Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why We Fight Write

Didn't you always hate it when you were little and the new kid in class, and the teacher would make you stand up in front of everyone so that you could tell them about yourself? There are very few ways of sticking that landing; mostly you come across as a raging tool.

I'm a writer. I would like to be an author, and so, with folks like JA Konrath, Amanda Hocking, and Zoe Winters leading by example, I'm trying to use self-publishing to make that happen. I've never submitted more than a short story to a traditional publishing outlet. I have never sought an agent, crafted a synopsis, or written a query letter. Indie or self-publishing is not a last resort for me, it's my first choice.

So just what the hell am I thinking? Don't I know that I'm permanently hamstringing a career before it even gets started? That indie publishing is only for people who aren't good enough to find homes with traditional houses? Aren't I daunted by all that I'm going to have to do?

Here's the thing: I've been writing ever since I learned how to hold a pen. (Even if I do tend to cling to it like a drunken simian.) I've probably logged at least five million words over the past twelve or thirteen years. Two and a half million of those have been since 2006, which was the first year that I started keeping official count. In all of that time and throughout all of those books, I have produced a grand total of two (or a cumulative 130K words) that I could look at six months later and go, "You know, I think that this one just might have some legs." I wasn't ready before, and I knew it. It was only at the beginning of 2011 that I thought I had something worth querying. Then three things happened.

First, Amanda Hocking went viral. I will be completely blunt with you: prior to that, I thought very little of e-books, in every sense of the phrase. I had a few saved to my computer from specialty e-publishers, mostly in order to support my friends, but the idea of spending $9.99 on an electronic book that could be blipped away from my hard drive at any time, when I could have a real book in my hot little hands for the same amount or even less seemed ridiculous to me. (I know, I know. A paper book can be just as easily destroyed by physical disaster as an e-book can by a digital one. I'm not saying my thesis had all of its legs under it.) Even as I was having to buy another bookcase for roughly the same amount as a Kindle just so that I would be able to see my dining room table again, I couldn't fathom spending over one hundred bucks for the privilege of reading my own damned books. Discovering just how many books were out there for $2.99—excellent, worthy books—or less was nothing short of revelatory. I didn’t even realize that this market existed.

The second thing that happened was that an acquaintance of mine who has been having near-misses with publishing deals for years was ultimately dropped by her agent. None of the editors that her agent shopped the book to had any complaints about its quality. Their issue was that my acquaintance was writing urban fantasy 1) about a dude, who 2) is funny, and 3) has sex. In short, she's not writing Twilight. There's a joke about the publishing industry which has an accountant innocently asking an editor why don't solely publish the bestsellers, the punchline being that you can't truly tell beforehand which books are going to be bestsellers and which will not.

Well, you can certainly increase your odds by narrowing what you will publish until it mirrors every bestseller out there, can't you? Leaving a lot of good authors and good books with nowhere to go.

And, yes, my acquaintance is going to self-publish, and you can bet your ass that I'm going to review here just as soon as it's available.

Thirdly influencing my decision was a dust-up in some of the other spheres that I frequent over e-book piracy and its effect on publishing and authors in general, the details of which I am not going to go into here. (Okay, I'm half a liar, because I'm going to dip in a toe: if you're going to pirate, then pirate. I certainly can't stop you. But have the intestinal fortitude to acknowledge it for what it is rather than trying to torque it into an issue of those mean, privileged writers trying to oppress you with their aspirations of health insurance.) This is indirectly related to self-publishing in that a book sold for $.99 or $2.99 is a less attractive pirating option than one sold for $9.99, given the risk of viruses and malware, and that I'm hurt a lot less by piracy when I'm making $2.09 per book than when I'm making $.65.

Now. I will admit that I still have a couple of anxieties in going at it all alone like this, namely in the fact that, well, I am going to be all alone. There is no one to blame but me, myself, and I if I don't sell, and no one to shoulder the costs of building the website, designing the cover, etc., save for that aforementioned dear little trio. However. I have heard so many horror stories from the conventional publishing world centering around authors who had to all but go to war in order to get cover art featuring people of the same ethnicity as the book's protagonists, of having to do all of the promotion from their own pockets, of publishers attempting to drum them out of business because they questioned homophobic editing practices, that I can't help but see a whole lot of opportunity here and very little in the way of a downside.

Well, okay. Except for the possibility of conspicuous failure and widespread public mocking. I suppose that that's a pretty big downside. Meeble. Let's not think about that, shall we? I'm sticking myself to a deadline: I will have a fully functional website with at least one book for sale on it by the end of October at the very latest. Quailing in the corner never got anyone anywhere.


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  2. "Indie or self-publishing is not a last resort for me, it's my first choice." I loved this statement.
    I'm an aspiring writer and, when the time will come, I'll self-publish as well.
    Maybe a few years ago this would have been a career suicide but, now, it can make you or break you just as traditional publishing.

  3. @rockfreak

    Thanks! Yeah, I'm trying not to hold forth too much before I, you know, have actual books out, but so many of my friends who have gone the traditional publishing route are having to put in just as much work and expense on self-promotion as the indie guys, and for much less in the way of reward. Since more and more of my Kindle shelf is being taken up by indie folks who offer the same quality of writing at a lower price, I'm kind of tilting my head at traditional publishers and going, "So....what do you do?"

    And then I go through another round of editing and tell myself that I'm insane. It runs in cycles.