The Seduction Of Self-Publishing

Maybe you’re at a men’s restroom. Or an old-school phone booth. Or wandering drunk and naked around the TARDIS again. And there, on the floor, you spy it — a little slip of paper folded in half, maybe it looks like a five dollar bill, maybe it looks like your grandmother’s boozy fruitcake recipe or a folded-over Polaroid of a nude Herman Cain teabagging your pizza before it goes out to delivery.

But then you open it up, and it’s a little cartoon.

A Chick tract, of sorts.

And inside would be this little shitfire-and-brimstone cartoon about some poor goob who uploads his unedited first novel to the Internet and it’s a hideous turd-bomb of a book that garners a frothy chum-bucket of angry 1-star reviews. Crowds gather to mock him. They throw panties at his head, but not sexy panties, oh no — dirty panties, panties that look like they’ve been dragged through a muddy field by angry wolves. The author’s name becomes synonymous with bad wordsmithy and someone devotes a Tumblr toward his ludicrous prose and then eventually two seraphim angels — fiery gatekeepers at the Edenic doorway to traditional publishing! — show up to chastise him about his giving in to the seductions of self-publishing. End of tract.

(Of course, you might one day find the tract’s opposite, wherein a greedy author signs the contract of the Devil — aka the “publishing industry” — in baby’s blood, but that’s a post for another time.)

The tract is, like all such little propaganda machines, overwrought. It’s mostly nonsense — nobody’s going to vilify you for self-publishing your book, even a bad book.

I am, of course, a self-published author. I have six self-published books, all of which came out in the last year. Some are quite successful. Others, less so. None are total stinkers.

All of them increased my annual writer’s take-home by — *does some quick math* — 15-20%.

So, I’m for self-publishing. I think it’s a good idea.

…usually.

It is not universally a good idea, and while I’m happy I am at present self-publishing some of my work, I think back to when I started writing novels. I think about the six or so novels I wrote before BLACKBIRDS, and then I ask myself: do I really want those in the world? Eeesh. No, no I do not. And with easy self-pub options at my fingertips, that may very well have happened. Even the last novel I’d written before BLACKBIRDS, a book about, well, modern dogs with the souls of ancient warrior spirits — I thought it was the real deal. I sent it to agents, got a lot of “oh hell no’s,” got one “okay, show it to me, oh, now that I’ve seen it, oh hell no,” and that was that.

At the time, I thought the book had promise.

I thought that about most of my books at different points.

I’ve since gone back to read them and –

Yeah, wow.

No.

Nooooo.

Nuh-uh, no way, nichts, yeesh.

But — but! — if I had the option to self-publish those books at the time, you know what? I might’ve done it. The best case scenario would’ve been that they left zero impression and earned me nothing, leaving not so much a black mark on my writerly record so much as just whispering across the earth and disappearing like a serpentine twist of dust or snow. The worst case scenario would’ve been that they sold well and that I would’ve succumbed to the echo chamber of the cheerleading rah-rah-rah go-you community where I get an A+ for effort even if my prose deserves a phlegm-gob of spit hawked into my open mouth. That would be the worst because you know why? I’d never have upped my game. My writing would’ve lain fallow like a barren field, never cultivated to quality. I would’ve been rewarded for being crappy, and such rewards are like a kid smoking cigarettes: it stunts your growth.

I would’ve given into the culture of resentment and revenge surrounding many self-published authors — the ones who have to keep asserting their reasons for doing DIY, the ones who have to turn every blog post into propaganda, the ones who have to make sure to get in their jabs at the Mean Ol’ Sour-Faced Publishing Monopoly with its big stompy boot on the neck of the poor blubbery writer.

The option to self-publish is a compelling one. Seductive, in many ways. On the one hand — holy crap! New option! Totally awesome! On the other hand: is it the best option?

Time, then, for a little litmus test to see if you should self-publish.

If you’re self-publishing because you’re pissed off about traditional publishing: don’t.

That’s the wrong reason. Self-publishing is very much about taking risks and owning your work all the way down to the marrow. It should not be about a big ink-stained middle finger to the publishing industry at large. If you get your knickers in a pee-soaked twist anytime you say the word “gatekeeper,” calm down, take a pill, and back away from the Kindle marketplace.

