Believe it or not, not every writer WANTS to be published. Some just want to get a story out of their system. And if all a writer wants is to have a physical, bound item they can hold and of which they can be proud, they can utilize any of many vanity press houses. For those who don’t need the literal book in their mitts, online publishing is easier now than ever before. The simple completion of a project can be enough for many people. Then, they can take their printed and bound treasures and deliver them to family and friends and ex-whatevers and cross that thing off the fabled Bucket List. There is nothing wrong with this approach. Certainly, the internet serves as vanity press for anyone who writes blogs or post missives or conspiracy theories or whatever gets the fingers typing. I think none of us should judge anyone else’s chosen therapy or I-Bet-I-Coulds.
There are others who are selected by publishing companies and run that race as long as they can or have interest in so doing. The traditional publishing industry has had such upheaval in recent years (decades?), however, that the old system is essentially in quagmire. The economy has naturally played a huge roll in this, but so too has the general overzealous development of the big-box chains and the swelling influence of the Internet. Domino effect = the old ways have collapsed in on themselves. Many publishing insiders have left the big houses to spearhead other firms that focus on authors who aren’t interested in vanity press, and perhaps aim to maintain more autonomy than the traditional machine allows. Hence, the surge of self-publishing. Personally, I wanted the old fashioned literary dream of being picked up by a publisher and landing a contract. Perhaps that didn’t happen because I don’t have the talent? Perhaps because my first novel isn’t marketable enough for today’s best sellers lists? It probably depends on who you ask. But I’ve said here before that I am not patient, and I came to the ball a little past “fashionably late.” My research (and Husband’s practical outlook) led me to decide that self-publishing was the best start to a belated career focusing full-time on writing fiction. My thanks, as always, to some very special humans at http://www.authorhouse.com/ for taking such good care of me during the process.
But self-publishing presents very specific challenges that I don’t think you face when you have a publisher or are satisfied with a vanity press creation. You have to market the thing, first of all. You have to find a way to get A LOT of people interested in what you’ve got when you almost certainly have no marketing budget to speak of. Unless you’ve got a hidden satchel of gold coins, it can be a very steep learning curve.
And let’s be honest. When you say you’ve self-published your book, people tend to roll their eyes. The negative “vanity press” stigma is always right there. There’s nothing wrong with vanity press, it’s just NOT the same as self-publishing. But most people don’t grasp that. It’s the first thing I usually have to explain when I discuss my novel with someone I’ve just met. I believe it’s the same for professional actors and musicians and artists. You have to get the general public and potential clients to understand not only that this is as much a career as any bank job or advertising position, but that it’s not a hobby. It’s not a day dream. It’s the thing for which you’re sacrificing (often) financial security, insurance and relationships. You have to find a way to be taken seriously, and sometimes that’s easier said than done. You can’t convince someone with content if you can’t get them to consider you in the first place. So you have to market.
I am a snob about books, but I am not a snob about my own website. I don’t find my own ponderings nearly interesting enough to warrant the effort Husband put into building this site, but…I’ve been told it’s a necessary tool. “An electronic presence” is what it’s called in public relations, I guess. And I do get the point, really. How am I going to convince the approximate 325 million literate readers in this country* to read my books if they have no idea who I am? So, whether or not you have a publisher or agent, you also have a website and a blog and a half-dozen other online resources to which you’re constantly tweeting/loading/blogging/posting. The idea is to garner a community of semi-strangers who are in your corner as you go forward with your craft. And, too, it allows you a kind of group therapy at your fingertips. So I am not saying these are bad things. But they can be tedious. And I find myself spending as much or more time fretting over the necessities of marketing as over writing the next novel. The Farmer’s Story was published in September of 2010. It’s now April of 2012. There have been high points in my efforts to market and gain some traction. There have also been absolute washouts. It seems to come in ebbs and flows. Feasts and famines.
I’ve been really really lucky and have had tremendous support from friends and family and schoolmates going back even to my elementary school days. But, if I want this to be my way of contributing to the family coffers, I can’t just focus on a half-dozen zipcodes. The hoops to jump through are many and varied. Which is why I’m advertising for an actual gorilla to assist in the cause. I need some intimidating muscle. I need a powerful presence to deliver my novels to book critics and literary agents so they know, although I’ve self-published, I am not fooling around.**
I will share my gorilla with other artists. Perhaps my pals at Ellison Bay Pottery (http://ellisonbaypottery.wordpress.com/), or the amazing Calamity West (http://www.sideshowtheatre.org/people/calamity-west) or my friends in the Board of Governors (http://boardofgovernorsmusic.com/). I don’t think any of us want to be zillionaires because of our creative efforts. We just want to be taken seriously. To get a foot in a door so our talents can be judged on their merits instead of overlooked because we’re not sanctioned by a corporate backer of one sort or another. Me, I want to recoup my investment so I can publish the next novel. I want people to read my books and then seek out other local authors/artists/etcetera. If it seems potential brute force is a drastic measure, I can accept that. It’s all a part of my learning curve.
**Support your local artists or this gorilla will throw poop at you.