Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Wrong End

Once in a while, when I mention that I've finished a manuscript and I'm in the middle of revising it with the intent to submit it for publication, someone will suggest something along the lines of "Well, if that doesn't work out, you can always self-publish, right?"

I sort of smile and shake my head when people say that.

I think the digital printing revolution is a marvelous thing, I truly do.  My parents actually created their own small press, using Lulu as a printer, so my mother could create a simple and inexpensive textbook for clinical nursing instruction. And, of course, my years in the poetry scene have introduced me to many a traveling poet selling self-published chapbooks in order to have enough gas money to make it to the next gig.

But for novel-length fiction, self-publishing is doing the hard work from the wrong end.

My intent is to do the hard work at the front end--at grinding and polishing this chunk of prose into something that makes it to #14 on the Slushkiller list.  (At this point, I think I'm at least at #7 but probably no higher than #9.)  Because once I reach that point, I can relax.  The contract is signed, the book is printed, the books go to bookstores and (I sincerely hope) people buy them.

But if I take what I have, take it to Lulu, slap a cover on it and say "Yay!  I'm published!" then the hard work has just begun.  Then I have to find a million ways to wave this book in people's faces and say "Hey!  Ya wanna buy a book?"  And believe me, that's a hell of a lot harder to do when people can't go to your local Borders or B&N and pick the thing up, thumb through it, think "hm, this looks interesting" and put down the cash for it.

Yes, there are self-publishing success stories of people who have managed bookstore placement by acting like a small press.  Here's the thing--they weren't fiction.  When you're dealing with information, it's easier to determine if the book will be successful because it can be measured in how useful the information is.  When you're dealing with art, it's much harder to quantify.  And, the fact of the matter is, there is already a metric ton of self-published novels by people who were too impatient to polish their work to the level it needed, so the moment a bookstore buyer sees self-published fiction, the assumption is that it will be crap.  And it's a pretty safe bet.

I have no interest in having to struggle to reassure people that, really, it's not as bad as the pixelated cover might imply.  Frankly, I don't want to have to reassure people of anything--I want them to buy my books in such a way that I never see them do it.

And, yes, that's ambitious.  Which is why I understand I have a lot of work left to do.

1 comment:

Collin said...

I agree that self-pubbing fiction is a more uphill battle than poetry. I'm not ready to self-pub my novel just yet, but poetry is perfect for self-pub, which is why so many noted poets are choosing that path now.