Self-Publishing (or Why You Can't Read Travelers)

When people ask me how my book's going, and I start telling them about the query process and the publishing industry and how getting published is like removing a bullet from your leg with a toothpick,* often the next question is: "Have you thought about publishing it yourself?"

Answer: Yes. Many times.

I admit it's tempting. I mean, Travelers may never be published, and I know people (five of them) that want to read it. They'd probably even like it, being my friends and all.

But I'm holding out for a few reasons. Some are minor: self-publishing is expensive, it requires more time and energy, and if I got published later I couldn't put that nice little "Debut Novel" sticker on my books. Stupid, I know. If self-publishing was what I really wanted, those things wouldn't stand in my way.

One thing that does stand in my way is self-publishing's reputation. Traditional publishers give readers a guarantee, or at least a high probability, that what they're about to read is Good. Self-publishing doesn't have that. Actually, it has less than that because so much out there isn't good (according to general opinion). I know there are fantastic self-published books, and terrible traditionally-published ones, but even so, I don't want the stigma.

The other thing standing in my way is that self-publishing is not challenging enough.** The road to traditional publishing is really, really, really, really hard. And it's pushing me. In learning what it takes to get published, in seeing statistics and examples of stories that get rejected, in critiquing the works of other authors competing for the same agents I am, I have grown exponentially - more than I ever would have had I just put Travelers on a year ago.

There are lots of good reasons to self-publish. And for some, self-publishing is the fulfillment of their dream. I think that's awesome. Go for it. Dreams and journeys are what make life worth living.

But self-publishing is not my dream. I want to be published the regular way. I don't know why. I know the odds. Do you know how many unpublished authors have blogs like this? Probably like... well, it's a lot, and many more that don't blog. A lot of them have been trying for this longer than I have. A lot of them are better writers than I am.

I don't think I'm special. I don't assume God's going to open the doors just for me or anything. I do know I want this. And, for right now at least, self-publishing would feel like I settled, like I quit. I'm not ready to do that yet.

* i.e. anyone can do it, but it takes forever and hurts like hell.

** I know self-publishing has it's own challenges, not the least of which is peddling your own books so that they actually sell. But I'm talking about the challenge just to be published, which self-publishing by definition does not have. Anyone can do it.


Natalie Whipple said...

I totally agree—I want the challenge. And I'm still pretty young. Maybe in twenty or thirty years, if absolutely nothing happens, I'll think about self-publishing.

For now, I'm fine with the cruddy odds and long road. I have time on my side.

storyqueen said...

You can do it!! Be strong!! The journey is waayyyyyy more important than the destination.


Adam Heine said...

Thanks, Shelley. And I totally agree.

Agnieszkas Shoes said...

Hi Adam, I started a collective for self-publishers of high quality literary fiction (Songs is one of them but only got in because I started ithe group - the others are way better). We are dedicated to every form of quality,and to marketing our work to readers together, because we realise what we write is just not commercial enough. Several of us still submit to agents/publishers. Harper Collins requested my full, which it is still reading, and assured me that self-publishing would not count against me, which was very reassuring and dispelled one myth. My choice was also prompted by the fact my book is about Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I wanted it ready for the anniversary so I didn't miss out on the hoopla.

That said, I know very many authors who feel exactly the same as you, and my reaction to them is to wish them a huge huge success. Do post your pitch on pitchparlour - I will be delighted to return your kindness and comment.


Hepius said...

I have three goals:

1) To be published by a legitimate publisher (no self publishing).
2) Have a book signing.
3) Get a photo of me standing next to my book in a book store.

Self-publishing just won't feel the same. First of all, anyone can do it, no matter how bad their manuscript is. Self publishing would also kill goal #3. Book stores are very unlikely to carry a self-published novel. The book signing goal would also feel lame.

Best of luck. Keep up the fight.

Adam Heine said...

Dan: That collective idea sounds cool. It's certainly better than the stereotypical "I just want to get published" mentality (or the mentality that "the publishing industry doesn't know what it's talking about - I'm ready now!"). And it's really good to hear a publisher that doesn't care if you self-published or not.

Matt: Those are good goals, and very similar to mine. I still have every intention of fighting :-)

Agnieszkas Shoes said...

yes, it is (about HC). I don't know if it can be extrapolated, of course. Harper Collins are really at the progressive end for big publishers, with projects like Harper Studio and Harper True, largely thanks to Victoria Barnsley. I would hope other publishers think the same, but I wouldn't want to guarantee it. You will alwas find examples of self-published authors that publishers take on, but that's no guarantee of a general outlook on their behalf. Whilst I'm an enormous fan of self-publishing (especially for mid-list and niche titles), I would always recommend people do very thorough research - both of the industry, and their own motivations - before going down that route. And it should be obvious beyond obvious - NEVER go with a self-publishing company without checking them out on Preditors & Editors, Writers Beware, and every other place you can think of to make sure they're not scammers.