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I’ve said all of this before, but I’ll say it again. And again and again and again, no doubt. I’ll shout it from the rooftops until all the naysayers stop saying nay. I self-publish for one reason and one reason only, and that reason is this: Control over my art.
It’s funny how many times people have voiced the opinion that self-published books aren’t any good, that they can’t be any good, because they’ve never been edited, that writing a book is a collaborative process, that writers can’t possibly actually create anything of value on their own. Oddly enough, though, no one has ever said that photographers can’t take good pictures, or that someone else, someone with some magical talent that the photographer can’t possibly have, needs to Photoshop all photographs before they can be allowed be sold. No one tries to police the eBay market for hand-turned wooden pens. There’s a guy a few miles from here who makes choppers. No one says he should go try to get West Coast Choppers to edit them, to turn then into “real” choppers. No one says he’s not a “real” chopper maker, that he’s hurting the “real” chopper makers of the world. No one snubs him on the street because he’s independent.
It’s also funny how many times people have told me that I have no idea how things really work in the publishing industry, that I’m spreading ignorant misinformation. “The writer always has the final control over all these things,” I’m told. When I point out real-world examples of all the things I’m about to list, they tell me that I simply don’t understand how these things don’t mean what they seem to mean, but they never offer alternative explanations. A major author complaining about the cover she got doesn’t mean she had no control over the cover – it means some other, unspecified, thing. A writer and teacher blogging about the ways agents take control of the lives and careers (and income) of the writers they are supposed to be working for doesn’t mean they take control over the lives and careers of the writers they are supposed to be working for – it means something totally different. When a publisher says in the contract that the “Publisher shall edit the Work for voice and style to suit the standards of the Publisher,” it means something other than what it says. When the contract says if the writer doesn’t agree to the edits, tough cookies, ‘cause we’re publishing our way or not at all, it doesn’t mean that.
But they never say what these things do mean.
Let me list some of the things I know I have control over, without having to worry about what things mean:
I have control over my publishing timeline.
I determine when I can publish the book I’ve just written. There’s no reason I can see why it takes eighteen months or longer to get a book to print, and I’m not even talking about POD. There are printers on the internet (and in my own home county) who can produce offset-printed, perfect-bound books, in commercial quantities, in weeks, not months (some of them even promise days, not weeks). I’ve spent six months writing it, rewriting it, editing it, re-editing it, revising it and editing and re-editing the revision. All my beta readers have seen it and loved it. It’s ready to go. I can upload files today and have it available for sale in a matter of days. Why should I wait, just because some suit with no talent of his own says I have to?
And don’t even get me started on waiting for the money. I’ve seen more than one statement from writers saying that they didn’t even get the advance until after the book was in print. I can only imagine what it’s like to wait for the royalties.
I determine when I can publish the next book. Maybe it’s ready early. Maybe it’s not ready on time. Maybe it’s a sort of a not-quite-sequel to Jillian’s Gold, and it says it’s three years later, so it’s coming out three years later, in 2012. Maybe I changed my mind, and decided not to write some particular book. Guess what? I get to do things like that! Go ahead, all you naysayers, tell me deadline doesn’t mean deadline.
I have control over my online presence.
I blog what I want to, I tweet what I want to. I can leave whatever comments I want, wherever I want. I follow a bunch (I’m not going to bother counting them) of agents, editors, publishers, etc, on Twitter and in Google Reader. I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t hear of an agent saying something like “Be prepared to have your agent read your blog,” or “The way for a writer not to blog,” (complete with a link), or some other statement that makes it abundantly clear that your agent will not only read your blog, but will take control of your blog. Not directly, of course, because that would mean that your agent was taking control of your blog, while it really means – um… something else.
In fact, in the last six months, I’ve been contacted by agents who have said they would be willing to represent me if I stopped blogging about self-publishing, and an editor who has sent some agents to my site and been told the same thing. When I said this was proof I was right, the response was “No, you’re just misinformed!” Followed by a chorus of crickets.
I have control over my covers.
