It's amazing how people asked me to write a post about publication, when I have only self-published 1 little book of my tweets so far, BLUE SPARROW, and nothing else, my 1st novel being currently edited and my 2nd still being written. So, please, proceed with caution. What follows is an account of a rookie writer who dove into the world of publishing like a complete fool, without any prior research, without much understanding of it, winging it along the way. I started writing full time a little over a year ago, and I learned a ton since then. Perhaps my experience will help you pick a path that is right for you. I will recount to you what I have heard from others and what I have gone through myself, and you decide what fits you or what doesn't. But I tell you this, having only dipped my toes into traditional publishing, I suggest you go indie and do it all yourself. Why? Here is why.
Do you want to spend your time writing novels or query letters? When I first started blissfully writing full time, I had this rosy understanding of agents, editors, publishers, and other people that help you push your book out into the world and into a bookstore. I even had 3 agents approach me and ask for the manuscript of SIREN SUICIDES after I have posted an excerpt from its 4th draft on my blog, and I was beyond myself with glee when it happened. My happiness was short-lived, however. It took them months to get back to me. 1 agent read the manuscript but suggested I self-publish (!) to see if there would be any demand. 2 are presumably still reading it, because they haven't told me their decisions yet. To add to this, if I'm lucky, an agent will shop my book around and it will take close to 2 years (I heard this from other authors) for my book to appear in a store. Imagine for a second that not a single agent approached me, imagine how long it would have taken me to go look for one, to compose a query letter (I have never written one) and to start sending it out, to keep track of it, to follow up. Do I want to do this? No. I'd rather spend my time writing another novel.
Do you want your novel title picked out for you, and cover too? This was the biggest turn-off for me, the fact that once I would land a publisher (if I would land a publisher), the publisher would dictate to me what my book would be called and what artwork would be on the cover, sometimes to the point where I wouldn't even see what it looked like until it was approved (this is recounted from the stories of other traditionally published authors). SIREN SUICIDES is a very personal book for me, and my daughter at this point is almost done with close to 60 illustrations for each chapter for all 3 books. I have the freedom to chose the covers I want, although I'm constrained by lack of money, but I decided, if all else fails, I'd rather go for a simple one color cover with clean letters on it than a cover that I would hate. Call me crazy, call me a perfectionist, but I still believe that most books are being picked out according to their covers. The question here is, do you like braving unknown worlds yourself, or would you rather someone handle everything for you? If you are the latter case, then you should think about publishing traditionally. But if you're the former, then seriously consider self-publishing. You will have creative control over everything, and will learn on your own mistakes, which is worth gold.
Do you like someone holding your hand, or do you like breaking your own forehead? Now, I'm of the stubborn variety, I don't like being told what to do and how to do it, been like this since I was little, and in this sense I know exactly what I want and how I want it. Just the thought alone of someone dictating how my art should look like makes me want to tremble from horror. No matter how stubborn I am, I still have trouble communicating to other people exactly what I want and tend to give in to other professional opinions. For this reason, I decided to grow as an artist on my own first, to be able to grow a thick skin and arrive at a point where I would stop doubting myself (if that ever happens). This is why the idea of other experienced people telling me what should be best for me, scares me. I know I won't be able to withstand their advice and will ultimately agree to it, even if I don't like it. This was a deciding factor for me to go on my own. But, hey, not everyone is like me. If you like to be taken care of, to not worry about the publishing process yourself, then, by all means, go the traditional route. It will help you stay shielded from the horrors of publishing, because self-publishing is like starting your own business, and it's grueling work, yet immensely satisfying. At least to me it is.
Do you want to pay professionals to spread the word, or let your readers do it for you? Here is the deal. Once your book is out, even if you have published it traditionally, I have heard from my writerly friends, you still have to promote it yourself, although publishers pitch in. So what's the difference? If you self-publish, you promote it yourself too, but here is the trick. The publisher will take a big cut from your paycheck to be able to cover marketing expenses. Now, when you do it on your own, you can either do it yourself, hence spending your own time, essentially taking it away from writing, or pay a freelancer to do it for you, or, there is a third way. And the third way is not to worry about promoting your book at all but rely on your story to promote itself, in other words, let your readers do it for you. Because, if your story is any good, word will spread, people will talk about it, they will tell your friends, and word-of-mouth is still the biggest driver for people to make decisions about buying books. This is the approach I am taking. I figure, I have enough savings to last me another 9 months or so. I will try to bang out at least 3 more novels in this time frame. If they're bad, oh well, I needed to try harder. But if they're good, my readers will help me spread the word, while I can focus on writing.
So, to conclude, I have only scraped the surface on this whole issue of which publishing path to choose, but I'm convinced that times are changing. The publishing industry is changing, and the reader is connected to the writer like never before. There is no need for the middle man anymore, like there wasn't a middle man around the fire back in time when stories were told orally and passed from generation to generation. We're back to square one. A good story will be told and retold into infinity. A bad story? Well, it might be marketed and packaged expertly, but ultimately it will die, it will vanish from people's minds and they will move on to something better. The only way to write good stories is to write as many of them as you can, and that does not include writing query letters or hunting agents. Now, feel free to beat me up in the comments.