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Why I Self Publish

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

It’s the most common question I get asked, especially by readers who love my writing and are certain that querying would yield a positive outcome. It’s a fair question. Self-publishing has a stigma, and a poor reputation. A million books are released on Amazon every year, and you can be guaranteed that three-quarters of those books are complete garbage. The ones that aren’t, must battle to be considered worthy, and that battle is not easy. Anyone can call themselves a writer now. It’s become a loose term, which can be vexing for someone like me, who slogged out a university degree and millions (yes millions) of words that never saw the light of day, before I believed I had anything remotely ready to be seen by another human being. I take my craft extremely seriously. My house may be a pit, my kids filthy, my hair tousled up in the same hairband for days on end. I can’t cook to save my life, and near enough is good enough for 90% of anything I undertake. I am not a type A personality by a long shot, but I am a perfectionist with my writing. It’s too bad you can’t achieve a star rating for that.

In all other creative fields, the word indie is considered cool. Music, movies, art, fashion. The word comes with a certain hipness, and people line up for that shit. It’s like being in on an underground secret. People like that too, and we’ve all met those people. You know, the ones who exist on the fringe of culture. They wear tweed, drink green smoothies, and hang out in pretentious gin bars, and they are always sure to make you aware that they were listening to that band you love, long before they went mainstream. Human beings covet new and exciting experiences. We like being the first to discover something and talk about its innate awesomeness.

Writers do not enjoy such admiration. Why? Because the abovementioned industries enjoy a subjective appreciation. Writing does not. It is a craft that can, and will be, objectively judged. Mistakes, quirks, even experimentation can go drastically wrong, and when it does, you can kiss the respect goodbye. Indeed, writing is a terrifying thing to be good at, because even when you are trained to do it, you’re never going to get through a 120,000-word manuscript without errors. I don’t care who you are, and if those errors get found, you’d better eradicate them before they spread like a cancer and kill your career. No one sees bad spelling or poor punctuation as an eclectic, organic quirk that defines the work. You fucked up, and you better fix it if you have any hope of being taken seriously as a writer.

This is why publishing houses are, for most writers, the ultimate end game. They have the means, the money, and the experts to make the work shine. As someone who has edited before, I can promise you that there is no such thing as a manuscript that doesn’t need work. Even Stephen King still needs his editor. The pressure to produce work of a traditionally published standard is so horrifying, that many writers won’t even consider another way. As an indie writer, it’s a daunting task, but it’s not so daunting that it can’t be undertaken. Every indie writer has their reasons. Some make more money being independent. Others are tired of the rejection. I had another reason; a rather lazy one.

One of my oldest friends, upon reading an advanced copy of Banksia Close, called me halfway through, flummoxed as to why I wasn’t going the traditional pathway.

‘This is excellent’ she said. ‘I can’t put it down. Why aren’t you sending it out?’

My response was simple. ‘I can’t be bothered.’

What many people don’t realise, is that querying publishers and/or literary agents is a time-consuming, mind-numbing, banal, and frustrating undertaking. I don’t have time to research which publishing houses/agents are interested in which genre, when they are accepting manuscripts, not to mention wait out the often extensive time frames for responses. Then, there is the other bullshit minutia. They want you to dance, and they all want you to move slightly differently from their competitors. Different criteria abound for each option. Some want one chapter. Others want three. Synopsis or no synopsis? PDF or Word? Headers or footers? Synopsis to be attached as a word document, or placed in the body of the email? Margins? Font type? Do you have a social media following? Are you formally trained? Have you published anything before? Can you do the mambo and eat spaghetti at the same time?

Why don’t you just give me a rifle, so I can blow my fucking brains out?

I barely have time to write the frigging books, let alone put myself through that garbage. It’s the most painful admin in the world, and most writers hate that shit. I can barely pay bills on time, or get my kid's permission slips completed, let alone go down the gauntlet with the publishing industry. It’s dry, it’s tedious, and – more often than not – it’s a complete waste of time. Publishing houses follow trends, and I can’t write to market. If I write a book, it’s because my soul is moving me to tell a certain story. I can’t write transgender fiction just because it’s hip right now. Vampires were hot for a time, and you can guarantee that those manuscripts got priority, including the poorly written ones. Hell, they made a lot of money. I’m not judging. Publishing is a business, but it’s a business I can do without. Can’t I just give the book to real-life people and let them tell me if it’s any good? After all, readers should be the gatekeepers.

Publishing houses are in it for profit. Sometimes they get it right, but they don’t always. I’ve read plenty of traditionally published garbage, just as I’ve read plenty of indie-published brilliance. Being accepted by a traditional publishing house means one thing: that your work has commercial appeal. I’ll let you ponder whether this automatically indicates that the writing is good. Some writers are very fortunate to be both talented, and able to write what the masses want, but what the masses want alone, is not always great writing. Giving the masses what they want, however, is a foolproof way to make a profit.

It's not as if I haven’t had things published before. Articles, poetry. I even discovered one of my English assignments referenced in a Harvard piece once (it was on Umberto Eco – and I’m still not completely convinced that I knew what I was saying: intertextuality is a bitch of a subject). When I was in my twenties, being recognised as good enough to be traditionally published was important to me, because I was insecure then. I’m not now. People can tell me that I swear too much. They can tell me that they don’t like gratuitous sex scenes, flawed characters, and questionable morals. People can tell me that my writing makes them feel uncomfortable, triggered, or affronted, but no one can tell me I’m a bad writer. That is going to have to be enough, because refining my craft and continuing to ensure that I am writing the best narratives I can, is what matters to me. I have no idea if my writing has mass market appeal, because it doesn’t matter. I will write either way. It’s an ingrained habit that I can’t quit.

So, I grit my teeth and paid for an editor, as much for the education as anything else. I found an extensive group of unbiased beta readers from all across the globe, and took any feedback they would offer. I obsessed, re-read, and came to know the book so well, that I was tired of looking at it. Then, I released the first chapter and was somewhat overwhelmed by the response. Advanced reader copies circulated quickly, and the feedback was surprisingly positive. The idea of querying, by that point, seemed a bit ridiculous.

Not to say I’d turn down a traditional publishing offer if it found me. It would certainly reduce the workload, but I’m not looking for it, and I don’t care.

If you’re a writer and you’re reading this, take heart. If you have the humility to refine the craft, do it well, and can pen a great story, you will find readers. Good stories deserve to be told, whether a publishing house considers them worthy or not. Being a best seller, making tonnes of money, or being known, isn’t important. Respect the craft, as well as the reader, and you will find an audience for your work.

If you’re a reader, be open to the undiscovered. For every twenty indie authors who harden your perspective on the industry, there will be one who can restore your faith in it, and they are worth finding. Melophiles will always toss coins to a talented busker. Movie buffs sign up at independent cinemas. Art lovers tour graffitied alleyways and fashionistas like their small boutiques. If you’re a reader, and you love a good story, you owe it to yourself to try indie.

You won’t regret it when you get it right.

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