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10 Reasons I'm Self Publishing My First Novel

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10 Reasons I'm Self Publishing My First Novel -- A Travelogue on the Path to Publishing Dispensing Justice

See A Travelogue on the Path to Publishing Dispensing Justice (wiki version) for the prior post in this Travelogue.


These are the reasons that I found compelling when I made the decision to drop my quest for a traditional publisher and follow the path to self publishing. I expect that you'll find some of these reasons compelling, too. But not all of them. There are quite a few reasons to self publish that I left off this list, and I'll be considering them in a later post. My goal isn't to persuade you to self publish, or to proselytize self publishing. There are real reasons not to self publish, which I will address in a later post as well.



Reason #10) Having my book on the shelf in a book stores doesn't seem that important anymore.

Before the advent of the personal e-reader, there was only one game in town (discounting vanity presses). A book had to be printed and sold through bookstores if it was going to have a chance of finding a wide audience. When thinking about the arrival of the e-reader, I'm reminded of the first video that MTV ever played back in 1981 (which, coincidentally, just celebrated it's 30th anniversary on August 1st). It was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles, and you would have had trouble coming up with a better music video to kick off an era. This time around it's the e-book that killed the book store. Oh, I'm not trying to tell you that bookstores are dead and gone, just that they aren't as relevant as they once were. Sure, I'd love to walk into a Barnes and Noble, no matter where, and see my book on the shelf. Barring the ego-boost (and the obvious opportunity for sales), why does that matter? Isn't it possible to get my novel Dispensing Justice (or DJ for short) into readers' hands without a brick-and-mortar store being involved? Of course it is. And once an e-book has been published, it never has to go out of print (of course, for some reasonable value of 'never').


Reason #9) Dispensing Justice is sub-genre (or even sub-sub-genre)

I write genre and I'm proud of it. My first novel, Tactics of Transience (which is currently in a third draft) is science fiction and is set so far in the future that Earth is a legend. DJ is my second novel, and while it's science fiction, it's set in 1984 (albeit an alternate history 1984) and wee bit more accessible than Tactics. Which isn't to say it's mainstream SF. It's superhero fiction (see A Brief Overview of Superhero Fiction if you want to get some idea about how few superhero novels have been written in the past forty years) and young adult. The way that traditional publishers are going to look at this is that there isn't a well defined market for DJ. Big publishers are all about marketing. They sell to bookstores (not readers), and where in the bookstore a book should be shelved is critical to selling a book. (To give you an idea about how insidious this categorization is, quite a few major authors go to great lengths to avoid being branded as "genre", particularly "science fiction".) Unlike a physical bookstore, shelf space and what label has been applied to a book is a non-issue in the online, e-book store. Sure, there are categories and tags, but they aren't exclusive. You don't see books racked in science fiction and young adult in a bookstore, but in cyberspace you can be in more than one place at the same time.


Reason #8) I'm technical

I created my first website in 1994 while in graduate school working on my masters degree in artificial intelligence. It was generated from templates via Perl and had a Java based navigation component. I know the difference between HTML and XHTML, between PDF and RTF, and between PHP and JSP. I've written XSLT, modified LibreOffice's odt2mediawiki.xsl, and written Java programs to parse Apache logs. Which is enough of my resume. What I am trying to say in running through that list of alphabet soup is that there is strong technical element to self publishing. E-books, by their nature, are software objects. Knowing something about blog software helps you get more out of your blog, eases integration with various social sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. I've created a supporting MediaWiki website for the Nova Genesis World, a superhero alternate history that is the setting for DJ. I plan on selling DJ through NovaGenesisWorld.com as well as my personal website and blog.


Reason #7) I get to design the cover

You hear all sorts of horror stories about bad cover art from authors, and you just have to walk into your local bookstore to see that there is something to this complaint on the authors part. Something I've noticed, is that with some major publishers there is an inverse ratio of effort put into cover art depending on how well the author sells. Best selling authors just (and what a 'just') get their name in big letters over some basic graphics (and you might hear that this is a minimalist sensibility, but really, look at those covers ... boring!). Okay, so who can blame them. The best selling authors are going to, well, sell, even if they had plain white covers with comics-sans text. But where is the sense of pride here? They have money to burn on best selling book designs. They should be competing with each other for the eyeball kick that comes with a cool, well thought out design and artwork. Not that my opinion as an author would matter to the publisher. (I've got a cover artist in mind, and he does commissioned art! There is no way I would have been able to get him as a cover artist if I had gone with traditional publishing.) But who knows whether or not I'll be able to design a good looking cover, not having done cover design before. On the other hand, I can tell what covers catch my eye, and I'll be analyzing them in hopes of learning something from their technique. One thing I can say, is that I'm not going to settle for a boring cover. I get to design it myself.


Reason #6) I get to design the interior

I like books with interior illustrations and graphical flourishes, like chapter separation art or little twiddles (surely there is a technical term for this) around the page numbers. I like books with glossaries; books with maps. I'm also like books that are done with two columns in the old pulp magazine style. How many debut author books have these? Can't think of many off hand. And most of these were published decades ago. I can do any or all of these to DJ. I don't know if I'm going to do two columns, and I'm not planning on a map (but maybe in later editions I can include a perspective map of the lab and tunnel complex under Michael's house). I'm certainly going to include black-and-white interior illustrations in this edition, because it's my decision. And it's cool. Like bow ties.


