On my first two years in self-publishing

When I started this self-publishing thing, my goal was to write one book a year. I thought that was enough to be a challenge, but not so much that I’d give up.

After finishing my first novel in 2012 — and at 40,000 words it’s barely a novel in length — I found writing the next one even more fun. The second novel (2013) turned out to be 60,000 words long, or about 300 pages. The third novella (2014) turned out short, only 20,000 words, about 100 pages. I went over it several times, and saw places where I could expand it, but I simply didn’t want to. I realize now that what I was doing was ending the tale like a Bible story — short, thoughtful, and not completely satisfying (read the Book of Job and you’ll see what I mean). Many readers enjoyed it, and I’m grateful for that. Some were irritated, and I understand why — but it’s not going to make me change it. There’s a holistic spirit to any work, and I don’t want to inject a bunch of steroids to beef it up. It is what it is. 

I hope to publish my next novel at Christmas this year. It’s a different story, not a continuation of The Displacement Trilogy, not even in the same genre, really. My first books are hard science fiction — I tried to come up with a rational, credible explanation for everything that the invaders are capable (and incapable) of doing. My next book is a work of supernatural horror, and I’m finding it fun, but keenly challenging, because I’m writing the story from the creature’s perspective — and I’m worried that it will be hard for readers to sympathize with him. He does awful things. The only difference between the protagonist and antagonist is, the antagonist does even worse things.

My hope is that readers can sympathize with his struggle, because what he does is a form of addiction — something many of us can identify with, either personally or through people we love. If you’ve had a spouse or parent or friend who’s been warped by addiction, I think the story will resonate. People can do awful things, yet still be loved, and their redemption still hoped for — even if they’re 99% likely to fail again. 

I think for a certain hard-line sort of reader, however, this won’t work. Cade is bad, and yes, Dani is worse, but they’re both detestable. Can you enjoy spending 300 pages with them? I don’t know. It’ll be fun to find out.

What I’ve enjoyed most of all about this whole self-publishing thing is this: I can write whatever I like and see if it sticks. I can turn the traditional zombie story on its head and talk about the joys and disappointments of religion, which is not something I see an acquisitions editor going “Oh boy, sign me up for that!” — and yet several readers have said, “I don’t normally like zombie books, but I liked this.” That’s very satisfying.

Now I’m writing about creatures who feed on people to live, and hate themselves for it. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but damn, it’s fun to try.

Along those lines, a recent article in the Guardian, You can try to be the next Hemingway — for $6,000, is a misinformed, propagandist piece of crap. My only investment in my writing has been sweat. I have friends (smart people, heavy readers, English teachers) who review my manuscripts, and I paid $24 for the ebook and paperback cover of my trilogy. I didn’t have to buy an ISBN; Amazon and CreateSpace give those for free.

Sure, it’d be great to have professional editors and high-end book cover designers, and some day I may invest in that — but that’s not mandatory to publish a good book. What’s mandatory? You need to be a good writer. You can’t buy your way into that.

The rest of it is support work, which can be attacked in ways that don’t cost thousands of dollars. If I had invested $6,000 in my first book, I would have lost $3,000, and I would have given up. That, I think, is the real goal of this article — defending the old way of publishing, which offers a 1% chance of success and 12.5% royalty. 

I say, do your best work, put it out there, and see what happens. Don’t let the obstacle-throwers talk you out of it. If it’s something you truly have a passion for, you need to do it. If you fail, so what? Most books fail. Try again. Nobody’s going to die on the operating table because your novel had a plot hole.

As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.” Don’t let the professionals take that away from you. (And if you become one of them, remember this, and don’t turn into an ass.)


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