A Brand New Novel
Josephine Baker, the early-20th-century African-American dancer, comic, and singer–hugely famous in Paris. Did you know that she was also a spy for the French Resistance during WWII?
Like internet dating, self-publishing is something I always swore I would never do. Like internet dating, it seemed an act of desperation, the last resort for writers who couldn’t get published in any other, legitimate, way.
Then news that an Oakland, California religious group had predicted the Rapture and ensuing Apocalypse would happen on May 21, 2011 reminded me of that short story I’d always meant to send out for publication. Rapture, it’s called, about a Los Angeles born-again Christian and anti-abortion protester who finds herself left behind when the Great Snatch occurs. Of the stories I’ve written, it’s one of my favorites because of its wicked sense of humor as well as the questions it raises about faith, love, and judgment.
I pulled it up on my computer screen and re-read it, then edited it one more time, trimming it a bit and updating some of the topical references. I found myself wishing that others could read it now, when interest in the topic was so high and when its message seemed especially relevant. Of course, the only way to gratify that desire was to self-publish.
I wrote to my agent, Natasha Kern, and told her my plan. She suggested Kindle for me over, for instance, Smashwords, because it’s easiest and reaches the most readers. So I went to Kindle and formatted and uploaded my story. It was surprisingly easy to do — I only had to start over once.
The only point of confusion for me lay in which royalty rate to choose: Selecting 30 percent would have allowed me to charge just 99 cents for my story but would have given me only 30 cents each time it was read. The 70 percent option, which seems more fair to me, would require me to charge $2.99. Although I might sell more copies with a 99 cent price, I value my work more highly than that. So I went with the 70 percent option.
When I’d finished entering my story, to my disappointment I learned that I’d have to wait 24 hours for it to appear for sale on Kindle’s site — and another 24 hours after that on the Amazon UK (Great Britain) and .de (Germany) sites. But — I didn’t wait until then to start publicizing. I posted notifications on my Facebook friend page and fan page as well as Twitter tweets that the story was on its way.
When it finally appeared, I entered a frenzy of self-promotion:
— On Twitter, I scheduled tweets linking to the “Rapture” Amazon page every hour until midnight (sorry, Twitter followers!) and sent out DMs to friends I’ve found especially helpful there.
— On Facebook, I created an event invitation telling friends about my story and linking to the page, then manually invited all 1,700 of my friends. At one point, the Facebook Police refused to let me invite any more, so I created a second, identical, event and invited all the rest. I also posted an update on my fan page and my “Sherry Jones fans” group page, and sent a message to everyone in the group.
— I sent a mass email to everyone in my address book. Only one person asked to be removed from my list!
— I sent the link to my website administrator and asked him to place it on my home page.
— I entered the story in Goodreads. Since you can’t recommend your own book there, I added it to my shelf and then, instead of reviewing, said I’d written “Rapture” and thought it was really good. My 300 or so Goodreads friends will see it, if they read their friends’ updates.
— I created a profile for it on Shelfari, then thanked the one person there who had somehow heard of my story and added it to his shelf.
Whew! That’s a lot of self-promotion — kind of like internet dating.
Several writers have asked how I’m faring with the self-publishing of my short story. As you might have guessed, the publishing part was easy. Getting the word out that my story exists is trickier. I feel embarrassed to be shouting about myself all the time, but I know I have to do it if I want people to read “Rapture.”
And then there’s the time. On a deadline with my new novel, I essentially lost a full day revising and publishing my story, and have spent more hours doing publicity. And I suspect there’s more I should be doing but haven’t thought of.
As for sales, I won’t know until I get a check from Amazon — if I get a check — but “Rapture” has hovered in the Kindle rankings at about 35,000. That’s not great, but I’m guessing it could be a lot worse.
Will self-publishing end up being worth the work and the worry for me? It’s too soon to say, but I’m optimistic. After all, I signed up for Match.com a little over a year ago, and met the great love of my life. I’ll never say “never” again!