As a new self-published author, there’s a lot of advice to sift through, a lot of decisions to make. Many people have blazed the trail before me, and we’re now well out of the “Don’t. You’ll ruin your career” era, but not quite out of the “Are you actually published, or self-published?” one. It’s an exciting, terrifying time in publishing, no matter which road you find yourself on.
I’ll be honest. Self-pubbing was never my goal. I wanted what a dear writer friend calls the White Wedding publishing experience. An agent, a publisher, and the chance to see my book on the shelves at a brick-and-mortar store. It took some wrenching to reevaluate what I wanted out of a writing career, and if self-pubbing some of my books was a valid—for me—step toward achieving that. I still want a trade publishing deal someday, but the last eight or nine years have shown me my books may never be the kind that an agent or editor wants to hang their reputation or paycheck on. And that’s okay. It doesn’t make them bad books, and I don’t have the raging Hard-On of Hate for trade publishing that some people seem to think propels all SPers forward. Weird NSFW pogo-stick visual, but whatever.
But what it does mean is that I have to make decisions that I always thought someone else would be making. Cover art, price, when or if to make a physical book available, editing, a deadline by which I’d have to just put the damn thing out there. Full control is amazing, right?
It is. And it also sucks. When someone else has control of your book’s fate, it’s a different set of anxieties than when that’s all on you. If I have a down day or week, thinking all my work is shit and I have no business calling myself a writer, I can literally hit Unpublish, fold myself up into the sand like Hamunaptra, and give up on the whole thing that easily. That much access to the finished work can be poisonous, especially if, deep in your hermitty little heart, you still secretly feel that if it were any good, you would have gotten an offer goddammit.
Every aspect of your book, your author persona, and your marketing strategy is fully in your control. That control ends at the reader. I was very careful with NOGITSUNE’s cover. I worried about white-washing and stereotypical Asian symbols and stock art. I wanted to suggest kitsune folklore without making it look like a historical or a Romance, which is a taller order than you’d think. Then there was the title.
Several friends, correctly, had suggested that “nogitsune” was a problematic title for my debut. Sure, other books successfully incorporate apostrophe-laden fantasy names and even made-up words in their titles. But this one, well, it looks foreign. Yeah, it looks “foreign” because it’s a Japanese term, for a type of fox out of Japanese folklore. I can make fun of Foreign Word Cooties all I want, but that doesn’t change that it can be a real branding problem. For an English-only reader, “nogitsune” doesn’t bring anything to mind when you glance at it (unless you’re a die-hard anime fan or perhaps a member of the Anthro community) and so the graffiti-style kitsune image is left to do all the heavy lifting.
I love the word, I like the way it looks on the cover, and frankly, I couldn’t think of anything better. It has meaning to me, so I look at it differently than a reader winnowing through a thousand thumbnail covers would. Stubbornly. Now I’m two months in, working on the next book, and seriously considering changing NOGITSUNE’s title when I release Book Two. I literally can’t even give this book away. It has an interesting cover, a great (I think) blurb, and a reasonable (I also think) price-point. The only thing that leaves is the title, and since all of these things are so easily changeable, I could conceivably keep switching them out until I hit the right combo.
Or I could just leave it alone long enough for readers to find me, and work on the next thing, since I know that’s the only way to grow the proverbial long tail. It takes self-discipline to forge ahead instead of endlessly tweaking, and honesty to admit it’s just a sneaky form of procrastination. Let it be now, and come back when you have some perspective. That’s the smart thing to do.
But this damn self-publishing thing has knobs, and it’s devilish hard not to keep fiddling with them.