Friday, May 23, 2014

Tweaking the Dream

I've made a huge decision. Well, huge for me.

Here it is. *gulp*. Once my book is finished this summer, I'm going to self-publish it.

I know. If you're a family member of mine or close friend, you realize what a hypocrite I am. Because I have said for years that I will never, ever self-publish.

See, from the time I was a little girl, I never imagined myself as a singer, or an actress, or a model, or as any other glamorous profession that girls love to daydream about. In my fantasies, I was a writer. I lived in a medium-sized house with a big yard, lots of animals, a few kids, and my novel sitting on a small book stand in K-Mart. That's it. That was my dream world.

But you don't see self-published books at K-Mart.

The problem is, today, my fantasy hasn't changed, but the world around me has. My ideal life was dreamed up back in a world when traditional publishing was pretty much the only way a writer got published. Not to say that self-publishing didn't exist--it did--but back then, such books came out looking like this:

Sorry about the boobs (or you're welcome, depending on who you are). It was just way too horribly perfect to pass up. 

The point is, writers were forced to depend on outside publishing houses if they wanted to produce anything remotely professional-looking, and if they wanted their work read by more than just family members and friends. Publishers held writers' entire livelihoods in their hands.

But that's not how it works today. For better or worse (most say "better"), writers are free to take the wheel of their own writing careers through self-publishing. And self-publishing isn't what it used to be. Now, with a few handy resources, writers can create products that look more like this:

Looking at these books, you would have no idea these are self-published. And on top of being able to put out incredibly professional-looking products such as the ones above, self-publishers are able to maintain all rights to their books and make all decisions. PLUS they get to keep 70% of the royalties from eBook downloads, unlike traditional publishing companies, which generally allow the author to keep 25% or less (according to my research--obviously this would vary depending on the publisher). Traditional publishing houses, which used to be a writer's only saving grace, are becoming less and less relevant. 

So why do writers such as myself feel so many reservations about self-publishing? Well, for me, it's two main things.

  1. I still associate self-publishing as being the option for writers who aren't talented enough to have their work purchased by a *real* publishing house. 
  2. The grown-up version of little-girl-me doesn't want to accept that her book might not ever be on a book stand. 

But after several debates with @boundiali and hours upon hours of research, I discovered that both of my reservations are unjustified. According to the Huffington Post, many successful--and even famous--writers launched their careers by self-publishing their books. Once they grew a modest readership, they eventually sold their work to larger publishing houses for wider distribution. If my book never makes it to a bookstand, self-publishing isn't going to be the culprit. Crappy writing or lack of luck will be the culprit.

The thing is, I always thought it had to be one or the other. I never realized that I could do both. I can self-publish, start gaining an audience for my story world, then submit my novel to traditional publishing houses--IF I think they can offer me more than I'm already getting. Because the thing is, even if one of the "Big Five" in publishing offers me a book deal, it's not the magical fairy dust that one would think. Most publishing houses offer brand new authors $5000 for their book, plus some (very limited) royalties, with no guarantees that they will keep the book on the shelves for more than a month or publish your sequels.

Not that it's about the money, but I gross over $5000 in one month of teaching. It has taken me three years to write this book.

I don't want to be at the mercy of a traditional publisher. I don't want to wait decades to see my book in print. Just the thought of being able to hold it in my hand by Christmas--self-published or otherwise--makes me feel giddy. I'm not saying I think self-publishing is the "right" way, but I'm now willing to accept that it is *a* way, and I'd like to give it a try.

Wish me luck.

(Note: Other Useful Articles: Life on the Midlist and My Too--Practical Maybe--Blunt Advice to Authors--thanks @jmeyersbooks for those links!).