The Writing Life: Affirmation, and Why I Choose to Independently Publish

Last week I wrote about reading other writers’ blogs. I had wanted to write about something I had read that morning on another writer’s blog. Quite a few of you will know there are two people whose blogs are my first ‘go-to’ point whenever I start a blog-reading session, at least when it comes to writing. They are and, the blogs of Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, respectively.
These two people have been making a living in the world of publishing for over twenty years each. They have been traditionally published, have run their own publishing business, and, most importantly for me, been successful writers for all of that time. They have followed the changes of publishing and made their own way, and they have both unstintingly shared what they learned doing that, and continue to do so today, so, when they say something, I take the time to listen, and then see if it’s something I should apply.
A couple of weeks ago, in her blog on negotiation, Kris wrote two things that really jumped off the page at me: “I make the choices based on what I can live with, not on what others believe is good for me” and “The more control you have, the more opportunities you have.” It took me some time to work out why these meant so much to me, so I wrote it down here.
The first quote probably jumped out at me because of the way people judge a writer if they decided to independently publish. There is still a stigma to being ‘self-published’, one that comes from the days when writers could pay someone to publish their works. Now, while writers can still choose to take that path, they can also do their own publishing, and many see this as a way for writers to avoid the ‘quality control’ that is thought to come with being published by a ‘proper’ publisher.
All I can say to this is that the only book I haven’t gotten through the first twenty pages of because of its poor editing, low-quality writing, and clichéd plotline was one published by a Big Five publisher. I chose it because it was published by a publisher with a good reputation, written by an Australian writer receiving high praise at the time, and because the reviews were good. As a reader, I gave it a chance. That mistake will not happen again.
Further, the number of editing errors I’ve come across in books by big-name authors, from big-name publishers has done little to attract me to the path of traditional publishing because of their much-vaunted ability to edit and control quality. The stories I’ve heard from authors about being forced to agree to fund and organise their own signings, and other marketing activities, has shown me that being traditionally published holds no advantages there. And, finally, the way publishers insist on buying rights to a work for the life of the copyright, regardless of whether or not they intend to use those rights, and with no guarantee of keeping the book in print and available to the public for the term for which they have purchased those rights, is not a selling point, either.
What Kris says about making the choices she can live with, reverberates strongly with me, and this is why:

  • Can I live with selling a book, knowing the story will ‘live’ only a year or two on the shelves, and then stop earning?  No.
  • Can I live with the idea of not receiving the legitimisation that comes with a publishing contract, if my work is available, and has the potential to earn for the life of its copyright? Yes.
  • Can I live with other authors, and some members of the paying public looking slideways at me for publishing my own work, and maybe thinking that I only published it myself because it wasn’t good enough for a publisher to pick up? Sigh. Yes, because I know that there are many books that are good enough, that won’t see light of a day through a publisher because they just don’t fit the marketing profile of that publisher. 
  • Am I happy with people thinking that? No, but I can live with it, knowing my stories see light of day, and have a chance of finding an audience they’d have no chance to find otherwise.
  • Can I live with being limited to releasing one new book per year, when I can release as many as I deem ready each year? No.
  • Can I live with receiving a maximum of 7-10 per cent of the cover price of each copy sold for a maximum of 5,000 copies or 2 years, when I could be receiving 60-70 per cent of each copy sold for the lifetime of the copyright? No.

These are the reasons I choose to independently publish. It’s not good business to do otherwise, and it’s the only chance I have of making a living from my writing instead of dreaming of making a living while I hold down a full-time job and fight for every scrap of writing time I can find.
Kris’s second point about having control, and having opportunities? Yeah, that rings true as well. The more control you have, the more choices you have, and the more room to manoeuvre when an opportunity comes up, because you haven’t sold all your control to someone else. Unless traditional publishing contracts change dramatically, an author can only retain control of their work and make the most of their opportunities when they independently publish, because traditional contracts demand—and take—all control of a particular work, with little or no room for negotiating.
And I wouldn’t know this, if I didn’t take time out of my writing day, to read the experiences of writers who’ve been around a lot longer than I have, and survived in this crazy business. I only wish that those making the policies controlling copyright and other artistic licences would do the same—but that’s a topic for another post.


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