If you’re self-publishing because you’re tired of rejection: don’t.

Rejection is not a great bellwether of quality. That’s not to say those who rejected you are correct: they may very well not be. (And, admittedly, some rejections are good rejections — “This is a good book but I can’t sell it” is a sign your book could survive and even excel in the self-pub marketplace.) Point is, don’t use rejection as a reason. Resentment and revenge are not smart motives.

If you’re self-publishing because you think it’s easy: don’t.

It isn’t easy. It is, in many ways, harder than trad-pub. DIY is not an automated process. You don’t drop your novel on the conveyor belt and let the publisher handle it. Because, er, you are the publisher. Self-promotion and getting your book “out there” is an epic challenge all its own. Besides, if you were looking for easy, then writing maybe isn’t the career for you.

If you’re self-publishing because this is your first novel and you think you’re ready: don’t.

Or, at least, take a long and serious look and get some very real, very honest feedback from others. Like I said, I had six novels under my belt and I’m thankful that not a single one of them has escaped its lead-lined box and harmed the world with its radioactive prose. Be smart enough to know when you’re not ready.

If you’re self-publishing because you want it fast and you want it now: don’t.

Fast things are rarely good things: your work is not the equivalent of a goddamn Chicken McNugget. Treat it better than that. Give it — and by proxy, your future readers — the time and effort they deserve.

If you’re self-publishing because you don’t want to be a piglet sucking at the corporate teat: don’t.

Whether we’re talking Amazon, B&N or Paypal, you’re still going to be giving capitalist hand-jobs to super-big companies, companies that are more than capable of pulling the rug out from under your DIY enterprise. (For the record, a publishing monopoly is a myth: no such monopoly exists.)

If you’re self-publishing because you’re so desperate to be published: don’t.

Listen, desperation is par for the course when you’re a writer — the miasma of flop-sweat surrounds me every day. But you need to transform that desperation from wanting to be published to writing a helluva story. The latter step should come before the former, but self-publishing only further helps to shortcut that.

If you’re self-publishing because you think you’re going to earn a fast and fat pay-day: don’t.

I know of many tremendous novels that went self-pub and don’t earn out — and many never will. Further, they won’t come close to nabbing what a good advance would’ve netted them, much less a meager one. And many self-publishing books take a while to start generating real revenue (and often only do so when you have multiple books in the marketplace).

You have a whole host of reasons to self-publish: the control, the freedom, the relatively direct access to readers, the ability to take risks that you could not normally take with larger publishers. And, further, you have a host of reasons to not rush out and submit work to a publisher, too — though, again, that’s a post for another time. The key is, publish smart. Gather data. Make your work the best it can be — concentrate first on storytelling, second on how you’ll reach readers. Because you don’t want to reach readers if all you’re going to offer them is a hastily-scribbled slap-to-the-face.

Be wary of the seduction.

Don’t let self-publishing stunt your growth.

Follow your gut.

And be smart.

(Related: Reasons Not To Publish, 2011-2012).

58 comments

  • I self published my first novel as an e-book, but there were indicators that the story was strong enough to see some light. It was based on a screenplay that advanced in a major competition and was seriously considered by a couple studios. Agents rejected it, but the rejections mostly came back with, “Loved this, but it’s too quirky for me.”

    My second novel sits on my hard drive. It’s all right, but it could be much better. I sometimes think about rewriting it now that I’m a more skilled writer, but I’ve been moving forward–not back.

    I’m shopping my third novel around to agents, and some people have asked why I’d so such a thing when I can just self publish it as an e-book and screw da man! Most of my points for going the traditional route are included in the link you included at the end of your entry. Literary and upmarket fiction is still a hard sell with e-books. Were the book genre fiction, I’d consider self publishing.

    I started out writing independent comic books. When the self publishing boom of the 90s hit, it was like e-books now. Swap Dave Sim for JA Konrath as the general for the self publishing movement; watch the ability to self publish books polarize an industry. I had things published by tiny companies, and I also self published.

