Self-Publishing and DIY/Underground Culture

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I’m going to come right out and say that I think if you’re looking to write the next great American novel, there’s probably a good chance you won’t self-publish it. It could very well be that you could write the next great 21st century novel as a self-published novel. I think 21st century literature has one important thing in common with self-publishing. The internet. Things haven’t been as accesible to independent writers as they are right now. You could publish your own book from your own bedroom if you wanted to. And unlike those barbaric days pre-y2k where you’d have to photocopy everything and hand it out to get it read, these days you can put out a book and get it read.

Some people absolutely swear not to go there, which I think is a professionalism thing. That’s cool. Some people think it’s a great place to start. That’s cool too.

I read this blog post yesterday, which got me thinking about the whole “to self-publish or not to self-publish” debate all over again: How Self-Publishing Got Me a Book Deal, by Jason Jack Miller.

And when the topic of self-publishing, or publishing on the internet comes up, I always think of the book, John Dies At the End, by David Wong. He put the book up on his blog, and because of the demand the book was attracting, it went into print. And a film’s being made out of it. And he’s writing a sequel.

It’s silly to say that self-publishing never pays off, or that it’s the wrong way to go. But it also doesn’t excuse bad writers from their lack of success with publishers/agents. It’s not the right way to go for everybody, and it’s not the wrong way to go for everybody. You’ve got to work out for yourself if self-publishing is right for you.

As for me, I’m not selling books until I get a publisher. That’s where I’m at right now. But it hasn’t stopped me self-publishing novelettes or short story collections or stuff like that and giving them away for free.

The first year I really started writing, before I started uni, I wrote quite a lot of short stories, and I decided I wanted to give them to friends. Once I got a decent amount of stories together I compiled them into a short book, looked into techniques on how to bind books, bought my ink, paper, glue, tape, accessories, and printed out my own books and I was literally binding them in my own bedroom.

It was frustrating when the printer stuffed up or I got the formatting wrong, or things like that, but it was basically just stuff I was putting together for fun. And I learned a bit from the experience. The stories could have been better, but hey, I was just a 17/18 year old country boy at the time, with no professional writing, editing or publishing experience. I’d like to think I did alright.

Then I went to uni and got a bit of experience with writing and editing. The editing was really basic stuff, informal, really. I wasn’t doing professional writing or anything, so I didn’t pick up anything on publishing/printing from uni. That’s ok. After my first year at uni I wrote my first novel. It was a steampunk adventure novel. I don’t remember it being all that good, but I don’t remember it being all that bad either. And with very minor editing, I got my brother to make a cover, and I got it printed up through Lulu, I bought a bunch of copies for family/friends and such. I’ve still got copies lying around. I didn’t make it available to the public. It was more for the sentimental factor of writing and publishing my first book. A couple of times it’s automatically been made available to buy on Lulu, and at one point it was on the apple ebook store. This was years after I got it printed, and needless to say, I took it back down. And because it’s not a book I want people to buy, no one knew about it, and no one actually bought it. It’s probably not the smartest move I’ve made, but it’s given me some good experience and I don’t regret doing it.

In my second year of uni I took a class on experimental writing. We did some poetry and spoken word/slam poetry. Then we had a major project of our own choice. I did a zine. It’s nothing I’d looked at before, but it seemed to represent a DIY/underground culture that reflected my values, like what I did with my short story collection a couple of years before, and the novel the previous year.

The zine was basically a more experimental version of what I was doing when I was just out of high school. It mixed poetry and flash fiction with quirky art. And as with before, I had a lot of fun piecing it together. Admittedly, it was a lot shorter and much easier to bind. But as with before, I did a bit of reading and research into the different ways you can put a zine together.

I even turned it into an ezine and made it available here: Splinters if you’re interested in seeing where my writing was at about a year and a half ago.

To me, doing stuff like self-published zines and short stories and such, it’s about getting my work out into the internet so people can read it. I mean, what will happen when I publish my first book and people want to know what I write like if they can’t find anything to read? Before this whole internet and social media thing, it was more about real world promotion, word of mouth, getting stories in magazines and such. You can still do those things, but you can also get stuff published in online journals and zines and things, network with other writers, publishers, and editors, share your writing where people can access it at the click of a button and give you feedback at the click of another button.

Since I did that zine, I’ve played around with different ways I can display my work in electronic media, such as blogs. I did a zine as a blog a while back, and an art/comic blog, and a choose-your-own-adventure blog. It’s all publishing online, a variety of self-published media.

I’m yet to self-publish and sell my own books, but the option is there, and I don’t think it should be written off unless it’s been properly considered.

Just a couple of months ago I published the first part of a web series called Once Upon A Time On Mars. I could probably just as easily finish the thing and try to find a publisher for it, but while I would be writing, rewriting, editing, then running around after agents or publishers, I’ve got stuff that people can read while I work on more stuff to publish.

And now, I’ve found myself going back to this idea I had earlier on in the year. To compile a short collection of bizarro short stories and poems. I originally thought it’d be something I’d put together then set aside for when I start professionally publishing books. But then I thought, I’m always writing, it’s not like I won’t have the chance to write more material for another collection later down the track. And if I put it out now, while it’s still fresh, people will have more stuff to read. And they’ll also get a glimpse of the stuff I started off doing, in making my little books from home that didn’t look the prettiest, but had that whole DIY/underground feel to them. If it didn’t cost me anything to write, edit and assemble, I might as well distribute it for free, like those people making their own zines, fanzines and things, handing them out to whoever will read them, that what I really want. People reading. And having fun reading. And maybe occasionally thinking about something they wouldn’t otherwise think about.

I’m hoping in the next week or two, I’ll have a flash fiction/prose poetry collection up online. Pterodactyl’s Last Stand. It’s not pretty. It’s low budget. It’s just who I am and what I do. I’m still learning and gaining experience. I’d love to get into editing zines, anthologies, novels. But right now, I’m 21, writing up a shitstorm, and giving people some idea as to what to expect when I’ve actually got books you can buy.

Also, I’d love it if you’d keep this in mind for when that glorious time comes: A Bestseller in the Making: 7 Ways You Can Help Your Author Friends

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