Believe me, I don’t want to do all of my own covers. But it’s pretty insulting to read, in an agent’s Twitter feed, that “The quickest way to insult your publisher is to say that you have an idea about the cover. You don’t.” I don’t? I don’t have any idea about the cover? Who knows the book better than I do? Who knows better than I do what themes and threads the cover has to embrace in order to properly symbolize the book? Certainly, other people could help me do it better. The ideal thing would be for a publisher to say “Here, this is the cover artist who’s going to do your cover. He/she/it has read the book three times. You guys collaborate until the cover is as good as the book.” Until that happens, I can only assume that I’m going to get the same plot spoilers, the same pictures of non-existent situations, and the same pictures of non-existent characters that I’ve seen so many times before on “real-published” books, and that means I have to do it myself.
I have control over my titles.
I hate to keep pounding on the same cymbal, but, again, titles are an area where I’m told over and over that I’m misinformed. Apparently, “You can give it whatever working title you want, but it will change. The publisher titles the book,” doesn’t mean the publisher titles the book. It doesn’t mean the title you’ve chosen will change. It doesn’t mean your book will be titled by some suit who skimmed the first dozen pages. Ok, a committee of suits, who may or may not have skimmed the first dozen pages.
I have control over the layout and format of my pages.
Again, I don’t really want to do all this, I just want to have control over it, but the only way to do that is to do it myself. I’m told, of course, that self-publishers can’t do interior layout, and that that’s why self-published books are so bad, but I happen to truly believe that the way the book is presented makes a difference in the way it is perceived by the reader. I happen to truly believe that every single thing that makes a difference in the way a book is perceived by the reader must lie fully and completely in the hands of the author. Again, I’d be delighted to have a publisher say “Here’s the page designer who’s going to work on your book, who has read it three times. You guys work this out.” But… yeah, see the bit about covers, above.
I have control over editing.
Let’s do an experiment. Let’s take a sentence from one of my novellas (not saying which one, because it’s a bit of a spoiler). Let’s even admit that it is my absolute favorite of all the untold thousands of sentences I’ve written. Here it is:
Sometimes she swirls in on Mercury’s own skates, bringing him a treat for his lunch or a book she thought he’d like, or sometimes just a kiss she found among her own that she’s pretty sure must be his, and she gives it to him across the counter.
Give that sentence to each of a dozen editors and tell them to edit it. Go ahead, you have my permission to copy that sentence and send it off to any editor you can get to do it for whatever you’re willing to pay. Just don’t tell them it’s your sentence, and don’t try to stick me with the bill. The point is, you’ll get back as many results as you choose editors, because there is nothing wrong with it as it stands. They’re not editing for errors. They’re not looking for things they have serious reason to believe I didn’t mean to do. They are (according to each of the contracts I’ve been offered now, from four separate small presses) editing “for style and voice.” To “suit the standards of the Publisher.”
Not, of course, that this means they’re trying to take control of my work. Oh, no. It means – um, something else. Cue the crickets.
And anyway, they only want my book to be the best it can be. They’re only improving it. Every single change they make will make it better.
Do they not even realize how patronizing and demeaning that is? My book, that I’ve spent months on, is so bad that every single thing they can do to it will make it better. If I disagree, it only means that I’m defensive and afraid and don’t know how to take criticism.
I’ll sign the first good contract that comes along.
The first contract that grants me the same control I have now. I’m willing (in fact, I’m eager) to give you some part of my income if you’ll take away all the marketing and selling, but I need evil-totalitarian-dictator control over every aspect of the appearance, content, and formatting of my book.
I have now been contacted by four small presses and five agents who have all tried to convince me that I need to drop the self-publishing shtick and go their way. I have told each of them that I’m perfectly willing to do that, if they give me the level of control I have now, if they bring something to the table, if they have advantages to offer, rather than simply taking from me. The few who have responded (two presses and one agent) have told me that I’m being unreasonable. Me. Not them, me. I’m being unreasonable to tell them I’m not willing to give them some (or most) of the income from my books, as well as giving up all control. When they came to me. I didn’t go to them. But I’m the unreasonable one.
“Hey, you! Stick ‘em up! Gimme your wallet. And that watch. And your coat.”
“You’re being unreasonable!”
I’ll sign the first good contract that comes along. Until then, I’m independent. And that’s why.