Monday, October 20, 2008

To self-publish or not to self-publish...

It's Tuesday. It feels better than a Monday, at least. My car wasn't frozen over this morning. Also a good thing. Always look on the bright side of life...That Monty Python, so full of wisdom...

So, I'm debating the question that faces many writers who don't achieve immediate success: Should I self-publish? I've gone over it in my head. And over it some more. And then even more. The thing is, I know that self-publishing is regarded almost with pity by people in the publishing world as well as by other authors. The assumption is that a writer couldn't get his or her book published commercially and so in order to see his or her name in print, he or she turned to self-publishing.

Yet, to me, that assumption is like every other stereotype, begun in truth but distorted to the point that no one considers that the target of the stereotype can grow, can evolve. And while stereotypes will always exist, they are not the only way to view a person, place or thing.

I admit, as I did in my earlier post, that I've been rejected quite a few times. Yet, mostly, it's for short stories. I've dabbled with trying to find an agent for my books. I've sent a couple of queries to publishers. But it's like I'm merely sticking my toes in the pool of the publishing industry, I haven't dived in and got completely soaked.

Partially, it's because I'm scared to death. My novels are, to use a bit of a cliche, a bit like my children. I love them. My characters are very real to me and I've discovered that even when I finish a novel, they never quite leave me. Sometimes that's quite nice. Sometimes, it makes me look a little nuts. Either way, I owe it to them to get their story right, to make sure it gets into the world properly. And, as I mentioned, I'm scared to death of putting my work out there, of seeing my work discussed on message boards like's. I'm a lurker on those boards. I love to read the discussions on books I've read, particularly Stephanie Meyer's. But those readers are brutal. I participated in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest last year (and do NOT let me get started on what a debacle that whole thing was). But one thing I did enjoy was the sense of community on those boards from the other contestants. What they said was funny, clever and brutal. But they were right. Same as when I read the comments on "Breaking Dawn", those people can be be harsh but...yet....mostly, they're dead-on.

They scare me because these are the folks who might read my books. But, on the flip side, if they like my work, I'm in. And, for that reason, they're part of the reason I am considering self-publishing. But more on that in a bit...

The publishers are the ones who truly scare me though. Not because they'll make me change my work, edit it beyond recognition but because they're very hung up on money. They have to be. It's why the massive publishing houses have eaten up all the nice little ones that actually gave new writers a chance. Try getting a manuscript to Random House without an agent and see what I mean. Short of an Oprah endorsement, without an agent AND credentials, it's hopeless. It's like being the Little Match Boy or can stare in the windows and see the dream but you're still left out in the cold.

And, once they get hold of your book, there's no guarantee they'll care. Let's take, for example, my current favourite subject for a rant, Ms. Meyer. She was allowed to publish "Breaking Dawn" as she wrote it. ANY publisher, agent or editor who took their time to see beyond their cash cow and realize their was a huge fanbase at stake would have stopped when they got the manuscript. They would have sent it back to her, politely saying, "This isn't going to work. We need you to take a step back from what your personal needs and wants and go back to the story you originally began." They wouldn't have let her publish the badly-written, self-indulgent, character-assasinating book that is now in stores. This is why I actually feel bad for Stephanie and the backlash she's receiving. It is partially her fault but not completely. Someone should have stopped her, someone should have coached her. They didn't.

This is why I'm scared of publishers. There aren't enough of them and the ones that are left are too big and powerful.

My logic for considering self-publishing is inspired by someone I consider to be a fantastic writer, though he doesn't write in novel or short story format. He's primarily a TV writer: Joss Whedon. He's the writer of Buffy, Angel and Firefly. And before you scoff, I challenge you to watch Buffy, particularly episodes like "The Body," "Restless," or "Becoming" and tell me he isn't bloody brilliant. Recently though, Joss wrote "Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog." He did it because he was disillusioned by the TV network that never gave his shows a fair chance and cancelled them because they didn't care enough to keep them alive. They would air his shows, then preempt them for a couple of weeks and start moving the changing the timeslot for the show. It never gave viewers a chance to get invested or to be able to follow them. Then, with little warning, the show would get cancelled because it had no audience. At least, that's what happened with "Firefly". So he made "Dr. Horrible." He wrote the short 45-minute musical in three segments with the help of his family. He cast Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day (all of whom were fantastic) and filmed it on his own, with no studio support. Then he released it on the web.

It was a smash; fans brought down the server immediately with their eagerness to see the show. I think it's still making money on iTunes and is going to be released on DVD soon.

I had the pleasure of getting to see the "Dr. Horrible" panel at Comic-Con this year. Joss was there and, as always, was hilarious and charming. When asked what would happen if his newest show ("Dollhouse") got cancelled, he diplomatically pointed out that he'd found a way to make shows and give them directly to the audience without having to go through the studios and that was, most likely, going to happen more and more.

He inspired me. He made me wonder what would happen if I took one of my books and did the same thing. What if I released it directly to the people who would read it and enjoy it? I have a good friend who is a high school English teacher and she thinks that her students would enjoy a particular book I wrote, one that teenages could relate to and understand. I'm debating using Lulu or another company to try printing my book, to let her distribute it, to start my own 'grassroots' campaign for my book. After all, these are my audience. I'm not worried about making tons of money on my work...I just want people to read it. Would those scary but awesome people on the Amazon message boards receive me gracefully or would they turn on me and attack a work that is near and dear to my heart? Or would my book fall, quietly unobserved into the void of unread books? I don't know but it might be worth finding out.

The downside, is that I'd forever be labeled as an author who had to self-publish, regardless of my reasons. If I ever wanted to get an agent, I'd have that on my head. It's a toss up.

Yet, Joss did it with his show. Granted, the show was brilliant- I mean, what show where the good-guy, superhero can say "The hammer is my penis" with a completely straight face, wouldn't be brilliant? But the fact remains, he cut out the middleman. It worked.

Maybe it would work for me too.

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