Anyone who has encountered my style of self-publishing advice before now will know that you’ll never find me taking either side in the “Us V.s Them”, “People V.s Evil Corporations”, “Traditional V.s Self-Publishing”, ahem, debate. For me, it’s all a colossal waste of time and energy. The question that needs answering is not Which is better: self-publishing or trying to get an agent? but What’s the best option for you and your book at this point in time? And no one can answer that definitively except you.
Having said that, I do think self-publishing is the best thing to happen to writers since Lidl started selling Nespresso-compatible capsules for half the price of the real thing. I may not agree that, all things being equal, you’re always better self-publishing than you are signing a deal, but I would encourage writers at all stages of their career to find a way to fit self-publishing into their plans somehow. Why? Because we’ve chosen to follow our dreams, and dreams by their very definition aren’t always possible to achieve. Trying to become the bestselling author you’ve always daydreamed about being usually involves a long, lonely road paved with faintly photocopied rejection letters or hurtfully brief e-mails that begin “Thanks for sending us your book: Blood, Sweat and Tears. Unfortunately…” By self-publishing – even if it’s something that isn’t your “main” work, or even something you write purely for your own glee that you’ll only let out into the world under a different name – you can lessen the external blows. You can inject some positivity into your writing life. You can have control over your writing career. And, you never know: it might even help you achieve your publication dreams, or maybe completely change your mind about what those might be.
Still not convinced? Well, here are my 5 reasons to start self-publishing right now:
Procrastination isn’t just my middle name, it’s my blood type. I would never get anything done if I didn’t have deadlines, and even then I usually do the bulk of the work just before the deadline falls. I’m terrible. But what’s even more terrible is that if our goal is to write or finish our novel and submit it to an agent, we have no real deadlines other than the ones we impose on ourselves – and I’m crap at meeting those as well, because shame, frustration and guilt just isn’t as frightening a possibility as, say, getting in trouble with a teacher might have been when I was late submitting something back in school.
Self-publishing, on the other hand, gives you actual deadlines. You can chose the sweaty-palms route of announcing to the world that you will release a book on whatever date, or the abject terror of submitting a book to Amazon Kindle’s pre-ordering feature, which enables you to offer your Kindle book as a pre-order but also sends you a terrifying series of e-mails reminding you that you HAVE to upload the finished book 10 days before its release or else.
What I like about deadlines – yes, you read that right – is that while they pile on the pressure and drive you to distraction, they also show you what you’re capable of. Recently I wrote 70,000 words of fiction in 21 days because I simply had to; I had no choice. And because I had to do it, I did it. Suddenly I found all these extra hours in the day – I got up earlier; I recorded my favourite TV shows; if I had an hour free I used it to write instead of thinking, Well, how much will I really get done in an hour? I’ll just have a cup of tea instead… If you’ve been languishing around the middle of your book for a while now, deciding that you’re going to self-publish – this book or something else – might be the kick up the arse you need to get it done.
One of the biggest changes self-publishing has brought to my life is that it’s infused each day with possibility.
How well can you predict what will happen to you today? Tomorrow? The day after that? Most of us can do it fairly well, because our days aren’t full of surprises. Even if we found out we won the Lotto, that wouldn’t be a complete shock because we’d have bought a ticket.
When you self-publish, you send out ribbons of possibility into the universe. I don’t know what will happen to me tomorrow, because anything could. My inbox is a like Gump’s box of chocolates: I never know what I’m going to get. It might be an invite to speak at a conference where they put all their speakers up in a 5* hotel in the English countryside, or a query about whether I’d like to write an article for a publication I admire, or it might even be a call from a producer of a radio or TV show looking to know if I’ll go on as a guest. (These are all things that have actually happened and come through my inbox in the last four years.)
Knowing that you have stuff out there in the world – blog posts, your book, your reputation – that might come back to you with a gift is a wonderful boost when you might otherwise be feeling low about the distance between your writerly life now and the writerly life you want. This is what happens when you self-publish.
Is there anything worse than having no control over whether or not you’ll get to achieve your dreams? When we aim for traditional publication, we place our dreams in someone else’s hands. We can certainly write the best we can, submit it to the right people and in the right way, work on our writer’s CV, etc. etc. but we’re dependant on someone else’s “Yes” to make it happen for us – and there’s nothing we can do about that.
What we can do is make this easier to deal with by building a part of our writing life that we DO have control over – complete control. For me, that’s self-publishing.
Yeah, you’ll still be waiting by the phone (or refreshing your Gmail screen every five minutes even though you know if something new comes in it will notify you…), but you’ll have something to be happy about while you do!
Yes, I’m talking about the dirty word: MONEY. How dare I mention material rewards in the same sentence as art, right? Well, look. If you want to pretend that you are just writing for you, be my guest. I’ll have to assume then that you don’t love writing as much as I do, because I love writing so much I want to do it all the time and, since my landlord doesn’t take the rent in well wishes or prayers – cold, hard cash only, please – I have to make a living, and if writing doesn’t make or help me a living, than that means I have to do something other than writing for at least eight hours a day five days a week forty-something weeks of the year until I’m sixty-five (if I’m lucky).
Wanting to make money from your writing is not something to be ashamed of. Wanting to make money from your writing is simply just wanting to have more time to write.
We all know that traditional publication makes a rare scribe rich – or even just able to afford their mortgage repayments. Self-publishing isn’t a get rich quick scheme either, but it does offer a greater chance of making something. For the first year I self-published, it just about kept me in coffee grounds – but then it led to me being able to do only writing and book-related things full-time. It also means that I can be flexible with my work, which has allowed me to go back to university.
Self-publishing encourages people not just to think about writing, but about becoming writers. Because it is possible to make it a large part of your life – and you greatly improve your chances of this happening if you self-publish.
Recently I was asked how I keep up with all the changes in the self-publishing world. Well, that’s like asking me how I know that George and Amal just got married. Celebrity news is like a big bag of cheap, sugary sweets to my brain – I know it’s bad for me, but I enjoy it so I keep consuming it. Self-publishing isn’t bad for me, but I keep up with that world’s news because I like it. It interests me. Self-publishing is fun.
If you’re currently struggling with e-book formatting or you can’t fathom the difference between an “at” reply and a mention (clue: we’re talking about Twitter), it might be hard to convince you of this. But I promise you, self-publishing can be fun, exciting and fascinating – and you might even make a few new friends along the way!
(c) Catherine Ryan Howard
Find out more about Catherine on www.catherineryanhoward.com. The third edition of her self-publishing guide, Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing, is available in paperback and e-book October 24th 2014. Follow the #selfprintedsplash on Twitter on Self-Printed’s release day for tips and tricks that might help you on your self-publishing adventures.
Thinking of self-publishing? Catherine is running a 3-hour seminar at Dalkey Creates on Sunday October 19th that will tell you everything you need to know in order to do it well. Tickets are €20 and along with more information and booking details are available from www.dalkeycreates.com.