Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part One

After six years of work, my first novel, A Path of Stones, is ready for the light of day. Before I set it out on its own path to the fantasy fiction reading public, I want to finish the second book, The Fires of Tallenburgh Hall. That book is halfway written, and I anticipate a completion date for the first draft of December 1. That gives me time to consider exactly which of the three available publishing routes I want to pursue.

The three are Traditional Publishing (agent-editor-publisher), Self-Publishing (print-on-demand), and Independent Publishing (through one of the small, independent houses springing up).  Each offers a nice set of positive features, and an ugly set of negatives. So, my final route will be the one that offers the best positives, and the most workable negatives. In this series, I want to discuss the middle route, Self-Publishing.

Self-Publishing is no longer a case of the writer maxing out five credit cards to have a local print shop prepare 1,000 copies of a book that is only going to sit in the garage because the writer cannot give it away. This was known as vanity press, and usually the purview of genealogists (the only ones successful at it) and poets with more ego than talent. Not so today. In the past fifteen years, Self-Publishing has become inexpensive, thanks to print-on-demand systems that require no money up front by the writer, and no inventory. It has become legitimate, as more good writers turn to it as an alternative to Traditional Publishing, a corporate enterprise ruled by five massive multinational publishing houses who look for overnight bestsellers and not likely to take risks. The big names in Self-Publishing are Lulu, Blurb, and CreateSpace (Amazon). Each has been around long enough to gain some heft and a nice share of the market.

In the past, I’ve held a grim opinion of Self-Publishing. In 2012, for my final class in my master’s program, I wrote a paper and delivered a presentation on the subject. To me, Self-Publishing seemed like a highly viable option for the niche writer and the artist who wants a portfolio, but not so much for the writer of genre fiction. There were too many headaches, notably that the writer had to do all his own marketing, and that Self-Publishing was still just vanity press.

That was 2012. It is 2016 now. The world has changed. Self-Publishing has changed. Readers have changed. I have changed. It is time to reassess Self-Publishing for me, the writer of fantasy fiction. It’s time to stop thinking like a graduate student (let’s face it, we can be snobs), especially since I earned my degree four years ago. It’s time to stop thinking like an old fart who looks down his nose at this here young whippersnapper technology. Perhaps telling Self-Publishing to get off my lawn is a case of cutting off that snobby nose to spite my face.

I am reassessing Self-Publishing, beginning with a serious study of how it works in 2016.

What can Self-Publishing offer Aura Lockhaven and me? My criteria are: Artistic Control, Quality Control, Availability to the Reader, Fame, Marketing, and Revenue. Oddly enough, considering this is the greedy 21st Century, money is not at the top of the list.

Today, I want to look at the first two items on that list, Artistic Control and Quality Control.

Artistic Control: Self-Publishing gives me absolute artistic control. Nothing goes into the book unless I want it to go into the book. By the same token, nothing comes out, either. No editor telling me to remove a character, or worse, insert a politically correct token. I’m not sure if Traditional Publishing editors do the latter, but in our terrible socio-political environment, it is possible.

Editors certainly do tell writers what to take out! George R.R. Martin is leading off The Winds of Winter with chapters he had to remove from A Dance with Dragons. And there are the notorious times when editors totally rewrite stories as L. Sprague DeCamp did to Robert E. Howard, after he was long dead, and Gordon Lish did to Raymond Carver, while he was still alive.

In the last night of the last class of my master’s program, my professor said “Write what you love to read.” I follow that advice. A Path of Stones is what I want to read, and hope that others share that desire. There is no character or event in the story that I do not want in the story. What may appear to be a superfluous moment or name is a seed for a major event or character that will appear in a future book. An editor does not need to remove those moments and names for the sake of streamlining, nor insert new ones for the sake of trendiness.

If I self-publish, I won’t have to worry about any of that. So, for this criteria, Self-Publishing wins.

Quality Control: This is a dicey subject. Editors at Traditional Publishing houses don’t. They used to, but not much anymore. Cases when heavier editing would have been nice include the atrocious expository in the Harry Potter series and the fawning redundancy of the Twilight series. Granted, both could be examples of editors saying “this is good enough for kids.” That is an insult to tweens and teens, who really should be given the finest craftsmanship possible. Despite the “take it out, George” approach of George R.R. Martin’s editor, far too many gaffes slipped into the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Most notably in one instance, Martin switches from third person narration into second person narration then back out. I will give Martin an excuse. He was far too close to the book by then to catch the error. But that is what an editor is supposed to do.

Now, after saying all that, I would like to point out that Traditional Publishing offers better quality control. The Self-Publishing world is rife with examples of writers publishing their first drafts, without any serious editing for punctuation, much less consistency and continuity.

Here, I have an advantage. I’ve been a professional editor, and I was darn good at it. My clients cringed at my pickiness, but they ended up with quality books as a result. My wife, who is my first beta reader, is better than I am. The closest we’ve ever come to an argument is when she tells me I need to change something, I dig in my heels, and she ends up proving herself right. My second beta reader has an extremely sharp eye for redundancies and artifacts, often catching things that slip by the two Boutwells. Even as my wife is reading through the final draft of A Path of Stones, I am too, and I caught a few inconsistencies. So, whether I publish through the traditional route or the self route, I can guarantee the book will be the best I can possibly deliver.

As for physical quality, I can’t speak for CreateSpace or Blurb, but I know Lulu’s quality. I’ve self-published through them before. I expected mediocre at best, especially in the binding. No. The books they printed for me would be right at home in any Barnes and Noble.

For this criteria, it’s a draw. Both Traditional and Self-Publishing offer good quality control, mostly because I demand the best of myself before it ever leaves my home.

Tomorrow, I will discuss criteria three and four; Availability to the Reader and Fame.

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5 thoughts on “Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part One

  1. Really good blog. You really weigh up the pros and cons of both types of publishing very well. Artistic control is a tricky one. Many agents and editors will suggest changes to a book not to improve it but to make it more marketable.

    I tried the traditional publishing route for 10 years and found the waiting game and near-successes with literary agents just too painful.I went with self-publishing as something of a last resort but I’ve found it (and even self-promotion) a lot more enjoyable than I expected.

    George R.R. Martin is an interesting one. I’m not sure what editor in their right mind would approve the tedious Brienne chapters from A Feast for Crows! I get the impression that editors back off a bit once authors become more successful.

  2. The decision of publishing route is a highly personal one. What might be right for me isn’t necessarily what’s right for you. I completely respect you for your approach to analyzing this complex decision.

    That being said, I was a bit confused by part of your post – you seem really focused on physical books. Let me be completely honest with you; most self published authors don’t sell the vast majority of their books in physical form. Few indie authors ever see their book on the shelf at B&N.

    If your greatest desire is to see your book on the shelf, you definitely need to think about going the traditional route (small publishers aren’t going to give you much of a chance, either). Truthfully, though, even the traditional route is exceedingly unlikely to result in your book on the shelves as space is limited and reserved for bestsellers.

    Best of luck to you whichever route you end up taking.

    If I may suggest something,though … if you do end up self publishing, please go spend some time over at the kboards writers’ cafe so that you can learn how successful indie authors deal with the business side of things.

  3. Pingback: Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part Two |

  4. Pingback: Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part Three |

  5. Pingback: Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part Four |

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