Friday, November 29, 2013

To Indie Publish or Not - That is the Question

Go easy, cousin.
To indie publish, or not to indie publish--
that is the question:                          
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The rejections and apathy
of traditional publishing                         
Or rebel against its sea of dismissals
And by publishing oneself end them...*

I admit that I've been somewhat seduced by the idea of indie-publishing for a long while now. Articles such as this one, which my friend Sande shared on Facebook a while back, only fan the flames.

I finished The Devil's Belt, my novel about life on British-occupied Long Island during the American Revolution, back in 2010. I have been submitting (sporadic) query letters since that time, but the response has been lukewarm. "Revolutionary War fiction is hard [to sell] right now," explained one agent to whom I pitched the book at the Historical Novel Society Conference back in June of this year. Civil War fiction has seen a bump in popularity due to its sesquicentennial anniversary, but the next American Revolutionary War anniversary (250th) is thirteen years away. Those who know me best could tell you with authority that I've never been that patient.

So, do I or don't I?

A number of factors are in favor of taking this publishing bull by its horns. First, a traditional book has approximately three weeks either to make enough of a splash to command a second print-run or to simply sink, becoming one of those discounted copies found on bookstores' remainder tables. Indie-publishing sidesteps this time-sensitivity issue; a print-on-demand book is always available, as it takes up no space on a bookstore shelf and can be produced/downloaded at will. Additionally, authors are freed from having to appease traditional gatekeepers in order to have their work published; the middle-men (agent, editor, etc.) are eliminated from the process and the payroll. It's a brave new world for writers, who have more opportunity now than ever before to get their work to market--regardless of how "tough" the demographics may be--and into the hands of appreciative readers.

On the other hand, many of the indie books I've purchased seem only half-baked. Authors are so eager to get their work to market that they aren't taking the time needed to make sure the work is truly ready for publication. Many are rife with rookie writing mistakes and underdeveloped plots; I'd estimate that more than half are poorly edited/proofread. Popular book review sites heralded as the new gatekeepers of indie quality aren't foolproof; stellar reviews written by authors' friends have coaxed me into buying a number of unremarkable books. Each time I hit the "Back" button on my Kindle before reaching the end of a story, I am reminded of the value inherent in the traditional gatekeeping structure.

On occasion, however, I do find a real gem among the rocks. Will we look back at certain indie-published books in fifty years the way we look back now at James Joyce's Ulysses, amazed that the author of such genius had to take matters into his own hands and self-publish? I have no doubt that history will repeat itself in that way. It often does.

I've been invited to read excerpts of my novel at a couple of venues now. After each reading, I'm approached by people who want to know when and where they can buy the book. When I explain that I haven't found a publisher yet, they groan and ask me why I don't just publish it myself. Good question. The answer is that I'm mired in self-doubt. Despite years of revisions, I still worry that my novel is lacking in some essential way. How do I know that the story is truly ready to go? Interest from an agent or editor would validate that it's ready to be published.

So, should I step up my efforts and continue trying to land a traditional publishing deal? Or should I strike out on my own and get my characters out of the desk drawer?

Tell me your opinion in the comments below.

* with consummate apologies to my possible kinsman, William Shakespeare