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A journal on China, travel, and the inner life by Tony Brasunas, author of Double Happiness

My Long Sweet Journey into Print
 (Indie vs. Traditional Publishing, Part II)

After a long journey during which I considered many options, and not just the main two options we’re discussing here, I realized something: It was going to be hard. It was going to be a lot of work.

(This is Part II of my Indie Publishing trilogy post. See Part I to read a summary of the pros and cons of independent and traditional publishing.)

I knew it would be a lot of work either way — to sell the manuscript to a publishing house or to publish my book independently. I was still optimistic. I decided, first, that while writing Double Happiness — during the years of rewrites and revisions — I would also approach literary agents in the hope of landing a publishing deal.

My Long Sweet Journey into Print

I was right. It was a lot of work. I ended up spending almost as much time writing query letters, synopses, proposals, and chapter summaries as I did revising the book. It turns out, you have to know a lot about the industry just to write a decent cover letter.

For all of my work, I did receive significant interest, and many agencies requested partials of my manuscript. Some agencies showed enthusiasm and requested the whole manuscript. Still, all eventually led to rejections.

After nearly a decade of work, as I was completing the final, final revision of Double Happiness, I leapt into exploring the independent route. What I found was exhilarating and daunting. I had a lot to learn. But I was thrilled and, armed with a manuscript I knew was great, I felt ready to do it — to publish my book myself.

A Strange Coincidence

Coincidentally, just as I decided to go indie, I was approached by several literary agents who showed real interest. Two agencies went all the way and offered to sign me. It was mystifying and wonderful. Did they want me now only because I wasn’t seeking them? Had my manuscript improved so much?

I had theories, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I spoke with them both at length via phone. Should I really let go of independent publishing already?

In the end it was too tempting. One of the agents simply loved the book; she was smart, she was enthusiastic, and she really got it. Not only that, she said she knew several publishers looking for this type of book. She estimated she’d land me a deal in 3-6 months.

It was a wonderful time, and I did it: I handed her my creation and signed over 15% of royalties to her.

The Whisper of Intuition

After three months, the joy turned to patience. After six months, the patience turned to confusion. My agent was’t communicating regularly with me anymore, and she seemed less certain about my book.

My intuition was whispering to me to publish it independently. One whole premise of Double Happiness is trusting yourself, taking a chance on yourself, following your instincts. Maybe I need to publish Double Happiness that way.

Twelve months turned to fourteen, and that’s what I did. My agent and I met, and we came to friendly agreement. She hadn’t sold the manuscript, and I was feeling drawn towards the indie path. She gave me a ton of encouragement as we parted ways; I have nothing negative to say about her.

And there it is. Perhaps I should have gone indie from the start, and not spent so much time and energy chasing agents and publishers. Ultimately I went indie, for the powerful reasons listed in Part I of this trilogy post, and the intuitive reason listed above, and it’s been an amazing and fulfilling ride ever since.

So Which Is Better? And Which Is Harder?

In retrospect, I think that publishing independently involved far more work personally than selling the manuscript to a corporate publishing house would have done. But that’s not taking into consideration the years of work I put in — almost another book! — writing up countless query letters, synopses, proposals, excerpts, and cover letters to approach agents and houses, only to be rejected.

Both are hard. Both require lots of work.

Don’t go too slow. Don’t spend months or years banging your head on Manhattan doors trying to get an agent. But if it happens quickly and easily, it can be a great thing.

Don’t go too fast. Don’t publish independently too quickly, before you have written the best book you possibly can or before you have a marketing and publicity plan in place. Once you have your dynamite manuscript and a marketing plan, the indie route can be a great thing.

Part III: Seven Things to Do if You Go Indie

My next article will detail what to do and what to expect if you do publish independently. I’ll identify seven key things you should do to make publishing your book easier, more effective, and more popular.

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Posted by Tony Brasunas at 1:50 pm on July 28, 2015

Independent Publishing vs. Getting a Traditional Literary Agent (Part I)

Are you a writer interested in publishing your first book, your labor of love, your masterpiece, your tour de force?

If so, how do you plan on going about it?

What once was called “self-publishing” with a dismissive sniff is now known as Independent Publishing and accounts for a rapidly growing share of books published and sold worldwide. There also certainly remain many advantages to getting a literary agent and selling a manuscript to a large corporate publishing house.

