Do For Self: On Self-Publishing


True I got more fans than the average man but not enough loot to last me
to the end of the week, I live by the beat like you live check to check
If you don’t move yo’ feet then I don’t eat, so we like neck and neck

— “Elevators”, Outkast

Once upon a time, I was a fledgling writer with aspirations of hitting the New York Times Bestseller list and becoming The Next Big Thing.  I somehow crossed paths with a literary agent while working as a policy analyst in Washington, DC, and she took me under her wing and represented me: first through the literary agency for which she worked, then later when she hung out her own shingle. She molded my novel (which, in retrospect, was extremely rough around the edges–and in the middle–and on the ends) and shopped it out to major publishing houses. Twelve rejections and a heated argument later, we parted ways and I went back to a dutiful life in Corporate America.

(well, more like several lives in Corp Amer, as I had a tendency to get either laid off or fired. But I digress.)


hated it In Living Color

I kept writing, though. I couldn’t NOT write. It was a compulsion, like watching train wrecks or borderline ratchet wedding dances. I even had the honor of my book club (shoutout to Daughters of Isis!) reading the first draft of a previous novel (which will probably never see the light of day, but stranger things have happened).  Reviewed books for two literary publications. Won a writing contest (had to sue to get my prizes, alas…), contributed to a few anthologies. Worked for an academic publisher. Wrote for a culinary school paper. Did a food blog. Edited for corporations and a lot of self-published authors and independent presses. But an actual solo book? Nope.

One may ask, “Why don’t you try to get a book deal?” My answer: because I am not feeling the way traditional publishing has gone (or has it always gone that way, and I ignored it because I was so desperate to be put on?). I write in different genres, and I’ve had mainstream publishers tell me that “the numbers show” that black people only read certain genres–genres in which I do not write (e.g., church-based books; street/urban fiction; “sistagurl” novels a la Terry McMillan; and now urban erotica, a la Zane). In addition, all those nice five- and six-figure advances for new authors (if they get an advance at all) are not as common anymore; too many dollars lost behind someone touted to be The Next Big Thing, but couldn’t deliver. Plus, no one actually does work for fledgling writers of a certain hue; if I’m going to do marketing, PR, editing, etc, then why do I need to give publishers most of my royalties? And, I don’t like the idea of my book(s) sitting in a queue for nine months or longer because of the publisher’s schedule.

(can you tell that I have a problem with authority?)

Self-publishing (or independent publishing, whatever you want to call it) has evolved from the days where you had to contact a printer and get short runs of your book (500 copies or less). No more having books piled up in your garage, gathering dust, while you hustle to sell them out of the trunk of your car. Now, everything is at the touch of a button: editing, book covers, purchasing ISBN numbers and barcodes, publishing. As e-books continue to rise in popularity, authors can have their books ready to sell within 24 hours of uploading the PDF of their book. There are companies that sell packages to authors, where they take care of all of the above while the author just pays a fee and sits back (I do this). For those who want to do complete self-publishing and purchase everything themselves, including listing their book on Ingram (a worldwide book distributor used by chain bookstores), that option is available as well. Yes, the upfront costs can be daunting, but the authors then reap all of the profits. A worthwhile risk.

Still, it is a risk. And a scary one. Self-publishing, as with any form of entrepreneurship, is not for the faint of heart.  Your royalty deposits or checks may come once a month, or once a quarter–but is your product good enough to generate the sales that will enable you to collect royalties?  “Good” is such a subjective word; what one perceives as such may be crap to someone else. And therein lies the rub.

Writing, like anything else in life, is a crapshoot. I can only write the best I can and hope that people dig it.

Thanks for stopping by.

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