Ten years ago, I learned how easy it was to self-publish. Not only was it “free,” but I was able to hold a physical copy of the largest thing I had ever written. I have since written larger books and expanded into eBooks and hardcovers (and maybe audiobooks in the future). I did try to get into traditional publishing to see if I could do it, but I found the systems in place too bizarre for me to continue pursuing it. This meant I was left with the first choice I went with when I published First Name Basis: self-publishing.
Since I don’t make a living off my writing, I consider it a fun hobby to do in my spare time. After a few weeks of therapy to get over imposter syndrome and my unhealthy focus on sales, I’ve come to love what self-publishing allows me to do: hold a physical copy of a story I created. Granted, I still want to create a product that’s as professional as possible (which is one of my main problems with self-publishing), so I put a lot of work and effort into making sure the story is the best I can manage—both in content and presentation. Recently, though, some additional information came through my newsfeed that solidified why I like self-publishing.
According to an article in the New York Times from April, 98 percent of the books publishers released in 2020 sold fewer than 5,000 copies. From feedback on the Reddit thread for the article, this isn’t that out of character for the publishing industry. While it does make you wonder why publishers don’t try to publish more books that aren’t “sure things” if even the ones they chose to publish didn’t sell that well, I won’t reiterate what I wrote in my post about how odd I find traditional publishing. What I got out of the article was that even traditionally published books don’t necessarily sell that many copies. Sure, I don’t think I’ve sold 5,000 copies of the entirety of my books combined, but it was comforting to know that even the books “chosen” to be published traditionally aren’t being bought. So, without the constraints of traditional publishing, what does self-publishing have to offer?
Self-publishing is freedom.
I like to experiment in my writing. I feel there are many ways to tell a story—some of which are unique. Part of me likes the technical challenge of making these innovative storytelling methods become a reality. Whether it’s printing text sideways, cross-referencing over 1,000 points in a book with hyperlinks, or even needing to flip the entire book upside down to read the other half of the story, I strive to make the reading experience as fresh and interesting as possible. While this may limit me to physical copies or eBooks (depending on what I’m trying to do), I try to make the effect work in the different formats of the book. Either way, this avant-garde style of storytelling is something that you will likely only find through self-published authors. It’s this creative freedom that I love to explore in self-publishing. Trying to expand the art form of the written word is exciting to me. Additionally, I hold my creative vision so tightly that I don’t want anyone else to come in and ruin it (obviously, I still listen to beta readers, but I’m talking about the “committee” style of publishing endemic to the traditional sphere here).
Another way I like to experiment is with genres. My first trilogy was in the somewhat niche science-fantasy genre, which fuses real science with a fantasy setting. My fourth book was a memoir about climbing all of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains with my dad. My fifth book was a guidebook through cinema. My sixth book was a collection of poems, articles, and short stories. Notice a theme? No? Well, that’s the beauty of self-publishing: I can experiment with different genres. Maybe I’ll find a genre that really clicks for me (I still predominantly write Science Fantasy), but learning how to write in other genres is useful in honing my craft. Of course, part of me wants to try all the different genres just for the fun of it. As of right now, I have plans to publish a hard science fiction book about colonizing extra-solar planets, a homemade ice cream cookbook, a children’s picture book about tool safety, a historical fiction book about the life of Clara Schumann, a drama about suicide, a thriller about a couple who break into houses, and a sci-fi retelling of the Arthurian legend. As long as I keep coming up with story ideas, self-publishing lets me see them come to fruition.
Ultimately, writing in multiple genres is a good way to establish a fanbase. Someone might read my memoir and want to see how I used these experiences climbing mountains in the science-fantasy trilogies I write. Or perhaps someone who reads my collection of short stories might find my storytelling style engaging enough to try one of my novels. While I write what I enjoy, if I keep with my goal of publishing a single book each year, my back catalog will only grow with time. I figure it’s better to widely explore genres right now than to fully commit to a single one. I won’t know if I’m better at writing one of these genres I haven’t tried yet until I start putting words to the page.
Self-publishing gives a platform to the underrepresented.
As a reader, though, I understand the hesitation to try self-published books. Traditional publishing is a good gateway that (usually) filters out lower-quality works. However, I would wager that you’ll find some stories that you wouldn’t ever find in the traditional publishing landscape—mostly because they aren’t “guaranteed” to sell. Not only is self-publishing a place to find niche genres that are underrepresented in the publishing world, but also writers of underrepresented communities. If you want to support authors of color or LGBTQ+ authors, try looking into what’s available through self-publishing. You might be surprised to find your next favorite book and your next favorite author.
What’s the last self-published book you read?
What’s the most unique thing you’ve ever seen in a book?
Do you have a favorite author who is self-published?