“Indie” Publishing and Donkeys

So my darling husband is insisting that I relate this story to you the way that I just did to him — and, well, I suppose I might as well. I guess I could consider it a signal boost.

You see, I was reading this SFWA post about a new writing contest called The 2011 Indie Publishing Contest. Essentially, you pay a $35 entry fee, submit 5,000 words of a novel, and you are then considered for the grand “prize”. Now, you can click over for the full list, but the big part of this prize is: “A print publishing package from Author Solutions”.

This could be a grand thing if you were expecting to do all your own editing, marketing, and selling. If you were expecting distribution to major chains, however, and visibility on the shelf of your neighborhood bookstore – you would be severely disappointed. Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware explains that part of it much better than I would, so go read her article, if you haven’t already. Then bookmark Writer Beware and come back here for my story. I’ll wait.

Got it? All finished? Now, to my story.

I was telling Darling Husband that the whole situation reminded me of the old story/joke about the boy, the farmer and the donkey. (I will warn you now that I don’t repeat this tale very well, but I am confident you will eventually grasp my meaning.)

The story goes something like this: There was a boy who was sort of donkey-sitting this farmer’s donkey, and the creature due to some mishap or another passed away. The farmer, of course, was furious with the boy and demanded that the boy pay him $100 in reparations for the animal.

The boy, who is a very smart young’un, says to the farmer, “I”ll get you your money, but I’ll need the donkey.” The farmer is dubious, but agrees.

The youngster then goes into town door to door and starts selling raffle tickets for $2 apiece. The prize? Is a donkey. Surprisingly, the boy manages to sell 100 of the raffle tickets.

Being honest – if mischievous – the boy draws a winner for said donkey, and the gentleman in question arrives to pick up his prize. “This donkey is dead,” he says to the boy.

“Oh,” the boy says. “It must’ve died while I was out. Let me refund your $2 raffle ticket.” The man agrees, takes his money, and goes away happy.

Returning to the farmer, the boy hands over the $100 as promised. “How did you do it?” the farmer asks in amazement.

“I sold 100 tickets at $2 each,” the boy explains. “But I only had to refund money to the man who won.” Meaning, of course, that the boy has made a $98 profit, all from a dead donkey.

As I told my husband, “Writing contests like these remind me of that story. If you win, you get a bunch of printed copies of an unedited, un-marketed, mostly unavailable novel.

“You pay your 35 dollars and even if you win – all you end up with is a dead donkey.”