On Self-Publishing

In a previous post (here), I discussed some of the mental challenges that aspiring writers face, specifically related to attempts to start a professional career. It’s difficult to juggle the desire to make a career of your passion when the act of getting into the public market detracts from what makes the passion so alluring. I think that this is broadly experienced by a lot of writers working for those first few steps of recognition, but the solution may not be as ubiquitous. Take the rest of this post with a spoonful of salt. This is about where I am personally.

Self-publishing is a very interesting topic because it is gaining traction as a legitimate avenue. Traditional publishing has historically played a large role in deciding what was “good enough” to expose to the public on a broad scale. While it necessarily puts a lot of power into the hands of the publishers, it also gave readers that level of confidence that if something made it through the gamut of trials it must have at least some positive qualities. In contrast, there can be a stigma that if something is self-published, then it must not have met those standards. There are more books, stories, and articles than I could possibly read in the short and valuable time that I have available. Why should I waste it on something that couldn’t make the cut?

There are a growing number of successful self-published works, one recently even hitting the New York Times Bestseller List, that indicate how this mindset is evolving. True, the coin has two sides (maybe more, it’s an unusual coin). With the relative ease of publishing electronically, we lose the people sifting through the slush pile. Instead, the set of options made available to the public IS slush pile. As an ambitious writer, I understand quite well the reluctance to “throw myself in with that lot.” There really is a lot of pretty terrible stuff out there, and it’s hard to understand how people will know that yours is different.

Let’s kill the suspense now: I’m going to self-publish, for specific reasons and in a targeted way, but I’m okay to throw myself in with all of them, the good and the bad.

If you read that other post, you may glean a hint of why the traditional model of submitting constantly while writing grates with me. There is a distinct lack of visibility and control over the entire process, which adds unnecessary stress. Personally, I understand the need to self-promote very heavily when I self-publish. But that doesn’t bother me, because it’s something I can manage, something I can wrap my head around. I can come home at night and work on some concrete tasks and get back to what I love to do. I know exactly how the process is moving and I get more in sanity than anything else.

The other reason is that I intend to self-publish a set of short stories, which is not a common thing for publishers to pick up. There are a few magazines, both print and electronic, that have great reputations for short work. Sure, it would be awesome to see some of my stuff there too. But they also are looking for something specific themselves. They may not want to publish your work, but that doesn’t mean that no one wants to read it.

And this brings up the very, very, very important issue with self-publishing that is editing. Because it’s so easy to do (almost as easy as it will be for me to post this), it is very easy to do too soon. I myself am guilty of banging out a short story and basking in its beauty without another look, much less three or four or eight. Rejections from publications can serve to remind you that it may not be as polished as it should be. With self-publishing, that burden is on you. You must recognize that every page might not be ready for the world. There is a great quote (Steven Furtick, I believe) that says, “We are insecure because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” It seems to apply here also, but in almost an opposite way. Don’t get so anxious to get it out there that you line up your own behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel. It’s your chance to show yourself to the world, so make it the best possible show you can.

So I will be starting this journey of self-publishing soon. I plan to post about it along the way, to share the problems (and hopefully solutions!) that come up along the way. Stay tuned…