Thoughts on Self-Publishing…

…and whether it’s better for some works than others.

I was thinking.

It may or may not be the best idea to pursue self-publishing. It may or may not be the best idea to seek out an agent and do things the traditional way. But is it possible that some works are just better fitted for one or the other?

Here’s my example:

I wrote a novel (I call it a novel at least–it may be better described as a novella; herein lies my problem) called The Fire Itself. It was some 55,000 words in First Draft Mode, which I know is pretty short for a novel. That’s fine.

Second Draft Mode came along, and The Fire Itself dropped about five thousand words, which was all right. I understand that losing ten percent in the first editing phase is normal–recommended, even. So I accepted it as necessary, even though it put me even closer to the dreaded Too Short mark.

I sent it to my beta readers and my editor, and from those people I received a tremendous amount of helpful suggestions. And guess what? Although the changes I put in sometimes involved clarifying by adding, the majority of the edits were cuts. They were small things, but small things always add up. The Fire Itself lost another 5,000 words. The file on my computer right now tells me that it’s just under 45k words, which I know is too short to be thrust into the world of traditional publishing as a novel. I’ve looked around, and by every definition I can find, 50k is too short for a book.

Certain exceptions may be popping into your mind. The first ones that come to mine are Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury (which topped out around 45k words) and The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut (which had about 49k or 50k words). There are exceptions to everything. But nowadays anyone who gets published at all is exceptional, so agents and publishers are cracking down.

If I have it right, the main problem with books that are too short is that people are disappointed when they purchase a book for so much money and then only reap an extremely short story for the money they’ve sown. And in most cases I’d have to say that the readers are right in being so disappointed. Unless the story in those few words is positively PHENOMENAL (and I’m not saying it doesn’t happen), it isn’t worth dropping $20 for a hardcover book that only amounts to 50,000 words.

The problem is, nobody can truly predict which short books are the positively PHENOMENAL ones that would be worth the print run. That’s why agents and publishers avoid them. And rightly so.

So where does that leave our 50,000-word-or-shorter babies which we’ve worked so hard to nurture and shine and polish? Should they just sit and rust on our computers, unread? If the novellas/short novels of the world have little hope of going the traditional route, I say self-publish them e-book style! Set the price low so it’s worth the investment for the reader and see what happens.

There’s nothing wrong with trying it out, is there? At best, people will love your short work, beg for more, and you’re set. At worst, nobody reads it and you’ve wasted your time and energy promoting something that didn’t work out. (NOTE: I just want to make sure you don’t think I’m saying it would be easy. I know it still requires time and effort and promotion, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a shot.)

If I self-publish The Fire Itself for the Kindle and Nook and then it flops and only twenty people buy it, then that’s still twenty more readers than I would have had otherwise.

And some, you see, is better than none.

I’m very curious to hear your thoughts, by the way, so please comment.

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2 responses to “Thoughts on Self-Publishing…

  1. I must admit I have also been thinking about this. And my suggestion would be to publish it like you said on Kindle and Nook.

  2. I’m in the same boat as you. My novel WIP, currently titled Dominant Race for lack of anything better, sits at 52,360 words. It will drop below 45k during editing, of that I’m almost positive. I already knew I wanted to self publish it though, as I have a cover design for it, and a few other short stories and books lined up for that particular reality. I figure it’s like this: I get to spend my time writing, and let my writing decide my career. If people adore it, and I decide to query for agents (or, even better, an agent asks to represent me), then I’ve spent all that time being productive rather than twiddling my thumbs in the traditional process.

    That’s how I look at it at least. I also know my stories transcend too many genre boundaries to be easily marketable on a massive scale like publishers require. Dominant Race could be considered a little sci-fi, dystopian fantasy, maybe even urban fantasy, and, to some, definitely a YA book (even though the main character is twenty, haha). I already know it would not be easily squeezed into one clear-cut genre, and I for one never want it to be. A lot of my stories are like that, so I don’t know if my style just made the choice a little more obvious or if I’m being a little too simplistic in my thinking, but time will tell. Worse case is the book doesn’t sell and I try a different approach.

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