My wife just called from an airport to tell me that The Electric Church is sitting there on airport bookstore shelves. That’s pretty cool.
As some of you may know, I publish a zine, The Inner Swine. I’m putting together the 50th issue right now, actually (late; it’s the March 08 issue and it’s now. . .March 08). For a few years I had national and international distribution for the zine, and it was on sale in places like Japan, Ireland, Seattle. Pretty cool to get emails from people saying they were in the Tokyo Tower Records and found my zine.
Alas, those days are gone. My distributors have largely gone out of business, and I’m down to a few hundred hard-core fans, which is actually nice as I don’t have the energy for all the folding and stapling required for sending 1200 copies out to the world any more.
I do publish my own fiction in TIS – no, I don’t take submissions; it’s a personal zine and I publish myself in it, and whoever I decide to make exceptions for. Self-publishing can be a slippery slope for a writer, because the common advice is that publishers don’t want to see anything that’s already appeared out there – be it on the Internet or in your crappy zine. Most of the stuff I put in TIS is kind of just-missed stuff, stories and novellas that I think have a lot going for them but which are not good enough to shop around. This gives them a life they otherwise wouldn’t have.
And that’s the thing – I think self-publishing can, under certain circumstances, be a great thing. You just have to be aware of certain things:
1. You will not get rich self-publishing. For every story of someone who peddles 10,000 copies of their self-published book and parleys that into a big deal with a traditional publisher, there are fifty billion stories of folks with boxes full of their books in their garage. Chances are your sales to non-family and friends will be in the single digits.
2. You won’t get respect self-publishing. No matter how well you do with it, people will sneer at your work and question your sanity. Trust me.
3. A vanity press (like Publish America) is not self-publishing. If you either pay a publisher to publish your book, or take a $1 advance from a company that will then do nothing to promote you and expect to make all its profit from your family and friends buying mandatory copies from you, you are not empowering yourself, you’re being a sucker.
4. Whatever you self-publish probably won’t get published anywhere else. Ever.
That said, if you have something to say and find yourself frustrated by not finding anyone willing to get it out there for you, why not fire up the old desktop publishing program (Scribus is nice and free, but in a pinch any old Word Processor can probably handle it for you) and put out a zine? Or go on over to LuLu.com or similar and put out your book for cheap. You’d be amazed at how much fun it can be to cut out the middle man and sell dozens of copies of your work for a buck or two.