There was a minor kerfuffle recently regarding Ros Barber (of whom I had never heard before she popped up in the Guardian) and her thoughts on those who choose to Self-Publish And Be Damned. Since her arguments have been roundly refuted by people who have published more books and made more money than I have, I won’t wade in on that particular point. Also, this was a fortnight ago and nobody cares any more.
All the same, I’ve been meaning for a while to explain how I made the decision to self-publish.
Up until last year, self-publishing wasn’t on my list of options. It wasn’t because I didn’t know about it. I knew about it. I knew people who had done it. I thought they were incredibly brave. Personally, I was too scared of the following factors to contemplate it myself:
- the gargantuan amount of work that I’d have to do (or organise) myself, rather than outsource to the publisher’s friendly in-house editors, cover designers, proof-readers, publicists, and so forth;
- the huge amount of money I assumed it would cost;
- the possibility of some joker taking some element of my book personally and trying to sue me;
- people whose opinion I respected thinking the less of me, as a writer and a person.
It wasn’t that I didn’t think my book was good. I wouldn’t have been sending it round agents and publishers if I didn’t think it was worth, well, publishing.I just wanted somebody else to tell me that.
I already knew that the target audience for my book was limited. I knew that it would be difficult to sell even if it were very, very good. At the same time, I knew that there would be people with whom it would resonate, who would enjoy it, who would find it useful. I’d written it to relieve my own feelings, but I knew that those feelings were not unique to me. I didn’t want to leave the thing languishing on my hard drive for ever, but I was far too scared to self-publish. What would people think?
Last year turned out to be fairly heavy in the ‘personal epiphanies’ department. I discovered that I thought the institution of marriage human at best and idolatrous at worst. I told people to stop fucking apologising for swearing in front of me. I moved from thinking of myself as a ‘liberal’ Christian to thinking of myself as a ‘radical’ one.
I found that other people’s ideas about who I was and what I was worth were becoming less important to me. I found that I no longer needed other people’s approval. I didn’t need a fairy godmother to give me permission to go to the ball. I was my own fairy godmother. I got myself a dress and a pair of shoes, and I gate-crashed the party.
Put like that, it doesn’t seem like much. Looking back from where I am now, it doesn’t seem like much. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was an epic mental shift.
I did send the manuscript to one last publisher after I’d made the decision to self-publish. I felt a bit ambivalent about it, but a family member had gone to some trouble to get them to take a look at it and it seemed churlish not to.
You can’t imagine how relieved I was when they weren’t interested. I’d gone beyond wanting someone else to do all the hard work. I’d taken control, and now I didn’t want to relinquish it. I had learned to say: Yes. This is my work. I am not ashamed to claim it, to put my name on it, to send it out with no one’s approval but my own. And it turns out that I don’t want to go back from that.