Sunday, 28 October 2012

On Self-Publishing

I haven't always been fond of the idea of self-publishing. In fact, I'm only a recent convert to it. It was only after I met and began regularly talking to a number of people who are involved with self-publishing that I decided I'd give it a shot. 

Here's an outline of what influenced my decision: 

1) While the contemporary self-pubbing industry has initially gotten a bad rap due to some very low-quality offerings in its beginning and to the fact that it is open to all writers regardless of their quality, I'm seeing more and more indie authors whose work I've enjoyed moving to self-publication. The face of the industry is changing, and I have to say that I've become a fan of some writers I've found through it. 

(A disclaimer here: The next point does not refer to any of the journals in which my stories have appeared before. I've had nothing but great experiences with those editors.)

2) Traditional publication has gotten ridiculously political. Over the past few years of on-and-off attempts at standard publishing (some of which have been successful), I can't count how many times I've seen journals demanding that stories submitted to them "echo" the work of a certain writer the editor likes, contain these words but not those, depict this but not that, etc. Editors' rules for submissions can be both depressing and hilarious. I don't remember what journal it was now, but a few years ago, I even came across one that was basically trying to build a reputation on discovering the next H.P. Lovecraft... by demanding that all submitted stories be Lovecraftesque with language that deliberately mimics Lovecraft's style. (Keep in mind that this was not for a special Lovecraft-themed issue, but the entire journal.) Don't get me wrong. I'm a fan of Lovecraft. But I felt that this journal (just to use it as an example) was not actually looking for original ideas and stories at all. 

That journal was hardly a unique case. I've seen a surprising number of journals of all genres (including mainstream/literary, which is, despite my love for genre fiction, what my primary experience is with) create "reading lists" for authors wishing to submit work for their consideration. It's one thing to say "our journal strives to create the aesthetic found in such books as X, Y, Z", but when you're demanding that prospective authors only submit work that reads like X, Y, and/or Z, then maybe you'd prefer to just read those books again rather than look for something new. Likewise, if you're proud of the fact that you reject 99% of the stories submitted to you, you might want to rethink why you're in the literature business. 

Even just in terms of short stories, since they're what I'm primarily experienced with, a lot of traditional publishers have content guidelines that seem designed to be arbitrary. For example -- no excessive swearing. On one hand, I can understand that, as it would seem to discourage that stereotype of the angry young writer who thinks they sound edgy if every other word is a curse. However, what determines "excessive" swearing? Are certain words weighted more than others? We can make classist arguments against swearing all we want to, but the fact is, it's not unrealistic speech, and for certain genres/character types, it would be unrealistic to stick to "clean" language. 

Some other examples -- erotic horror without sex or even descriptions of sexual acts or organs. That doesn't even make sense. Body horror without gore. Those came from the same journal (I'm not sure if it's still around or not.) A particular peeve of mine is the submissions guideline that reminds authors that all stories must be about something. That's an integral part of storytelling, and even the worst stories are still about something. Does this editor mean that the stories should be plot-driven or that they should end with perfect closure? Who knows? They're certainly not saying. 

It's important to follow guidelines for publication, but I feel that it's gotten far too trendy for editors to make their journals as inaccessible as possible to unknown authors. 

3) Traditional publishing has become so restrictive and narrow in focus that even some mainstream writers are encouraging unknowns to get their start in self-publishing. 

4) Self-publishing is, in my opinion and experience, ideal for short stories. For now, I've chosen to only self-publish them after they've been published elsewhere and, when applicable, the rights have been reverted back to me. But the short story is a hard little thing to sell. So many journal editors require that stories be very short, but then once those stories have appeared in the journals, there's nothing else to be done with them, and the stories inevitably become lost in the back issues. Short story collections are only viable in the traditional market if the author is already well-known. It seems to me that self-publishing is a great way to give a story a post-journal life, and to enable readers who may not be fans of journals to read them. 

Now, I don't expect to actually make any real money doing this. Due to a writing experience that I'll finally admit to in another upcoming post, I'm very aware that there's really only one genre that makes any money for self-publishers, and it's not one that most people will put their real names to. The self-publishers who occasionally make their way into the news for selling 100,000+ copies are flukes. However, I've managed to make just a couple of bucks off putting up short stories, and that's better than nothing. One of the stories I've put up I'd actually prefer to make free, but if anyone is unaware of this already, it can actually be quite difficult to get stories listed as free on major retailers without endangering one's own account with those retailers, and other retailers won't post free ones. Everything I've got up right now (and the stories I've lined up to publish next) are listed at $0.99 USD; in Amazon's British and EU markets, they're listed at the equivalents. Of that 0.99, I receive just a few cents out of every sale. Clearly, I'm not expecting wealth out of this. 

I publish to Amazon (for Kindle), Barnes & Noble (for Nook), and Smashwords directly. Smashwords allows readers to download stories in a variety of formats, including those readable on Kindle, Nook, and home computers. They also have an on-site viewer. Smashwords distributes to a number of other retailers, including Kobo, Diesel, Sony, and Apple/iTunes.

So far, I'm enjoying this venture. My jaw drops every time I see that someone has actually bought one of my stories. I don't know who the people who are buying them are, but thank you. You make my day every time. 

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