First, the confession. For years--decades even--I've harbored a small, secret, but acrid judgment about the self-publishing world. I confess this now, red-faced in front of my dear friends and esteemed authors who have gone the self publishing route. Please forgive me. I'm confessing a dirty secret here and I've developed a new outlook. And even you fine self-published writers with beautiful, well-written books have to admit that the self-publishing process has created a certain percentage of schlock.
Frankly, for a long time I thought self-publishing was for four kinds of authors:
I never thought of myself as any of these. I've got plenty of flaws. (I'll spare you the list, I usually use them as flaws for the fictional characters I write.) I'm open to editorial; love it, in fact. I'm doggedly persistent. Though I wince a little with each rejection--who doesn't--I get that it's not personal and I sally forth after each one. I'm an optimist. Every time I read about a debut author in "People," I say to myself, "See there, new authors are getting published all the time."
Plus there was the fact that I saw some talented author friends who'd gotten plenty bloodied by the self-publishing process, too. They'd hired expensive editors, book designers, publicists, virtual assistants, etc. who'd let them down or messed things up so much that their books got bad launches or they had to hire a second crew to fix what the first had messed up. They'd spent hours, days, weeks, learning about getting ISBN numbers, researching printing presses, and ended up housing boxes of books in their garages. I am incredibly lazy about such things. I liken all that they were doing to learning how to change the oil in my car. I could do it if I had to, but it sounds so icky and time consuming. Besides, I'd rather be writing than learning how to make a book or change my oil. This may, or may not be one of those character flaws I mentioned.
But here's the reality. The publishing world is going through an undeniable metamorphosis. It's harder today than ever to publish, particularly for fiction, memoir, and poetry. The money is less, unless you're Kim Kardashian, J.K. Rowling, or one of the Real Housewives. (Yes, both art and schlock exist in the traditional publishing world, too.) The support for publicity and promotion is thinner once you are published. Good books are being published, but the truth is that it's harder and harder for new authors to break in. With the bloom of e-books, publishers are scrambling with how to keep up with the new technology and still make money. Doors are closing. It's not just you.
So what's a writer to do? Well, we can bang our highchairs about the dwindling opportunity and just give up. We can persist, bruises and all, indefinitely until we overcome the odds. Or, we can take on all the work ourselves and self-publish. Those were the only options for a long time. Not any more.
Lifelong philosophy, enter stage left. Here's what I believe...what I've always believed: Art finds a way. Throughout history art in all its forms has found a way around whatever obstacles it has faced: oppression, religious prohibition, economic hardship, technological evolution, racism, sexism, and on and on. I kept telling myself that art can find its way around or over this speed bump in the publishing industry. And it has. Enter, She Writes Press.
She Writes Press (SWP) and the amazing women who comprise it, is now in the process of producing my novel, Fire and Water. It'll come out early in 2013. Shameless self promotion, I know. For me this hybrid press has nearly all of the advantages of traditional publishing with the freedom and authorial influence of the self-publishing world. SWP has a screening process and editorial input to assure the quality of the works over which their flag flies. At the same time, it's a completely author-involved process. They actually asked me my thoughts about cover design. Asked me how I'd describe the book. Asked me about my ideal reader. It's still my book! That never happens with new authors in traditional houses. SWP is letting me in on all the creative stuff and partnering with me on the "icky" stuff so I don't have to go it alone and figure it all out. As my sons would say, "Sweet!"
I'll admit that I had to swallow a dry little dirt clod of pride at first. A little nasty voice told me that I was giving up, quitting the publishing course I'd set out for myself. Another character flaw: I guess I've been kind of a snob. I swallowed once, surprised to find not the dry taste of dirt, but the sweet flavors of freedom, relief, and appreciation. I now recognize SWP as a revolutionary new path, perhaps even a template for a future model of publishing. It's a path where the publisher and the author share in the process, the work, and the financial risk of the venture of publishing a new book, then share in any rewards. The publisher brings expertise about producing, editing, and distributing good books. The author gets to write them and participate throughout the process. It's a respectful, collaborative, creative, dare I say "female" style of creating art. This is not a cop-out, this is a special opportunity for which I'm pretty danged grateful. And proud. And excited.
For those dogged enough or fortunate enough to publish with traditional houses, I applaud you. For those willing to roll up their sleeves, lift up the hood, and self publish, brava to you. I'm happy that a third option now exists. Whether they're called "hybrid" presses, indie houses,or boutique publishers, it's clear that a new avenue has been opened for writers who want to publish. For me this is She Writes Press though I'm confident other houses exist and more will come.
And for every writer, musician, artist, dancer, inventor, in whatever stage of enthusiasm or discouragement, remember: art finds a way.