[1st Books] Allison Winn Scotch: Moving the Other Way, from Traditional Publishing to Indie Author

I first hosted New York Times bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch’s on 1st Books when The One That I Want released in paperback from Broadway, a Random House imprint. I'm delighted to welcome her back today as she plunges headlong into the new adventure of doing the publishing herself. She has sold audio and large print rights for The Theory of Opposites—which is just out—and the book has been optioned for film by  Jennifer Garner. I certainly enjoyed her post about this brave new world, and I hope you will too. - Meg

bookcover-THEORYI'm so excited to be back here on First Books, not least because so much has changed for me since the last time I blogged. Last week, not only did my new book, THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES, come out, but I also shared the fact that I opted to self-publish this book.

Yup, really. After four books at the traditionals – HarperCollins, Random House, and Penguin – I went my own way for this one. And I know the question that a lot of people are asking (I mean, if they care enough to ask, it's not like I'm flattering myself that people are running around wondering about my career!) is why.

I've given a lot of thought as to how to answer this, and when I first started writing this post, I got into detailed explanations about the financials of what I thought I could earn, and the control over my marketing, and the joy of pricing my book at $2.99. And all of those things that might seem interesting to writers but aren't particularly interesting outside of our little bubble. So I dug a little deeper and really tried to get to the heart of the matter as to why I jumped off this cliff.

And this is what I came up with:

When my fourth book launched, I found myself at an emotional crossroads. I was exhausted from the highs and lows of the industry; I was drained from worrying about my publisher fulfilling their end, about sales, about big reviews getting bumped (and pulled), about all of the things that had nothing to do with writing and everything to do with publishing. There's a very big difference between the two, and these days, as the industry is forced to re-evaluate what makes a book successful, the divide seems to be widening. More and more is asked of authors that has little to do with their writing, and some of it, I enjoy. I enjoy the hell out of chatting with readers on social media and writing up fun Q/As to help promote the book and all of that good stuff. But I don't enjoy the pressure that's placed on writers, when ostensibly, that's what the publisher is there for, and the blame that's cast writers too, when, again, ostensibly, that's also what the publisher is there for.

So I stepped away from writing novels for a while. I actually thought it would be permanent. I was busy with some screenplay work, and more gratifying, I was busy with my kids, my family, living our lives. I started cooking and gardening and oh my God, this is about to turn into a Martha Stewart essay, so I'll stop myself. But I guess, what I'm trying to say is that I found joy outside of my job. Which I had before, of course. But I intentionally set my career aside and asked myself: "Who would be if I'm not an author? And am I okay with that definition?"

I was, or I thought I was, but slowly the words and the characters started seeping in. I opened up an abandoned partial-manuscript and fell in love with the world I'd started to create before I gave it up. So hesitantly – oh so hesitantly – I started writing again. But differently than before. I vowed, I swore, I told everyone I knew, that I was writing this manuscript FOR ME. Not for an editor, not for my agent, not for a sales team. ME. The end. And for the most part, I managed to do that. I wrote a bigger, bawdier, more outrageous book than I'd ever written, and oh my lord, did I have fun with it. I did it without worrying about the mean reviews that readers might put up on Goodreads or the sharp eyebrows that editors might raise when we submitted. I wrote it. I loved it. That mattered. It mattered so, so, so much.

AllisonWinnScotchPhotoThis is getting long, so I am skipping a few steps between the writing process and the book debuting. Ultimately, after early discussions with some publishers and editors, I asked my agent to stop submitting because I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted, just as I had vowed in the writing process, to stay true to ME. And I think some of that comes with age – I turned forty and have realized that I don't have to prove anything to anyone anymore. My ambition, the ambition that was maybe so strong in my earlier working years, has waned, and instead, I think it's been replaced with, I don't know quite how to say it, a desire to be true to myself. Even if that meant doing something sort of reckless and leaving the typical model behind. Hitting the bestseller list didn't matter to me anymore. It doesn't matter to me anymore. (Though sure, it will and would be great. I'm not trying to say that.) But enjoying myself on the journey somehow matters more now. Sometimes, we're so concerned with the destination (Sales! Marketing! Reviews! Co-op!), that we forget how much fun we can have along the way.

So I think that's why I self-published. And I think that's also probably why I'm the happier for it. And why that joy spills out onto my pages of this new book. Enjoy the journey. That's something I'd tell my characters too. - Allison

This post originally ran on Meg Waite Clayton's 1st Books. Meg is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Wednesday Daughters and The Wednesday Sisters (a writing group novel), and hosts the novelist group on Shewrites.

