For the Curious…

Originally posted at LiveJournal:

Self-Publishing: Why Would You Do That?

Sword and Chant, my epic fantasy novel, is slated to be available November 16.  I’m very, very glad I chose to delay.  The novel is better for it.

I’ve been asked often why I’ve chosen to self-publish.  The reasons are many, will likely be misunderstood by some, and be of interest to very few.  The decision wasn’t made lightly, quickly, or all in one swell foop.  I thought about it.  I talked with folks about it.  I even charted options.  In the end, self-publishing was right for me.

The issue of time: Should a novel pass the first-reader hurdle with a publisher accepting slush, the expected wait runs at least twelve to eighteen months.  If the first editor rejects it, the submission time starts again with another publisher.  Landing an agent might shorten that time, but those months gained are easily eaten by the agent hunt itself.  Should the novel be picked up, add eighteen–if you’re an optimist–or twenty-four months before launch.

My last wait time on an exclusive, requested submission was well over two years.  At this time, I’m unwilling to practice that sort of patience.  Some will decide my unwillingness means I’m weak and impatient and rude.

On a related note, a survey of Olympic athletes revealed those young folks would willingly shorten their lives in exchange for winning the gold.  That isn’t dedication.  That’s dysfunctional.

Control:  I have been self-employed a long time.  While outside influences can make success or failure harder or easier, I get to make my own choices.  Good or bad, the outcome is on me.  I’d much rather be responsible for all those choices than have someone else to blame.  Y’see, I think “fault” is a gift.  If it’s all my fault, I have the power to learn from it and make changes.  If it’s all someone else’s fault, I can’t improve the situation unless and until that someone decided to permit it.

I’ve heard and read far too many stories of authors’ careers derailed because others held all the control.  If I’m going to fail, I’d rather it be my fault.  Does my cover art suck?  I can change it.  Did a formatting error show up in conversion?  I can fix it.  Is my book not selling?  I can write another one–any other one I want–and publish it without having to “overcome” a history of low sales–or I can revise the first one.  Do I want to do audio?  I can, whenever I want.  Do I want to put out an entire trilogy in one year?  I can do so, because the schedule is mine.  Do I want to write in three genres?  I get to do that, too.

What I write, when I write it and for whom I write it isn’t limited.  I like that.

Measures of Success: I get to choose what quantifies success.  My first goal is to cover my out-of-pocket expenses (which are pretty danged low).  My second goal is to “earn out” an average advance–I’m going with $7500, though I’ve been told that’s high for a first-timer nowadays–within eighteen months.  My third goal is to sell as many books as I’d need to sell under a trade contract to earn out that same advance.

I’m the one who will decide, based on my results, what I will do next as well.

Ego:  Denying that my ego is part of the decision would be rather disingenuous.  I believe I’m a good writer–not a perfect one, not a great one, and not a nothing-left-to-learn one, but a good one.  I believe I’ve written a good novel.   I’ve chosen to have confidence in the feedback my beta-readers have given.  (The other option is to assume they’re lying to me, or are inherently incompetent, and that would be rather rude of me.)

However, I don’t think the ego is any larger than when I was submitting to publishers.  In both cases, I operated under the belief that what I wrote was worth someone else’s time and money.  With self-publishing, I’m simply making that appeal directly to the reader rather than an agent or editor.

And that direct appeal relates to rejection.  Self-publishing isn’t the way to avoid it.  It increases it.  Instead of one rejection every year or two, the self-published writer can be rejected over and over and over and over and over every day–publicly in some cases, and through utter indifference in others.  And I can subject myself to that rejection as often I wish by refreshing my sales pages at various online bookstores.

Trust me: I’m well aware I could be completely wrong about my writing.

But the other side of the ego issue involved how others in the industry would view me.  I’ve hung around with writing professionals, on and off, for over twenty years, and the contempt heaped upon self-publishers has been absolutely vicious in some circles.  I didn’t want to embarrass my friends in the profession, and I didn’t want to be scorned by folks in the industry whom I’d met and liked.  That’s the hurdle that took the longest to overcome.  I finally concluded, based on the feedback from pros I respect, that I wouldn’t embarrass them, and wouldn’t be scorned by anyone whose opinion would really matter to me.


The bottom line is this: trade publishing’s current process of submission and publication doesn’t match my needs or my wants right now.  I understand why it works the way it works, and why it’s unlikely and/or unable to change.  That doesn’t make me any more interested in it at the moment, though.

So.  The standard questions:

You know you’ll have to do all your own marketing, don’t you?   Yep, I’m pretty clear on that.  I’m also not worrying about it right now.  When I have three or four novels up, I’ll invest more time in marketing.  Since the later availability of my novel isn’t dependent upon sales in the first six to eight weeks, and publishing my second novel isn’t dependent upon sales of the first, I can wait until my marketing investment will benefit multiple titles.   I’ll certainly be thrilled by any sales along the way, though!

You are aware statistics show few self-published books sell more than a handful of copies, aren’t you?   Why, yes.  Yes, I am.  I am as aware of the low expectations as I am the number of slush pile submissions that become real books.

You’re not going to make much money in self-publishing.   And that’s different from trade publishing… how?  Take that $7500 advance I mentioned above, minus 15% for the agent.  Divide it by twenty-four (the amount of time that advance would likely be spread over).  That’s less than $270 a month.  And looking at those numbers assumes a publisher actually made an offer.

Besides, a primary truth drilled into every writer is that they shouldn’t expect to make a living in the profession.  So the expectation that I might not make much self-publishing isn’t a deterrent.  However, after running numbers, observing the markets, watching what sells and doesn’t sell, and running numbers again, I’m convinced I can make as much self-publishing as I could trade publishing.

(Aside: To my knowledge, the writer is the only working member of the trade publishing community–other than unpaid interns—told to never expect to make a living at their work.  DO correct me if I’m wrong, please.)

What will you do if you don’t sell anything?  Or get a ton of crappy reviews?   Um…  I’ll be embarrassed.  Wouldn’t you?


ETA: Pasted text here from original LiveJournal post so folks didn’t need to follow other links.


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