But does the Dark Side really have cookies?

So I have this story. It’s finished, unlike virtually everything else I’ve touched in the last five years (there’s a rant for another day). It needs some editing, but it’s a whole product to start from, at least. And I love the story, and people I trust who’ve read it love the story, and we’d all like to see it published. My agent, sadly, does not love it. She declined to take it on.

Meanwhile, I’m seeing more and more writers making a go of their writing careers through self-published ebooks (everyone seems to agree that electronic is the way to go, you can’t make a profit with print copies, they’re just too expensive to produce). People with large, devoted fanbases and reliable income streams via their writing, and that’s—good gosh, that’s the dream, isn’t it? Sometimes they’re even supporting themselves 100% with their writing. I’m sure for every success, there’s a hundred failures, or a thousand, who knows. But the successes are compelling.

What this boils down to is that I’m very seriously considering self-publishing my second novel.

I have very mixed feelings about this. I know I’ve absorbed a certain amount of the cultural judgment of self-publication. The plain fact is that an industry without gatekeepers allows some really awful dreck to get out there into the world and make a bad name for the rest of us/them. Part of me has always been fiercely proud that Secondhand Shadow was published by a REAL publisher, however tiny. But what did that get me, really, other than bragging rights? They paid me instead of the other way around, yeah, but they sure didn’t pay me much. I got no marketing, no real support. This makes me start thinking that maybe I might as well do it myself and get a bigger cut of the profits.

Am I selling out, doing something artistically distasteful purely in exchange for money? I don’t think so. I think it’s my own reluctant attitude that’s outdated. The publishing industry is undergoing (or even, has undergone) a sea change that makes the “middle men” of agents, editors and publishers something that’s no longer strictly necessary. I admit I look at others’ success and I want it. I want to actually sell books and have people read them. I have to make money to live, and I want to do it with my writing. (Of course it’s the rare bird that can drop out of the conventional workforce entirely. Right now I’d settle for enough extra money that I can go out to dinner without worrying all night about the cost.)

Money might be a factor on this side of the equation, too, though; self-publishing involves a certain amount of investment. Not, thank goodness, as much as it did, back when writers had to buy paper copies of their book and hope to sell them, but apparently costs like editing, cover art, formatting—not to mention promotion—can add up. There’s a lot of variation, but hundreds of dollars, definitely. And I don’t have that. So we’ll just have to see. First step is to get the manuscript itself into as good a shape as I can, and then get other eyes to look it over and go through the process again. The rest I’ll just keep simmering in the back of my mind, and see what we can come up with.

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