    I’m glad that I went the traditional route at first in many ways because I’ve had enough close calls to know that I at least deserve a shot. I’m glad that I’ve had things published traditionally and that I’ve self published. I bought Irregular Creatures the day it was available, and I’ve pre-ordered Blackbirds. I like that writers have options, but those options don’t matter to me unless the writer has put a lot of weak writing behind them to get to a point where their work is worth the hours I’m investing in it.

  • Thanks for this. Unfortunately I’m not sure there are many beginning writers willing or able to view their writing with quite the critical eye that this level of wisdom requires. At least I know I wasn’t that smart back then. Maybe I’m still not.
    Also, thank you for not making this a “25 things” post. Those are fun from time to time, but just yesterday I was thinking I’d like to see more of your old-school long-form writing advice posts. Be you reading my mind?

  • This post came at a very good time for me personally. I have been shopping my latest around without success, and finishing up rewrites on the next. I was debating whether to self-publish the one when ready to start trying to shop around for the second, but part of me has always felt that was a sign of desperation more than good business. The decision still hasn’t been made, but I needed another perspective to give me more food for thought. Thanks.

  • I want to read that book! Ancient warrior spirit dogs?!

    But seriously. This is spot on. I’ve started a lot of free books or 99 cent-ers that should be used to break terrorists. So, so bad. Friends should not let friends do that!

  • This! Yes!

    I’m *so* glad self-publishing wasn’t a real option back when I wrote my first novel because, like you said, I might have been tempted to take that route and forever stunted my writing growth. It’s only now, almost 10 years later, that I feel like I’ve made it to a point where my work’s of the quality that I want to put it out there. And I have, for lots of reasons. None of which, fortunately, fall into your “don’t” categories. :)

    To me, that’s the biggest danger of self-publishing, that too many writers with potential rush into publishing and don’t ever get that impetus to keep improving. It makes me wonder what the writing landscape will be like in 10 or 15 years.

  • It’s so good to see this today and give myself a little check-up about my motives. When I jumped from all-trad (could there be a more hipster scum-sucking phrase?) to self-pub, I was so angry at the system for holding back so many great authors and great books and letting some absolute garbage pass through a shoddy cheesecloth filter and find a home.

    And as I write my own stuff, and edit other people’s stuff (not necessarily in that order anymore), that anger fizzled out. Now, it’s more about having all these options and the desire to get my material into people’s hands and how good that mission is.

    I know my work is good and strong and that I’ve built up a good network of eyes and ears so that no matter which way I go whenever I finish, I’ll get my desired end result.

    Next step, as always, more writing.

  • “The worst case scenario would’ve been that they sold well and that I would’ve succumbed to the echo chamber of the cheerleading rah-rah-rah go-you community where I get an A+ for effort even if my prose deserves a phlegm-gob of spit hawked into my open mouth. That would be the worst because you know why? I’d never have upped my game.”

    Chuck, I think most people will up their game even if they get a pat on the back. Well, perhaps the very young and inexperienced will attempt to sit on their flimsy laurels, but they’ll soon come crashing down, and if they have a lick of sense, they’ll consider it a lesson learned and get back into the game, but with more awareness.

    I’ve had various successes in my life, and the moment I got full of myself, Mother Nature smacked me upside the head so hard my ears rang for a week! Most of us have had that experience, and we know enough to keep our heads down and tails tucked in while we apply ourselves diligently.

    The first books often have funny stories and nuggets of insight the authors picked up in their lives; I’d hate to see those nuggets lost and faded into nothingness.

    I certainly know where you’re coming from, but some authors without a trio of tantalizing vampire tomes to taste at teatime got shut out. It was akin to a teacher who only passed students of Romanian heritage… image the uproar. No wonder the gates were stormed when a weakness was spotted.

    Not looking for a fight here (grin).

  • Sage and well rounded advice as always. I just really hope people read it and take it on board because no one nails it quite like you.

    I have had to learn a lot about patience over the last few years. I’m usually *all* about the instant gratification, but some things just do take time. At the risk of sounding wanky, writing is a craft. I read something every single day which makes me want to be better, and you can only get better by writing and writing and writing some more.

