Books · Publishing

An Interesting Self-Publishing Experience

So I’ve published my first book, a collection of short stories that I’ve written over the past fifteen years. A few of them were previously published in magazines and anthologies, but the majority of them were never submitted or published. I’ve found the “submit and wait” game was becoming tiresome. I’d send out a story for consideration and wait months, occasionally over a year, for a response. Then there are the handful of times I never heard back, even after repeated queries. The publishing world has been changing over the last quarter century and I’ve learned that I don’t have the patience to work on a story then wait and see if anyone likes it enough to publish it.

I’ve had a decent run of acceptances and my fair share of rejections. The rejections don’t bother me. In fact, I’ve kept all the rejection letters/emails I’ve received over the years. Badges of honor. Most were form letters, but I was lucky enough to get some personal responses, encouragement and constructive suggestions. I appreciate that. The acceptances, well, those were always confidence-boosters, little nuggets of gold in an otherwise dreary cycle of submit and resubmit. The only problem I ran into was payment…there wasn’t much. With the state of fiction magazines over the past few years, payment seems to be dropping off. And while I want to support the magazines I can’t afford to subscribe to all of them. Even the ones that suggest I subscribe before submitting a story for consideration. That’s not a game I want to play.

So I began looking through all the completed stories in my Documents folder. There’s quite a few in there, pieces that I’m happy with, some that I tolerate because I received positive feedback on them despite the fact I wasn’t satisfied with the final product. I started thinking about the ordeal of continuing to send them out, the waiting, the sometimes cryptic responses or lack thereof. I was dreading having to continue the routine.

Then a friend of mine that I collaborate with on occasion suggested I just publish them myself. I hadn’t considered it, really. I mean, I have two novels in progress and planned to publish those once I get to the point where I’m comfortable abandoning them (writers never finish their stories, they give up and abandon them). But a short story collection was an intriguing suggestion.

I sat down one afternoon, glass of wine at hand, and began rooting through all those folders on my hard drive. So many stories, so different, so eclectic. That was the first obstacle to overcome – trying to figure out what to include. My writing interests are not mainstream. My head doesn’t work that way. So my stories are a mix of horror, erotica, science fiction, weird fiction, speculative fiction, and surreal experiments. I also had to get over the fact that a collection of my fiction isn’t going to appeal to a mainstream audience. No mass market for me. No, I’ll be in this weird little niche in the corner.

I decided to include a couple of stories that had already been published because I knew those would be good anchors. I then began reading through other stories looking for ones that caught my attention. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I tried not to think about whether or not people would like specific ones, or if I might offend someone, or scar them with something too far outside the norm. I looked for stories that I enjoyed writing and the ones that I enjoyed reading once I was finished with them. I have a couple of “beta readers” (basically, my partner and a couple of friends who give honest feedback) and I took into account the stories they liked. It took longer than I anticipated – several months – but I finally decided on the ones I felt good about.

For those who have self-published, you can understand what I went through next. The formatting was an interesting experience. I’m a Mac user, so I don’t have Microsoft Office (which is recommended by Amazon). I tried using Pages, but it wasn’t doing what I needed it to do. I ended up having to download  LibreOffice and that finally gave me the ability to format the way I wanted to. Then there was the converting with Amazon’s book builder. Then back to LibreOffice for more tweaking. Then converting. Then back to…well, you get the idea.

I finally got it all clean and polished (or at least, as close to that as I could). And then I did the upload, clicked the Publish button, and sent that baby onto the virtual bookshelves.

It was an interesting and educational experience. I’m glad I did it and I think it’s given me the confidence to do it again. I still have more stories on my hard drive that haven’t yet seen the light of day. Maybe in another six months or a year I’ll publish another collection. In the meantime, I have those two draft novels to complete. Wish me luck.


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