Should You Self-Publish?

Earlier this month, when the wonderful Mysteryscape Bookstore held a Local Author Fair, a baker’s dozen of self-published and small-press-published writers came together to promote and sell their books. During the afternoon, as I sat there behind a display of my books, a tall, dark-haired young man asked me if he should self-publish his novel when he finished it. “Or should I try to get an agent?”

I couldn’t answer either question, certainly not with an unequivocal “yes” or “no.” Too much involved. When I taught Creative Writing, for instance, I spent an entire unit on marketing.

Now I’ve had time to think about his first question and to reflect on what I’ve learned this year as a publisher of my own fiction. And I have to say, “Don’t be in such a hurry, young man. Give yourself time to learn your craft and pay your dues. As the sayings go, it takes ten years to become a writer; you need to spend 10,000 hours on any art or craft to master it; you must write a million words to learn how to write. So, the novel you self-publish now probably isn’t the best book you could write. You might not want it out there embarrassing you as you continue your career.” This sounds like good advice for a young writer to me.

But what if you’re not such a young writer? What if you’ve been writing for at least ten years, spent at least 10,000 hours mastering the art and craft of writing, written at least a million words? That is, what if you’re more like me? I wrote my first novel nearly forty years ago, and I’ve been writing fiction steadily since 1986 when I drafted my second and third novels. I’ve completed ten novels and forty to fifty short stories. (I don’t have time to count my poems, nonfiction pieces, and the journal entries that fill well over a hundred notebooks.) Now retired, I try to write 20 to 30 hours a week.

As for the young man’s second question, from time to time over the last twenty-five years or so, I’ve attempted to get an agent, and I haven’t managed to interest any. Actually, I take that back. I did interest a couple, but neither of those nice ladies sold the project she submitted to publishers for me. And now the whole process has become demoralizing. The rejection depresses me, makes me doubt the worth of my work, and interferes with my writing. So I’m not doing it anymore.

I’m not alone in that decision. At the Local Author Fair where the young man asked his two questions, I sat next to Edna Bell-Pearson, author of the self-published Fragile Hopes, Transient Dreams and Other Stories, selected as one of 150 best Kansas books. A senior as I am, Edna observed that she simply didn’t have the time “to fool with those people.”

And so, though the technical aspects of publishing my own work can make me exceedingly anxious and the marketing aspects of being my own publisher like tweeting, branching out, linking in and befriending folk also take time away from my writing, I will continue to self-publish. Why? For one thing, I hope that the same time-on-task that made me a writer will also make me more comfortable with publishing and promoting.

And I already have lots of well-written fiction to bring to you, dear reader. This includes January Jinx, the first book in a series of historical mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900. Look for it next month. Meanwhile you can read Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) or in print (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-1-1) and twelve stories that feature Cinderella as a p. i., her loved ones, her friends, and an enemy or two in Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI and 978-0-9899504-4-2).

Juliet’s Favorite Reads for 2013

Becoming a publisher in addition to being a writer has cut into my reading time quite a bit this year, so instead of my usual rate of four books a month, I read fewer than three a month in 2013. But the five I’ve chosen would stand out in any year. (Please note that not all were first published in 2013 because sometimes it takes me a while to discover the book everyone else read the year or so before.)

# 5 – Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent (2013)

When I spotted this novel on the new and current shelf at my local library, its intriguing title and cover drew me to it. I picked it up, scanned the cover with the picture of a dragon shown partly in anatomical detail, and read the back cover. I put it back since mostly I read mysteries. But the clever concept of a fictional memoir of a lady scientist writing about her lifelong study of dragons drew me back. I checked it out and read it with great pleasure. This story of a bookish young girl drawn to dragons from an early age and determined to find out more about them in a somewhat Victorian setting did not disappoint. The Tropic of Serpents, the second in the series, comes out in March 2014 and I’ll buy it in hardcover, along with the trade paperback of the first.

# 4 – Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012)

When I found out how this book was written, it intrigued me for a rather specialized reason. It’s a fictionalized compilation of emails, articles from scholarly magazines, school documents, letters, etc. As such it goes back to two early traditions in English literature: the epistolary novel, that is, written in the form of letters, like Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, and fiction written in diary form, like Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. (I have a vested interest in the latter style since I wrote my dissertation about thirty-plus pieces of fiction written entirely or partly in the form of journals. And actually, A Natural History of Dragons fits into the third tradition for the novel in English: the fictional memoir like Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.) But no matter why I picked Semple’s novel up, I read it because it’s a touching story of a loving daughter trying to find where her eccentric mom has gone.

#3 – Colin Cotterill’s Killed at the Whim of the Hat (2011)

I’d been a fan of the Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries for their humor and exotic setting in Communist Laos for some time before I discovered Cotterill’s new series with Jimm Juree, a young woman journalist who lives with her eccentric family in a southern Thailand resort town. Just thinking about the title and other quotations from George W. Bush that start the chapters makes me laugh out loud. This is a very enjoyable, lively read.

#2 – Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession (2013)

I’m putting this first novel near the top of the list not because one of my former students wrote it or even because it’s beautifully constructed of three different plot lines skillfully interwoven, but because at its heart it contains a touching and timeless story of a young man who finds the love of his life through books, loses her, and finds her again, also through books. It is not my top pick only because of my pick is

#1 – Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In (2013)

When my friend Sally Ooms gave me this book for my birthday this year, I hugged it to my heart and beamed. (You can see my joy in my picture on my Facebook profile page.) The ninth in Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series demonstrates this masterful writer at the top of her game. The bad news for those of you who haven’t read these books is I can’t recommend this book to you. The good news is you get to read Still Life, the first in the series, and the other seven wonderful books that precede How the Light Gets In.