Do It Yourself (Why This Time I Chose To Self-Publish)


The comments have already begun:

“Are you nuts?”

“You’ll kill your career.”

“No one will ever take you seriously now.”

Believe me, I’ve thought all of those arguments and more.  There are a lot of authors balancing on that mid-point of the see-saw between traditional publishing and self-publishing.  A lot of bookstores are, too.  A woman I know who runs an independent bookstore told me that she loves to support self-published authors, but . . .

“The only problem is that you’d can’t be sure of what you’re going to get with a self-published author,” she said (which is why she sells those books on consignment).  “There’s no guarantee of quality.  Some of them don’t bother to really learn how to write nor do they care to, which is a slap in the face to those who do.”  She shrugged.  “Then again,” she added with a laugh.  “There are plenty of traditionally published authors who I don’t think are very good, either.”

It’s every writers dream to be discovered by a good agent and snatched up by a big name publisher.  We all want to be <insert name of author here>.  (For me it’s either Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, although I’d settle for just being me except with their paycheck.)

I’ve gone the standard route and have five books to show for it.  Four are media spin-off novels I did back in the 90s (two Star Trek, a Quantum Leap, and an Earth 2), and my collection of short fiction (“Darling Wendy and Other Stories”) was published through the auspices of Seventh Circle Books, a small press in New York City that I’m sad to say has (for now) gone the way of the dodo.

I’ve tried very hard to sell my latest fantasy novel, WEATHERCOCK.  Contacted a lot of agents, wrote a lot of letters, agonized over a lot of synopses, all to no avail.  On my more cynical days, I’d think “Well, that’s because there aren’t any zombies or vampires in it.” (Is anyone else tired of that trend?  I mean, my God, people.  There ARE other things to read/write about!)  On my less cynical days, I poured over the manuscript (and my letters and synopses) with a hypercritical eye.  Still nothing.

Some years back, I tried to sell an early version of the book.  “Bad” as it was (and I shudder now to think that I sent it out, let alone that it might have seen print), it gained this response from an editor at Warner:

“This manuscript is better than 95% of what I see – the male/female subject turned on its head is well handled, and the characters and writing are both strong. . . . My compliments to Ms. Crandall, though, and I’m sorry I can’t make an offer.”

And that was for an older, less well-thought-out version.

I think you can understand my frustration, then, at being unable to sell (now) a manuscript that is, in all ways, superior from that ragged step-child of years before.  Most editors I heard from were, at least, willing to offer advice on how to improve the work, and I appreciated each remark, took every comment to heart, and tried to look at the book through their eyes.  I have to say, many of them were spot-on in their criticism and the current book is the better for it.  So, thank you to each of them.

But things change.  How publishing works.  The market itself.  What sells.  What doesn’t.  What’s hot and what’s not.  At any rate, it looked as though WEATHERCOCK’s future was destined to be shut away in a dingy trunk in an attic crawl space.

And then I thought — well, why not? There’s certainly precedence:

Margaret Atwood.  Alexander Dumas.  Terry McMillan.  Edgar Allen Poe.  Pat Conroy.  Virginia Woolf.  Deepak Chopra.  (The list goes on — check out bookmarket.com.)  There are some pretty big names out there who started out believing in their work enough to put their money behind it.  Who says I can’t be one of them?

So that’s what I’ve done.  With the help of some very good people (among them my husband Ed, friend Pam, and fellow writers M.J. Allaire and Ryan Twomey) the dream will soon be reality.  I believe too firmly in this book to let it die.  I believe in the story it tells, the mirror it holds up to our own word.

And finally, at last, I believe in myself.

 

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About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
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16 Responses to Do It Yourself (Why This Time I Chose To Self-Publish)

  1. Charles de Lint says:

    For years, artists have been selling work and prints out of their studios, musicians have been selling albums from the stage and (in the last decade)off their Web sites, playwrights have put on their own plays. Don’t know why the outdated stigma still exists for writers.

