Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Publishing Choices

I saw this tweet and realized I hadn't thought about this question in some time.

To be honest, I don't have an answer to recommend to others on this topic. I can explain my choices and why, but "what should you do?" I have no idea.

I have self-published ten books in the last four years. I've never queried an agent or tried to place a novel with a traditional publisher. Why not? It's complicated.

The first book I published, A Rational Arrangement, was a queer polyamorous fantasy romance that weighed in at 210,000 words. It was the length of an epic fantasy with the plot of an regency romance. Except queer. And polyam.

Queer polyamorous fantasy romance is a subgenre of a subgenre. I am sure that there are small presses that deal in it; I am unsure that any press or agent is looking for a first book of this length. If one existed in 2014, I couldn't find them. The idea of trying to hack down this behemoth or split it into chunks and massage it into a shape that would be acceptable to the market had no appeal. I had a friend who'd been self-publishing for several years, M. C. A. Hogarth, and had a passing familiarity with the process through her. Another friend, Alinsa, was eager to do the layout of A Rational Arrangement for me. Why not self-publish?

I did the art for the cover myself, and paid (sphinxhijinx on Twitter), to do the art for the imprint logo. I didn't hire an editor; I relied on myself and my first readers for advice and proofreading. I expected the book to sell 50 copies to my friends and friends-of-friends; I did not expect it to be a financial success. It was mostly a matter of "I wrote this book and I'd like other people to see it, so why not self-publish?"

A Rational Arrangement vastly exceeded my expectations. In its first six weeks of publication, it earned enough money to qualify me for SFWA membership. In its first six months, it earned as much or more than the typical first-book advance from a big press. I was hooked on self-publishing.

If all my books had done as well as ARA, it would be easy to explain why I never tried trad pub. Why spend years struggling to find a publisher who's probably not going to pay me any more money than I can make on my own? But in fact, ARA was and remains an outlier in my catalog. I've published nine books since then, and all of them put together have not yet managed to out-earn ARA. A Rational Arrangement's sequel, Further Arrangements, has earned less than 25% of what ARA made, and FA is nonetheless the second-best seller in my catalog. (It is likely to be displaced by A Princess, Her Dragon, and Their Prince, which had a better first month than FA; FA does have an advantage in its length of time in the market.)

But some of the same reasons I didn't seek a traditional publisher for ARA apply to my other books. The Moon Etherium and The Sun Etherium are deeply queer novels set in a post-scarcity society that feels in some ways like science fiction, despite being a magic-rich setting with fey characters. Silver Scales was written when I had mainstream ambitions but it's nonetheless over 200,000 words and a difficult sell to traditional publishing. Frost and Desire has a content warning longer than the blurb.

Demon's Lure and Angel's Sigil, though. Like most of my books, they're full of queer characters. But they fall within the word count range that trad publishers typically look for in a novel, and they're not polyamorous romances. I could have tried to find a publisher for them.

Why didn't I?

I think it's more impatience than anything else. Researching agents and publishing houses and sending query letters is tedious, time-consuming, and unrewarding. I have friends who are better writers than I am who've spent several years trying and failing to place books with a traditional publisher. Granted, that's years of "waiting for responses" and not "years of constant work", but the sense of futility remains. Acquiring a good agent is no guarantee that they will sell your novel. Selling a novel is no guarantee that the novel will do well enough in the market to enable you to sell your next novel. Traditional publishers do very little marketing for the typical author in their catalog. I don't care about rejection, but spending time and energy on the chance that my work will resonate with a slush reader and an editor irritates me.

Did I make the right choice? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

Would I recommend it to someone else? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Here is what I believe about publishing:

If you define success as "your work is known to 10,000+ people and you are able to outearn a typical 9-5 job at it", then the odds of success are incredibly slim. Millions of people want that; perhaps thousands of them achieve it. If you work hard, hone your craft, and persist, then you can improve your odds dramatically. But that improvement takes your chances from, let's say, "one in a million" to "one in a hundred." You are a THOUSAND TIMES more likely to succeed now! But that is not the same as "likely to succeed".

If you are wondering "am I more like to make a living through selfpub or tradpub?": I have no idea, but I don't think this is a particularly useful question, either. It's like asking "am I more likely to profit by playing slot machines or by buying a lottery ticket?" If what you want is a really high chance of making money for your efforts, I recommend becoming an employee at a business.

I realize this sounds discouraging, but in fact I mean just the opposite. I want you to understand that the intrinsic value of your creative efforts is not measured by your ability to market it, and that remains true whether you are marketing it to traditional publishers or directly to your audience.

Write because you love having written. Evaluate your work and the market for it, and do what you think is best for yourself. There isn't a One Weird Trick That Will Make You a Success, if only you knew it. Everyone else is floundering, too. Some times the floundering works! It's okay. Just go for it. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
Tags: #amwriting, #author, #authorslife, #writers, #writerscommunity, #writerslife, #writingcommunity
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