We live in something of a Golden Age of self publishing. A variety of internet services has supplanted the old “Vanity Press” operations of yore, so that today’s aspiring authors can have their manuscripts turned into very professional looking books at little or no cost. But as I found out when I took this route with my novel, “Cosa Nosferatu”, there can be pros and cons to taking this approach to getting your ideas into print.
In the beginning was the idea: my wonderful story idea that sprang from my title. Somehow the title “Cosa Nosferatu” just sprang into my head, and from that came the rough idea of combining the historical facts about Eliot Ness and Al Capone with vampires. It even gave me what I thought was a great tagline: “Capone. Ness. The Undead.” And then the idea very quickly took a twist–these wouldn’t be average, ordinary vampires, they would be H.P. Lovecraft vampires. So my novel combined real Chicago history with some characters and story elements from the Lovecraft mythos.
Only later would I discover that some others had earlier come up with that same little pun, the “Cosa Nosferatu” that I thought had originated in my own little brain. Still, no one had used it as a book title, and so I spent a year or so writing and re-writing my little opus. And when it was finally done, I tried to get someone interested in publishing it.
I sent inquiries to publishers and agents. In an age when “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” was a real book and then movie, how could my little creation not find a home in short order? Reality soon made clear that publishers and agents were not, how shall I say, particularly eager for this first-time novel by an unknown author.
But so what? In the age of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, which had gone from self-publishing to best-seller, why would I be discouraged by a less-than-enthusiastic reception to my story idea (I should point out that nobody even asked for a copy of my manuscript-they all politely declined based just on my brief description of the book.) I loved my book, people I knew liked it (or at least said they did) and I was eager to get my baby out into the world. So I figured I would get the darned thing published and available on Amazon, and let the world discover my effort.
I chose to use CreateSpace, a service operated by Amazon. How better to make sure my book is available on Amazon than to use their own subsidiary? And I had some experience with CreateSpace already. I was already the author of a book on insurance. Earlier versions of the book had been published by more traditional type publishers, but when the text went out of print and the publisher declined to print an updated version, the rights reverted to me. And so I updated and expanded the book, gave it a new title, and published it through CreateSpace. And that book made a little money (and still does, every month) for me, with the help of a little online marketing. So why not, I thought, go this route again?
CreateSpace worked just as advertised. I was able to use it to get “Cosa Nosferatu” into print, complete with a snazzy cover designed by a friend who is better at that than I, and soon the book was, indeed, available for sale on Amazon. I also made sure to make a Kindle version available, too. And I was able to do all this at no cost. Although there are editing and cover design services available for a fee, one is not obligated to use them, and with a little assistance from literate and/or design-savvy friends, one can forego those services.
CreateSpace operates, as do most other of the new self-publishing companies, on a “Print On Demand” basis. This is what makes their business model possible. Rather than printing a number of copies first and then trying to sell that inventory, CreateSpace only publishes the book when someone actually places an order. And of course, the e-book version requires no physical publishing at all. CreateSpace also gave me the option to make “Cosa Nosferatu” available through vendors other than Amazon. So other online booksellers also now offer my little vision of the Untouchables vs. the Undead.
I knew that this, by itself, was not going to be enough to guarantee many sales. So I created a website, Cosanosferatu.com, to give some hype and marketing to my little creation. In this day and age, something of this sort is likely required to prevent any self-published book from simply disappearing into the maelstrom of modern media. A little modestly-budgeted Google Adwords campaign helps, also.
And now, I am proud to say, I sell perhaps five or 10 copies of the book each and every month. Stephen King, beware!
Even after the book had been published by CreateSpace, I did not give up of finding a more traditional publisher. But I quickly learned that the agents and publishers I now contacted had no interest in even considering a novel that had already been published elsewhere. So the lessons of “Fifty Shades of Grey” did not seem to hold up for me. Once self-published, it seems, the likelihood is that “Cosa Nosferatu” will remain that way.
Still, my creation is out there in the world, finding an audience, minuscule though it may be at the moment. It cost me nothing but time to produce it, only a little expense to promote it, and who knows what the future may hold for it? I console myself with all the true stories about wonderful books that failed to find an audience at first, only to be later treasured by many readers.
And my book is out there, waiting for the world to discover it. There is some genuine satisfaction from that. And as long as Amazon persists (which seems likely for quite a long time to come) “Cosa Nosferatu” will also. The older publishing models never guaranteed that.
So it can be a brave new world for writers who might never have been able to get their efforts out before the public in earlier times. For good or ill, you can make your manuscript into a book, a real book, and have it sold by some of the largest retailers on earth. Go tell your stories. Someone is waiting to read them.