I’m not gonna tell you how to self-publish a book, but here’s what I did wrong.

To self-publish or not to self-publish? What’s the question?

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Number 1: Do Not Assume that Anyone is going to Give A Shit.

Seriously though, I fucked up. When I sent my stories to the ink and paper publisher I made two bad assumptions based on the essence that they gave a shit and wanted me to publish a good looking book. I assumed that my naive imperfections would be ironed out, but don’t be this silly. It’s why I ended up with an oversized book, 8&1/2 by 11 instead of your standard 9x6. I didn’t pay attention to the normal dimensions and made a bad assumption that they just knew better than me. Even when I got my proof copy, which is an example of the printed book given for a final review, I assumed that they sent me a larger version so it would be easier to edit. Dumb. (But also at that stage, when they’ve sent you a proof, they de-insentivize you from making changes. They say any change at that stage will cost an extra 5 dollars, per word.)

Number 2: Yeah, formatting matters.

I hardly ever used indentation. I used different fonts for different stories cause I thought it would be cool. I wrote the stories that way, in different states of mind, why not let that be represented on the page? Well, because people are looking for any excuse to not read your book, these kinds of risks are frivolous. The more professional you can look the less excuses you give. I do not particularly like this logic but it should be acknowledged. Good indentation does create a nicer looking page. I only realized this after going back and looking at other books. Noticing what I had taken for granted or ignored before.

Number 3: Honestly, it’s probably not worth it to self-publish physical copies.

No such party has ever happened but after many years of rejection, his argument, or more accurately, his general attitude, helped push me towards self-publishing. But, in practical terms, there was still a wide divide between the two of us for actual capacity to sell copies. He had been a local figure for years and there was ‘hype’ for the release of his novel. More importantly, he runs a bookshop and has countless encounters which give him the chance to sell. Not withstanding that I would get bored of trying to sell my book (he does too); in total practicality, I did (and still do have) virtually no audience to sell to.

So, I’m just saying, unless you already know who you’re selling to, your odds, Polynesian island crapshoot bad as they are, are probably better waiting around to get published by an indie press. But again, you probably already knew that.

Number 4: Some strange benefits to self-publishing, though.

I had a very good day. I felt like going to a party to toast my insignificance. Me and a buddy from my hometown got drunk went to a bar and handed out free copies. I saw someone in a booth laughing at it in a mocking way and while briefly ashamed, I think over these past couple years I’ve come to more equal terms with just what my labor is worth. That books failure to launch pushed me to write another and when the new one fails and my grieving period ends I’ll be compelled to write another after that. Perhaps this is what Steinbeck meant when he said, “One big success can really ruin a writer.”

And here’s yet one more benefit. Financially, it’s not so terrible to print your book. It’s easily cheaper than a semester of college at a state school. And you’ll learn more about yourself than taking another semester at college. Perhaps even bring a small joy to your life. A smile every time you see your boxes of unsold books, their weight a physical reminder of a time you tried.

Number 5: No One Gives a Shit, redux.

It’s a big world out there with lots of people trying to peddle words. I believe more and more that the cultural game is over. It’s the information age, if you’re about being competitive or being a person of the times, learn some programming or switch to non-fiction. Or, wait, observe. Perfect your craft do a novel like Richard Powers did recently The Overstory. “Biology was phase one, unfolding over epochs. Then culture throttled up the rate of transformation to mere centuries. Now, there’s another digital generation every 20 weeks. Each subroutine speeding up the next.” A young Indian boy confined to a wheelchair muses with his friends.

There’s still lessons to be gleaned and given from the patient act of writing fiction. That nobody gives a shit is a feature, not a bug. How does this idea transfer to self-publishing? I’m not really sure. But I suppose if you have a couple extra bucks and pay attention to your dimensions, I’d support your publication. You probably aren’t going to get a return on investment, but if you were the kind of person worried about that, well, maybe you’re not cut out to be a writer.

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Relates with supervillains. Writes literary fiction. Likes audiobooks. His novella audiobook The Town of Books is available wherever you get yours.

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