Crossroads Road

February, 2011:

Confessions of a Self-Publishing Snob

A few weeks after turning in the second draft of my novel, I was driving to work and my phone rang.  It was my agent, in New York.  Finally.  I’d been waiting for his call, rather impatiently, for a couple of weeks.  I wanted his verdict on the latest version.  Would he be asking for further revisions, or was he happy with it?  I was desperate for good news.

“Hullo, this is Jeff,” I said into the phone, and things went downhill from there.

Oh, he was friendly, and there was a brief beating around the bush period, but eventually the bad news was delivered.  The agency felt that the book couldn’t be sold in “the current climate,” and were opting not to show it to publishers.  This, after they’d put me through months of rewrites, and positive feedback.  I felt like mashing the accelerator to the floor, whipping the wheel violently to the right, and letting the chips fall where they may.

I was given a speech about the weak economy, and how publishers are being super-selective in what they’re buying, and a comic novel by a first-timer is an uphill battle, even during the best of times…  He said that if they offered the book now, it would almost certainly be rejected, and thus rendered “dead forever.”

Fantastic.  Dead and forever are a couple of my all-time favorite words.

I went to work with cartoon blue jays flying around my head, and throughout the evening I emailed a couple of friends with the bad news.  And one of them got all defiant, and told me I should just self-publish the thing.  “Screw them!” he e-hollered.

And that comment, undoubtedly meant to inspire, plunged me into a dark two-hour funk.  Self-publish?  Is that what it had come to?  Was that really my only option at this point?  Self-publishing, I believed, is the dodgy domain of hacks, mental patients, and old men obsessed with genealogy and/or wars.  Now me, too?

I wrote it off, and contacted another agent with whom I’d exchanged a few emails.  She agreed to take a look at the novel, and came back with almost the exact same assessment.  The book is a lot of fun, and it’s possible that she could have sold it five years ago, but not today.  Grrr…

I sighed, and joked that it looked like self-publishing was going to be my future.  And she cautioned me not to dismiss it so quickly.  Technology has changed everything, she said, and if it’s done the right way, a person can enjoy a lot of success via the various print-on-demand services.

It requires an attention to detail up front, I was told, and a lot of marketing once the book is available.  But the marketing part is necessary, even if your book is being published by Random House.  So, it’s not like the old days, when it was just circling-like-sharks vanity presses preying on the desperation of frustrated “writers.”

Print-on-demand, and e-readers like the Kindle, make self-publishing an attractive option, she said.  Royalties are high, there’s no inventory to maintain, and success stories are noticed by traditional publishers, possibly greasing the skids for some future project.

Interesting.  It felt like she was trying to talk me into it.

Since that conversation I’ve read maybe a million words on the subject, and have decided to publish my novel via Amazon’s CreateSpace, the Kindle store, NookBooks, etc.  I’m hoping to have it available by spring.  We’ll DEFINITELY be talking more about it in the future.

And I’d like to get your opinions on self-publishing in general.  Are you like me, and kinda look down your nose at it?  I’m starting to come around, obviously, but it was out of the question three months ago.  I believed most self-published novels looked like this one.  And I’m sorry, but I don’t really want to be lumped-in with such works.

I now realize there are plenty of success stories out there.  Some folks have leveraged their Kindle store activity into contracts with traditional New York publishers, and there doesn’t seem to be as big a stigma as in the past.  Almost like computer dating…  When it first started, people (like me) believed those sites were populated by nothing but desperate losers, serial killers, and morbidly obese people who have to use a wiping-wand.  Now it seems to be the default destination for normal well-adjusted folks seeking relationships.

Also, it’s not really called self-publishing anymore.  It’s now indie publishing, and that’s much cooler.  Right?  Like indie music, and independent film, and that sort of thing.  Yeah, I’m totally behind the re-branding of it all.  Indie publishing is something I’m prepared to embrace.

Of course, the quality will have to be there, and here’s a funny article about why the stigma might not die easily.

So, what are your thoughts on the subject?  Please tell us about it in the comments.

And thanks for reading!  I’m planning to add a few interviews soon, with some interesting folks.

So, please stay tuned.