Monday, October 25, 2010

Letting Go--Of the Old Ways?

I announced last week I had ePublished a book. Today I'll talk about why I did that, but it's really part of a larger discussion: mentally and emotionally letting go of a book you've written.

I'll start by not talking about that book. I'll discuss the one I wrote before it.

I invested a lot of effort in my first novel, and as a consequence, I had a lot of emotion sunk into it. It took me a while (about twenty-five rejections) to find an agent, and in the meantime, I was still getting feedback on the manuscript from online critiquers.

One suggestion I got from a person (who hadn't read it) was that maybe I should stick that manuscript under the bed and write a new one.

To which my (private) reaction was, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooo...!!"

I couldn't imagine just...letting that book die. Giving up. I had sunk so much time and emotion into it, had twined it so tightly to my dreams, that my mind balked at the possibility.

After I began writing my second book, it became...possible to let the first book go. I still wanted (and continue to want) to get it published, but once I was busy with the next book, I no longer had fits of apoplexy over the thought of setting the first one aside. My eggs weren't all in the same basket anymore.

The book I ePublished last week was my second book, not my first.

And that might seem a bit weird. The truth is I've still mentally got the first one set aside for traditional publishing.

Why not the second book? Because the second book was problematic to write, and I'm not sure I like it--in the sense that it isn't the sort of thing I read, and I thus don't feel comfortable recommending it to others because I don't know how many people are into that sort of thing.

Also, my agent and I parted ways (amicably) over this second book. It wasn't her cup of tea either, and that means the second book carries some emotional baggage for me; trudging back to the start of the road to publication did make me pretty sad.

The result of all that was, after racking up about twenty-five rejections for this second novel also, I decided I wanted to let it go. I was already writing a third book (and enjoying the process again), but the second one nagged like a hangnail. I felt frustrated and impatient with traditional publishing, but at the same time, I didn't think this book would be the one to let me break into traditional publishing. I just wanted to mentally wave goodbye to it and not care so much anymore.

Five years ago, I would have stuffed the manuscript under the bed, dusted my hands, and said, "Mischief managed." However, the publishing landscape has changed rapidly in the past few years, and J. A. Konrath's success with self-publishing has really intrigued me.

For a start, self-publishing an eBook is something you can do for free. This makes it a very different beast from vanity publishing in that you might be a fool to do it, but at least you're not being fleeced by some predator while you do it.

I decided my second book was the perfect one to experiment with. It's unlike the stuff I normally write, so why not release it under a pseudonym and satisfy my curiosity about self-publishing at the same time?

I'll pause here to note that one thing I find off-putting about some people who self-publish is they're zealots. They see themselves as voices crying in the wilderness, or trailblazers struggling against a conspiracy of monolithic traditional publishers, and that insecurity seems to make them desperate to convince everyone (including themselves?) that self-publishing is the way of the future.

I am not a zealot. It's not at all clear to me that self-publishing a book isn't an idiotic thing for me to do.

What I am is a dork and an experimentalist. I want to see what happens; I want to know if this would work for me instead of continuing to wonder about it. (Plus, I can do it on a shoe-string.)

If any of you are curious about my experience with this, feel free to ask at any time. I'll always be honest, I'll try to be objective, and I don't mind telling you the embarrassing stuff.

So here's my as-objective-as-possible opinion of self-publishing thus far:

Trying to do it right, i.e. putting effort into creating a (hopefully) professional-looking cover, copy-editing the text, making a promo, etc., took up about two months of my time and I got very little writing (or reading) done in the meanwhile. I consider that a big negative. Writers must write!

I sold six copies, all in the first two days. Okay, so six is a really teensy quantity, but during those first two days? It was so exciting!

I now believe at least half of those sales were to family members (thanks guys!), which feels a bit like cheating to be honest, although I very much appreciate it.

And I haven't sold any books since, so the emotional roller coaster is officially back in the ground-level station again.

One thing that has hit home to me is just how gruesome and monumental a task self-promotion is--how very invisible you feel, and how very unwelcome you could make yourself by trying too hard. For example, I think it's a completely valid choice for book review websites to exclude self-published books, but it's disheartening for me to finally notice that--my goodness--they all seem to.

The one thing I like is I don't have to stress out over a slow start. This book isn't coming off the market until I decide to take it off, and that means if I hit upon some fabulous marketing plan six months from now, I still get to reap the benefits. If I were traditionally published and my book had a slow start, it would likely be taken off shelves long before it could build any momentum and my career would essentially be finished.

It's a tough road, either way.


Do you have any thoughts to share? Any uncomfortable observations you'd like to point out? There's a lot of talk these days about self-publishing, about the allegedly-oh-so-imminent death of traditional publishing, and about what a serious writer should be trying to do with their career in these digital days. I think there's merit in having an open discussion about it and in being critical of some of the claims made by both sides.

Would you consider self-publishing? Have you already self-published?

Do you think it's dangerous to your writing career to self-publish? Do you consider it a cop-out made by people who aren't talented enough to make it in traditional publishing?

Do you think traditional publishing is dying? What do you think will rise from its ashes?

Do you think all the predictions of doom are just a new spin on the publishing industry's decades-old pessimism and everything will settle out just fine?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

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