When I started writing fiction seriously, at the turn of the century (I love that phrase), there was really only one game in town: write the best novel you could, submit three chapters and a synopsis in hard copy to agents and publishers, and try to get a publishing deal. Two years after the contract, the publisher would release your book, the publicist would help get the word out there, and you would sink or swim in the competitive world of book sales.
I was lucky enough to land an eye-watering deal with a major publishing house in 2011, sell a few books (never enough) and enjoy some wonderful moments like publishing lunches, invites to panels at the big festivals and to author dinners with the literary stars of the day.
Now, in 2020, I am writing a long family saga that my agent will soon start submitting to major publishers. Same old game, right? Wrong. The difference now is that as well as my three big HarperCollins books and my continuing ambition to have a break-out traditional best-seller, I have self-published half a dozen titles under the Stories of Oz imprint, and manage my own online store (ozbookstore.com). Even if a publisher came forward wanting to re-publish one of those titles I would have to think deeply about whether it would be worthwhile for me to go down that path for those books.
Print on Demand publishing has been a game-changer. Through IngramSpark (or Amazon) I can write a book, edit it, have a cover designed, upload the files and then order one print copy for a final proofread before committing to a print run of fifty or a hundred copies. If any more typos turn up (and they do) I can fix it/them before ordering the next fifty or a hundred copies. My store never sleeps. It takes the payments, sends me the names and addresses, and organises tax invoices.
Meanwhile, digital versions of the same books deliver a tidy supplementary monthly income without me lifting a finger. Not bad. I also write non-fiction articles for a magazine and answering emails as a customer support worker for a major digital publisher. I also have a day job three to four days per week. I’m busy, and it makes me so appreciative when I can find an hour or two just to write fiction – most of the time now I write in snatches of twenty to forty minutes.
Yes, I still yearn to be one of those headline authors at international events, to be taken seriously by the establishment, and to again see my books stacked up with the must-have Christmas books at the front of department stores and book shops alike. Will it ever happen? I don’t know, but I will continue to write shorter, niche books for my store, and the occasional attempt at a grand slam.
In 2020 you can aim for the sky while also just getting your work out there. It’s a fortunate time to be in the writing game, and COVID-19 lockdowns have resulted in a strong boost in sales of my titles in both digital and print. Best wishes for your own writing journey.
By Greg Barron
Greg’s latest novel is a thriller called Time of Thunder and you can find it on ozbookstore.com