I have to admit I’m old-fashioned, to some degree. For the past however many years I’ve been writing, I’ve declared I would only seek traditional publishing routes for my work. I believed that self-publishing was only useful for those who couldn’t get published any other way. But I have to admit, that’s beginning to change. For one thing, I’ve read plenty of drivel between paperback and hard covers that came from reputable publishers, books so bad I put them down long before I was even halfway through. I’ve also enjoyed my share of self-published works in multiple genres that held my attention and left me wanting more. The Martian was originally self-published. So was A Time to Kill, and Fifty Shades of Gray. Amanda Hocking started out publishing her own books and is now selling millions of copies.
Old assumptions no longer work. Maybe they never did.
That doesn’t just go for novels, either. I’ve heard other writers talk about saving up their short stories for self-published collections, instead of parading them past innumerable magazine or other periodical markets. I can understand why; I’m finding it hard to get the attention of an editor. Writers are told space is at a premium in these publications and only the best make it into their pages. Okay. As someone who used to publish a magazine, I understand that. But despite the usually excellent content of my regular magazines—Analog, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, a few others—an occasional story appears therein that makes me shake my head and wonder how the writer got it past the zine’s staff. Granted, one person’s riveting tale is another person’s sleep aid. But seriously, some were truly awful. I found myself thinking, “There’s an hour I can never get back.”
Years ago, I saw a movie by the name of Ator (1982). The best thing about this flick was its service in later years as a low-end yardstick to describe just how bad a movie could be. I walked out at the “Don’t touch the drape” mark. If you’ve seen it, that’ll give you an idea of how much I endured before calling it quits. Imagine my surprise to learn in recent years that the producer made two more of these awful films, each of which received lower ratings that the first one. Yet production companies spent money to produce each one, and movie houses actually showed them. It boggles the mind. I’m sure there are much better scripts just waiting for notice, but how is the writer to get past the gates?
Now of course I think my own stories are good, the ones that have been workshopped, and are “finished” anyway. Yet I have not found a good home for them. Maybe it’s just that the individual stories haven’t landed in front of the right editor at the right magazine yet. Or maybe they just didn’t fit the issue that editor was filling at the time s/he read my work. One editor I have known for years produces a seasonal print magazine. I sent her one of my stories and she loved it, praised it and wants to run it, but she said up front that it deserved a paying market, so I pulled it back and am shopping it around. Another of my stories she also liked, but said it didn’t fit their format (I kinda knew that, but asked anyway). Everything I’ve read or been told in workshops and by published writers confirms the idea that it isn’t me; it’s the glutted market. Still, I sometimes think I just want to put a story online and charge 99 cents for it, and see what happens.
I’m not sure I’m ready to self-publish just yet. I’m considering it, but there’s so much to keep up with! The term “self-publish” covers so many options available to writers these days, I don’t even know where to begin. I do know I’ve heard tales of success and of horror when it comes to this road, so if I decide to take that leap, I’ll need to do some serious homework.
Do you have experience with self-publishing? What route did you take? Were you happy with the result?