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.