Art Finds a Way: Confessions and Celebrations of a Former Publishing Snob

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:

  • Those not aggressive or persistent enough to jump all of the fiery hoops of traditional publishing
  • Those writers who were not open to feedback, editing, or other input and who often put out really cruddy, too-long, unedited books. No, friends, I'm not talking about you here. I promise.
  • Writers who wanted to publish, but didn't care at all about making any money at it.
  • Good writers who had just been so worn down and bloodied by the process of agents, rejections, diminishing opportunities, publishing horror stories, and the whole discouraging mess that they just waved a white flag and said, "Ok, I surrender. I'll publish the damned thing myself!" Fair enough. I've got some battle scars. I get it.  

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.  

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  • Jennifer Boire

    I have just self-published a book this year with CreateSpace, The Tao of Turning Fifty, What Every Woman in Her Forties Needs to Know. It is a lot of work, doing my own publicity, arranging readings and lectures, networking like crazy and looking for women at mid-life who want to reassured they're not going crazy....will look into She Writes Press for the next book....

  • Martha Brettschneider

    Your post made the prospect of publishing less scary for me, which translates directly into enjoying the writing process more.  Thanks again!

  • One thing to remember is to revel in the writing process before switching hats to the business side of things.  I've known many writers who so get paralyzed by their fears of the publishing process that they get stuck in their writing. I think we should revel in our stories, characters, and prose.  Enjoy it.  It's supposed to be fun,if I remember correctly. I'm in the publishing phase on this book, but loving writing new work.  Not even thinking about the business end of what I'm creating now.  The characters are too  busy playing in my mind and on the pages.  

  • Martha Brettschneider

    Loved this overview of the hybrid option!  I am still in the process of writing my book, and am near the bottom of the learning curve in my publishing research.  The collaborative approach you describe (yes, female--high five that) is really appealing.  Nothing I'm hearing about traditional publishing houses sounds very inviting.  SWP sounds like a terrific option (if I ever finish the thing).

  • Niki Tulk

    Yay, and double yay! I mentioned in my own blog post that for the Indie Record Label I co-ran, we did exactly this process. The bottom line is that team work wins the day -- and that means publishers and authors sharing and investing in the burdens, expenses and joys. I agree that it is a more female way (but not female exclusive, as I know you feel too) and I think in this world new and community-oriented ways of creating sustainable art. I am excited to read your book! POWER TO YA!!!

  • christie nelson

    Welcome aboard, Betsy.  As your friend and fellow writer, it's about time!  Huzzah to She Writes Press to recognize your talent, drive and gumption. Readers are in for hours of top-rate prose and plot when your novel lands. I myself always imagined you as one of those new hot writers featured on People. It may yet be in the cards.  

  • Christine Harmon

    Very inspring post.  I must admit I'm scared to go the self publishing route but may have to if I can't find a traditional publisher.  It is comforting to see these success stories.

  • Annette Hanham

    Bravo! I am currently launching my 'publish-assisted' book (there's another term if you like it better!) and its been a hugely rewarding learning curve. The cover design came to me in a meditation and a local illustrator gave it life with her paintbrush. It is very differnet from computer- generated covers and I knew it was an integral part of my message. I was gifted images to use by a Maori artist that illuminate each chapter.. and so on - freedom that would not have been possible with conventional publishing. Feel free to check out the cover and self-written descriptors on and I invite you to explore the liberaing path of self-publishing!

  • Best wishes to you, Kenny. Just keep writing.  The first step is get the book done. More opportunities are opening up every day.  It's really an exciting time for writers.  

  • Kenny Bodanis

    This is really interesting. I'm also working on my first book (still). A friend of mine who owns a very successful multi-media company keeps sending me links related to self-publishing. Since he's not a writer, I often dismiss his information as coming from someone who is very plugged into multi-media but less aware of a writer's world. But I'm noticing more and more articles like this one, and hearing more and more interviews with authors who have self-published. It's both encouraging and confusing. Thank you for another point of view.

  • Thanks, Linda Joy. It's not unlike the online dating trend in a certain way. I'm just old enough to remember a time when if someone took out a personal ad "looking for love" he or she was assumed to be somehow so undesirable that only the most desperate of measures must be employed. This was seen as necessary after "conventional" methods of meeting people (which were considered superior) had all been exhausted. Now, it's commonplace to look for love and companionship on one's own, using alternative methods. I guess love finds a way, too.

  • Linda Joy Myers

    Hi Betsy--what a wonderful post you wrote about the ways we can get in our own way--our belief systems, and prejudice. It's true that things have changed so much since I began self-publishing back in 2002--when we REALLY had to cover up the fact that we created a publishing company of our own to get books out. And yes, it was a lot of work! As a fellow SheWrites author--Don't Call Me Mother comes out in early 2013 too--I too feel the comforting support of the people who are asking for my input on the cover and other choices. I know that the book is being mentoring by people who care about each individual book and author--which feels great. I also have been published by a traditional press, and while that has its perks, it's great to be an author in a world where we do have many choices, and there are new solutions developing all the time.

    Art DOES find a way, as life finds a way, to express the infinite varieties of the human experience.

    Congratulations on your book! I can't wait to see it!

  • Daphne Q

    Hi, Betsy:

        Thanks for all this good information. I think you're right about the trend. Congrats on your latest book, too!