Monday, August 3, 2009

Why Are You Doing This To Yourself?

A friend of mine recently asked why I'm not self-publishing. It was a reasonable question; it doesn't take a genius to see that the process of querying agents is doing horrible things not just to my self-esteem but to my mental and even physical health. And that's just trying to find an agent who wants to work with me. After that comes trying to find an editor who wants to print my book and then a whole passel of new stresses over which I will have very little control. Why not self-publish and skip most of that?

The notion has certainly occurred to me. I could self-publish. Or I could subsidiary publish. My husband's novel, Waiting for War, was printed through a subsidiary press and all parties were pleased. (What's the difference between subsidiary publishing and self-publishing? A subsidiary press is sort of a cross between a small traditional press and a self-publishing one. The author is expected to put up money, but the costs are shared by the press. Since the author is helping to fund the venture, a subsidiary press can afford to be less picky about what they print than a traditional house, although they still have quality control standards. By contrast, a true self-publishing company will print anything they're asked to regardless of content.)

The answer of why I'm trying to go the traditional route isn't as simple as my friend may have suspected.

Over the weekend, I started Donald Maass's The Fire in Fiction. In the introduction, he states that he's seen two types of writers, Status Seekers and Storytellers. I think the fact that this is the first of his books I've read says which group I primarily fall into. My library has a copy of Writing the Break-Out Novel, but I never bothered to check it out because the title really turned me off. I'm not trying to hit the NYT Bestseller List. I just want to tell my story as best I can, and hopefully have other people share it. The sharing part is important to me, but not for status or money. I just happen to think stories should not only be told but heard. If a story sits on a hard-drive and no one reads its words, was it really told?

That could be read as a reason for me to self-publish. It would the the fastest way to toss my book out to the world so that I can stop being so distracted from the other stories I'm trying to tell. But... That would mean my book would be released as is. There would be no professional help to point out lines to cut and objects to add descriptions of. There would be no one to tell me which plot arc needs buffing up. There'd be no one to notice extraneous uses of 'that' or misuse of metaphor. In short, there would be no one whose job it is to help me make the story better. Because it's not perfect, it's merely as good as I can get it without professional help.

This is only part of the answer, though. Just after getting my friend's question, I came across an entry in The Green Apple's blog, entitled Self-Published Authors, in which it was stated, “pushy and self-promoting is the only way to get it done if you want to get your book into a store.” Note that the writer, whose job it is to stock a local bookstore, wasn't trying to attack self-publishers with that. She was simply pointing out that a self-published author is a salesman. Has to be. All authors are to some degree, but the self-published author has no one helping him. One of the reasons I'm finding the query process so heinous is that I'm not a salesperson. If I were a marketer, I'd be trying to get a job in marketing. I'm a writer. I want to write. But like I already said, I also want what I write to be read. Which means someone is going to have to market it and while I recognize the sad fact that even traditionally published authors are expected to do extensive self-promotion, I'd at minimum like for someone who knows what they're talking about to be available to advise me on if I'm doing things in a way that approaches right and to help me figure out what I could be doing better.

All of which is the long version of what I initially wrote back to my friend with. Which was, “I don't want to be alone.”

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