Why Self Publish?

When people find out that I wrote a book, the reactions range from intrigue and disbelief to excitement and (rarely) amazement. All that comes crashing down when they find out that I wrote a self-published book.

“Oh, you’re self-published,” they say. Awkward pause. “I see. That’s…nice.”

As they inch away slowly, the excitement replaced by something more akin pity, I’ll flash a smile. “Yep, self-published through Amazon.”

I know what they’re thinking. I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t really write a novel, at least not a “real” one. It’s self-published. Anyone can do that.

“Pssst! Look, he even drew his own cover in Paint!”

There is a stigma attached to self-publishing that refuses to die. Just a few years ago, it was probably true that many of the self published authors were people who failed and failed and failed at securing a book deal, and thus followed the only course left available to them. This isn’t to say their book is bad; it’s just that it is so incredibly difficult for an unknown writer to break in.

Or, their book could have been bad. That doesn’t help.

Now, with the advent of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service and the Create Space print on demand paperback factory, the world of self-publishing has truly exploded, and not necessarily for the better. You can write something, submit it, and never face the rejection of the traditional publishing industry. That rejection is key…it forces us writers to re-evaluate our work and to get better. Now that this step can be bypassed completely.

Anyone can upload their Word document or PDF to Amazon and have a book with an honest-to-goodness ISBN number and bar code, cover art and author bio put together within a few hours. As a result, the market has been flooded with books of all genres, written by people of all levels. Some of them are very, very good. Others seem determined to perpetuate the lie that self published books are all worthless drivel.

Perhaps the question posed by this post shouldn’t be “why self publish?”. That answer is obvious: because it’s easy. Maybe a better question would be, “Why would any self-respecting author who wants to launch a solid career self-publish?”

To that second question, I’ll say this: I want the whole experience. I want to be the publisher, the editor, the cover artist, and the marketing manager. By wearing all the hats, I get to take complete control of how my book is presented. Since I’m writing a series, I can work at my own pace. I don’t have to run sample chapters and the plot outline past my publishing house, or strive to meet some insane deadline (hey, I have a day job and kids too, remember?). I don’t have to deal with some artist’s bungled interpretation of what my sci-fi world looks like. And, most importantly, if my book fails to do well, there is only one person I can blame: me.  This will force me to get better. No excuses!

Also, there’s the question of time. Getting those rejection slips in the mail takes a lot of time. It’s part of the process, and I look forward to it (to a point). I’ve got almost fifty rejections in so far this year on my short stories (plus two accepts). It’s a normal thing, and I enjoy playing the traditional publishing game with short fiction because the entire process is compressed. I send off a story, wait a few weeks to a few months, and get a rejection. Wash, rinse, repeat. Since short stories don’t take as much time to write, I can get a bunch of them going at once.

Not so with novels. When I first wrote Sagitta, I was convinced it was a great book. How dare they reject it? While, reject it they did…but it took a year to get through the slush pile of that first publisher I submitted it to. The second publisher was the same…another year of waiting, hoping, and then the crushing rejection.

I realized my book was no good. I then set about to fix it, while at the same time gaining a lot of life experience. I went from being a dorky college kid to an engineer, christian, husband, father, and finally a traditionally published author of short fiction. I am glad I tried the old method all those years ago for my novel. But, as I am now in the trenches collecting form letter rejections and the occasional “close, but not for us” personal  note from the short story markets, I decided enough was enough. I was going to be a published novelist, and I was going to do it myself. The internet is full of stories of people shopping their novel around for a decade before finding someone to publish it, and then having it take off like crazy. Or, sometimes, having their publisher do a half-assed job and not market it at all.

Screw that, I say!

By self-publishing Sagitta, I am going to learn a lot about my writing, because other people will read it and hopefully leave me comments, likes, dislikes, and general thoughts on this blog (thank-you Beta readers for the input you have already given!). I’ll get feedback right away that I can roll into a new revision (or multiple revisions). I can improve tomorrow.

Another benefit is the sheer momentum this gives me to start working on the second book. By having one book out there, I am a hundred times more motivated to get the second one done (I’ve started plotting StarFighter Part II already).

So, if you are considering self-publishing, I’d say go for it, with a few caveats:

1.  Make sure your book is as good as it can be. Don’t do like I did and try and publish it right away. Put it in a drawer. Buy a book or two on writing and editing. Read those. Then edit your book cover to cover. Find beta readers and get them to read it. Do another revision. Join a writing forum and get some editing help.

2.   Make sure you are up to the work. You’ll be doing it all yourself. This isn’t just the formatting or the editing (grueling challenges in their own right). You’ll need to advertise (write an author bio page, get a website, start a blog, Facebook fan page, etc). You’ll need to get cover art (I do plan on hiring a real artist at some point for one of the future revisions). And, you’ll have to deal with the fact that your book probably won’t sell right away (there are rare exceptions).

3.   Make sure you experiment with traditional publishing with a smaller format. By this, I mean write a few short stories (if you are into fiction) or a few articles (if non-fiction is your thing) and submit them to various pro and semi-pro markets. If you stick with it, you’ll learn something; namely patience and humility.  If you do this long enough, some some of those editors will give you some tips and encouragement. You should try to rack up as many rejection letters as you can. The best are the personal notes from the head editors, because those mean you are so, so close. And, eventually, you will break in. That traditional publishing credit is like a stamp of approval that you can then use when you advertise your self-published work.

So, that’s my take on self-publishing. Granted I haven’t been doing it long enough to have much to report on, but take it for what it is. Feel free to ask any questions about the specific process I used (so far, just paperback through Amazon).

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