It used to be that there was one path an author could follow to publication: find an agent, pitch your manuscript to a traditional publishing house, sign a contract, and get published. Pretty straight-forward, much like buying a car. You narrowed down your choices by style of car, color and options, you bought the thing, and drove it off the lot.
Not anymore. Now we’ve got a zillion options for powering a car: regular gas, diesel, electric, hybrid, flex fuel. Having these options is a two-edged sword: we have lots to choose from, but the decision-making process gets a bit tougher because we need to research all the options to know which one is the best fit.
Publishing is much the same. That one avenue to publication has turned into a superhighway complete with onramps, off-ramps, overpasses, bypasses and cloverleafs. It’s sometimes hard to know which is the right way to go.
I got into the game back in the 1980s when that one clear path was the only way to go. Through an agent, I sold my first two books to a NY house and was *ta da* traditionally published. All well and good, although the experience was not quite the joyful satisfaction I had dreamed about. The publisher changed the titles of both books, chose the cover designs, and the only editing process consisted of asking me to either add or delete x number of pages in order to make the page count. But, true to their word, the books were published, they appeared in book stores, grocery stores and drug stores and I made a little money.
Enter the 90s, and the rules started to change. The traditional big houses got more and more gunshy; they were less inclined to gamble on a new, or little-known name. The good news was that the entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well, and small presses were springing up like weeds to take up the slack. Or rather, they were making tracks in the weeds, carving out their own dirt roads to the promised land. Suddenly there were a few more options for authors, although some of those dirt roads were bumpy and some took longer and more convoluted paths to get where the author wanted to go.
Breaking into new genres my original publisher had no interest in, I hooked up with a few of those small presses. One contracted with me to do only an e-book of my satire of romance novels. Another picked up a contemporary romance and did both a paperback and a Kindle version.
Then I learned about CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing company, in the mid-2000s and decided to give it a go. The first time through the process had a steep learning curve. Formatting the book to the finished size with chapter headings, page numbers, and headers, creating the cover, uploading the files and then proofing the final product were all huge steps, and I did quite a dance around my mistakes before I broke through to the finish line. But in the end, I did it—I self-published my first book. And it looked good.
Next challenge was converting the book for Kindle. Again, there was a learning curve, but after the formatting experience I’d already been through, it wasn’t that difficult. Now I was an e-book publisher, as well. Reading through several of the writers’ forums online, I heard about Smashwords, an independent e-book publisher that would provide digital formats for all the other e-readers out there beside Kindle. More learning curves, but I followed their extensive guidelines, plowed through it and converted most of my books for all readers. I had all the options covered.
And that’s the best part about being a hybrid author. When you buy a car, you’re pretty much stuck with that engine system, be it gas, diesel, electric or some combination thereof. But as authors, we have a plethora of choices to choose from—one, two, or all of the above. We can keep going the traditional route or we can branch off into any of multiple directions dependent on how much time, effort and money we are comfortable putting into it. If we have multiple books, we can publish each in a separate manner. If we have only one book, we can still divide the print and digital versions into separate processes. The opportunities and the combinations are unlimited, and many authors are mixing and matching as their wants and needs dictate.
What’s the best way for you to go? Do your homework, research the options and choose the path that fits. Don’t limit yourself to old school thinking; find the option that gets the best mileage for your work, and kick that engine into overdrive!