I recently decided to move ahead with self-publishing The Ghosts of Marshley Park. And almost immediately was met by two differing responses online: people cheering me on and people who wished me well in a way that absolutely suggested the passive-aggressive tone of, “You weren’t good enough for ‘real’ publishing, eh?”
To be fair, tone is super difficult to discern online. And I could be projecting a bit, too, because it’s not uncommon for writers to feel like they aren’t good enough, no matter how successful they actually are. It’s easy for a writer to walk away from a fruitless round of querying and see self-publishing as the signal of their failure.
But here is what I’ve learned after querying many manuscripts and receiving pretty much variations of the same feedback: 1. I’m a good writer. 2. The stuff I write is not what agents are looking for. Even if it’s well written, if they don’t think they can sell it (usually due to my odd plots and blending of genres), they have no reason to sign me. And I get it. This is a business. Lots of good and great work will not land agents or publishers. Some stuff that isn’t that great will because, despite quality, it will sell anyway. That’s just how it is.
So my options have always been to stuff my stories away or publish them myself. And in order to feel complete—for my own personal satisfaction—I’ve chosen to self-publish.
Some will tell you this is a bad idea and means no agent will ever touch you because, unless you self-publish to thousands of sales, you’ve proven yourself unmarketable. I used to worry about this, but now… I’m fine with it. Agents weren’t going to sign me anyway, right? I can “fail” privately or out in the open, but for me to have the closure I really want and need, putting my work out there is necessary for me.
The tipping point came at the most recent PitMad* last week. Though I got no nibbles from agents or publishers (and I’ll admit I wonder whether agents or publishers frequent PitMad and the like as much anymore, but that’s another post for another day), I received so much enthusiasm from potential readers. People telling me they absolutely want to read my book. And I want them to be able to read it! So… I’ll publish it. I’m in the editing process now and have begun the cover design by commissioning original art (SO exciting!).
And I know this is the right decision because, after I made it, I felt so much happier and lighter than before. That tells me querying was a strain on my mental and emotional health.
To sum up, though I know many [snobs] in the industry might see self-publishing as failure (or a “consolation prize” as I heard an author put it the other day), I see it as freeing. I think an author’s expectations have to be different when self-publishing, but the truth is, having worked in publishing myself, I know that many authors who do publish in the “traditional” way often also have misconceptions and unrealistic expectations. Who’s to say one would be any happier or better off one way or the other? Every writer is different, every book is different, there is no one path or journey. I’m entering into this with my eyes open and my heart buoyant, and that feels like a good way to start.