I’ll be clear up front. I’ve got nothing against self-publishing per se. I’ve seen examples of kick-ass writers who couldn’t break through the traditional gatekeepers, but who built huge audiences online and either then have continued down that route to a new kind of publishing fame and fortune, or who then have signed blockbuster deals with the very houses that could have had them cheap early on. So maybe self-publishing is now a legitimate new entre for those with the skill to pull it off.
I’ve also seen an explosive proliferation of absolute crap, a nauseating cesspool of poor storytelling, badly written and rife with spelling, grammatical and formatting errors, usually offered so cheap as to be practically free. So maybe self-publishing is an exercise in unbridled narcissism through which marginally literate hacks are furthering the reputation of self-publishing as the last refuge of the talentless while simultaneously creating unrealistic pricing expectations, thus twice-poisoning the well for real writers with actual talent.
There’s the good and the bad. Pretty much like anything else. But I won’t be playing.
I’ve got three novels with my agent now, one that’s been shopped a good bit, one just getting shopped now, and one that will be heading out to the usual suspects shortly. Even if my novels don’t sell, though, I won’t be self-publishing, not now and probably not ever. Here’s why.
Read Chuck Wendig’s post today on all the moving parts you’ve got to consider if you want to get serious about the self-publishing business. You’ve got to learn the ins and outs of the various platforms and their comparative benefits. You’ve got to decide whether your soul is worth more than Amazon is offering to pay for it. You’ve got to figure out how you’re going to sell your work – and then invest a lot of effort pimping it. You’ve got to track results and tweak your approach to capitalize on what works in a constantly evolving marketplace. You’ve got to up your technical game so that the material you put out has the fit and finish to distinguish it as a professional product in what is often a pretty amateurish crowd.
In other words, you’ve gotta do a lot of fucking work. And that all takes time.
If you’re a full-time penmonkey like Chuck, and you’ve got his energy and enthusiasm for the ins and outs of the business, it makes a lot of sense. It’s another revenue stream to divert into your wallet.
But I’m not one of those. I’ve got a job – a job that eats up fifty hours of my time on a good week. And I don’t have Chuck’s passion for the business side of this. I’ve got time to do three things: My day job; the sundry accumulation of housework, TV watching, drinking and marital goodwill maintenance that comprises most of the rest of my life; and writing.
If having any kind of career as a writer, other than the one the day-job people pay me for, is going to require mastering the vagaries of self-publishing, then I’m not going to have that career. That’s just how it goes.
And it’s too bad, in a way. Because if that’s how it ends up going; if, as an increasing chorus of people claim, traditional publishing is hearing the sound of self-publishing’s winged chariot drawing near and is soon to be crushed beneath its wheels, I fear many good writers will be lost. Because, to succeed, you’ll have to be as much a self-publishing entrepreneur as you are a writer, and the former skill set may end up being more important than the later.
Whine all you want about agents, editors and the rest of the traditional publishing establishment castigated as gatekeepers – and they certainly weren’t and aren’t infallible – but they did keep most of the crap out of the system. Now, anybody with an internet connection and an ego can flood the virtual book market with a shitstorm of, well, shit.
It isn’t just making it more complicated to be a writer; it is making it more complicated to be a reader. Sometimes the universe of choices in the marketplace when I fire up my Kindle drives me to despair. Truth be told, I often default to what’s offered by the traditional publishers anyway – it saves time, and it’s a little like having that UL tag on my Christmas lights. I may not end up loving the book, but I’m pretty sure it won’t burn my house down.
So, self-publishing? I don’t have the time and, truth be told, even if I did, I don’t have the temperament. So I’ll plug along through the traditional channels and I’ll make it or I won’t. The self-publishing craze will just have to carry on without me.