Every now and then, when I write about the vast number of story rejections I’ve collected over the years, I get asked why I don’t self-publish some of the stories that I haven’t sold elsewhere. The short answer is that self-publishing is not for me. To be clear I am speaking only about me and my goals as a writer. Different writers have different goals and different reasons for writing.
I grew up reading science fiction stories and I admired the writers who wrote them. I wanted to be just like them. Most of these writers didn’t self-publish. They went through a process of submission and rejection, until they ultimately started selling stories. Later some of them transitioned to novels. Each of them had to overcome some kind of editorial bar. While this editorial bar is an arbitrary judgement of quality, it nonetheless means something to me. I think of it like trying out for a baseball team. No one just starts in the majors. You play ball in Little League, and work your way up to the older leagues. Then there is junior varsity and varsity ball. Maybe college ball and if you are really talented and lucky, the pros. But who judges that talent? That bar that is set to get the pros is set high for a reason. This doesn’t mean you can’t settle into an adult softball league and have a blast. It also doesn’t mean that settling into such a league implies a lack of talent. It’s just a different path.
When I started out writing, I did so with the intent of being just like those writers I admired so much, and that meant, as much as possible, following in their literary footsteps. I always tried to keep the bar high for me. It wasn’t just about getting my stories in front of as many eyes as possible. It was about honing my craft so that the stories I wrote were good stories, worthy of a position in the same magazines as my heroes’ stories appeared. It meant that I rarely submitted stories to magazines which were not considered “pro” markets until after I made my first “pro” sale.
Then, too, I might like a story I write. I might love it, but I am probably the worst judge of my own stories. Who might be qualified to tell me if the story is any good? It seems to me that a professional editor at one of the major magazines is just that person. They are extensively read within the genre. They know what sells and what does not. Sure, their opinions are their own, but it is the same yardstick that applied to my heroes, so why not to me as well?
Another point: I don’t want to spend my time deep in the mechanics of publishing. I want to spend my time writing more stories. Setting the outliers aside, my experience with self-publishing is that you spend at least as much time in post-production and marketing as you do writing the story. When I sell to a magazine, I don’t have to worry about any of that post-production. And the marketing is usually as simple as a blog post announcing I have a new story coming out.
Then, too, I make more money when I sell stories to a magazine than I do self-publishing. I did an experiment a few years back. The rights to my first published story had reverted to me, so I decided to make it available on Amazon as a self-published story for $0.99. When I sold the story to the magazine, I was paid $500 on acceptance–meaning I had the check in hand months before the story appeared in the magazine. In the two years or so since I “self-published” that story on Amazon, I haven’t made $5 from it. And yet the time it took me to format the document, get it online and monitor its sales far exceeded the $5 I’ve earned from it.
Well, what about the stories that I haven’t sold? Couldn’t I self-publish those? I wouldn’t want to. They’ve been rejected all around, and I’ve worked with enough editors now to trust their aggregate opinions. I could self-publish my rejected stories, but my fear is that they would embarrass me, that I’d be fawning off a lesser story on people and expecting them to pay for it and that’s not what I want to do. So instead, I take what lessons I can from these stories and try to write a better one the next time.
I like the challenge of writing stories and submitting them to the magazines. It’s the same road my idols took and it’s the road that I want to take. The truth is, self-publishing a story simply wouldn’t satisfy me, even in the unlikely event that it turned to out earn me a lot of money. No, I want to do it the hard way, take away (potentially) less financial rewards, but far, far, greater satisfaction in my work.