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Self-publishing no longer a second-rate choice for desperate

January 14, 2013

On a recent Sunday morning, I sat at the computer, finger poised above the mouse. With both fear and excitement, I clicked “Publish.” Within minutes, my children’s chapter book, “The Adventures of Tempest & Serena,” was self-published and available in paperback and e-book at online retailers, bookstores, schools and libraries everywhere.

Ten years ago, I never would have clicked that button.

For a professional writer like myself, self-published used to be a cringe-worthy embarrassment. It was a cheap shortcut filled with steep fees paid to scam-like vanity presses. It was an admission that you weren’t good enough for the major publishers and weren’t serious about writing. It was akin to a big scarlet letter on a résumé.

That’s changed.

“I feel like I’m the Cinderella story,” says Colorado Springs teen-romance author Anne Eliot. “I am the miracle girl.”

For years, Eliot queried traditional publishers with her novel “Almost,” a love story about a teen with lingering rape-related PTSD. Editors said they “really liked it but didn’t have a home for that type of book,” Eliot says.

So on Super Bowl Sunday 2012, she launched it as a self-published work.

“Almost” has risen as high as No. 51 on Amazon’s list of all Kindle books sold and was No. 1 in Amazon’s Kindle stores in France and Germany. A renowned literary agent now represents Eliot’s subsidiary and foreign rights for “Almost” and another book just out.

Eliot’s story is the sum of an industry. When the economy tanked a few years ago, traditional publishing was hit hard. Opportunities for authors dried up.

Conversely, improved technology brought free self-publishing tools. Professional services, such as cover design, could be added for reasonable costs. Self-publishing houses such as CreateSpace and Smashwords became major players. By the end of 2012, Smashwords alone carried more than 190,000 titles — nearly double the titles it carried in 2011.

And, the royalty rates are dramatically better: A self-published author nets about 70 percent of the profit, up from a usual 15 percent with traditional publishing.

Respected authors turned to self-publishing with stunning success. By early August 2012, The New York Times e-book best-seller list included seven self-published books, according to The Guardian.

Jenn LeBlanc is one of Colorado’s success stories. As a trained photographer, the Denver historical-romance author stages and photographs scenes from her serial novels and then includes the hot photos in her text. Editors at traditional publishing houses wanted the words but not the pictures.

LeBlanc decided to self-publish because it allowed her to include the photos, which have been described in reviews as “ground-breaking, innovative and a game-changer,” she says. The books have all been on Amazon’s top 100 time-travel romance list since January 2012, and she’s sold more than 40,000 e-books since March. Her fervent fan base also supports a side business of the sexy photos on items such as flip flops and pillows.

Creative control also was a factor for Fairplay author Paula Scanland. She chose to self-publish her novel “A Suffering Heart” when she realized a traditional publisher could make final decisions. “This book was too personal to me,” she says.

For me, the jury’s still out. My two previous books, launched by traditional publishers, were an easier process. The self-published book took a lot of time away from writing, and although it has received good reviews, so far only moderate sales. And yet, on a free promotional weekend, the book was downloaded by almost 11,000 people, which pushed it to No. 1 on one of Amazon’s children’s books lists.

That’s humbling.

So when someone asks if I self-published, I look them right in the eye and say, “Yes, yes I did.”

Marty Mokler Banks is a Colorado Springs-based freelance writer.

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