On the choice to self-publish

While gathering a list of questions I’ve been asked so I can put together another Q&A; post, I encountered a few questions that ended up having long-winded answers. One was about if writers need laptops to work, which I already addressed. Another was a little more complicated.

It started as a simple question asked in passing. Did you ever have any of your writing published before deciding to self-publish?
The answer to that one is easy: No.
What I didn’t expect were the questions that answer spawned.
Did you try?
Again, an easy answer: No.
Ah, yes. There’s the kicker.

Why or why not are the parts that make it a difficult question, something I don’t think I can answer in a single-paragraph blurb in the midst of other, possibly more frivolous questions. And even here, the answer isn’t exactly straightforward.

No, I’ve never had anything published in the traditional sense of the word, aside from a few small articles put out as columns on websites in years past, never with my name attached. And no, I’ve never submitted anything for publication, either.

The problem with being a new writer is that the best way to start is to submit poems and short stories to literary journals and get some publication credit to your name. But this never seemed like a viable option for me. I couldn’t write a short story to save my life! I tried it, several times, but it always got out of hand. One short story in particular ended up growing and changing and growing some more, until it became the 180,000-word fantasy epic I’m editing now. Sadly, there aren’t any literary journals interested in publishing such a thing, as I’m told it’s called a “book” and those tend to have a different sort of reader.

I also don’t have a poetic bone in my body (Despite my mother being a published poet) so that’s one venture I’d best avoid completely.

When I did finally have a finished piece in my hands, I spent a lot of time thinking on what to do with it. Death of the Sun presented several unique problems. It’s an odd story, really, and as a result, it fits into an odd niche. While the heart of the story is the trials two people overcome to make a romantic relationship work, it’s not a typical romance novel, so it isn’t something average romance readers would enjoy. That meant romance publishers were out.

There’s also the serious problem of it being a love story involving vampires, completed hot on the heels of Twilight. That alone was enough to guarantee it would land on the slush pile of nearly every agent out there, along with a dozen other vampire stories likely inspired by the recent bestseller.

Ultimately, those things (and a combination of other, smaller factors) led me to decide that going straight to self-publishing was the best choice. There’s always people looking for more of the same sort of story, which is why typical romance novels are a thing at all. There’s readers for every niche, and one thing I’ve heard consistently said about the book is “I don’t like vampire romances, but…

And that but tells me exactly what my target audience is. It’s a vampire romance novel written for people who aren’t really into romance novels and aren’t fond of typical renditions of sexy vampires. It’s a small niche, but the people who like it are enthusiastic about liking it. Having a small audience doesn’t mean it isn’t a success.

It wasn’t an easy decision by any means, but it was made out of careful consideration for the circumstances and realistic expectations of the outcome. Every story has different needs and fills a different role. Some are best suited for mass-market paperback alongside similar titles, some will live a happier existence filling gaps between genres. Others are oddities that can be difficult to represent and don’t find traditional publication because of it, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad books.

Of course, self-publishing the work presents its own set of problems. Marketing is always an issue, as well as the stigma against self-published books. People love to hate on self-published authors for not being “real” authors, though plenty of self-published authors who make their living off their work might raise an eyebrow at that, and those whose books went on to be re-released as trade paperbacks through major publishing houses probably just laugh.

You often hear people claiming anyone can self-publish a book, but realistically, you’re going to find very few who can even finish one, never mind the work of publishing on their own. I’m not yet in a position to look at writing as a means to pay the bills, but very few writers–Even the traditionally published kind–can say they do it for a living. I’m glad to have my odd little story out there, though, and proud to be able to say I did it.

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