I knew that I wanted to be a writer since I was about eight. I’d already written and illustrated a few stories for fun, but then I read Harriet the Spy and that inspired me to start keeping a notebook to write down everything. I wrote almost every day, and I could picture myself being an author: I used to staple pages together to make little books, fashioning covers out of cardboard or construction paper. I learned different techniques for binding books as I got older so my handcrafted books improved over time. Some of my writing was private, but some of my stories I forced on any willing friends and family who would take them. I wanted people to read my stories and to like them.
Then the Internet changed my life. I could put my stories up online, read other stories, talk to other writers, and research anything and everything. I started an online journal to write about my personal life for everyone to see (and learned the hard way why some things are better kept private), jumped headfirst into social networking, and kept a website full of my stories to share with others. I loved being able to connect with other people directly through the Internet and know what they thought about my stories.
I’ve never submitted a manuscript to a traditional publisher, not even a webzine, and I’ve never seriously considered it. I have read a lot about how to find an agent, how to format a manuscript for submission, how to research publishing companies to find the Right One, but I never got close to the final steps of actually submitting something.
Some people say that traditional publishing is a validation: to know that your book is good enough for a company to invest money into publishing it. Some people say that the process of submitting to a traditional publisher, even if you end up self-publishing your novel later, will teach you about the publishing industry and help you evaluate if your work is really polished enough. Some people say that traditional publishing is still the way to achieve the ultimate dream of seeing your book in bookstores, to go on book signing tours, to get rated by top reviewers and really get attention for your writing.
But I know a few things about myself: one, I don’t like to write (or read) mainstream popular fiction. The stories that I write are niche and they might not have a very large market. If I were lucky, a small publisher might still be interested in trying to find an audience for my work, but I know that I’m not going to write the next Harry Potter or anything huge.
Two, I like to be in control of my writing. I like to get feedback from other people about ways to improve my stories, but ultimately, I don’t really like the idea of handing it over to someone else to make final decisions about things like what goes on the cover. I know that a publishing company would have to make choices based on what they thought would sell. If I were faced with a choice between a cover that would look great in ads but didn’t fit my vision of the book, or a cover that had less appeal but represented what I thought the book was about, of course I would pick the latter cover.
Third, I like to connect with people directly. If I self-publish a book, that means that I have to do all of the work, but it also means that I get to do all of the work: talking to reviewers, connecting with readers, talking to other self-published writers. I can pick the editors and the book cover artists that I work with.
I’ve watched the self-publishing business grow with increasing interest for years now. When the technology caught up so that there were e-readers that I felt comfortable using myself, then I knew that this was the solution I was waiting for. I still like print books, too (and I’m excited about print-on-demand possibilities that are also available now), but I do most of my reading on my e-reader (I have a Nook Color, but I don’t think that the type of hardware is very important, so long as it works). I know that this is what I want to do, because I don’t care as much about the money (I’m not looking to quit teaching) as seeing my stories distributed in the way that I like. I will probably end up offering some of my stories for free to keep in the spirit of sharing that I’ve loved since I first got online.
How do you feel about the current state of publishing? Do you read stories from small, independent publishers or self-published stories? If you’re a writer, have you ever considered whether you would want to go the traditional or self-publishing route? What do you want to get out of publishing?