Independent Publishing vs Getting a Literary AgentFor the sake of brevity, I’m splitting this post into two parts. In this first post, I will outline the advantages both of independent publishing and of going the traditional literary-agent route.

Let me know in the comments if there’s anything I’ve missed.

(I’ve now added the second part of this post, in which I explain which route I chose, and how it’s worked out.)


1. Advantages of Independent Publishing

This is the new paradigm, the way to “own your content” immediately and forever. We can boil down the advantages of going indie to these three primary benefits: creative control, profit, and speed.

With creative control, you get to create the book you’ve envisioned, the masterpiece that inspired you from the start. No months or years of rejection from gatekeeper agents and condescending editors; no crucial paragraphs, pages, or chapters inexplicably removed by a squeamish or distracted junior editor in a shrinking editorial department; no changes to the book’s cover ordered at the last minute by a clueless faraway advertising department who doesn’t understand your book. You have the creative vision, you have the creative power, you have the creative control.

The profits you can potentially receive as an independent author outstrip what can be made under a traditional publishing contract. You get to set your own royalties in many cases, and you retain all rights to foreign sales as well as television, movie, serial rights, etc. You own the book, so you write your own terms, and you will thus logically make more money from its success. Also you get to decide who else, if anyone, profits from your book: If you want a church group or a human rights organization to get a share of the profits, you can set that up at any time; if you don’t want a major global corporation to profit from your book, you can avoid that. Of course the big question is whether your book will be very successful, somewhat successful, or not very successful. But a relatively successful indie book will usually net the author much more money than an equally successful non-best seller published by a traditional house

Speed is a third major advantage to the independent route. You get to set the publication, publicity, and marketing schedules for your book. If you just wrote a book about the Confederate flag, say, or the economics of Greece, you would want to release that book as soon as possible, given that right now (at the time of writing this blog post), there’s a lot of national and global interest in these topics. Traditional publishing usually takes a long long time, a full year or more even after everything is signed, sealed, and delivered. Slow and steady wins some races, but with marketing, speed is often of the essence.


2. Advantages of Traditional Publishing

This is the older paradigm, the way most novels have been published for the last 150 years or so. We can summarize the main advantages of traditional publishing by exploring these three benefits: prestige, simplicity, and publicity.

The prestige that comes with getting an agent and signing a traditional deal with an established publishing house is sometimes what opens the door to a newspaper review, radio interview, or book award. This can be very important for a book’s early success. Also, for some authors, a primary reason to write is the respect and esteem of their peers. Independent Publishing has come a long way, and many indie authors are landing reviews, interviews, and awards, but the imprimatur of a major corporate publishing house is still superior in terms of prestige and, ultimately, if it’s your thing, fame.

If you want to enjoy the simplicity of just writing, and have other people handle everything else — the business, the design of the book, the marketing, the image of who you are as a writer — traditional publishing will possibly allow something approximating this simpler lifestyle. Every author these days is responsible for their “platform” — their audience and their authority on their subject — and your books always have to be successful. But if you don’t want to tabulate a budget, think about fonts, set prices and discounts, or hire a cover designer, selling your manuscript to an established publishing house can be an easier path. There are pros and cons to having a major corporate entity trying to profit off your work.

Finally, while the glamorous publicity and book tours once offered to authors by major houses are largely things of the past, you will get (some) publicity budget money if a house signs you, and you will (almost) definitely get distribution to major bookstores; how long your book remains on shelves, and on which shelves, is another matter.

A caveat: The reality in 2015 is that major houses have reduced their marketing budgets for new writers. You will have to spend time aggressively marketing yourself and arranging publicity for your book whether you independently publish your book or not. The difference is that if you independently publish your book, the bar for seeing personal profits is lower. Of course there’s no way to know in advance how far a little more prestige and distribution will go towards helping your book become successful. Fifteen percent of a million dollars is a lot more than 85% of $4000. Nevertheless, if you’ve written a highly specialized book, you may very well reach essentially the same niche audience — and record about the same sales numbers — regardless of what imprint decorates the bottom of the book’s spine.

