Self-publishing? Ummmm…I got nuthin’.
So here goes nuthin'. I suppose I could just ramble about my too-traditional trajectory. I started getting a few science fiction and fantasy stories published way back before anyone had heard of ebooks, or at least I hadn’t. There were new small fiction ‘zines popping up all over, and we did have the internet where we could gather and trade information about places to submit work, and how long which places took to respond, and writerly concerns in general such as we discuss with each other here from time to time. It felt like a great new world then, a huge step up from Writers’ Digest (which even then was pretty much out of date by the time it got printed) and the mimeoed market listings you could subscribe to and get in the mail four times a year. And we had to actually print out our manuscripts, include a self-addressed stamped envelope if we wanted the manuscript back, or a self-addressed stamped postcard if we just wanted the rejection (or maybe acceptance!) scrawled on it and sent back so we knew where we stood. And then we had to schlep it all (uphill and through six feet of snow) to the post office.
In fact, I think the first few stories I sent out were typed on my old college typewriter because I didn’t have a computer yet. Come to think of it, the very first story I sent out was typed on that machine while I was still in college, when a friend and I decided to try to make some money writing sexy stories for men’s magazines. (I think I’ve told that story before. She chickened out, I went through with it, and got a rejection saying that my protagonist was too much of a sexist pig. I thought that was what they wanted!) Soon after getting out of college I did sell a story to one of those “True Confessions” women’s mags, and then life intervened, and it was several decades before I got back to writing.
All of which is to say that I was imprinted at an impressionable age with the assumption that you sent your work to publishers, and it was their job to get it physically into print. Since I was just writing short stories, at a time when the current apocalyptic tsunami of people writing stories hadn’t yet struck in full force, this worked out pretty well for me. When I got to the point of trying to edit erotica anthologies, with a co-editor at first, I managed to find a publisher, and when that one (a noble and good-hearted enterprise devoted to getting worthy work into print but not having much business sense) folded, we found another, well-established academic publisher where they’d decided to try handling fiction. Then, just after our antho came out and I had a contract for another one, they merged with a bigger company that didn’t want anything to do with fiction. Poof. That was that. Next, someone (most of you will know her, Alison Tyler) who wrote and edited for another publisher and decided to try her hand at her own press, took us on, and we got one book out before the whole distribution system tanked for a while. That was that. I switched to a small sf/f publisher of my acquaintance for an alternate history anthology, which didn’t sell or pay much but was fun, and thought I’d be better off to stick to my own writing.
And then my phone rang. A publisher we’d propositioned three years before (as in, sent a proposal for an anthology, but go ahead, feel free to imagine a naughty scenario) hadn’t even responded, but now she was calling to ask me to edit an anthology for them. They’d decided to expand their erotica, and I’d been recommended as an editor by “several” people, they said, although I think it was just Alison.
So there I was, with a publisher who had a pretty good distribution setup and excellent copyeditors, and paid an advance large enough to let me pay my anthology writers and have a bit left over. By then, though, the flood was rising, competition was getting fierce, and eventually brick-and-mortar stores were closing and returning books, and the world was changing. It still is. That publisher was sold, amidst a good deal of chaos and bad feelings. I’m still working with the new people, at least long enough to get the manuscripts I’d already turned in printed, but there are writer friends who feel that I’m a traitor for keeping on when some others had contracts breached and completed manuscripts dropped. In a way they’re right. I polled the writers whose work I’d already accepted, though, and they were willing to wait and have their work get out even a couple of years late. The last of those is coming out in May this year. I’m also doing a second volume of their traditional year’s best anthology, too, partly for sentimental reasons, since I got my start twenty-two year ago in that series. After this one, though… I don’t know. The new owners have decided against the tradition of sending two copies to each contributor, and won’t send any, so I’ll pay for one copy for each myself, this once, but…I don’t know.
Yes, I do think about self-publishing. I’ve thought that if I could save enough to pay contributors and someone to do a cover and formatting (I’m pretty sure I could learn the formatting if I took a while to focus on it,) I might try self-publishing an anthology. But there’s no way I’ll save up enough to do print books, and anthologies are becoming dinosaurs anyway, and I keep spending my “disposable” income on political and charitable contributions, so probably I’ll never get to that. Maybe a collection of my own work, just for the heck of it, but I did one a few years ago with my sf/f publisher (not all sf/f) and it didn’t sell at all well in spite of being a Lambda Literary finalist. I have no confidence that my name, such as it is, will sell books.
Now if I could just figure out what the next “hook” theme will be, the search term people who’ll actually buy books will be looking for! AND if it were something I could stand to think about writing—is there anything left that hasn’t already been pounded in the butt by Chuck Tingle? But that’s not going to happen. I’m not too old to learn new tricks, but I’m too old to forecast new trends.
Self-publishing isn’t a new trend anymore, I know, but I think it’s passing me by. I’m several generations of tech behind already and will probably never catch up. I love my MacBook Air, but I don’t have a smartphone (what? something that expensive and easy to lose?) or an IPad, and I haven’t figured out the second-hand Kindle Fire my son gave me. I’m not even on Twitter, but that’s a time issue, not a tech one. If he-who-shall-not-be named can handle Twitter, I’m sure I could, but I’d want to scrub my typing hands afterward. Sad.