Shining the light of God's word into our confused world.

What Makes Self Publishing So Fulfilling?

Two more excellent questions from reader and commenter Michelle (a.k.a., The Barenaked Critic):

What makes [self-publishing] so fulfilling for you, personally? Would you ever want to go the traditional route with a future book?

The answer to the first question has bearing on the answer to the second, so let’s start there. In my post about the pros and cons of self-publishing, I talked about how my personality and skill-set are both well-suited to self  publishing, and how my almost pathological fear and hatred of the traditional publishing submission process (in particular, writing query and cover letters) helped to drive me into the welcoming arms of indie publishing. Just the fact of getting to have my work read without having to put myself through that whole rigmarole is pretty fulfilling in and of itself. But that’s not a complete answer.

The whole truth is that I come from a fan-fiction background that completely spoiled me. I became addicted to the instant feedback nature of fanfic. I jokingly referred to myself as a praise-whore, but that’s exactly what I was. Having people read stories written by me and then tell me how touched or moved they were by it was a cause for pure elation. When I decided to hang up my fanficcer hat and concentrate on writing original fiction, the single most difficult challenge I had to overcome was getting used to the solitary nature of it, of playing everything close to the vest and not getting to know what anybody thinks of your work until it’s finished, and not getting to know what strangers think until it’s published; and at the time, when commercial publishing was still the only really viable way to go, whether or not strangers would ever be able to read my work was pretty much out of my hands.

I tried to get around this and get my instant-feedback fix without technically self-pubbing by serializing my novels in locked Livejournal posts, but it just wasn’t the same. The rise of e-book and POD technology and the growing mainstream acceptance of indie publishing changed all of that. Of course, I still have to exercise discipline and not just blog every chapter hoping for instant feedback as I go; I still have to deal with the isolation of the writing and editing phase, which, I will tell you, is HARD. But no longer is it up to agents and editors in New York whether people outside of my friends and family will have the opportunity to read my stories and tell me what they think. My stories are out there, being read and enjoyed, and whenever a new review pops up, or somebody e-mails me or contacts me through my blog or Facebook to tell me how much they enjoyed my book, it’s back to pure elation. The giddy feeling that I get when just one person tells me that they loved my book makes it all worth it, even if my royalty earnings never add up to more than the occasional pizza allowance.

As for whether I would ever go the traditional route, the short answer is, sure. I think there’s plenty of room for both, and a lot of writers are getting more savvy about combining the two, using indie publishing to build a platform that will make them more attractive to traditional agents and editors. This path is proving successful for more and more people.

My goal is not to attain the “prestige” of getting published “for real” by a traditional big time publisher. My goal, ultimately, is to get my books in front of as many eyeballs belonging to the types of people who enjoy the types of books that I write as possible. If there is ever a point where traditional publishing is the best way for me to do that, then I will absolutely pursue that route. If somehow, by the grace of God, I achieve Hocking-like success and have agents and editors approaching me with a giant book deal? Uh, yeah, I’mma certainly consider it. But even then, I think it will depend on a lot of factors, including what the traditional publishing market looks like at the time, and whether it makes the best business sense to give up some of the rights to my own work.

But all of that is down the road a ways, if it’s on my road at all. For now, I’m still a beginner at this, and my focus is on just turning out the best books that I can as fast as I can and building up my catalog. I’ve set a five-year goal for myself, which I’ll expand upon in a later post, to be earning enough from writing and indie pubbing in 5 years to be able to retire my web design business and write and publish full time. So if I’m not there in five years, or anywhere close to it, I’ll re-evaluate this path that I’ve chosen as well as the state of the publishing industry as a whole, and go from there. But for now and the foreseeable future, I only have plans to self-publish.


  1. Lissa Clouser

    Keep up these posts! I love them! It’s so difficult to sift through the disaster of “advice” online. I read someone the other day that insisted self-publication and indie-publication were two totally different things and that because of that she could still use the term “self-pubbed” as derogatory toward those whose work wasn’t very good. I was shocked.

    But there are hundreds if not thousands of articles out there arguing vehemently one way or the other. I’d prefer to read things like you write, more about the personal choice and a look inside your reasoning rather than all-out bashing the process one way or another. To me, posts like yours are more helpful.

    • Jean

      Like Sarah said, there are purists who think of “indie” publishing as strictly works published by small, independent presses, and that it’s disingenuous of self-published authors to try to co-opt the “indie” badge for themselves. But this line is getting blurred by authors who are starting up their own independent publishing imprints to publish their own books. I think the meaning of “indie” is changing when it comes to publishing, and I think it’s strange that publishing is the only creative industry that makes this distinction. After all, musicians and filmmakers who produce their own work get to wave the indie flag, and nobody bats a single lash.

      I’m glad you’re finding these posts helpful, Lissa. To me, this was a very personal choice, and it was a long road getting to it.

  2. Sara

    Lurker responding…

    Lissa –
    Indie publishing -is- different from self-publishing. Independent presses, or “small presses,” are commercial publishers in that they are independently owned or are nonprofit organizations. Self-publishing is authors who only publish their own work. So stigma or not, there is a difference between the two. If Jean published stories from even one more writer, then she would “operate” an indie press.

    Jean, you mention your fan-fiction. Would you ever consider retooling it and publishing it like EL James did for “50 Shades of Grey”?

    • Jean

      What Sara says about Indie publishing versus self publishing is true. But, more and more self-published authors are creating their own indie publishing imprints under which to publish their novels, which is blurring the lines between the two distinctions. I think it’s also true that language is fluid and word meanings tend to evolve over time, and we’re in a time when we’re seeing a sea-change as to what it means to be an “indie” publisher.

      Would you ever consider retooling it and publishing it like EL James did for “50 Shades of Grey”?

      No. Without having actually read Fifty Shades of Grey, or the fanfic it started out as (or, for that matter, any of the Twilight books), my understanding is that that author always intended to publish their story, and only submitted it as fan fiction in the first place to gain publicity and build a fan-base; but from the get-go the characters were so OUT of character that they were barely recognizable, and all James really needed to do was go through and change the names to remove any association with Twilight.

      When I wrote fanfiction, I pretended I was auditioning for the show’s creator and I took pains to make everything as true to character and authentic as possible. Even if I wanted to recycle one of my old fanfics, which I don’t, there’s no way I could even have my stories make sense apart from the mythos that inspired them.

      Thanks for delurking!

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