This article was written by Amarie Fox.
A few years ago, I decided that self-publishing a book of short stories would be a good idea. I don’t know who originally put the seedling of this idea in my head, but in time it began to grow. In fact, it grew until I had a whole garden inside of my skull and I could think of nothing else that I’d rather do than give my stories to the world.
After all, the demand was there: I had a rather large and devoted following who regularly read the short fiction that I posted on my blog and genuinely seemed excited when I brought up the possibility of a book. In my naïveté, I just couldn’t see what could possibly stop me.
‘Wait, what am I doing again?’
There is something so positive and appealing about the DIY approach to self-publishing that I loved and still do love. It is authentic; it isn’t reliant on anyone or anything. It is freeing to do something on your own without a bigger force standing in the way.
Looking back, though, I think – or no, I absolutely know – that the way I approached the project was all wrong. Yes, I was doing it on my own and that was certainly freeing, but it was also haphazard and chaotic. I had no direction, no one to point out what I needed to eliminate or what I needed to add. There is not a single short story collection in the world that doesn’t share some common theme or unifying idea. Often times, there is a thread that runs through each story.
Alice Munro – who is my favorite short story writer – would have shook her head at what I put together. I wouldn’t call it a book of short stories, as much as a book of strange odds and ends that you’d keep stuffed in a cardboard box at the back of your closet. Or no, if I am really honest, it was worse than that… it was more like a monster with a million mismatching arms and legs.
Let’s be honest, writers have editors for a reason. Sometimes you get so deep into a project you cannot see the other side. You are lost in a maze of your own creation and only an outsider can help drag you out. It would’ve been easier on me to have someone look over my work. To point out what needed to go and what needed to be added. Just because you’re putting together a collection of stories doesn’t mean you need to include every story you’ve ever written. I had everything from the good, the bad, the ugly, to the outright hideous. Yes, it was a very horrible monster. I will be the first to admit it. Some of those flabby parts needed to be cut off. If I had been more critical of my work at the time, I could have done just that. However, I was an overly attached mother. I couldn’t imagine leaving anything out.
Finding a Publisher
The Internet is full of self-publishing sites. It is definitely overwhelming to choose. For my project, I ended up going with Lulu, because a few of my poet friends had previously used it to make their chapbooks available to a wider audience.
Lulu was a great site to use, easy to navigate and work with, that frequently distributed discounts and promo codes to offer on my book, but I think they cater to a certain audience that wasn’t necessarily my audience. They do a lot of personal photo book printing – memory type albums and calendars – and I wouldn’t say that many people who ended up purchasing my book would’ve ever ordered from them. The community they had was just so different.
Since I published, I have seen a lot of different options become available, such as Amazon or Google. Both I think are perhaps better options. Depending on what you want to put out there.
Still, the point remains: your audience is the most important element. Unless you’re personally printing and producing your book, you have to make sure a reputable website is going to be taking care of your buyers. Are they going to ship worldwide? Are they going to have a hardcopy version to sell? A digital PDF or ePUB version? Do they have any sort of partnership with Apple or Amazon for wider distribution? Are you going to get a free copy of your own book to check out before you choose to tell the world? For what I was doing, Lulu met all of these requirements.
Would I do it again?
The question remains: would I choose to self-publish again? For now, the answer is heck no.
As much as I would like to go back in time and be the same naïve and optimistic young woman, I cannot. I think we have to (or should) learn from our past experiences. Instead of wasting time making another book, I’d rather invest the little spare time that I do have more wisely – by writing and sending out all completed work to literary journals and websites. Plus, I am sure in my future attempts to professionally publish a collection of stories or novel, it would look much nicer on my resume if some of my pieces have a ‘originally published’ or ‘published in’ next to the title.
Although, I wouldn’t do it again, that doesn’t mean I don’t encourage my fellow bloggers or writing friends to take the leap and self publish. I have a lot of favorite writers on the Internet and I understand and have the same desire to read their work in a tangible format. Plus, I believe in the giving back, especially after so many years of reading ‘for free.’
And I would be lying if I didn’t say it wasn’t at least a little rewarding – even if it is just rewarding for my poor little writer’s ego. I mean, somewhere across the country, across the world, on the other side of the hemisphere, someone has a copy of my book on their bookshelf alongside James Joyce and Margaret Atwood. How cool is that?
So, would you ever consider it? Or if you’d rather not get yourself involved in such a crazy project: have you ever supported a self-published writer by buying a self-published book?
Amarie Fox is a writer and artist. Her recent fiction work has been published by Little Fiction, NIB, and Literary Orphans. More information at amariefoxart.wordpress.com.