Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Writing Journey: 5 Reasons Why I've Decided to Self-Publish

When I found myself starting to write a book three and a half years ago, I didn't think beyond the actual writing. All I knew is, I wanted to tell my story, get it out, get it down on paper (or rather on a screen for several months and then, after much ado, eventually out onto paper). Then I was focused on making it the best story it could be...editing, re-editing, having trusted hubby and critique partners read it. Then I'd edit it some more.

(Note to self: for the good of your partnership, Do Not Ask Spouse to Read Drafts. Ever!)

Eventually, I felt like it was as good as I could get it on my know, without professional help. (Professional help from an editor, I should clarify, though "professional help" in its more traditional sense--aka mental help--may be in order soon!) So without a lot of thought about what I was doing or why, I started researching agents. I undertook this task with meticulous care--researching their sales history, the reviews of the books they repped, their preferences, their blogs, what the writing community thought of them...I cross-referenced at least five sources for every single agent.

I created a spreadsheet. And eventually I sent a few queries out. Again, I have to stress, I did this without a lot any thought as to why I was doing it, why I was pursuing the traditional path, or what my other options (aka self-pub) were. You know, sort of like a lemming.

Then several friends sent me Jessica Park's extremely honest, wonderfully straight-talking piece on IndieReader about all the reasons that she self-publishes and the issues she takes with the traditional path. As she says, 

"I spent months thinking that I needed a big publisher in order to be a writer, to legitimately carry that “author” title. To validate me, and to validate Flat-Out Love. I needed a publisher to print my books and stick a silly publishing house emblem on the side of a hard copy. They were the only way to give my books mass distribution, and having them back me would mean that readers would know my book was good.

I also, apparently, thought that I needed to be taken advantage of, paid inexcusably poorly, and chained to idiotic pricing and covers that I had no control over

I was, it seems, deluded."

I laughed. Then I re-read her article several times. I researched the data she cites. (If you haven't read it yet, you MUST. Click over! Right now!) She raises valid, irrefutable points. I debated internally (and externally). And finally, after a lot of mental gymnastics, I made my decision: I'm going to self-publish.

My reasons are pretty much:
  1. Creative control.
    We've all heard the horror stories about the author whose cover was all wrong but he had no choice or input, or the author who had to re-write her plot in a way that she never imagined it. Maybe some people would be OK with this. I'm not one of them. I want to retain creative control of my book (my baby!). I want to be an active participant in its flight to public life.
  2. I'm new, but I don't want to be treated as "next to nothing."
    Again, Jessica Parks said it best: "Publishers pay terribly and infrequently. They are shockingly dumb when it comes to pricing, and if I see one more friend’s NY-pubbed ebook priced at $12.99, I’m going to scream. They do minimal marketing and leave the vast majority of work up to the author. Unless, of course, you are already a big name author. Then they fly you around the country for signings and treat you like the precious moneymaking gem that you are. The rest of us get next to nothing in terms of promotion. If your book takes off, they get the credit. If it tanks, you get the blame."
  3. I'm impatient.
    It can take many months (maybe even years) to find the right agent. Once you finally make that match, the agent has to begin the lengthy and usually laborious task of trying to sell it to a publisher. This is called being "on submission." The wonderful author/blogger Natalie Whipple, whose blog I devotedly follow, wrote very openly and courageously about being on sub for 15 months, and what that was like. In a word: tough.

    Finally, Natalie's book did sell! Eureka!! {confetti!} {celebration} {cupcakes!} Then the publisher said it would be come two years.

    I understand that publishing is a process and patience is a virtue. I understand that newbies have to wait their turn and get in line and who the hell do these debut authors think they are anyway?! And I also understand that there are many, many reasons for wanting to take the traditional path (the honor! the validation! the wonderful fact that you--YOU!--have made it! you're in an exclusive club and you have the publisher's emblem on your book's spine to prove it!) and trust me, I wanted all those things too...but to me, personally, it wasn't worth the tradeoff. So since there IS another option, I'm choosing to take it.
  4. I have a bit of pioneer mentality.
    Yes, it's scary to be stepping off the paved path of traditional publishing. And it kind of feels like instead of a paved path, I'm hitching up the ox and pointing my wagon into the wild west of indie/self-pub. BUT I've always had a spark of pioneering energy in me anyway. Yee-ha!
  5. I'm willing to do the downside work.
    Every so often, Natalie holds Q&A days, when she generously and honestly answers any question you pose. (I've never met her, but I think she must be one of the nicest people ever.) On one of them, I asked her if she'd considered the indie/self-pub path and she said that it wasn't a good fit for her personally. She said, "Going that route requires a savvy marketing mind, being willing to promote yourself and get out there in ways that I don't feel I'm good at. For me, while the traditional route is marked with lots of gates, it felt more comfortable to me to get the support of an agent and publisher. They can do things for me that I really don't want to do felt like the right choice for me. For other writers, self-publishing feels right for them. It's certainly not any easier, just different, and I really admire writers who venture out on their own like that."  

    Listen, the idea of self-promotion is just as cringe-inducing to me as it is to everyone else. I dread it. I loathe it. I want to stick my head in the sand or induce an "Inception"-like coma where I'll wake when it's over. BUT this is the work of it. THIS is the trade-off for the upsides of creative control and speed and immediacy and better royalties. So, for me personally, it's a trade-off I'm willing to try and a path I'm willing to take.
Westward on! Giddy up!


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