Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Psychology of Self Publishing

The inspiration for today's post comes, in an indirect manner, from writer David Gaughran. David has just published a great new book called Let's Get Digital. Confession: I've not read the whole thing, but I have read a lot of David blog posts which form part of this new book. So it definitely gets the Everington stamp of approval.

What's more, the PDF version is available for free from David's blog. If you're at all interested in self-publishing, or have done it already, then this book will give you lots of sensible, practical advice on what to do and lots of rational, coherent reasons why to do it.

This blog post is nothing like that however.

Because I believe that a lot of the time when we decide to do something, even thought we might have the best, most rational and well-thought out reasons for doing so on the surface, we often have other reasons for doing what we do underneath. Ones which might not be completely illogical, but would definitely leave Mr Spock scratching his head... (except he wouldn't do that, as scratching your head when faced with a tricky problem is in itself illogical).

I think there are two psychological reasons why beginning authors have taken to self-publishing so readily. Firstly, I'm sure many writers will relate when I say I go through a mental cycle regarding what they think of my writing - from loopy self-confidence to extreme self-doubt, then back again. Creatively I'm sure this is of benefit; you can't improve your book without finding it's faults, and being blinded by your talents doesn't help with that. But when you have to send your book or stories out into the big bad world, it's easy to get stuck in the self-doubt stage. Or at least that's been the case with me - I know objectively that even great writers have all endured having story after story rejected; that great books have been rejected by publishers after publisher. And so I shouldn't let any individual rejection dent my self-belief in my writing. But it's hard not to get dejected about it sometimes. Hard not to think that the outside world is right, and that each word I write is more pointless than the last.

But hey - with self-publishing, there's a constant and opposing feeling of approval from the outside world. It might be small-scale, it might be false, it might even be MBS - but it's there: the little upward jump in your sales-figures, a good review, someone Tweeting about your book, an email from a honest-to-goodness reader who likes your book. These are things that, let's face it, make you feel good.

Secondly, self-publishing gives you a sense of control. Twelve-months ago I had no idea what I was doing with my writing apart from chucking it around all over the place and hoping it wasn't all chucked back. I could set myself goals, but had no idea if and how I could hit them. But for the next twelve months, I feel like I've got it all mapped out:

  1. Self-publish 'The Shelter', a novella I want to put out as a standalone piece
  2. Keep sending out short stories to small magazines, but regardless of acceptance or rejection, collect some of these together in a second volume as a sequel to 'The Other Room'
  3. Work out what to do with a story called 'Xenophobia', a story which because of its excessive use of footnotes (and footnotes within footnotes) doesn't seem like it would ever work self-published on the current generation of e-readers
See, a plan. And one that seems achievable and totally in my control. It isn't - Amazon could change their business-model tomorrow and the whole shebang comes crashing down - but it feels like it.

A sense of approval and ratification from the outside world, and a strong (if illusionary) feeling of control over your writing career. No wonder self-publishing is so popular.


Alain Gomez said...

This is a major reason why I never even bothered to send my fiction in to publishers. Yes, it may have been the coward in me, but I knew that my stories were simply not long enough to be published. Since writing an 80,000 novel sounds less than appealing to me, I avoided the endless cycle of rejection.

The instant viewing of sales is very encouraging. I think it helps you to swallow the good with the bad. I think it also places value on the fact that books can just be entertainment. Not everything published has to be the next Steinbeck.

Anonymous said...

Everyone loves it when a plan comes together... especially when it's their plan.

Dan Holloway said...

I certainly recognise that violently oscillating cycle!! Interesting to see what you say about validation when so many people say that's why they won't self-publish, but what they miss is that the validation from publishers is, psychologically, very different. I'm sure there's experiments with rats about parts of the brain being stimulated by random reward but there's something almost crack-like-addictive about the kdp reports page that once you've self-published you can't quit.

I also agree about control - we have so *much* over the process, and so *little* over the outcome of that process!

Iain said...

All sounds like a good plan to me.

One of the things I like about self-publishing is it gives writers more options without cutting off the existing ones. I'm shopping my novel round trad publishers (well, agents for now), but no-one would look at a short story collection, so that's what I've published on Amazon. I like the fact that the different routes might bring different things, keeps life exciting. Then again, another writer (maybe me one day) might want to do it all epub. And now they can. Options.

Would Xenophobia work as pdf (i) ? You might have to be careful with formatting, but I've read a couple of pdfs on Kindle and they've worked fine.

(i) on ebooks (ii)
(ii) see (v)
(iii) to preserve the footnoting
(iv) this footnote isn't referenced from anywhere so you shouldn't be reading it
(v) see (iii)

David Gaughran said...

Hi James (and thanks for the mention,

This post has been bouncing around my head for the last 24 hours.

There is a certain split personality in the writer. We need a stirring amount of confidence to put are words on the page and then try and sell them to people. But we also need to hold those stories up to the light and judge them dispassionately.
There is an inherent contradiction in that and you can get quite down about something you have written in a very curious way.

One of the huge advantages of self-publishing is being able to get feedback right away. Instead of finalizing changes with your editor and seeing what the public think a year-and-a-half later, you can find out tomorrow. And that's beautiful.

The control thing is interesting as it swings both ways. You get to make every singe decision yourself, true, but then there is no-one else to blame when you screw up. Having said that, you get to fix it. You don't have to wait for someone else to do their job before you can do yours. Your destiny is in your hands.


James Everington said...

Thanks all for the comments... to respond to a couple:

Dan - 'Indie Authors are Drug Addled Lab-rats'. I think I've just found my next blog post title!

Iain - not sure about the PDF formatting; I could give it a go. Problem is with the footnotes it's hopefully an anti-racist story; if you read the story straight through without the footnotes it might sound pro-racist... Maybe I'll try it as a PDF and give it away free or something.

Unknown said...

I like control.

I like this: "Twelve-months ago I had no idea what I was doing with my writing apart from chucking it around all over the place and hoping it wasn't all chucked back."

James Everington said...

I sound a bit like a chimp throwing its poo around don't I?