Overnight success, thousands of nights in the making

I was talking with one of the grad students in my department last week, and she asked me about what I was going to do when the semester - and my fellowship - ended. I talked about moving, and jumping into freelancing, and how I was both excited and nervous about it.

"Well, why don't you just throw something you've written up on Amazon? You've published stuff before, and it's so easy now. My partner and I are thinking about writing and publishing a novel that way this summer, to help with grad school costs, you know? You sell enough copies, you don't have to worry."

It was true, I supposed, that if they sold enough copies they wouldn't have to worry. I wished her luck, and excused myself to go teach my seminar.

Well, and why don't I just throw something up on Amazon? First, let me be clear: I have no problem with self-publishing. Obviously, some people have had tremendous success at it. For many others, it's a useful and satisfying part of their writerly portfolio.

But for me, right now, it's not the right choice. I don't want to learn how to convert my manuscript files into ebook files, or to learn how to make those files readable across a variety of platforms. (And no, I am not asking for advice on how to do this or reassurances that it is easy.) I don't want to have to find and pay for content editing, or copy editing. I don't want to have to find and get permission to use cover art, or commission cover art. I don't want to have to research pricing, or worry that my book is suddenly going to be discounted or given away free without my knowledge or permission. I don't want to immerse myself in any of the business parts of being a publisher. I want to put my time and energy into writing.

And here's the other thing: selling enough copies "not to have to worry" is at least as difficult in self-publishing as it is in traditional publishing. An Amanda Hocking (who is now traditionally publishing, for what that's worth) is just as rare as a JK Rowling. And sure, those are extreme examples of success, and yes, I could keep a roof over my head and Sam I Am in pug treats with fewer sales than millions and millions, but my point is that most writers' careers look vastly different to those two.

I've been watching Amanda Palmer's kickstarter for her next album. It's been amazing to see the enthusiasm of her fans. The speed with which the album has been funded looks like overnight success (Or faster, even, as I think it only took six hours for the project to be funded.) But as she mentioned on twitter last night, this fan community, and her relationship with them has been years in the making. She has worked incredibly hard - and not just on the immediate album and its associated art - to make this happen.

Which leads me to the other reason that, right now, I'm not looking into self-publishing as an option: audience. The problem with the fact that it's so easy to self-publish means that a lot of people do so, and it's very hard to find the signal in the noise. Books get lost. And again, I understand that this doesn't always happen, and that traditionally published books can get lost in the crowd, too. 

But I've only been publishing for two years. And while I am grateful beyond words to everyone who has ever read anything of mine, who has taken the time to write and tell me they liked something I wrote, I don't have the audience yet to fling a book out into the world and hope for it to become - or even find - a safety net. So no. I am not going to just throw something up on Amazon and hope for the best. I am going to keep writing, and writing the best stories I can. And I am going to keep being grateful to and overwhelmed by the people who have said they liked things I've written, or who have asked me to write more. And maybe one day, when I've worked really hard, I'll get to look like an overnight success.