Saturday, March 30, 2013

Self-Publishing: Illegitimate Boondoggle or Canker on the Posterior of All Literature?

I'm about 16 months into my career as a self-publisher, and let me tell you, the luster has been agonizingly sandpapered away in those 16 months.

On the plus side, I had a brief burst of sales at the end of March, with four copies each of The Sharp Edge of Memory and The Ingressionist being sold on Amazon in about a week's time. If that rate sustained itself, I'd be looking at a dependable source of pizza money, which is certainly not something I would turn down.

Also on the plus side, The Last Tragedy received its tenth review that same week. By my count, that's seven complete strangers who liked the book well enough to give it four or five stars.

So I can't say the experience of self-publishing is entirely thankless. Clearly, at least a few people really like my work and are willing to buy it. That bodes well for the dream of eventually attaining some kind of wider readership.

But the downside is that I have no idea why those eight copies of the sequel books sold. Did one of my free promotional periods for The Last Tragedy finally start paying off, with several readers getting through the free ebook and deciding to buy the sequels? Or has my recent investment of time posting in the discussion forums on resulted in a handful of fellow writers being curious enough to plunk down a few bucks for my writing?

I've encountered a number of fellow self-publishers in the past year. Several have attained dramatically greater success than I have, despite having prose that (in my judgment) is markedly inferior to my own. What are these folks doing right that I'm doing wrong? (Cover art in at least one case, I think.)

I'm torn between the competing notions that (A) I should pull down all my ebooks and give the traditional publishing grind at least one more chance or (B) I should replace the covers with more graphically pristine ones focused on typography and design instead of my own inadequate painting skills.

None of this turmoil is helped any by the company I'm keeping. Self-publishers are becoming notorious as under-talented spam artists who hijack forum threads with their desperate pleas for attention and readership. The desire to avoid being seen as one of those people is pretty overwhelming.

At the moment, my response has been a head-in-the-sand approach, with most of my time going into writing on my new book instead of trying to do something with the old ones. But I know that's a mistake. The new book feels pretty good so far, but if I can't break through to a readership on the strength of the four books I've written so far, I can't see how this latest one is going to make any difference.

All of which leaves me on the fence.

But which way to get down?