Okay, last time I posted about process stuff I went into the backstory of the process of writing NO LIMITS and talked a lot of wank about how I was channelling the characters during the writing of the book, which is true, but no less wanky for being true. Today I thought we’d dip into something a bit less ephemeral and mysterious and talk about self-publishing, specifically why I decided to self-publish this book and some of my thoughts on the matter. Because I know there will be people who’ll ask me about it – the why of it – and I figure I may as well get it out of the way.
So first, most of you know I am traditionally published (by Allen & Unwin in Australia, and Tundra Books in Canada/US) and perhaps you’re wondering ‘how did it come to this?’ or something, over the fact I’m self-publishing. Because self-publishing has, for some time, been held in rather low regard as the last resort of writers who aren’t good enough for trad publishing, and an arena only for poor-quality books (described concisely by Chuck Wendig as ‘A rising tide of turd-froth in terms of self-published bilge’ – and Wendig is a guy who likes self-publishing).
So doubtless some people will be wondering if NO LIMITS is shit, like maybe my publisher didn’t want it because it was shit, and here I am pursuing my own vainglorious (and perhaps avaricious) desire to get to the book out into the world because a) as the creator of the book, I’m deluded about its worth, or b) I’m trying to rake in the cash, or maybe c) I’m just stubborn and proud, and I think every word that I type is made of gold or something.
On the issue of a), while I cannot deny that yes, I am the creator of the book, which would certainly lend itself to a lack of objectivity, I can only say that I believe the book is good. If my word is insufficient, then perhaps you might care to take the word of the half-dozen or so respectable people who have read NO LIMITS and declared it good – I am certainly not going to naysay them. Or perhaps you might like to read the book yourself and form your own opinion. I usually consider this the best course of action when weighing up the quality of a book, although that’s just me. And maybe you’ll think my book is horrible, but maybe you think all my other books are horrible too, so…yeah, I can’t help you with that. I’m leaving it up to you, Dear Reader. Suffice to say that if I thought the book was an absolute garbage fire, I wouldn’t have published it – nobody wants to have their good name connected to a garbage fire.
As far as b) goes, I haven’t released the book yet, and I have no idea what to expect in terms of return on investment. It could bomb, in which case I’ll have lost a considerable amount of sunk expenses, or it could go like the clappers, which would be wonderful and a great relief, but the outcome is by no means certain. Self-publishing is a gamble, like any kind of publishing, except the money you throw at it is your own. Either way, it’s unlikely I will ever truly get my ‘return on investment’, considering I spent six months of my life – when I could’ve been earning a proper wage as a teacher in my day job – writing the book. If writers were paid properly for their endeavours then perhaps we wouldn’t be having this conversation, but then perhaps I would be obliged to charge every reader a hundred bucks per copy to make my investment capital back in a decent period of time, and I’m not gonna do that. So no, it’s not a cash grab.
And no, I don’t think that every word I type is made of gold, either. Or I would be charging you right now to read this humble missive! Which…yeah nuh.
Basically, I just wrote a book, and it’s a good book, and I wanted to get it out there, and the usual avenues were unavailable to me.
Something you should know from the outset is that traditional publishing, like everything, is a business. When I submitted NO LIMITS to my publisher, they felt that it didn’t seem to be something they could market to the established readership I already had. The more mature protags in NO LIMITS, the darker themes of drug crime and family violence, the body count and the heavy action…all these things added up to something that skated the line between YA and NA, and didn’t fit well with the kinds of books I’d released before. So my publisher – who is pretty wonderful – couldn’t figure out quite how to market it and made the decision to pass, and I totally respect that. Trad pub is a business, and it has to watch the bottom line, and the decisions it makes are business decisions. That’s just the way it goes. Otherwise, all publishers would be charities, and we probably wouldn’t have a publishing industry in this country because it wouldn’t be able to support itself (and it’s pretty tough already, imo).
