Adventures in Self-Publishing

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?

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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.

Photo: Some rights reserved by FeatheredTar.

16 Replies to “Adventures in Self-Publishing”

  1. Great story about your experience Amarie….I’ve bought lots of self-published books ….from books about writing by Jeff Goins and Linda Formichelli to fiction by Brenda Pandos and so many others…. Most often I’m annoyed by subpar editing…

    1. Thank you for taking the time out to read, Chris!

      And I will definitely have to agree with you there. Editing is a huge issue for all writers. I know for a while I wanted to go into publishing, but then I realized what a horrible editor I would have made. Aha!

      Best.

  2. I love self-published stuff. I love the idea of Kickstarter and Indiegogo. I’ve followed http://asymmetrical.co/ as they do some Indie publishing things. Most of the founders of that outfit started with self-publishing.

    From what I’ve read on it, you have to spend some money on editing to do it right. I’d also say that self-publishing is a large amount of risk to put on the writer, but that the potential pay-off is large.

    The lines between self-publishing and Indie publishing start to get a bit blurred when the people funding the Indie project are, at least in part, the authors themselves. I’m not sure that matters a huge deal to me, though.

    At http://asymmetrical.co/ there is a community of other folks looking to help one another self-publish and I recommend anyone interested sign up and follow their message board which you can find under the “community” tab here: http://asymmetrical.co/.

    Joshua Fields Millburn does a class on writing and the last class is largely devoted to self-publishing tools. I highly recommend it if you’re thinking of going this route: http://www.theminimalists.com/class/.

    One of my favorite self-published projects is here: http://brooklyntomars.com/. You can buy a physical copy of his zine when they’re available. I recommend following the Tumblr for free whether you want to purchase the zine or not.

    I know Amazon has its haters, but they have made it easier than ever to self-publish a book and then disseminate it to a potentially large audience.

    A good book to read on self-publishing is Guy Kawasaki’s APE, which provides a general overview of what’s involved: http://www.amazon.com/APE-Publisher-Entrepreneur-How-Publish-ebook/dp/B00AGFU5VS.

      1. Thank you, Brandon, for all of this extra insight and information. It is fantastic!

        I guess, personally, I am just torn about self-publishing and what in the future will designate ‘good writers’ from ‘bad writers.’ The way I see it is that there are what I would label a bunch of ‘lousy books’ that are popular that major publishers insist of putting out there. And that is troubling. I know it is all a matter of taste, but even still, how DOES one make the differentiation?

        At the same time, DIY ethics should not die out just because we live in the 21st century. If I ever did “self publish” I suppose I would need a team, a group of people behind me. A small press who was passionate about my work and vision.

        I would love to work at a small press one day, because they are the future of publishing. Real publishing, not digital publishing.

        Again, thank you for commenting and putting this up, Brandon. I appreciate it, so much.

        Best.

        1. For the foreseeable future, I think the almighty dollar will be the way we vote whether a book is “good” or “bad.” This seems like a problem right now because we’re in the midst of a publishing revolution and we haven’t exactly figured out what we’re doing. Now, by that I don’t mean that only the books that make a million dollars should be read. Instead, if an indie press or a self-published book sells enough to get a little attention or enough to have the same author do it again, then we’re voting that we want this author to keep producing stuff. Hopefully, we will take pride, as readers, in finding the things worth sharing and then working to get them shared in the right places so they’re read. I think authors are going to be asking more and more of readers as time goes on. They will need readers to share their work on social media (this stuff isn’t going anywhere even if something new comes along after Facebook and Twitter).

          I think sites that offer reader reviews will grow in popularity and I hope the companies that run them (I’m looking at you Amazon since you bought Goodreads and may buy up other similar sites) develop an ethic that works toward having true reader opinions expressed.

          I don’t really buy into the idea that we need professionals to tell us what to read. More often than not, these days, I try to read what has either: (a) stood the test of time; (b) is approved by someone I trust (usually a blogger, friend, or fellow reader); or (c) has an exceptional reader review or two.

          I do agree with your statement about needing a team behind you to self-publish. In order to compete with the publishers you have to look like they do, from front to back cover OR you have to offer something completely different that intrigues people and makes them want to take a risk. One of the things that’s great about that APE book I mention is that it talks about a book as a business. Everything you decide to publish is a new business. When you look at it that way you can justify bringing people on board to help you carry out your vision.

          I still think there will be things that should resonate with readers, but don’t. These “undiscovered gems” are tragedies. We have a moral obligation, as readers, to not let these things happen if we can help it. As authors, too, sometimes persistence pays off as it did for Walt Whitman.

          Anyway, great post and thanks for being the catalyst for us to talk about this here.

  3. Very interesting, inspiring, and informative article. I have a book I am considering self publishing that is a short story anthology based within a story about the writers of the stories in the anthology. I know this sounds confusing but it does make sense once read.. I am wary of the outside editing process. There are seemingly twice as many folks in the “How to write” business then actual writers. I’ve published some short stories and essays and find the venue appealing. I do struggle with what to do with the fruits of my efforts. I have, in the past, equated self publishing with vanity publishing, but have let that go in the face of the small success I have received with the publishing I have accomplished.Your article has allowed me to climb a number of steps toward making that decision. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting!

      And I would encourage you to try your hand at it, by all means. The one thing I didn’t want people to take away from this article is fear. I mean, I am just sharing my personal experience.

      However, I would maybe point you in another direction. What about small presses? I commented to Brandon, up above, about how if I DID self publish again, I would find a passionate, smaller press to work with. And there are tons on the internet that you can submit your manuscript to. Perhaps, give that a go! Because your idea does sound very unique and interesting.

    2. This sounds like a cool idea T. Lloyd, I’d read it. I think there are good editors out there that you can hire to work with you on a book by book basis. I do think they’re absolutely necessary. Even when you think you’ve done all you can to your book it can be improved by some outside editing most of the time. If they can’t find anything, they’re either a poor editor or you get some confirmation you’ve got something great on your hands which could mean almost as much as their edits.

      I think the vanity idea is rapidly dying off. The idea of believing in your own art and your own creation is viewed as increasingly positive.

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