3. The Road I Took

It was a more complicated journey than you might suppose, having read this far. Check out the second part of this post, in which I recount the choices I made and tell you what I’m happy with as well as what I regret.

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Posted by Tony Brasunas at 12:19 pm on June 30, 2015

“Trust Yourself” Tee for Free

Trust Yourself -- Double Happiness Book Tour T-shirts

Click to enlarge

I have a few extra book tour t-shirts on hand right now. The shirts are soft, high quality American Apparel cotton in a hot happy red. On the back are the dates and places of the book tour.

I’ll be throwing in one shirt for each signed book you order while supplies last. So if you would like to wear trust over your heart, order a signed copy of the book now.

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Posted by Tony Brasunas at 12:02 pm on June 7, 2015

San Jose Mercury-News Feature Interview

Newspaper Feature on Double Happiness

Maggie Sharpe, a journalist for the Bay Area News Group, interviewed me for a feature piece in the San Jose Mercury-News. After asking me a dozen rather harrowing and open-ended questions, she told me to be patient.

A week later, I discovered that she put together a marvelous piece. I don’t know quite what to say. I have to admit it’s the article I imagined someone would write about the book someday.

Read it here: Author to talk about life-changing time in China

The piece appeared shortly before my event at the Alameda library, and I believe it brought out quite a few extra readers, travelers, and curious armchair adventurers.

Ms. Sharpe begins the piece:

When Tony Brasunas left U.S. soil for the first time to teach English in China, he had no idea what a life-altering experience it would be — nor that 15 years later, he would write a book about his teaching, traveling and the transformation he experienced.

She describes the time I fell miserably ill, exploring the niceties of that near-death experience, and digs deeper into what illness meant for my time in China.

Brasunas said that even negative experiences such as getting sick, getting ripped off at the markets and even being ignored or ridiculed by some of his students only increased his learning.

“I followed the thread of my instincts to what I wanted and to who I am,” said Brasunas. “This led me often to experience even ostensibly negative things in a positive light — that the negative moments and the positive moments were both a part of the magic of learning and of life.”

My gratitude to the newspapers that ran this piece (the Contra Costa Times and Alameda Journal also ran the feature), and, above all, to Maggie Sharpe for her excellent questions and even better writing.

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Posted by Tony Brasunas at 8:12 pm on June 4, 2015

Double Happiness named Award-Winning Finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards

It is an honor to report that Double Happiness has been recognized by another book awards program. The 2015 International Book Awards, sponsored by USA Book News, have selected Double Happiness as an award-winning finalist in the Memoir category.

Counting these book awards and prizes which have recognized Double Happiness, as well as these others, this award brings the total number of awards in which my book has either won or been recognized to eleven.

I’m proud of this book, and proud of all the work that so many people put into it on its way to publication. Every once in a while it’s nice to know that all that work is recognized.

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Posted by Tony Brasunas at 10:34 pm on May 29, 2015

Wonderful Event at the Alameda Library

Signing Books at the Alameda Library

Reading Double Happiness at the Alameda Free Library
Free T-shirt for Double Happiness book buyers
Alameda Library Event

If this is the way I close my Book Tour, I might have to open it up again just to close it again.

One of my favorite reading events of the tour took place earlier this month at the Alameda Free Library. What I had called the final event was an event that had it all.

Karin, the librarian who hosted and organized the event, embarrassed me with an introduction. Then I greeted and thanked the 45 or so folks who filed in and took their places. I read the book’s prologue and first chapter.

There was so much curiosity and interest in the room that when I took questions from the audience, I actually had to insist people take turns. It was just delightful and fulfilling to share the story of Double Happiness with so many people.

I’m fairly certain I owe the nice turnout to the excellent article Maggie Sharpe wrote in the local paper that came out just a few days before the event.

Hardcovers & T-shirts

As for the sales of books, that was probably due to these facts: 1. the great nearby bookstore, Books, Inc., sent a representative to handle sales, and 2. I was signing the books, and 3. each new reader went home with a brand new “Trust Yourself” Double Happiness book tour t-shirt.

If you would like to get a signed book and a new t-shirt (while supplies last), you can do so easily right now by Joining the Journey.

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Posted by Tony Brasunas at 4:49 am on May 24, 2015