    The only real problem is standing out from the crowd, but these days there are plenty of ways to do that as well.

    Good luck with your book. May it be the first of many.

    • One writer whose blog I read about self-pub had the opinion that it’s harder to produce works of art/music/plays for sale than it is books. Artists must pay to have their work printed in a quality fashion. Musicians must pay for studio time (as well as technicians/musicians). Self-pub is seen as a bastard step-child because wannabe writers can go just about anywhere nowadays and (for little money, in some cases) make a book. I see their point to a degree, although I feel that “ease of production” should not automatically label something as “shite.” We’ve all come face to face with plenty of “professional” stuff that’s not so great, as well as self-produced stuff that shines. There are plenty of self-pub writers busting their butts to produce the best work they can . . . and plenty who don’t give a crap what they put out, so long as it has their name on the cover. As you say, the thing to do is find a way to stand out from the crowd.
      Thank you for your good luck wishes. From your mouth to God’s ears.

  2. MJ says:

    This one brought tears to my eyes. Thank you believing in yourself, but more than that, thank you for believing in us (Ryan and I). Your friendship, your strength, and your willingness to take a chance on something unseen is like a burst of springtime air beneath my wings. Thank you, my friend 🙂 I look forward to working with you, side by side, one relentless author next to each other (LOL like Laurel and Hardy??), doing countless book signings and fantasy events together!

    Let’s ROCK those readers and show our fellow authors just how it’s done!!

    Hugs forever, MJ

  3. Indeed this is one teen who, if faced with one more horror romance novels about creepy immortal predators dating, marrying, and then eventually procreating with their snacks, I may have to kill someone (or read something that doesn’t waste our precious resource of trees – one or the other.)

  4. I think the issue of quality is the main obstacle for self publishing to be taken seriously. I’ve read a number of self-published books over the years. Many were wish fulfillment exercises varying from dreadful to excellent writing. One problem I had with such authors when I reviewed sci-fi and fantasy books online was that too many were easily offended by any comments they deemed ‘negative’ no matter how supportive I was of their work overall. But there were a few excellent writers who were thrilled with getting attention for their work. I always hope that high quality books will find an interested audience/market.
    ALL the BEST of luck to you!!!

    • Thank you so much! It’s a shame that more self-published authors don’t take the work seriously. Being self-published does not (or should not) make a work “less” than a book that’s gone the standard route to publication. I’ve talked to so many self-published authors who write something once and consider it done. They don’t want to edit, don’t want to have anyone else edit…in short, they don’t want to do the work. And that’s what writing is — WORK! Honestly, would I put myself through this if I wasn’t compelled?! There are easier ways to earn a living!

      Something else that has always amazed me: a singer can buy studio time and put out a CD to sell at shows, and that’s okay. An artist can have prints made of their work and sell those and that’s okay. But let a writer who believes in their work decide to self-publish and they aren’t considered legit. Huh?

      • Oh I think you’ve targeted a reason for the “Huh?” The folks who don’t want to do the ‘work’ are far too many and hence give the self-published writer a bad rap. People who are totally ignorant of how the industry operates think a writer MUST be awful if they can’t get a big publisher hooked. Some people even think writers can HIRE agents or pay publishers. LOL. Let them go a few rounds of query letters to and fro with agents/publishers month after month in a market flooded by ‘writing is as easy as pie wanna be the next Stephen Kings’. Oh my, I do believe this a a ranting……LOL.
        Btw, your story seems to offer a fresh perspective on the entire partner only for procreation theme. LUCK!!!!!!!

      • Nothing wrong with wanting to be the next Stephen King, provided you’re willing to do the work. Personally, I think Steve has raised the barre and some of what he’s achieved is what I shoot for as a writer. Nothing wrong with having a goal.

        I hope that my story offers that fresh perspective you write about. I like to think it does. It certainly holds a mirror up to our present culture . . . although one must remember that it is a mirror image, after all, which means things may be a trifle skewed. I think people will either love or hate the story; there won’t be much middle ground.

