Publishing in the Modern Age: Why I’ve Warmed Up to the Idea of Independent Publishing
We’ve all got dreams, but especially writers. Even if they don’t directly entertain them, or they’ve buried them, or they’re cynics or realists or whatever reason they have–even they have a private space in the very back corner of the brain, home of the What-If. Sometimes they catch the What-If behind them in the mirror while they shave. Sometimes the What-If drifts beside the bus or train window. Sometimes the What-If possess their children, their salary, their three-legged dog rehabilitation center. And, upon their recognition of the What-If, they see it: receiving that first acceptance from an agent, the agent’s news from the publisher, the publisher’s news of big sales, the money’s announcement of success, the success kindly granting attention, acclaim, vindication. They see that moment they can go back and laugh at everyone who said they wouldn’t do it, and give gifts to everyone who was kind to them. They imagine themselves in a New York loft or a Florentine palazzo or a log cabin in an undisclosed location.
And then they remember it’s only What-If, and curse their imaginations, and keep fighting for it. We can bring this book to life, we think. Create a story from nothing, the way God creates something from nothing. We are powerful. We can create our future from nothing, too.
But the trouble is that we are busy people, with many things to do. There’s a lot to manage in the way of marketing, editing, cover design and the actual publication itself. We feel the need for someone else to manage that for us, because that’s the way it’s always been.
Once upon a time, the publishing industry made quite a lot of sense. There was no way to mass-market very easily as a one man operation; no simple way to find editors and cover designers for reclusive authors who had spent too much time writing and not enough building a cabal around them. There was also no easy way to sell them. Certainly, there have been successful self-publishing ventures before the arrival of the Internet, but most were unsuccessful, or only returned a very modest amount: the same is true today.
This scares the writers with something to say. They hear these things so oft-repeated by detractors of self-publishing, and they think that if they self-publish, no one will read this very important thing they are writing. They will have spent all this time and effort exploring the human soul only to be another thumbnail on an Amazon page inundated by romance novels with MS Paint covers and fake books designed to poach dollars from readers looking for real ones. They will not be able to connect. They will die in obscurity along with their dreams. So, they look for agents. And some of them have good luck, some of them are writing books acceptable by the mainstream. But the niche writers struggle, struggle to find someone who will deem their work acceptable for mass consumption, even when they in their hearts know better than anyone what a work of beauty their book is. Of course, a parent always loves their children: but astute, self-aware parents are likewise able to discern which of their children are the bad ones, which are the good ones.
Writers who know they have good children are writers who had ought to give a second thought to self-publishing. In books like these, the work speaks for itself. Certainly, one must always take the time to market, network, drum up attention. But, once the work is released, and sometimes even before, people will see it for what it is. It may not be a massive success, but niche writing seldom is, at least not for years and years’ worth of published works. But if writers keep listening to their What-If, keep thinking the only thing good enough for them is massive success, they may very well never be published at all. They may be stuck, banging their manuscript against the wall, waiting for someone to turn it into a door for them to walk through. But with self-publishing, a good story, the patience and discerning taste required to find good editors and artists, the willingness to market, and the realization that grand success is not the only noble goal, independent authors can be quite successful in their own right.
Near the end of my forthcoming DELILAH, MY WOMAN, the protagonist, Richard, says something I barely remember writing.
What was this fulfillment I sought: fulfillment of what? An ego—my ego, towering, hungry, growing ever-larger, seeking to grow as large as possible, a tumorous bubble to be burst by death. But even if it began to grow, when would it be satisfied? There could be no fulfillment if I swallowed money and fame and sex and murder. The need would grow as it had from the start. This temporary, fragile thing I couldn’t even prove existed demanded I nurse it like a parasite. There was fulfillment every time someone nodded at my painting for a few moments, every time Delilah paused to smile over my shoulder before resuming her path. All this beauty had been met with scorn. There was beauty in the simplicity of being with Delilah, of savoring the process of growth rather than seeking to be grown. I had wasted so much in the name of comforting a dead man about his death.
Yes, there is always fame. The idea of massive success, no more money troubles, the freedom to do as we please. It’s a thrilling idea. But would it be that much more thrilling than simply sustaining oneself with one’s writing, not to exorbitant success, but ‘mere’ subsistence? Would a reading with a thousand fans be so much more thrilling than recognition once on the street and the earnest assurance that your book moved a stranger?
It doesn’t have to be the wild kind of hyper-fame we expect from celebrity today. Just one person. Think what it would be like: a stranger, one stranger, being moved by your work. And when you know your work is moving, but agents can’t see through the niche aspect long enough to see its beauty, well, then, the best thing for you might be independent publishing.