Reason #5) Dispensing Justice will go from manuscript to print in four months

If all goes well, and my preliminary estimations on lead times turn out to be correct, DJ will be available as an e-book by the middle of December, 2011. This would have been impossible even if I had gotten an agent immediately upon sending out query emails in April (a year after I started what I thought would just be a short story), and then, even more incredibly, the agent had found an editor within the first month of taking me on as a client. In the traditional publishing life cycle it takes a year or so from the time a manuscript is accepted by the publisher to the time it appears in the book store. The wheels at the big publishing companies turn slowly. It's not much faster at the smaller traditional publishers.


Reason #4) I can release the sequel to Dispensing Justice six months after that

If you get a multiple book contract, and ignore the lead time already mentioned, then you can have your sequel come out six months later. When I think about it, the fact that two weeks ago I was finishing the first draft of The Red Rook, the first of three or four sequels that I plan to write for DJ, I was beginning to think about whether or not I should try and query it to the agents that had rejected DJ. Which struck me as crazy. If I wasn't making any headway with the first book in a series, how could I expect to with the second? Had I just wasted my time writing The Red Rook? It didn't feel like it, not after I decided to go the self-publishing route.


Reason #3) I feel in control of the process

As I noted in A Travelogue, I hate the feeling of going around with my hat in hand and begging agents to please consider DJ. I've never liked the process of job hunting either. Now that I've set off down the self-publishing road, I feel in control. I don't have to worry about whether or not someone is guessing, no matter how educated of a guess it is, that there is a market for DJ. I'll add to Reasons #8, #7, #6, and #5, that I will be working with a professional copyeditor, as well as a semi-pro editor on whipping DJ into publication shape. Not having had the experience of doing either of these with a traditional publisher, I can't really make much of a comparison. Suffice to say, now that I know that it's up to me to bring DJ to market, I'm sleeping better.


Reason #2) I'm not afraid to fail

When I say that I'm not afraid to fail, what do I mean by "fail"? No one buys and reads DJ, that's what. I should throw in that DJ gets a bunch bad reviews and no good ones would be a "fail". But what's the downside to this? I mean other than the bruises to my ego, of course. I'm out a few months and the production costs are about the only thing I can think of. It doesn't stop me from examining the failure to see if I can figure out what went wrong and try again with another novel. In contrast, the traditional publication route has a higher hurdle for success and a consequently higher penalty for failure. Success in traditional publishing only comes if you sell enough to offset the publication costs (gone are the days when publishers were willing to support their mid-list authors with sales of best selling authors). Many poor performing authors are never picked up again for subsequent novels. At least I don't have to worry about that happening.


Reason #1) I think I'm going to succeed

Some would argue that "I think I'm going to succeed" is in direct contradiction to "I'm not afraid to fail", or at least that they water each other down. After all, only one of those statements can be true, right? But then, perhaps not. One of the things that you acquire with a new skill is the ability to measure your chance at succeeding with that skill. Commensurately, this means that you have the ability to measure your chance of failure. You also acquire the ability better judge how you might fail and what the consequences of a failure are. As skill increases and you eliminate failure modes, you come to realize that failure can lead to success further down the road.


Fundamentally, I'm on optimist. This doesn't mean that I'm not a realist. I know that luck is one of the determining components of success, self publishing, traditional publishing, or otherwise. I know that the odds of producing the next Harry Potter are astronomical bad. But if I define "success" modestly, that is that DJ rises to the point that it's distinguishable in the mass of other publications, that I make my publication investment back in a year or two, and that, ultimately, it makes a few of its readers happy, then it becomes that much easier to succeed.


Do you remember that movie Inner Space with Martin Short? It came out in 1987, which is significant in this context. It wasn't a bad movie. But, as some critics pointed out after it's release, the plot involved the exchange of bodily fluids (just spit, so don't be totally grossed out) to transfer the miniaturized submarine containing Dennis Quaid's character between Martin Short and Meg Ryan. The unfortunate part about this scene was that HIV was breaking into the public's consciousness around the time that Inner Space was released, and that this explicit transfer of a miniature submarine between Martin and Meg caused an unexpected "Yuck!" reaction to the movie that wouldn't have been there a year earlier. The theory goes, that Inner Space failed at the box office because of timing, not because it was a bad movie. It's not something you would have expected the writer of the screenplay, the producers, or pretty much anyone else to have been able to predict. So, luck can and does play a role in success, but there are ways to remove luck from parts of the success equation. I'm not going to worry about something that's beyond my control. I'll focus my energies on what I can control. Which is writing a story that I'd like to read. Make sure that DJ is properly edited, and getting the best cover artist that I can think of. While I know that Dispensing Justice isn't the next Harry Potter, I believe that it's a good story that is solidly presented.


Next Up

There are a lot of reasons for self publishing that I didn't cover here, so my next blog posting in this Travelogue will be 10 Reasons You Might Want to Self Publish.


I'd love to hear from you about your experiences in self publishing, or if you'd just like to respond in general.



Wiki version



Blog posted:2011/09/02



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