An Artist might appreciate what he has been paid for his work, but he will never be made happy by it: for an artist’s self-worth -- his sweat, his blood, and his tears -- lies within the work, that which he has reached down into the depthless chasm of his own soul to create. -- Cheryl Anne Gardner
Now I don’t step into the debate much when it comes to Traditional Publishing versus Self-publishing. I am an artist out of love and a publisher out of necessity. I also believe that everyone has the right to pursue their passion in whatever way best suits them. There is a shit-load of diatribe on both sides -- not all of it accurate and much of it spin-doctored -- and I find it tiresome. So, when deciding whether or not to self-publish, authors need to tune out the static and take a long hard look at the facts, and they also need to take a long hard realistic look at their work. What kind of writer are you? If you don’t know that, then maybe you should keep filing those manuscripts away in a drawer for a little while longer. Why? Well, simply put, delusion is the number one reason for perceived failure in the self-publishing game. If you’re ambitious and seek fame, fortune, and a million dollar book deal, then self-publishing is not the route you should take. Mainstream fiction is ill-suited to self-publishing, so if your genre and your personal goal as a fiction writer is to get mainstream acknowledgement and exposure, then please, go that route because you won’t find what you seek here. Writing is hard work. Publishing is hard work, and self-publishing has a patina, a certain kind of futility to it, if you will, so it takes a good deal of stamina, especially when it comes to dealing with the stigma. A rejection letter can be shoved in a drawer; a form rejection letter can be dismissed entirely. Self-publishers can’t hide, and they take it on the chin a lot. It’s not hip, it’s not cool, it’s not a revolution, and it’s not for everyone. It takes a desire to do things right and a desire to be personally accountable for all aspects of the endeavour. It’s not about slapping a document up on Lulu or paying a vanity publisher to do the work for you. It’s a decision making process from start to finish: some of those decisions will be artistic ones and others will be made out of practicality. When did practicality become cool? It didn’t, so if your reason for self-publishing is because you think it’s cool and Indie and all that artist anarchy bullshit, then just don’t do it. The writing is the art and the anarchy, and the publishing is a whole different mindset.
Now, if your work is a hard sell in the mainstream market like poetry chapbooks, novellas, short story collections, or anything that might be deemed “too much” of this or that to be able to sell commercially, then self-publishing may be the answer for your artistic vision. However, to render that artistic vision into something that remotely passes for a real book is an undertaking fraught with an exasperating number of technical nuances that need to be addressed and need to be addressed competently. These are nuances that can and often do become issues, and these issues can transform your artistic vision into a steaming turd. It’s these turds that plague the self-publishing model. All self-published authors need to know that going in. You need to have an artistic vision, but you’ve got to have more insight than just a vision. You need to have a platform to build readership; you need to have the technical expertise to handle all of the backend work: the editing, the proofreading, the interior layout, the cover design, the registration of ISBNs and Copyrights, the creation of the appropriate digital print ready files as needed, web-site design ... the list goes on ad nauseam. And you need to actually like doing all those things. So if you answered yes I do with a huge satisfied grin on your face, then self-publishing, which is about a whole lot more than the writing, might be an option for you. How successful at it you are will depend on how much effort and skill you have to put into the venture as well as your expectations.
For me, personally, the choice was clear. I write novellas. Never received a rejection letter because I have never submitted for publication. Stand-alone novellas are cost prohibitive for major publishers: they don’t meet the word-count necessary to turn a profit. Now, e-publishers are very into novellas, but I am not interested in e-publishers for various reasons: novellas defined by most e-pubs are not true literary novellas, they are just short fiction, and some e-pubs are stigmatized just about as bad as self-publishing for churning out quantity not quality. Not to mention, I spent five years working in the desktop publishing industry, and I wanted to put all that wicked skill to some use. To me, layout, cover design, and all the other fiddly bits are artistically challenging as well. For me, it’s all about the art. Now don’t take all this to mean that I am not concerned about books sales. I adore my readers, but I don’t obsess over rankings and sales stats, and I am not much into marketing or self-promotion either. That’s not what this was about for me. Yes, I get all happy pants when I sell a book. I do, but as an artist, I feel that monetary value is not the true value of a thing. I feel that an artist's true self-worth is in the work, not the arbitrary price tag placed upon it. Royalties, for me, cover the cost associated with turning the vision into reality. The royalties barely cover the cost of the ISBNs, Copyright registrations, and software updates, but I supplement that by helping other authors with editing and interior layout design, and that, along with the meagre royalties, keeps me swimming in post-it flags and erasers. The sales make the publishing possible, not the writing. The writing is my artistic inclination. The publishing gets my art out into the world, and that is where the value is for me. Seeing it out there, seeing people enjoy it, connecting with those people who share a similar vision. The true value is in the reader commentary I receive. The publishing is just a means to that end. Those who want a writing career and expect all the trappings that supposedly come with said career won’t find the Indie arena to their benefit. It’s frustrating at best.
On a final note, there is no need to separate Church and State here. Yes, self-publishing, traditional publishing, and e-publishing can all exist together, will exist together, despite claims to the contrary. The industry will adapt, so will writers, and book readers will have more options and better price points. As it is now, many writers self-publish and pursue the commercial dream at the same time. I happen to think this is the best option for most writers who want a serious career in the business. Self-publish your artistic anarchy and keep on revising and submitting the commercially viable work to agents and editors. There is value to both sides of the equation for many. For me, not so much. It’s all about the art for me, and frankly, “commercially viable” is not in my vocabulary, and I am a lousy sales person. I couldn’t sell water in the middle of the desert, so a contract that requires participation in that respect would be akin to a prison term for me. Regardless of that inadequacy on my part, it’s really about principles for me: The words “art” and “contract” don’t fit well in the same sentence. Not in my world, anyway. I just could never face the thought that my labour of love could be someone else’s commodity. But that’s just me, so I do that which works best for me. I advocate self-publishing, but I can’t be a cheerleader for it because it just isn’t right for everyone. Trust your artistic instinct and know that anything done out of vanity or desperation is bound to disappoint.
Cheryl Anne Gardner is never disappointed.
Yes, I am using the “Ship of Fools” by Bosch again this week ... I know a lot of authors already on board.