Active vs Passive

on July 15, 2011 in Misc

Wow.  I’m almost there.

Sometime in August, I’ll be getting my first real, live, OMG this is it hard copies of my very fat novel The Compass Master.  Both the hard and electronic versions will be on – along with a gazillion other books. Then within a few more weeks I hope to make it available electronically at Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

Yesterday I finally applied for the copyright.  I’ll have one more read-through of the entire text whenever CreateSpace gets the final layout to me.  And that’s it.  Time to concentrate on what promotion (all free, with my budget) I can muster.

You know, everything was so much easier when Bantam published my first novel.

I mean, I had an agent who had my back.  An editor who blue-penciled my manuscript like a crazy woman.  A copy editor.  A marketing department.  An artist to design the cover.  The sacred imprimatur of the publisher to mark my book as a thing worthy to be sold in bookstores.  A few book reviews in substantial publications.

I can not tell you how different the process has been this time around.  Self-publishing has been really challenging.  Hell, it’s been expensive and TOUGH!  All those advertisements and testimonials you hear about how easy it is to self-publish these days are full of crap.  Yes, it’s easy if you have low standards and delusions of literary adequacy.  But if you want your self-published book to be taken seriously by anyone, you must try to maintain professional standards as high as those of the big guns in New York.  That way maybe your stuff will be almost as good.

But ya know what’s kinda ironic?  For all the challenges and expenses of self-publishing, a part of me now believes that every writer should at some point self-publish something.  Here’s why.

Only now, when I look back to my Bantam days, do I realize how passive I let myself be in the publishing process.  I had already done the hardest work:  I’d written the book.  So when the professionals stepped in to take care of everything else, I felt overwhelmed, certainly amateurish, and figured just let the experts do their job.

When you self-publish, on the other hand, you have to rewrite and edit and copy edit and proof and polish your manuscript until it’s ready to go to print now.  If you’re like me and can’t afford a professional editor, then you have to question every friggin’ sentence, every punctuation mark, every character and story twist and yes, you must even keep questioning and doubting what you take to be your writing talent.  You must never be satisfied with what you’ve written because that can lead to complacency, which is literary death.

You must also really THINK from all angles about what you’ve written because YOU’RE the one who must figure out the artwork for the cover.  Does it grab the potential reader?  Does it convey the heart of your story?  And the title better be something that sticks in readers’ minds.  And the blurb you write for the back cover and the Amazon/whatever webpage must grab and hold them.

Then there’s formatting the text.  The title page.  The acknowledgements.  What kind of headers do you want?  What kind of font for the text?  What about the chapter numbers?  You don’t want gimmicky but you also don’t want bland.  What are the physical measurements of the book itself?  White or cream paper?  What about the electronic version – will the pages still look good?

And through it all be sure to retain the rights to your work.  That way your book is always yours.  If you want to take it to another publisher-for-hire, you can do it.  If a big publisher in New York or a small indie press gets interested in your book (and they’re starting to look at self-published works), you’ll be free to sign with them.  Buying your own ISBN number instead of being assigned one by the publishing service is also a good idea.

And I haven’t even gotten to the promotion angle yet.

Then again, traditional/legacy publishers have for a long time now expected authors to do most of their books’ promotion anyway.  The onus is on authors to pay for or design their books’ websites and make themselves heard across the internet, get interviews, get reviews, you name it.

I could go on and on about this whole legacy vs. self-publishing issue.  But I’ll do y’all a favor and just summarize my experience, to whit….

I’m glad I’ve self-published.  Because of all my hard work I’ll be able to point to The Compass Master and say this is MY book.

Except for the wonderful guidance of some friends who read the manuscript and gave invaluable advice (thank you especially Ann and Rich and Robert), this baby is mine.  I didn’t just do all the historical research (and there was a shitload of it), I didn’t just write every last blessed word, I rewrote endlessly and edited and copy edited it.  I hired the artist for the cover.  I made all the final decisions on how the physical book looks.  I’m getting it Kindle ready.  I’m doing the promoting.   And I really, truly feel like I’ve accomplished something good and solid.

Of course the odds are overwhelming that The Compass Master will sell no more than 50 or 100 books, tops.  But you know what?  I think I can live with that.  When my Bantam novel didn’t sell that publisher dropped me like a stinky turd.  If this self-published novel doesn’t sell it’s no big deal.  I’ll still be comforted by the simple fact that my novel is no longer sitting around uselessly on my computer and in a manuscript pile on my desk. It’ll be out there and a few people will read my baby and I hope they’ll love it.

End of story.

2 Responses to “Active vs Passive”

  1. kit says:

    I am so excited for you, and more selfishly, for me! After reading about all the adventures you had in the process, I’ll be excited to get one of the first kindle copies off the press.

  2. Helena says:

    Kit — I’m excited that you’re reading ANY of my stuff, including this blog. Thank you so much!