    Waiting on rejections, feedback and the occasional acceptance is really hard at first, but now I use that time to work on something new. I sought representation for my first novel for a year, and during that time I made my most brutally honest friends and other writers read it and give me their opinions. I got rejections, some with a side order of really good advice. Eventually one agent asked for a full manuscript. I heard back after six months and her comment was ‘I really enjoyed this but I’m not IN LOVE with it’ and when I thought about it, neither was I. It was the first thing I’d ever written and it just wasn’t ready. Simple as that. I haven’t given up – I’m re-working that book now because I think there are elements worth salvaging, but I do know that, whether it ever sees the light of day or not, I’m ultimately glad I didn’t put something out there which I’m not in love with myself. I know hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I think a healthy amount of humility can be a writer’s best friend.

  • I eventually self published my own novel after finding that publishers weren’t keen on a space opera novel that centred around starfighter pilots, and had a story arc that developed over the course of 3 books (a few editors told me that they’d want the stories to fully conclude in each book). They cited the X-Wing and Wing Commanders books as examples of why it probably wouldn’t sell, too.

    As I’d planned to develop a website and a for other bits and pieces to support it, I figured I’d just press on ahead and see what I could get out of it. After all, that to me was one of the full bits – putting together what almost amounted to an encyclopaedia of the universe of the novels.

    Both the first and second books in the trilogy have been #1 on Amazon UK’s science fiction and #1 in the space opera, as well as #1 in the UK iTunes science fiction, and both have had a decent reception. Sales are continuing to be steady, although they are slowing down somewhat now (as will happen).

    I’m somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t find an agent or publisher, and maybe if I had continued to go to conventions, network harder and get to know more people, someone would’ve eventually picked it up. There again, it may well have continued to be rejected as something that would only appeal to video gamers.

    But I agree 100% with Chuck – I don’t think people should self publish, just because they can. And when other would-be writers contact me asking for tips and advice, I tell them to continue subbing and networking.

    (Does this all sound like a contradiction..? Hopefully not!)

  • Chuck, again — you are made of awesome. Occasionally, gin-soaked awesome, but that is just an added bonus. Wonderful post. Wise words. I think about my first two novels, and how they just weren’t good enough (learning tools? yes). I wouldn’t want them out in the world. I might’ve been foolish enough to just toss them out there, if I had the option years back.

    Again, great post.

  • Will Entrekin is right. Too many don’t's. Here are some Do’s.

    Do self-publish if you’ve got readers clamoring for more, more, more. Your blog, ezine, column or whatever has taken off and readers are asking for compilations and please make a version they can read on their ereader. You can’t resist those puppy-dog eyes and the whimpering is getting on your nerves. So compile and self-publish.

    Do self-publish if your publisher is fighting you about a project. It’s not that the writing is bad or the story is bad, but it’s outside the publisher’s comfort zone and they’re unwilling to put their money where your mouth is. So YOU put your money where your mouth is and self-publish.

    Do self-publish if you want to learn the business from the inside out. Find an editor, copyeditors, and proofreaders and learn how to work with them to turn a manuscript into a salable product. Learn about cover design. Learn formatting, page layout, HTML. Learn about distribution channels and pricing. Learn how to market your book and yourself. Learn bookkeeping and how to stay out of trouble with the IRS. After that all, you may discover that you really like it and you’re really good at it. A self-publishing empire is born. Or you may find out you hate it all and you just want to write and leave all that other stuff to the experts. In either case you’ll have some idea about how the business works and you won’t be such easy prey for scammers, con artists, and smooth talking publishers who will eat your rights and make you crawl on your knees through broken glass to get them reverted (and if you have no idea what that last sentence means, you are SO NOT READY for any kind of publishing endeavor, self or otherwise).

    Do self-publish if you write so fast you’re meeting yourself head-on in the middle of the racetrack. Your publisher says maybe two books a year. They can’t keep up with you. Your readers are whining about having to wait for the next book. Self-publishing might be the way to go.

  • I really hope anyone considering self publishing reads this and takes it on board because you have nailed it once again!

    I am generally *all* about instant gratification. No – REALLY. But if there’s one thing you need in this game, it’s patience. At the risk of sounding wanky, writing is a craft and it takes time to hone. I read something pretty much every day which makes me want to be better. And the only way to get better is to write, write and write some more.

