For a long time I have been steadfastly against self-publishing my work. I have seen far too many self-published books that look like amateurish crap on the outside, and then when I open them up and read a few pages I find that it is sadly true on the inside, too. As much as writers often resent what we perceive to be the gatekeepers in the way of our dreams, traditional publishers and literary agents do provide a value. They filter much of the good stuff from the chaff, add value to the product with professional editing (at least in theory) and copyediting (not the same thing as editing), put a cool cover on it (again, in theory), use the power of their brands and established business platforms to help sell more books (again, in theory).
There are those who will say that there is no writing that is crap; it all has value. To which I say, I heartily agree. There are few tools more useful for self-discovery, for creative expression, for learning and pedagogy, for healing and catharsis, than writing. But that doesn’t mean that all writing should be published and offered for sale. All writing is valuable to the writer; sometimes it is the most precious of things to the writer. But when it is published, it must have value for the reader, too. The readers must get something worthy for their coin, something that will enrich, or enlighten, or entertain them–preferably all three. To entertain is the lowest of the bars, as evidenced by much of what is television, e.g. reality shows. Too many self-published books fail even to entertain for reasons given below. This has been my own internal negative stigma for a long time.
Of course there are exceptions, and there are some real, notable success stories of self-published writers who built a enthusiastic following with a good product, won some awards, and then hit it big. Amanda Hocking is a author most associated with this in the last couple of years. My friend Susan Ee and her book Angelfall are another; Angelfall was recently optioned for Hollywood by Sam Raimi. So yes, there is good indie stuff out there. In Susan Ee’s case, it’s because she already had experience, and had attended the Clarion writers workshop. She was already a good writer.
But what are the problems with indie published work?
- The writing is not that good, simply because the writer is not ready. They have yearned, but all they have gotten is a slew of rejections letters, so their impatience and dreams overwhelm self-awareness of their ability. All writers have blind spots with regard to their own work, so they can’t tell where their deficiencies lie–storytelling, sentence structure, plot, character development, etc.
- The book is poorly edited, rife with typographical and grammar errors.
- The cover is poorly designed or looks somehow amateurish.
- The interior design is hard to read or unfavorable to the eye for various reasons.
Why does this happen? Because most self-published authors do everything as cheaply as they can and/or do all the work themselves. Very few people have all the skill sets necessary to produce a book. How many people out there are great writers and great graphic artists and great designers and meticulous editors? Putting a book together requires a number of people with various talents; it’s a team effort. Many indie authors don’t have the money or contacts to put together a team of pros and pay them what they’re worth.
So all of this stuff has been swimming around in the sludge between my ears for a long time. In the meantime, I’ve been writing books and stories and trying to decide what to do with them.
In 2012, I finished a draft of Sword of the Ronin, the second volume of my Ronin Trilogy. Still to this day, readers and podcast listeners of Heart of the Ronin ask me when the next book is coming out, and for a long time, I had nothing to tell them. Without going into too many details, there were a lot of experiences in 2012 that chipped away at my negative stigma against indie-publishing. I have now reached the point where I’m ready to take that leap.
Here’s the upside as I see it:
- Since I’m already doing all the leg work, all the marketing, all the promotion, all the publicity for the books I already have in print, I would be a lot happier with a somewhat larger share of the returns.
- I control the cover design.
- I get to give fans the next book in a timely manner.
- Indie publishing is not a dead-end anymore. It is an option in my Writer Toolbox. I am no longer a slave to the whims agents and editors. Nevertheless, I have a novel that I am currently marketing to traditional publishers. I expect my future as a writer will be a mixture of independent and traditional publishing. Anything that helps build a career–in an industry where every … single … card is stacked against the individual writer–is a positive thing.
So that’s why I am now ready to make this leap. Which brings us back to Sword of the Ronin. Since traditional publishers are unlikely to pick up a series in the middle, I felt it was best to waste no more time. There is just one more goal to producing a truly high-grade, professional product: funding.
Therefore, I have just launched a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter.