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.

2 Comments

  1. John Perich
    May 3, 2012

    This is all good. The important thing is to do whatever it takes to make sure your stuff is the best it can possibly be.

  2. Ezra
    May 3, 2012

    Could you get the best of both worlds, by self-publishing collections of stories that have reverted to your control?

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