    I wrote a novel. It was the first thing I ever wrote. I sent it to agents for a year. I got a lot of rejections, sometimes with a side order of good advice. Eventually one asked for a full MS. Six months later she returned it with the comment ‘I really enjoyed it, but I wasn’t IN LOVE with it’. And that’s when it dawned on me – neither was I. All those agents weren’t turning it down because of some sinister, secret publishing insiders’ conspiracy to stomp on my dreams. It just wasn’t ready. I’m reworking it now because I still believe there are elements worth salvaging, but in the two years since I finished its first incarnation, my style has changed completely. When I’m happy with it, I’ll start querying again, and in the long periods of waiting for responses, I’ll write other things. Basically, I’m in it for the long haul.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but a little humility can be a writer’s best friend. I’m not saying I’d never go the self-publishing route. I’d just want to be sure I was doing it for the right reasons.

  • Good post, but what about some do’s? In general, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to go the DIY route if you feel like traditional publishers won’t give you a chance. Like you said, sometimes books are meant more for the DIY market. Everyone dreams of being traditionally published. Unfortunately, the number of people achieving that dream gets smaller and smaller. That, alone, is a good enough reason to consider the DIY route, if you take it seriously. After all, isn’t the goal of writing to actually have your stuff read?

    I also agree with Darlene, sometimes first novels are the best (if they’re tweaked and polished) because it’s the novel for which the author usually draws snippets and funny anecdotes, providing an entertaining backdrop to all the dialogue and action.

  • Excellent post.

    I think people also need to be wary, big time, of some of the e-publishers out there who are just cranking out e-books with little to no editing, poor formatting, and some of the most wretched cover art imaginable. Going with those outfits is just as ill-advised as most self-publishing ventures. These quick, fast, in a hurry publishers are a blight.

  • I am not entirely clear why a person could not do both. For instance:

    What if I wrote a book, polished it and edited and revised until it was the best product I could make it, (professional editor, beta readers, months of diligent tweaking, good cover, rave reviews) and then…. uploaded it to Smashwords?

    What if I made my book available there, and then made it available on my website as well?

    Furthermore, what if I went to a “publisher” who gave me an ISBN, a bar code, plugged me into Lightning Source, and hooked me up with a printer who would ship me as many copies of my book as I wanted for about 5 bucks a pop?

    In that scenario, My book would be electronically available on Smashwords, Kindle, Nook, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, AND my own site.

    My hard copy book would be available for people to order through Barnes and Noble and Amazon, as well as people who could order it directly from my website with an autograph for them, and a MUCH better profit margin for me.

    I could even do book signings at any Barnes and Noble, anytime. (did it- had fun)

    Now, if I did all that- WHY could I not still send out queries to agents and try to get picked up by a Big Six publisher? If the book kicks ass, and I have all rights to it, would it prevent them from signing me?

    Why, or why not?

    I do not understand why an author cannot have it both ways. Is the book forever disqualified from traditional publishing, because I have made it available to my sphere?

    Better yet- what if I actually sell it? Let’s say 15,000 copies, through paperbacks and ebooks… because I didn’t feel like waiting for the lumbering dinosaur of Trad Pub…. and suddenly, my 15,000 sales raises some eyebrows and is, in fact, the very thing that got me a Big Six contract?

    One thing I have come to believe in this life is that its ALWAYS about the money. If a Big Six company thinks they can make money by picking up my book, would they refuse and pout because I didn’t sit around and wait three years for them to pull their heads out of their ass? Or would they just go ahead and cut the deal and make their money?

    Is there some unwritten rule that I don’t know about?

    • I’m at a break during a talk on Transmedia, so forgive my quietness here –

      Samuel and others:

      You absolutely can do that. And maybe you should. I’m merely advocating having a smart strategy and a strong positive attitude toward doing so. (For those asking about the don’t versus the do, be sure I’ll cover the do: but this blog post was already getting big in the hips and I wanted to stay on point. Besides, this is the Month of No Mercy.)

      – c.

