There are no two ways about it: I am a snob.
I’m 23. I started taking writing seriously when I was 15, meaning as long as I’ve been learning about the publishing world and aching to become a part of it, self-publishing has been an option to me, as it is to everybody with an internet connection and a labouriously (and sometimes not) self-edited manuscript. I’ve long been envious of the E.L. Jameses, the John Scalzis and the Andy Weirs, the extremely rare success stories that started with self-publication. Knowing these stories makes self-publishing seem awfully alluring, particularly at the end of querying, when I’m running out of agents on my list and things are looking dire. But I’m hesitant. I’m afraid.
And I’m a total snob.
I love reading, but I do not read self-published books unless they’re written by friends or twitter crushes. When I want something to read, I don’t go looking for self-published books. Money is tight, as it is for just about everyone, and I don’t know really want to spend it on books that aren’t vetted by professionals when instead I could buy new books by my favourite authors or debuts picked up by agents I dream of working with. That said, I don’t know why it matters so much to me that my reads are gatekeeper approved, when the gatekeepers prove so often to favour the privileged and shut out the disenfranchised. Or when “bad books”–though, yes, there’s no such thing because all books can teach you something, get off my back Neil Gaiman, goddd–are found just as easily on bookshelves at Chapters as they are on Kindle.
If you couldn’t tell, I grapple with this a lot. (Duh, that’s why I’m writing a blog post about something that doesn’t make me angry for once.) I’m writing my sixth manuscript while again planning on editing my second and third, querying my fourth, sitting on the first draft of my fifth, and doing everything under the sun with years of short stories that haven’t yet found a home. My second novel, Shadow of a Boy, has a whopping 116 rejections under its belt.
At what point do you give up and put a novel away forever?
To be fair, I have done that with my first book which is, by all accounts, a misogynistic fever dream of a novella. But I wrote Shadow of a Boy for NaNoWriMo in 2014, and I am still thinking about it, still loving so much about it, and still actively planning new edits for it–after I finish my laundry list of other writing projects, and deal with going back to school. I hold out hope that, after a newer, shiner novel siren-songs its way into the hearts of agents, editors, and publishers, I get the chance to publish the novels I don’t have the heart to trunk, the novels I still love that need the strong guidance of a good editor. But who knows? I may never get to have the career of Stephen King, whom I do not think publishers are allowed to say no to. Maybe bits of these novels will be recycled into better stories. Maybe I will eventually self-publish everything because I’m just not a good enough writer to join the likes of Stephanie Meyer on those hallowed bookshelves.
Yeah, that was mean. And yes, just like moms everywhere suggest when anyone is mean to anyone else, I am jealous. And to Stephanie Meyer’s credit, she got kids to read, even if her work had some dangerous implications about romance. Celebrating books, like everything else, is complicated.
In explaining why I might not self-publish, I don’t mean to disparage writers who do self-publish because writing is fucking hard and I applaud all those who are brave enough to work at it. But there’s a line writers use to placate one another when that familiar crushing despair comes back round for another go at your self-worth. To paraphrase: “If you write, you’re a writer.”
Which is all well and good, but for many of us, it’s not enough to just be a writer. Everyone wants to be able to work in a profession they love. Everyone wants to be paid for their art, and their effort. No one wants to be treated like they should settle, like they’ll never make it, like romanticizing the making of art is all that should matter when it’s the monetizing that keeps you literally alive.
However, contradicting my use of the word “everyone”, not every writer even has the same goals. Some writers write for the sheer joy of it. Some writers, like Thomas Harris, fucking hate it but feel they have to keep going. Some writers don’t like The Man sticking their editorial noses in their manuscripts and actually prefer self-publishing. And yeah, some writers have no higher aspiration than to be published by HarperCollins. Writers are not a monolith.
I’ll end this post at peak La La Land, before I start whitesplaining jazz. To all writers everywhere, whether you self-publish, or you’re seeking representation, or you’re already published at the Big Five, I wish you luck and happiness. Also, to add to a topic I touched on above, please buy professionally published books by diverse authors, show big publishers that people want to read PoC and LGBTQ+ books and that these authors aren’t confined to self-publication–unless, of course, they want to be. You can start with THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas, that book is so good.
Anyway. Excelsior or something.
(Side note: Self-published comics are a different matter entirely. Self-released music, too, and art, I respect much more than writing. Maybe I just respect those art forms more in general. Maybe it’s because reading a 70 000 word novel is a much bigger commitment than a four-minute song or a minute tops of taking in a drawing. And I love webcomics. This whole contradictory blog post is a mystery.)