writer attempting real life in the middle of everybody else's vacation

Unsolicited feedback about unsolicited self-publishing advice

I’ve started and abandoned this post a dozen times. Because, frankly, it’s hard to find a way to say this without sounding like a condescending asshole. But here goes.

“Oh, you’re trying to get published? My aunt published a book about managing adult-onset acne. Let me talk to her and see if she can help you out with getting noticed by a publisher. I don’t mind doing that for you. You’re very welcome.”

“You’re writing? That’s cool. So-and-so from high school is a writer, too. He’s published 23 erotic murder mysteries this year and you can buy them on Amazon! Fucking AMAZON! Can you believe it? You should talk to him to see if he can help you get your book published.”

As an unpublished novelist, I’m far from alone in receiving uninformed publishing advice from well-intentioned family members, friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers. And listen, I know they just want to help. Why wouldn’t they? It’s not like I’ve kept it a secret that I’m trying to see my first (and by “first” I mean “second”) manuscript through to publication.

I put my process out there–the stressful parts, the humiliating parts, the rewarding parts. But what I haven’t put out there for my family and friends is that the journey to publication I’m attempting is not the same as that of your Aunt Acne’s journey or that of So-n-so from high school.

While self-publishing has gained popularity among people who are interested in seeing their words published in print and/or e-book, self-publishing and traditional publishing are still very different endeavors.

Your aunt’s book. So-n-so’s 23 books on Amazon, fucking AMAZON! Those books are self-published. In short (very short), self-publishing means that people decide they want to publish their work and so they do it themselves. I can do the same thing. So can you. Hell, your cat can collaborate on a project with your five-year-old and self-publish it, if you’re willing to foot the bill.

Does that mean everything that’s self-published is crap? Of course not. There are lots of good self-pubbed books, especially things like collections of poetry or short stories or niche books that just don’t have larger commercial market appeal, and for whatever reason, no university press or small publisher will take them on.

And there are awesome authors who have been traditionally published but want to take a chance with carrying their readers with them to their self-published work. There are also a handful of self-published (or “indie”) authors who haven’t tried traditional publishing but have found some success and say they’re happy to stick with self-publishing, even if they were offered traditional publishing contracts.

But I’m just a writer, not a publisher. I want to concentrate on writing. And while I totally get the importance of art for art’s sake and not limiting access to it, I also don’t like to gamble. I want to be paid for my writing, however little–not the other way around. Writing is my passion, but it’s also my job. I want to earn the respect of my peers and set myself up for what I think is my best chance at success with my reading audience. And readers, especially YA (that’s what I write) readers, are fussy. They want good shit.

So as badly as I burn to see my manuscript turn into a real live novel, for now, I’m willing to wait. I’m willing to grow as a writer and continue to improve my craft as I endure the sometimes (always) painstaking journey toward traditional publication. That means instead of self-publishing my book this afternoon, I go through an often years-long process filled with impersonal rejection that feels very personal. Maybe I’m nuts, but it’s what I want.

I’ve been writing for a while and I’ve studied and worked in capacities that have helped me improve as a writer. But I didn’t complete a manuscript until about four years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten a literary agent (not easy), revised that story many, many times, and eventually set it aside to write a completely different manuscript. My agent now has the second manuscript out on submission and it’s getting a little bit of attention from selective publishing houses.

My book may or may not ever be traditionally published. In fact, the odds are not at all in my favor. I don’t even want to know how the chance of being traditionally published and the chance of getting struck by lightning compare. But I do know that I’m much better at what I do for having gone through this process.

Here’s the thing. No matter how this goes down for me, I’m already grateful for whatever forces kept me from becoming frustrated after initial rejection and then self-publishing an early, terrible draft of my first manuscript that would forever have been my debut work.

But that’s just me. All writers have their own stories and their own motivations for the paths they choose.


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