This is my first real blog post, and it’s something I wanted to address right off the bat, before what movies I like or how much the deficit something something taxes, and before I post pictures of my cats doing things that, when viewed anthropomorphically, seem quite amusing.
No, what I want to talk about here first and foremost is the whys and wherefores of “self-publishing.” Although with the advent of the ebook age, the term has become slightly less toxic, actually self-publishing is more of a misnomer now than it’s ever been.
Before I get to that, however, let me sing you the song of my people and tell you why I have gone all-in on self-pub. It’s partly my terrible impatience, partly my perfectionism (btw, this is the ONLY segment of my life in which I have that particular trait), and partly economics.
Did you know that in Herman Melville’s day, a book commonly hit shops a mere THREE MONTHS after the final draft was submitted to the publisher? Moby-Dick, a book some of you might have heard of, took just three months to go through HAND typesetting (of course), printing, binding, and shipment? (Of course Melville’s signature book sold extremely poorly when he was alive, but THAT IS NOT THE POINT. Pay attention, see voo play.)
Now a book comes out ONE TO TWO YEARS after the submission of the manuscript. Granted, there are a lot more places that sell books and a lot more marketing that goes into even midlist releases, but people in my family kick the bucket young. I don’t have time to sit and wait for the grinding gears of modern publishing to turn.
And that’s an accepted book. Reading times from publishers vary from six weeks for a proposal to three to six MONTHS for submissions. It may be faster if a writer has an agent, but the response times for agents are similar. If a place doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions and you don’t want to be a shnook and send them anyway, you can be much older and grayer by the time you even get a REJECTION.
I know because I’ve tried it. Sending out manuscripts, query letters, both to agents and to publishers — only to be rejected, as 95% of everything must be, of course — and maybe I’m a “quitter,” but having a book out in the world where people can buy it, read it, and enjoy it just seems like a much better use of my time.
Anyway, the situation is markedly different with “self-publishing.” (I’ll explain why I’m putting quotation marks around that in a bit.) I’m lucky enough to be married to a professional copy editor and proofreader, so I get publisher-level editing on my books, which EVERYONE should have, but I digress. Once you have your manuscript in the shape you want it, it literally takes WEEKS to publish it into a brilliant-looking book. It’s fast, and that is satisfying to me as a writer. It’s done, it’s out in the world, and now I can go on to write more.
Of course, if a major publisher saw my books and said, “Hey, we wanna publish these big-time,” I of course would accept and be thrilled. But to wear the hair shirt and flog myself while praying to the Church of “Legitimate” Publication? No. I’d rather write and get stuff out there myself instead of waiting for them to anoint me somehow.
I’m not a particularly tidy person, in the physical, emotional, or mental realms, but when it comes to my books, I need everything juuuuust right. I want the cover just so, the typeface, the size, the jacket copy, all the physical stuff to be exactly to my specifications. (Again, if Big Publishing came to me and offered me way money to do it their way, I of course would take it and say thank you. But while it would feel good financially, the book wouldn’t be the physical artifact I imagined and it wouldn’t feel the same amount of “right,” even though of course the important part of the book — the writing — would be the same.)
I want to set the type my way, have the cover designed my way, have the price set where I think it should be, etc. etc. etc. I’m willing to give that up for big money, but barring Stephen King singing my praises in Entertainment Weekly, I don’t see that happening — which means that I get to enjoy fine-tuning my book to my idea of perfection.
Let’s say you love to play baseball. I mean LOVE TO PLAY BASEBALL. And your pitching and hitting and such are of professional caliber. But right now the big leagues, they don’t have room for someone with your exact talents, or they just want something a bit different than your skill set, or what have you. Do you play for a minor-league team and do what you love for a living, or do you sit out and keep hoping the Great White Hope of pro ball casts its spotlight on you?
I think you take up with the AAA team and do what you love. Does it pay as much as Major League Baseball? No, not even close. But you can keep working and showing your stuff while working for a living at baseball, which ALSO might attract the attention of The Show. (I love Bull Durham.)
This “self-publishing” I and many colleagues do is like that. We’ve got our stuff out there for the world, and we make small beans at it. But beans is beans and with enough effective marketing and networking, genre authors (including poets) can make for each title at least what writers made from “real” publishers a decade or two back. One thousand dollars for a title is common, and if you catch the Zeitgeist at the right time, you could rake in much more.
Of course, if you’re not interested in marketing your book, you could also sell just 10 books to your relatives and nothing else. But you still wrote that book and it is still out there in the world, available through all the major channels. A little extra effort and you can sell to libraries. A little more and you can get some brick and mortar stores to carry it, maybe have a signing or two. A little more again, and you can have an e-published title ready for your readers’ instant gratification. Most of these are things “vanity publishing” of the past could never aspire to. Self-publishing is NOT necessarily vanity publishing. It can be, and some truly atrocious books get onto shelves and get downloaded, but that is up to the author.
So that’s my two (perhaps eight) cents on “self-publishing.” It offers real access to markets, real creative control, and real potential both for earning at the minor league level and offering a chance to go to The Show of being picked up by a major publishers.