Self-Publishing Blues

by Mel Gilden

It's been a strange week here at Self-Publishing Central. On the one hand, I have sold another book or two. On the other hand, I obviously still have a lot to learn about self-publishing.


It's not as easy as it looks.

Last Sunday the sweetie and I had dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant with an old friend of ours who is approximately our age (ie: old) and yet knows a lot more about the new world of self-publishing than we do.

During an hour of conversation she told us about how to use blogs, not only ours but the blogs of other people to promote our work; how easy it is to use HTML, though apparently CSS is even easier; where to go for cheap and free formatting; and what new online publishers are doing.

The online publishers are of particular interest because some of them don't require an agent to submit a piece of work — not having an agent is one of the things that drove me into self-publishing in the first place. Apparently those of us down in the mid-list are no longer of any interest to either agents or traditional publishers.

But the astonishing truth is that I am no longer certain that I want to hook up with a publisher of any kind, either traditional or online. In my experience, publishing must be the only business in which a company produces a product and then is reluctant to tell anybody about it — what I call "stealth publishing." Certainly, my publishers have rarely been enthusiastic about advertising my books. If the online publishers are going to take the same approach, I don't see why I should share my royalties with them. Using the public relations skills I am learning, I can self-publish and keep the whole wad of royalties, whatever size that wad turns out to be.

But those thoughts came days after our dinner meeting. As the dinner with the old friend went on, I became more deeply depressed — I sort of shut down. There was obviously a lot I didn't know, and I had much to learn — I was overwhelmed by how much.

I told this old friend, who had only the best intentions, that I had never signed up for this advertising gig. Until a few years ago, being a writer meant only learning your craft and producing the best stories you could. Other people were responsible for setting up book tours, autograph parties, and other advertising if any. (Though I admit that even back then, I occasionally set up my own autograph party. How does one autograph an ebook?) These days one must be not only a good writer, but a cracker-jack sales person — two skills I had previously thought to be mutually exclusive.

My old friend shrugged. Doing your own PR is part of the brave new world of publishing. You either accept that or you get out.

For a few hours following the dinner I was ready to get out. But I don't think I can. Perhaps all artists feel this way: a little trapped by their art. For a while you might kid yourself into believing you'd be just as happy doing something else, but the old urges are difficult to fight. Even as I considered getting a "real job" I found myself making notes on my current project.

So here I am, learning the whys and wherefores of a part of publishing I never expected to need to learn. Doing one's own advertising is sometimes frustrating and even overwhelming, but when it works it can be fun. I try to maintain an optimistic outlook.