At one point – long, long ago when dinosaurs walked the Earth, The Avengers movie was still just rumour and fanwank and I updated this blog twice a week – I talked about my self e-publishing as an experiment.
Well, I’ve had a think about this lately, and I’m here to say that the experiment…
CSI CSI CSI
That’s right, I’ve decided to call self-pub a day.
But why? Why, when so many authors talk about how it’s the future of writing and they make so much money and they have so much control and everyone should be doing it? Hell, when I’ve said (on more than one occasion) that everyone should try it?
Well, I stand by that last statement – it’s something worth trying for many authors. But trying it isn’t the same as sticking with it, as divorce rates make very clear, and for me I think the jury is in.
…does that need another meme? Like a Law and Order one? Let’s pretend I posted that Batman/L&O one and move on.
I published my first ebook, Hotel Flamingo, back in late 2010, as a way of collecting the novella-length LJ-serial I’d written a couple of years earlier. From there I put one out every year – Godheads in 2011, The Obituarist in 2012, Nine Flash Nine in 2013 and The Obituarist II in early 2015 (okay, not quite every year). I think I’ve given the platform a pretty decent shake, especially when it comes to low-priced, shorter-form fiction – something that ebooks are pretty much perfect for, probably better than print publishing.
But the thing is… I’m not enjoying it.
I don’t mean that I don’t enjoy the writing. (I largely don’t, but that’s a different discussion.) What I don’t enjoy is the publishing aspect – the work required to make the books come together, hiring editors and cover designers to polish them and make them look good, fiddling with KDP and Smashwords interfaces to tweak and correct file glitches. And I really, really don’t enjoy the marketing and self-promotion aspect – the need to constantly try to get people’s attention, tell every social media platform about my work and convince them to part with their dollars.
This all crystallised for me in early April when I read a blog post by Delilah Dawson (you should check her books out, they’re pretty cool) about how/why self-promotion on social media doesn’t work. Her basic thesis is that it’s pushy and turns readers away – and reading through it, I could confirm that every behaviour she names is something that annoys me as a reader. So doing more of it as a writer… no, screw that.
(She wrote a follow-up about ways to positively and effectively self-promote, and it’s got some good stuff in it, but the damage was already done.)
And the thing is, you can’t just publish and not self-promote – not if you want anyone to read your books. When The Obituarist came out, I pushed it as hard as I could manage (and stomach), with tweets and FB posts and email and blog posts and guest posts and more besides. And it worked, to a decent extent – I sold 100+ copies in less than two months. I did a lot less promotion with The Obituarist II, because I had less time and energy and drive, and it’s sold half the copies in twice the time.
If you self-publish, you have to self-promote. You have to play author, publisher and marketing department. Me, I publish books for a living. And when I come home from a day of making books and working with marketing, I’d rather not do that all over again.
It’s not about the money – I make sweet fuck-all, but I can afford that. What I can’t afford is the time, effort and attention needed to make that money. Not when I could spend that writing the next book instead.
Am I telling you folks not to self-publish? Hell no – like I said, I recommend you give it a try. There are writers out there that are making it really, really work for them, and it could work for you too. If you’re writing in the right genre, for the right audience; if you’re good at networking with other writers and reading communities; if you’re happy to do the hard yards of talking about your work and why it matters to you and why people should read it; if you want total control (and the lion’s share of the royalties) and are prepared to do what it takes to make that worthwhile… if you can do all that, or even some of that, you could definitely find an audience and sell some books and do what fulfils you.
But after five years of it, I think I’m done. I’m more interested now in making my work as polished and sellable as I can, convincing publishers (whether print or digital) to take a chance on it and letting them (and their marketing team) do most of the work.
And hey, it was worth it. I maybe wouldn’t go as far as saying it was fun while it lasted, but it was definitely worth it. Thanks a lot to everyone who came along for the ride.
…and having said all that, I still plan to self-publish the more-or-less inevitable third (and last) Obituarist novella. Because who’s going to publish just the third part of a trilogy?
If you would like to publish just the third part of a trilogy, please say so in the comments. No reasonable offer refused.
In other news, my knee isn’t back to normal, but it’s healed enough that I can walk properly and don’t have to take so many painkillers.
So it’s back to work on revising and rewriting Raven’s Blood, which I hope to finish by mid-July. And it’s back to more regular blog posts. I promise.
I know I promised that last time. But baby, I mean it this time, honest.