Sunday, December 29, 2013

Why I FINALLY Jumped on the Self-Publishing Bandwagon

You may have noticed that I haven't exactly been a proponent of self-publishing. In the past, I've said something like, "self-publishing is good if you want something to gift to family and friends; other than that, it's not a great idea."

And I still say it's tricky business. 

Why? Because I'm first a reader. And I don't have the time or money to risk on bad books. So I'm still hesitant to invest time, money, or energy in a book that hasn't already been vetted by the pros. I'm sorry if this makes me an elitist--that is certainly not my intent. But I don't want to spend $10 on a book that is so poorly written I can't follow it. And just because a book is free doesn't mean it gets a free pass.

A friend recently said to me (and this is a friend with significant time on her hands), "I only read free Kindle books. I download new ones all the time. But most of them are horrible." And this friend isn't a writer or even a literary type. Even she's picked up on the dangers of self-publishing. I'm personally annoyed by some of the freebies that are now present in my Amazon cloud. I can't figure out how to get rid of them.

Anyway, I'm changing my advice. Self-publishing is no longer off limits, but still, tread carefully!

So why the change of heart?

Because I've learned four new things: 
  1. Self-publishing offers creative control.
  2. Self-publishing frees you from the marketing-based publishing model.
  3. Self-publishing is much easier now than when I first studied it ten years ago. 
  4. Prestige is stupid.

1. Self-publishing offers creative control. I had read this a hundred times and dismissed it without much thought. Which is weird. Because I've been annoyed in the past due to lack of creative control.
  • Example A: I wrote a poem and used a word in a weird (technically incorrect) way. The editor didn't like it and took it out. 
  • Example B: I commissioned an actual painting for cover art. The cover designer shrunk it down and made it black and white for the cover.
  • Example C: I commissioned a sketch for cover art (different book). The cover designer changed the color of the roses on the cover. What? The book was about yellow roses. The cover designer didn't know this. She made the roses purple, red, and yellow. What? This one had me so feisty that I actually changed it, but that first press run was done with obnoxious purple roses.
  • Example D: And this one speaks strongly to my Jesus Diet publishing decisions: I mentioned God in a poem. The editor took out that line.
Each of these examples was done without my consent, and there was nothing I could do about it. I wasn't the editor. I wasn't the publisher. I was just the lowly writer. 

I've trained myself to believe that these editors and publishers know more about the industry than I do, and that they are smarter than me. I figured, with their editorial decisions, they were saving me from embarrassing myself. And oftentimes, this has been true. But where to draw the line? That editor did not save me any embarrassment by deleting my God line.

But, and herein lies an important point: that editor was far more worried about her journal's marketability than she was worried about my poem's integrity.

You see, creative control has a complicated relationship with marketability, 

which brings me to ...

2. Self-publishing frees you from the marketing-based publishing model.

The author's job is to write the book. The publisher's job is to sell it.

The author's job is to tell the truth. The publisher's job is to market. If the publisher thinks (and they are probably usually correct) that the truth won't sell, they change it. They make it more reader-friendly. They make it more digestible.

Don't get me wrong, this is often a very good thing. I value targeting an audience. I value tactful communication.

But I no longer value sales figures. (Which is weird because I totally value paying the light bill.)

I no longer believe that the success of a book, poem, or story can be measured by sales figures. Yes, sales are encouraging. Sales are fun. Sales make me happy. Sales pay the light bill. But they are not the most important thing, especially when they come at the cost of integrity.

For example, I wrote a book. It was pretty bad and I'm glad that it never made it to the shelves. But a publishing professional told me that I had to take out all the "religious stuff." She wasn't even wrong about this. She was trying to help me sell the book. But is that what God wanted? Is that important to God?

Anecdote for you: I wrote a poem. I performed it hundreds of times. Sometimes it scores well; sometimes it doesn't. Many times people come up to me afterward and tell them that the poem moved them, changed them, affected them. Then there was this time that I read it and I looked into this one woman's eyes and I knew that I had written that poem just for her. At that moment, all the writing I'd ever done culminated in one tremendously satisfying victory. At that moment, I knew I never needed to perform that poem again. (I have performed it because I only have so many poems, but the point remains.)

I want that experience again. And again. And again.

If I write a book, and it sells thousands of copies, and I make thousands of dollars, then I get to pay the light bill. Cool.

But if I write a book and it only sells five copies, and one of those copies changes a life, if one of those copies brings someone closer to God, then THAT is my goal.

There are no light bills in heaven.

I think.

When I started writing The Jesus Diet, I already knew (from ghostwriting thousands of devotions for other people) that this book wouldn't be terrifically marketable. And I didn't want it to be. I wanted to simply share my story, all of it, without worrying about offending anyone, without worrying about trying to sell the book. And I knew that self-publishing was my only option.

So I looked into self-publishing, and I learned point #3.

3. Self-publishing is much easier now than when I first studied it ten years ago. 

I must be getting old. In my mind, self-publishing meant doing all the work yourself. In my mind, self-publishing meant either standing in front of the photocopier until the wee hours of the morning or paying someone big bucks to do it for you.

I was wrong. Thanks to Amazon and similar entities, self-publishing today is quick, cheap, and painless. I really had no idea.

I've read a hundred times that Amazon was changing the face of publishing. I've even read that Amazon and other big book chains have killed publishing altogether. This may be true for the traditional publishing model. That may be currently choking on its last breath. But for us "indie authors," the game has just begun.

Old days: I wrote a book. This took a year. I searched for an agent. This took a year. I gave up on agent and searched for small publisher. This took six months. Book got accepted. Eighteen months later, book got published.

Today: I wrote a book. This took a year. But then things got faster. I found my own cover designer. I found my own editor. I uploaded my book. I sold my first copy. All in a week.

So even though I may make less money with the self-publishing model, I sure started selling things faster. Traditional publishing is a sloooooooow machine.

4. Prestige is stupid.

This may be the most important lesson I've learned.

I used to think that people only self-published when they couldn't find a "real publisher." This isn't true. There are some GREAT writers out there self-publishing, probably because of the above-mentioned points.

But there's more to my prestige is stupid epiphany:

A.W. Tozer wrote (and I paraphrase) that the desire for honor among men makes belief impossible.

If I am trying to gain honor, favor, fame, admiration, whatever, from people, then where does my real motivation lie and what does that say about my faith?

I've taken pride over the years in being told that I wasn't prestigious. And it's been true. Compared to many of my contemporaries, I haven't given a hoot about prestige. Many of my poet friends wouldn't be caught dead in a poetry slam. Many of my writer friends wouldn't consider writing articles about lice treatments in order to pay the light bill.

But still, deep down, I have cared about it a little. And a little is enough to get me into trouble. I do want people to think I'm smart. I do want people to oooh and aaah over my work. And these desires are stupid.

I shouldn't be caring about awards, about blurbs on the back, about anything like that. I should only be caring about what I will say when I stand in front of my Savior and answer for every word I've ever written and every word I've ever said.

I wanted to write The Jesus Diet to help people and to glorify my God. It isn't about money. It isn't about prestige. It's just a simple, true story, and if it touches a single person, then I thank God for self-publishing.

1 comment:

  1. I, for one, am thrilled you self-published this book. It's excellent. Thank you for sharing your journey.