Which Way Do I Go?

I’ve been trying to think of ways to shake off my ever-increasing creative standstill, and I’ve been going round and round on one possible but, to be honest, undesirable option: self-publishing.

I’ve said here on many an occasion I wasn’t a fan. There are many, many aspects of the vanity press industry that has exploded over the past few years I don’t like at all, which I won’t rehash here, but lately it’s been feeling like not just a viable option, but my only option.

I set out to become a writer at age 20. I’m now 43. I am a working writer — mostly as a reporter for a local newspaper, with some odd freelance jobs here and there — and have been since I was 28, but I’m still not the kind of writer I truly want to be, i.e., not a reporter.

The thing that has been standing in my way is the giant hurdle of getting someone, anyone, in the “traditional” publishing industry to give me a shot. A look through my massive collection of rejection letters and e-mails tells me that 99 percent of my submissions never made it past some low-level first-line editor working the slush piles. I’ve had maybe a half-dozen people in the course of 23 years actually read my stuff and reject it, and the only one who hasn’t simply said, “This isn’t for us” is the one that last year read Action Figures and loved it…right up until the point she didn’t.

In short: my batting average on the traditional publishing front is shit.

So what do I do? Keep at it and hope I don’t spend another 23 years banging my head against this massive wall? Or try something different and embrace the option that I have long avoided?

I admit readily I cannot rationally defend some of my reasons for resisting self-publishing. Some of my reasons are plain stupid. I cringe every time someone declares him- or herself a novelist or author because they paid cash money to have some Internet outfit print copies of a book and act like they have accomplished something special. Call yourself a writer, that’s fine, I argue to myself, but don’t grant yourself a professional title you haven’t earned. It’s like calling yourself a rock star because you posted a video of yourself at Friday night karaoke on YouTube.

Then there is the fear factor, which locks me up whenever I tell myself such “reasoning” is petty and stupid. I have read work self- (vanity-) published by friends or friends of friends that were truly awful, and I don’t want to be in that same company…and yet, maybe I am. I wonder and worry if I’m not as good as I think, and putting myself out there will reveal the delusion that has driven my entire adult life. It may not be as crushing as, say, a terrible singer having his dreams dashed to bits before a national television audience on American Idol, but having a dream destroyed privately is no less devastating.

On the more optimistic, and perhaps more rational side or the debate, the publishing industry is changing because on online platforms such as Amazon’s CreateSpace (the venue I am currently contemplating). There is still a lot of crap out there, but some works of quality are popping up, bringing with it various levels of honest success and, in a few relatively rare cases, a springboard for breaking into traditional publishing.

As I’ve gone back and forth on this, I’ve re-read Neil Gaiman’s excellent keynote address at the 2012 University of the Arts commencement ceremony, the so-called “Make Good Art” speech. It touches on many of my concerns (fears) and puts them into a grounded Gaimanesque perspective that puts me at ease…I’m not wholly convinced venturing into self-publishing would be the best idea, but it’s an idea. It’s something I haven’t tried. It might not work, but then again, it might.

I guess an attempt to move forward that fails is better than standing still.

I still haven’t made up my mind on this, but I’ve promised myself that if I go for it, I will be realistic with myself. I won’t expect to become the next E.L. James-like “discovery.” I won’t pretend this is anything other than what it is (meaning I will not call myself a “published author” and convince people what I’ve done is somehow remarkable). I will treat it seriously and try to get myself out there and not expect that any measure of success will simply materialize like magic.

I know this blog has its modest share of readers, including a few fellow writers. If anyone feels like offering some opinions, pro or con, please do.

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3 thoughts on “Which Way Do I Go?

  1. I was also anti-self pub, too, but gonna give it a try this summer and see how it goes. For me the idea of getting that approval and seeing a book I slaved over in a bookstore was the ultimate goal for me. But I think that’s a big dream when I’d be even happier just being able to make a living off fiction writing (same as what you’re going for).

    I know some writers that have started as self-pub and ended up getting trad-pub book contracts which is awesome for them. My reasons are a bit different:

    The type of stories I write pretty niche — swashbuckler and adventure tales. There aren’t many trad-pubs that really go for those genre/pulp stories anymore. They seem to want straight historical (or historical romance/mysteries) or if they’re action-centric something more modern than swordsmen dueling by city ruins. I haven’t sent any queries to agents/publishers to confirm this suspicion — just going off of what I find to be a lack of those stories in bookstores and the marketplace in general. Maybe no one reads those anymore, but that’s what I like to write and read, and that’s what I want to publish.

