Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Self-Publishing Cautionary Tale

 If you are an aspiring writer it can be easy to get overly optimistic about the potential of self-publishing, especially after reading the blogs of extremely successful, extremely wealthy self-published genre fiction authors like JA Konrath.

But here's a painfully funny account of the other side of the coin (or lack thereof) detailing one aspiring writer's first foray into the world of self-publishing. Dreams, meet earth...

From Salon

I am contorting myself in front of the bathroom mirror, iPhone in hand, a porkpie hat on my head and a pair of black-framed Jonathan Franzen glasses perched on my nose. I am trying to capture an image of myself that does not look like me. Sans these accouterments, I am balding and thin faced with perpetual bags under my eyes – sort of like the father on “That ’70s Show” in need of a nap. Conversely, the look I’m going for is “intellectual cool.” I have a long way to go.

I share the photo with some friends, and the verdict is universal. “A slightly more effeminate version of Truman Capote,” is perhaps the best summation. I stick with the picture, post it, and release my new website to the world. No one notices, though I fear lawyers from the Capote estate may one day send a cease-and-desist order.

Thus began my life as a published author.

An article in the New York Times claims that 81 percent of us believe we have a book in us. This sounds painful – both anatomically and for the readers of this potential deluge. In fact, extrapolated across the entire U.S., this 81 percent equates to 200 million books. Most of them no doubt about beloved dogs or written by celebrity chefs. I confess I was long among these wannabe authors. My cabinets and drawers are littered with more pages of fiction than the archives of the Nixon Library. However, recently I completed my first novel and subsequently set out after that dream of every writer: publication, followed by royalty checks of the six-figure variety.

I shopped the manuscript around and there was some mild interest from an agent or two, but mostly I collected rejection slips, which I set afire like I imagined Hemingway would, nearly burning the curtains in my writer’s garret. Ultimately, I consoled myself that the publishing world was in such a state of flux these days agents were taking chances on nothing less than works of the highest literary quality, like the latest from Snooki or books by celebrity chefs.

It was about this time I considered joining the hundreds of thousands of writers who in recent years have self-published their work. Hence the website and Capote photo, as well as the hundreds of dollars and many hours about to go down the drain.

The rest of the story is worth a read, although you may not want to if you're either seriously contemplating or definitely planning (as I am) to try publishing your own work through Amazon. For every success story out there (and of course "success" means different things to different people, but it usually involves money in some capacity) there are thousands of accounts similar to the author's.

This reality has led many writers, both published and un, to discount self-publishing (and by self-publishing I mean e-books rather than traditional vanity presses) as a less-than-viable option. But you know what? It sounds pretty much like traditional publishing. There are winners, there are losers. And you can't find out which one you are until you try, right?

I haven't had any luck with traditional publishers and, truth be told, have been less than impressed with the contracts I've seen from most publishing houses, anyway. So what the hell? What do you have to lose besides a little pride? Not to mention that if you do flop, you can then channel that pathos into a story assignment on Salon that humorously plugs your failed book. Smart marketing, there...


  1. It's a breakneck and harsh world, publishing, any way you go. These are fascinating pieces, thanks for this post. And best to you, entering in...

  2. Good luck with all that, Chad.

    I, of course, am one of that 81% who believes there's a book in me. For the life of me, I can't figure out what I should be eating to make that damned thing come out. I remember once, when I swallowed a dollar's worth of quarters. I tried everything from prune juice to Ex-Lax, and as best I can tell, they're still right there beside that book. I guess if they all come out together one day, at least I'll have a dollar.

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