Ah, the sweet siren song of self publishing. I’ve considered it in the past as a way of reaching people. I decided at the time to pursue traditional publishing. But after reading more articles on the topic I’m swinging back. What is the lure?
One of the biggest reasons people site for going the self publishing route is that they retain complete control over their material and thus over most of the revenue. This is a double edge sword, of course. If I self publish I have complete control over my novel, but what do I know about the market for my novel? I am a highly experienced and skilled technical architect and could tell you many different ways to achieve your IT goals. That isn’t going to help sell a book, unless it is about architecting IT systems. By keeping control over my work, I lose the expertise a publisher and agent would bring. I don’t know who the influential reviewers are, where my fans hang out or even what is “popular” in a fantasy story. So I don’t think control over my work is a strong enough argument to lure me.
When you self publish, and I’m talking about e-books here as paperbacks are not viable to self publish, you get feedback regarding sales immediately. At any time of the day or night you can log on to Amazon or Smashwords and get a sales report. You don’t have to wait for the quarter to end or for the financial year or whatever reporting period the publisher may use. You don’t have to wait for an agent to work out commission and all the rest. Fans have demonstrated, by downloading the e-book, that they are users of the internet and so you’ll get feedback on your web site and on review sites and so forth. After spending a couple of years writing and polishing your work the thought of waiting for the dinosaurs of publishing to turn into oil before you get paid or before you find out if what you have done is any good sounds like torture. This is a big plus for me. I have made a conscious choice to not encourage or support any business model that doesn’t embrace modern technology. I wouldn’t even consider sending my manuscript in hard copy to an agent and I can’t bear to think of the sluggish movement of physical stock. Not to mention all the poor dead trees.
Agents and publishers are often referred to as gatekeepers. That is because they choose what goes to market, or at least they used to. That can leave you feeling like a top ten contestant on Australian Idol (or any number of other talent shows). They are all in the top ten because they are good, but only one person can win and that person may not be the most talented or become the most successful. Due to the gatekeeper nature of the contest some must fail. So too in publishing. I could write the world’s most amazing novel ever but if for whatever reason I’m not picked up by an agent and / or publisher it will never see the light of day. J.K. Rowling was passed over a couple of times before she was accepted. It is quite possible she may never have been picked up and yet she is probably the wealthiest author ever. Amanda Hocking had written eight novels (correct me if I’m wrong) and none of them were accepted. In case you don’t know, she self published, worked bloody hard at it, and has made millions from her books. She has now signed with a publisher, it just took a couple of million dollars in profit to get through the gate. So the big appeal here is that success is more heavily based on your own efforts and less on the vagaries of the gatekeeper system. I think traditional publishers as gatekeepers is a not a bad thing for the reading public. It ensures a certain level of quality that often lacks in the self published scene.
Getting out there
This is related to the point above. The greatest thing I want to achieve with my writing is to be read. I love writing, but ultimately you have to ask yourself: “If an author pens a novel and nobody reads it, does it really count as a novel?” It doesn’t really bother me how much money I make. I have a day job that I’m quite good at and I love. I want people to read my books and get that mystical feeling of being transported to another land. That feeling that somewhere, even if just in their own imagination, things can work out. That’s what I got from the books I read and I want to share the feeling.
So the main things that draw me to self publishing are the immediate feedback of being plugged in to modern communication technology, the knowledge that success is largely determined by my efforts and the desire to see at least some people enjoy my work. Having a run away success is obviously the dream, to see my work made into a multi-billion dollar movie franchise with TV show spin off and graphic novels… But I’d be happy if just one person wrote a fan email.