Why I Don’t Self-Publish. Me. May Not Apply To Anyone Else.
My friend Kat Howard had an excellent post yesterday on why she doesn’t self-publish, in which I had to admire the way that she avoided the usual self-publishing nuttery. Usually, most self-publishing arguments boil down to “ZOMG I DO IT AND SO EVERYONE SHOULD” or “ZOMG I HATE IT AND SO EVERYONE SHOULD,” and Kat – as she is wont to do – admitted that self-publishing works very well for some authors, but not for her.
Part of it is that she doesn’t want to burn her writer-energy on things like formatting manuscripts and copy editing and finding good cover art. But the other part is notable:
“…Which leads me to the other reason that, right now, I’m not looking into self-publishing as an option: audience. The problem with the fact that it’s so easy to self-publish means that a lot of people do so, and it’s very hard to find the signal in the noise. Books get lost. And again, I understand that this doesn’t always happen, and that traditionally published books can get lost in the crowd, too.”
Now, I do have an audience, and I’m pretty sure I could use my blogging as a platform to sell my stories profitably. I’ve had my publishers note that when I point people at my stories, there’s a notable uptick in traffic. So why don’t I skip the middleman? And there’s a very good answer:
I write better for publishers.
I’m inherently lazy, and I’m pretty sure if I was just writing for people who already liked me, I’d do two or three drafts and call it a day. I’m not in competition with anyone but myself, and revising is a real pain in the ass, so without that pressure I’m pretty sure I’d slack off.
When I’m submitting a story to Asimov’s or Lightspeed, however, I know my story has to compete with, quite literally, the best authors in the business. These are people with quantifiably more talent, bigger audiences, better storytelling. And so before I send it on there, I sweat every line, revising five or six times, getting more crits, getting more feedback…
…and what emerges is a better story. Some people don’t revise well, but I’m not one of them. I get stronger with each draft (as you’ll see from my notes on the first draft of my Nebul-nominated story “Sauerkraut Station”). And I hate revising so much that unless I’m really driven to it, I won’t.
My novel that I’m flogging around now? Was exhausting. I’m pretty sure if there wasn’t a big ol’ toll-taker sitting at the gate, demanding my very best work, I would have said, “That’s good” after three drafts and called it a day. As it was, I did six drafts, and I’ll probably do two more before I can call it a day. And revising 105,000 words takes weeks, man.
Now, this is a highly personal opinion, because I’m sure there are self-publishers who can treat it like a job and do the seventy necessary revisions, and there are of course writers who polish off two drafts and it’s as good as it’s gonna be.
But me? I have a reasonably large audience which I could sell my stuff to… And what I give to them can’t be substandard. That’s the contract I have with them. My blog posts are as good as I can make them, and my stories – which are far harder to write – need to be even better. Because I’m a blogger who’s becoming a writer, and I’d say my audience at this point is now roughly 65% “I like what Ferrett says in his blog” and 35% “He’s a good fiction writer.”
To get those percentages to keep tilting to the fiction end, I need to be driven. The idea of the gatekeeper may be old and inefficient, but damn if it doesn’t light a fire under my ass.
And that’s why I don’t self-publish.