You did WHAT?!?

Friday, March 26, 2010
Usually I write about woods and words as though they’re mutually exclusive. But just as in writing, there are exceptions to almost every rule and so it is with woods and words. Sometimes they sync up together nicely.

There’s no question about it: more and more people are devoting time to writing novels and books. I have a “shoot in hell” theory about the whole thing. With a crappy economy, people have time for a writing venture and there’s always that tantalizing, yet oh so unlikely, possibility that this might be the book that’s the next big thing. Why not giving writing a try? Whatever it is that’s driving people to the page, people are feeling wordy as of late. Once they’re done being wordy, they find themselves with a finished book they’d like to do something about.

As writers we are taught to mistrust self-publishing. “Whatever you do,” we’re told, “don’t self-publish!” Why? Without a publishing house behind you to help with marketing and publicity, things can go south quickly. It can be how you end up having to wallpaper your bathroom with page 6 of your novel. Or why you have to take out a second mortgage.

So when someone starts to tell me about the book they just self-published, it can be hard not to blurt out: “You did WHAT?!”

I know up here in the woods, we live in a somewhat detached reality. Does that mean we’re some safe little bubble where self-publishing just might work? My heart tells me no.

My novel, at least, is main-stream, set in a foreign country and does not fit the criteria for a Northwoods niche market. It’s the traditional path of rejection and heartache for this little story. At times, it won’t be pretty. But at the end of the day, I’ll know I did all I could to give my story it’s time in the sun. Even if I land a decent publishing contract, I’m probably still going to make a pretty modest amount of money from my literary creation.

It’s hard not to go into a litany about all of the horrible things that are associated with self-publication: the expenses you incur, the constant promotion necessary to get your book recognized, the low chances of breaking even, the dissonance that often comes from what your self-publisher says they’ll do for you (especially for promotion) and what they actually do. Just like when you blog, when you self-publish, your book is just another drop in the ocean. Over and over again I hear “putting your book on Amazon is not enough to make it sell.”

But what is your book does fit the Northwoods niche market? Can self-publishing make sense then? Maybe. There are a couple small publishers who focus on producing regional nonfiction books who must do well. But it is a small market and that alone means you’re only going to sell so many copies. And remember “the medium is the message?” Do we look at self-published work differently? Judgey person I am, I usually assume something’s self-published because a traditional publisher couldn’t be found.

All of that aside, I worry for the author who chooses to self-publish. I worry about the number of copies that must be produced to keep the cost per volume from being astronomical. On the flip side, the cost of publishing on a print on demand basis can make take home cash from each sale almost negligible or force the cost a slim volume into the “I’m not going to pay that for this” range. It’s tricky business.

But if your goal is to put the thing you wrote into a beautiful, printed form and maybe sell a few copies, there’s no reason not to self-publish.

We all write . . . and publish for different reasons.

So I didn’t say: “You did WHAT?!?”

Instead, I bit my tongue.

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