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Why You Should Self-Publish

14 September 2013

From Hugh Howey via The Huffington Post:

This past week, my latest self-published book debuted at #7 on the New York Times bestseller list. Crunching some numbers, it appears that I’ve sold a million books in the last two years. You might think I’m living the best days of my life right now, but that isn’t the case at all. I’ve had a lot of careers and have gone through quite a few distinct phases in my life, and several were happier than being a bestselling author.

There’s the decade I spent as a yacht captain, delivering boats all over the world. There are the years I lived on a sailboat while going to the College of Charleston, or the year I spent island-hopping through the Bahamas. I had a blast installing custom home theater systems in expensive homes, and I worked as a computer repair technician back when personal computers were first exploding onto the scene. But the two happiest years of my life were spent in Palmyra, Virginia while working at Rockfish Roofers.

. . . .

I did most of my mental writing during those two years. I came up with the character of Molly Fyde and the idea of the wallscreen and Wool. I did my physical writing during a later stage of my life, which was nearly as glorious. And this is the point I want to make, because I spend so much time supporting the growth of literature through self-publishing, and I don’t want people to think it’s because I am one of the outlying success stories. That’s not the point. My happiest days were spent writing, not being a bestselling author.

I wrote most of my stories while working in a bookstore for very meager pay. It helped that I have been debt averse my entire life. My wife and I lived in a 750 square foot house that I paid $112,500 for. It was our third home together. I spent a lot of time and energy on all three of those homes fixing them up and making them better, mostly because I wanted to improve our environment. Even in the down market, and never thinking of “flipping” a house, this industriousness not only made me happy, it meant that every house we sold turned a profit. Rather than take expensive vacations or buy fancy cars, we put that money into debt reduction until we were debt free and fully owned our home. It meant I could work for $10 an hour, Amber could be a student/intern/postdoc resident for ten years, and we didn’t have to worry about money. We were poor and wanted for nothing. We hiked and did things that were free. That was part of the key to my happiness, and it required working hard for over a decade and forgoing immediate self-gratification for even longer.

All of that meant that I could work a 30-hour job at a university trade bookshop for just over minimum wage and fill my hours with writing.

. . . .

Today, I saw a comment on a self-publishing success story from yet another cynic who thought that nobody should self-publish. Their argument was that these success stories are the exception, not the rule. But who says the only reason to self-publish is because someone wants to get rich? And who says publishing, any way you do it, is a route to financial independence? I think we all know it isn’t. I knew that better than most from working in a bookstore and meeting so many bestselling authors who had day jobs. That isn’t why we write. It isn’t why we publish. Do these cynics tell the youth strumming their guitars on the street to stop right then, to give up creating art because there’s no future in it? What about the present in it?

. . . .

Remember that it’s okay to write and publish just to make yourself happy, to make yourself fulfilled. There will be authors out there, readers, publishing experts, and booksellers who say that this outpouring of unprofessional drek is ruining the industry, which makes me wonder if these same people drive through neighborhoods yelling and screaming at people gardening in their back yards, shouting at them that, “You’ll never be a farmer!” Or if they cruise past community basketball courts where men and women unwind with games of pickup and shout at them, “You’ll never make it in the NBA!”

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Elizabeth for the tip.

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13 Comments to “Why You Should Self-Publish”

  1. Great analogy with the basketball players. With basketball, there are certain physical requirements that most of us don’t have. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy shooting baskets though. I’m a short middle-aged woman, and I certainly don’t think I’ll ever make the NBA,*giggle*, but I LOVE to shoot baskets at my gym. It’s my reward to myself for doing thirty minutes of elliptical. My age and physical limitations don’t stop me from trying to improve and do my best, and I actually have a better shot now than I did when I was 18.

    Sometimes I forget that I love writing–like when the stress of putting out that next book hits. This is a good reminder that I originally wrote because it was fun and I had no goals of trying to sell what I had written.

  2. I believe the problem goes deeper than financial return issue Hugh points out. As a culture, we actively discourage our cititzens, especially children, from using their imaginations. It makes me sad to see so many younger family members and neighbors being told that playing guitar or drawing is a waste of time.

    • My daughter is teaching herself animation. I love it! I would be thrilled if she made a career out of doing something that she loves. She’s only 13 now, so who knows what she can do in ten years or so?

    • There should be a happy medium between always telling people, “You should do this for a living!” and “You’ll never make a living at that!”

      There’s certainly a lot of attraction to making money at something you like. But telling somebody who’s just started that they either have to make money or that their hobby is a waste of time? Ridiculous. Let people try out their skills for a while before you start loading on the pressure to perform for cash or never do it again.

      And frankly, in today’s world, it’s an advantage to have a little experience and skills in a lot of areas as well as deep experience and skill in more than one area. Having multiple strings to one’s bow is a good thing.

  3. Descartes said “I think therefore I am” and I say, I write therefore I am.
    Someone who did not appreciate Rembrandt’s art told him once “I assume you amuse yourself by dabbling in painting,” for which Rembrandt answered “Yes, and when I’m not amused any more I’ll stop.”

  4. This piece by Hugh was fabulous. And it is about a lot more than self-publishing; it’s about the attitude one should have toward any work he does. Thanks for calling it to my attention. I’ve linked on Facebook and I hope this one goes viral.

  5. Thank you for this.

  6. I loved this article. He’s so right. Since when did writing and books become so special that we can’t fun with them? That only those who are bestsellers get to write and publish, so the rest of us are not allowed to find an audience. How is writing any different from any other creative venture?

    It’s only because the literati have deemed it so that the rest of us have not been allowed to participate. Times, they are a-changin’!

  7. This is excellent. This:

    “Remember that it’s okay to write and publish just to make yourself happy, to make yourself fulfilled”

    is absolutely awesome. I love that he’s bringing this message to the indie publishing community.

    And his gardening and basketball examples are terrific! Love it! 😀

  8. Perfect follow-up to Hugh’s previous message in his ongoing The Real Story of Self-Publishing. There’s nothing wrong (but a whole lot right) with only making a few hundred buck a month, or even in a year, self-pubbing what you want to and finding a readership, no matter how small.

  9. I love to read stuff like this. Having just put my first 10 short stories out there (in 4 short volumes), I want to be clear on my motives: Because I enjoy writing them and in the past, people have enjoyed reading them. Do I care if I make a million dollars off them? Not really. I really don’t care if I make much of anything off of them beyond the fact that if they sell, it means people like them and that’s a good feeling.

    And people might not drive by basketball courts or people’s gardens, but they do show up at art fairs where the myriad of local and regional artists are putting THEMSELVES out there, and at fests and parties and clubs where local musicians are putting THEMSELVES out there, and feel the need to tell them they’re wasting their time (maybe not exactly to their faces) and that they “suck”. It seems that in creative fields, one is not allowed to express themselves unless someone says it’s okay…

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