questions was how many people didn't bother reading anything on my site beyond the title of the page they found and my e-mail address. Too many questions included a request for general information that was covered in triplicate on the very page they would refer to. If I paste in an exact quote from the page that answers the question, they tend to get defensive, like a kid caught lying. It's not that I place such a high value on my time, I just don't place a higher value on their time. Another type of inquiry I don't enjoy because I don't pursue a bestseller approach to publishing is the request for advice on hitting a home run. I hear from publishers who haven't sold a hundred books trying to perfect a scheme for selling a million, and trying to tempt me with a percentage. I'm not tempted. I do my best to answer reasonable questions because I learn from the process.

I even got an e-mail addressed "To Whom It May Concern" saying "This may sound silly or just plain ignorant, but I was wondering if you sent a manuscript to an editor or publishing house could they take your book and publish it without letting you know about it?" I'm sure it didn't concern me, but I answered anyway. Another early classic that's repeated many times in the past four years, "I read some of what you wrote on the POD stuff, and it does interest me. But is it really possible to make money on internet publishing or POD publishing?" Gee, thanks for reading "some of it," but you stopped before the bottom line where I gave exact costs and profits.

I guess the best e-mails are the "Thank You's" that come in from authors and publishers who have neither a question to ask nor an axe to grind. Sometimes they include information about the progress of their own businesses or careers as a quid-pro-quo for the information I publish about my own. Sometimes they're more successful than I am, other times they have a better attitude or a unique approach to publishing. I've heard from authors with genuine bestsellers and top 100 books on Amazon, and from publishers who spent thousands of dollars on advertising to sell a handful of books. Without that input, I could never have written a fraction of this blog, and would no doubt have made more mistakes in my own publishing business.

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