Back when the days were good and traditional publishing looked promising, I rarely gave much thought to self-publishing my own books.
For the longest time, I was driven and determined to get my books through the front door–rather than the back–and I did everything that the agents (or publishers) asked of me. Though I faced down a couple hundred rejections over the course of the first 8 years of submitting, I was still convinced that I could do it; no matter how many times the submission requirements changed or got confusing at times. (There have been instances where some of what the agents or publishers wanted, desired, or requested, made any sense to me and asking for clarifications often came back with a snarky response “letter” or some e-mail that begged to have my head bitten off.)
I soon found out the door to traditional publishing was being choked off for new writers. The word counts were shrinking, the guidelines were becoming more and more restrictive, and the free flow of soluble information was coming in at a trickle at best–forcing me to find other sites or resources that could help expand my search and overall progress.
But no matter what I tried, I was still hitting a brick wall. I realized that nobody wanted large novels, so I tried with smaller ones. I thought–at least–this would work, but I also quickly discovered that writing a small novel (100,000 words or less) was no guarantee that an agent would take interest–let alone a publisher.
But during this time, the economy was just coming out of the worst recession prior to the Meltdown of 2008 and the Great Recession. Agents and publishers alike were being hit especially hard and business for the mainstream was questionable at best–even though it was a multi-billion dollar industry. (And still is.)
The two agents I had originally signed up with, folded, and closed down shop. Big and small publishers were either merging or downsizing their operations to make themselves more leaner and more efficient and authors were having a harder and harder time collecting on their royalty checks.
In short, things were pretty bad; bleak to say the least.
After 2006, I decided that I had enough of the mainstream, enough of pursuing my dream of being traditionally published, and moved onto greener pastures. It didn’t matter what I wrote. I wasn’t going to be accepted.
So I started looking at other options.
And that’s when I started looking at self-publishing. Now, contrary to what the industry thinks or sees it (none of their words being less than flattering mind you), it’s a process where by which you take control of your work and essentially pay someone or a company to publish your book for you–taking into effect all the risks and all the gambles that normally wouldn’t incur while being traditionally published.
Things like editing, copy-editing, proofing, cover art, etc, etc, etc…are arenas that you have to pony up money for and pay for in order to get where you want with your books.
Unfortunately, the majority of new authors and writers don’t see self-publishing as an investment, but a quick way to get their books out however they can. (And believe me when I say this: A lot of the books turned out are of poor standard of quality and not very good reads.)
Personally, I wish they would spend the money to increase the chances and likelihood of a fair return and modest book sales, but they just don’t. They are simply too impatient to rush the process. (Like I keep saying, writing is all about patience.)
And the rights to their books are also seized or stolen outright because the authors simply didn’t spend enough time reading the fine print of their contracts–tying them up for years at a time; making it impossible for them to get their rights back.
In recent years, I’ve read that this has been changed in order to protect the author more in the long run–because of some high profile cases–but some websites that are charged with looking out for the author sometimes report that the houses simply changes names to avoid suspicion and continue their illegal practice of seizing the rights of authors without protest.
I was hesitant to sign myself up to outfits like IUniverse or Author House because of the rights issue and a few other…problems. (Book length being one of them.)
And all the research I did while checking the self-publishing route meant that I would be bearing the brunt of the costs for my books: The editing, proofing, cover art, the works.
So I took my time and felt my way around–checking things out and covering my bases.
The last thing I wanted was to put myself in an implacable position where I would be boxed in with no way out. Because I take this game of publishing very seriously, just as I do with my writing.
(And if that makes me sound arrogant, well, I apologize. It’s just the way I am.)
Fortunately–after a few more years–I came to the inescapable conclusion that there was nothing I could do about the self-publishing front. Only because none of the vanity houses would take the books I had in tow–especially my larger ones due to page limits–and few (if any) were interested in compromising.
Like the traditional industry, they had their way of doing things and wanted no source of input from people like me.
So I had to wait.
Wait until something passed or something came up which would allow me a suitable outlet into the world of self-publishing. I finally managed to track down an editor for my novels, but the process of getting things out have been hitting snags left and right. Sometimes, it was financing, others, it was housing.
These days, I’m short on one, but set in the other–after coming out of a homeless stint that has set my writing back a few years.
Now, I realize that–as the Golden Rule–you’re never supposed to pay and editor for services, you’re never supposed to waste money on anything that keeps the money from flowing to you, instead of vice-versa.
But let’s be real here: The chances of any of us getting our foot into the front door of the traditional publishing industry has become almost next to impossible. We can continue to believe that we might still have that chance, but I just spent 8 long years looking at that mirror and came away with not a single bite of interest from the mainstream.
I’m not making an open, passionate, plea for self-publishing here (because it carries risk–just like everything else in life), but at some point, each and every one of us who is still in the market to become traditionally published will have to make a decision: How many years are you willing to expend in order to get there?
Keep in mind, the industry can wait you out forever if need be. They aren’t in a hurry to publish any one of us. They’ll decide on whether or not your good enough, or that you’re ready. Not the writer him or herself.
And that could take years.
I got out because I was tired of the rejections and the excuses by the mainstream and the agents. Not because of the writing itself.
So if I’m going to be self-published, I might as well make it a worthwhile investment. Spend whatever money is necessary to get the book out. I’m probably one of a few writers that do this these days, because wherever I look on my Facebook page and elsewhere, I still see glaring examples of poorly edited, self-published works.
It just turns my stomach to know that one day, I’ll have to compete with a piece of garbage–instead of a shining jewel–for money and accolades.
But that’s the way things are set up. You have to weed your way through the mess and stand out on your own. Otherwise…? You’re toast.
Self-publishing also means that you have to do much of the leg work and the guess work. All the advertising and promoting. And yes, being self-published means:
A) You won’t see the inside of a Barnes and Noble bookstore…ever. (Independent book stores are even more picky about what titles they carry.)
B) Traditional publishers won’t touch you with a ten-foot pole. (Go ahead: Try it. They’ll just laugh at you!)
C) The chances of making serious money is actually small to remote. Most self-published titles sell less than 1,000 copies. The fewer lucky ones might go 20,000. But you still have to work your ass off to make a sale. (Sitting on your butt doesn’t count.)
Regardless of how you view self-publishing, it is becoming more and more of an attractive option for writers and authors who can’t garner the interest of the mainstream.
Thanks in part to the rise of e-books, the Kindle, and Amazon’s Createspace program, self-publishing isn’t that awful pariah that so many thought it was only a decade ago–where you had to haul around a mountain of books and sell them out of your car yourself.
Granted, the challenge is still there. You still have to get the word out about your books. You can’t just sit on the sidelines and expect it to sell itself. There is still that critical marketing factor which will peak interest amongst readers and that element is you.
If you can’t sell your books, who will?