A Travelogue on the Path to Publishing Dispensing Justice

A Record of the Trials and Tribulations of Self-Publishing My First Novel

by Fritz Freiheit

One question that I’ve run into fairly consistently when I tell people about what I’m writing and that I’m trying to get published, is, “Have you considered self-publishing?” Up until a few weeks ago I have invariably answered that I am trying the traditional publishing route, then, more often then not, I’ve had to go on and explain what is involved with the traditional route to publication. Which almost always lead to a, “You should self-publish.” And I would shrug. Arguing about it seemed pointless, as I knew my pursuit of a traditional publisher was far more of an emotional decision, than an intellectual one.

When you examine the traditional path to publication for first-time authors, given the current state of the publishing, and by extension retail brick-and-mortar book sellers, you are left with realization that there has to be a better way. You have to battle your way through the swamp charmingly called the slushpile to find an agent (or even more dauntingly, to find an editor at a publisher), and then, if you are lucky enough to get an agent, they have to pitch your work to an editor. At which point, the fun really begins. In the “old-days”, authors, having arrived at the point of acceptance by an editor, could relax, deal with feedback from a copyeditor, proof the galleys, and accept the cover selected for them, leaving the marketing of the book up to the publisher. A year later your book would appear on the bookstore shelves, and if, it did poorly, disappear equally quickly from shelves. But today, unless you’re already a best selling author (and even then…) you have to market yourself tirelessly. Promote yourself on various social media sites, ensuring that you have a proper level of web presence.

Despite the fact that there are more books being published now than there ever has been, the publishing industry, and obviously given the recent fate of Borders Books, retail book sellers are both struggling. Following in the path the music industry, major publishers have become risk averse. They want best sellers, not niche books. They want authors who don’t take risks, who follow the “rules“, or come with built-in audiences, such as celebrities. Which isn’t to say that you can’t succeed by breaking these (apparent) rules. The industry is made of people after all, and they all have their own tastes and biases. It just means you have to be lucky to get to the right people at the right time. Just having “good writing” isn’t enough. (Although, to be honest, I don’t think it was ever the case that “good writing” was enough.)

I tried the traditional path. Did my research on agents and wrote query letters. Nada. Now, I’ll be the first one to admit that I didn’t send out as many queries as I could have, nor did I give the process the amount of time that I might have. And I know that if I was trying to break into the market ten years, hell, even two years ago, I would have been more patient, more thorough than I have been. But Amazon came out with the Kindle and proceeded to lay siege to the traditional publishers. Self-published authors are succeeding. Self-publishing is the new query letter. But these aren’t the main reasons that I decided to self-publish. It’s a matter of control. Control over the time to publication. Creative control. Marketing control. All of these control issues loom large in my mind as the reasons that I changed course and abandoned the traditional path to publication. I hated the feeling of going out with hat in hand and begging agents to look at my work. Oh, there was one other big reason. Borders. Their bankruptcy made me realize the dream that I might see my book on a shelf at Borders had evaporated like the mist it was. (I’ll add that I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Borders headquarters, and the loss of Borders has been quite demoralizing to a city and state that has already been badly hit by a faltering economy.)

Which brings me to the question of why I’m writing about my journey into self-publishing. One glib answer to this is that writers write, so what else would I do when confronted with the opportunity to tell a story? A more technical reason for documenting the trials and tribulations of releasing Dispensing Justice out into the world, is that I’m going to document whether or not I make it public. It’s the way I approach learning a new skill. I research, google, read, take notes and wikify, create spread sheets, organize my thoughts, and track my progress. With a little extra effort I can make it available to other pre-published authors who might benefit from it, as I am already benefiting from those who have come before me and written of their experiences on the road to self-publication. An additional bonus to blogging this is the potential start a dialogue with other pre-published and published authors.

Having justified this as being altruistic behavior, at least to myself, I can more easily admit to having self-serving reasons for writing about my experiences. I’ve already mentioned that today’s authors must take on the responsibility for marketing their books, as well as themselves. So, yes, this is part of my marketing plan. I need to blog about my book, attract some traffic to my site. If you found your way here looking for articles, how to’s, tips and other advice on self-publishing, and it was engaging or useful enough that you stuck around to find out about my novel Dispensing Justice, then at least part of my marketing plan worked.

Finally, when it comes right down to it, I just feel the need to talk about the process of self-publishing.

In the coming weeks and months I plan on addressing the following topics (with plenty of links, lists, and tables):

I know there are things I missed, so feel free to point them out, or if you’d like to share your experiences in self-publishing or traditional publishing, please chip in.

Wiki version.

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