    I also am attracted to the idea that I’m my own boss with self-pub. No one can tell me a story isn’t fit for print. No one can tell me what the cover art should look like or how long it should/shouldn’t be. I’m more in control of my own destiny. Of course this means I’m in charge of everything — finding/paying a cover artist, getting an editor to help me clean up the text, marketing/pricing, etc.

    Cover art I love and I know plenty of awesome artist friends who can do good work. I’m in the process of collabing with a comic artist friend on the short stories I’m going to self-pub and the process has been a blast. Hiring an editor, for me, is probably a must since I’m not always my best editor in terms of spelling/grammar. As for marketing, most newbie writers need to do their own promoting anyways. Big publishers seem to save their marketing money on their big names which is weird since they probably need the least exposure and marketing help.

    The big pro with trad-pub, in my eyes, is that they do a lot that for you. If you’re not self-motivated or are lazy business-wise than self-pub probably isn’t the best way to go. That’s how really poor self-pub books get out there and give the entire movement (can we call it that?) a bad name. There’s definitely self-pub crap, but then there’s the same in traditional, too (50 Shades).

    eBooks are also growing in popularity and those are easy and inexpensive to produce. There are also better self-pub & POD companies so the quality of self-published paperbacks are better than in the past. Amazon is what most of my self-pub friends use, I believe (I can double check), and they have no issues with quality it seems.

    My friend Jack has released three full length books and several short stories over the course of the past year or so and he’s pulling in about a grand a month. Not mad for a new writer. First-time traditional book contracts are somewhere around $5K if memory serves me right. And one month this spring he raked in $3K. He writes pulp fiction/WWII adventure stories. So that gives me a little hope for my own genre writing. But you gotta be realistic. It takes time to build a following and make a real living off fiction, regardless of trad/self-pub. But I know I’m preaching to the choir. 🙂

    If you’re thinking about going self-pub I then http://www.thepassivevoice.com/ is a good blog for finding self-pub info. Some of the commenters there are bit militant on why everyone should do self-pub and screw traditional-pubs, so you gotta weigh the source, but the posts there are good. And plenty of the commenters aren’t as militant.

    Anyways, this is a long reply. I’ve given it a lot of myself ’cause I was the same way. I wanted to go the old fashion route partially because that’s what I was taught to do and because it’s a sign of acceptance and accomplishment. A “I made it!” type of feeling. But I’m also impatient, I like to be in control of my own destiny, I’m intrigued by the business end (I blame my running Days of Y’Orr for that), and I think self-pub is better suited for genre writers.

    Of course, there’s nothing wrong with still going the traditional route either.

    Anyways, if you go self-pub, I full support ya in any way I can, my friend. 🙂 I’m always game for talking shop, too. Just let me know.

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  2. You’re hitting on a lot of other points I’ve been kicking around in my head. The full creative freedom is definitely a plus, especially when it seems like the publishing industry, particularly for young adult fiction, is simultaneously looking for the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games or Twilight, so they don’t want something completely different (like my Action Figures project), and yet they don’t seem to want a knock-off of the very thing they want to replicate.

    Something else that occurred to me as to why I’m hesitant to dive into this: a self-published author needs to actively promote himself, and I HATE self-aggrandizement. Hate hate hate. I know so many mediocre talents whose greatest skill is convincing everyone they’re the greatest thing ever, and shameless self-promotion is anathema to me…and yet, if this is going to work properly, I have to shake off that impulse toward modesty and humility.

    An aside: Funny you mention tapping artists friends for cover work. If I go forward with this I want to do the same thing, because the pre-fab cover art approach smacks of cheap quality in my mind. If I’m going to do it, I want to do it well, in every respect.

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    1. Yea I hear ya. The self-promoting can see a bit daunting when you don’t want to come off as a jerk, but it’s definitely possible. Even new trad pub authors need to do a fair share of self-promoting, though not as much I’d imagine. Part of the business either way. 🙂

      And yea, the pre-fab covers are sooo bad. I’m sure a lot of people don’t buy those books just because of that. The cover is the first marketing tool for the writer to get someone to buy their book. If it looks like the cover was given some serious thought and TLC it’s a huge plus (or at least doesn’t hurt), but if it looks like it was made quickly or as an afterthought it’s going to hurt sales. I know Amazon has cover creation software but I have no idea how good/bad those are compared to what else is out there. I rather toss work in the direction of awesome, fellow-starving artist friends.

      I’m looking at self-pub as a small business. You get what you put into it and if your stuff is crap it’ll show in the reviews and business will struggle. It’s scary and exciting at the same time. 🙂

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