That is the question with which I am currently struggling.
I’ve gone back and forth on whether to go the traditional route or whether to self-publish my work. I think, ideally, I would end up doing both. There is a lot I like in the abstract about self-publishing, specifically the idea that there does not need to be a gatekeeper to determine what does and does not qualify as art. In more practical terms, I like the control the option of self-publishing affords.
BUT everyone who has given me advice on pursuing publishing has pointed out that fair or not (I think not) there is still a stigma about self-publishing. Legitimate writers are traditionally published writers – even though the face and character of traditional publishing houses is in the midst of a lot of changes. The advice I’ve gotten most consistently is that if I want to traditionally publish I should wait to self-publish until after that happens. Unless you’ve sold a preposterous amount of ebooks on your own it seems much easier to go from traditional to self published than the other way around.
The thing is that I don’t see any way that I’m going to sell a preposterous amount of ebooks. Check out this entirely well researched venn diagram:
The way I see it I am likely to develop a small but fervent readership. The kind of fantasy I write (secondary world fantasy mostly for adults) and the themes I write about (queerness, frank sexuality, oppression) will ring extremely true for some people and leave others irritated or angry or utterly disinterested. Which is completely fine. I do not need to be the most popular kid at the ball, and I’m writing about specific lived experiences that are often shut out from mainstream discourse because those lived experiences are important to me.
What i’m saying is that I have never suspected that my writing will have a mass appeal, but also that it’s important for marginalized voices to be out there even if they don’t have mass appeal. And given that in the current crisis with but publishing houses that publishers do not want to take a chance on writers writing for very small markets, this often means those “niche voices”, which are often marginalized voices, do not get heard via traditional routes. And I am one of those.
So. Do I take my queer elves struggling with racism and classism and publish them myself? Do I query for agents and hope those agents have the skills to sell this stuff to publishing houses? Do I want to risk doing that if it means the publishing house or the agent or both wants to straighten out one of my queer characters? BUT if I self-publish, me with no background in marketing, me with my handful of facebook friends, can I pull my shit together enough to get a readership? Do I have the time and resources to hire and editor, get a good cover done, etc when I’m working full time and supporting a family on a not particularly large paycheck?
I don’t know.
I guess I don’t have to know right now. There’s no rush. I’m querying some agents. I’ve got projects all over the place. I’m developing a readership, I think, ad hoc through friends giving my books to their friends, who pass them along to their friends. Which is incredible and amazing and for which I am immensely grateful. So I have no answer to this question, just a lot of feelings about it. As always, I invite anyone and everyone to comment and give me their insights!