Award-winning author C.C. Humphreys on his move from traditionally published to hybrid author.
‘Hybrid’, my Concise Oxford informs me, is ‘the offspring of two plants or animals of different species.’ Like a Tigon… or is it a Liger? I owned a Honda Accord a few years back. Part electric, part petrol. Also hybrid.
I am now hybrid too. An author, yet offspring of different species: traditional publishing and self publishing.
We are all aware of the changes the writing profession has undergone in the last ten years – the collapse of foreign sales, the shrinking of advances, and the tale oft told: ‘You see, Chris, historical fiction is just such a hard sell these days… especially in America.’
Oh, for the days when I would pitch a story over a lovely lunch, write up a couple of paragraphs… whereupon the editor – my friend! – would essentially offer me a years’ salary to sit at my desk and make s*** up. To be followed by days when all that was required was to show up at a launch party to drink warm pinot grigio, and sometimes head to some festival to blather about Voice and POV before necking an Islay malt in the hospitality suite with a haiku writer from Zagreb.
Not now. Not on the Mid-list, baby. It’s different if you are a debut, for Book Scan shall not trouble ye and ye may even get a decent advance for the bildungsroman you composed in your final year at Magdalen. If you are front list? The 1%? You’ll split 90% of the house’s marketing budget with your fellow front listers, meaning your spine will never darken the shelves of Waterstones – for you, sir, madam, are cover out on the big table facing the door.
So where does that leave the mid-lister? Writing at dawn for half an hour before you go to your teaching gig where your students drain you of all energy with their yearning… or do you self publish?
Back in those halcyon days, this was seen as the resort only of the desperate and the deluded, those slush-pile dwellers who’d battered their heads against the gates of an indifferent industry long enough. Or James Joyce. (All self-publishers will eventually cite his example, trust me). But not now. Not when even Stephen King – as front a lister as ever there was – is doing it.
Why? Partly because you control everything. You want the book out on this date – voilà, there it is. You want this cover? Yours. The price? You set it. Marketing? Down to you. Yes, it’s work you have to do that occupies departments at the Big House. But it’s work you do… for yourself.
Of course it’s different now than it was even ten years ago. Now it’s far easier than in the days when to self-publish you had to find a press, hire designers, get back strain lugging boxes of books around the stores, persuading booksellers to stock the odd copy. Now there are many players in town who will take a lot of the grunt out of the grunt work. Though of course there is one major player that has contributed more than anyone to the changes we have all experienced. And in dealing with it you strain nothing more than a finger. From the clicking.
Amazon. Talk about a hybrid! It seems to me the perfect one: the ultimate Capitalist behemoth that is also Marxist – for it facilitates the workers seizing the means of production. By workers I mean authors. And I know the analogy doesn’t really hold good, since Amazon takes a least 30% and up to 70% of the cut. Still… how much do you make on royalties from a traditional book sale? 10% …if it doesn’t sell at deep discount… which it always does! And as for ebook royalties? Don’t get me started!
I am not, like many evangelists of this new creed, an enemy of traditional publishing. On the contrary, I have made a very good living within it for fifteen years. It is not the publisher’s fault that market forces and South American rivers have cut back on their discretion to keep writers writing. With traditional publishing you get access to the depth of their… well, tradition. You get amazing, book-loving editors, who help you refine your language, clarify your vision and curb your excesses. You get superb publishers who know the game, marketers who study every angle, publicists who get you interviews, reviews, access to the festival circuit, where the peaty malts await.
However my experience with my new novel, Chasing the Wind, is becoming more common. Wonderful Doubleday in Toronto have brought all their nouse to bear on the book. Hopefully it will be a big success in Canada – but Canada is the only place it has sold. The Americans, despite the American heroine, haven’t bought it. The Brits… well, it has an American heroine, don’t you know. And did I mention how translation rights have died…
Hence, Hybrid. I’d been wanting to try … needing to try for a while. Once every traditional avenue had been explored, I thought: this is it.
It has been a steep learning curve. Three months not writing but attending ‘Self Pub University’. I have chafed ears from the podcasts, blurry eyes from the videos. I have had to become somewhat technical, never my strongest suit. I have written Ad copy and Facebook Posts, tweeted and blogged. I have attempted to understand algorithms. (Failed!) I clicked ‘Publish’ on June 5th and… as of this writing, the jury is out. Early days. Perhaps by the time you are reading this, you’ll say, ‘Oh, C. C Humphreys. The Indie author? Didn’t Paramount just option his novel?’ Or you may say, ‘C.C. who? Didn’t he used to be a novelist?’
More likely, it will be somewhere in between. Yet, whatever the result, it has been an amazing, eye-opening, brain-expanding journey. It feels good to have been making my own executive decisions. Good to be a Tigon or a Liger or an Accord.
Case in point: this week I am signing a deal to write a three book fantasy saga for Gollancz. But then there’s my backlist. Whatever should I do?
C.C. (Chris) Humphreys has acted on stages from London to Hollywood. His novels include, The French Executioner, Vlad, The Fetch and The Jack Absolute Series, while Plague won Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel. Chasing the Wind is his sixteenth novel.
Image: Lion-Tiger from Illustrated Natural History, 1853, Rev JG Wood.