Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why self-publishing?

From a reader's email: Why did you choose self-publishing?

1) It's the wave of the future. Old-style publishing is moribund. (In fact, instead of "indie" and "legacy" publishing, I often think of them as "new" and "moribund" publishing, mostly because it allows me to say "moribund," which is a very cool word.) Yes, the feel of a real book is nice and cozy, but with Print on Demand, you can still have the physical book if you want.

2) Control. Authors getting published by Dell or whoever usually don't get to choose their own typeface or cover or page layout, and often they have to rewrite their books in ways that they don't wish to. Publishers and agents can--and do--say "it's my way or the highway." I can hire a cover artist, copy editor, designer, and typesetter of my choice, and if I don't like one, I can move on to another.

3) There's a rich history of self-publishing. While I'm not a radically new sort of writer,  some self-publishers have been. Walt Whitman revolutionized poetry (form and content) with his beautiful poems. He was so "out there" for his time, self-publishing was the only choice he had, and I'm grateful he chose it. A world without "I Sing the Body Electric" would be an emptier world. I'm no Whitman, but I like being in such august company.

4) Agents--that is, the pleasant absence of them. The book agent horror stories are blood-chilling, and even if your agent does know how to read a contract (not at all a sure bet), and even if s/he can pick out a best seller from slush (the many success stories of books rejected by dozens of agents suggest they are collectively not any more skilled at this than a random selection of readers might be), and even if an agent reads her own slush (they often don't--they have 22-year-old assistants for that) she's taking 15% of the income to be a middleman. I'm in middleman aversion therapy, so no thanks.

5) Publishers' business divisions. I feel generally positive about editors, and back when they still read their own submissions, they were encouraging to my first directly submitted novel, which I appreciated, and which told me I could probably, with a good deal of effort, win my way to traditional publication. But I'm not so confident about some other parts of those big businesses. It isn't just that I get a better royalty at Amazon (and that allows me to sell my books for affordable rates), but Amazon has a transparent contract that applies to everyone (you can go read it right now) and even I, possibly the world's worst accountant, can understand their accounting reports, which offer data delayed by no more than a couple hours and payments delayed by only a few weeks, not by years. And at any moment, I can unpublish and have all my rights back without hiring a lawyer to once again own my own books.

6) Vagaries of the marketplace. For my natural-disaster novels, mainstream books with thriller and action components, some science, and a healthy dose of character development, I was told by more than one agent, "No one buys this sort of book any more. It's well-written, but I don't know how to sell it." And it's true, there was a heyday of this sort of book in the 1970's and there's a dearth of them now. But I like them. It's what I wanted to write, and I wish there were more for me to read. And hundreds of lovely people are finding and buying mine, so other people must want to read them, too. (I guess readers don't read the same rules that explain what's in and out of fashion.) I'm avoiding arbitrary fashions as decided by a handful of people in New York, and I'm pleasing some readers who also like just this sort of novel. I'm happy and I can make others happy, too, by entertaining them.

7) Ebooks are more sustainable. When you think that half of all paper books are returned and pulped, and that trees had die for that, and our finite gasoline resources used in the shipping of the raw materials and books back and forth, and how polluting are both ink and paper manufacture, you can't help but think, maybe this isn't the best way to manage the industry in the future. I love a nice musty old book, too, and I used to be a serious book collector, but even I've moved over to ebooks.

8) I'm an independent-minded cuss. There are days that I don't play particularly well with others. And I suspect this reason matters more than 1-7 combined

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