The Unpublished Writer’s Dilemma

Here’s something bouncing around in my head.

One of the things about being unpublished and being a part of the writing community is for people to get to know your work. Let’s face it, at some level, we all size up other writers. We do it in all careers, so in this, writing is no different.

Published writers are easy to figure out. Pick up a book of theirs. Check out their sales. Check number of books published. Whatever. But for unpublished writers, we’re just a mass of aspirants with no real differentiators. Our critique partners are the ones who know our current skill.

Ok. Warning. This is going to be a long rambly post in which I eventually get to the idea that I am debating putting up a couple of short stories on the Kindle and/or Smashwords. Let me continue the ramble now.

Here’s the thing. I always want to know how/what someone writes. Sure, blog posts are a sample, in a way, but that doesn’t really identify me as a writer of fiction, unless you don’t believe the pool is real. (do you think I am that good with photoshop?)

Kris Rusch recently posted in her Freelancer’s guide about how easy it is to give up on yourself. In terms of writing, that’s generally how self-publishing is looked at. Here are the two posts on the topic.

I’m assuming you’ve already read them, so I’ll continue. The thing is, self-publishing is becoming viable, whether for re-issue of books that have reverted back to an author or for books that were orphaned during their initial print run, and other similar scenarios. I see self-publishing as a very viable tool for the Traditionally Published Writer Without Stigma.

For the likes of myself, the unpublished masses, it’s a dilemma. Am I giving up or pursuing a lesser path? NY is so slow. Is it my impatience that shows when I self-publish? Who says I am really ready?

I admit, whenever I meet someone online, I check their credentials if they claim they are a writer. I generally put aspirant over someone who is only self-published(again, different category from someone supplementing traditional publishing career.).

So here’s my dilemma. I’m sitting on some short stories. These are professionally edited short stories. They were essentially purchased for invite only, written on spec, themed anthologies, but the anthologies themselves never sold, even though the editor had a history of selling two per year. Honestly, I can’t tell you the elation and the crushing defeat of that combination. Yay! NO! Sad face. I really didn’t expect either scenarios. I knew a lot of the other writers that were invited, many multi-published.

I have every intent of self-publishing these short stories and a couple others AFTER I publish a novel through a traditional publisher. Actually, probably just after it is sold, not waiting the year or two until it is in print.

So, why not now? If you asked me three years ago, should an unpublished writer have a blog? I would have said no, yet I made one. Had no idea why either. The main goal was learning how to create a blog. My blog content is questionable at best.

I’m sort of tempted to publish them, just to try Amazon self-publishing and Smashwords. Tempted, but still remaining patient. Yes, I am unpublished. I’m ok with that moniker.

7 Responses to “The Unpublished Writer’s Dilemma”

  1. Daisy Harris says:

    Hiya Alan,
    Your post made me think about the issue of inventory. With unpubbed writers, there’s always a question of when to bother with trying to sell previous work. Whatever we’re working on right now is more likely to sell than what we wrote last year, yeah?
    But for stories that were pretty good- where one editor loved it, but the chief editor passed, or stuff like yours that was ready to go out, but didn’t, is it worth bothering to send out more queries?
    To me that’s a possible area where self-pub may make sense. Not to make money, and not necessarily to improve your reputation, but simply to get the past work gone, done, off the table, and off your mind. This issue is on my mind because I’m working on a series, the first book of which was a novella. If the epublisher who’s considering it now passes- I don’t know if I’d bother submitting elsewhere, despite some pretty positive feedback. I’m already working on book 3 for goodness sakes! Why not just get later books epubbed and have earlier shorter stuff available on my website or self-pubbed?
    I see self-pubs as backlog. Readers who love your publisher work would have the choice to hunt down your self-pubbed earlier stuff if they wanted. Personally, I’d read everything Larissa Ione ever wrote, if it was available.
    The main downside, of course, is stigma. But who knows how long that will last. Anyway, Interesting topic. Thanks for posting!

