by Gabino Iglesias
I was stoked when Cemetery Gates Media offered me a bit of space to talk about publishing. You see, writing, editing, and publishing are things I’m passionate about. They’re also what I do for a living. Whether it’s writing, editing someone else’s work, reviewing books, or teaching others about those things, I’m always doing something related to books, so I’m perennially ready to have a conversation about the realities of writing and publishing. In this space, I want to explore some of the paths to publication. For starters, you need to understand this: sometimes you choose your path, and sometimes the path chooses you.
If you’re like me, you started out thinking getting an agent and selling your novel to a big publisher with offices in New York was the only way to get your work out there. Hopefully, learning about publishing has shown you there are a plethora of paths to publication. For now, we’re going to put agents, big publishers, and independent publishers of all sizes to the side and talk about self-publishing for a bit.
Self-publishing is a lot of things. It’s also not some things you might think it is. Now, you can go online and find thousands of articles discussing some of the best reasons for self-publishing (i.e. higher royalties, less waiting, more creative control, etc.). However, I think an honest discussion about self-publishing needs to start somewhere else, so we’re going to talk about why you shouldn’t self-publish. No, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it; I’m saying you should pursue that path for the right reasons, and in order to know what those right reasons are, you need to understand what things shouldn’t drive you to that path. Yeah, let’s get honest and talk about three things that shouldn’t be reasons for self-publishing.
The first thing on this list is anger. I know that sounds weird, but I’ve heard from plenty of writers who turn to self-publishing because they’re angry after a rejection or because they’ve been querying agents for ten weeks or ten months without success. Listen, this gig is all about rejection. You will get turned down, I assure you. You will get turned down all the time. You will collect rejections, so consider them an invitation to submit elsewhere. However, getting turned down doesn’t mean you should turn to self-publishing just because you’re angry and frustrated. Be patient. Keep submitting. Keep querying if that’s what you want to do with your career. If your driving thought is “I’m going to get this out into the world myself and show them!” then self-publishing is not what you need. Take a break and try again.
The second thing is the idea that self-publishing will be easier. Yes, self-publishing takes out the agent, dealing with contracts, waiting around for a publishers to give you a date, and a bunch of other little things. That said, it won’t be easier. Taking on self-publishing means you’re putting yourself in charge of getting a professional editor to look at your work or finding someone to trade edits with, finding and paying a cover artist, and taking care of the book’s layout. Then, you also have to take care of publicity and marketing unless you have a huge budget and can hire someone else to do that. Self-publishing also means that there’s a huge chance you won’t have galleys ready months in advance, so you won’t be able to get as many reviews as you want. Oh, and in case you needed an extra dose of honesty, I can tell you that huge venues don’t review self-published books. Yeah, not going to be easier at all. Some writers think the solution to this is to turn to vanity presses who will do all this for them. Don’t. Pardon my French, but vanity presses are predatory assholes that will take a lot of your money and do absolutely nothing for your book or your career. Stay as far from them as possible.
The last thing on this short list is creative control. I know this one is problematic, so allow me to explain. When I say don’t turn to self-publishing because you want to retain absolute creative control, what I’m saying is this: you should always have creative control and will do so if you work with the right people, but self-publishing because you want to skip the editing process and refuse to accept constructive criticism is a mistake. If you start working with an editor who tells you to make an LGBTQ+ character straight to appeal to more readers, politely tell them to fuck off. That’s absolute creative control. If you self-publish because you know an editor is going to point out weaknesses in your work and force you to work on it and make it better, you’re just lazy. Hey, I told you we were going to get honest, so if that ruffles your feathers, take a deep and think about your reasons for a while.
Maybe none of this applies to you. Maybe all of them apply to you. If any of them made you think or reconsider, my work here is done. Next time, we’ll discuss four reasons why self-publishing might just be the perfect path for you. Oh, and this is all about honesty, so we might talk a little about stigma…
We’re done here. Go write.