Why do I self-publish? Why set my work adrift in the uncertain seas of the independent author market when I could hand it over to a traditional publishing company? Why do I single-handedly shoulder the sometimes overwhelming burden of managing every detail of my book’s existence, from copyediting to publicity? People tell me, “You’re work is amazing! You’re too good an author to do all that work yourself!” …well, okay, so nobody’s ever actually said that to me… Not in precisely those words… Or any words, really… But it would be nice if someone did…
Admittedly, I’ve had some difficulty finding publishers and agents to handle The Temple of the Blind. I’ve collected quite a few rejection letters. The book’s size was probably an issue. Clocking in at over 300,000 words, it’s a hefty manuscript. Another issue was likely that the story failed to conform to well-known formulas. It is not, for example, a murder mystery staring a quirky, lovable and relatable sleuth surrounded by a delightfully eccentric myriad of suspects. It is not a tale of a spunky and quick-thinking hero forced to match wits with a sadistic and brilliant killer in order to survive. I never picked up any popular book and said to myself, “I’m going to write something that will appeal greatly to this book’s fans.” As a result, I don’t have a convenient, preexisting fan base that would appeal to a potential publisher.
I did not, however, choose independent publishing because I gave up on traditional publishing. My decision was not a last resort. For one thing, I haven’t collected nearly enough rejections to convince me that the book is not good enough. I still think that I’m a good writer…even if readers of my blog and Facebook page and Twitterings still haven’t taken my not-so-subtle hints and showered me with embarrassing praise as yet… I simply haven’t found that agent or editor who sees the potential in the work that I do. If I feel bad when I look at the number of rejections I’ve accumulated, it is because I should have gathered many more than I have.
My failure was that I was afraid to let go of it. I’d heard so many horror stories about new authors being taken in by publishing scams that I was reluctant to trust anyone. And even the reputable publishing companies rarely lived up to the expectations of a bright-eyed new author. All the articles I’d read about publishing seemed to have the same underlying message: Don’t get your hopes up. First, I should expect rejections. Many, many rejections. Mountains of rejections. Seriously, a whole, freaking heap, more than you can even imagine, boxes stacked to the ceiling, warehouses full of rejections. Okay. Got it. I expected rejections. I embraced rejection, faced it head-on. I even wanted to get a big red stamp that said REJECTED so that I could stamp each envelope before I filed them away with the others, but my wife wouldn’t let me. Something about retaining “optimism” toward my work… I thought I was being optimistic. To me, it was about viewing every rejection as a stepping stone toward getting published.
Secondly, there’s what happens once you finally do get published. New authors have no control over their books. Contrary to popular belief, a publishing contract does not throw open the doors to all your hopes and dreams. Even if I make it through the gauntlet of editors and agents and somehow get my book made, I retain absolutely no say in what they do with it. I might hate the cover, for example. And I certainly shouldn’t expect to see my book on every shelf. I’m not going to be distributed as widely as the big name authors. Not even remotely. Hardly at all, in fact. They’re not going to advertise your book for you. Why would they? They could use that money to advertise an author they already know makes them money. And really, wouldn’t you do the same?
You have to go out on your own and sell your book. You have to convince the bookstores to carry it. You have to convince readers to give your book a chance, even though they’ve never heard of you before. You’ll spend a lot of your own time and money, likely only to see your book out of print in a few short years and nothing left to show for it. Unless you bought something nice with that cash advance…like a big TV…then I guess you’ll still have that…but you don’t have anything else…
Depressing, isn’t it? I thought so. But by independently publishing, I get to be my own publisher. I get to control it all, from distribution to cover design to deciding how long it remains up for sale. And I was going to have to do all that marketing work anyway. True, I don’t get a fat cash advance (no big TV for me) and I don’t have access to a trained copyeditor to review my work for difficult-to-find errors, which means my book ends up less perfect than it otherwise might have. (Potentially embarrassing!) But these days I can put my work out there with virtually no overhead costs.
So do I self publish because I think it’s the only way my work will ever see print? Absolutely not. Do I do it to stick my middle finger to big publishing? No. Not really. (Well, maybe just a little…) There’s still a place for big publishing, but that place is not to greedily guard the only doorway to aspiring authors achieving their dreams. I won’t be one of the lowly masses begging at their doorstep. I’ll be using that time building my brand and putting out the best work I can and developing an audience. I’m not entirely against working with a publisher or an agent, but the terms must be my own. I won’t sign away everything I’ve built for myself so far. There is no value, in my opinion, in having a publisher or an agent, if I have to compromise all of the freedom I’ve enjoyed as an independent publisher up to this point. When and if I find a publishing deal that is right for me, I will join the ranks of the traditionally published. In the meantime, I’m perfectly happy to be an independent author with a small but awesome fan base, slowly but surely getting my name out there.
Until the rest of the world discovers my titles, I’ll just have to keep working and occasionally stop to bask in all that praise from all you adoring fans…
You guys aren’t very good at taking hints, you know.