Publishing expert Porter Anderson had an interesting post recently, asking if it might be time for self-publishing to get over itself. He points out that:
- Yes, obviously, indie publishing has become a respectable option for a number of writers, including many who were once traditionally published.
- Readers have never particularly cared who publishes books.
- Why call attention to it (or, worse, get militant about it) when you could instead put that energy towards writing more books?
It’s a valid question.
My answer to him (literally — I commented on the blog post) was this:
…I have a friend who asked me why I didn’t just fake it, since my books could “pass” for traditionally published. And he had a point. But I’d be nowhere without the helpful information provided by indie authors who went before me (and are still figuring things out faster than I am). So I feel an obligation to participate as well, to the extent I can, as a matter of paying it forward. I also find it genuinely interesting. (I have a background in traditional publishing, so I find the whole industry interesting.) I do think it is unfortunate when self-publishers get militant about their status. I understand the temptation, but I think it’s rooted in insecurity. There’s nothing inherently evil about traditional publishing. Or about agents. Or about bookstores. How many of us would be writers today if we hadn’t benefited from that low-margin book industry all our lives? Yeah, it can be corporate and risk-averse, and some of those contracts bear close examination. But the Big Five are not in a deep, dark conspiracy to ruin authors’ lives. If we care about literature, we should hope that they and bookstores continue to prosper, and that we all find our way to eager readers.
(He responded, if you want to check it out.)
Now, my personality is part of this equation. I compulsively truth-tell for the most part — sometimes unpleasantly so. My mother practices the fine art of being a polite Southern lady, but I think I have taken after my journalist father — we’re both prone to occasional crankiness and self-righteousness. (Yes, Dad, I said that.)
Over a decade ago I remember telling an agent at a conference that I wouldn’t self-publish because “that way lies madness.” And in those days, that was true. Self-publishing was largely the realm of crazy people utilizing vanity presses, stocking boxes of books in their garage, and hand-selling to everyone they knew. Then Amazon and print-on-demand technology changed all that.
I do remember still feeling an inhibiting shame about self-publishing, even after I’d decided it was something I would probably enjoy doing, until I came up with the name Sheer Hubris Press. That gave me the freedom to just do it. Yes, people, it says — Yes, I’m publishing myself! Yes, I think my stuff is worth reading!
I just can’t fake anything, and I don’t want to have to. Yes, I know there are things that are definitely Too Much Information or too cruel to say, and I’m not recommending you tell your boss you can’t stand him or her before (or even after) you have another job lined up, but for the important stuff, the stuff that gives life meaning, I want to be my genuine self.
There is still sometimes an element of shame involved. For me the worst shame was discovering that my proofreading of The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire was not at all up to snuff. Fixing that meant sitting with perhaps the most visceral feeling of shame I’ve ever experienced — literally, I put off the work for days because of the awful feeling I got in my guts. I had prided myself on being a better publisher than that.
So, yes, sheer hubris can lead to spectacular failure. Except… so what? Ultimately, it was just another hard-won lesson along the way. The book has been fixed (mostly — there are at least three typos left, which I’ll fix when I add the information about the next book). And it’s doing well enough critically to make me happy, even though I doubt its sales will ever match The Awful Mess, which has the great advantage of crossing over into romance.
As I once told a library audience when presenting about indie publishing, there are people who will react to a self-published book as if someone in the room just farted but they’re too polite to say anything about it. What I didn’t say is that I don’t give a flying **** about those people. They care more about status than whether a book has something valuable to say.
There’s enormous joy in living your life the way you want to live it — living out loud — and sharing what you’re good at with others. If you can accept that publishing is hard work if you plan to do it well, puts you out there where not everybody will be kind, and is extremely unlikely to result in fast fame or riches, then you’re going into this with your eyes open. If, knowing all that, you still feel called to do it, go for it.
One of those 2015 resolutions: building my email subscription list
Jo-Anne Kern won the first quarter’s $20 Amazon Gift Card for being a member of my email list. (This is not the same list that gets you this blog sent to you in your email, just in case you’re confused about that.) If you’d like to be entered for the next quarter’s drawing, subscribe. You’ll need to confirm your subscription for it to really take. I send out occasional news and give you access to bonus materials and stories.
I’ve been investigating how to build the email list. There seems to be a whole industry of authors who claim to have the magic secret of doing this, which they’re happy to tell you about (and you can learn more for only $____!) One of them involves adding annoying pop-ups or slide-overs to your web site. I may yet try this, but I’m not at all convinced it would help. I click out of those sites fairly often.
One thing that would help would be having a web site that is actually up and running fast enough. Bluehost has been letting me down this week. Sorry about that.
A signed-copy giveaway
I decided to run another Goodreads giveaway for a signed copy of Ribs (for US readers only). Naturally, I just read a book promotions expert saying that you should never give away books unless you can get an email address in return. (On the other hand, giving away books is exactly how I managed to do quite well with The Awful Mess.) If you’d like to enter for this, here’s the information: