A little bit ago I heard an analogy that has really stuck with me. When a band tries to make it in the music industry, they don't produce one record and then sit at home, shopping it around to music reps. They go on tour, they play small venues, they put their music out online, they try to build a following. In the process of trying to make it, they are sharing their work with the world. It's out there. It may never end up on a top-40 station, but people hear it.
So then why is it that the conventional wisdom for writers is to write your book and then start querying agents without sharing your work outside of a few beta-readers? I know there are those agents and publishers who won't take on anybody who has already self-published. But if nobody publishes your book, then nobody's reading it. And that's sad to me.
When I first started writing I was adamantly against self-publishing the Teammates series in any way. However, after I completed the books, I wanted to do something while I was seeking an agent. That's how Benton House Publishing and Natalie Falkenwrath were born. I wrote Lust in the Stacks over NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month). I had friends read it and used all the spelling/grammar checkers I could get my hands on to proof it. I made the cover art with the free version of Canva and formatted it in Word. Ethan helped me set up a publishing house to publish under, and we published it.
I made websites, social media accounts, etc to promote it myself, I talked to bookstores. And I hired a narrator through ACX to narrate it—that was the only real cost to me, aside from ordering proof copies. It was definitely a learning process. But in the end I put out a book that hundreds of people have read. It's gotten good reviews, for the most part (not going to please everybody). And I'm in the black. That's right, as of this moment Natalie has made more money than she spent. I will be sinking all that money back into hiring Lessa to narrate the second Natalie book, Glutton for you, but I feel confident it will be worth it.
So after a year of rejections for On Ice, I started taking steps to have Benton House Publishing channel all that new experience into publishing the books that own my heart and soul. It was a difficult decision to make and even now I feel a bit embarrassed about it. But you know what? I worked hard to do it right, and I think it shows. I hired an editor, I commissioned professional artwork for the covers, and doubled my efforts to promote it. It will take me longer to recoup the costs of those choices, but it was worth it. People are reading them.
I would be remiss not to acknowledge the fact that it is an incredible privilege that I have the means to do this. And it certainly isn't something that is feasible for everybody. I had to have the time and front money to make it work. And it's not easy. Especially if you want to put out a product that is really solid. There are some incredibly terrible self-published books out there. Books without any discernable grammar, covers that look like they were made on MS Paint circa 1999, books that even the premise makes you have a "wft" moment. I hope I never produce one of those. But there are also some amazing books out there that are self-published. And there are authors who started there who later did get picked up by mainstream publishers. I mean, look at The Martian—it started on Wattpad.
I like that self-publishing is so readily available these days. And I think it's okay if I never become a big-name novelist. If you go into writing for fame and fortune, I have bad news for you. But if you go into it to express yourself and share your art with others, the news is all good. What matters to me is that people are reading what I'm writing and enjoying it. So I'm going to keep on writing.