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Comment by Lori A. May on December 4, 2013 at 1:45pm

"So I stepped away from writing novels for a while."

Sadly, this is common. Thanks for sharing part of your decision-making process, Allison. Enjoy the ride!

Comment by Diane McElwain on December 4, 2013 at 6:58am

Thanks for being real.  I love that you share how you've changed as a writer.

Comment by Pamela Olson on December 3, 2013 at 10:26pm

I self-published my first book and am so glad I did. It was a tremendously valuable education. In the end it led to a publishing contract, which I took primarily for the experience (it's one thing to hear about the vagaries of the publishing world, another to experience it firsthand), the bookstore reach, and a greater possibility of the book getting into classrooms around the world (which it has started to do -- but in fact, it did so even as a self-published book... still, I think it's on firmer footing for that kind of thing now. maybe).

I certainly didn't do it for the royalties, which are industry standard, which is to say pretty tough for a hard-working author to swallow. Lord I miss the days when I could sell my ebook for $2.99 and get $2 of it. Now it sells for $9.99 and I get $1. Ouch. (About $1 per paperback, too. This is normal for published authors.) The only way I make a little money on sales is to buy my books in bulk for half price and sell them myself.

The hope is to also get some (more) foreign deals (I've sold it in Turkish so far) and somehow eventually break through in my subject area and become a go-to introductory text on the Israel/Palestine conflict (that's actually fun to read, with romance, suspense, and adventure woven in among the politics and violence -- all of it true). Which is arguably easier to do when Publishers Weekly named it a top travel book of 2013. We'll see.

My sales rate has gone up since my self-published days, maybe doubled -- which doesn't come close to making up for the lost royalties. But my goal has always been reaching people more than making money. Though dang, an income commensurate with hours put in (and maybe some health insurance?) would be lovely. I've done almost 100 book events and presentations this year around the US and Canada, and I've barely broken even.

Bottom line, it all depends on what your goals are. If your primary goals are creative control and income, self-publishing is looking sweeter and sweeter these days.

Comment by Suzanne Hoffman on December 3, 2013 at 6:15pm

Thank you for the insights.  However, you did this after you had experienced success in the traditional realm before you jumped into self-publishing.  What would you say to someone on her first book?  The light just went off reading your comments about writing for yourself and I realized concerns about being accepted for publication are what's possibly leading to my current spate of writer's block.  Interesting.

Comment by allison howard on December 3, 2013 at 4:32pm
Bravo! Good for you. Much success.
Comment by Patricia Robertson on December 3, 2013 at 2:49pm

Thank you for the post. I'm putting together writing goals for 2014 for a writing group I'm part of, thinking that one of my goals will be to try self-publishing.

Comment by Kathryn Meyer Griffith on December 3, 2013 at 2:34pm

You were smarter than me...though, perhaps, it had more to do with timing. I became a published author over 30 years ago. It took me many, many years (horror stories with agents and publishers) and 15 novels to make the decision in 2012 to self-publish #16, 17 and 18. With 42 years of writing behind me, I've seen it all. I CAN HONESTLY SAY THAT SELF-PUBLISHING IS THE ONLY WAY TO GO. The minute you bring in the middle-men of agents and publishers you give away your power. I was sick of it. I have 15 novels right now still (for another 2-3 years) with publishers and they ALL combined make me not even 1/10th of what my self-published #16, Dinosaur Lake, has made me the last year. I am SO GLAD we authors have that choice now. I can't wait to get all my rights back to the other 15. It can't come soon enough.

Comment by Cynthia Hartwig on December 3, 2013 at 2:15pm

I'd love to hear a recap of how well the self-publishing experiment compared to the agent/publishing model. Since you have built an audience of readers, my guess is that you'll be able to sell well, as long as you do the marketing on your own. Please share later on when you've got numbers and reviews to report.

Comment by Bella Mahaya Carter on December 3, 2013 at 1:56pm

Thanks for posting this, Meg, and congratulations, Allison!  What's more important than being true to one's Self and living in joy? That's what it's all about. Bravo! Keep shining your light and living your bliss!

Comment by Annette Drake on December 3, 2013 at 1:45pm

Your words are so encouraging, even to a newbie author such as myself. Best wishes with this novel. Annette

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