  • @Samuel, there’s no reason you can’t do all of those things, provided you can find a publisher who is willing. These days most publishers want ebook rights, as well. And even then it doesn’t mean you can’t publish the book and THEN sell them the ebook rights.

    Doing well with a self-published book doesn’t mean you can’t get it published with a traditional publisher or get a multi-book deal out of it. John Rector, for example, did exactly that with his book THE GROVE.

    Self published it through Kindle, did really well with it, and now Amazon is publishing it through their Thomas and Mercer imprint. He also got a deal for a different book with Tor / Forge for THE COLD KISS.

    You can go the trad route and then self-publish (Konrath and Eisler), you can do both at the same time (Monsieur Wendig seems to be doing pretty much that right there) or you can pick one or the other. Up to you.

    Everyone’s path is different and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. There are no guarantees for success.

    Hell, everybody has their own idea of what success means. Your view of success may be completely different from mine.

    You’d just have to try something and see if you can make it work.

  • Great post. It is good to have a shot of perspective in the arse. The fact that self publishing is seductive for all the wrong reasons is something that should be brought out into the open air and showed to everyone. I can’t wait for the list of do’s. I think that the don’t are more important because it will hopefully keep people from doing something potentially dangerous and stupid to their career.

    Been enjoying your blog for a bit now. Working my way through Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey. Such a great idea to distill all of your earlier posts into a book with extra commentary. Better than clicking my way through your archive. And the extra commentary is like splattered brain matter gold! Can’t wait to see what your mind comes up with next.

  • I’m just relieved to see that you wrote several novels before publishing. Makes me feel like it’s okay to trust my instincts and keep working, as opposed to feeling like a big fat failure.

  • I have a question:
    What about novellas, novelettes, and the types of stories that are in-between short story but not quite a novel. Would it be wiser to try a more traditional route or self publish?

  • Thanks guys. I do appreciate the clarification.

    I think one of the key points here is to encourage people to have enough wisdom not to just sling a bunch of shit against the wall to see if something sticks, but to be your own gatekeeper, regardless of what avenue you travel.

    I have a marketing idea that I will implement this spring that is unheard of, when it comes to selling my book to the public directly. It should be a hell of an experiment. Will report back.

    Thanks again Chuck, I can say with conviction that my current WIP is so much better because of your input and guidance. Unfortunately, you have taught me so much that I realize I need to go back and revise my “trunk novel”. (again) It got killer reviews, but I know it has an amateur flavor that I will purge forthwith for future consumption by the masses.

    I did not gain instruction such as yours, properly, when I wrote that book. I’d say that is more important that self-pub or trad-pub- just doing all the diligence you can to make sure you aren’t putting your name on a low quality book. For your own pride, as well as the sake of your career / reputation. The outcome, the numbers and dollars, are secondary to me to the issue of making sure my stories and style are of good quality.

  • I beg to differ. Righteous anger can often be a writer’s best friend. Sometimes you need to be angry enough and confident enough in yourself and say “screw the system!” in order to produce genuine work that is different from what the publishing industry thinks should be in vogue. Since when do artists feel the need to supress all their emotions and become so cerebral?

  • I don’t think the literary community is embracing ebooks, at least not yet. As bookstores close and the NYC literary mafia become as risk adverse as a racist with a police scanner, the gatekeeper will eventually die while on watch. I’m still skeptical whether epublishig will create new classics, but for those of us who are story junkies, we’ll get our fix often and cheap.

  • What’s interesting here is that some folks seem to think that I, a self-published author, am suggesting never self-publish.

    To be clear: not what I’m saying.

    I’m saying you can be seduced into self-publishing for a number of dubious reasons — reasons that, to me (and maybe not to you), will do you and your work more damage than value.

    And again, I’ll hit on the “do self-publish” list at some point — but this month is about putting boots up asses, not puppies on Ferris Wheels.

    Mmm. Puppies.

    – c.

  • I have come to suspect I should have tried trad publishing but I didn’t. After my first two books were ready, at least in my mind, I started looking at publishing options and it seemed as if self publishing was the wave of the future. So that is what I did. But as Chuck points out, it is far more work than I expected. There is the expense of buying art for the covers (I commissioned some just yesterday), and getting beta readers, editing, promoting, marketing, finding reviewers… I’d rather just write. I was lucky, I suppose, in that the reviews my books have gotten so far are very positive but I’m thinking that a traditional agent and publisher may have helped me make them even better. Oh well; that ship has sailed. Maybe I’ll try trad for my third book in the series.

