I just released on iBooks my first digital book, which is also my first book on Astrophotography. I’ve long been an opponent of self-publishing, and now that I’ve done it, does that make me a hypocrite? No, it means I’ve learned the error of my ways (technically to be a hypocrite, I’d have to self-publish AND STILL tell people that self-publishing was a dumb thing to do). Let me tell you how…
A long time ago in a career far far away, I wrote a book. I had some help, but I was the lead author of a best selling book (in its little niche) called The OpenGL SuperBible. It was originally published by Waite Group Press, and through the course of several editions and updates, eventually found a home at Addison Wesley. That book was great for my career at the time, and though it did not make me rich in sales, it opened a lot of very lucrative doors for me, such as an adjunct-professor spot at a local trade school as a teacher, and it got me out of the healthcare software business back into vis-sim and scientific visualization, which was the software development career I had originally envisioned for myself.
Writing a book is an incredible experience like none other in my career. Each edition once completed was followed by swearing to both the old gods and the new that I would never write another book. Then the 2nd edition came… the 3rd, and so on (I did finally turn loose of the reins with the 6th edition).
Being an author does wonders for your self-esteem and confidence too, and bordering on arrogance, I was often full of advice for other would-be authors. Sometimes this was solicited… at other times not so much. I felt a huge burden to help my fellow man/woman, especially every time I heard the following:
“I’m self-publishing my book, so I can keep more of the profits”.
Poor fools, I had to save them. It was my moral obligation.
I’ve self-published software before, and the act of promoting the software is easily more work than creating it in the first place. Publishing is I’m sure the same way (I still believe this to be true). My opinion was that self-publishing is for people who don’t have a strong enough book to find a publisher, or people who don’t realize how much work it is to sell a product once it’s produced. Publishers, will make you famous. They will pay you, they will arrange book signings, they will put your book in catalogs, and most likely you will actually make far more money than if you’d published it yourself. They will open doors of opportunity for you that you never imagined, and even better once the book is done you don’t have to keep working to promote it yourself.
Went to a publisher, but made very little money for your book? You’d have made even less most likely if you had to pay to print and distribute the books yourself. Almost certainly.
Okay, so why did I self-publish? Why did I change my mind?
Firstly it was motivation. My first book was strictly a career move. It established credibility in an area of computer science and it got me jobs I wanted that I might not have been able to get otherwise. My motives were 100% financial and career oriented, and maybe a little ego. I did/DO love the topic I wrote about, and I don’t want to diminish the role that played in the quality of my work, or my commitment to it. I love to write too, make no mistake, and it was a natural thing for me to do, and I’ve even gotten better at it over the years. It was the smart thing to do. What about this latest book? Completely different motivations. Completely.
For starters, there is an artist side of me, and that artist was fighting to get out. I wrote The Evening Show purely because I had too. It was in me, and I was going to explode if I didn’t do it. Sure, I’d be thrilled if it did well enough to pay off a few debts, or buy some new toys, but that was far from my motivation. I simply had to do it. It was in the purest sense and artistic expression of mine and mine alone. Other authors and photographers have their own motivations, and I have mine. I’ve expressed this in my book, and if anything, it is a love letter to the night sky and the practice of astrophotography more so than it’s meant to be anything else.
Now, I did poke around and looked at a few publishing houses. I checked out their authors guidelines (I’ve done this before after all), and most/many said right up front, “We do not do coffee table/picture books”. My book is sort of just a picture book, with a bit of text, but I knew that it was going to be an uphill battle to convince anyone that they should take a financial risk with this. It was after all, my own expression of art. I could also see some editor/marketing person insisting that I have at least one page full of camera settings or something so they could put “learn from the master” or some other such nonsense on the back. That’s not the audience I was targeting… at least not this time<g>. In other words, I did not have a strong enough book to sell, so I published it myself! Ha ha… jokes on me.
Another aspect I liked about self-publishing was the electronic aspect. Getting my photos to print well is pretty tricky, and the idea of a whole book of color images that might come out looking pretty cruddy compared to what I saw on the screen did not sound appeasing. On an iPad, I knew everyone was going to get nearly the same experience that I was intending to present. I also remember what a huge deal it was just to get some color pages in my previous book, and again get them to come out right. Yep, I think I’ll skip that.
Now down the road, maybe some publisher will take an interest in this, but I’m not going to spend hours a day to hunt them down. I may also do a Kindle version or something down the road but for now it’s out on the Apple platform (was really easy to do btw) and the hardest part is done. We’ll see what happens in the coming months. I can also tell you I have at least three or four more books bursting to get out of me, some from an artistic standpoint, but there’s also a philosopher buried in there too wanting to be heard, and a teacher… so more books focused on “learning to do something” are also coming, but I had to get this one out of the way first. If you get the book, I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did in making it.