Monday, April 16, 2018

Why is Self-Publishing Considered Embarrassing?

Yes, I know the answer to that. In fact, I’ve met enough self-publishers to say that the expectation is easily found. Many indie writers truly are impatient egomaniacs who quickly regurgitate a naïve perspective on literature, posting half-baked and painful reads while being overly sensitive to poor reception.

But, not all are. And, more importantly, not all have to be.

I recently announced that I am self-publishing some of my play scripts to dabble in the process as well as make them more readily available to potential buyers. Theatre works differently than novels, and most of the time you’re making your money by selling rights to produce, not the books themselves. (Which is why it’s not uncommon for publishers to merely rent the scripts rather than sell them. Of course, those are nice, soft-leather bound copies, different from the cheap literal paperbacks you can buy for consideration.)

This was not a decision that I took lightly. After starting up my literary journal, I got some bad backlash. My father’s friend pressed for details about the journal before smirking, “So it’s just self-published.”

“Well no,” I said. “It’s other people’s writing. ‘Self’ isn’t really a part of it.”

The snide remarks towards a small anthology of local authors—a pet project—made me wary towards how it would be if it had been a novel that was near and dear to my heart. I, in fact, received a pretty vicious, unsolicited response from a dear friend on how she absolutely despised my cover, and it made it really hard to roll with the punches. Why would I take something I cared deeply about, put it out into the world, to have people say, “So it’s just self-published?”

I think there’s a lot of merit to traditional publication, and indies have to be stronger, wiser, better, faster than their trad counterparts in order to obtain half the success. I am not one of those people who think self-publishing is going to wipe out the old, nor that should be the go-to for many writers. Nor should trad pub be the go-to necessarily either.

What I’m interested in, however, is the evolution of my own thought process behind the idea, and why it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it did some years ago.

I remember one writer’s conference—the first one I went to, I think—where a man asked a question about a self-publishing company who offered to do everything for one packaged price. The backlash of agents was alarming, their energies spiking as they insisted, “NO! NO! Big scam! Don’t ever pay to be published!”

Which today, it actually is kind of a bad deal. Self-publishing companies, even reputable ones with good business plans and customer service, aren’t always going to be the most creative or informed people. They hire like your good ole bureaucracy. It doesn’t draw in those who love the field or want to help people. It’s a day job to most of them. Finding freelancers, independent artists, and choosing based on your personal tastes is a much, much better plan than just handing your work to one company and calling it a day. You get more of a personal experience, for one thing, but when it’s your money, you should have a say.

Despite all of that, the reaction towards his self-publishing question changed drastically in the following year. Not only were the answers more about how to vet a company, rather than NO, one of the agents on the panel was strictly for self-publishers. (What does an agent do in self-publishing? I’d say act as an advisor, I suppose, but honestly I was a little skeptical of her.)

So what changed? Well, previously the potential for success amongst indies was actually pretty crap. “You need money to make money,” so to speak. Printers who would create books for cheap weren’t as numerous and so you had a smaller choice. Print books are expensive to make and not only can you not undercut the trad publishers like you can with an ebook, most times you’d actually have to sell it for more than average market cost to afford it. Still true today even.

And why, honestly, would I buy a self-published work that probably hasn’t seen the eyes of another human being before going to print for fifteen dollars, when I could by a bigger one that is loved by many for seven?

For me though, in my years of reading indies and interacting with them, I realize how much I stopped trying to vet people. If it’s hard to tell if it’s self-published, then that’s a pretty good sign the author knows what they’re doing. I mean, I don’t like being burned by books. I have just recently bought a novel by an indie that I really want to like, but have a feeling is also some self-pandering slough. I wouldn’t have gotten it either, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it and finally said, “Why not?”

I only knew he was self-published because I had followed his blogs and his original covers were… exactly what you’d think. But it was because I was keeping track of his process that I kept returning to his page as well.

I used to think, I realize, that self-published works could never be taken as seriously as the trads, that if my book wasn’t picked up by a ‘real publisher’ it wouldn’t be an actual book itself. I had high doubts anyone could be successful as an indie. Hard work wouldn’t matter, right?

But that’s not entirely true. Publishers are just people. Graphic designers, editors, writers even, the whole shebang. With the right amount of money, you too could act as publisher and find the right person for the job. Why not? Sure, you have handicaps going it alone, having to learn things by yourself, but presuming that anyone worth their salt is going to be working for a big company is disingenuous to the way I view the world.

I’m not self-publishing a novel, if you were wondering. I don’t have the money for one thing, I still believe it needs to be done right. I still believe that traditional publication has its merits, and if I do go the indie route, I have to plan for the possibility of complete failure.

But it is a path that has been opened for me which wasn’t originally. For one thing, I’m more confident in my design skills, and I’m not entirely sure that I want to be well read all of the time. Something about being a really successful author scares me. Having a book out there with some anonymity becomes a nice dream rather than a nightmare.

Point is, don’t knock it until you try it. Times are changing and no matter how you feel today, you’re not sure how you’ll feel tomorrow.

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