Thinking Outside the Bomb Shelter: Making Career Choices Without Your Tinfoil Hat

Well, looks like Fifty Shades of Grey has become a huge Hollywood film. What a story! A fanfiction writer managed to rise through gumption and talent to the top of the heap and had their self publish erotica turn into an empire. Go West, young author, opportunities abound to get rich and become a film franchise with your self published and poorly researched erotica. You don’t need to know anything about human behavior, BDSM etiquette or the dynamics of abusive relationships. The success of the book is an inspiring story, though one fraught with very complicated feelings. Success is good. Crashing the gates is good. Changing the game is good. Raising awareness of alternative lifestyles is good, even if it’s not in the most reverent and competent manner.

I have a lot of clients and friends who self publish. It suits them. They want to put out as much material as they want when they want without having to deal with the politics, opinions and timetables of others. These are people who know what they need and why they need it. They’re usually not spewing venom about fatcats or bragging about how their next book is going to buy them a new BMW or a hovercraft with a front-mounted missile launcher. They find designers, they hire an editor (ahem) and they use beta readers to make sure they’re not working in a vacuum. They read up on their genres to make sure they know what other authors working in their fields are doing. They cultivate friendships with self published and traditionally published authors alike. They’re cool.

But sometimes it seems that the sentiments against traditional publishing get venomous in these times of upheaval for the industry. The chance to work without the eyes and approval of some monocled millionaire who is damn close to foreclosing on the Bailey Savings and Loan has made it possible for a lot of authors to scream “LATER, SUCKERS!” as they set bridges to a better life ablaze behind them. I’ve heard certain authors speak of a publisher I work with that started out as a socialist publishing collective on stolen copier paper as if they were Monsanto, or run by Lex Luthor instead of a woman in her thirties that makes life easier for dozens of people (myself included) with a staff that can ride in the same car. The possibility of crashing the gate can make a rejection letter seem sinister or the fact that small presses often work with the same authors or know the authors they work with well seem conspiratorial.

The small press is not for everyone. Like self publishing, it still requires good self advocacy and communication and a good marketing plan. It is not that small presses aren’t willing to help you get your book off the ground it’s that the time and resources might not necessarily be there. You aren’t likely to receive the sizable advance you associate with getting a book published or the instant clout of having your book selected by an editor. You may find that your book does not get shelf space as much as you would like it to. These are all factors that can be discouraging to new authors and might make them wonder if they have misplaced their trust.

But this is not inherently the case. A small press offers a lot of benefits. For one thing, having someone to design your book for you that has experience doing it cuts costs and will often lead to a better, more aesthetic product. What looked like cliquishness when you were outside the organization is now a support system that will follow you for some time. There are opportunities for mentorship and, since, the press might be shorthanded or just willing to teach, opportunities to learn new skills. And, honestly, if your self published book is the kind of book that would take off, your million dollar idea with a good cover, a couple blurbs and extra feet on the street to push it will still flourish.

Nothing is axiomatic in the arts. Nothing is perfect for everybody but informed decision making, getting to know people and building a support system is always good, better than any kneejerk prejudices. Whatever your manuscript is, I wish the best for it and hope you consider what I’ve said in deciding what kind of home and future it needs.

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