Tue 21 Feb 2012
by Gaius Coffey
Something momentous happened today; I made up my mind.
I saw yet another thread on yet another writing forum where yet another writer had decided to self-publish. He has lost faith in the publishing industry and is no longer convinced mainstream publishers have anything to offer, but he has faith in his work, he wants people to read his work and he wants to make some money. After all, it is a killer premise and he’s a good writer.
Well… quite. We all want to be read.
The thread had so many echoes with my own experience that I can easily imagine having written something similar. After all, it is a fact that the best novel I have read in a long time has yet to attract the interest of an agent, let alone a publisher. It is also a fact that many anthologies and niche titles can be published profitably by authors but may not be commercially viable for a mainstream publisher. The submission model is, in my opinion, ludicrously flawed and self-defeating to the point that it suits almost nobody. Anecdotally, the success stories amongst my writer friends have (without exception) somehow circumvented the traditional submit to agent, agent submits to publisher model. There is the ongoing e-publishing revolution and, of course, there are the militant blogs of people like Konrath to encourage a healthy questioning of the status quo.
So it is almost unthinkable for a writer today to exclude the possibility of self-publishing when mainstream publishers are looking for writers to come to them fully formed with the perfect manuscript and a readymade tribe of followers be it from e-zines, blogging, Twitter, Facebook or whatever. As such, the benefits of mainstream publication have been eroded from almost every direction and the statistics on writers earnings make for depressing reading.
The writer of the thread reached his momentous decision after fewer than a dozen rejection slips. He has no tribe, no readership to sell to. There is no pre-defined niche that his book will slot into to satisfy a compelling, pre-existing need. He has no experience of selling and no clear evidence of his book being any better than the thousands of other competently written works with good premises that are generated every year by the likes of him and yours truly. More importantly, it is his first novel. If it sells, he will need a follow-up to capitalise on his success. If it doesn’t sell, he will need to write something better to sell in its place. But how will that second novel happen when all the energy that should be going into writing it is going – has to go – into marketing the current one?
And that was when I made my decision.
Yes, I want to be read, yes, I want to be published but, above all, I want to write. I have seen the effort that goes into self-publishing successfully, and it is just that; unrelenting effort. The successes are marked by a number in a ledger, and then it is back out to do the same again. But writing, for me, is play as well as work. The battles when it doesn’t come right are offset by the highs when it does and the success of finishing a story is marked by a tangible addition to my body of work. Maybe it won’t sell immediately, but it might sell eventually, and it will always be there for me to draw on.
Gaius Coffey’s story “Alone, Not Lonely” was shortlisted for the 2010 Fish Publications One-page Story competition. His story “Terry and the Eye” was Every Day Fiction’s most read story in March, 2010. He lives in Dublin with his wife, two cats and a baby daughter; the latter being as much an inspiration to write as an impediment to writing resulting, on balance, in bafflement.