Saturday, March 24, 2012

Self-publishing: Chapter One

Self-published novels are crap. They are the books that people couldn't sell to publishing houses, the rejects of editors and agents, and quite possibly, of friends and family and colleagues. They are self-indulgent, sub-par works that before this decade would have been smothered in a dark, musty drawer...which is exactly where they belong.

Up until six months ago, this was my belief.

The foundation of this belief is the entrenched idea that the only books worthy of being read by the public are those that have been approved by agents, editors, and large-name publishing houses. Anyone who couldn't make it through these ranks, this built-in testing ground, didn't have a book worthy of being read or shared.

Yet, there were flaws in this logic—glaring, enormous flaws.

First of all, virtually to an author, traditionally published authors will tell you that part of their success had to do with luck. Their manuscript magically got moved to top of the slush pile. Their dry cleaner slip was swapped with a large-name editor's, and once they got to talking, one thing led to another. Their dog went to the same day care as an agent.

I believe in the universe giving us what we want, and I believe that you conjure what you think about, but I don't depend on luck. I also don't think it should be a requisite part of any career path.

Also, before this begins to (continues?) to sound like the rants of an egomaniac who had a bad encounter with an agent/editor/publisher, let me make it clear: None of the published authors I've read would have had half their success if everything were based on only luck. The luck only works if you have a good book to begin with. If you've written crap and run into the rumored underworked, overeager editor who can't wait for her next project, you're still going to be rejected. The writing has to be good. I consider that goes without saying, but just in case, I'll repeat: The Writing Has to be Good. It'd be better if the writing were great, but it has to be at least good.

The second flaw was simple logistics: everyone has their own opinion. The novel that appeals to me doesn't appeal to you. In fact, the NYT bestselling novel that appeals to me still doesn't appeal to over half the population of the United States. Thus, agents and editors might reject a novel not because of its story or flaws in the writing, but simply because it doesn't match their tastes. It is too close to another book they're representing. It doesn't fill the missing piece of their business plan for the year. They're tired of space dramas with flirty two-headed aliens, because they happened to read three of those in the last year. It doesn't mean that your novel wouldn't sell to all the other people who aren't tired of the double entendres of two-headed space travelers.

The Internet is full of information of famous authors who were rejected dozens, hundreds of times before selling their now famous and classic works.

Also, this is the first time in history that authors have the ability to publish and gain a readership without requiring the backing of a big publishing house. Now, it's the readers who are voting with their dollars, and they don't just look at the main, big contenders. They look at everyone. They look for a great story. As a species, we crave a good story. We devour them. It's why film is a billion-dollar industry. Why video games are, too. We want a good story, and we want it delivered to us. The consumer doesn't care if the story (remember the note above: the good story) was published through traditional channels or self-published.

The names of top-selling self-published ebook authors keep cropping up:

Kerry Wilkinson
Colleen Houck
Darcie Chan
John Locke
and, of course, Amanda Hocking

The tipping point that convinced me to try self-publishing was something someone said—that I really wish now I could remember who and in what article. I want to say it was Tina Fey. It was something along the lines of: If I waited around for people to write roles for me, I'd be a broke nobody.

Translation: If I want to have the job (author), I should provide the opportunity for my own success (self-publishing).

This happened around the time my husband started getting interested in the film industry. Which meant I was suddenly privy to (inundated by) all sorts of information about the Indie film world. Here were a bunch of people who created films so they could do what they loved. They wrote so they could direct. They wrote so they could act. They hunted down their own funds and did their own marketing. Some succeeded, some didn't. Some you've never heard of, some were nominated for Oscars.

Here was a whole different branch of the entertainment industry that was doing it, doing it for themselves. (I couldn't help myself.)

And here I was with a novel that is good. Here I was with over fifty rejections, many of which said it was good, just not right for them. Here I was wishing I could be a published author and make a little money for my efforts.

But I don't want to be one of those authors, I told myself. Not one of those pathetic, couldn't-get-published-anywhere-else authors.

Pride is funny. It's a measurement that you perceive you've either achieved (traditionally published) or failed (self-published), but it's all a perception. My pride was blocking me.

So I did some soul searching. Did I want to be published? Yes. Did I want to make money as an author? Yes. Did I want to connect with readers? Yes. Was I willing to do all the marketing myself? Yes. Would it make me happy for my book to be read by others? Yes. Is my book good enough?


Thus, with trepidation and excitement, I embarked on the newest adventure in my writing career: I made the decision to self-publish Conventional Demon

And that's when the real work began.

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