Self Publishing #1: Make a Choice
Publishing/Producing/Selling is an often unfair and tedious game. It’s like applying to college. You show them (the publishers, etc.) a big chunk of your existence and they judge you on it. You present a collection of words that demonstrates the very best you can do. If they decide that your ultimate achievement is not up to their standards, you move on to a publisher that is not “blind” to your value. If they do choose your work, they will publish it and give you a very small portion of the profit. You may receive some kind of advance, but the party making the most money off your book will no doubt be the publisher. They are taking the risk and thus they will reap the potential rewards. The processes for stage and screenplays are different but end with a similar result.
I think the biggest question that you have to ask yourself when considering the publication and propagation of your work is “What do I want?” If you really, truly desire to be published and have your name attached to a big publishing company, then by all means play the game. You just need to realize that this method may not be your best path to getting eyes on your words and money in your pocket.
If you simply want people to see your work, the time you spend submitting to publishing companies could instead be spent developing a web presence or a marketing plan of action. If you simply want to make money, you could work out some kind of deal with an advertiser or try self publishing the book. Getting a piece published through a company is not the only way to get something done.
Am I trying to tell you that attempting to get your work published isn’t worth it? No. I think that publication can be very valuable to a writer’s career. What I am saying is that you need to understand that whatever path you go down will involve a certain time commitment, a specific degree of risk, and a varying possibility of reward.
Trying to get a work published can take a good amount of time and money. You have to print out copies of the manuscript or if the company has gone digital you have to ensure everything is in the proper format. You spend money on postage and you spend time waiting for everything to happen. You may be given notes to work on with no guarantee that working on them will get you published. This method is a large time commitment, with some financial contribution necessary. All in all, there is little risk and a small percentage chance of a great reward.
Say you decide on self publishing your work as an eBook or on your own website. You will have to contribute less money and time in preparation. You will have to work hard to promote it, but you will receive a much higher percentage of the profits. Selling on the web, however, is not easy and you may have to pick up a few skills to make it work for you. All in all, the time commitment would be the same, with a higher percentage chance that it will be substantial. The risk for this method is also small.
Perhaps the riskiest option is to produce your own work. I know this from succeeding and failing several times myself :). Producing a play takes some up front money and producing a film takes considerably more. I have the wonderful burden of doing both right now. I have staked a great deal of my time and money but there is a small chance of a very large reward (especially with the film). Also very important, when you produce a work, you control exactly how the final product will turn out.
The counterpart to producing a play or film is to try to sell the rights to a company who wants to produce it. Both the risk and the opportunity for reward go down. A factor as well, you lose the degree of control you would have had as a producer.
Once again, the important thing to determine is what you actually want with this work you have created. In college, I learned that I was not willing to wait a semester or a full year to have my work produced. I was impulsive and impatient and I wanted to see my ideas on a stage immediately. I learned that if I worked the system right, I could book classrooms for rehearsals and performance spaces. I struck up a relationship with the head of the Dramatic Art department. I figured out pricing and programs, rehearsals and technical supply rentals. Some productions were successful and some were not. I learned a great deal from each experience. While the degree of risk has increased for me, each of my endeavors has been a slightly bigger, more organized version of those productions from long ago.
When you produce or publish something yourself, whether it be online, on a stage, or somewhere else, you can guarantee that it will happen. I got tired of being told “no” years ago. Nowadays, I realize that this rejection is only absolute if you let it be that way. I’ve been told I would fail countless times with many of my projects. I just smile, press on, and leave the naysayers in the dust.
Do what you want to with your creative output. Make choices. Don’t let people choose your path for you. Put your time into methods that have the best chance of giving you what you want. If the path fails, don’t fret. There will always be another direction in which to take your creativity.