  5. oldsalt1942 says:

    Melissa: I find the whole idea of self-publishing in digital fashion extremely exciting. For those who look down their noses at it and persist on the old-fashioned pursuit of an agent and publishing house I wonder what their 2011 1040s are going to look like come April 15th compared with that of J.A. Konraths?

    By the end of this week I will be finished with the first draft of my second novel. (Nobody wanted the first which I wrote nearly 40 years ago) and as I close in on my 69th birthday I’m going for fast and furious intending on putting it up at Amazon and Smashwords (after much editing, of course). I don’t have time to go the traditional route. I’m going to do it myself. Period, end of story. And the Luddites out there can kiss my sagging wrinkled behind.

    Here’s what I put up about that on my blog should you care to read it:

    http://oldsalt1942.wordpress.com/

    Richard (The Old Salt)

    • Richard: I think it’s true that the whole notion of publishing needs to be looked at, maybe have the rug taken out and shook. All I know is that there are a lot of good writers out there not even being looked at because they don’t follow whatever the current hot trend is. As I said in an earlier reply to someone: an artist can make prints of their work and sell them and it’s okay; same with a musician or a film maker. But call a writer an “independent writer” who believes enough in their work to refuse to have a faceless someone tell their work “Nope, sorry,” have them go the self-publishing route, and they’re not considered legitimate. WTH?
      Good luck with your book and your continued writing, and good for you for getting the work out there. And thanks for making me laugh. 🙂

  6. As an aspiring author, I have also thought of that stigma with self publishing. Some people don’t realize that the publishing world is, first and foremost, a business. They have to pull those that are “popular” now and turn away unique unconventional books. So few agents and publishers are willing to take a chance on something “different.” Though they state they like to… but they know what the masses like… and taking risks may be too risky. In an era, where businesses falls without grace, where a war between paper and digital seems neverending, and another war between publishers and sellers, many good writers are lost. It’s good that you have faith in yourself and your book. Maybe one of these years I will follow in your footsteps (as you do to others). Don’t give up and tread through! I’m rooting for you. (P.S. we don’t know each other, but I stumbled upon this post by accident and read it because of its subject. Good to read something like this every once in awhile… so thanks.)

    • I’ve read more than one of an established author talking about the “old days” when an editor might take a fledgling writer under his or her wing and nurture them along. Sadly, I think those days are gone and now more than ever a writer needs to advocate on their own behalf. I tried going the traditional route with this book — I really tried, sent it to many agents, but when the smoke clears what matters to me is to do the best work I can and to have that work read. It would be lovely if I had an “in” into the business, but I don’t. So I have to make my own. My only rule, really, is to make sure the work is my very, very best before I let the world see it. And to behave like an adult.

      As you say, publishing is a business like any other. The bottom line is as important to them as it is to me. I can’t fault any of the agents who turned down my ms — they have criteria, they know what they’re looking for. If they want to keep their jobs, they’ll buy books that follow whatever rules have been set forth.

      Dorothy Sim-Broder at Written Words in Shelton, CT told me that one of the reasons she loves running an independent bookstore is because she can choose to indulge herself in unknown authors (myself included), thereby giving them a chance. But even she is has said that the quality of self-published fiction is terribly (sometimes horribly) variable.

      Thank you so much for your words of encouragement! I hope that you, too, will reach the point of belief in your work. Whether that manifests in self-publishing isn’t the point — the point is to believe in yourself.

      And you’re welcome.

  7. oldsalt1942 says:

    Those people who say such things as “it will kill your career” and “no one will take you seriously now” are the direct descendants of those people who told their friends there would always be a need for buggy whips and that talking movies were just a passing fad.

    • I like your attitude, oldsalt! You got a giggle out of me for that one. Lord knows I hope you’re right. I love writing and I’m proud of the media tie-in stuff I did, but that was fluff and WEATHERCOCK (and my short fiction) is substance. I want to move people. Thank you for writing!

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