After wrestling with the self-publishing dilemma for about three months, the only downside I see is that I waited too long. I should have done this at least a year ago, when I had back the rights to The Red Church and toyed with the idea of setting it up with Lightning Source. Of course, it would have cost me hundreds of dollars to purchase a new ISBN number, pay the various fees, and then get some books sent to me, and presumably they would magically show up on the Ingram's distribution list and be available for store orders (not that many stores would have reason to order them at the moment).
This ebook thing, well, it still seemed so far in the future. I knew no one personally who had a Kindle or other reading device, and as someone who stares at a computer about 12 hours a day, the thought of "recreational reading" on the computer gave me a headache. When I got curious about it, around December, I immediately jumped in with both feet. No overhead, just a little work to learn file formatting, and--BOOM--back in print and ready to meet a new audience. The trickle of money and new readers has been satisfying, but there are have been many other exciting and unexpected discoveries.
First and foremost, I am active in the literary community again, and I've come to appreciate those people buying those first ebook readers when a lot of people are still saying "print books or die." From reading their forum and blog posts and talking with them, I have learned they not only buy and read more books, they are trying genres and subjects they would never have tried in paper books, and are adapting their reading habits because of the new-found convenience. Now they can carry a library with them, and read something for five minutes waiting in line, or sit and enjoy a book at leisure.
This lesson seems to be lost on New York at the moment--ebook readers buy and read more books than they ever have before. Even with reduced prices, the volume of sales more than offsets the larger profit margin of high-priced ebooks. No need to rehash pros and cons of ebook prices, because it will be determined by consumers in the long run (which, in the case of emerging technology, usually means "one or two years"). I am more concerned with what it means to me personally, and to you lovely people who choose to explore my stories.
After a couple of dormant years while waiting to hear back on various projects, I have become more energized to believe in my work. I tell writers they should always care more than any agent, editor, publisher, critic, or other decision-maker. They have their own motives, and those are different from the writer's, though occasionally overlapping.
Because publishing my work is now just a few mouse clicks away instead of a couple of years through a production process, I know that every word I write can find its audience. It may only be five people, or it may be 5,000, or 50,000. Now I can find out, based on no other condition except my willingness to produce quality work that connects with readers, and to have them be aware of the work. Is it any harder than when your books are on a store shelf across the country? I believe it's easier. My audience and I are directly connected via electrons. You are right now connected to me.
Because I now know I can sell and make money myself, I have a baseline for what I am willing to accept with any publishing partner. I want good partners, as should everyone in this industry. But I also know I can go it alone and not only make it work, but have a realistic goal of income and audience size based on real numbers. I don't have to "write to market" or jump in a fading trend or "create a platform" or be the most likable guy at the writing convention (in other words, the guy who buys the most drinks at the bar). I don't have to be grateful if an agent bothers to respond to a query. I don't have to be crushed if no one likes a book in which I believe. I don't have to accept one person's opinion as representative of 30 million Americans, or the tens of millions of other English speakers in the world. I don't have to take "no" as the final answer. My heart says "Yes. YES, YES, YES, a thousand times YESSSSSSS!" And it's not just coffee speaking...
Oddly enough, self-publishing has also reignited my drive to be published in New York and succeed in that segment of the industry (and, yes, it is now only a segment, not the entire industry). Through lessons learned in the comics world, where you are pretty much self-publishing unless you are working with Marvel and DC's corporate characters, I've learned the value of vision and faith. I already had faith, but my vision had wavered, because I was thinking (and sometimes hearing from the industry) that my ideas were not the hot pitch or coherent log line needed to get sales approval. Maybe my writing is crap and everyone's too polite to say, even the 100,000 people who have bought my books.
But what you really tell me is "Scott, do what you do." Whether I end up as the Johnny Depp of weird fiction, the Deliverance banjo boy of horror, the Lao Tzu of suspense, or the world's laziest hack, I know that's cool with you. Now I know it's cool with me, too. Thank you very much.
Now off to finish that book that everybody's going to say, "I never expected Scott Nicholson to write this kind of thing."
P.S. entry title from David Bowie's "Soul Love"