I gave myself a headache with all the research and was very excited to hear how people came down on either side of the debate. I got a lot of emails from folks with advice and suggestions, all of which were super helpful.
To clarify a couple things that have come up: I have just started the process of querying agents and publishers. I’m don’t intend to “resort” to self-publishing. If I decide to self-publish, it will be because it makes the most sense for me as an author and my book as a product.
That said, I realize there is still a big stigma attached to self-publishing. It’s for the same reason that there’s a stigma attached to improv comedy and open-mic nights- no filters. Anyone with something to say can say it. The ease of self-publishing has democratized the industry, for better (more voices) or for worse (lame voices). It’s interesting to me that a lot of the argument against self-publishing sounds like the argument fogies use to vilify the internet- that any old hack can put up a website and call it information. Nowadays, with things like lightning source and createspace, any old hack can put together a chapbook of poems dedicated to their dead turtle and call it a book. The thing is- I BELIEVE in the internet for the same reason I believe in self-publishing, and believed in DVCam when it first hit- more art, more personal expression of every wackaloon stripe is a Good Thing.
A few people also wrote me well-intentioned notes, encouraging me to keep my head held high/don’t get discouraged and so on. I’ve gotten six agent rejections so far and it’s fine. At the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, I curate the gallery and read play submissions, telling pretty much everyone “thanks but no thanks” and telling about 6 people a year that we’re going to work with them. And curating an art show is waaaaay less work, time and money than producing a book. I understand the pressure of making good calls on art. It’s weird, and it’s hard, and even when you do it for a living, you never fully trust yourself to make the right choice.
The publishing industry, like every industry, can be trusted to sell a product. Selling books is its job and it does it pretty well, all things considered.
My morale isn’t destroyed. After six rejections, I still know my book is good and worth reading. I’m not going to let agents be the arbiters of taste in this scenario, just the arbiters of deals.
Feel free to check in with me in six months about this, but really, ma, I’m fine.
The most interesting recommendation was from folks who emailed me stressing patience- that I should continue looking for a “legit” publisher first, and then go self-styled if that doesn’t work. It’s an understandable stance, and one that I’m sticking to for a while, too. I’m not necessarily proud of this, because it does imply a need to stay with the known quantities in the publishing world rather than striking out as a pioneer to redress the self-publishing stigma.
My bottom-line is to develop a career as a working writer. To do this, reputation is key. Selling a first novel to a publisher still means a lot in the industry, so I’m going to stick it out and see how people respond to it. If no one wants to buy it, I’ll publish on my own. Either way, you know I’ll be at the Dinah next year, hawking my wares.