You’re ready for the world to read your book. Should you self-publish and seek out your own audience? Or go the traditional route and entrust your work to a traditional publisher? There’s a third option: Do both. At the March 27, 2014 Writing Show, husband-and-wife team Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris (pictured left with moderator Bill Blume) showed us how.
“Many streams make a river,” counseled Ballantine, author of steampunk and fantasy fiction. While Ballantine has a long list of traditionally published fiction, she has also self-published work such as her novel Weather Child, which her agent said wouldn’t sell in the United States because it takes place in Ballantine’s native New Zealand.
Self-pub can be quite lucrative, says Morris. When he submitted a novella to the Clockwork Fairy Tales anthology (in which Ballantine’s work also appears), it was rejected as not sufficiently steampunk. He released it independently — and made twice as much as his wife did for her piece. “So there was a lot of tension in the house,” he says with a grin.
For work they publish independently, the duo does everything themselves, including editing and cover design. “It’s a lot more work,” Ballantine says, “but it’s also quite satisfying to keep your own spreadsheets and know month to month what is happening.”
Marketing is essential for success, however you’re publishing your work. And for a hybrid author, they say, social media is your marketing plan. Morris and Ballantine are relentless podcasters and bloggers; Morris’s blog tours include everything from a Christian gaming site to a social network for beer snobs.
While Morris and Ballantine continue to publish Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences books through Ace Books, including the just-released Dawn’s Early Light, their contracts allow them to retain control over stories and novellas in that series. In 2013, the duo launched a Kickstarter fundraising drive for an ambitious project: a new anthology of stories set in the steampunk world of the Ministry series and a role-playing game, the Ministry Initiative. They raised $30,000 — $10,000 more than expected. But Kickstarter isn’t a magic bullet. Morris’ own fundraiser for the third book in his Billibub Baddings Mysteries failed, he said, because he didn’t have a large enough fan base for that series.
Hybrid publishing is the future, both authors agree. Even if you’re querying agents for your novel, test the self-publishing waters with a short story or novella. And remember, Morris said, “just because you make that New York contract doesn’t mean you’re set.” Always be thinking about your next project.
— by Melissa Scott Sinclair, novelist and JRW board member
Read Tee Morris’s blog post, Taking Community: 48 Hours with James River Writers.