Tomorrow marks the official launch of my short fiction collection, OLD SCHOOL. It’s been live on Amazon for a few days now, picked up a couple of nice reviews, but tomorrow I’ve got an interview running on Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds, which has become the online writing community’s equivalent of a black hole, sucking in all the readers in our syphilitic little corner of the interverse and spitting them out the other side as, well, I don’t know what exactly. Machine-gun toting tattooed biker unicorn writers whose horns are draped with the flesh of their victims? (Henceforward, Writercorns ™, T-shirts to follow.) Getting a guest slot on Herr Wendig’s blog, that was a big enough deal to make tomorrow D-Day – especially since Chuck was also kind enough to write the foreword for OLD SCHOOL as well.
In the process of pulling the collection together, though, and mulling how best to unleash it on the world, I had one fundamental choice to make. Do I self-publish the thing, or do I try to hook up with one of the new breed of e-publishers that have sprung up as an option in our brave new world? I chose Option B – OLD SCHOOL is coming out under the Snubnose Press imprint. As folk seem to have some interest in this sort of thing, I’ll share my reasoning. First, what was my goal? Money? Exposure? Public humiliation? Certainly a question you’ve got to answer if you’re making this decision.
If your primary motivation is money, then a publisher may not be your best bet. Fact is, they get a cut of the take. I’m not going to get into the specifics of my deal with Snubnose, but suffice it to say, I’ll have to sell way more copies through a publisher to end up with the same coin that I would get if I were keeping the whole take for myself. But for me, money was not the prime motivation. I’ve got a day job to make money, and if my total take from OLD SCHOOL adds up to even one of my day job paychecks, I’ll be a happy, and frankly shocked, camper. No, I’m in this for the exposure. Being backed by a publisher can only help on that front – it means someone besides me has an interest in the book’s success and will be out there pimping away.
See, I’m not a known quantity. Maybe a few dozen people outside my own family might read something because my name is on it. I’m not J. A. Konrath or one of the other handful of self-publishing rock stars who can count on name recognition to draw an audience. (And I have no bone to pick with that lot. Hell, Chuck is one of that lot now. But I’ve seen the work that Chuck had to put in to build that platform just over the couple of years that I’ve known him. You try writing a blog post every day for a few years straight. Yeah, Chuck may be a traffic magnet now, but I have to imagine that, back when he first hatched his Penmonkey Plot for Interweb Domination, his now-mighty flood of readers was often just a virtual trickle of hits, mostly sucked in by his occasional shameless exercises in Pauley Parrette photoshopping. I have to imagine there were days that cranking out that daily post was about as much fun as sandpapering his Sriracha-coated genitals. But he had a plan, he stuck it out, and now his audience is swelling in Malthusian degrees. So now, when Chuck feels like dropping a fresh load of genius on the market, he’s got a brand to back it up. Me? I’ve just got a lot of in-laws, most of whom, if they do read the damn thing, are going to write me very concerned e-mails asking about the last time I saw the inside of a confessional.)
Second, there’s the mechanics of the whole thing. Writers, no matter how good, need editors. We need proofreaders. We need other eyes, the right sorts of eyes, pawing over our work to catch our mistakes and to point out those occasions when we’re just full of shit. A publisher offers that. E-books need to be formatted – everybody says that’s pretty easy, but even the e-books I buy from big name publishers seem rife with weird spacing, unexplained hyphens, sudden strange gaps. Fit and finish matter, or they ought to. I don’t want to have to learn the vagaries of preparing a book for the net, and I like the idea that the folks who did that for me have done it before. A book needs a cover (and a big, public thank you on that front to John Hornor Jacobs who, in addition to being one hell of a writer, in case you haven’t caught the buzz around his debut novel, SOUTHERN GODS or his upcoming THIS DARK EARTH, has got powerful design-fu).
Finally, and most importantly, was this. The self-publishing revolution has opened the floodgates by removing the gatekeepers who before stood like the Spartans at Thermopylae between us readers and the unwashed horde looking to jab the pointy sticks of their genius into our eyeballs. Like many, seduced by the promise of virtually unlimited books priced like candy bars, I rushed to greet this horde. And I got shit in my eyes. I got a taste of what those gatekeepers had been protecting us from all these years. Which is not to say that one does not find in the bowels of that horde the occasional magnificent warrior whose flashing steel rends your heart and soul instead of offending your sensibilities, but dear god, you’ve got to hack your way through an army of shit-slinging narcissists to get to them. Narcissists who often prove that, not only can’t they write, they can’t edit, they can’t proofread, they can’t format. Narcissists who are dumping their mental chamberpots unfiltered on the eyes of men.
My sense is that readers have wearied of that shitstorm, that they may be wishing the gatekeepers were back. And, in that self-regulating way that markets have, new gatekeepers are emerging. My belief is that the new breed of e-publishers, like Snubnose and Blasted Heath, are now joining that battle. But, also in that way that markets have, they are defining a new niche. They aren’t bound by the blockbuster business model that too often drives traditional publishing. They are able to offer titles that push boundaries, able to bring more debut authors to market, able to offer a wider – and riskier – range of fiction. That’s why Snubnose can offer a debut from someone like Keith Rawson, and why Anthony Neil Smith, an excellent writer who has previously been in the traditional publishing fold, has found the perfect home at Blasted Heath.
But they are also staffed with professionals who have proven their editorial judgment – first readers who know wheat, know chaff, and know just plain shit when they smell it. Which gives readers the best of both worlds. They get the wider range of fiction that the overly staid and risk-averse world of traditional publishing has too often kept off the market, but they also get the assurance that they aren’t plunking down their money, even if it is only a couple of bucks, on maloderous and festering piles of verbal effluvia.
That’s how I made my decision. But it’s just one man’s opinion, and you know what they say about those – they’re like the befouled orifices from whence all effluvia spring. So what’s yours? C’mon, I showed you mine.