Tuesday, May 5, 2009

To self-publish or not to self-publish?

Do, don't, do, don't. For a year I've been afflicted with severe indecision: chase down a small press who'll publish my (clearly non-commercial) collection of stories, or join the Do-It-Yourself revolution and get my book out to the public all on my own. I respect artists like my wife who take their work to the marketplace as independent creator/entrepeneurs. But at the same time, I admit my ego-based (sometimes revoltingly desperate) desire to be validated by an editorial gatekeeper of even the smallest stature.

Besides being a writer, I'm also a tiny DIY publisher of, among other things, a regional literary journal (http://blissplotpress.com/). So I know that fine literary quality is certainly to be found outside the gates of the publishing establishment, even when that establishment is defined liberally. And I know how to build a book, get it printed, even get it into the marketplace.

But still, I've been resistant to joining the ranks of self-publishers. I had hoped it would be very clear that someone other than myself thinks my work is good. We all need a little respect, right?

But "good" does not mean "commercial" and publishers have bills to pay, a bigger problem now than ever. Besides, I'm just too impatient to persevere, plodding along at the snail's-pace submission/rejection game.

And so it goes: I decide to self-publish, then I flip-flop, and flip-flop again.

The submission history of my story collection goes like this:
1. Four contests... no awards
2. A publishing contract offer from a small press who, when I suggested minimal adjustments to their terrible contract, withdrew their offer, no discussion.
3. Interest from a respectable small press, but I decided not to pursue it further because they've gone to Print-On-Demand only, which I felt I could do just as well by myself.
4. Query to an agent referred by a friend... politely declined.
5. Months wasted when one small but reputable press cashed my reading fee check, then lost my submission. No answers to several inquiries... but eventually they refunded the money.
6. Queries to five small publishers... three declined, one no answer despite follow-ups, one response still pending... but since eight months have now passed without an answer to my query, I just sent them a note withdrawing it.

So... fnally... the decision is made. I have begun the process to self-publish my collection, The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility. I've decided that a baker's dozen submissions is enough; if 13 wasn't my lucky number, then I'm taking luck into my own hands. The final nudge came from this simple but very helpful website: http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/, whose About page says, "The aim of this site is to legitimize self-publishing – not just as a fallback plan, but as an avenue that’s increasingly necessary and useful in a competitive publishing industry. If the site has a manifesto it is to improve the culture around self-publishing."

So along with bearing the burden and reaping the rewards of total independence, I'm helping lay a foundation for a radically different future in the world of publishing. Viva la revolution!


  1. You're way too modest about your book. It's fucking great!!!! Everyone who likes good fiction should purchase it. Get it printed right away. I love you. Wendy

  2. I really appreciate your comment on my site (Ash Tree). A lot. I like what I see from the PDF of your book too. Please send the book along to SPR. Love the cover too - thinking string theory and quantum foam.

  3. Henry, thanks very much for the invitation, and I will be in touch through the SPR site. Yes, string theory and quantum foam, along with ancient wisdoms, are under it all....

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  5. However you flip and flip again - the answer is to publish no matter how. Publishers/editors are not god, just intermediaries, though can be helpful. Nevertheless, the greatest satisfaction, I believe, comes from holding your own book in you hands. The lingering question to me is to printondemand or not to printondemand.....

  6. Hey Bernd, thanks! For me, the POD-or-not decision is dictated by cash flow. I don't want to go into debt to do this, so I'll accept the higher unit cost and lingering (but almost gone) stigma of POD. It has real advantages, too: no inventory, easier distribution/fulfillment etc.

  7. DIY all the way. I am ordering my signed copy now.

  8. Thanks, Robert! You are officially #1 on the list.

  9. Most of us who write face this question. I self-published a novel in 2004, but promotion has been bigger challenge than writing it. Time passes and few have heard of it. But your experience with the journal may help you, and I hope it does. People need better ways of learning about POD books than blog tours and interviews on sites nobody's heard of that seem to be populated primarily by writers who are all trying to sell to each other. So your best, and I hope your success will include blazing some new trails.