Fine, I'll Do it Myself: Part I of the Clayton Smith Guide to Self-Publishing

I think it was Confucius who said, "The how of self-publishing has to begin with the why of self-publishing." And truer words have rarely been spoken. I believe that the stronger your reasons are for self-publishing, the more successful your final product will be. 'Cause let me tell you. The road ain't easy. And the more drive you have to see it through to the finished product, the more finished that finished product will be.

The actual decision to self-publish was more of a process than anything else. And that process really began in March of 2013.

Prior to that fateful month, my feelings on self-publishing were lukewarm, at best. It seemed to me like an admission of failure. "Welp, not a single real publisher will have anything to do with me, but, hell, I already wrote the book, so I may as well put it out there myself." At that time, it seemed like a last resort.

Then I went to South by Southwest, and all that began to change. 

I attended a panel discussion called "Self-Publishing in the Age of E." It was a great panel that included author Hugh Howey, who is something of a hero for self-publishing authors. The panel shared a lot of great information and insights over the course of the hour, but here are some highlights:

  • Self-publishing is losing its "last resort" reputation as more and more "traditional" authors bleed over into self-publishing and as more and more self-published authors are being recognized as legitimate writers. (You may have heard of a tiny little book called 50 Shades of Grey. E. L. James self-published it before it got picked up by the big leagues.)
  • Technology makes publishing your own work frightfully simple and relatively cheap
  • Self-publishing gives you, the writer, total control over your work. Design, layout, cover, story, price, distribution channels...everything.
Look, say what you want, but this self-published book's a household name.

Look, say what you want, but this self-published book's a household name.

That panel discussion was the start of the mental shift for me. The negative stigma began to melt away like so much flesh in a nuclear blast. (Gross.) Self-publishing was starting to look a lot more like a legit option.

But I still wasn't sold. After all, control over my product is obviously great, and I'd rather have the headache of designing my own book than the headache of trying to find an agent and a publisher. But even so, there's a lot that the Big Six publishing houses (or even small publishers) bring to the table that I can't. Namely, a marketable name and an overall budget. So I decided that I'd still try to get published the traditional route, but if I couldn't land an agent by the time my first novel, Apocalypticon, was all wrapped up, I'd gladly self-publish.

Fast forward about nine months. In December of 2013, I became officially sold on publishing the damn thing myself.

By that time, I had been sending query letters out to pretty much every agent I could dig up from Writer's Market, LitFactor, and a few good, old-fashioned Google searches. (That's right. I just called Google old fashioned. Life is weird, isn't it?) I don't remember exactly how many queries I flung out into the digital ether (it was a lot), but I do remember how much interest I got. Zero. I got none of the interest. Which is really not a big deal in itself. If I've learned anything about the publishing process from other writers, it's that rejection is pretty much a constant.

But then December happened, and I officially torpedoed the traditional route.

I found an agent on LitFactor who was very (and surprisingly) specific about the type of books she was looking to represent. She was on the hunt for post-apocalyptic or dystopian fiction that focused on friends undergoing a difficult journey. 

I almost fell out of my chair.

For those of you who haven't read Apocalypticon yet, here's a quick summary: It is a post-apocalyptic, fictional story about two friends undergoing a difficult journey. 

I mean, this agent described my book exactly. The only way she could have been more specifically referring to Apocalypticon is if she called out the characters by name. The clouds parted, the sun beamed down, and somewhere behind me an African choir sang the opening line to "Circle of Life." 

It was all very magical.

At least, it was, until I checked my email four days later and opened a very stock rejection letter from the agent stating that this "isn't what she's looking for right now."

Keep in mind, she didn't reject the book based on the writing. She asked only for a synopsis, so she hadn't read a single word of the novel. She read (I assume she read it, anyway) a summary of a story that was exactly what she claimed to be looking for. Turn me down because you don't like my writing style? I can dig it. Turn me down because I send you a synopsis of a story that is almost a word-for-word recitation of your own "What I'm Looking For" copy and tell me it's not what you're looking for? That, I cannot dig.

That was the point where I threw up my hands and said, "Forget it." It was the final straw. From that point on, I dedicated myself to self-publishing Apocalypticon, and doing it the most professional way possible. And that, dear heart, is why I decided to self-publish.

--

Continued: Fine, I'll Do It Myself, Part 2 -- Covering Up