  2. I post serial novels on my blog and Scribd. I started doing that to get a little feedback and see if I could entice readers, and for many other reasons too. My readers seem to like what I post, so I’m currently revising one of my earlier serials to self-publish. Why? Because even though it was a first draft in serial form, publishers still consider that “published”, so I couldn’t submit it even if I wanted to. So I’ll self-publish it, and my other serial novels because I see no reason to withhold them just because I decided to post the drafts online. I’ll charge for them because revising is work, and time, and I think at the end they’ll be worth an inexpensive price.

    Now I’m also writing other works to submit to traditional NY publishers…so I have no idea where that puts me in your scale…but at the rate trad. publishing moves, I’ll have several self-pubbed novels out there before any are traditionally pubbed. I’m okay with that – because people seem to like my work, I have good beta readers, and I see no reason not to start making money where/when I can so I can eventually quit my day job. If I have to put up with a little stigma along the way, so be it. As long as people read and enjoy my work, I’ll get it out there to them however I can.

    Good luck either way…

  3. Patrick says:

    Daisy – That’s the dilemma. For me, these short stories don’t have that many available markets and one of them was SO targeted, that I can’t see any market picking it up, not because of lack of quality. Now, I also have things that are junk. I’m not looking at every story I have and thinking – I should publish this.

    Jamie – I’m just saying that I scale it that way from an initial impression. Anyone continuing to work at getting better is awesome in my book. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing it, especially the way you are. You have a strategy that you are systematically building on. I think the stigma is still the people shell shocked by self-pub’d who write one maybe two books and spend all their time ‘marketing and promoting’ and not really improving their craft.

  4. Daisy Harris says:

    Patrick- (Sorry for cyber stalking you… but I’m fascinated by this issue.)
    I think this dilemma is particularly tough with shorter pieces because you do have limited markets. I mean, if you can write 1k of a new book in an hour, why bother querying with a short story in that hour instead? It’s a time suck.
    But my question is- why not e-publish the stories? I mean, you don’t have to tell any NY publishers if you don’t want to. You don’t have to market or label yourself as self-published, and if you get readers who like your work, you can mention their raves on cover letters. Any anywhoo- it’s free.
    Hey- howabout this- you could self-publish under a different pen name! Then later own up to it if people like the stuff. (Kinda like Anne Rice did with the Beauty series that she originally write as AN Roquelaire.)

  5. Mike says:

    One thing to consider is what I would term the “A Time to Kill” phenomenon. While it wasn’t unpublished, John Grisham’s ‘A Time to Kill’ was basically unheard of — 5000 copies printed. Then he wrote The Firm and The Pelican Brief and suddenly A Time To Kill was a valuable piece of property.

    So if you think what you have is good and you plan to continue to try to be traditionally published, why would you give away something that is potentially valuable now when it could be worth much more later if you made a name first?

  6. Patrick says:

    Daisy – it all goes back to the goal of self-publishing. I see it as a supplement. Yeah, I can see the time sink of sending paper short story submissions, but I don’t see that as the limiting factor. With many of them going electronic, there isn’t the cost associated with shipping/driving to the post office/ etc. The reason to submit is exposure. Someone sees your shortstory in a magazine/anthology/etc then they may discover you. That’s why I think you should still market short stories. E-publishing them is what I am considering for these two that I think a niche enough that finding a home is pointless.

    Adding a pen-name doesn’t make sense at this point. Why would I? Just to hide it from Trad pubs? Then why am I publishing it?

  7. Patrick says:

    Mike – Nice to see that you can reach the blog again!

    That’s actually the point. Having a backlist. I wouldn’t give anything away. With the self-publishing and e-books, it’s easy to put up work for a fee.

    Then the fun becomes pricing. There’s a huge pricing war in e-publishing. $.50 seems reasonable for a short story, but there are a number of self-published writers or even backlist/long tail e-books(full books) selling for .99 to 2.99 from trad publishers.

    Anyway. With short stories, it isn’t about money. It’s about people being able to read the work. Even if I sold a traditional publisher today, we’re talking 1-2 years before print. A traditional short story sale is based on .05 per word. So, at 3K, I’m talking about $150. Maybe I spend the time to get them re-printed and make another $200. If I can sell them on the Kindle for .50 and earn the %70 they are changing to, I’d only need 1000 downloads to match that. Ideally, I would do both. Get the publications and then reprint and after reversion clauses, make it available on kindle and other readers.