  • I’ve thought for a while that there should be a mandatory waiting period on self-publishing–like buying a gun, but with fewer ID checks and you can’t do it at Walmart. Say, six months minimum, up to a year if it’s the first thing you’ve ever written. Because, actually, I disagree with part of your worst-case scenario; I don’t think you have to be successful to get caug in that loop. I’m familiar enough with my own power of self-delusion to know that I could take the very slightest signs of success (a miniature sales spike here, a five-star review there) and turn them into proof that I was on track to make the big time. And I would never succeed, because I would never be forced to accept failure. (Of course, I haven’t managed to succeed under the current model yet, either, but I’m holding out hope.)

  • Hmm…

    Whether to self-publish or not is a business decision. Nothing more, nothing less. Art and art-angst and all that hoopla are wonderful and all, but they don’t mean squat except for when you are in the chair writing. Once the work is done, you are a salesman*, not an artist.

    You maybe-sorta-kinda addressed this towards the end, but not really.

    *Okay, right, sorry. That’s a sexist term. Salesperson. Businessperson. The person who sells the crap out of a manuscript. The one who gets the most moolah for the project. Not the most self-respect, or artistic shiny twaddle-dee-da (whatever that is–I think I just broke my own brain.)

  • Great info. Per the norm. Hard work — trad or indie routes. I’ve tried both and promo seems about the same. Never-ending. But it’s damned nice to control the distribution channels.

  • There are a lot of good self-published books. A diamond is just a rock until it’s precisely cut and polished. A good book doesn’t reach out and grab you the way a great one does and that usually takes hardcore, no hold’s barred, gritty cutting and shaping and grinding which comes as a collaboration between the writer and a committed editor. Not your mother, not your best friend who’s an English major but someone with skin in the game that knows what the bookselling market looks like and what it takes to get noticed. If you want to self-publish, I strongly advise that you get an editor. And don’t disregard smaller publishing companies who are willing to be that partner with you. Shameless plug – I confess, but between the big 6 only accepting agented perfection at the top of the heap and the “put it out yourself because heck, it’s pretty much good enough” world of self-publishing are a whole lot of small presses who would love to help you take your book from good to great.

  • “ And with easy self-pub options at my fingertips, that may very well have happened.”

    And with self publishing you could easily take down any online store selling books you don’t want sold anymore. You have more control not less. In fact you could take the same book and re-issue a new version every year, getting better and better, and taking down any reference to the old work. The only way old work exists is on the Kindles of your satisfied customers.

  • If self-publishing had been as viable or popular a path in 2009, I probably would have published a stinker of a novel. A big steaming pile of story doo.

    Self-publishing work you can be proud of – your very best work – demands a discipline and commitment to professionalism that I, quite frankly, didn’t have then.

    I have an editor who hauls me over the coals until something is good enough. I think that’s crucial.

    Perhaps the query grind knocked a few stupid ideas out of my head too.

    I’m happy with where I am and how I got here. I’ve no real regrets. I spent 6 months too long working on a terrible novel about a failed hand model called “I Need A Hand Job” (it was that one joke stretched over 200 awful pages), but that’s about it.

    Might rework that as a short one day, though, if I can write a version that doesn’t completely suck for 20 straight pages.

  • When you self-publish, nobody is going to tell you your book idea sucks or your writing isn’t good enough unless you deliberately seek out unvarnished feedback from people who don’t know you and don’t give a rats about protecting your ego. Writer’s forums are perfect for this.

    Most self-publishing disasters can be avoided if authors are brave enough to get non friends+family feedback on their work. Other authors will be the first to tell you “oh hell no” if your work deserves it – it’s in their interests to stop indie authors releasing poor quality books and damaging the perception of the industry.

    I don’t think you need to go through the trad pub grind to get real about the quality of your books, but you do have to seek out people who will tell you the ugly truth about your novel, even when it hurts.

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