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My Decision to Self-publish

Some of you may remember that I was originally planning to be traditionally published. Back in August, I decided it was time to give it a go, and I sent out some query letters.

So how did I end up on the self-publishing path?

Same way as tons of authors. I realized it was a more realistic, and likely more beneficial, option at this point.

It was an essay assignment that brought me to that realization. The final essay for my English 201 class this semester is an I-Search, which is a sort of informal research paper where you pick a question you really want to know the answer to, and find the answer, journaling your search along the way. Given that I was doubting my decision to pursue traditional publishing, I decided to make that my question: "Is the growing popularity of self-publishing a positive change in the publishing industry?" In answering that, I hoped to come to a more firm decision on what publishing route I should take.

I'm still working on the essay, but I've already answered the question as it relates to me. It didn't take me long to realize that traditional publishing just isn't a realistic option for this series. I still hope to be traditionally published in the future with other books, but for my Dragon and Storm series, self-publishing makes more sense. The primary reason is that the genre is not mainstream. While fantasy has definitely grown among traditional publishers (it used to be really underrepresented), high fantasy still isn't something most agents and editors are interested in. (High fantasy is a subdivision of fantasy that generally involves swords, medieval settings, and heroic quests. Think Lord of the Rings.) Dragon and Storm is high fantasy. That's already a mark against it...but it's also Christian high fantasy. That's a niche that rarely sees the light of day. Christian fiction is a small enough market on its own, but Christian speculative fiction (fantasy and sci-fi) is tiny.

I already knew that before beginning the essay. But, I knew of a publishing press, Enclave Publishing, that specifically publishes Christian speculative fiction. Pretty much all of the Christian speculative fiction books I grew up loving have been published by Enclave. So that was my big dream--to be published by Enclave. They were the first ones I sent a query to.

Two problems, however. First, after three months (the usual cut-off period) I had not heard from them. So they most likely weren't interested in my book anyway. Second, even if they had been...I realized that there were some notable problems with their press. I'll spare you the boring details, but basically, they fail to provide relevant and important information that a writer seeking publication deserves to know.

That put a big damper on my traditional publishing decision. Enclave was my goal, and it was no longer an option. And that meant that there were almost no options left. I did a ton of digging and only came up with about half a dozen agents that accept Christian speculative fiction submissions. Considering that most authors have to query at least a few dozen agents before they get a deal, that means the odds were very much against me. I also found a list of all the presses that publish Christian speculative. There were a couple dozen listings, all of which were only a few years old...and at least half of them had already gone out of business. Most of the rest were tiny and would be able to offer me almost nothing I couldn't accomplish with self-publishing. Mix that with the story I'd heard of an author who was traditionally published, then the press went out of business only a couple months later, and no other press would even consider his book because it was "used goods". So if I published with one of those presses...I would probably be trading in control of my own book for mediocre design, very little marketing assistance, limited distribution...and then the press would probably go out of business and my book would die with them.

Hence, my decision to self-publish.

At this point, some of you may be asking why this is such a big deal. A lot of people don't realize that there is a huge stigma against self-publishing. Granted, it is somewhat deserved. Self-publishing opened the doors to a flood of sub-par, poorly written and/or edited, and amateurishly designed books. Anyone can write anything and get it published now, without putting in the time, effort, and money it takes to produce a quality book.

Because of this, almost all literary awards are closed to self-published authors. Bookstores and libraries almost never accept self-published books. And in the writing/publishing community, a self-published author will often be viewed as that guy, the wannabe amateur who doesn't have what it takes to be legitimately published.

This stigma is gradually fading. But it is definitely still there, and it is the biggest thing that kept me from self-publishing.

But these days, traditional publishing has its own slew of problems that, while very different, are just as bad. I think both publishing options have their merits and their downfalls. That's why I'm choosing the route of a hybrid or indie author. I've decided self-publishing is the best option for this series due to it being a niche genre, but in the future if and when I have a more mainstream story, I hope to be traditionally published.

Self-publishing Daughter of Lightning means it will never be a bestseller or win an award. But that's not my goal with this series. I won't lie and say that I don't care about ever being a bestselling author--someday, I would like to be. The Dragon and Storm series is not the right ticket for that train, though. Instead, it's just a story I want to share with whoever would like to read it, however small that audience may be.

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