But I also couldn’t submit NO LIMITS to another trad publisher, because it was so closely linked to the Every series. So then I was stuck.
Maybe, if I was smarter, I would’ve been able to uncouple NO LIMITS from the original series, or rewrite parts of the book to make it more palatable to a solidly YA readership, and therefore more marketable for my trad pub. But…I’m not that smart. I was also too close to the story. I felt strongly about the themes, because Newsflash: drugs are an issue amongst teenagers! They’re also an issue in rural Australian communities, including my own, just so’s you know.
But the main problem was: I liked the book the way I wrote it. I believed in it. I didn’t want to change it. So yeah, maybe I am stubborn and proud…I dunno. Anyway, basically I was in a bind, until I realised I could put it out myself.
People say ‘there’s no right or wrong way to publish a book’, but I disagree. There’s a wrong way – write a crappy book, go through a vanity publisher who robs you and massages your ego, print up a few copies of your book at OfficeWorks or something and try to flog it at your local bookstore, have your legendary prose sprayed across the clouds in sky-writing… Those are all bad ways to publish. The good way to publish is to be business-like about it: go through a traditional publisher, or a small supportive indie publisher, or self-publish in an organised and professional way.
Now, to be sure, Self-Publishing Land is certainly peopled by many citizens who don’t proceed in a business-like fashion, and those citizens often tank (or at least produce some woeful books). But there are many highly professional writers who manage their own careers solely as self-published authors, and the number of those writers is ever-increasing. Some of them come from traditional-publishing backgrounds, which provides them with an entirely thorough awareness of the business of publishing and the creation of good books. Some of those writers go back and forth between traditional and self-publishing, and they’re called hybrid authors.
Remember how I said ‘publishing is a business’? Self-publishing is a business, too. Except in self-publishing, you back yourself to do the same thing a publisher does, and you champion your own book. Self-publishing isn’t (or it shouldn’t be) a vanity thing, and it isn’t a dummy-spit about traditional publishing. If you’re doing it right, it’s about the story, and taking the chance to really serve the story properly.
In answer to your lurking question, ‘Are you just gonna self-publish stuff now?’, my reply is: No. I will continue to pitch the bulk of my writing to my traditional publisher (mainly because self-publishing is a helluva lot of work). In fact, my next book WHITE NIGHT is coming out through my trad publisher in March next year. But if I write another book that’s not right for my publisher or my usual market, I will certainly consider self-publishing again. I’ve found self-publishing to be a deeply satisfying experience, because I know the responsibility, the control and the investment (creative and productive effort, time, money, belief) are all mine.
Self-publishing is also an interestingly democratic process – write a good book, do your homework, invest your money, work your butt off, and you too can publish whatever the hell you want – which pleases me on a number of levels. (You might be able to tell that I appreciate US author Beth Revis’s summation of the whole business: Welcome to the world of publishing. BYOB.) For another perspective, Darcy Conroy writes convincingly in this essay about how self-publishing is about self-respect and taking control of your writing career, and suggests that it might be a feminist choice as well – she cites the examples of the early 70s feminist presses, who took advantage of the technology to make their voices heard.
This year, I know of at least four trad-pubbed Australian authors* who have decided, like myself, to back themselves and put out their own books, which I guess makes us amongst the first wave of Australian hybrid authors. I imagine people might be looking on with considerable interest, waiting on the outcome of our experiments.
As for me, I just want to see NO LIMITS out in the world. I believe in it, and I hope it does well. Above all, I hope you like it. Because that’s the ultimate judgement of any book, whether it comes to you via a bookstore under the name of a traditional publisher, or as an ebook/print-on-demand book from the author herself, or as writing on clouds in the sky… It’s up to you, the reader, to decide.
And that’s all I’ve got to say on the matter. Let the dice fall where they may.
Oh, and PS: if you’d like to come to the book launch for NO LIMITS in Melbourne on August 18, I’d love to see you – please feel welcome to book here (it’s free!)