14 February 2011

Some Thoughts on Self-Publishing

I've been thinking about self-publishing a lot lately. I'm old enough to have a definite prejudice against it, at least for prose books--especially fiction. But I'm also old enough to have seen how self-publishing in comics produced some of my very favourite books. ElfQuest, for example, a series which won critical acclaim (and which had more influence than just about anything else on my drawing style--something I have been trying to overcome for ages (though not because of the quality of the original, simply because anyone who looks at my drawings can see the influence immediately) ), was self-published.

Back then, self-publishing was hard. Now, it's easy. For some people, it means that self-published books are even more a sea of crap than they ever were, which is perhaps a reasonable argument for sticking with traditional publishing. One the other hand, readers will read what they want to read and work of mouth is a powerful thing, so good books will eventually become known and bad ones avoided, however they were published.
So. Last month I released the first chapter of my still-unfinished comic series Fey on the print-on-demand indie comics site Indy Planet. I also made it available on the Comics Monkey site, which distributes to the wholesale market. Except for the copies I bought myself to have on hand, I haven't sold a single copy yet, but that's OK. I haven't promoted it either. I just wanted to get it done and out there. Indy publishing in comics has a longish and fairly well-thought-of history. At some point, I'll get organized and actually promote and see if I can sell some, but I want to get back into drawing it first, so I can be confident that it will, in fact, actually be finished some day. To that end, I'm almost decided on getting a table in artist's alley at this year's Hal-Con science fiction convention.

My aversion to self-publishing my fiction remains, but it's decreasing every day. There are a lot of downsides to it. For me the most significant is promotion. I can handle the writing, I can find people to read it and give feedback, I can make reasonable cover art, and thanks to this latest degree, I can even design a passable (though not brilliant) book cover. But promoting myself and all those other little tasks a traditional publisher is supposed to do. . . . Well, I guess I can learn. And I think I just might give it a try. The worst that can happen is my books rot in obscurity like thousands of others.

I started writing because I wanted to tell stories, and also because I wanted to make books. I learned hand-bookbinding, printmaking, letterpress printing, design and even photography for the same reason. And self-publishing will let me make my own books. If other people like them, that's cool. Heck, if I could make a living doing it, that would be great. But I won't count any chickens before I even have a basket to put the eggs in.

Things that got me thinking (more) about self-publishing:
  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch's post on the changing business of publishing, especially the one on new writers
  • Dean Wesley Smith's posts on the myths of publishing, especially the one on "Self Publishing is a Bad Idea"
  • an email from friend and teacher Heinz Insu Fenkl in which he suggested self-publishing as an increasingly legitimate path for many writers

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