The Self Publishing Industry is Not A Bad Thing

            It’s no secret, I have made some deprecating remarks on self-publishing in the past. I don’t try to hide it, I’ve said what I’ve said. The industry has changed a lot since I started out in 2010. It’s incredible to see the rises and the falls of all the trends in how books are published. Self-publishing used to be janky. Like, it was literally some stranger you hardly knew from the internet with a printing press in their basement. Which, hey, if that’s what works for you, more power to ya! I know people who’ve done it! Now, largely Amazon, has turned self-publishing in to an easy to navigate, user friendly, industry, that gives you equal publicity to traditionally published authors right out of the gate. That’s incredible.

            The self-publishing industry has given voice to the voiceless. Women, people of color, members of the LGBT+ community, and those who fall under all three labels have often said it’s harder for them to get published, or as readers find books they actually want to read. Full disclosure, I would totally read a high fantasy novel with non-binary, butch, lesbian, warrior princesses who are not white. You see how edgy that sentence felt? That’s because books like that aren’t mainstream yet. Yes, even in the sphere of fantasy. Now because of self-publishing you can actually find books like that for sale online. Now because of self-publishing, larger presses (I’m talking Harper Collins) are actually looking at books like that. Now books like that are making their ways into libraries and getting in to the hands of people who need them.

            The self-publishing industry is breaking creative boundaries. You know what the self-publishing industry gave us? New adult fiction! Love it or hate it, having a new genre is cool as all heck! If it weren’t for people self-publishing books about college-age kids I wouldn’t have ever thought to say to myself “What if a 26 year old dentist finds out she’s a changeling?” and thus, The Tooth Fairy was born.

            One of the coolest things I’ve watched is tropes come over from fan-fiction, to the self-publishing industry, into the mainstream. Unfortunately most of my examples have to do with sex, and I am not comfortable with having that discussion on this blog.

            The self-publishing industry empowers authors. Self-published authors amaze me. To be perfectly honest with you, ISBNs are a little mysterious to me. Yes, I know they’re the 13 digit name for a book, like a social security number, but you have to buy them? Cancel them? Who da what now?  I don’t know everything (shocker!) and what I don’t know, self-published authors usually seem to out of necessity.

            I gotta be honest, I love talking marketing with them because that’s one of my quirky special interests. Particularly social media! I’ve nearly ruined Christmas by chattering about how Facebook algorithms work. I am resisting making a Parler account. Resist!

            But what’s not empowering about choosing who gets to do your cover art, your editing, your marketing (it could be me), and setting your own prices for books?! You’re in control every step of the way! And when you need or want to pull your books you can. I saw an author publish a book, realize everyone was out of work due to Covid-19, and then drop prices the lowest they could on Amazon! Tell me that’s not empowering!

            You can do well if you choose to do well. Off the top of my head Diary of an Oxygen Theif, The Princess Saves Herself in this One, and Fifty Shades of Grey, are all books that were originally self published but are now a big deal. Googling it now, I just learned Milk and Honey, one of my favorite books of poetry, started out self published! I am so glad artist Joss Hellman told me to go read it.

            Anyway, what I mean by “you can do well if you choose to” is this: If you choose to hire a copy editor, if you choose to invest in good cover art, if you choose to get your friends involved as beta and sensitivity readers, if you choose to learn what you can about marketing, if you choose to put in the work you can go far. I, Helen M. Pugsley, crusher of dreams will not promise you that you will go far. I’m saying you have a much better chance. At the very least, you will produce a quality book. Most likely, you will end up with a tiny, but ultra dedicated fandom.

            All in all, self-publishing as a whole is a good thing. But at the end of the day you have to do what’s right for you and your particular pieces of work. I don’t want to self-publish the Gishlan series. That is not my dream, it never was. I want to traditionally publish that. I would self-publish The Tooth Fairy, because I wrote it as a break from Gishlan, and I don’t feel like watering down some of the more explicit content for the sake of a publisher’s comfort. This is your life. Choose your own path. But, hating on the self-publishing industry is cancelled.

You Don’t Need Money to Become a Published Author

            I have been in this industry for a decade. I have seen every type of scam, scheme, and actual honest help. There are scores of people out there ready to take your money so you can achieve your dreams. (Trust me. I have poetry about it written in glitter pens from a decade ago.) So let’s talk about what you think you need and what you actually need.

Scam: “Give me $1,000 and I’ll give you a book.” and sometimes they promise fame and fortune too. These people do a really crappy job doing exactly what you could accomplish all by yourself but often give you an inferior product. It used to be a guy with a printing press in their basement, now I’m sure it’s more of a guy who knows how Lulu dot com works. It’s basically vanity publishing, and often, because of that, your books won’t even be available on Amazon. Sometimes they just take your money and run. Don’t give them money.
(I’ll let you guys know of a few of the “publishing houses” that have approached me climb into my inbox. Tehe!)

Scheme: I have seen smallish companies that offer to do things like take over the production of your book from start to finish. Which, I mean, if you wanna throw $1,000 at someone to do that for you go for it! Just do your homework and make sure they’ll actually do the job right. They’re usually upfront with their practices. “We’ll do all the work it takes to get your book self-published on Amazon. Editing, cover art, listing it,” etc. They have different tears of help they can give. They’re not necessarily bad. They just do things you could easily do yourself.

Actual honest help: Okay. This is what I do. It’s still not ideal, but it’s what’s working for me. Over the years I have accumulated a team of freelancers to do everything I can’t do well myself. Poor Richard does my cover art, and sometimes gets memes about how crazy I drive him made about him, even though he assures me I’m not that bad; Caren Speckner is an awesome human who edits my stuff so I don’t look like an idiot in public while allowing me to keep my Goshen County accent. (Most people cry “That’s not grammatically correct!” but that’s how I talk…) Cierra does my logos in that traditional American tattoo art I’m so fond of and allows me to pay her in bones and bottles, because I’m a cowgirl who likes booze. In Tales from the Gishlan Wood she’ll be doing the flags.
If you choose this rout Pay. Your. People. That street runs both ways and I’ve seen authors walk off with 35+ hours of work without paying their freelancers. Not a “I’ll pay you $5 a month until it’s done.” just poof! Not cool.
The reason I say this is not ideal is because these people’s services are something a traditional publisher should be paying for. The reason they should be paying for them is because traditional publishers know more about making books than you or I. At least they’re supposed to. Poor Richard’s cover art might not fit current marketing trends! Accent or no, it’s still grammatically incorrect. And traditional American tattoo art? Not in my good Christian suburbs. The price you pay for a good traditional publisher is less creative control. But. I am confident that if I got a wild hair and started self-publishing my books, say, next week, it’d be the best quality product I could offer the public. Perhaps, one day, I will find a traditional publisher that shares my vision.

            Like many things in life, you don’t need money but it sure as Heck makes things run smoother. Jeeze. My biggest expense when I published War and Chess was buying copies to resell. I’d buy them 50 at a time, so that costed about $300.  I remember I would save my money $20 bill by $20 bill at a time in a ceramic pig I made in middle school that sat in the corner of my parent’s house. (Obviously, I have no money hidden there now.) It was a big investment but I made the money back by selling copies at book signings. Those were some treasured and adventurous times.

            Not having money doesn’t mean you don’t have to work. It means you have to work twice as hard to accomplish the same thing. You can publish a book without spending a dime (especially if you self-publish on Amazon). If you’re sleeping on your own career because “YoU cAn’T aFfOrD iT.” I’m here to tell you it’s bullsh*t. You can do anything you set your mind to.