I guess I’m having post-publication depression here, or something.
If all the things Kristine Kathryn Rusch and the others who blog about self-publishing, and the problems of legacy publishing for midlisters and beginners are true, going with legacy publishing is not necessarily a good choice, especially if you are a beginner. First, getting accepted can take years, then if you do get there the contracts can be bad, possibly very bad, there is no guarantee the end result, the published book or story in a magazine, will be all that much better than it will be if you self-publish – well, nicer cover or illustration if it’s a magazine story which has those, probably, but editing will not necessarily be any better. Most likely no money spend on advertising. And a beginner, or a midlister, does not have that much to bargain with in order to get a better contract since there are always lots of writers for the big publishers to choose from.
But the idea of being accepted by a publisher does have one big draw: if a publisher accepts you, you already have one sort of validation. They chose you from the throng of hopefuls, and they are willing to spend money on your story so they must think it is pretty good, or at least good enough, and since they are the professionals they should know, right? So even if you are then told the story sucks you could always counter with the fact that it was bought by a publisher. And if a professional thought it good enough it can’t be that bad, right?
But doing this the way I’m doing it is scary. I have no idea if I’m good enough a writer. It’s quite possible I’m not. Or I might be one of those sorta kinda almost but not quite there. Or maybe I can hit it sometimes and nevertheless completely miss other times. Or even if I am good, that still is no guarantee I can become somebody who sells. I do have some faith in the idea that cream will get to the top, with time, but while I think that is probably true in general, I don’t think that means that it is guaranteed when we are talking about some single writer, there is still always an element of luck involved. And it is probably also becoming harder with time, a few years ago there was much less competition that there is now, and when we go a few years into the future, well, it will be even harder to get noticed from the mass. Even for those who really are good. And if you are just one of those sorta kinda not that bad ones…
And then there is the question of what exactly is good enough. You know the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest? The man of the ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ fame? He was a bestselling author in his time. Now he is a joke, partly because his particular style of writing got old-fashioned. That has happened to a lot of writers. And perhaps it can happen the other way around too, you just write wrong for that particular time and place, except when it comes to fiction the ones who did that rarely get validated by later generations as visual artists sometimes can be. Not that many people bother to try reading old books, much less some dusty manuscripts, while a painting can capture your interest with just a glance.
And yet, even the lousiest storyteller will still probably find at least a few fans, if she can get enough people to try her stories. She may even become something truly valued if only to one or two people because a particular story just happened to be what those readers needed right then. So, was writing those stories worth it then or not?
Yes. Legacy publishing sounds like a bad deal, the way it is now, at least if you are not somebody who has bargaining power – maybe somebody who has already become a bestseller as a self-published author, or who is famous through some other means. But I can understand the beginners who keep on trying to get published through that route, or only through that route, because if they accept you you have at least some reassurance that you are good enough, and maybe less likely to end up as one of the jokes. I guess that is what I’m most scared of. I think I can handle being made fun of if I also have readers who enjoy my stories, people have different tastes and those tastes also change with time, you can start to call something as truly good only if people keep enjoying it for several generations. But it would be painful to find out that all I can ever be is just that joke, one of the hopefuls who can never find all that many readers because she actually does suck pretty damn bad.
Yet, if I never try I will never find out. And what if I would have been good enough? Wasting your talents… okay, I’m not quite sure if it is a sin but it probably is at least a good contender for that.
Putting stuff out there, for anybody too see is scary. But I guess it’s one of those things that just has to be done, at least when you somebody like me, somebody for whom dreaming up stories is a compulsion I can’t get rid of so whether I write them down and/or publish them I am going to use time with them anyway. Maybe if I had something more useful to use that time for, so I could argue that I should keep the dreaming only as a way to relax but not waste time writing them… only I don’t have anything more important to do.
If you never try you are a sure failure. So I guess I will keep doing this even if I am a coward. But it can be difficult because I am a coward.