THE BLOG
12/10/2014 12:33 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2015

Hi! Can We Talk About Self-Publishing?

Hello, friend!

Do you have a minute to talk about self-publishing?

No, don't go! I'm not asking because I want you to buy one of my books. Unless... you want to buy one of my books?

Hahaha kidding! No, I want to talk about self-publishing because it's awesome, and I don't think we say that often enough.

I'm being completely serious here. There has been a lot of back-and-forth over the past year vis-à-vis the merits of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing, and the agency model vs. whatever Amazon is doing, and so on, and it all sounds very complicated, obscure, and strangely hyperbolic. The people partaking in these arguments are, generally, fairly intelligent, which only makes everything even more complicated, somehow, because intelligent people are very good at looking at a simple thing and making it less simple.

So this is the simple version: you can write something today, and sell it to anybody in the world tomorrow.

Holy crap.

I can see I'm losing you. You're thinking surely it must be more complicated than that. There are all these different retailers, and formats and oh my god what about print? What about an editor, or a cover designer, or promoting, social networking, media, press releases, AAAAHHHH!

Calm down, it's going to be okay. Deep breaths.

Here's how this used to work.

1: write the thing.
2: try and get the agent who can sell the thing.
3: maybe get the agent.
4: wait for the agent to sell the thing.
5: maybe the agent sells the thing.
6: wait for the publisher to publish the thing.
7: publisher publishes the thing.

Variations include: not getting the agent but getting the indie publisher who can maybe publish the thing instead; getting the agent but not getting the publisher, dropping the agent and getting the indie publisher; not getting the agent and not getting the publisher and introducing the thing to a file cabinet in oblivion.

Here's how it works now:

1: write the thing.
2: publish the thing.

Yes, you can absolutely still go the agent-and-publisher route if you want to do that. I'm not going to try and persuade you otherwise.

I just want to point out how cool this is.

I published eight things in 2014: two novels, and six novellas. The novels were through a publisher, and one is already off the market--I reclaimed the rights--and will be re-released in 2015. The six novellas were self-published. There is no way I would have been able to produce that many titles through a publisher in a single year. Publishers have multiple writers on their calendars and an interest in not promoting too many things at one time. They also have editorial deadlines and cover art deadlines and contractual deadlines and reviewer deadlines. If I finished a 20,000 word novella right now, if I was very, very lucky it would be in the hands of readers in six or eight months. Contrast that with what I actually did in eight months, which was write and publish six stories.

I'm not saying you should write that many things all at once, I'm saying you can. More than that, you can publish them on whatever schedule you see fit. More than that, you can get it to a marketplace that supports short stories and novellas, which hasn't been true since... Dickens? A long time, anyway.

And hey, maybe you wrote something awful that nobody buys! Or maybe it's not awful, but nobody buys it anyway!

Oh well!

It turns out you can continue to self-publish stuff anyway. There is nothing stopping you from putting your stuff out there and seeing if anybody wants to read it. No publisher ready to drop you for underperforming or agent who stops returning your calls.

Now about those concerns you had earlier. Yes, there are different retailers, and all of them have different formats and interfaces and timelines, and if you follow me on Facebook you already know, how fond I am of some of those particular programs, and how many swear words I know. (I'm looking at you, Apple.) Some of it is a big pain. But it's not as big a pain as spending a year to get an agent and another two years to perhaps land a publisher, and I know this because I tried that approach already. It didn't work. (It might for you! Go ahead! Don't let me discourage you!) But if it had worked, I would probably still be looking at self-publishing, because it turns out when you don't have a publisher, you actually make more money per book sold.

No, stop! I didn't mean to make this that kind of argument! It just slipped out. Please stay.

We can argue about royalties vs. advances, or maybe you'd like to bring up the valid point that not every author can pump out X number of volumes per year, that some of us spend years crafting beautiful shiny things, that quantity is an unfortunate metric to bring into the discussion of art, and so on. I'm sure Stephen King and James Patterson will totally agree with you on that. (Cheap shot! Sorry! Don't go!) I don't want to have that argument today.

Here's all I want to say.

It takes a lot to produce a decent song, and a lot more to get that song out and into the ears of a bunch of people. It takes a lot to create a good movie, or TV show, or whatever you preferred form of cinematic entertainment might be. It takes almost nothing to write a book. You just have to type a lot of words together. I don't mean to say that writing a book is easy, because it isn't. Writing a book is hard. But it doesn't require a film crew, session musicians, or expensive equipment. It does require a computer, but only because the Internet is not currently accepting loose-leaf notebooks.

You can create a thing, and send that thing to millions of people, and you don't need anybody's help to do it. Not any more.

That is a beautiful thing.

Gene Doucette is the author of The Immortal Trilogy and The Immortal Chronicles, the latest of which is Yuletide Immortal, available now. First Folio: Pirates, Succubi and Madmen, an anthology of the first three books in The Immortal Chronicles, is available now in print, and can be preordered in ebook format now.